Archive for October 2010

New Membership, Growth on Capitol Hill, and Missional Faith–Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #24

Dear Friends of Jesus,

As the month of October draws to a close, and the daylight hours grow ever shorter, we here in Washington, DC are seeing autumn at its apex. The trees are in the final throes of their changes of color; soon they will be entirely bare. Winter is coming.

During this time of seasonal change, my wife Faith and I are experiencing our own transitions. This month, we became membersRockingham Meeting of Rockingham Monthly Meeting, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. We have been attending Rockingham regularly, about once a month, since last November, and it became clear to us and to Friends at Rockingham that we were effectively becoming a part of the fellowship. At Rockingham’s October meeting for business, we were formally accepted as full members of the Meeting.

Faith and I are pleased to become a part of Rockingham Meeting, and, by extension, of Ohio Yearly Meeting. This feels like a good fit for us, first and foremost because of the bond that we feel with Rockingham Friends in the Spirit of Jesus. We deeply respect their integrity, discernment and love for one another in the Lord. In the time that we have been among them, we have indeed come to feel ourselves a part of them, and them of us.

While it was sad for me to release my membership in Heartland Meeting and Great Plains Yearly Meeting, I believe that membershipGreat Plains Yearly Meeting sessions, 2009 in a Meeting should reflect real commitment and involvement. Because of the great distance between me and Friends in the Great Plains, coupled with my lack of plans to return to live in Wichita at any point in the future, I felt that my membership with Friends there was increasingly becoming a formality, rather than a lived relationship. I believe I am being faithful in changing my membership status to reflect the human and spiritual realities of my life as it is now.

I will miss being a part of Great Plains Yearly Meeting, and I do continue to pray for the Yearly Meeting as a whole, as well as for each local Meeting. The end of my membership does not signal the end of my caring for each Meeting and each person in GPYM. I pray that the Lord will present opportunities for me to be of service to Friends there in the future. More importantly, I pray that God raise up the local leadership that Great Plains Yearly Meeting needs to be revived. I trust that God will be faithful in leading us, if we will be faithful in waiting on the Holy Spirit and putting Christ’s commands into action.

As new members of Ohio Yearly Meeting, Faith and I are getting the chance to become more deeply involved in the ways in which God isFaith on the Mall moving in this fellowship of Friends. The weekend after we were accepted into membership at Rockingham Meeting, we attended Stillwater Quarterly Meeting. Stillwater Quarter rotates its sessions in a two-year cycle, which allows each Monthly Meeting to host. This time, the sessions were held in Chesterhill, Ohio, at Chesterfield Friends’ Meeting House.

Faith and I were honored to stay at the home of Richard Wetzel, who is mayor of Chesterhill. He was a wonderful host, and gave us a nice tour of the town and the surrounding countryside on the evening that we arrived at his house. Then by surprise, a special guest came via limousine car service atlanta, which was a little excessive, but what he had to say made up fro that, maybe philanthropy is coming back, we shall see what the future holds. The next day, we attended Quarterly Meeting at the meetinghouse. It was good to see many familiar faces, as well as some new ones, and I was pleased to be able to be a part of the answering of the queries as a Quarterly Meeting. At this particular gathering, the entirety of Rockingham’s full membership was able to be present, which was truly a blessing to me.

I appreciate very much Ohio Yearly Meeting Friends’ commitment to gathering together on a regular basis, despite the distancesFriends at Rockingham Meeting involved. The drive out to Chesterhill from Harrisonburg is about five hours in either direction (and six from Washington), but I do believe that Friends had a sense that the effort and cost of gathering together was well worth it. Stillwater Quarter is an immensely dispersed fellowship, ranging from Flint, MI in the north; Atlanta, GA in the south; and Lancaster, PA in the east. I believe there is a sense that Stillwater will eventually need to set off a new Quarterly Meeting, but Friends have not yet seen clearly how to divide the Meetings. The Quarter has been growing in recent years, and I suspect that continued growth may provide a clearer solution.

We continue to see signs of new life at Capitol Hill Friends in DC. Our meetings for worship in the downstairs conference room of the William Penn House have been well-attended, and morale is high. We have been greatly blessed by visits from Rockingham Meeting, as well as by a number of other Friends from around the country. We feel presence of Christ in our meetings for worship, and we have a sense that we are growing – both numerically and spiritually – as a small Meeting of the Body of Christ.

Seeing how this little fellowship of God’s people is being drawn together is one of my greatest joys, and I am deeply grateful forMicah and Faith at the Jon Stewart Rally for Sanity everyone who has been praying for us and encouraging us in our ministry here in DC. Soon, I will be preparing a more structured request for prayer support, which I will be sending out to some folks by email. If you would like to be involved in intentionally supporting Faith and me in our ministry with Capitol Hill Friends, please get in touch with one of us so that we can add you to our prayer partners list. And, as always, I invite you to let me know how we can be praying for you, as well. We hold many of you in prayer already, but it is helpful to know how to pray specifically for individuals and Meetings.

I would like to mention one more thing before I close: I have recently begun to publish a series of essays entitled Missional Quaker Faith on my blog, The Lamb’s War. In this series, I am attempting to sketch out a vision for what our lives and church communities might look like if we laid aside everything to be fully available for Christ’s mission for us in the 21st-century West. I hope that you will join me in exploring these issues, and share your comments as you feel led. You can easily subscribe to The Lamb’s War either by email or by RSS feed; just look at the upper right-hand side of the blog to see how.

I pray that you are experiencing the living power of Christ with you in your daily lives and in your Meetings. Trusting together in the Seed of God, who is the root and reward of our friendship, we will be remade in the image of Christ.

In the Love that is beyond the world,

Micah Bales

Missional Quaker Faith: Discipleship

Taking up the cross and following Jesus is not a once-and-for-all decision. It is a choice that we must continue to make, day afterRenaissance House - Richmond, Indiana day, year after year. And the deep inward changes that come from surrendering ourselves to Christ’s guidance are generally not sudden. Though many of us experience pronounced “conversion experiences,” these intense moments of connection with God are not on their own sufficient to change us into the men and women that God calls us to be. Occasional moments of heightened awareness of God’s presence serve either as an invitation into the Kingdom-life, or as a confirmation of God’s ongoing guidance. However, as precious and helpful as these times of ecstatic intimacy with our Creator are, they are high points, not the norm.

While the Spirit is always present with us, gently guiding us and revealing how we are to walk, most of the time it is indeed a still, small voice. We need help in learning better how to listen and obey this sometimes subtle influence in our hearts. We are greatly aided by the help of experienced Christians who are able to walk beside us, accompanying us in our personal discernment and development of a more deeply faithful lifestyle. This ministry of shepherding one another as we grow deeper in the Way can be called discipleship, as it is a process of supporting each other in walking the path of present-day disciples.

As the Holy Spirit gathers us together into missional, Christ-centered communities, one of our top priorities must be developingFolks Gathered at Earlham School of Religion a culture of discipleship and mutual support. Learning to be like Jesus is not a self-evident process, and though it is ultimately the Lord himself who will guide us through the fiery process of conversion, we need the assistance of spiritually mature brothers and sisters who can help keep us on track. A healthy Christian community will be one in which discipleship (or eldering[1]) is an integral part of the group’s life and focus.
Relationships of discipleship in the life of each believer are much like the role of training wheels on a bicycle. Just as the training wheels do not provide the forward momentum or help in steering the bicycle, neither do elders(1) determine the speed or direction of progress in the spiritual life of the members of the community. Instead, just like training wheels keep a bicycle from tipping over, elders help to provide balance to women and men who are seeking to be faithful to the inward work of the Spirit.

In our attempts to be like Jesus, all of us are a lot like children at a bowling alley. We have good intentions, but our untrained spiritualBowling for Jesus muscles cause us to veer off-course so often that we do not have much chance of success on our own. Like a young child hurling a bowling ball down the lane, more often than not, we misjudge and end up flying off into the gutter. Fortunately, God has given us the spiritual equivalent of “bumpers.” Bumpers are inflatable tubes that are placed in the gutters of a bowling lane, so that a child can play without being endlessly frustrated. When the child bowls wildly out of bounds, the bumper nudges the ball back into the center of the lane.

The Church is like this. When we participate in Christian community, we are surrounding ourselves with “bumpers,” people who care for us enough to nudge us back on course when we are clumsily pitching ourselves into dark places where, if we are in our right minds, we should have no desire to go. This service of spiritually “bumping” one another is a responsibility for all members of the community, and just as we benefit from the stabilizing effect of other followers of the Way, we are each called to help others in growing deeper in their walk with Jesus.

As Christ gathers us into community, it is crucial that we emphasize discipleship as one of the most important activitiesTyler and Faith surveying the harvest field in Detroit in our life together. While some are more spiritually gifted in this work than others, everyone can have a role in caring for the spiritual needs of another member of the community. Relationships of discipleship will look different depending on the gifts of the people involved, but we as missional communities need to be intentional about fostering an environment in which the spiritual nurturing of others is central to our shared life.

If we are to be like Jesus, we must make disciples like he did. Discipleship is not something that only some small spiritual elite can do; all of us have a part in this ministry. The old Quakers often used the phrase, “in measure,” as a way to talk about responsibility according to maturity. They taught that each person had the Light of Christ “in measure,” and that each one was responsible to minister according to the measure of the Light within them. The idea was that, while we are all at different levels of maturity in Christ, each of us has responsibilities that are appropriate to where we are in our journey. Some women and men are especially called to be elders of the Church – to dedicate themselves primarily to equipping other followers of Jesus in their walk; but everyone has some role to play. For some of us, our role may be simply to provide a listening ear for a struggling brother or sister. Others of us might be called to give guidance and counsel to those called to specific ministries. Whatever our part to play, we share freely the measure of grace and experience that God has bestowed upon us.

It is important that we remember that discipling others is not something we do once we have reached perfection. The originalFriends at Earlham School of Religion's 50th Anniversary Celebration at Heartland Meeting, Wichita, KS disciples of Jesus were far from perfect themselves, and yet Jesus commanded them to “go and make disciples of all nations.”(2) He gives the same command to us today, imperfect as we are, because it is by living into Jesus’ command to make disciples that we ourselves become more like him. Discipling others is a part of the process through which we grow in Christ, not an after-thought.

How can we as local meetings of the Church encourage each person to live into their spiritual gifts and become more like Jesus? How can we develop a culture of discipleship within our communities?

1. In the Quaker tradition, the term elder refers to a spiritually mature member of the community who aids in spiritual discernment and discipleship. It is not a function of age, but rather of spiritual groundedness and wisdom. Friends often use eldering as a verb, referring to giving spiritual care (and sometimes correction) to others.
2. Matthew 28:19

Resources for Further Study:
Sandra Cronk, Gospel Order – A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #297, 1991.

Missional Quaker Faith: Deep Listening

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” – Mark 9:7


When Jesus is at the center of our life as a community, he enters into our midst and serves as our Leader. He sends the Holy Spirit to console and guide us, and through his Light he purifies us and prepares us for our mission as his Body. Through dedicated prayer, we are empowered to keep our eyes on the Lord, not being drawn away by the multitude of things that seek to distract us from the Life.

As we grow deeper in our relationship with God, we will encounter Jesus in a variety of ways. When Christians think about where theyYoungins on the porch at Illinois Yearly Meeting meet and learn from Jesus Christ, probably the most common first answer is, “in the Bible.” And indeed, the Scriptures are an important way we learn about Jesus and his ministry of reconciliation. But there are many other ways we come to know Jesus. We come to know who the Lord is through his presence within us, in our hearts; we also encounter Christ in our life as a community; and we meet him in our interactions with the stranger.

In all of the ways that we encounter the Risen Lord, it is crucial that we listen to him. Christ is present with us, ready to guide us in all of our decisions. He is not merely an historical figure, nor a distant Monarch far away in heaven; he still dwells among us through the Holy Spirit. If we choose to open ourselves to how he is speaking today, he will knit us together in unity and empower us to do his work in the world.

Jesus in Scripture


One of the most important ways that we come to recognize the voice of Jesus when he speaks to us today is through study of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. As the author of Hebrews assures us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever”(1), and we can trust the words and actions ascribed to Jesus by Scripture as a guide to recognizing his ongoing character today.

A healthy respect for the authority of Scripture is essential to the authenticity of a missional Quaker community. The Hebrew and Sarah Hoggatt speaks to the 2010 Quaker Youth PilgrimageGreek Scriptures are a record of God’s relationship with humanity, told primarily from the perspective of the Hebrew people. Studying the Bible is probably the most important way in which the average Christian maintains a relationship with the hundreds of generations that have come before us in the faith. We learn from their experience, which acts as a counterweight to our own subjectivity. If we believe that Christ is leading us in a way that runs contrary to his character as we know it in Scripture, we should carefully re-examine our experience and consider whether it is our interpretation of Scripture that is faulty, or our perception of our experience itself.

In addition to their role as a check on our discernment, the writings of the Old and New Testaments can serve as vessels for God to speak to us in fresh ways. Just as the disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus, we find that the Lord is present with us as we encounter the Scriptures. He opens them to us, revealing within our hearts the truth that God desires to communicate to us through the text.(2) When we read the Bible, whether alone or in community, we must take care to be open to Christ’s presence within us. He walks alongside us, ready to make clear the texts that, if read without the aid of the Holy Spirit, would either confuse us or lead us to wrong conclusions.

In our reading of Scripture, we must be always turned inward, listening for the Word of God in our hearts. The Bible itself is notPaul Buckley teaching at Illinois YM the Word of God, and never refers to itself as such; that title is reserved for Christ alone.(3) This is not theological hair-splitting – it is a key point of our faith as Friends: Because we honor Christ as the Word of God, we recognize that all writings about him, no matter how authoritative and inspired, cannot stand in his place. As we read Scripture, we seek the guidance of the Word-become-flesh, which will allow us to make sense of the Scriptures that the Word has inspired.

The way that we receive guidance from the Bible is not primarily through intellectual analysis (though God desires us to use our intellects to glorify God). Instead, when we consult the Scriptures we are reminded of how the Spirit has spoken to Israel in days past, and we hear how we are being called to faithfulness in our own time and circumstances. We trust that, just as Christ was present with ancient Israel and with the first apostles, so he will be faithful in shepherding us, leading us in his Way.

Jesus Within


The Lord walked with the first man and woman in the garden, and he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush; he made himself known to his disciples on the day of Pentecost, and he blind-sided Saul on the road to Damascus. God has always been consistent in initiating relationship with those who seek to be made whole; and the Spirit has a proven track record of doggedly pursuing those who resist the Truth. Each of us is given regular opportunities to open ourselves to Christ and his power. He is always standing at the door knocking, waiting for us to let him into our hearts.(4)

Thomas Kelly wrote that, “deep within us all, there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a Quaker Camp at Barnesville, 2007speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return.”(5) Each of us is capable of having a personal relationship with Christ, and we are called to open wide the doors of our hearts and be filled by his presence. We are meant to be dwelling places for the Living God, and we are called upon to be transformed into suitable vessels for God’s Spirit.

This process of being in-breathed by the Spirit of Christ involves two things happening simultaneously: First, we are shown our own condition; second, we are shown God’s will for us. The contrast between these two revelations is the impetus for divine transformation. When we allow Christ to shine his Light on us, we see our selfishness, our corrupt motivations, our rebellion against God, and our failure to love our fellow human beings or even ourselves. At the same time, we see the person that God is calling us to be: selflessly devoted to God and our fellow women and men, using the gifts that God has granted us to give joy to others and strengthen them in their own walk with Christ.

As painful as it is to see ourselves as we truly are, we are also empowered to live into God’s vision for who we are meant to be.George serving as clerk for the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage Step by step, the Refiner’s Fire can remake us, unleashing the power and beauty of God’s original intention for our lives. Many of these steps will be inward changes of heart: We will be called to love instead of hate; bless instead of curse; share instead of hoard. As we submit to the Light, we will find our character being slowly redeemed.

In the midst of this overall reorientation of our character, we will often find that God is calling us to change major aspects of our outward lives. We may be asked to change professions, for example; or move to another city; or take out the garbage without being asked. In big ways and in small ways, God calls us to implement practical changes in our lives that will enable us to better live out our new-found character and purpose as friends of Jesus.
It is essential for our development as disciples that we be obedient in small things, so that we will be ready when God has greater challenges for us. If we are faithful in listening and submitting to the still, small voice within our hearts, Christ will prepare us for the role that we have to play in the wider community.

Jesus in the Midst


The presence of Jesus in our Christian communities is deeply affected by the devotion, prayer and inward transformation of their individual members. But while the faithfulness of individuals is critical to Christ’s work in the Church, the way we experience him when we gather together in his name is more than the sum of the individual prayer lives of those gathered. When two or three are gathered in his name, Christ is indeed in our midst, and we receive his Spirit not merely as individuals, but as a gathered meeting.

When we invite Jesus into our meetings, we do so literally. We invite him in to set the agenda and guide us as a people. In a FUM Triennial 2008certain sense, Friends concur with the Roman Catholic teaching about the nature of Christ’s presence in Communion. We also believe in the real presence, that Jesus is literally made flesh and blood when we gather together in his name and open ourselves to his power. Unlike the Roman Church, we do not locate Christ’s presence in wine and bread; instead, we experience Christ’s presence as we ourselves become his flesh and blood and he becomes our spiritual food and drink.

In our gathered meetings where we have laid aside our own priorities and agendas, we abide in him and he abides in us.(6) When this spiritual unity occurs, we literally become the Body of Christ, the real presence of Jesus in the world. Just as Christ lays bare and transforms the individual heart, he also works in the lives of communities that submit themselves to his healing Light. If we open ourselves to him, he is able to energize and empower us as his Church, to do his work in the world.

But, just as in the case of our personal relationships with Jesus, such depths of intimacy and transformation can only come about2005 World Gathering of Young Friends when we come before God in humility, acknowledgment of our own brokenness, and repentance. This kind of surrender is impossible enough for a single person to accomplish on their own; for groups of dozens, hundreds, and thousands, it is surely inconceivable. But through God’s power, we can indeed triumph over sin and death, not only as atomized individuals, but also as the Church. This is one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s power and mercy: when entire communities are brought to repentance and spurred to lead lives that glorify God, demonstrating God’s love to others.

Jesus in the Stranger


But demonstrating God’s love to others is hard. We are able to love our friends, our family, and people that we generally agree withMeeting new folks in England without too much trouble. These loving relationships are relatively easy, because they do not challenge the underlying assumptions of our lives. We can love those who love us, those who confirm our own worldview, with our own human love. But we need the power of God’s love within us to reach beyond our comfort zone, even embracing those who threaten us.

If we wish to live out Jesus’ mission for us in the wider world, we will need to go further than our own narrow human love and experiment with the risky love of God. This will mean reaching out to people we don’t know, communities we are not comfortable in. With God’s help, we will be called into relationship with a motley assortment of people that we would never have become friends with otherwise. And we will discover that they are the Church of Jesus Christ.

This is perhaps the most difficult lesson for us to learn: We do not have all theJennie and Dorlan at Earlham School of Religion's 50th Anniversary Celebration in Wichita, KS answers. Not even most of them. If we approach the Kingdom-life as a matter of bringing others into the glory of our own perfection, we’re going to be disappointed. God has a lot of work yet still to do with each one of us, even those of us who have been serving Jesus for a long time. And God can speak through anyone.

The really sneaky thing about Jesus is that he shows up in the places where common sense least expects him. We find him among the poor, the uneducated, the mentally ill. We are confronted by him among religious and cultural minorities. We see his light shining in gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. We see evidence of his power among women and teenagers, old men and infants. The moment we are tempted to write anyone off as outside of Christ’s mercy, we are dumbfounded by the way he is so clearly alive and at work in the most fantastically diverse assortment of people.

If we are to be a missional community of Jesus’ friends, we have to learn that Jesus is friends with all sorts of people that we wouldDown time during the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage never normally hang out with. Just as Jesus had mercy on us while we were still in darkness, Jesus is at work in all people; his Seed is present in every heart, working for our salvation. We do not need to “take Christ” out to the people – he is already among them, teaching them inwardly. Our role as Jesus’ disciples is to answer the Seed of God in all people, encouraging it to grow and blossom into fully transformed, Christ-like lives.

And we will be changed by the encounter. We must recognize that mission is not about imprinting our character onto others; it is about sustaining a space where the character of Jesus Christ can come to full bloom in each of us. By holding this space, and inviting others to hold it with us, we will come away remade in unpredictable, surprising ways. And we may find in the end that those we were sent to minister to were in fact the face of Christ to us. We must be ready to change in response to our encounter with Christ in others. We must be willing to change our course not because it is our natural inclination, but because we have submitted to the Truth as he speaks to us in the life of the stranger.

Jesus: The Head of the Church


To conclude this essay, I would like to make a few observations about how this practice of listening, both on our own and in ourNorth American Friends meet at World Gathering of Young Friends meetings, informs the way we operate and make decisions as church communities. Because we believe that Jesus Christ is literally present with us, Friends view the primary role of the Church as being a community that discerns together how Jesus is directing us. And because we believe that Christ is present in every heart, as well as with the group as a whole, we see the responsibility for discernment as falling to the entire Church, not a small group of leaders.

Thus, our way of discerning God’s will for the group is tightly linked with our theology. We must be ready to encounter the presence of Christ in every person, and we must be ready to hear God’s wisdom from the most unlikely of places. This does not mean there is no place for leadership among Friends – on the contrary, our communities do well to empower dynamic, Spirit-led leadership. But ultimately, we are all accountable to our one true Head, Jesus Christ. We wait on him together as a community, laying aside our own opinions of how things should be done and seeking his will for us as the Church.

We have not found voting or parliamentary procedure to be an aid in hearing the voice of the Spirit. Heated debates and proceduralFestival of Friends in Indianapolis maneuvers tend to lead us deeper into self and further away from God. Even when we hold the correct opinion, our anger does not produce God’s righteousness (7), and subduing dissent through majority rule does not assure that we are following Jesus. Often, we have found that the will of God emerges as an alternative that none of the individuals involved had previously considered.

Unlike most other organizations in the world, Friends have found it not only possible but practical to wait together on God until we are drawn into substantial unity as a group. Generally, this results in unanimity – though unanimity is not our goal. We seek to recognize together the will of God and commit to enacting it as a community, even if what we hear is not what we would have chosen ourselves. Old Friends called this, “living in the cross.”

1. Hebrews 13:8
2. See Luke 24:13-32.
3. For a couple of examples, see John 1 and Revelation 19:11-16
4. See Revelation 3:20
5. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper Collins Publishers, 1992, pg. 3.
6. See John 15:4
7. See James 1:20

Resources for Further Study:
Marshall Massey, Why We Practice Corporate Discernment, http://thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com/2010/10/guest-piece-by-marshall-massey-why-we.html (accessed 10/23/10)
Michael J. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1983.
Paul Lacey, The Authority of our Meetings is the Power of God, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #365, 2003.

Missional Quaker Faith: Following Jesus

This essay will be the simplest of all that follow. It may also be the most important. In considering what a truly missional Quaker movement might look like, it is essential that we clarify what is at the center of our life together. As the title of this essay suggests, I believe that the heart and soul of any faithful missional community must be a shared commitment to following Jesus.

It is easy for us to serve many things besides Jesus. Even as communities whose primary purpose is to follow him, we have the tendency to elevate secondary elements above the Lord himself. From the color of the carpets in the building where we meet, to our styles of worship and the names of our committees, we are very good at latching onto things that should be secondary.

As we develop missional Quaker communities, however, we must not fall into these traps. If Jesus is not at the center of our lifePlenary sessions at TRANSFORM in DC together, we have turned our undivided attention – our worship – away from God. No matter how noble or important we may convince ourselves that any other priority is, if it takes the place of following Jesus, we are in great spiritual danger as a community. Across the Religious Society of Friends in North America, our local churches and wider fellowships have spent decades arguing about interpretations of the atonement, the nature of Christ’s divinity, and homosexuality. Yearly Meetings have dissipated untold energy fighting over matters that, while important, can ultimately be distractions from the hard work of taking up our cross and following Jesus.(1)

How do we keep our eyes on Jesus? How do we make sure that we are following him and not our own false certainties? There are no easy answers. It is hard not to get caught up in ideology, because ideas really do matter. I would not be writing these essays if I thought otherwise. But there is always the temptation to prioritize ideas over relationship, and when we are primarily focused on being right, our relationship with God is the first thing to go out the window. We stop paying attention. We stop listening.

Probably the biggest single factor that plays into whether we cling to God or to idols of our own making is the depth of our prayer life. If we are to keep our focus where it belongs, it is crucial that we take seriously the importance of prayer, both individually and in community.

We pray when we remember God throughout the day, whispering inwardly, “I love you.” We pray when we wait in stillness, allowingFriends Meetinghouse at Osmotherley, England God to speak to our soul and show us our inward condition. We pray when we speak aloud words meant to draw us and others closer to God, acknowledging God’s presence and power. There are so many ways to pray, and all forms of prayer are beneficial, so long as they are prayed in the name of Christ.

Of course, merely outwardly concluding our prayers with a perfunctory, “in Jesus’ name” does not assure that our prayers will be rightly directed. We must be in him, and he in us, if we are to pray in the right spirit. Our prayers must be offered in unguarded love, humility and honesty. We must pray as we are, rather than as we wish we were. By making ourselves vulnerable to Christ, he will shine his Light in our hearts and transform us bit by bit, remaking us in his image.

When this happens, all of our self-assuredness melts away, and we find not only intimacy with God, but with our brothers and sistersChristy and Liz at the World Gathering of Young Friends as well. Our commitment to putting Jesus first has the power to transform community, because when we open our hearts to him, we begin to see how he is at work in others, too. Suddenly, we are able to see others in the Light of Christ. Now, even if we still have profound disagreements, we can see how Jesus is present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, and we can commit to partnering with Christ’s work in them.

Submission to Christ is transformative, even when others in the community are not yet hearing his voice clearly. If our lives are filled with his Spirit, we will answer the the inward Witness in their hearts. Truth recognizes truth. When we demonstrate Christ’s love and forgiveness in our own lives, we can help to ground the community in the Spirit and reframe our life together. His peace can shine through us.

But we will not find this inward peace and centeredness in Christ without any effort on our part. While God’s Spirit is a gift that we cannot earn or achieve ourselves, we will not receive it without a change in our habits and mindset. If we are to be united and effective as a missional community, we must set aside time in our daily lives to ground ourselves in prayer. Only by spending time with Jesus can we become like him.

The mission of the Church is that we all be re-clothed in the peace and righteousness of Christ. In our prayer, both as individuals andRenaissance House, Richmond, Indiana as a community, we are drawn deeper into his perfect life; he woos us, consoles us, challenges us and heals us. It is by this ongoing, repeated action of entering into the divine presence that we may keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, not being distracted by the self-deception that constantly threatens to draw us away from God.

We put Jesus at the center of our life as a community when all of our decisions are held in his Light. We truly accept him as Lord of our lives when we seek to do not what we desire, but instead what he is calling us to. The most important question that we can ask on an ongoing basis is: what is Christ calling us to do and be now?

1. Please don’t misunderstand me; I think that these issues are deeply important. But following Jesus must precede any solution to the difficulties that they present.

Resources for further study:
Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.

Missional Quaker Faith: Introduction

Recently on Facebook, I mentioned that I was “trying to piece together a Quaker philosophy of church-planting.” Before I knew it, I had dozens of comments, ranging from skepticism at the very Quaker Church Planters in Detroitidea of church-planting to excited messages expressing that this was something that God was laying on their hearts, as well. It felt like there was quite a bit of energy around this topic, and so I set up a Facebook group called “Quaker Church-Planters” as a point of connection for folks who are interested in exploring how we can, “gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.”(1) As of this writing, the group has over fifty members. Not bad for a branch of Christianity that is notoriously bad at sharing its faith!
 
Starting a Facebook group was easy; just a few clicks, and we were on our way. But it is another matter entirely to empower and equip Friends to live into the call that Jesus issued in Matthew 28. That is going to take some real time and dedication. We need to be praying, studying the Scriptures, looking into what our heritage as Quakers has to teach us, and reaching out to one another to support each one in living into the mission that God has for us. And we are called to act. When we have prayed, and studied, and considered what Christ is demanding of us, it will soon be time to take our first steps into the mission field.

Christians in the West have long talked about “missions” or “missionary” work exclusively in terms of sending missionaries to foreign countries – preferably countries with non-white peoples, Friends in Indianapolisnon-European languages, and cultural and economic systems different from Western European civilization. In this model of missions, Europe and its predominantly European colonies were understood to be the homeland of Christianity. Christendom – a cultural, religious, political and economic system based in Europe and North America – was the bulwark of the Christian faith. These were societies where the work of missions had long ago been accomplished, and the role of these mature Christian societies was to send missionaries to the rest of the world. Only by “bringing light to the darkness” of Africa, Asia and Latin America could the cause of Christ be won.

There were many problems with this model, not the least of which was the culturally and economically imperialist assumptions that were often interlaced with the good intentions and sincere faith of many Western missionaries. The fundamental problem with the colonial model of missions, however, was not cultural or economic imperialism – as sinful as those excesses were and are. The core flaw in the colonialist mindset was the assumption that the West possessed Jesus Christ, and that we had to deliver him to those outside of Western Christendom who had no access to him.

This mindset remains in force in many circles today, as we see with initiatives like the Joshua Project. Many well-intentioned Western Christians believe that their primary mission is to get the word out to non-European ethnic groups, convincing them to become Christians in the Evangelical tradition. Still, the assumption is that we in the West “have Jesus.” The United States and Europe are steeped in fifteen-hundred years of Christian tradition. Our cities are filled with Bibles, church buildings, denominational headquarters and missionary societies. From all outward signs, the Gospel has been preached to the West. “Mission accomplished.”

But this colonial mindset misses the point. Jesus is not a “thing” that we can possess as a culture. Jesus is not a mythical character consigned to Silas Wanjala and Cliff Loesch in Wichita, Kansasancient texts; nor is he a distant observer, peering down from his heavenly throne. Jesus is risen, and he lives among us by his Spirit. We do not possess Jesus as a society any more than the Pharisees did. We can abuse him, misrepresent him, even crucify him like our spiritual forbears – but we will never own him. Jesus is the sovereign Lord of all nations – England and France, America and Spain, Nepal and Arabia. He lives in the most remote, non-Christian village of Indonesia, just as he does in Rome – and he reigns in any heart that will accept him, regardless of whether they have heard the gospel story or accepted a particular group’s interpretation of Christianity.

The Gospel needs to be preached everywhere, in every culture, and this is just as true in Detroit, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia as it is in Mumbai and Riyadh. In contrast to the colonial perspective that views Jesus as a possession of Western culture, the missional worldview sees the dire need that many in the West have to hear the Good News and to be invited into communities where they can grow as disciples of Jesus. As a missional church, we recognize that the West has never truly been “Christian,” in the sense of being yoked to Jesus as a culture. We have always been rebellious and mired in sin, as is starkly apparent from the actions of the so-called “Christian” world in the past fifteen hundred years. Crusades, genocide, war, racism and greed – we have perpetrated all of these atrocities with the name of Jesus on our lips. Clearly, the West’s outward confession of Christ has not always reflected a changed heart. The missional church is about seeking that changed heart, demanding a life of wholeness and holiness from those who claim to be following Jesus.

With this realization of our own desperate need for God’s healing IMG_0461power and Christ’s daily guidance in our lives, we see that all nations – including our own Western society – are fallen, lost, and in need of restored relationship with God. We know from our own experience that this restoration is possible, and that through obedience to Jesus we can be made whole and be brought into genuine fellowship with others who are walking in the Way.

As we examine what a missional Quaker faith might look like, we should always have this simple truth in mind: God loves us and wants to have restored relationship with us, despite our repeated decision to live in outright rebellion against God, both individually and as a culture. God loves us, despite the way in which we have repeatedly turned away from God throughout our history. God loves our neighbors, our classmates and our co-workers. God loves the cities and towns we live in. God desires to gather us together in Christ, so that we can know what true love and unity is. And God is calling us to join with Christ in his ministry of gathering the millions of individuals who are searching for meaning in our post-modern, post-Christendom society. In a world where consumerism and partisan politics are often the height of common meaning, we are in great need of the love of Jesus Christ.

The purpose of the essays that follow will be to outline some of the broad features that might characterize our movement if Friends choose Friends at Rockingham Meetingto respond to Christ’s call to join him in the harvest field. I will begin with an exploration of what must be at the core of our faith: the Lord Jesus, both as we know him in Scripture and in our experience as individuals and churches. Next, I will detail the importance of cultivating a spirituality of receptivity, yieldedness and deep listening, and how this practice of waiting on God informs our leadership models and our decision-making process.

Having established the ground of our faith – Jesus Christ, and waiting on him to know his will – I will share about the importance of discipleship, encouraging and equipping one another to grow in faith and in Christ-like character. From this basis, I will go on to discuss how our transformed lives can serve as a basis for transformation in our society, and in establishing new Christian communities.

As we are inwardly and outwardly conformed to the image of Christ, we will experience growth both as individuals and as communities. My sixth essay will focus on what this kind growth might look like for us as missional Quakers. Finally, I will conclude by exploring what it could mean for us to be outwardly focused, taking risks in order to share the love and power of Jesus beyond our class and cultural comfort zones.

The overall goal of this series of essays is to provide a basis for the establishment of new Christian communities, though I believe that if this vision were generally implemented, it would also have a profound effect on our already-existing Meetings.

I must give credit to Alan Hirsch, whose book The Forgotten Ways helped me in organizing my approach to this topic, as well as influencing my thought in a number of ways. While Hirsch and I come from very different backgrounds and are not in agreement on all issues, I appreciate his ability to organize concepts in a way that flows and makes sense.


1. From Friends United Meeting’s mission statement (http://www.fum.org)

Are We Ready?

Most of us, at one time or another, have put a lot of energy into trying to preserve long-standing forms and institutions. In my own case, I have been drawn to seek revitalization in my local Meeting and in my Yearly Meeting, as well as in wider bodies, like Friends United Meeting. These are institutions that have been around much longer than I have, but, though it is easy for me to take them for granted, they cannot continue to exist and operate without our time, energy and financial resources.

And it is right that we give these time-honored institutions some of our attention. We should seek the Young Quakers Plotting Goodnessrevival of our established fellowships and institutions. These churches and organizations have nurtured so many of us, given us a place to learn to listen to the still, small voice of Jesus in our hearts and, in obedience to him, to translate our faith into action. Our established institutions have  benefited, and continue to benefit the spiritual growth of so many. There are still many hearts to be reached within the frameworks of our established fellowships, and lives can be changed by engaging in the struggle for growth and forward momentum in the religious communities and structures that we belong to.

At the same time, I believe that if we focus most or all  Hip-hop in Quaker meetinghouseof our energy on resuscitating stagnant or dying institutions, we risk failing to re-contextualize the Gospel to emerging generations. Just as in Jesus’ day, there are many of us who have the form of righteousness – who follow all the procedural rules to be “church people” – but who are not radically submitted to Christ.

The truth is, if we are under Jesus’ present leadership, we are in for some radical changes. He has new wine for us that will burst many of the old wineskins that sustained and strengthened prior generations. We are in a new cultural context in the post-modern West, and we are being called to engage with this new situation.

We can’t yet say what form these new, contextualized expressions of the Gospel will take; they will come in  many different Sign at New City Friends, Detroit, MIshapes and sizes, based on local circumstances and the purposes  of the Holy Spirit. For our part, we must make a decision to be obedient to Christ’s guidance, even if it shakes things up, threatening the established way of doing things.

Are we ready for radical faithfulness?

A Few of God’s New Creations:


Capitol Hill Friends (Washington, DC)
Freedom Friends Church (Salem, OR)
New City Friends (Detroit, MI)
Old Town Friends Fellowship (Baltimore, MD)
The Underground Connection (Fountain City, IN)