Tag Archives: church

Pastoring a Church without walls

Almost 20 years ago now, I made a conscience decision to fire myself vocationally from ministry.  I had an instinct, a calling and a drive to create a response of the church to it’s present and emerging culture. It was clear to me that the word on the street was a growing distrust in the structures known as church.  What could church look like for people who would never step foot in a church?  I had a dream of a ‘missional’ church, a church without walls, where the posture was not asking people to come to church, but the church being ‘sent’ to where people were living/working/playing etc.   Reframing the church from being perceived as a building  or special event once a week to a community on mission doing all of life together.  I believe fundamentally that church is not someplace you go, but a people you belong to.

I’m still a pastor, I just don’t get paid for it.  I am sent into my world to care, love, inspire, teach, educate, inform, protect, marry, bury, baptize, pray for, pray with, pray behind their backs, create, build, enact mercy, stand for justice . . . all the things pastors should do in their culture.  I have no walls to keep me in, in the words of John Wesley, ‘the world is my parish’.  I don’t know about you, but I pastor a REALLY BIG church.   I’m sent to the 7.8 billion people that God has put on earth that I may come into contact with.  I work under the assumption that if we come into contact then the Creator wanted it to be and I’m available for the assignment he has in mind.  Pastoral ministry is not a job, it’s a way of life.  It’s a set of gifts given to you by your Creator and he gets to decide how they are used.  We are characters in a divine story being written one chapter at a time.

I don’t really buy the categories for faith I grew up in.  Churched or unchurched, saved or lost, believer or unbeliever, christian or nonchristian,  religious or secular etc.  I think we are all made up of the same substances of sinners and saints.  To me, church is more like an AA meeting, you participate and belong because you need it.  You start with the fact you have need, not because you’ve arrived at any great end.  I share this need with all my neighbors, all of them.  God isn’t mad, he just misses us.  He wants us to know the unyielding affection he has for us, all of us.  He wants to meet us at our place of need and do the mystical work of transformation together that is available to any of us through the Spirit of Christ.  That’s my job, to walk around my community and culture and give away the Spirit of Christ, I don’t have anything more important to do.  It’s the entire deal in pure form.

A church without walls.  Missional church is sent to bars, pubs, coffee houses, marketplaces, stadiums, fields, parks, libraries, entertainment centers, neighborhoods, schools, famers markets, festivals, concerts, parties, parades, online forums, places of work, etc. etc. where all the saints and sinners hang out.  There is no place where Christ’s extravagant love is not, therefore there is no condemnation or judgment.  Leave your self-righteousness and judgment at home, God is love.  We are a community invited to participate in the love and affection of the one who made us and doesn’t want to be without us.  He isn’t mad, he misses us.  All of us and everywhere.


Missional Communities: trouble-makers or church?

occRobert Dale states: “New paradigms always create translation challenges especially for the church, a conserving institution by definition. The church has too rarely anticipated challenges and changes. We have been tempted to live in a world that no longer exists. Consequently, the future has too often surprised the church.”
The vocation of the church to embody the very Kingdom of God
‘on earth as it is in heaven’ is far too high a calling to not respond to these shifts with a sense of purpose and complete mission.
Significant breakthroughs in ideas, thoughts and new constructs of organization do not happen overnight. Thomas Kuhn suggests that scientific discoveries rarely happen as a natural outgrowth of the previous knowledge base, but rather by means of peripheral
‘revolutions.’ There tend to be a few individuals who begin to perceive reality in ways qualitatively different than the established mindset of those practicing ‘normal science.’
The need for change comes from a small group of ‘pioneers’
who sense that the existing model is“riddled with anomalies and is unable to solve emerging problems.” Historically within the church, those thinking pioneers are not seen as helpful to the mission of the future but rather as distracting voices and perceived as ‘troublemakers’ within the religious system.
It is my view  that the pastoral leader of the future cannot be tethered to a desire to be fully accepted by the established thought of the day in exchange for the pursuit of a calling to incarnate Gospel communities where they are not presently flourishing. Pioneers are needed to seek new lands and opportunities, by nature they do not add to the present establishment. The church can no longer be seen as an entity located in a single facility or an institutional organization and its related activities, but must now be transformed into a gathered people in community as well as a ‘sent’ people with a common calling and vocation.  The large centralized institutions of the past built on the tenets of ‘modernism’ with its Enlightenment gods of science, technology and industrialization are increasingly losing their magic.
By definition, a missional community is a ‘sent’ people. They are fast, mobile and resourceful. They can adapt and change according to
the land and climate. Missional communities are a gathered people on pilgrimage together. They are the Ekklesia ‘called out’ of the world and then sent back into the world; “foreignness is an element of its constitution.”
A pilgrim people is rooted in the mentality of only habitating a temporary residence, they are on the move have no fixed abode.
If the people are pilgrims and on the move, this would necessitate a pastoral leadership that is also incarnational in its time and space. There is increasingly a movement away from a monopoly of ordained men who hold the power seats of Ekklesia and do the work of the ministry on behalf of the whole people of God. A generation of pastors are leaving a vocational presence within Ekklesia and going on the move with the rest of the people on mission. Leaders are incarnating their vocation within the culture in order to offer the ministry of Ekklesia in the “ongoing life of the Christian community in shops, villages, farms, cities, classrooms, homes, law offices, in counseling, politics, statecraft and recreation.”
Many are finding that it is no longer adequate for the minister to function primarily within the professional role of being the preacher,
administrator of programs and counselor for the flock. Rather, they are sensing a calling to lead the Ekklesia within the reality of being a church without walls and seek employment in culture where they can engage seekers and the unchurched.
There is a movement from an emphasis on professional clergy, who are center stage in the singularity of the gathered church event, to
“Christian professionals who are ministering in the world and in the marketplace.” Many are finding their calling not in being a pastor to the community, but by locating themselves vocationally as a mission outpost within the community.
Missional Communities, they are a thing.  Trouble-makers or church?  I’ll write more about them . . . . or just move on.

All the Poor and Powerless

Had a great conversation with a friend and fellow sojourner tonight about this really big question that I’ve been pondering for some 22 years or so now, that is ‘what is church’?  The sub questions are: Is it a weekly event?  Is it a place?  Is it public space?  Is it private space?  Is it a personal experience?  Is it a political affiliation?  Is it comfortable? Is it pleasing? Is it tethered to something historical? Is it relevant? Is it therapeutic? Is it justice oriented? Is it biblical? Is it . . .?  Is it . . . ?  Is it . . . ?

If you have been one of my students, you have had to deal with one of my mantras which is ‘church is not someplace you go, it’s a people you belong to.’  In my years of asking this question, that’s been one of my conclusions for many reasons.  But I would go further now and say more conclusively I think is that church is something you ‘opt in out of a place of need’.  Kind of like an AA meeting.  Your place of being poor and powerless finds resonance in others who find themselves in a place of being in need and as a people you seek the source of your being, that is the Creator.  That Creator is ‘holy’, by definition he is ‘other’.  To pursue something or someone ‘other’ is not a controlled strategy, it is the end of your self.

I’m not really interested in being comfortable, entertained or relevant.  I can get that at the local theater complex.  I need church to be alternative to my cultural surroundings.  I need it to be tethered to something outside of the problems and trappings of my day but yet immersed in the passion to bring healing to the brokenness around me.  I need church to be ‘in’ and yet not ‘of’ this world.

What is church?  . . . it is for the poor and powerless.  Welcome.

You don’t have a right to exist


Interesting article here on iconic brands that have vanished in the past few years either due to mis-management, acquisition or other contextual factors.  They once were entrenched and moving along assuming their future’s existence and then through a series of factors they vanished into a memory of yester-year.  They highlight companies like Compaq, Saab and Cingular and also banking/lending companies that fell during the onset of the recession.

Are you a company, organization, school, church, business, leader, manager or investor that is actively thinking through it’s right to exist?  History says in all these areas that you don’t have a right to exist, factors change and if you don’t change with them there is not an assumption that you have to exist post-transition.  The world is cruel in that way, no assumptions can be made.  We are largely a product of the choices we are making today, so what choices are you making?  In the words of the wise sage, Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try.

If history sets us aside, the best we may be able to hope for a transition out of glory is by bringing some definition to the new paradigm.  The ‘horseless’ carriage could not compete with the wave that was about to come upon it’s shores, in what we now know as automobiles.  But for awhile, it existed and helped bring formation to the new paradigm by stating what it was in comparison to the old paradigm.  There were horses with carriages for hundreds of years but before we could fully move into the era of the automobile, we had the horseless carriage to help transition the way.  But unless those companies made choices to transition themselves, they were left behind with no right to exist.

Are you on the bottom looking up?  If so, don’t lose your hunger, transitions are happening in every sector, keep building on your contribution and as the big fish lose their footing, be ready to add your influence with clarity and power.  Are you on top?  You better look down, you don’t have a right to exist, there are others who will gladly supplant you if you get full of yourself and lose your contribution to your unique market.  Timing and circumstances we have little control over, but we are largely a result of the choices we are making today.  Are you building and growing on what you know and what you believe, or are you resting on your laurels in the kind of pride that precedes a fall?

A proper humility is the beginning of wisdom, I hope I’m listening to it’s gentle warning for the things I’m trying to influence.

Who are the Poor?


A few years ago, early in the morning, I was taking a walk around my American middle class neighborhood and I just began praying for the homes and the doors that I passed.  Not thinking anything of it but just praying for blessing over the hearts and minds all who who dwelled within them.  At some point in my walking and my meditation, I heard the voice of the Spirit say, “Chris, your neighborhood is destitute”.  Now, I live dead middle in middle to upper middle class suburban America, nobody is starving, everyone has access to education and services . . . at first this didn’t make sense.  Later, I began to realize, poverty comes in many forms.  I was living in an impoverished suburbia.Who are the poor?  What is it exactly that justifies the label of “poor”?  How does one quantify poverty?  How do you help the poor?  Am I impoverished?  These are some of the compelling questions I got out of the first half of Bryant L. Myers “Walking with the Poor”. The author gives one of the most comprehensive and holistic treatments of redemptive community development, particularly amongst the poor that I have read.  He breaks down in technical terms what he calls “Principles and Practices of Transformational Development.”The author states that the causes of poverty are spiritual and fundamentally relational.  “Poverty is the absence of shalom and all its meaning.” (p. 86)  A person that does not know who they are in Christ, who they are in the image and possibility of God, has no hope and remains in impoverished thinking and acting.  Their detachments and entanglements perpetuate broken relationships, holism becomes unreachable.              “When the poor accept their marred identity and their distorted sense of vocation as normative and immutable, their poverty is complete.” (p. 76)  Poverty is a broken frame of mind and identity that affects all behavior fundamentally.  Certainly there are cultural and political factors as well of access and systemic evils, but the root of impoverished thinking starts internally before it is acted out externally.Those of us in the West tend to see the poor through our own lenses of reality (worldview).  “We view the poor from a point of view, in terms of our personality, and in terms of the culture from which we come”. (p. 58)  “Poverty is in the eye of the beholder.  We see what our worldview, education and training allow us to see.”  (81)  This is our blind-spot according to the author.  We walk into a ministry context to help the poor, but we bring our biases.  They must be poor and impoverished because they are not like us:  they don’t have access to things, education, opportunity, freedom etc.  We read into it that they need our kind of help and thus put ourselves in the power seat of being the Savior of their needs.  Our story and our blindspot interferes with the story that God may be wanting to write with the poor and leading them to a new kind of freedom in thinking and living.  We play God and can put them in dynamics of dependency.  Myers states that the “non-poor understand themselves as superior, neccesary and annointed to rule.”  That is a dangerous and sinful frame of mind.The most powerful idea I gleamed from the first part of this book is to see all of humanity as fundamentally broken due to the Fall of man and thus we all share in a kind of spiritual poverty.  We are the same, we are family in our impoverished hearts and minds, seeking the shalom of God.  The poor and the non poor are lacking, impoverished in different spaces.  When our stories come together, it should not be with one over the other, but as a family, at a round table, working out transformational development before and under the throne of God.So back to the impoverished suburbia.  Myers says that within western capitalism, we have lost our way.  “Capitalism reduces people to economic beings driven by utilitarian self-interest toward the goal of accumulating wealth. . . . In the latter years of the twentieth century, it is becoming clear that the modern world is discovering that it has lost its story.”(p. 22)  Where the intent of capitalism was not to acquire wealth as an end, but to access it as a means to support the general welfare.  “The poverty of the non-poor is fundamentally relational and caused by sin.  The result is a life full of things and short on meaning.  The non-poor simply believe in a different set of lies.” (90)    This is my impoverished suburbia, these are the poor I am called to serve and proclaim a different story to.   True meaning only comes from seeing yourself rooted in the story of God and His Kingdom.My prayer for our community is that we could look like this:  “A church full of life and love, working for the good of the community in which God has placed it, is the proper end of mission.  Transformational development that does not work toward such a church is neither sustainable nor Christian.” (39)peace,Marshall

Resurgam for the church?


As the American church finds herself amidst drastic cultural shifts, economic new realities and divergence in macr0-thinking about life and meaning, how will she respond?  Will she lament only about the “good ole days” where she dominated cultural creation and was referenced as a major player in civic life?  Will she continue her obsession with “end times” theologies of a kind of Platonic dualism where this world is wretched and the hope is to hunker down wait for Jesus to come back to their spiritual home in the by and by?  (I see this approach as blatantly fatalistic)   Or will she find courage to think differently, to be creative and find new ways to serve and care for her cities and neighborhoods?The American mega church (churches 2,000 or more) have been built on the foundation of the hyper-individualism in later modernism.  Choice, preference, comfort, convenience, professional specialists, digital environments and a savy eye towards both mass and niche marketing have contributed to their growth and perceived relevance.

“The church of the third millennium finds itself amidst a culture that has become ‘nothing but a meeting place of individual wills, each with its own set of attitudes and preferences and who understand that world solely as an arena for the achievement of their own satisfaction, who interpret reality as a series of opportunities for their enjoyment and for whom the last enemy is boredom.” – Veli-Matti Karkkainen An Introduction to Ecclesiology (p. 228)

I used to be a voice against all things mega, but I have softened quite a bit in that area.  There are questions I have, but there are also questions I have about my own church, and I’m the planter of it ;-).  I really don’t see a right or wrong in the “how” of church anymore, I am just seeking true ekklesia.  I believe ekklesia can be found in mega, traditional, rural, mainline, micro, simple, organic, house, multi-campus etc. , I also believe that unhealthy church can be found in these same modalities.   I believe now that church structure is neutral, it is the response of the people to Christ and his Spirit that bring meaning to the structure.  Take those elements away and you can find institutionalization in mega and unhealthy cults in micro communities.Recently I have been in conversation with Joe Boyd and Kevin Rains , two guys who I deeply respect their hearts for God and their hearts for our city.  Joe is leading an initiative with Vineyard Community Church here in Cincinnati, a mega church of 6,000 plus that has a solid reputation for being people who serve and care about others.  VCC is branching out believing that their future is as a harmonious structure of mega celebrations (6,000 plus), campus sites (100-300) and micro-communities (3-15 or so).  They see value in each structure and believe the way forward is not more of the same, but trying things differently.  I for one, applaud their efforts and am glad to be advising with them on the micro-communities.Resurgam is Latin for “I will rise again”.  I wonder, both to myself and out loud, is a marriage between mega-church and micr0-church a way for the American church to move forward and rise again within culture?  Not from above, but from below.  Where we are known not for our dogmas, but for our communal nature and search for meaning.  There are idealogical differences in the ways of thinking between micro and mega, but there is one Christ and one Spirit who forms the Church.  If we keep our focus on them, there is hope for a Resurgam within the American Church.  I’m in.peace,Marshall

Formed: Simplicity


Last weekend I attended the 2nd module of Formed, a 12 part novitiate curriculum of spiritual formation led by a group of friends.  This month’s module was on the topic of “Simplicity:  Antidote to Consumerism” and the conversation was led by Will Samson.Will Samson was the right thinker/speaker for this conference conversation with practitioners on the value of Simplicity in a world of consumerism.  His background in Sociology and Theology was crucial to give this topic the depth and reflection it deserved.  He first analyzed the macro-issues of consumerism before he drilled down into the practical living out of simple community in today’s American culture.Samson laid out that our culture seeks for contentment in the consumption of things.  If we can acquire more “stuff” then that will lead to happiness.  However, instead of happiness, many Americans have only found overwhelming debt.  The over-arching response has been similar thinking from the government to the individual household; to get out of debt we must spend our way out.  This results in a spiraling down emotionally, the more we spend, the more depressed we are.  We live in a culture of mindless consumption; the desire for more is something we’re taught as “economic actors”.In my opinion, Samson’s most profound point was in our culture’s narrative of “away”.  We throw things away like it goes to a magical place and we don’t consciously know how that happens physically.  We are completed disconnected from our waste, we are disconnected from how food gets to us, we are disconnected from how money is made etc.  This narrative of “away” has perpetuated conspicuous consumption, debt and the obesity factors that come with the unhealthy eating of processed foods.  He describes that what we are doing is completely unsustainable and that the problems we face cannot be saved at the same level of thinking that created them.How do we practically move forward and do something about our mindless consumption?   One way he suggests is the biblical value of serving one another, it is the alternative to consumerism.  To serve one another means that we make sure there is enough for all, that the community needs are met. Samson suggests that being radical is simply just getting back to the roots of what it means to be human.  He proposes we can engage in at least five different, simple modalities to do something about it:

  1. Make something
  2. Trade something
  3. Grow something
  4. Slow down
  5. Eat together

Simple enough, thanks Will.

Wisdom from the Pooh


This is from today’s Aidan reading in Celtic Daily Prayer – In Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, Owl is instructing Pooh Bear to follow the customary procedure:

“What does Crustimoney Proseedcake mean?’  said Pooh.  “For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.”  “It means the Thing to Do.”  (Owl)  “As long as it means that, I don’t mind”, said Pooh humbly.

I wish I sometimes didn’t mind the thing to do.  Often we fight against the right thing to do, the customary procedure and find ourselves not where we wish we could be.  I think life works best with a kind of rythymn.  A set procedures brings order to a rather disorderly world.  We can use intentional practices to build in formation of our life around the values and principles that we desire for it to be about.  Friday night house church is one of those ryhymns in my life.  When I am driving home from work on Friday evening, I am driving to a gathering of spiritual community in my home.  There will be laughter, sometimes tears, instruction from the ancient Scriptures, stories told, life shared, meals passed, communion taken, worship given and fellowship until we just can’t take anymore.  It is a part of my customary procedure and I couldn’t live without it. And for the other things, that I have yet found good customary procedure for, in the words of Pooh:  “o bother”. peace,Marshall



In James Hunter’s final essay in “To Change the World”, the author takes his social theory critique and begins a turn towards the theological and the working out of what the church ought to look like if it wants to be an influence in the real world.The reality is that the institutions of our day:  be it churches, schools, universities, hospitals, governments, social agencies etc., they all have their roots in authoritative truths with a fixed point of reference.  The words surrounding their truths lend confidence to their objectives.  The words speak to why they exist and what mission they are continually on.  Given enough time, these words become assumptions to the way things are and how things work.  They form a bedrock, a foundation in which all the mortar and bricks are built upon.  The Enlightenment period in history was a dream of discovering all of these objective truths which in turn would lead us to a society always progressing towards utopia.  Hunter, like many others, are pulling back the curtain and saying the Enlightenment dream did not work.

“The Enlightenment’s own quest for certainty resulted not in the discovery of new certainties but rather in a pervasive and astringment skepticisim that questions all, suspects all, distrusts and disbelieves all.  Even in the early decades of the seventeenth century, the great poet John Donne wrote presciently of this new age, ‘New philosophy calls all in doubt.’  Marx and Freud made titanic contributions to the project of modern skepticism.” (p. 206-207)

This skepticism has led to dissolution, “the deconstruction of the most basic assumptions about reality.” (p. 203)  This dissolution is real and it threatens the viability and survivability of our culture’s institutions.  At the very least, the assumptions and the power those institutions once held has been severely diminished.  What can the church do given these circumstances?  Hunter tells the reader that “defensive against”, “relevance to” and “purity from” are not the answer to the cultural shifts and power systems.  What he wants to argue for, is a “faithful presence” or a kind of incarnational shalom to our world.  Whatever your context is and wherever your sphere of influence is, enact shalom (the peace of God) there.

“Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of social influence, whatever they may be:  their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.” (p. 247) and “there is no way the old models could ever be sufficient to address the challenges of the present age.  What is more, there is a yearning for a different way, especially among the young; a way that has integrity with the historic truths of the faith and the witness of the Spirit and that is adequate to the challenges of the present moment.” (p. 276)

Shalom is us showing up and being church in our day.  Not defined by consumerism, individualism or the misuse of power, but by our gospel identity of being formed ‘in Christ’.  Shalom is us incarnating the servanthood of Christ in the most challenging issues that our neighbors are facing.  Shalom is caring about justice in a world of poverty.  Shalom is staying in a place of need when it’s more convenient to leave.  Shalom is loving your enemy.  Shalom is listening to your critics, being silent under judgment.  Shalom is about the other, not you.  Shalom is the way out, it is the way of freedom in a world of oppression.  Wherever you are, whatever you do . . . shalom.



The Possibility of Elitism?


As a part of the doctorate program I’ve started with George Fox University (DMin in Global Missional Leadership), we are reading and discussing a provocative book on how exactly world change happens:  James Davison Hunter “To Change the WorldThe Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World“.    Hunter’s thesis in his first essay is bascially that within traditional Christian thinking, we have fallen hook, line and sinker for a kind of Platonic idealism.  That we may “hope” and “dream” about changing the world, but our ideals don’t match up with the reality that is steeped in history.  Culture is tangible and real, it does not exist in the mind and in our ideals.  Within the evangelical tradition, we have long tended to over-spiritualize our endeavors and under-estimate the reality of power and position.The most challenging part of Hunter’s first essay to me was the idea that culture change has rarely if ever come from the periphery, but always comes from the positions and places of power within culture.  I’ve not been silent about the fact for the past 12 years or so that I have intentionally sought the periphery to affect the kind of world change I was desiring.  Choosing grassroots over institutional in my form of church, flat leadership vs. hierarchical.  Hunter deeply challenged these presuppositions for me in a healthy way.  I am not making drastic changes in my doing, but I am continuing my reflection that I need to wrestle with the facts of history and world change if in fact that is my end goal.Hunter speaks to Evangelicalism’s lament over not seeing the change it desires:

“the main reason why Christian believers today (from various communities) have not had the influence in the culture to which they have aspired is not that they don’t believe enough, or try hard enough, or care enough, or think Christianly enough, or have the right worldview, but rather because they have been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted.” (p. 89).”Christians are absent from the institutions at the center of cutlural production.  The cultural capital American Christianity has amassed simply cannot be leveraged where it matters most.” (p. 91)

The Gospel of Jesus is a gospel to the poor, the outcast, the disenfranchised, the imperfect, the weak, the lonely and the unloveables.  I don’t read Hunter discounting that.  I read Hunter saying that if we deeply care about this gospel, if we think the Kingdom of God is the hope for the world, then we should care about how change happens to these ends.  On the flip side is the trappings of power.  History can show us as well that power and position corrupts, so how do we buffer ourselves from such temptations and remain in our gospel-identity?  Israel had many kings, only 2-3 were good.  However, one of them, namingly David was such a powerfully influencing, world-changing King that his influence through his elite position still dominates Juadaism, Christianity and that strip of land on the east bank of the Mediteranean Sea.Elitism can be a trap, but might also elitism be an opportunity for Kingdom world change?    I am yet chewing on Hunter’s thesis.peace,Marshall