LEARNING MISSION FROM THE GOSPELS
Change never comes easy or without a sense of uneasiness about it. If you can, remember back to that time when we were moving from the 20th century into the 21st century. Remember how uneasy people became the closer we moved toward the new century? Predictions were made that the world as we know it might just come to a crashing halt. We were warned that our computers would not work once the clock struck midnight and the new century was born. We were warned to withdraw cash from the bank because our information would be lost and we might not have access to our money. We were warned that armed bands of robbers would roam the streets and rioting and mayhem would overtake our cities and towns…Oh wait, that may have been the theme of a recent movie I was watching. But the bottom line is, as we entered into the 21st century, we did so with a lot of uncertainty of what laid before us.
Part of the uncertainty that was present as we moved into this new century involved the future of the church. What would the 21st century church look like? Would the church have to change or could it remain the same with just a few tweaks here and there? How would the church of the 20th century be able to deal with the rapidly changing nature of the coming century?
"The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too."
-Saint Teresa of Avlia
The Story of the Journey
It was with questions like these in our heads that the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin set off on a learning journey to explore together what it means to be the church in the 21st century. Along with these questions, we began the journey with assumptions that our church would change. We also assumed that a major part of that change would be a movement that would take us from looking inward at ourselves to looking more and more into the communities where God had planted us. We were convinced that …God is on the journey, too!
If I can take you back to the turn of the century once again, you may remember that the buzz word for change was “transformation.” So as the faith communities of Wisconsin came together, we began to look at how we could “transform” our congregations for ministry in the new century. Working with Tom Bandy, a consultant who specializes in systemic change within congregations (thrivingchurch.com), our faith communities began to take a hard look at who they were and what God was calling them to be.
Tom suggested that there were two paths a faith community could take toward transformation. We understood these two paths to be:
a. A congregation could take a hard look at itself and what God has been doing and is doing with the community. Through a guided process, the congregation could come together to create a common mission/vision statement and to design a plan to live out the vision.
b. Or, a congregation could just roll up their sleeves and get involved in their community. From that engagement, the congregation could reflect on their experiences and begin to shape a vision and sense of mission.
Two different paths but both have the potential to transform the faith community into an actively engaged faith community. As we observed the congregational journeys, we began to notice that those congregations which chose the path of “rolling up their sleeves and get busy” seemed to discover a new sense of energy and purpose in the ministry. They began to change how they lived out their faith as “church.”
About this time, a new (or perhaps it was a renewed conversation) began to spring up around the country and within the American Baptist USA. Based upon the missional church paradigm, congregations began to explore how to be more engaged in the mission field they discovered at their doorstep. Building on the energy of the previous transformational journey, many of our congregations jumped into the missional church conversation and began to send mission teams into their neighborhoods and beyond. The Spirit did not disappoint them, but, rather, continued to create an energy and enthusiasm within the mission teams and within the community of faith.
God was and is doing some wonderful things in many of our congregations as the vision of the kingdom of God expands from inside a church facility to the world at its doorstep. Lives are being changed and more people are coming to discover the power of Christ that flows around us. [To see some of the outcomes of mission engagement go to www.missionalnetworking.org and look at "Stories from the front lines.]
With new-found engagement by faith-communities comes new found challenges and questions. The Mission from the Gospels learning journey resulted from a request by several faith communities who had begun the missional journey. The more these faith-communities became engaged in mission with their host-communities, the more growth happened. New disciples from the “mission field” were added to these faith communities. They eagerly began to participate in the mission, but most acknowledged little, if any, knowledge of the Christian faith. And so, we recognized the need to help these disciples grow in their faith. The need for this learning experience also became apparent as faith-communities engaged in mission began to encounter challenges to their traditional models of church and ministry.
This workbook is our attempt to help faith-communities grow in their understanding of the active God that goes before them into their communities. We do not want to suggest that the journey outlined in this workbook is the only way to bring new life to your faith-community and to your surrounding communities. However, we do suggest that you try it, play with it, and see what surprises you might find as you engage in it within the community that God has planted you in for now. We are fairly certain that if you join this journey, you will be surprised!
Consider this Bible Verse:
"And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.' Immediately they dropped their nets and followed him."
- Matthew 4:19-20
One of the surprises that we discovered was that our missional encounters caused us to look at scripture in new ways. Let us ask you, “How do you read the gospels?”
How do you read the gospels?
Admittedly, some of us don’t read the gospels at all…we just wait for them, or at least parts of them, to come out in the movies (especially the Passion narratives).
Perhaps some of us read the gospels only at Christmas and Easter. But then, we are left wondering what we should do with all the rest of the story that lies in between these two holidays.
There have been occasions when people have treated the gospels as lengthy evangelism tracts, only intended to show how sinful we are and how pure and righteous Jesus is as Savior.
Some of us read the gospels as an academic exercise, reading them from the point of history, literature, or scholarship. We note each gospel’s writing style, historical significance, and theological nuances.
These are some of the ways people have read the gospels. But what if… What if the gospels were intended to be read as four different handbooks on mission? What if four narratives meant to teach four early church communities about the mission of God and how to be engaged in that mission in their own contexts? What might it look like to do mission from the gospels? What if, in the 21st century, we were to read these gospels through the lens of mission?
The hope and intention of this journey is to read the gospels through the lens of mission, so that we, in our contexts, might rediscover where and how God is at work. Like the early faith-communities, we hope to hear God’s invitation to follow Jesus into God’s mission today. From these ancient texts, may we discover how to live as faith-communities on the missional journey.
What we’ve packed for your journey….
Every journey needs a few supplies, even if it is just a pack of gum to help with the popping of your ears as your plane heads into the sky. So, we have packed a few things for you, but always remember that it is your journey. We hope you will feel free to add to the supplies, or even leave behind some of the supplies provided for you. The key is listening to your heart as Christ plays with it.
Consider These Quotes…
"Do not ask the Lord to guide your footsteps if you are not willing to move your feet."
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."
- Arthur Ashe
A form and flow to the journey… we have tried to build each stage of the journey around a certain flow or rhythm, which we refer to as “informed engagement.” You will learn by doing and reflecting, doing and reflecting, doing and reflecting. We would suggest a two hour group learning experience each week during this journey.
A challenge to read the gospels through the lens of mission… While you will find that you study the bible during this journey, this is not a typical bible study. We are challenging you to read the gospels through the experience of actual missional engagement. What this means is that you will be encouraged to encounter the mission at your doorstep, and, then, interact with each of the gospels during that encounter.
Each week, you will find study questions for your group to help you better understand where you are and where you want to be in the journey.
Case studies will help illustrate some of the challenges of this missional journey.
Key missional passages from each gospel will help your group read the scripture through the lens of mission.
Guided group discussions will help you form a learning-community.
As you can see, we want you to travel light, because the learning will happen from the journey, not from the workbook format. We have a friend who likes to say, “It is always easier to turn a moving ship than a ship sitting still in the water.”
Enjoy your journey. We are excited for you and for what Christ has in store.