Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Being "Missional"

“Missional” is one of those really cool words. Its not like postmodern, now passé. Nobody ever really understood it anyway and yet still it was easy to get caught using it when we didn’t have any idea what it meant. Or biblical (or Biblical, depending on your publisher), where it sounds like it would be easy to stay on safe ground, but then someone might actually call you on it and make you look up and then go through the verse you were flippantly lobbing into a conversation or message.
Yep, Missional ministry, the missional church, and now missional youth ministry – what a great word. It’s still new enough it sounds innovative, and anyone can write it, preach on it, and few if any would ever challenge your use of it. A wide-ranging word that makes us look and feel better, and yet has so much breadth that you really can’t go wrong.

Unfortunately, though (and sorry to bring this up), there actually is an important and valuable conversation going on around the meaning of this word, and what it represents. People that are studying it in light of Scripture and church history are making some noise saying that the western church has drifted so far away from anything resembling God’s call to be missional that we can now barely recognize it.
To most, missional means that we as a group of believers do our Christian thing together and then go out and “be missionaries.” We basically have slightly modified the Western missionary movement by making the starting point us.
Here’s what it means to be a missional people:
- we try to live as “committed followers of Jesus” (meaning we go to church)
- we sing and pray and listen and teach kids and write checks
- we occasionally readjust our schedules to help someone in need, especially at Christmas, Thanksgiving and before kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday
- when we have a special program or event, we invite our “friends and neighbors” to “come” to us
You see, we’re missional, because we sometimes make the effort to look outside the walls of our church and attempt to bring people in; or, if they are too different, or distant, we help them out now and then. See, we’re missional.

The problem is that is not even close to what God has in mind when we say yes to the faith we proclaim. To be missional means that if we are “a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9), then our lives get turned upside down. We don’t “do” missions, we live, breath, plan, think, vote, spend, teach, read, watch, have sex, raise kids, and play video games as we follow Jesus Christ as he brings his kingdom into the world. We don’t bring the kingdom as “missionaries,” we participate in God’s kingdom work as “witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Invisible kid

She used to come, at least for a while.

I can’t remember her name, but the look she gave me the last time I saw her sneaks up on me from time to time. She was, after all, nondescript. A sophomore, I think, with few friends. She came to our youth group for a few months. Sat in the middle and seemed to moderately enjoy herself. But she didn’t know any student leaders (and they tend to find ways to be busy to stay together regardless) or even talk to any of the more noticeable groups that dominated our attention. She just sat there, maybe with a couple of friends, week after week, and then she’d leave. Finally she stopped coming.

What was her name again?

When I allow myself to be honest, my ministry has reflected an uncomfortable paradox throughout my ministry to kids. On one hand, I’ve found great solace, identity, and even “spiritual encouragement” (an all-too-often euphemism for those times I feel good because I have been successful but find a way to locate my euphoria within the rubric of being “blessed”) from numerical growth. On the other, for every incremental increase in group numbers, a few more kids find themselves left out of the gift of our incarnational attention. The bigger we grow, or during those seasons when the program is cooking, it is so easy for us to focus on those kids who are excited, and involved, and known. Then there are The Invisibles. They add to the numbers, and even sometimes the energy, but, let’s face it, they all too often get lost in the hype.

Remember that non-descript woman who approached Jesus (Mark 5)? “If I can just touch his clothes, she thought …” But even when she touched him and was healed, she wasn’t. And Jesus knew! Ever pondered that little phrase? Jesus “felt the power go out of him.” He knew her …

“Who touched my clothes?” Where are you, you who are desperate to stay invisible? Your healing isn’t done; my work is not yet finished with you. Come, make yourself known, because I already know you … and … I love you.

What was her name again? That invisible girl, who slipped in and out of vision and ministry and calling. I know one thing, Jesus knows her name.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Helicopter parents

There's a lot of talk these days about the way parents are too intrusive, or controlling, or dominant when it comes to running their kids' lives. We've all heard the prototypical examples:
- the dad that does the science project (or in California, builds the mission!)
- the parents who write the college essay
- the mom who confronts the teacher when the kid is in trouble ("I don't know why I did it... there was the bunson burner; there was a pony tail; it just seemed sorta natural...")

The label most often used, especially but not exclusively by colleges, is the Helicopter Parent.

As I've considered what many think is the opposite of my term "systemic abandonment," the helicopter parent is actually just displaying a form of abandonment. In my view, the kind of parents that hover to the point that they answer questions the kid should be answering is actually keeping the kid from learning how to discover and express who they are (Identity) and what kind of personal power, or sense of self, they are developing (Autonomy). I don't really think most of these folks are necessarily "helicopter parents," but rather are parents who, for the most part, deeply care for their children and therefore think they are acting in the best interest of the child as they are trying to help them. These parents (and, frankly, at times the rest of us) abandon their kid whenever we are not actively seeking to help them become the independent, individuated person they have been created and called to become. This is because the concept itself refers to any adult that is more concerned with their own perspective/agenda than the
developmental best of the kid.

And sometimes parents may be appearing to be "helicopter" when in fact they may be far more aware of any teacher, administrator, resident advisor or coach what is the best way to help an adolescent move into healthy adulthood. Whether or not parents slip into the hover mode is at base a difficult thing to really know. When any of us are critical of those parents who may seem to be over-the-top when it comes to their involvement with their child, it might be a good idea to step back and see if we might come alongside and be a source of support and help to the whole system. And when we are pretty sure we're right in our assesment of over-controlling parents (or any adult), then maybe our best next step is to be there for that child in the role we do have with them, and provide the authentic and supportive support they truly need. Maybe the helicopter will take note and settle down a bit and join in.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"gender neutrality is out in new Bible"

This headline, buried next to a huge Vons ad on page A19, LA Times, Sept 6, 2009, caught my eye. The president of Biblica, Keith Danby, was quoted, "If we want to maintain the NIV as a Bible that English speakers around the world can understand, we have to listen to and respect the vocabulary they are using today."

2011 will be the dawn of this new vocabulary that is forcing a change upon the editors of the NIV. So drastic the change will be, the TNIV, a version that has sought to bring up to date the original intent of biblical authors by including women in traditionally male references, will be phased out. The TNIV, of course, does this without taking away from the gender of the Second Person of the Trinity (born a son), or of messing with the Fatherhood of God. The TNIV, under attack for years by misguided and mis-representative assertions, has simply sought to present a reading and text that were clearly in the vocabulary of modern people (see, I even said it; should I had better said "modern man").

So what is this current vocabulary that "English speakers around the world" are clamoring for? Evidently, a return to a time when male words were used to include all - like "mankind" and "men of faith." I supposed those who editorially control the NIV have caved into pressure from people who claim to represent "English speaking people around the world," who claim to believe that contemporary (dare I say Postmodern?) people could not understand a phrase that includes women as well as men?

Take Matthew 7:4, for example. Here are the translations:
Confusing TNIV: How can you say, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
Clarifying NIV: How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time their is a plank in your own eye.

Okay, now I get it. Wow, and for all these years I had thought we were beyond asking, nope, telling, women and girls that they have to learn how translate archaric texts, including the Bible, so that they find a way to be included in such writings! Good thing the NIV editors caught this... we wouldn't want anyone to miss out on the beauty, power, and wonder of God's Word because they didn't "understand" the scriptures because of the vocabulary they were used to.

Perhaps we'll simply go back to doing what I was taught three decades ago as a Young Life intern: Learn to translate these words and phrases as you go, while staying faithful to the intent and meaning of the text. Find ways to make sure that everyone you speak to knows that God is interested in them, and is wooing them into his kingdom. So if that means changing "brother" to "brother and sister," then honor Christ and the women you serve by being a faithful communicator of the truth of the scriptures to those God loves. Perhaps someday, then, the men of the future will come to see that gender is a gift of God, and that Jesus (and Paul et al) spoke and speaks to all of us as his children.