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teaching #5: questions to ask & answer

24 May

Our fifth and final teaching time brought Michael Frost back for one more message. While this one was a bit harder to take notes on (because of Q&A, audience interaction, and stories / examples), he did provide with very clear questions. These questions, he said, should be asked – and answered – by anybody serious about “becoming missional.”

Notably, Frost said that through discussions with many us this week, he had noticed that many of us have already done much of this missional application within our ministries. But, he said, our churches need to ask and answer these same questions, and we college ministers, youth ministers, and church planters may have much wisdom to offer. (He was complimentary toward especially college ministry – since that was the largest percentage of our group – in this same way throughout the week, regularly noting our missional approach to the campus and to the work we do there.)

If we are the sent-ones of God, “What kind of questions do we need to ask and answer around this notion of ‘Sent-ness’?,” Frost asked.

#1: By whom have we been sent?

We have been sent, as Frost described in an earlier message, by the sent and sending God. This is, again, the theological undergirding for his missional understanding. We don’t choose to be “missional” because we want to grow churches, and not because Jesus “barked out some order – in the Great Commission – like some Seargeant Major in the army.” Instead, we choose to be missional because God is missional.

Understanding this should make a difference in the way we go about our ministries.

#2: To whom have you been sent?

Frost related that the first missionaries to Papua New Guinea realized that there was a different tribe on each mountain. So what did they do? They had to choose one mountain, one tribe. And ultimately that tribe raised up missionaries to go to the next mountain, and so on.

“To which tribe, which mountain” are we called?

Here, he encouraged us to think in terms of “people-groups.” The people-group to whom I’m sent might be

  • Geographical
  • Socioeconomic
  • A subculture

Within this perspective, he noted that we should probably not simply ask, “To whom have I been sent?,” but “To whom have we been sent?” Though the default American model may be individualism, we need to counter that some in this area, Frost said. Our churches – or at least groups of people within those churches – are likely called to go together to reach a “people group.”

Discovering to whom we have been sent will probably not be an immediate process. We need to pray and wait.

#3: Where should I go?

If we came up with a Geographical answer when looking at Question #2, then the “where” is obvious. But if not…

Frost discussed “third places,” those places in our lives that are not home or work – but where people can fairly naturally talk about significant things and even significant differences between themselves. Sadly, some believe that these places are being lost in America. But without them – and without making use of them – Christians may lose natural ways to introduce spiritual conversations and questions.

But, he continued, we shouldn’t create these avenues by creating a fourth place in our lives. Sometimes Christians already have “third places,” where they spent time with their Christian buddies. So when wanting to hang out with non-Christians, they may try to cram one more place or activity into their lives… even though they really prefer being elsewhere. So we have to consider “doing church” within those “third places,” allowing ourselves to congregate in the very places where we can establish connections with lost people.

#4: About whom will we speak?

Announcing the Gospel means announcing Jesus.

Frost stated that he’s concerned that too many “Gospel presentations” mention Jesus for only a sliver, perhaps as “point 5 of a 10-point presentation.” But Paul’s presentations of the Gospel include Jesus in a big way, regardless of whether they happen to be long or short.

We need to announce a name and a person – Jesus – telling stories about Him, just like the early Christians did. Very few Christians, Frost said, have a bunch of parables and miracles on the tip of their tongue to share about Jesus and His amazing character and life. But we need Gospel Christians to be full of great stories, information, and sayings about Jesus, just like people often have about their political heroes, sports heroes, or other heroes.

teaching #4: what missional people do

24 May

For those tuning in to get teaching notes from our São Paulo Discovery Trip, I’m including notes this weekend (in two separate posts) from our 4th and 5th teaching sessions! And if you missed the first 3 sessions (one by Mike Lopez and two by Michael Frost), check out those teaching notes in our earlier blog posts!

To start our fourth Teaching session, Michael Frost noted that many of our testimonies from this trip seem to have tied in to one of his points for today’s message, so he figured he would start there. That piece of missional understanding is Prevenience (or “prevenient grace”), the recognition that God has gone before us, working in people’s live before we join Him there.

#1: Prevenience

Frost noticed that our team seems to have “assumed that God is already at work in the lives of people”; when we encounter them – through a Free Hug, an info card, a conversation in the college food court – we understand that we’re joining a work already in progress.

But he’s noticed that other Americans oftentimes too quickly move on to being creative and entrepreneurial in our missions efforts, because we’re good at those things, and we love coming up with solutions. But while, “Don’t just sit there; do something!” might be our American mantra, that’s not the usual M.O. of a missional Christian.

Instead, “Don’t just do something; sit there” must be our slogan, as we wait, watching, to see how we might join God’s work. “Just go to the people group to whom you’ve been sent, and sit there. Watch. What is God doing? … What does it look like for God to come to this place?,” Frost encouraged. We don’t simply look for conventional religious “signs,” but anything God might be doing among the people to whom we’ve been sent.

For instance, when we see examples of beauty and when we see examples of justice, these are two of the biggest clues that God’s reign is invading a place. For example, he recalled a time when great tragedy hit his town, when a little girl was killed. Frost watched as many from that place immediately responded with kindness and generosity and help – and those acts of beauty, he said, alerted him that God’s reign was “bleeding into” this place.

So he responded by helping organize further service, drawing together many of the town’s leaders to help a poorer area of Australia. Frost pointed out, as we in similar ways demonstrate what the ultimate reign of God will mean, we end up having opportunity after opportunity to announce God’s reign, as well. And that’s especially true if we follow the other principles (see below).

But we may also find examples of God’s prevenience in people’s own descriptions of “religious experiences” – which, he said, nearly everybody will admit to having, even if they claim not to “be religious.” Oftentimes Evangelism involves simply naming the name of the God who has already shown up in their lives (like Paul did in Acts 17).

The biggest mistake we can make is ascribing to the idea that “we bring the Kingdom.” Instead, “We don’t bring the Kingdom to the world; the Kingdom is unfurling” and we submit to what God’s already doing.

#2: Proximity.

While God is prevenient and working in people’s lives, “The thing that breaks my heart is there aren’t enough of us out there building relationship with them to be there on the spot” and help interpret their God-experiences. For instance, what if we happened to play darts weekly with a guy who has a “religious experience” he can’t explain? Then we’ll be ready and able to discuss it with him.

Jesus claimed to send his disciples into the world in the same way the Father had sent Him (John 20:21). But how was He sent?

He was sent to spend thirty years simply “in proximity” with this world, before He ministered in a public way. And His “proximity” was so natural that when He returned to His hometown preaching about God’s Kingdom, the people were surprised! In other words, they didn’t say, “I always knew there was something different about you – you were a little different, you never laughed at our jokes or spent time with us. I get it… You’re the Messiah!”

No, they were surprised – even though God incarnate had actually be living among them. Jesus practiced a kind of holiness that still fit into culture. His life reflected two things proximity requires: physical proximity (“moving into the neighborhood) and time.

Frost lives in and ministers in the place he grew up. So the city officials, he said, call him when they need the church to respond to something. Why?

Because “We know you’re not going anywhere,” they tell him. They might as well say, “You’ve hitched your star to our wagon,” to go down if they go down, and be successful if they’re successful. Other religious figures have come and gone so many times; others aren’t involved in the town in the same way. But Frost has chosen proximity to those people.

#3: Presence

While Frost spent more time on the first two principles, he did offer two more principles for what missional living looks like.

The third principle Frost mentioned as part of what missional Christians “do” is that they embody the presence of the Living God on earth. Among the people to whom we’ve been sent, we are indeed temples of God.

Among other things, this means not only esteeming the lowly, but also sometimes humbling the proud. Frost at this point provided a very interesting reading of the juxtaposed stories of Jairus and the woman who had been bleeding (from Luke 8:40-53). In that entire story, the synagogue leader Jairus is brought down like a child, forced by his circumstance to run to Jesus, a rabbi he may very well have been skeptical of previously. And the woman, on the other hand, is esteemed – in front of Jesus the well-known Rabbi, his disciples, and this synagogue leader.

Both these things – humbling the proud and esteeming the lowly – are works of God; we should ask whom these things are happening to within our ministries.

#4: Powerlessness.

We need to embrace this role, too, Frost continued. Christ – though obviously not actually powerless – divested Himself of that power and presented Himself as torn and broken and weak. We should ask ourselves what it would mean to be “empty-handed” in this place. Our God showed us that true greatness is in embracing humiliation, not avoiding it.

When we’re in denominations or contexts where we do have some “pull,” money, or other opportunities, we should be careful that we not simply throw all that weight and money around, being powerful in our missional contexts. We might even need to do things designed to bring ourselves to the level of those we’re reaching – that they might see us more as peers than as “leaders,” “teachers,” or “ministers.”

teaching #3: the missional church

19 May

After Monday’s primer on a missional understanding, on Tuesday Michael Frost discussed an issue that naturally follows: What does it mean for a church to be missional? And while he certainly focused mostly on churches, everything he said applies pretty natural to individual ministries, too – including the college ministries and youth ministries led by those on this trip (and by many of you!).

Here are notes from this morning! If this stuff interests you, read on. (But just remember – I take pretty lengthy notes!)

the missional church

Being (or becoming) a missional – or sent – church will mean we must “take off our shoes, roll up the leg of our pants,” and wade into the midst of despair and hurt and stink and trash. But, Frost reminded us, this is what Jesus did, being sent by the Father into a messy, painful world.

A lot of Christians, Frost claimed, are fine with the idea that Jesus is God-like. But they’re much less comfortable with the fact that God is Jesus-like, willing to step into our mess. Jesus was a missionary – this kind of missionary, who emptied Himself and joined a messy world. Churches are meant to be exactly this same kind of missionary to the ones they’re called to reach.

living as though God’s reign has drawn near

Frost pointed us to the water pots used in the miracle at Cana in John 2, which the author notes very explicitly were used for the Jewish purification rites. Yet Jesus offered great wine to the wedding party in these very jars. In this way, Christ illustrated a shattering of the conventions that so often kept people from God, including the rituals (performed in those very pots) that made separation obvious. Now, the Kingdom of God had drawn near. Continue reading

teaching #2: basics of “missional”

17 May

Today (Monday), Michael Frost began sharing with the group, and he’ll be our teacher for the rest of the week.

But you might be interested – I sure was – that this internationally recognized expert on all things “missional” has been diving in to this adventure as much of the rest of us. In fact, as I’m writing this Monday evening, I just saw him giving free hugs out on the busy sidewalk! (And that’s after he sarcastically announced this morning that his home country of “Australia is a hug-free nation, so I’m really looking forward to this ‘free hug’ thing.”)

But Dr. Frost is also bringing theology and theory to bear on what we’re doing this week. He (wisely) began this morning by sharing the basics of missional ministry; we’ll now be on the same page as we dive deeper in the coming days.

I won’t completely be able to reproduce his primer on missional understanding here. (Well – I could try, but I’d pass out and you’d stop reading long before I finished.) But just as our teacher got everybody on the same page this morning, I’ll hit the high points of his talk so you, faithful reader, can better understand this major focus of our week!

the God on mission

Michael began by explaining that he doesn’t push Christians toward a “missional” mindset simply because it might help church attendance, or because it fits the needs we see around us. Instead, he said, we see a God of the Bible who is constantly on mission Himself – sending His word, and sending THE Word (Jesus).

“How does God reveal Himself?,” Michael asked. “He reveals Himself by extension.” And ultimately, the high point of that revelation came as God sent His own Son into the world. Then, after the Son left earth, He and the Father sent the Holy Spirit – more sending, more revealing.

people on mission

So, Michael continued, God’s people are to be on mission like He is. So, he said, following God means being His sent-one. We should be asking ourselves, “To whom have I been sent?” and seeking specific answers to that question – even more specifically than just a continent, a country, or a city. Continue reading

teaching #1: locating “persons of peace”

16 May

This morning, Mike Lopez provided our first teaching time of the week, on a topic that’s particularly helpful to understand here at the beginning of our trip. He shared about locating “Persons of Peace” as we walk among the São Paulo crowds – and described how this means simply joining in what God’s already up to!

Some of our key passages for ministry this week are Luke 10:1-9 & 16-24. There, Jesus prepares dozens of his disciples to go in pairs throughout the land and share the news. As the disciples encountered individuals along the way, they would sometimes discover “persons of peace,” who would welcome them into their homes and perhaps help provide a bridge into that city.

So a Person of Peace is an individual who is open to us and our work – even if they haven’t (yet) been won over to our message. Encountering such people is an enormously helpful step in any work among a people (whether in the towns of Judea, in the city of São Paulo, or on a college campus). But how do we find them? Continue reading