IVP - Online Pulpit - September 2013 Archives

September 20, 2013

Church in Context

by Scott Nelson

On one cold, snowy night last November I was leaving the parking lot of our local grocery store when I spotted a dilapidated car that appeared to be filled to the brim with someone’s possessions. It was pretty clear to me that this car, which was located in the far back corner of the lot, was likely serving as somebody’s home. As I drove past the car toward my comfortably heated home, the Spirit of God got my attention and suggested that I see if there was indeed a person sleeping in the car and to offer him or her a bed at my house for the evening. I circled back around the parking lot a few times until I finally worked up the courage to offer my invitation.

Fast forward to yesterday morning as I sat across the table from a good friend of mine, sipping a cup of coffee and discussing the state of our small faith community and its relationship with the man I met sleeping in his car on that November night. My friend was catching me up on his most recent thoughts about our ever-evolving community and our continued efforts to find long-term housing for our homeless friend (the guy who was sleeping in his car). In our conversation we asked ourselves, “What is God up to in our church, and what is God doing in our homeless friend’s life?” Time and again we came back to those questions as we reflected on the different things we had done together as a church and the different attempts we had made to help our friend get his life back to where he wanted it to be.

Pretty soon it became clear that God was present in our conversation over that cup of coffee. We were discussing various ideas and we both had this incredibly strong sense that we needed to buy a local motel and intentionally use it to house people who have nowhere else to go. Soon we were discussing what it might be like if our church were to convert some of the rooms into a place where we could meet for our regular worship meals and how our church could possibly make the motel our primary mission context. I could not help but be overwhelmed by the feeling that God himself was directing our imaginations to new ideas of how to be the church and how to help our friend discover the kingdom of God in his life. By the end of the day my friend and a local Christian businessman had already met with owners of two motels in our area that are for sale, and we are planning on moving forward with one of them. It is beyond clear that God is up to something new!

Conversations that lead a church community to develop a new imagination for mission are probably my absolute favorite conversations to have and in my opinion the conversations that the church most urgently needs to have on a regular basis. It has been my experience, however, that these conversations rarely happen unless they are intentionally planned and practiced. I’ve been parts of many churches, plenty of small groups and countless discussions about some particular aspect of church, theology, religion or mission, but rarely have I been a part of conversations that truly generate a new imagination for participating with God in his mission of reconciliation. Two of my goals in life are to make sure that I am a part of missionally generative conversations more often and to make sure that I am helping others to do the same.

One small way that I hope to help others take part in conversations that can help them discover how God is leading them to live missionally is through the Forge Guides for Missional Conversation. I wrote five different guides to help lead groups in conversations around important themes of the missional imagination: mission, community, culture, the power of the Holy Spirit, and vision. Each guide is designed for groups to have a series of six conversations that will help them dwell together in God’s Word, think missionally about their local context and discover the missionary nature of God. In doing so, I hope each group develops a common missional imagination that inspires the way they live outs their faith.

NelsonOP.jpgScott Nelson serves as the director of theology for Forge America where he is responsible for curriculum development for all Forge America training resources. Scott is also a coach with the Forge Chicago hub, has been a small group pastor at a local church and is currently finishing his Ph.D program in missional theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:10 AM

September 9, 2013

The Power of "I Don't Know"

by Laura Truax

“Just where do you suppose the new funding will come from?” the man tersely asked. “And you do realize that by changing the model you may be dooming the ministry?”

I swallowed hard. Our annual church meeting was getting tense. And likely everyone in the room realized I had led us to this place. We had a longstanding ministry that despite our best efforts continued to lose volunteers, hemorrhage money and (though debatable) made little difference in the people we were serving.

It seemed clear to me that something had to be done. Or, as I asked the congregation that day, “What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same things you’ve always done and expecting a different outcome.”

But the questioner had a fair point. I didn’t have a lock-step plan for what to do next. The man’s question implied that whatever changes I proposed might end the ministry. The way I saw it, making changes of some sort offered the only possibility of life.

“I don’t know where the new funding will come from. There are some possibilities, but there is nothing for sure.”

The man looked around in triumph. Repeating my words to make sure everyone heard clearly that “I don’t know.”

Fast forward several years. The ministry in question has tried a number of different models. None of which brought a new future into place. Two years ago we decided to end it. And with that ending some fresh ideas and new ministry opportunities have burst forth. Tutoring in our local elementary school, a fresh market food program for the elderly, and greater involvement in our neighborhood’s violence prevention initiatives.

But the bigger lesson for me came from the power that “I don’t know” released. Since then I haven’t known lots of things. In fact, as I noted at a more recent annual meeting, “I don’t even know what I don’t know.”

Most times the direction of the Lord is a persistent nudge, a simmering of discontent, a groaning “too deep for words” as Paul understood it. And that’s what I have to offer the people. I try to articulate the nudge and ask them to pray along with me as we seek the way of Christ together.

So go ahead, practice the power of “I don’t know.” It’s honest. It’s real. It’s human. And somewhere in the acceptance of that humble limitation, the voice of the Lord becomes clear.

TruaxOP.jpgLaura Truax is the author of Undone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together and senior pastor of LaSalle Street Church in Chicago, Illinois. She holds degrees in divinity, pastoral studies and spirituality from Loyola University Divinity School and serves as a teaching pastor for World Vision and for the University of Chicago Divinity School. She and her family live in Chicago.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 1:45 PM