Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Playgrounds & Airports

I love and serve the traditional, attractional, programmatic local church.  As I do, I wonder what it will require to embrace the missional transformation.  Below are pictures of where and why we need innovation and new ministry.  The following is written to the traditional church by those who are leading the missional movement.


As I've thought about it, it's as though we as churches have taken the leaders of our church and put them in a playground that is just 10 feet long and 10 feet wide and enclosed by a tall fence.

We put these leaders on the playground and tell them to play.  That may sound good, but there are a lot of them in one place, and it's pretty crowded.  Because the space is so small, there is only room for a swing set, a short slide, and a little merry-go-round.  People take turns playing, but they spend most of their time waiting around, wondering when it's going to be their turn.  The fence of the playground is so high that you can't see over it.  As a result, the leaders don't even know that this playground is situated right in the middle of Walt Disney World.  There are a lot of rides and a lot of fun to be had just on the other side of the fence... and they don't even know it.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that if we took the fence down to let the leaders see what could be, almost all of them would stay in that small playground.  Why?  They know the playground.  It's what they've always known.  They like the swing set, the slide, and the merry-go-round.  Space Mountain?  The Tower of Terror?  The Teacups?  They've got no idea what to do with those.  Walt Disney World is way too foreign and looks more than a little scary compared to the playground they have always known.  So chances are, even if you took the fence down, they'd never leave the playground. 


Imagine that it is a Tuesday morning, and that the staff of your church has gathered for its weekly staff meeting.  Staff members discuss the weekend service and whether it delivered the message and experience they hoped it would.  They discuss attendance numbers; small group numbers and effectiveness; budget, buildings, and cash flow.  ... Then, there's a soft but decisive knock on the door.  Someone says, "Come in!"

Into the room, dressed in normal clothes, step Peter, Paul, James, Priscilla, Timothy, and Lydia.  (Obviously, we're in a hypothetical situation here.)  They introduce themselves and say that the Lord sent them to your church to serve in any way they can.  They ask, "What can we do?  We don't want to be on the stage or anything.  You're doing the preaching/teaching thing really well.  But we'll do anything else you need.  Just tell us what you'd like."

A stunned silence comes over the staff--after all, this is a strange situation.  But soon enough, the staff members snap out of it.  "Uhh, well, OK.  Well, how many of you are there?  Six.  Well, let's see.  Could three of you be small group leaders?  We're looking to start some new small groups, and clearly you'd be great at that.  Peter, James, Paul, could you do that?

"Hmmm... you know, we just lost the person who heads up our First Impressions team a month ago, and it has been a bit lackluster.  It has lost the punch it used to have.  You know it's important that people have a strong impression of our church within the first 15 seconds when they come to the service.  Priscilla, do you mind heading that up?

"Timothy, we could sure use another usher, you look like you could handle that.  Lastly, Lydia, I hear you play a mean bass and can sing too.  We're down a bass player and would love to have you in the band.  Maybe you can even fill in and lead worship from time to time.  Are you up for that?"

This is called plug-and-play.  This is about having various positions we need filled in the machine of our churches and plugging people into those roles  Now don't get me wrong: there are always going to be logistical needs when the scattered church gathers.  That's reality, and we need to attend to that and do it well.

But does anyone really think this is where a church should be using Peter, James, Paul, Priscilla, Timothy, and Lydia?  Would this be the most effective use of their time and energy given the skill sets they have [for multiplying followers of Jesus]?


I travel by plane almost every week. This means I get to visit a lot of airports. On a fairly routine basis, airports get confused about what they're there for -- and for whom. They think that if a bunch of planes are on the ground, close to the hub, and the concourse is full of people, they are winning. They apparently think they are the destination! Of course, when this happens, it means a bunch of people aren't getting where they want to go. They're stuck at the airport, like flies on flypaper.

The airport is a place of connection, not a destination. Its job is to help people get somewhere else. An airport-centric world of travel would be dull and frustrating, no matter how nice the airport is.

When the church thinks it's the destination, it also confuses the scorecard. It thinks that if people are hovering around and in the church, the church is winning. The truth is, when that's the case, the church is really keeping people from where they want to go, from their real destination. That destination is life. Lucky for us, it just so happens this is what Jesus promised to bring to us. (He did not say, 'I have come to give you church and give it to you more abundantly.') Abundant life is lived out with loved ones, friends, acquaintances in the marketplace, in the home, in the neighborhood, in the world.

The church is a connector, linking people to the kingdom life that God has for them. Substituting church activity as the preferred life expression is as weird as believing that airports are more interesting than the destinations they serve.

So... what do you think?  Do these pictures tug at your heart for something richer?  This is just a trim over the top into why we need missional leaders: people who can gently and personally mentor, leading us outside the safe spaces of the church building and into the world so the Kingdom might expand.

[1] "Multiplying Missional Leaders: From Half-Hearted Volunteers to a Mobilized Kingdom Force" by Mike Breen. 3DM, 2012.

[2] "Missional Renaissance" by Reggie McNeal. Jossey-Bass Publication, 2009. pg. 45.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

"This is a Safe Place"

Is life beating you down?

Do you have a wound or affliction that just won't clear up?

The Hemorrhaging Woman

She was bleeding.  It had been this way for 12 years.  The doctors she saw only made her worse, not better.  This woman who hemorrhaged had lived a life with wounds and fear.  The bleeding was only part of the problem.  She also struggled to be part of society for all those years.  You see, wherever she laid or sat would be unclean for anyone else, and if others touched places she had been, they also would be unclean for a few days.  Think that would take a toll on her feelings?

Would you push your way through a tight crowd and talk publicly about this problem to Jesus?  It would cause instant recoil.

She didn't want to talk to him.  She didn't want to reveal that she would make everyone unclean in the crowd.  So she found a way to interact with Jesus without looking Him in the face.  Faith brought her.  She thought, "if I can only touch the hem of His robe, I will be healed."

And she was!  She stopped bleeding as soon as she touched Jesus.  He had made her finally feel safe from the oozing wound.  Her plan was to slink away.  But the Lord was thinking about how she felt in the presence of many.

Thank God for Jesus!  He didn't follow the usual protocol and count this bleeding woman unclean.  He was safe, for her.  What happens when we only feel safe with one?

In this video Nikita intuitively hears wisdom's voice.  Nikita stops Alex's oozing wound.  She retells her own story to Alex.  How, once she had an oozing wound, a need for safety, and Carla stopped the hemorrhaging.  In spite of Carla's absence, Nikita grasps the rest of the lesson and embodies it for Alex: "And I thought, 'There has to be a reason."'  She wasn't going to wait on Carla - her own devotion to righteousness called her to excellence in being a mentor herself.

The Clackamas Town Center Shooting

When people become associated on an intimate level with shocking tragedy, such as the Newtown School shooting or Clackamas Mall shooting last December, they say afterward, "I'll never go there again."

This kind of thinking is like the woman who only wanted to be healed in body and not in the crowd: a half-way deliverance.  It seems like wisdom to avoid the places where people remind you of something that brings you down.

But experts in trauma and post-traumatic stress suggest that the best thing you can do after a perceived life-threatening experience, is to revisit the very place where it all happened.  To face it.  To sit in the corridors, to walk the expanse, and just let your senses take in the normalcy of it all.

The woman who hemorrhaged very well might have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Research shows us that people with chronic life-threatening illness, such as cancer, can be triggered with intense re-experiences of traumatic fear for survival.  They call this the "fight-or-flight" response, or "hyperarousal" or "hypervigilence." It is a lower-brain response, not part of the brain responsible for critical thinking at all.  It comes from the amygdala, which for example, tells you to take your hand off a burning stove even before you've had a chance for the more advanced part of your brain to interpret the situation and decide to remove your hand.  It's much faster, beyond thinking almost.  The amygdala and hippocampus are in charge of fear responses and the way those memories are held and revived in the mind.

The hypervigilence of post-traumatic stress is similar to what schizophrenics experience in paranoia.  It's not paranoia, but it acts similar.  Hypervigilence seems like a foreign concept until it just comes over someone.  Their senses warn them saying, "I've seen this situation before.  Run first, ask questions later!"

Those Who Don't Go Back, Lose Community

Why go back to a place of a nightmare?  For mall shoppers who don't go back, it seems at first like a no-brainer, like a healthy decision.  Somewhere down the road however, it may catch up. This increases in likelihood if there should be another life-threatening experience later, even if it is completely unrelated to the first. The re-experiencing of a traumatic response doesn't just happen in that mall, on the third floor right at the Macy's entrance where the tragedy occurred.  The mind may revive this experience through totally unfair reminders, such as the scent of Bath and Body Works, down the hall.  Or any retail center which has the same tiles on their floors.  Or overhead holiday music.  The amygdala and hippocampus just plays unfairly.  The fear can irrationally come out in so many more places and scenarios than you would have ever thought possible.  It makes public places and people, unsafe, and there is little community for people with fear.

This is why it is good to consider going back, when life settles down to normal.  The traumatized should attempt to take back and normalize the situation that had been terrifying.

Moving Us Toward Community

Your responsibility is to go back.  Your mentor's responsibility is to advocate for your community.  We must find a way to help people feel safe around one another, after tragedies like these shootings.  Mark 5:30-34,
And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, 'Who touched my clothes?'
But His disciples said to Him, 'You see the multitude thronging you, and you say, "Who touched me?"'
And He looked around to see her who had done this thing.  But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.  And He said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.'
Many Christians have trouble being vulnerable beyond a couple of our closest friends.  What if, barring a few mismatched personalities, Christians were a safe place to be yourself?

Jesus became a beacon by which the woman could retake a sense of safety and rapport with several more.

He instantaneously imposed on all His followers to become that safe environment.  He did it through His public acceptance of her, in the place and the people where she was most aware of her issue.  This is a fine example of healing communities.

As I write this I realize some readers are thinking about those who have not been safe.  Have you ever taken a risk, and stood out?  Did you ever choose to be vulnerable?  Have you shown a small community your battle scars and risk being misunderstood?  Sometimes Christians go silent because they don't know what to say, even though they feel respect and compassion for you.  Sometimes they add judgement on top of your wound, instead of moving toward vulnerability themselves.  Imagine in the television show above if Nikita and Birkoff separated themselves from Alex because they could see her hemorrhaging?

If this is the case in your life, take a look at the scriptures.  The woman honestly didn't know what would happen if she became known.  But she was sure scared!  God defends and saves those who take Kingdom risks.  Those who tell "the whole truth" for His glory and power to become known.  Jesus stops to hear her story.  He isn't defending the comforts of those following Him in the crowd.  He puts them on edge.  He wraps her in acceptance and this is the story that is left for us from the disciples in our bibles.  Jesus is on the side of the openly broken.  Through His dialogue with her, He subtly tells everyone else their duty which is to communicate: "We are okay.  You're going to be fine."  Depend on Jesus to do this for you in your vulnerability!  He can transform Christians who struggle to embody safe community.  God doesn't guarantee that all our afflictions will healed in an instant, but He has shown us that we don't have to live this life alone.

It just might be that Jesus would use your openness as a model of His grace for a whole throng of onlookers.

The Community's Response: This is a Safe Place

Do you suffer from wounds and fear?  I can't promise you all Christians will treat you right.   It is the Savior, Jesus Christ, who ended the era of separating the broken.  Have you ever thought that your words and your presence is a ministry God can give through you to someone in need?  When I've drawn near to someone's wounds and pain, that was not me; it was Jesus who lives in me and who's shown me in His Word how much He loves everyone so much, that He took many wounds for us.  He will be closer to you than I ever could.  I'm not perfect.  I will let you down now and then.  If you happen to have felt acceptance from me, come and experience acceptance in the community of Christians with which I follow Jesus.  As D.T. Niles said, "I'm just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread"  -

"You can stay here.
This is a safe place."

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