Reflection on a Visit to a Missional Micro Community

“The Kingdom of God is among you,” said Jesus to the Pharisees when they asked when this supposed kingdom of which he spoke would come (Luke 17:21 [NRSV]). It is interesting that in this encounter Jesus says that the kingdom is not coming with things that can “be observed” – paratērēseōs (Englishman’s Greek Concordance on http://www.bible.cc). A brief word study reveals that only Luke uses this word, and its close cognates are used by him in describing the Pharisees “watching closely” to try to catch Jesus in something with which they can entrap and destroy him. They are looking for some big sign that Jesus is trying to overtly conquer and supplant the existing system of empire (political and religious) by force. Jesus makes the point here in Luke 17:20-21 that such will not be the case. Indeed, it is the very opposite. The kingdom is already here, in the very midst of empire. It is like a mustard seed and the shrub it produces, like the yeast in a batch of dough (Luke 13:18-20). In other words, the reign of God is something that arises unnoticed, right under your nose, and even the most watchful of adversaries cannot defeat it. Such is my experience of the New Day community at Amani House (Missional Wisdom).

My arrival at Amani house on a Sunday evening to share in the community celebration was preceded by a visit there led by Dr. Elaine Heath as part of the Perkins School of Theology at SMU Doctor of Ministry course “Evangelism and Discipleship for a Missional Church” which she led along with Rev. Wes Magruder. That earlier session introduced the location, some key leadership, and the general format of a New Day gathering. While the Sunday evening hospitality was warm and inviting, I imagine that my experience then was colored by the preceding orientation. Familiarity helped me to relax more than I otherwise might, and being known and recognized by some of the leaders added to my comfort and sense of belonging. Though I was aware that this was not my community, I nonetheless felt welcomed by them. This familiarity may also have given them some freedom to spend less energy and attention on me than if I were completely new.

Lastly and most personally, I tend to make myself at home wherever I am, even when I am a stranger in a strange land. This temperament has served me well, I think, in cross cultural settings because I have felt free to let down my guard. A risk is that I might assume a less formal interaction in new relationships than is customary in other cultures. I wonder how much of this comes to me by virtue of being a straight, white, middle class, Protestant male. As a member of the most privileged group in our culture, I have had the least need to overcome obstacles to opportunity. I was formed in settings where I was a member of the host group, which I think leads to a presumption of belonging and familiarity that may be false, particularly in settings like the one where Amani House is being formed – in a community largely of African refugees.

This turning of the tables was one of the greatest gifts of my experience – to receive the hospitality of those who were actively seeking to make a home in this new land – a true parable of the Kingdom of God. The last become first, the first last, the servant becomes the host and the host becomes the guest. This illustrates the way Sarah Miles writes in Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead about her encounters with the vulnerable and marginalized (Miles 2010, 3). She is challenged by her own presumptions, and finds herself guilty of judging others though she herself has been an object of scorn (Miles 2010, 36-37). It is the encounter with others in surprising ways that prompts a new awareness of the deep humanity present in each person, a humanity that cradles the image of God. It is the recognition of this humanity and a growing love for it that finally leads us to transformation. We discover that the other has become us, and we have become the other, that truly Jesus creates “in himself one new humanity in place of the two” (Ephesians 2:15). I love how Miles frames Jesus’ formation of community as the means to eternity:

When Jesus enters into relationship with outcasts and shares their social death, he starts a process of resurrection. The unclean become full, living people, born again. They are reincorporated – that is, re-bodied – into the community. And the community is healed into wholeness from separation, made new.” (Miles 2010, 15)

One of the striking experiences of this visit related to food. Earlier that day my home congregation had a fellowship covered dish dinner where individuals and families bring a dish, or two, as they are able. For the fifty people in attendance, we probably had six meat dishes, eight casseroles, six salads and twelve deserts. There was enough food for each person to fill their plate three times over. By contrast, a simple, wonderfully nutritious and flavorful pot of beans and steamer of aromatic rice fed 30 people at Amani house. I was reminded of Elaine Heath’s three practices of Eco-Evangelism, the third of which is to speak prophetically about unchecked consumerism. (Heath 2008, 171) The buffet in the early afternoon was not a celebratory feast, but simply an example of gluttony, whereas the miracle of loaves and fishes was experienced by that New Day community, and I experienced far more satisfaction, physically and spiritually, from that simple bowl than from the lunch that had preceded it.

The first time I read Heath’s book I was taken by her statement that “Christians are yearning for a simpler, unfettered relationship with God in community, for a new day for the church” (Heath 2008, 36). This reminded me of a postcolonial critique of the contemporary church, and I wrote in the margin of my book, “This longing may be met in and through the liberative journey of the base community and the encounter with ‘the least of these’, who are Christ to us when we serve them and when we refuse. They are Christ to us in relationship. We encounter God anew when we encounter them, and if we refuse, then we will not encounter God in grace, but in judgment.” Later I wrote, “Redemption for the Middle Class church is found in relationship with the poor and oppressed,” in response to Heath’s description of the Beguines’ commitment “to know experientially the ‘otherness’ of God’s kenotic love. It was this that I found at New Day, at least for myself. This is, in part, the explanation and justification for the place of white middle class churches in relationship to Missional micro congregations among the two thirds world, whether as immigrant and refugees, or in their home countries, such as those found at New Day.

I think the key to New Day, to Missional Communities and Micro Churches broadly considered, lies in Jesus’ statements about the kingdom of God. It is already here, maybe only within us, but then by grace among us. It is about mustard seeds growing under the noses of the establishment. It is not about going toe to toe with empires, secular or religious, any more than Jesus did with his contemporaries. This may be the reason that “the church” must continue to do attractional evangelism, undergirding as much as possible the establishment. All the while, the very same people are doing missional evangelism, out scattering seeds on the wind, letting them land where they may, trusting that some of them will find their way to good soil in which God will produce good fruit (Mark 4). In the process of grafting in, of filling new wineskins, the old vine, the old wine skins are redeemed – all are redeemed together.

Reference List

Heath, Elaine A. 2008. The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemporary Vision for Christian Outreach. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

http://missionalwisdom.com/new-day/worshipping-communities/amani/ (accessed February 13, 2013)

http://biblesuite.com/greek/parate_re_seo_s_3907.htm (accessed February 11, 2013)

McNeal, Reggie. 2011. Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Miles, Sarah. 2010. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Roxburgh, Alan J. and M. Scott Boren. 2009. Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Download a pdf of “Reflection on a Visit to a Missional Micro Community.”

Seeds on the Wind – Mark 4

NOTE: This is the final sermon I am to preach after more than ten years at Forest Grove Christian Church

Summary of Mark 4 –

Mark presents us with three seed parables about God’s reign, and then abruptly shifts to a story of a physically and emotionally exhausted Jesus falling asleep on the boat and not being roused by the terrible storm that erupted.

1-20 Seed/Word scattered without judging the soil in advance

21-23 Let your light shine

24-25 The measure you give is the measure you will get back

26-29 Partners with God: We have work to do, and God gives the growth

30-34 The tiny mustard seed produces a tree of safety for the vulnerable

35-41 Jesus stills the storm

I would like to explore for a few moments how these three seed parables work together, supported then by the two intervening proverbs, and finally encapsulated by a challenge.

The sower went out to sow seeds. The seed is the Word of God, the message of the Kingdom now and coming, the Good News, the Gospel of God’s all-encompassing redeeming love. The sower does not judge in advance whether the seed will likely be received, or how well it might grow. No. The seed is broadcast liberally, extravagantly, even wastefully – if we measure as a farmer would. After all, no good farmer would knowingly cast seeds on a pathway, or among the brambles, or in rocky soil. The farmer goes to great lengths to prepare the soil conditions BEFORE casting the seed, and then only in the places that are most likely to produce.

Not so with the Messiah. The messiah offers the gospel to everyone around him – the Priests and Scribes, the Sadducees and Pharisees, tax collectors, drunkards, sinners and the unclean, and even to the common folks in the middle. Everyone has equal access, ready or not, to experience the word of love offered.

There are at least two ways to interpret this parable. The first Jesus gives to the disciples – that the different kinds of soil represent people at different stages of readiness. So when the Messiah travels along the seashore teaching, in his audience are people who fit each of the four descriptions – some completely unreceptive, some quickly enthusiastic but easily burned out, some have too many other commitments that choke out the growth, and finally others are receptive and have good conditions for the seeds to take root, sprout and grow healthy and strong until they bear fruit of their own. Jesus does not generally take aside this last group and only teach and preach to them, only offer them healing and restoration and reconciliation with God, self and neighbor. The seed of God’s good news is offered freely to all, even though only a portion are able to receive it to full benefit.

A second meaning springs from this first. Just as at any one time a crowd will have people who represent each of the four types of seed, similarly each of us is at different times like the four kinds of soil. Yesterday you may have been so distracted by the cares of the world that you were unable to receive the good news that was offered. Today you may receive it eagerly, but in the heat and winds of life your enthusiasm may dry up. Perhaps tomorrow will you be like the rocky path, where the scavengers come along and steal away the good news? And finally, hopefully, at some point each of us will be like good soil that is ready to receive the Gospel and have it bear fruit in our lives. That is the goal, the dream.

Now, of course, we are all familiar with people who have been that good soil, but life just got too much for them. Too many rain storms washed away all the good topsoil. Too much inattention to spiritual things left their lives cluttered with brambles, or filled with people who would come in and steal their joy and peace. Perhaps each of us can relate to that experience at some point in our lives. This is not a parable about judgment from God on those unready to receive. It is simply a reality check, a true image of life as we know it. Some days we are more ready than others to follow Jesus and share God’s love and bear the fruit of the kingdom. Some days we have more energy and enthusiasm than others. Some days we are just so exhausted we could sleep through a storm.

The second parable picks up where this one leaves off. Paul reminds the church: 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1) So Jesus points out that though the soil is good, and the farmer does everything necessary, the means of growth is still a mystery. God makes things grow. We have a responsibility, certainly, whether for our individual lives, our family, our church, community or world. There are things we can and must do as caretakers of creation (GEN2:15), colaborers with God (1COR3:9). Even so, we do not get credit for the growth that results, or blame for its lack. God sends rain on the just and the unjust (MT5:45). Let us do what is ours to do, encourage one another, and then give God the glory for all good things (1CHRON16:34).

This Gospel word of Good News that is in us must shine forth from us into the world. Our lives hold the potential to bless others with light and warmth, and we must find ways to let that light shine. The amount of light and love we share with others determines the amount we will be able to receive back from God. The more stingy and guarded we are in loving our neighbors, the less grace we will experience from God. This is not because God will withhold grace or mercy or love, but because we will be unable to receive it because our hands and hearts will be filled with fear and focus on self.

When the seeds of the Good News of God’s Kingdom of redeeming mercy and love are planted in good soil, they become like a tree which gives shelter under its canopy. Jesus compares this to the mustard seed, one of the smallest seeds known in his day. Even so small an amount of faith, so small an expression of love, can take root and grow in the right soil so that in days to come the vulnerable may find shelter and sustenance. The birds of the air make their nests and raise their young. What a beautiful image of the relationship between our faith and God’s work to bless the world in and through the church. Does the church provide shelter for the vulnerable, the fragile, the wounded? Is the church a place of refuge from the storms of life, so that when they rage against us, we can be secure in the knowledge that the one who stills the storms watches over us?

These storms of life do come. How wonderful a gift to see our Lord so worn out that he sleeps right through. You’ve felt that way, haven’t you? Much remains to be done, but you can’t stay awake another moment. You are physically and emotionally and spiritually drained, exhausted. You must rest, and rejuvenate, be renewed by God. We can see ourselves in this and take comfort when we feel the same.

We also know how the disciples feel. We cry out with them and the psalmist 23 Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! 24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? 25 For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. 26 Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love. (PS44:23) At one point the psalmist is so frustrated as to compare God to a soldier waking from a drunken stupor (Psalm 78:65). We know this feeling, don’t we, of wondering where God is, whether God cares about how hard things are for us? “Lord, do you not care that we are drowning?” (MK4:38)

In response to our cry, the Lord first offers peace and calm to us in the midst of the raging storm. Then he turns to us and asks, in love, “Where is your faith? Why are you so afraid? Am I not with you, and am I not trustworthy? I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

There is one final thing here, the unspoken punch line of the whole chapter. The wind of the storm actually scatters the seeds of faith. Remember how in Acts 7 we read of the stoning of Stephen and the flight of the other disciples? And then in the very next breath Luke tells us: 4 Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word (Acts 8). The scattering of the faithful actually leads to the growth of the kingdom. God uses the storms of life to scatter seeds of faith, some of which will find good soil in us and our community, and grow and bear fruit for generations to come. Some we may never know. Others we may only learn about decades later.

I have just this week been reconnected with my best friend from high school. Jon was in a horrible car accident in the fall of our junior year, at the age of 16. He sustained a closed head injury which left him comatose for months, followed by years of rehabilitation therapy, and permanent damage to his memory and cognitive skills. Because of these deficits, his doctors believed he was better off not having any contact with him, so his family asked us to walk away forever. This was incredibly painful. It is one thing to lose a friend to death. It is something very different and strange to have him still alive, but cut off by injury. He will never live alone without supportive care. He is a 16 year old boy trapped in a 43 year old man’s body. And I’m his best friend – have been all this time even though we haven’t spoken since 1986. My care for him during our high school years has helped to sustain him through the unimaginable storms raging within and around him. I could not have imagined what it feels like to know that. He sent me two letters this week that looked just like the kinds of notes high school kids used to write to each other – back before texting and Instagram, of course. I had no idea, all these years, that those seeds of love and friendship were bearing fruit in his heart and mind, sustaining and encouraging him. We really never know how the light we shine, and the love we share, will be used by God to bless others, and eventually, perhaps, come back to bless us. We really never know.

Listen to a brief litany of the seeds scattered by this congregation over the last ten years:

  • Leader Development
    • Ministry Internship has trained three people for ministry
    • Six adults have participated in the Lay Ministry Training Program
    • We have provided scholarship money for people training for ministry
  • Community Service
    • We helped launch and have been an anchor church for Family Promise
    • We have raised money for local charities, including ACO, Food Pantries, Samaritan Inn, Children’s Advocacy Center, Hope’s Door
    • We have rehabbed housing in Trinity Park
    • We have participated in Habitat for Humanity
    • We have taken two mission trips
    • We have given over $10,000 to local families during times of need
  • Men’s and Women’s work
    • Ongoing participation in retreats
    • Regular meetings of fellowship and study
  • Senior Adult Ministry
    • Worship services led at Juliet Fowler Homes
    • Fellowship, communion, prayer and song led at Loving Care Homes
  • Children and youth
    • Over thirty children and youth sent to camps and retreats
    • Over 100 children involved in VBS here on our campus
    • Countless children blessed through the Boyd Park outreach which we helped start and keep going for the first several years.
  • Worship
    • We have offered multiple worship styles and done a lot with a few resources
    • We have given everyone an opportunity to grow in the use of their gifts
    • We have held over 1000 worship services together
  • Evangelism
    • We have given away almost ten thousand donuts as a simple expression of Christ’s love and our concern for those who work on Christmas Eve.
    • We have hosted concerts, Festivals, Carnivals, Car Shows, BBQs, Dances and VBS as ways to build connections with our community.
    • We won an award for Excellence in Evangelism for 2010 for welcoming 16 adults into the church.

CIRCLES OF RELATIONSHIP ~ CIRCLES OF CARE

Circles of relationship, circles of care

The following conversation is based in the notion that being faithful to these texts requires that we get to know our neighbors as well as we know ourselves. Otherwise, how can we know what it means to love them? And how can we share the Good News of God’s love with them if we do not know what they consider Good News?

For surely I know the dreams I have for you, says the LORD,
Dreams for your welfare, and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

The great commandment in Matthew 11 tells us:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength
Love your neighbor as yourself.
All the law and the prophets are summed up in these.

The great commission from Matthew 28 lets us hear Jesus say:

Go into the whole world
Make disciples among all nations
Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you
Remember I am with you always

Earlier in Jeremiah 29 we hear the instructions that the Lord gave to the people while they awaited the fulfillment of their redemption:

Build houses and live in them;
plant gardens and eat what they produce
Take wives and have sons and daughters;
Take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage,
that they may bear sons and daughters;
multiply there, and do not decrease.

Seek the welfare of the city,
And pray to the LORD on its behalf,
For in its welfare you will find your welfare.


Intimacy, Influence, Affiliation and Acquaintance

In an effort to get to know our neighbors by listening to and hearing them, we will describe four different kinds of relationships. These are broad categories. There may be others, and some of our relationships may shift from one kind to another and back again over time. All of that is ok, and does not prevent us from understanding ourselves and one another better through this image.

We can think of all the people we know as falling into one of four concentric circles moving outward from ourselves. These are circles of intimacy, influence, affiliation and acquaintance.


Think about your life. Envision all the places you go, and all the people you know. These relationships are opportunities for you to both encounter Christ and to share Christ with others. Paul says that together as disciples of Jesus we form Christ’s Body (RM 12, 1 COR 12). Jesus says that when we serve others, we are serving Him (MT 25). To be His disciples is to let his life live through us in our world.(JN 15, GAL 2).

Circles of Intimacy: Remember that Jesus’ siblings seemed to think he might be crazy (Mk 3:21), and his hometown-hero parade turned quickly into a lynch mob (Lk4). Those who knew us as children often have trouble accepting who and what we have become as adults if it is anything other than what they would have dictated for us given the chance. Not so easy sharing the good news on your doorsteps sometimes. Paul suggested that even in difficult relationships and situations we can witness by our quiet life, and sometimes that is all we can do, and is enough (1 Cor 7:13-17). In other instances we are called to do more.

What are your circles of intimacy?

Circles of Influence: The next group of people are those with whom we have some shared influence – there is a mutual respect and appreciation, or a strong bond through common history, interest or passion. For Jesus, this group included the disciples of John, who he knew were already anticipating the coming of the Messiah and had a deep hope and interest in what God was about to unfold in their day (JN 1:19-51). You know their dreams.

What are your circles of influence?

Affiliation: The next group is those who you interact with perhaps on a daily basis. They are folks we know fairly well, but perhaps not who “remember us when”. These people have a familiarity that brings a level of comfort and credibility, making it easier to earn the right to be heard. They are people you know well enough that you would be aware when they were sick or had a family crisis. You know about some of their relatives. You know their hobbies and interests.

What are your circles of affiliation?

Acquaintance: The next area is our community and region, those with whom we cross paths during the month. Consider where you go in your week that you see the same people repeatedly. You know them by face, and they you, but may not know their name or much about them. You’re not exactly strangers. They would not be surprised if you walked up to them and started a conversation. You know something about them.

What are your circles of acquaintance?

Understanding our circles – seeking deeper knowing

Who is in your circle

What do you know about them that might help to make a “God connection”? What is going on in their lives? What relationships are they in? What are their interests, fears, hopes, struggles, dreams?

Who is in your circles of intimacy?
Who is in your circles of influence?
Who is in your circles of affiliation?
Who is in your circles of acquaintance?

Fishing Ponds ~ Making New Relationships

Fishing Ponds

Jesus said: “I will make you fishers of Men”

“Go into all the world” ~ “You are the Light of the World”

We want to listen to those around us to hear and see God at work. We are also called to go. God calls us to move beyond our circles of relationship. It is time to go fishing.

Fishing Ponds: Jesus came to Simon, Andrew, James and John and said, “I will make you fishers of men.” (Mk 1:17) Sometimes folks will think, “Everyone I know already goes to church, or I’m certain they aren’t interested.” Certainty about such things is questionable – perhaps they just haven’t been given the right kind of opportunity. And besides, we’re not looking to get people to church, we are wanting to join with others as we seek God by following Jesus together. So “fishing ponds” are places we go to turn strangers into acquaintances. We will discover affiliations of common interest or experience, which then will lead to deeper conversations about life and loss, hopes, fears and dreams. This, then, is the place to engage conversations about faith. We can create fishing ponds at the church – Central Christian Church, Dallas has a dog park and FCC Arlington has a community garden. You can also go find a “fishing pond” in your community or beyond. Join a club. Frequent a local watering hole. On campus “Invite Events” like a BBQ, Car Show, VBS, and Fall Festival are “fishing ponds”. Our mission work can serve the purpose of building relationships in this way. These activities include Family Promise, Allen Seniors Luncheon, Habitat for Humanity, Visiting Nursing Homes, Adopt a grandparent or grandchild, Neighborhood Park Ministries, and Mission Trips. What things can you dream up?

Where will you “GO” to “BE” and “SHARE
GOOD NEWS!

In the space below, write or draw activities, interests, places, and spaces where you might engage others. Is there a hobby you have always wanted to try? Or perhaps you want to get involved in a service club, book club or other group. Would you change the restaurants or stores you frequent so that you could meet a new group of people and listen for where God is at work in their lives?