Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Missional Thanksgiving Letter From a Monk Who Stayed

Here, we include the letter of deep thanksgiving and forgiveness and hope for a better world that was the last will and testament of one of the murdered monks who stayed and served in an abandoned place during the midst of a civil war in Algeria, portrayed in the movie Of Gods and Men which we missional progressives watched here this past Sunday together. A new deep meaning to what it means to give thanks.

“If the day comes, and it could be today, that I am a victim of the terrorism that seems to be engulfing all foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, and my family to remember that I have dedicated my life to God and Algeria.

"That they accept that the Lord of all life was not a stranger to this savage kind of departure; that they pray for me, wondering how I found myself worthy of such a sacrifice; that they link in their memory this death of mine with all the other deaths equally violent but forgotten in their anonymity. My life is not worth more than any other—not less, not more. Nor am I an innocent child. I have lived long enough to know that I, too, am an accomplice of the evil that seems to prevail in the world around, even that which might lash out blindly at me. If the moment comes, I would hope to have the presence of mind, and the time, to ask for God’s pardon and for that of my fellowman, and, at the same time, to pardon in all sincerity he who would attack me.

"I would not welcome such a death. It is important for me to say this. I do not see how I could rejoice when this people whom I love will be accused, indiscriminately, of my death. The price is too high, this so-called grace of the martyr, if I owe it to an Algerian who kills me in the name of what he thinks is Islam.

"I know the contempt that some people have for Algerians as a whole. I also know the caricatures of Islam that a certain (Islamist) ideology promotes. It is too easy for such people to dismiss, in good conscience, this religion as something hateful by associating it with violent extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are quite different from the commonly held opinion. They are body and soul. I have said enough, I believe, about all the good things I have received here, finding so often the meaning of the Gospels, running like some gold thread through my life, and which began first at my mother’s knee, my very first church, here in Algeria, where I learned respect for the Muslims.

"Obviously, my death will justify the opinion of all those who dismissed me as na├»ve or idealistic: “Let him tell us what he thinks now.” But such people should know my death will satisfy my most burning curiosity. At last, I will be able—if God pleases—to see the children of Islam as He sees them, illuminated in the glory of Christ, sharing in the gift of God’s Passion and of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to bring forth our common humanity amidst our differences.

"I give thanks to God for this life, completely mine yet completely theirs, too, to God, who wanted it for joy against, and in spite of, all odds. In this Thank You—which says everything about my life—I include you, my friends past and present, and those friends who will be here at the side of my mother and father, of my sisters and brothers—thank you a thousandfold.

"And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you, too, I wish this thank-you, this “A-Dieu,” whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father. Amen! Insha Allah!"

(Written in Algiers by Dom Christian of Abbaye Notre-Dame de l'Atlas, December 1, 1993; two years prior to his murder)

Monday, November 21, 2011

It isn't enough just to be mission or purpose driven....

If the mission has the church, if the mission creates the church, instead of the other way around, then it matters what the mission is....

Getting churches to move from spending time trying to create a mission statement and living in mission is a good first step, but it isn't enough...

Is your church's mission to get more people to think alike? In hopes that this alone will create a beloved community? Is it to attract those who already think alike, e.g. are already religious liberals or spiritual progressives, but just don't know yet about your church, or just don't know yet about all the benefits they could receive from being a member of your faith community?

Do we want our churches to grow as echo chambers? Do we think we can best change our world by having bigger churches of the like minded religiously? Do we put our trust in an approach that thinking will lead to action, just as we do that worship will lead to mission?

Or, or, is the mission that calls our church into being more than this? Very much different from this. Not to get bigger so we can put on more programs and better worship to grow liberal minds. But instead our mission is to grow the soul of the neighborhoods and lives around us, outside of us, and as we do that, in relationship with those very different from us, we trust that what guides us and inspires us will grow too.

All of our efforts and struggles seem to come down to choosing between the kind of mission we have, not just that we have one.

And then the next question is, why do we choose one mission over the other? The same as why do we choose one location for our church over another? Do we make our decisions based on what is best for ourselves, for our churches, or for what is best for that living spirit of life that may be in and among us but also transcends us, calling us to go where we don't want to go, to love those who no one wants to love?

I came back from the recent leadership conference, and from outstanding deep conversations there, and read lots of comments from people around here pondering a church building move, and from others about minister moves, and listened to people talk about the struggles and resistance to change and various issues in their churches, and I kept coming back to these questions above: how would people answer when asked if their church should exist so people who have liberal religious beliefs can have a home, or so poor people can have a home?

This Thanksgiving, as every day, Jesus asks us: who is our family? where should we set our tables? who should we invite? This Christmas, Jesus asks us: whose birthday is it anyway we celebrate? where should our resources and gifts go? Or God asks us. Or that Transcendent Spirit of Life asks us. Or that moral center that makes us human animals human asks us. Definitely, we are being asked....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More interesting exportable research from Barna on young adults and church

Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts
electionNovember 16, 2011

The Barna Group team spent much of the last five years exploring the lives of young people who drop out of church. The research provides many insights into the spiritual journeys of teens and young adults. The findings are revealed extensively in a new book called, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith.
The research uncovered five myths and realities about today's young dropouts.
Myth 1: Most people lose their faith when they leave high school.
Reality: There has been considerable attention paid to the so-called loss of faith that happens between high school and early adulthood. Some have estimated this dropout in alarming terms, estimating that a large majority of young Christians will lose their faith. The reality is more nuanced. In general, there are three distinct patterns of loss: prodigals, nomads, and exiles.
One out of nine young people who grow up with a Christian background lose their faith in Christianity—a group described by the research team as prodigals. In essence, prodigals say they have lost their faith after being a Christian at some time in their past.
More commonly, young Christians wander away from the institutional church—a pattern the researchers labeled nomads. Roughly four out of ten young Christians fall into this category. They still call themselves Christians but they are far less active in church than they were during high school. Nomads have become 'lost' to church participation.
Another two out of ten young Christians were categorized as exiles, those who feel lost between the "church culture" and the society they feel called to influence. The sentiments of exiles include feeling that "I want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects with the world I live in," "I want to be a Christian without separating myself from the world around me" and "I feel stuck between the comfortable faith of my parents and the life I believe God wants from me."
Overall, about three out of ten young people who grow up with a Christian background stay faithful to church and to faith throughout their transitions from the teen years through their twenties.
David Kinnaman, who directed the research, concluded: "The reality of the dropout problem is not about a huge exodus of young people from the Christian faith. In fact, it is about the various ways that young people become disconnected in their spiritual journey. Church leaders and parents cannot effectively help the next generation in their spiritual development without understanding these three primary patterns. The conclusion from the research is that most young people with a Christian background are dropping out of conventional church involvement, not losing their faith."
Myth 2: Dropping out of church is just a natural part of young adults' maturation.
Reality: First, this line of reasoning ignores that tens of millions of young Christians never lose their faith or drop out of church. Thus, leaving church or losing faith should not be a foregone conclusion.
Second, leaving church has not always been normative. Evidence exists that during the first half of the 1900s, young adults were not less churched than were older adults. In fact, Boomers appear to be the first American generation that dropped out of church participation in significant numbers when they became young adults. So, in one sense, the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were part of the evolution of the church dropout phenomenon during the rise of youth culture of the 1960s.
In addition to continuing the dropout pattern of previous generations, today's teens and young adults (identified by Barna Group as Mosaics) are spiritually the most eclectic generation the nation has seen. They are also much less likely than prior generations to begin their religious explorations with Christianity. Moreover, their pervasive technology use is deepening the generation gap, allowing Mosaics (often called Millennials of Gen Y) to embrace new ways of learning about and connecting to the world.
Kinnaman commented on this myth: "The significant spiritual and technological changes over the last 50 years make the dropout problem more urgent. Young people are dropping out earlier, staying away longer, and if they come back are less likely to see the church as a long-term part of their life. Today's young adults who drop out of faith are continuing something the Boomers began as a generation of spiritual free agents. Yet, today's dropout phenomenon is a more intractable, complex problem." [Note: See Myth 5 for more about how the dropout problem has changed.]
Myth 3: College experiences are the key factor that cause people to drop out.
Reality: College certainly plays a role in young Christians' spiritual journeys, but it is not necessarily the 'faith killer' many assume. College experiences, particularly in public universities, can be neutral or even adversarial to faith. However, it is too simplistic to blame college for today's young church dropouts. As evidence, many young Christians dissociate from their church upbringing well before they reach a college environment; in fact, many are emotionally disconnected from church before their 16th birthday.
"The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group." Kinnaman pointed to research findings showing that "only a small minority of young Christians has been taught to think about matters of faith, calling, and culture. Fewer than one out of five have any idea how the Bible ought to inform their scholastic and professional interests. And most lack adult mentors or meaningful friendships with older Christians who can guide them through the inevitable questions that arise during the course of their studies. In other words, the university setting does not usually cause the disconnect; it exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples."
Myth 4: This generation of young Christians is increasingly "biblically illiterate."
Reality: The study examined beliefs across the firm's 28-year history, looking for generational gaps in spiritual beliefs and knowledge. When comparing the faith of young practicing faith Christians (ages 18 to 29) to those of older practicing Christians (ages 30-plus), surprisingly few differences emerged between what the two groups believe. This means that within the Christian community, the theological differences between generations are not as pronounced as might be expected. Young Christians lack biblical knowledge on some matters, but not significantly more so than older Christians.
Instead, the research showed substantial differences among those outside of Christianity. That is, older non-Christians were more familiar than younger non-Christians with Bible stories and Christian theology, even if they did not personally embrace those beliefs.
The Barna president described this as "unexpected, because one often hears how theologically illiterate young Christians are these days. Instead, when it comes to questions of biblical literacy, the broader culture seems to be losing its collective understanding of Christian teachings. In other words, Christianity is no longer 'autopilot' for the nation's youngest citizens.
"Many younger Christians are cognizant that their peers are increasingly unfriendly or indifferent toward Christian beliefs and commitment. As a consequence, young Christians recognize that the nature of sharing one's faith is changing. For example, many young Christians believe they have to be more culturally engaged in order to communicate Christianity to their peers. For younger Christians, matters of orthodoxy are deeply interconnected with questions of how and why the Gospel advances among a post-Christian generation."
Myth 5: Young people will come back to church like they always do.
Reality: Some faith leaders minimize the church dropout problem by assuming that young adults will come back to the church when they get older, especially when they have children. However, previous research conducted by Barna Group raises doubts about this conclusion.
Furthermore, the social changes since 1960 make this generation much less likely to follow the conventional path to having children: Mosaics (often called Millennials or Gen Y) are getting married roughly six years later than did the Boomers; they are having their first child much later in life; and they are eight times more likely than were the youth of the 1960s to come from homes where their own biological parents were never married.
The author of the new Barna book, You Lost Me, Kinnaman asked several questions in response to conventional wisdom: "If this generation is having children later in life, are church leaders simply content to wait longer? And if Mosaics return, will they do so with extra burdens—emotional, financial, spiritual, and relational—from their years apart from Christian community? More to the point, what if Mosaics turn out to be a generation in which most do not return?
"Churches, organizations and families owe this generation more. They should be treated as the intelligent, capable individuals they are—a generation with a God-given destiny. Renewed commitment is required to rethink and realign disciple-making in this new context. Mosaic believers need better, deeper relationships with other adult Christians. They require a more holistic understanding of their vocation and calling in life—how their faith influences what they do with their lives, from Monday through Saturday. And they also need help discerning Jesus' leading in their life, including greater commitment to knowing and living the truth of Scripture."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Missional New Monastic Emergent Church Workshop in January

Quick Links
Dear Ronald E. Robinson,

We've heard much for decades now about climate change in North American Christianity. Mainline decline. The rise of evangelicalism. Mushrooming megachurches and disappearing mid-sized congregations. Persons who claim to be spiritual but not religious. Post-Christian and post-Christendom North America. A remarkable increase in the de-churched and of persons who check "none" regarding religion.
But we also see significant renewal movements. Missional church. Emerging/emergent church. The new monasticism.
Woven through the climate change and movements of renewal are serious and provocative questions about the relationship between Christianity and "church."
We invite you to attend the Inaugural Re-Mind & Re-New Conference at Phillips Theological Seminary. The conference, formerly known as Ministers' Week, is an educational event designed to foster the renewal of participant's minds and spirits. Featured speakers include: Dianna Butler Bass, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Chris Haw, and Craig Van Gelder.
A registration fee of $90 inlcudes the program, coffee breaks and dinner on Tuesday evening. Registration deadline is January 9, 2012. Register for the conference here.
Free Webinar
The conference is preceded by a free webinar on November 30, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. CST. Led by Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend, the webinar will briefly address conference topics and introduce participants to selected writings from featured speakers.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
10:00 a.m. CST
To register, view the full schedule, learn more about presenters and find additional information, visit the Re-Mind & Re-New Conference web pages, at www/
For questions contact Melanie Tipton at or 918-270-6405.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Resources On Connecting with Your Missional Field

Here are a few samples of resource handouts I will be using during the engaging your missional field workshop this weekend at the Fall Leadership Conference, Evangelizing The South, held at Glen Rose, Texas, by

Engaging Your Missional Field with The 3R’s of Missional Ministry:  Relocation, Redistribution, Reconciliation

1.     Location: Go As Local As Possible. Pick your Parish. Who you gonna serve? Narrow Your Scope to Make the Most Difference with your Resources. A block? A neighborhood? A Demographic Group?  Begin with concerns about changing the community around you, not with concerns about changing the church.

2.     Relate With Remainers, Returners, Relocators.  Connect these groups. Embed Yourself. Find the “peaceful presences” to partner with.  Various ways to relocate: physically with your residence, moving your church, or regrouping your church, or just with classes, your board meets outside its own building; your social events, even your worship; think of all the ways you can take what happens inside your building and do it with others in your community.

3.     Choose the Abandoned Places of Empire for your mission field: the first of the 12 Steps of New Monasticism. See handout for all 12.

4.     People lead to partnerships and to the particular projects you choose as long as they fit within your overarching Mission Vision Values. (For us, the mission is a given: Luke 4, Matthew 25, and the values from 8 Points TCPC, 7 Principles UUA). Is your own truncated sense of mission and mission statements holding you back from engaging in mission? Looking and Living Outwards will help you to grow within your community as well; what are the connection and the gifts of all the people including especially those on the fringes who can connect you with others?

5.     Listen, Learn, Follow. Know the data, know the history, know the leaders, but also pay attention to the margins and the fringe folk, those new in the community you are serving, just as you should within your own; do windshield tours and walking, talking, community forums.

6.     Experiment and Fail your way to Success. Don’t wait to serve. Be wary of planning; instead prepare. Be wary of Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Be wary of your dream of community interfering in growing community. Don’t fall in love with your vision statement.

7.     Balance the needs of the partners from outside your area providing service and the needs of the neighbors receiving it; err on the side of neighbors; create your own non profit and work with non profits and governments. See handout.

8.     Moving from Come to Us to Go Be With Them. Know Yourself and Your Context and the Disconnect between them. Figure out where you fall on the Missional Field Scale. See handout.

9.     Growing Smaller to Make Bigger Changes in the World; also grow in multiplicity moreso than with addition; develop growing overlapping missional communities; turn all small groups and circles within the church into missional communities with a service component.

10.                         Permission Giving culture; turn over to others. Simplify how things get done.

11.                        Going Missional is more than another outreach program added on; it is core; affects budget, building, board, programs. 3 Sets of missional practices (Alan Roxburgh and Scott Duren, Introducing the Missional Church): 1. Cultivating Sacred Presence, ie worship, prayer, spiritual disciplines; 2. Demonstrating Love, through life together (cannot be done by a conglomeration of individualists who see each other only at formal meetings); 3. Engaging the neighborhood.

12.                         Meeting needs is not the starting point for incarnational mission. “When missionaries start with the need, hoping they will one day get to know poor people personally, they are likely to be found 10 years later, still addressing the need,” John Hayes, of InnerChange, which brings us back to relocating physically, getting to know people as friends, as givers not just as receivers,

 Cultural Distance and Missional Engagement

Adapted from Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People by Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford

How we perceive the relationship of our church in our contexts. Demonstrating the difficulties in remaining and growing as an attractional only church.

How far is a person or group from a meaningful engagement with your church’s core message and practices?


Each numeral with the prefix m indicates one significant cultural barrier to the meaningful communication of your core message and practices. What makes it difficult for “them” to “come to us”:

Examples of cultural barriers: language, race, nationality, religion, worldview, economical class, educational attainment, age, occupations, family size, political leanings, etc.

m0-1: Those with some concept of Unitarian Universalism who speak the same language, have similar interests, probably the same nationality and are from a similar class grouping as you or your church. Most of your friends would probably fit into this bracket.

M1-2: Here we go to the average non-UU in our context: a person who has little real awareness or interest in UUism but is suspicious about the church (they have heard bad things). They may be open to spirituality, socially aware, but have been offended previously by church, some call them “bad fruit” and are hard to reach.

m2-3: People in this group probably have no idea about UUism. Or they might be part of some ethnic group with different religious impulses. This category also likely describes people actively antagonistic toward UUism as they understand it, e.g. Christian fundamentalists.

m3-4: This group might be inhabited by ethnic and religious groups with a bad history with historical Western religious communities, such as have Muslims and possibly Jews. The fact that they are in the West in greater numbers now ameliorates some of this distance but they are highly resistant to the culture of “church” by whatever name; some immigrant and refugee communities fit in here too.


Our church has a distinct culture and so do the people we are trying to reach. All mission in Western contexts now must be considered cross-cultural enterprises.

The attractional model of church requires the other to do all the work in crossing the cultural divide. They have to be the missionaries.

Compounding this is the dynamic of how people who join churches, often within three to five years, have no meaningful relationships with anyone outside the church. So if we do bring them in and socialize them to our group we cut them off from their host community where they could help us continue to connect.
If you are looking for measures of missional engagement, see how your community is doing according to the 12 Marks of New Monastic Communities, adapted: 1. Relocate to the abandoned places of Empire. 2. Share economic resources with one another and with others. 3. Hospitality to the stranger. 4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities, combined with an active pursuit of a just reconciliation. 5. Connection with other churches. 6. Intentional formation of spiritual life borrowing from the lines of the old monastic formation rules. 7. Nurturing common life among members in an intentional community. 8. Support for singles, celibacy, alongside families and couples. 9. Geographic proximity to community members who share a common rule for life. 10. Care for the plot of God’s Earth Given to us along with support of our local economies. 11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution. 12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.
Rules For Radicals in Mission
From Alan Roxburgh’s Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, with acknowledgment to Saul Alinsky
1.     Go Local. Truly Live in your neighborhood. Also instead of creating church programs to invite people to, lets make the neighborhood the focus of our creativity and commitment and turn the local church into the center of formation for the equipping, sending, and resourcing of people in the local.
2.     Leave Your Baggage At Home. Relate with people as people not as objects for your purposes. The local church learns to become like strangers who receive the hospitality of the people in the community.
3.     Don’t Move From House to House. Bloom where you are planted. Follow the call to stability and place in the 21st century. A truly counter cultural move.
4.     Eat what is set before you. Be ready to meet the other person in the ways that are comfortable for them.
5.     Become Poets of the Ordinary. Listen and tell the stories of the people.
6.     Move the Static into the Unpredictable. How are the local church’s arteries becoming hardened. Creating non-anxious presences so anxiety can be surfaced and change faced. Appreciative inquiry with others.
7.     Listen people into speech. Creating space in the community, and in the local church, for this to happen.
8.     Experiment Around the Edges. Don’t rush to fix an identified problem with a program; open up and try small things like asking and talking with others, doing something small. Help people do their own work of discovery.
9.     Cultivate experiments, not BEHAGS, big hairy audacious goals; what to resist to allow number eight to happen. BEHAGS tend to perpetuate feelings of being in control, instead of entering into vulnerability, and trust.
10.                        Repeat Rules one through nine over and over again. Change comes through practice.
Map The Neighborhood: Assets Resources Hazards, Listen to stories, where do peoples gather, including virtually, from bus stops to coffee shops, workplaces, et al.
What issues are important to various groups? Who speaks for the community? What are they saying? Who doesn’t have a voice?Why? Who are the historians and poets of the community? What are they saying? Who has power, and who doesn’t and why? What topics concerning the neighborhood keep coming up?
….when did you first move in? what brought you here? What are your best memories of the neighborhood? What do you like best about the area? Tell me about your family. Does your extended family live here too? What would you love to see happen in this community?
Missional Communities Resources: A Sample List
Books: The Almost Church Revitalized by Michael Durall;
Missional Renaissance and also Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal;
The Shaping of Things To Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch;
Introducing the Missional Church, and also Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, by Alan Roxburgh
Right Here, Right Now by Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford
The Abundant Community by John McNight and Peter Block, see also McKnights Turning Communities Inside Out
The Faith of Leap, by Hirsch and Michael Frost
Exiles by Michael Frost;
The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch,
Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan (most of the books on this list are very contemporary; Donovan’s pivotal book is from the 70s);
Welcoming Justice by John Perkins,
Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins,
Follow Me To Freedom by John Perkins and Shane Claiborne,
The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne,
Houses That Change The World, Wolfgang Simson,
Change The World by Michael Slaughter
Emerging Church by Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs,
The Organic Church and Search and Rescue, both by Neil Cole,
Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen,
The New Conspirators by Tom Sine,
The New Friars, and also Living Mission by Scott Bessenecker,
The Tangible Kingdom and Gathered and Sent by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay;
The New  Monasticism and School(s) for Conversion, both by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove,
Economy of Love, by Claiborne and others
Church Morph by Eddie Gibbs,
Reimagine The World by Bernard Brandon Scott,
Revolution by George Barna,
Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola,
UnChristian by David Kinnamon;
The Secret Message of Jesus, especially appendix, by Brian McLaren,
Under The Radar by Bill Easum,
An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor,
Planting Missional Churches by Ed Stetzer,
Inside The Organic Church by Bob Whitesel.
Lyle Schaller’s books especially The New Contexts For Ministry, and What We Have Learned, and From Geography to Affinity,
Postmodern Pilgrims by Leonard Sweet and his other books, and the other books by Bill Easum and Tom Bandy, and The House Church Manual by William Tenny-Brittain
The Small Church At Large by Robin Trebilcock.
A few Films: Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day story; Romero; The Least of These; Briars in the Cotton Patch: Koinonia; Places in the Heart, The Spitfire Grill, Chocolat, Babette’s Feast, Man on Wire, The Blind Side, The Mission, The Shawshank Redemption, October Sky, The Blues Brothers, Of Gods and Men. See also videos Economy of Love by Shane Claiborne, and Justice For The Poor from Sojourners, with Jim Wallis.