Archive for 2010 – Page 2

Membership, Covenant and Engagement: Introduction


The Search for Depth and Meaning


There is a hunger in western society today for a sense of purpose and belonging that goes deeper than the daily grind. We live in aWorkers at Eastern Market, DC world that is overwhelmingly focused on profit and appearance rather than service and substance. While some of us are fortunate to have paid work that to some degree satisfies our need for meaningful labor and community, there are many others for whom their professional life is mostly a burden to be endured – a transaction of time and energy for a paycheck.

Even for many of those with a satisfying professional life, something is still missing. Despite financial success and career advancement, there remains a subtle emptiness in our lives that we cannot shake. We attempt to address this void in a variety of ways: Volunteering at charitable organizations; taking up hobbies; or numbing out with television, music, internet, shopping, alcohol and drugs. In a world where we are consistently told that we are responsible for our own happiness, we find that we are incapable of producing purpose. The depth of life that our hearts desire remains out of reach.

The Myth of the Rugged Individual


The myth many of us have been raised with is: “If you are smart and hard-working, you can have anything you want. It’s up to you.”Shoppers at open-air market in DC Despite the optimism of this creed, many of us have found that our new national myth is false on multiple counts. To begin with, no matter how much we have educated ourselves and no matter how hard we have worked, real depth of purpose eludes us. The Western dream of endless prosperity and opportunity is revealed to be shallow and selfish; we are spiritual orphans listening to ipods in air-conditioned offices. We can have anything we want, perhaps, if all we want is soul-numbing entertainment.

Furthermore, we discover that we as individuals are not capable of accomplishing anything. We depend upon a web of interconnected relationships and social conditions, many of which are harmful and hold us back from growing to our fullest potential. Though we were brought up to believe that our destiny depended primarily on our own personal decisions, we come to see that our decisions are only a small piece of the overall picture. We cannot exist – much less achieve our goals – except in the context of community.

And some communities are more conducive to peace and fulfillment than others. Most of the subcultures in our society focus on goalsWorkers at Eastern Market, DC other than serving God and neighbor. In many of our offices and barracks, schools and nonprofits, competition and self-interest are valued above compassion and self-sacrifice. Nation-states demand loyalty and support even as they routinely harm others in the pursuit of greater wealth and power – developing horrible weapons and dominating neighbors. We abuse the earth, hideously disfiguring God’s creation, all in the name of “growth and development.” Clearly, there are many human communities today whose ends and means are starkly at odds with the Reign of Christ.

But there is an alternative. There is a community in which each person can find the deepest wholeness and purpose, in which the human family as a whole can experience love and peace, showing respect for God’s creation in all its grandeur and beauty. The Church – the community of those who follow Jesus and participate in his life, death and resurrection – is this community. When we live in Christ, we find that our entire worldview shifts; instead of having our character and destiny dictated by the prevailing human culture, we are transformed by the living presence of Christ in the community of his friends. We participate in him, and his life becomes the setting for our own. In him alone we find true freedom, experiencing the depth and purpose that we have longed for all our lives.

Emigrating to the Kingdom of God


Think about it this way: If a person relocates to a foreign country, they are not simply changing locations – they are fundamentallyVendor at Eastern Market, DC altering their entire frame of reference. This change may not be clear at first, and the emigrant may cling for a long time to the way of life left behind in their home country; they may continue to eat their country’s food, speak their native language, and relate to others as they would in their home environment. However, over time, the emigrant slowly but surely absorbs the local culture of the country to which they have relocated.

Over the course of months and years, the emigrant’s life is reoriented around the language, assumptions and way of life of their adopted country. Eventually, when the emigrant returns to their country of origin for a visit, they feel out of place in the land they used to call home. Their transition into a new frame of reference is complete – they are now more adapted to their new country than they are to their homeland.

When we commit to following the guidance of Christ’s Spirit over all else, we have effectively emigrated. We were once members of theWalking up stairs dominant society, but when we began to follow Jesus we forfeited citizenship in our earthly nations. Our process of growth in Christ is one of naturalization into the Church. As we are reoriented to the language, assumptions and way of life of our new community in Christ, we are transformed – not merely by our conscious, personal choice, but by our ongoing participation in the Church.

Making it Through Customs: Membership, Covenant and Engagement


In the essays that follow, we will explore what it looks like for us to change our spiritual nationality. We will consider the role of the individual, the Church, and the wider society as we transition away from being primarily participants in the dominant culture, becoming citizens of the Kingdom of God. We will examine the concepts of membership, covenant and engagement, looking at the ways in which individuals are nurtured and sustained by the community of disciples. Then, we will consider the role of communal decision-making, and how discernment takes place at all levels of the Church. Finally, we will look at the fruits of corporate discernment: the shared work that we as the Church undertake to make the love of Jesus visible to everyone.

As we explore the meaning of membership, covenant and engagement, we discover the way that Jesus is alive and active, showing love and mercy to the individual, the community of faith, and the world as a whole.

The Church Is Not Facebook

The Steady March of Progress – And Alienation


Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, those of us in the industrialized West have become increasingly isolated from one another as we have grown in wealth, technological prowess and personal mobility. Our small towns and rural areas have been drained of their population, especially young people, and today we witness the process of urbanization reaching its natural conclusion. It is common for Americans to live in a different region of the country from that which they grew up in, and the vast hinterland is mostly consigned to resource extraction, whether in the form of factory-style agriculture or the extraction of resources, such as oil, natural gas, timber and coal.

As we become more and more alienated from the land and from fixed human communities, many of us have lost the strong senseDowntown DC of place that has characterized most of human history. The internet, along with cheap fossil-fueled long-distance travel, makes it possible for like-minded individuals in vastly different geographical, social and cultural contexts to form a sense of community, and to maintain that sense of community through ongoing communication and collaboration. For many today, there is a stronger sense of affinity with a group of friends and acquaintances scattered across the globe than there is within the local neighborhood.

The Church Used to Be Facebook


What implications does this have for our life as the Church? Traditionally, the local congregation formed a hub of relationships that permeated the wider society. In many places, especially in rural areas and small towns, being a member of a church was practically equivalent to being a part of the community as a whole. Codified in practices such as infant baptism, churches functioned as a sort of old-school Facebook: Most everyone was a part of a church, and churches served as an important common ground for a culturally Christian society.

But a lot has changed in the last centuries, decades. Small towns and rural life appear to be on the edge of extinction, and theA church building Church has become increasingly marginalized. The Church is still mostly a social club, an old-fashioned social network. But now, Google is a far more universal point of contact. And, for the majority of us who have come to live in a diverse metropolis, it makes a whole lot more sense for our social networks to be digital – and secular. The churches worked well enough as a general purpose “social network” when we lived in communities inhabited mostly by people who were at least nominally Christian. But the realities of the 21st-century urban West are quite different. We live in a multi-cultural, interfaith society, and Christian churches seem of little value as a place to meet our neighbors when most of our neighbors are Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or Humanist.

The Humble Way of Jesus


So, what should the role of the Church be today, in our cosmopolitan, inter-religious, and increasingly secular society? If the Church continues down the route of inertia, insisting that we are still at the center of western culture, we will only compound our irrelevance and inability to share the gospel with our neighbors. In fact, if we decide to maintain the illusion of our own centrality and importance, we have probably missed the point of Jesus’ message altogether. The end of this path is stagnation, insularity and, ultimately, death – for all things die eventually when they have outlived their usefulness.

I would like to suggest that there is another way in which we can walk together as the Church, the same one that Jesus followed:Walking in Richmond, Indiana The way of humility and self-sacrificing love, valuing the wholeness and restoration of others over our own privileges and assumptions. If we are ready to follow in the humble way of Jesus, recognizing that we as Christians are no longer (and never should have expected to be) the center of the universe, we may be ready to start down the path of engagement with our culture from the perspective of the margins.

Engagement from the Margins


Once we recognize and accept that Christianity is no longer the dominant cultural force in our society, we are freed to engage with the whole of society without needing to defend our privileged position. We can form relationships with all of the religious and non-religious communities in our towns and cities; we are free to integrate our lives, inviting our Muslim co-workers and atheist neighbors to share our lives with us. We can let go of the burden that we have carried for so long, of deciding who is in and who is out – because we’re not in charge anymore.

On the contrary, we are once again in the position of the early Church, which shared the gospel as a small minority in a vast, Eastern Market, DCcosmopolitan, pagan Empire. Just like in the early days of the Jesus movement, we today can only share the Good News of Jesus if we humble ourselves and learn to speak to people from a wide variety of backgrounds and worldviews. When we acknowledge that we are not in control of our society, we are freed to be humble witnesses to the power of God. We can share the gospel freely with all who have ears to hear it as we learn to communicate the message to people in the vast variety of conditions in which we find them in our pluralist, post-Christendom society.

Have no doubt: The overthrow of cultural Christianity in the West is a blessing. As time passes, it is becoming increasingly clear to everyone that Christians no longer govern our society, and Christians are increasingly powerless to impose an interpretation of Christian faith on their non-Christian fellow citizens. As Christianity becomes visibly marginalized as a political force, we as followers of Jesus have a great opportunity to bear witness to the life and power of Christ. We can reveal the true nature of the gospel, which relies not upon outward power and coercion, but instead invites all people into a loving Parent-child relationship with God, and into a brother-sister relationship with our fellow men and women.

The Church is not Facebook. We are no longer insiders, nor the center of attention. But we do have work to do. Let us be like Paul, who explained his ministry to the Corinthians like this:

“…I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

The Word is Near to You

But what [do the Scriptures] say? “The word is near to you, on your lips and in your heart.” – Romans 10:8

Last night I attended a Bible study in Congress Heights. Those in attendance were from different Christian backgrounds. Besides me, there was a Methodist, a person who grew up in Baltimore Yearly Meeting and is now attending a Roman Catholic church, as well as several people who are members of a local Churches of Christ congregation, including their pastor. This evening, the pastor was leading our Bible study.

At the previous Bible study, I had gotten into a fairly lively discussion with the pastor about the role of Scripture in relation toMy Bible the role of the Holy Spirit, the scriptural basis of women in ministry, and other rather intense topics that should not be discussed over dinner. So, I braced myself when the pastor announced that our study that evening would be on the authority of Scripture.

He guided us through about a dozen Bible verses from the New Testament, explaining the scriptural basis for the supremacy of the Bible as the rule for Christian life. In his understanding, the Bible – the Old and New Testaments together – is the written Word of God. As a Quaker, my understanding of the role of Scripture is different from his, and I struggled with how to engage with his (and his fellow churchgoers’) understanding of the Bible.

In my reading of Scripture, I see the term “word of God” used in two ways. First, it is used as a name for the Son of God, JesusImage of Jesus Christ on Reformation Lutheran church building, Capitol Hill, DC Christ, who is the creative force behind the universe (For examples, see Revelation 19:13; John 1; 1 John 1:1-3). Most Christians – including my brothers and sisters at the Bible study – would not deny that Jesus is the Word of God. They can read the plain meaning of Scripture just as easily as I can, and it’s hard to deny the textual evidence for giving this title to Jesus, the creative power behind all of creation.

But there is indeed another sense in which the term “word” is used in Scripture. The Word of God can, without a doubt, mean Jesus; but it is also used to mean the commands and teaching of God. A prime example of this usage of “the word” is found in the Torah, one of the foundational texts of Judaism (and, by extension, Christianity):

Surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. – Deuteronomy 30:11-14

In this passage, Moses explains that the commands that the Hebrews have received from God are not simply a code ofHebrew Scriptures regulations that are written down on scrolls. On the contrary, God’s law and teaching are available to every person and every community. The teaching of God is not a once-and-for-all event; instead, God continues to guide each one of us through the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in our midst as the Church. The Word of God never changes – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) – but we, God’s people, do change. Our needs change; our context changes; our challenges are different from day to day. God, in great mercy and compassion, continues to walk beside us and show us how to live in our present context.

The apostle Paul remarked on this phenomenon of Christ’s direct guidance within the human heart, pointing out that following God is possible without having any knowledge of the Scriptures or of the Christian tradition. He explained, “When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law unto themselves. They show what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness…” (Romans 2:14-15). Though the Scriptures and the Judeo-Christian tradition are of great help in walking in the Way of Jesus, the ultimate foundation of our faith and life in Christ is our inward experience of Christ’s presence, God’s law written on our hearts.

I was saddened to hear one of the members of our Bible study say that she was envious of the people she read about in the OldEden Testament, who had full access to God. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in Eden, and Abraham and Moses had regular conversations with the Almighty. She wished she had a similar “direct line” to God. How I longed for her to experience the living presence of God today, and that continual, personal relationship that each of us can have with our Creator! I wondered whether her church’s teaching that the Bible is the “written Word of God,” presented a stumbling block to her having that kind of intimate, direct relationship with Christ. How could it not be a barrier to have your religious community tell you time and time again that all connection with God must be mediated through the Scriptures?

I struggle with how to communicate the centrality of Christ’s inward presence with my non-Quaker brothers and sisters. The Scriptures are very precious to me, and I would never want to denigrate their usefulness in helping us grow in our relationship with Jesus. Nevertheless, I question this over-emphasis on the perfection, completeness and God-like authority of the Scriptures. I fear that many of my brothers and sisters risk losing sight of the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Living Word, and substituting a dead letter – “holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).

I pray that we discover the living, inward presence of Christ, so that we can say with Paul: “…I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is theLiving the Word power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith…” (Romans 1:16). The true gospel is not merely the words that have been written under divine inspiration; Jesus and his gospel cannot be fully captured by any text (see John 21:25).

Rather than seeking to assure ourselves that we have pinned Christ down, let us humbly confess that we understand now only in part, but that as we continue to be led by the Holy Spirit we will be brought into the fullness of Christ’s Kingdom (1 Corinthians 13:12). I pray that the eternal, living gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ may come to you, “not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction…” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

Nurturing a Movement at Home and Abroad – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #25

Dear Friends of Jesus,

Greetings from Capitol Hill, where we are still enjoying relatively high temperatures despite being at the end of November. My father, whoThanksgiving on Capitol Hill was here with us for the Thanksgiving break, commented many times on how mild our weather was, and I feel grateful that we have not yet begun to get the wintry conditions that I hear are now developing in much of the country.

This past month has been one of many blessings in our work here on Capitol Hill, as well as in the wider world. Early this month, FaithYoung Adult Friends at Quaker Hill and I were able to attend the Young Adult Friends Intervisitation Consultation, held at Quaker Hill in Richmond, Indiana. The event was jointly sponsored by Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting. I felt blessed to be able to connect with a number of fellow gospel laborers who were also in attendance. I continue to benefit from the wider community of Friends, which helps me to understand my place in our tradition. I hope that my service is of some benefit to the wider Religious Society of Friends.

Following the consultation, I was able to meet with the planning committee for the 2010 YAF Gathering, which took place this past May. This was our last meeting, six months after the end of the conference, and it was good to debrief as a committee and finish the last bits of business that we had before us. Overall, we felt that we had been faithful in our service as organizers for the 2010 YAF Gathering, and we were grateful for the leading and opportunity to serve in this way.

We were grateful for the ways that we as a planning committee were able to connect, and the ways in which we experiencedYAF 2010 Planning Committee in Richmond Christ’s presence in our midst, both in our planning and during the conference itself. We were saddened by the fact that some participants did not feel welcome at the gathering. As we invited Friends to attend, we found that Liberals often felt that they were being invited to an Evangelical gathering, and Evangelicals often felt they were being invited to a Liberal gathering. It is indeed a hard thing to stand in the middle in the diverse and heterodox tapestry of communities that make up North American Quakerism.

The following weekend, we on Capitol Hill were blessed by the arrival of Tyler Hampton of New City Friends in Detroit. Tyler visited amongTyler Hampton us under a minute from his worship group, and participated in a called meeting for worship of Capitol Hill Friends. We traveled with him to visit Rockingham Friends Meeting in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and later to Old Town Friends in Baltimore. Our sense was that Tyler was of great service in his ministry among us, and in our region, and we are thankful to New City Friends for sending him to us.

Tyler is among a growing number of Friends who are feeling a call to take part in a movement of engaged, missional Quaker faith. WithIMG_1124 his and others’ encouragement, I have recently written a series of essays on my blog that give a rough sketch of what such a movement might look like among Friends and beyond. The response to this series has been great, and I am pleased to see how much enthusiasm exists for a more vital, Christ-centered, justice-seeking Quaker witness. I hope to continue to encourage Friends to join me and others in listening for how Christ is leading us today, and to live into the mission that he is calling us to.

There is no doubt that we are being called. In recent months, I have been contacted by Friends across the United States and Europe who are hearing Christ’s call to lead transformed lives that embody the Gospel and serve the “least of these” in our society. I am astonished by the work of the Spirit, and am constantly reminded of how little this has to do with me; God is doing a new thing, and I pray that I may be faithful in playing my own small part in this fresh movement of the Holy Spirit. And I hope that you will join me, finding your part in Christ’s work in this generation.

Locally, I have been encouraged by my recent interactions with two Christian communities in the DC area. To begin with, I have becomeWoman with Stroller in DC increasingly involved with the community of one of the attenders of Capitol Hill Friends. This attender lives with three other twenty-somethings in the Congress Heights neighborhood, which is predominantly low income and African-American. The folks at her house have some Quaker background, but do not have a shared spiritual practice as a community; their main goal is to be good neighbors in their area and to be involved in the wider community. I have begun attending Bible study there, which includes the residents of the house, as well as some other folks from the neighborhood. In addition, I am getting involved with the organizing of a new Food Not Bombs group, which seeks to serve the Congress Heights neighborhood.

I have also been blessed to come into relationship with some Friends in Frederick, Maryland who are eager to go deeper in aFrederick, MD missional expression of their faith as Quaker Christians. These Friends also hold a Bible study, and I am hopeful that we might be able to eventually attend at least some of their meetings, though Frederick is about an hour and a half away from us with heavy traffic, which renders the journey a bit difficult. Especially the single mothers with no means to public transport, it’s not everyone that can afford top rated baby walkers to go on long journeys safely with their children.  In any case, I hope that we can continue to encourage each other as we seek to walk in Christ’s Way.

It feels good to be getting more deeply involved in the wider community here in DC. For much of my first year here, my attentionE Capitol Street SE was mostly focused outward, on my work organizing among Young Adult Friends nationally. Now, however, I feel that God is calling me to focus more of my attention on developing relationships locally. I hope that, as I become more integrated into the city’s communal life, I might become a more effective witness to the grace and peace of Christ that has so transformed my own life.

Paradoxically, while I am seeing such amazing growth and opportunity in my life and work, I also struggle at times spiritually. I am often challenged to see the willfulness that still exists in my heart; I want things to happen after my own fashion, and it often takes me a long time to come around to accepting God’s will when it runs counter to my own assumptions and desires. As Christ calls me deeper into his Kingdom-life, I face the prospect of ongoing spiritual baptism. Just like the crucifixion that leads to resurrection, these inward baptisms can be truly confusing and agonizing, especially when I insist on resisting to the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart.

I am deeply grateful for my wife, Faith. God uses her so beautifully to keep me on track and to strengthen me when I pass through theFaith inward darkness. I am also grateful for the support and counsel of my Meeting, and of my fellow workers and elders scattered across the distances, who help keep me balanced and give me an outside perspective. I am who I am, and am released to do the work that I do, because of the faithful example and care of many good friends in Christ.

I pray that God establish in your life the relationships of support and guidance that you need as Christ calls you deeper into his challenging way of engagement with the world and his mission to share the Gospel with all people. I look forward to laboring alongside you in his name.

Your friend in Truth,

Micah

Missional Quaker Faith Series:

Rethinking Membership

As we re-examine what it means to be the Church in a post-modern, post-Christendom context, one important tradition thatGreat Plains Yearly Meeting at Central City, 2008 bears a fresh look is that of church membership. Membership has changed a lot over the centuries. In the early Church, membership was a result of a long process of initiation and sacrifice. Membership meant real risk – socially and economically – and even carried the possibility of public torture and death.

During the late Roman Empire and Middle Ages in Europe, membership in the Church was generally automatic: Infants were initiated into membership in the Church, and adult conversion was a rare occurrence. With the whole of western society being based in a Roman understanding of Christianity, to be a European was to be Christian.

Things changed markedly with the Protestant Reformation in the fourteenth century. Suddenly, there were a variety of competing groups, all claiming to be the true Church. To add to this uproar, new sects such as the Anabaptists (and, later, Quakers) insisted that membership in the Church could not be conferred at infancy; instead, they claimed, each person must make a personal decision for Christ as an adult. In many places, particularly in areas strongly influenced by Arminian thought, membership in the Christian Church was no longer only a question of birth or culture; instead, it had become a personal choice.

In the centuries since the Reformation, western society has becoming increasingly focused on the rights of the individual asFriends at Quaker Camp, 2007 opposed to the rights of the community, and human happiness has come to be understood largely in terms of individual prosperity and freedom. As materialism has grown ever more pervasive in the West, the way we understand membership in the Church has become correspondingly consumerist. It is common for people today to speak of “church-shopping,” and membership in a congregation is often thought of primarily in terms of what benefits – material, social and spiritual – the individual receives from the congregation. In our present culture, the Church is at grave risk of becoming yet another commodity to be hawked in the consumer-driven marketplace.

Many congregations and denominations have begun to think in these ways explicitly, speaking openly about “market share” and mounting business-style advertising campaigns. Faith in Jesus Christ becomes something that we need to “sell” to others, and the Church becomes a product to be marketed. We have been so deeply influenced by our society’s materialistic individualism that we often treat Jesus as no different from Coca-Cola or the latest fad diet. We sell the Body of Christ.

Clearly, in this environment, we need to rethink membership and what it means for us as missional Quaker communities today. HowOhio Yearly Meeting, 2009 do we respond to the consumer-driven model that has infected even the idea of church membership? How do we reclaim the tradition of membership in the Church as being part of the Body of Christ, part of a radical community of those who are committed to serving God and neighbor together? Instead of continuing down the road of deadening self-gratification, how do we once again place mission at the heart of our life as the Church?

Earlier this week, I read Scott Wells’ post, “Renewable Church Membership?,” and I was reminded of the opportunity we have to think radically about what it means to belong to a congregation. The way have done membership in recent years is not set in stone, and there is no reason we cannot do things differently, as the Lord leads us in our present context. I was particularly impressed with Scott’s willingness to look at how membership might be considered as an ongoing, mutual commitment between the congregation and the individual. So often today, membership in our churches can become almost meaningless. I know of many Meetings where the majority of the “membership” has not attended meeting for worship in years. The older the Meeting, the more this can become a problem, as children and grand-children start piling up as paper members but never make a real commitment to the congregation.

I believe that Scott’s proposal of renewable membership might be worth considering as we seek to establish new missional QuakerYoung Quakers in Greensboro, North Carolina Meetings that can be a transformational presence in their local contexts. I know that the Church of the Saviour – a venerable example of the old-school missional Church – has long emphasized the commitment that membership entails, both to Christ and to the other members of the Church. The Church of the Saviour required membership to be renewed each year, and they linked membership to specific commitments of time, energy and financial resources to the community and to mission.

How might we re-evaluate how membership functions in our Meetings? How is God calling us to change our ways of thinking about membership in order to be faithful to Christ’s mission in our present context? Are we ready to shake things up?

Engagement as Corporate Practice

As we seek to understand what it means to be the Church in our post-modern, post-Christendom society, engagement is a key concept. How do we interact with the wider society? How do we show Christ’s love to the world, while taking care to not get caught up in the world’s way of doing things?

Sympathetic Outsiders


Engagement is about thinking like missionaries. To engage the dominant culture as sympathetic outsiders, we must learn itsConnecting at a Quaker Dance Party (Multnomah Meeting House) myths, assumptions, language and values. Our ultimate goal is to transmit the radical message of Jesus and his living presence with us today, seeking to inspire and empower indigenous forms of Christianity and local leaders to express the Gospel in their own particular contexts.

Obviously, to truly engage with the wider culture, major changes will be required of us. If we are to be missionaries to the West, we first must admit that we as Friends do not have all of the answers. We must admit that we need the Gospel to be shared with us; that we have still not quite understood it.

As we recognize how we have failed to live fully into the Way of Jesus, weFire station in DC's Eastern Market Neighborhood begin to seek relationship with those around us, not only to invite them into the Kingdom-life, but also to discover what new lessons Christ wants to teach us through people whose lives are very different from our own.

The Church as Sanctuary… Or Launch Pad?


What is the role of the Church in all this? Some of the missional literature seems to suggest that the traditional congregational model is no longer adequate as the basis for fostering and sustaining Christ’s Reign. And, certainly, they are right that we miss the point if we think attendance at our worship services is the only measure of growth in faithfulness and spiritual maturity. As the rise of “prosperity gospel” mega-churches makes clear, attendance numbers are no sure sign of spiritual depth or changed lives. Nevertheless, gathering together for worship as a community is critical to the depth and stability of a Christian community.

On the one hand, we have the missional imperative to get out of the “Quaker ghetto” and share our lives with our non-ChristianWork Day at Pipe Creek Meeting House neighbors. We do no one any good by hiding our light under a bushel and retreating from the world. On the other hand, we benefit greatly from times of fellowship, worship, and shared life with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We gain strength through our regular connection with other believers, and our relationship with God is deepened when we wait on the Lord together. How are we to balance our need for nurturing relationships within the Church and Christ’s call for us to be present in our neighborhoods, workplaces and public gatherings?

This is not merely a theoretical question. Each of us has only so much time and energy. How do we balance time within the established community and time spent as Christian examples in other communities? As we strike this balance as individuals, it is important that we focus on existing relationships. It would be easy for us to exhaust ourselves by trying to make a whole slew of new friends in new communities. But, for most of us, this is probably not necessary. Most of us have regular contacts with folks who might like to go deeper in their relationship with God – whether at work; in a club or association we participate in; or just by way of time-tested friendships and family relationships. Each of us probably knows a few people who we could reach out to in friendship, seeking to make Christ’s love visible in their lives.

As communities, we need to look for these same kinds of relationships. What are the communities or organizations inFriend at Warrington Quarterly Meeting (Baltimore YM) Work Day proximity to us that we could reach out to as a Meeting? While individual connections to our neighbors in the wider culture are an important part of the Church’s work in the world, there is nothing quite like uniting around a shared project. When the Meeting can commit itself to a specific form of service – whether it is cleaning up a neighborhood, volunteering at a charity, or opening our homes to refugees – the witness of Christ shines even more clearly than it does when an individual acts alone. The world can see the good work that we do together, and because the work is done as a church, it is even easier for us to give the glory to Jesus. This builds the Kingdom.

Engagement as Corporate Practice


Christian engagement, serving as missionaries in a broken world, is most powerful when done as a corporate expression of faith. When we as the Church come together and discern the specific work that God is calling us to, the Holy Spirit empowers and strengthens us for that mission. If we are to grow spiritually as a people, we must gather together to hear Christ’s guidance.

The process of engagement begins when we look inward to receive Christ’s guidance in our hearts.Sweeping up at Pipe Creek Meeting House Next, we let Christ change our character and lifestyle, living into God’s will for us. Then, we move outward, to share our lives with others in obedience to Jesus. And finally, we again look inward to see whether we have heard and responded correctly, and to discover what further guidance God has for us. This cycle is just as true for our Meetings as it is for individuals. And, just as individual men and women are transformed and remade in Christ’s image as they pass through these steps, so, too, are communities.

The Church is where we come to be refined through deep listening, faithful action, and submission to one another in Christ. As we discover our true nature as members of Christ Jesus, we come to realize our spiritual unity with the rest of the Church, and we learn that our salvation is inevitably bound up in the lives of others. We are one in Christ Jesus.

Each local Meeting of the Church has to determine the right balance between outward engagement and inward reflection. SomeFriends at Warrington Quarterly Meeting (Baltimore YM) Work Day churches are more naturally inclined to a spirituality of action, while others lean more contemplative. But all of us must wrestle with how we are to live out God’s call in community. As we listen and discern God’s will together, we will be transformed into a body that is a force for righteousness, justice and reconciliation in the world.

From a Lone Nut Into a Movement

I came across this video by Derek Sivers recently, and I found it helpful in thinking about how leadership functions in a movement. I wondered also whether there might be some lessons that we could glean as we look at how we as Quakers might reclaim the movement ethos that accompanied the dynamic energy and growth of the early Friends.

What stands out to me most about Derek’s video is its assertion that our tendency to glorify our most visible and outspoken leaders may be misguided. Certainly, we owe a lot to the first people to stand out and take risks for the sake of a new way of seeing and living in the world. They are the pioneers, and without their ridiculous boldness, there could be no movement. Nevertheless, as Derek points out, one person dancing to the beat of a different drummer is easily dismissed as a “lone nut.” It is the first followers that lend legitimacy to a pioneer. They transform the lone risk-taker into the nucleus for a movement.

Those who are first to join in with a pioneer leader take on almost as much risk as the pioneer herself. There are plenty of lone nuts out there, each with a the seeds of a movement in their message. But many of them really are nuts. The first followers, the first people to join forces with a pioneer leader on the margins, risk being ridiculed themselves for joining with the lunatic fringe. One person who insists on being different is written off as crazy, but a small group of markedly different people is often labeled a “cult.”

If the first collaborators are right, however, and this lone nut is less crazy than she seems, they will be able to play a critical role in the invitation of other, slightly less daring people to join in the movement. The more people who take part in the movement, the less social risk participation entails. Eventually, as Derek points out, a movement may become so widespread that it is more socially awkward to remain on the outside than it is to join.

We as Christians are ultimately followers of the ultimate lone nut, Jesus. How can we courageously follow him, even when doing so will put our relationships, livelihood and reputation at risk? How can we invite others to join in the movement of love, mercy and justice that he inspires?

Note: In email correspondence with Derek following this post, I learned that Derek is the author of the words of the video, but not the videographer himself. Credit for the video goes to dkellerm.