Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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. 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,



Missional Quaker Faith Series:

Friday, November 26, 2010

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?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

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.

Friday, November 19, 2010

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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Missional Quaker Faith: Conclusion

The end of this series of essays is really just a beginning. From here, I hope we can move together from theory to concrete application. Friedrich Engels once wrote that, "an ounce of action is better than a ton of theory," and one transformed relationship certainly beats any series of essays I could write. While I hope that my writing might serve as an impetus to deeper reflection about where we are at and where we might be headed as a Religious Society, my greatest desire is that we translate our reflection into lives of faithfulness and courage.

I hope that these essays have served as the beginning of a call to action. I am not the first one to issue this call, and in many waysMac Lemann reading the Earlham Word this is nothing new. The Gospel seems new and fresh to each individual and community that receives it, though it is the same Gospel that every generation has been confronted and comforted by. Our call for today is to contextualize this eternal Gospel into our life in the post-modern, post-Christendom West.

This re-contextualization will take many forms. It will effect the revitalization of some of our old structures - our Meetings, Yearly Meetings and para-church organizations. We will also see the Gospel rising up in new communities and new structures, just as it did in the early days of the Friends movement in seventeenth century England. Many of our traditions, structures and networks can be salvaged; if we are faithful, much of what we cherish about twentieth century Quakerism can be re-tooled, re-defined and re-deployed. But we cannot remain the same as before.

The post-modern, post-Christendom era requires that we move beyond theBrainstorming at YAF Intervisitation Consultation Constantinian church models that have seeped into our tradition in the last three hundred years. We can no longer be a "faithful remnant," hedged off from the world and more concerned about our own purity than the needs of our neighbors. Nor can we be unreflective activists, tossed about by every wind of human wisdom; we must root our engagement in deep listening to Christ. We must ourselves be changed before we can seek to change others.

If we are ready to be transformed, Jesus will walk alongside us. He will guide us, heal us, strengthen us, prepare us. When he bursts the old wineskins that no longer fit God's purposes in our present time, Christ will give us new wineskins, new ways of thinking and organizing ourselves that can sustain us in the work we are called to. Are we ready to lay everything at Jesus' feet, holding nothing back?

I would like to invite you to join me and many other brothers and sisters in exploring this new thing that Christ is doing in ourYAF Gathering 2010 Planning Committee generation. To begin with, consider whether you have something to contribute to this online conversation about what a missional Quaker faith looks like. Join the Quaker Church-Planters group. Write your own blog post, either on your personal blog, on QuakerQuaker, or Facebook. Or, just write me an email. I would love to connect with you.

And, as important as it is that this conversation continue online, I hope that you will join us in putting all of this theory into practice. Come and worship at a missional Quaker worship group, or start your own. Let us know what you are doing, so that we can pray for you, collaborate with you and share the word of what God is doing in your town or city. Let us be the Church with you.

Have no doubt: Christ is calling us to the same depths of courage, sacrifice and joy to which he called the early Church and the early Friends. Be valiant for Truth upon the earth.

Resources for Further Study:

The full text of George Fox's epistle to Quaker missionaries (including the famous, "answering that of God in everyone" line): http://lightandsilence.org/2007/02/walk_cheerfully_over_the_world_1.html

Friday, November 12, 2010

Missional Quaker Faith: A Heart for Service

The word "mission" comes from the Latin missio, which means "sending." As a missional movement, we are sent by theMural art in Richmond, Indiana Holy Spirit out into the world to glorify God and invite everyone into the life of challenge and transformation that Jesus has shown us. Just like the first Christians in the Roman Empire, we are called to proclaim and embody the message of Jesus Christ in a wide variety of contexts - most of which are hostile to the word of God.

For far too long, our gatherings have been places of refuge from the world, an escape. We first turned the Church of God into anMural art in Richmond, Indiana accomplice of Empire, and later, into little more than social clubs for people with similar class, race and ideological backgrounds. In many church communities, a living relationship with Christ has been almost incidental - nice if you have it, but certainly not expected - most definitely not something to base a community on.

William James wrote that, "in some people religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever."(1) The movement that Jesus calls us to definitively qualifies as the latter. It cannot exist merely as a routine, a comforting ritual, a family heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation. Such an antique faith is dead, and we would do well to bury it and move on. We are called to lives of radical faithfulness that will shake the foundations of our neighborhoods, offices and public spaces. Jesus invites us into his Way, which will lead us out of our selfish stupor and usher us into a life of service to others.

If there is any single trait that sets missional communities apart from otherMural art in Richmond, Indiana kinds of Christ-centered fellowships, it is the decision to place the group's focus on the work that God is calling us to do in the world. As missional churches, we should concentrate our efforts primarily on going where Christ is sending us, rather than on preserving the comfort and superficial stability of the existing community. As students in the Way of Jesus, we are called to be like a kernel of wheat that falls to the ground and dies.(2) By surrendering our own comfort, assumptions and inertia, we die to our own wills and are able to see more clearly God's will for us. As we live into that will, we will be shown the ways in which God wants to use us to share Christ's love with the world.

In order to be faithful to God's call, we are challenged to do two things simultaneously: First, we must look inward, listening carefullyPowerlines to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, both in our hearts as individuals, as well as in the ways God speaks to the church as a whole. At the same time, we must maintain an outward focus, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with our neighbors and doing justice in the wider world. It is not easy to maintain a balance between inward listening and outward action; we are tempted to pick one or the other - either inward contemplation or "results"-focused activism. However, if we are to live out the radical mission that God has for us, we must keep our inward ear open to the voice of the Spirit, while at the same time being faithful to the work that Christ calls us to in the world. This is the narrow Way of Jesus that leads to life.

As we walk the tightrope of inward and outward focus, we must take care that we not become self-focused. This can happen whether we are looking inward or outward. Whether we emphasize contemplation or activism, it is far too easy for the work to become about us, rather than about God.

One thing is clear: There is enough work to go around, so we do not need to seek it for our own sake. We can trust in God to giveGraffiti us the tasks that we are particularly called and gifted for. We stand the best chance of serving faithfully when we wait upon the Lord to show us how to proceed, rather than acting out of our own assumptions as to what is important.


1. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture I, 1901-1902. http://csp.org/experience/james-varieties/james-varieties1.html
2. See John 12:24

Resources for Further Study:

Paul Lacey, Leading and Being Led, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #264, 1985.
An Introduction to the Missional Church

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Missional Quaker Faith: Organic Growth

We read in the Book of Acts that, in the days and weeks following the coming of the Holy Spirit among the disciples, a tiny, rag-tag, mostly clueless band of disciples grew into a movement that was felt all across Jerusalem. People were being healed, lives were being changed, and a new community was taking shape where everything they owned was dedicated to the mission of glorifying God and proclaiming Jesus Christ. "And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."(1)

Since those early days, we have seen this pattern replayed again and again wherever women and men have received the Holy SpiritOn a bus to the World Gathering of Young Friends, 2005 and lived into God's call for their time and place. The early Quaker movement is a prime example. Signs of spiritual power were common; the Holy Spirit was felt and obeyed by the community as a whole; and the growth in numbers and in spiritual maturity of the Religious Society of Friends was meteoric. Within a matter of decades, Friends transformed the religious landscape of the English-speaking world.

There have been many other movements that have exhibited the vigor and charisma of the early Church, including the Wesleyan and Pentecostal movements. And we can expect to see more such movements of the Holy Spirit in the future, because Christ is ready to lead all who will open their hearts to him and live into the Kingdom-life. He stands at the door and knocks.(2)

When we let Christ lead us directly, we see the reemergence of the apostolic Church. We witness remarkablePeople in the streets in Richmond, Indiana energy and dynamism when all of the gifts of the Spirit find expression in the community of faith; and the full exercise and expression of the gift of apostleship is instrumental in creating an environment where all the other gifts can flourish.(3)

Each of the gift-clusters represented by the traditional offices of the Quaker Meeting have an important role to play in grounding our communities in the Life of Christ. The prophetic gospel minister calls us to repentance and new depths of openness before God; the elder nurtures our spiritual life, encouraging us when we are discouraged and correcting us when we miss the mark; and the overseer cares for our needs and helps us to resolve conflict. Yet, without fully embracing the gift of apostleship, this sturdy triad can devolve into a self-serving institution that cares for itself more than it does for the mission that we are called to in Christ.

However, when we receive and empower the gift of apostleship that the Spirit provides to our communities, we unleash God's intentionYoung Adult Quakers at Beacon Hill Conference Center for us as the Church. Where before we were self-focused, God gives us a heart for serving others. Where we were comfortable, God creates in us a discomfort that can only be relieved by justice and righteous living. Where before we isolated ourselves from those around us, God calls us to reach out.

When we have embraced the apostolic gift that God sends among us, we are transformed as a community, because we realize that our community exists for God's mission, not the other way around. Alan Hirsch observes that a disciple-community living into its apostolic gifting has four traits:

  • It has the ethos of a movement, rather than an institution
  • It spreads like a virus, via an "incarnational" model rather than an "attractional" model
  • It forms new communities that are reproducing and reproducible
  • As it grows, it takes on the structure of a network of communities (4)

A Movement Ethos

Lets take a look at each of these points briefly. First, a community that is living into fullness in Christ will generate a movement ethos,Young Adult Friends at the World Gathering of Young Friends in England, 2005 rather than an institutional one. While institutions focus primarily on self-perpetuation, movements focus on mission. Institutions most highly value results that can be concretely measured, while movements are most concerned about being faithful to how the Holy Spirit is leading. Institutions are based in rules and procedures, while movements are primarily based in relationships and vision. On a fundamental level, institutions believe that they are the answer, but an apostolic movement believes that Jesus Christ is the answer.

Virus-like growth and the Incarnational Model

Next, a community that has embraced and embodied the Spirit's call will spread like a virus. Many commentators have pointed out that for the past fifteen hundred years or so the Church has been functioning in an imperial, "attractional" mode. The attractional model assumes that the wider society is Christian, and that the role of the Church is to be the gathering place for that established Christian society. It is questionable whether this was ever a good model, but it is clearly increasingly irrelevant in our post-Christendom context in the West. The wider society is no longer even nominally Christian, and the Church is being forced to reengage the world on an even playing field with other religious and secular perspectives.

In our present context - which is similar to the context of the early Church in many ways - the most faithful way for us to be theRenaissance House, in Richmond, Indiana Church is by living into an "incarnational" model. In this understanding of the Church, our role as followers of Jesus is to embody the love of God in the wider world - in our work, at school, and in our neighborhoods. Instead of expecting the world to come to us, we must engage with the world on its own terms, serving as witnesses to the love of Christ.

When we live into our apostolic gifting as followers of the Way, we should expect to grow, not by bringing our neighbors into the long-established church institutions that our parents and grandparents set up, but by establishing new fellowships in the contexts of the people we are called to partner with. Just as Jesus entered into our context to show God's love for us, we must abandon our comfort and privilege, entering into the life and struggles of the communities that surround us. When we humble ourselves and learn from our neighbors, co-workers and classmates, we will come to understand how the Lord is already working in their hearts, and we will be able to partner with the action of the Holy Spirit to establish new communities of disciples in the way of Jesus.

Reproducing and Reproducible Communities

When we do form new discipling fellowships, an apostolic movement will give birth to communities that are reproducing and reproducible.New life in Costa Rica That is to say, the ultimate goal of new churches is not to establish huge institutional structures that can self-perpetuate for generations to come, regardless of the will of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, our goal is to embed sound teaching and practice in the new groups, so that they will in turn embody Christ's love in their own contexts. The result of a Spirit-led movement is not to gather huge numbers of people into one community, but instead to seed our towns and cities with many, many small fellowships that can embody the Gospel and make disciples in a wide variety of contexts.

Apostolic communities will tend to be small, local and simple. Faith in Jesus will be expressed in a variety of ways, and each community will have its own unique character and gifting. They will be seeded with sound teaching and practice, and they will ultimately bear fruit by passing this gift on in the form of new disciple-communities that they will help raise up. In a Holy Spirit movement, each small group bears within it the seeds of many new communities; forming new churches and making disciples in new contexts should be an explicit objective of these fellowships from the beginning.

Network Structures

With all of these small groups spreading out and sharing the Gospel throughout cities, regions and nations, it is crucial that as theA network of flowers movement grows it take on the structure of a network of communities. Just as individuals benefit from relationships of support and accountability with local fellowships, local churches are far more likely to be healthy and balanced when they are a part of a larger community of churches. The relationships between individuals, communities and networks is reciprocal and constitute an ongoing conversation of discernment and deep listening to how the Spirit is leading individuals, local groups, and the movement as a whole.

For Friends, our movement-wide network has traditionally taken the form of a system of local churches (Monthly Meetings), regional bodies (Quarterly Meetings) and super-regional bodies (Yearly Meetings). I believe that this traditional model can still function, though it is obvious that many of our present-day structures have become overly-institutionalized and sometimes unresponsive to Christ's guidance. We do well to reexamine all of our structures in light of how we are being called to serve in the movement of the Holy Spirit in this generation.

As we embrace the gifts of apostleship that God sends to our communities, we will be strengthened and energized across local,Young Adult Friends at the World Gathering of Young Friends in England, 2005 regional, and national boundaries. The vigor and enthusiasm of local communities will become infectious, giving birth to new churches and networks of churches that are dedicated to living for Christ in the world. Through a radical embrace of the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, we will be empowered to turn our focus to the wider world, seeking to serve others and to make Christ's Kingdom visible to the wider world.


1. See Acts 2
2. See Revelation 3:20
3. Here, I am particularly indebted to the articulation of Alan Hirsch, in his book The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Brazos Press, 2006.)
4. Hirsch covers this in his chapter on Organic Systems in The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Brazos Press, 2006.)

Resources for Further Study:

Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, Brazos Press, 2006.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Missional Quaker Faith - Visionary Leadership

We have talked a great deal about our mission as Christian fellowships, but how do these communities form in the first place, and what sustains them? Most fundamentally, of course, the Spirit of Christ gathers us and holds us together in unity by his grace and power. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."(1) But, as revealed by this same passage of Scripture, God does use men and women to nurture the Seed that God sows in every heart and every culture.

As members of the Body of Christ, each of us is given gifts by the Spirit that are meant to build up the body as a whole. There are aFriends at QuakerSpring, 2010 wide variety of spiritual gifts that are explicitly mentioned in Scripture(2), ranging from the apparently mundane (administration and generosity) to the spectacular (speaking in tongues and healing). The church needs a diversity of gifts, and each community that seeks after God's will is given the spiritual resources that it needs to be faithful in the work God calls it to.

The Three Traditional Offices of Friends

Among Quakers, there have traditionally been three offices that have been formally recognized: Gospel ministers, elders and overseers. Each one of these roles is made possible by the gifts that Christ bestows on his Church. Let us briefly examine each of these offices, to learn what Friends tradition might have to teach us about the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ.

Gospel Ministers

In many Christian groups, "ministry" has been held to be the function of only a small priestly class of men. However, Quakers radically redefine the prevailing assumptions about what ministry means, and who can perform it. Because Friends believe that Christ is present and active in everyone who submits to him, all Christians are ministers in a certain sense. God's calling for each woman and man becomes his or her ministry, his or her way of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

In addition to this general ministry to which everyone is called, Friends also acknowledge that there is a particular ministry to whichBrian McLaren preaching at Transform, 2010 only some are called and gifted. We call this "gospel ministry," to distinguish it from all the other kinds of ministry to which Christians are called. Superficially, the gospel ministry bears some resemblance to the Protestant understanding of ministry. But only superficially. While the Protestant minister has primarily a priestly or pastoral role, the Quaker gospel minister is a prophet.

The role and gifting of the gospel minister is to reveal the word of God through inspired preaching, teaching and personal example. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the gospel minister calls attention to the presence of Christ in our midst, and calls the community to repentance and transformation. The woman or man who is called to gospel ministry cries out with Jeremiah, "But if I say, 'I will not mention [the Lord] or speak any more in his name,' his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot."(3) Of the spiritual gifts mentioned in Paul's letters, those that are most necessary to a gospel minister are: Exhortation, prophecy, teaching and discernment.(4)


The second traditional office among Friends is that of elder. Elders are above all concerned to care for the depth of the spiritual life of the Church. This care extends both to the meetings for worship, as well as to providing support and accountability for gospel ministers.

In the New Testament, the word "elder" seems to be rather vague - referring generally to respected leadership within a religious/ethnic community. It seems that it was an equally vague term among the early Friends in the mid-1600s; but within a generation or two, the office of elder had come to have a very specific meaning and function.(5)

Among Friends, elders are recognized for their special gifting in discernment and intercessory prayer. They are of particular help toAn Elder of Rockingham Monthly Meeting those who are exploring new spiritual gifts and are finding their place in the Body. They are also of great help to seasoned gospel ministers, who rely on elders for their wisdom and spiritual grounding. Above all, the special calling of the elder is to hear how the Word of God is speaking in the midst of the gathered community, and, through ongoing prayer, to nurture the conditions for the Word to be received in every heart. Of the spiritual gifts that are described in the New Testament, those that stand out as crucial to an elder are: Teaching, discernment, faith, knowledge, and wisdom.


The role of the overseer is, as the name suggests, to keep watch over the disciple-community, making sure that everyone's needs are being met. The earliest example of overseers being named can be found in Acts 6, where the Apostles ask that the growing Church in Jerusalem choose for themselves, "seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom," who could be appointed to supervise the daily distribution of food and other resources among the believers.(6) The role of these seven original overseers was to make sure that the needs of everyone in the community were met.

The role of overseers among Friends has been slightly more expanded from the original instructions to the first overseers.(7)Wess prepping the barbeque at Camas Friends Church While the elders care especially for the meeting for worship, as well as for gospel ministers, overseers are primarily concerned with the material, emotional, and interpersonal needs of the community. Pastoral care, informal spiritual counseling and conflict resolution are a major components of the work of the overseers. Of the spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture, some that are particularly relevant to the work of the overseers are: Mercy, generosity, service, administration, helps, and hospitality.

The Gift of Apostleship

Examining the traditional triad of Quaker leadership, there is an elegant symmetry and balance to its structure. Gospel ministersAfter Meeting at Chestnut Ridge Meeting House challenge and expose the community to the Light of Christ, calling for repentance and changed lives. Elders hold the gospel ministers accountable and ensure that the community is fully grounded in the love, truth and peace of Jesus Christ. And Overseers ensure that, while the gospel ministers and elders are busy attending to the spiritual depth and integrity of the local church, the physical and emotional needs of the members are not neglected.

And when our communities are healthy, this basic model can work. Gospel ministers, elders and overseers work together to build up the Body and equip us to do the ministry that each one is called to. This threefold equipping ministry forms a vibrant core from which a wide variety of other ministries can emerge and remain grounded in Christ.

But as we look around today, we see that most of our church communities are not healthy. Even in those few communities thatIllinois Yearly Meeting Sessions have maintained the traditional offices, the theory often fails to work out in practice. What is missing? I will suggest that while the spiritual gift clusters represented by the offices of gospel minister, elder and overseer are vital and necessary to the life of our communities, the Church as a whole cannot flourish without the gift of apostleship.

Apostleship can be a confusing word. For many, it is inextricably linked with the original twelve Apostles, and Paul - the unofficial "thirteenth Apostle." To apply this word to believers today might seem out of place. Who would call themselves an "apostle" in this day and age? If the word "apostle" puts unnecessary barriers in the way of sharing the Gospel, then it may be best to avoid applying the title to women and men today. Nevertheless - the gift of apostleship is desperately needed by the Church today. We cannot do without it.

In Scripture, an apostle is simply "one who is sent." Apostles are messengers, guided by the Holy Spirit and bringing the good newsJay Marshall, and others from Earlham School of Religion, in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico of Christ Jesus to the people. Apostleship as a spiritual gift is clearly embodied by the ministry of Paul. Paul had an ongoing ministry to disciple-communities across the Mediterranean, nurturing new churches, counseling established ones, and overseeing a number of ministers who worked with him to establish the Church in a variety of local contexts. Paul had a vision for the early Church, given to him by Christ, and he pursued this vision with every ounce of his strength. His gift was to help give shape and direction to a movement, spanning geography, culture and ethnicity. Everything he did was for the building up of the Body of Christ, and for developing and strengthening a network of believers that spanned continents.

The gift of apostleship is essential to unlocking the God-given potential of the Church, and it is at the heart of what missional Quaker faith looks like. The major concern of the apostolic gift is mission itself. Specifically, marks of apostolic ministry include:
  • Establishing new Christ-centered communities across geographical, linguistic, cultural and religious barriers.
  • Maintaining a sense of movement-wide dynamics and fostering the development of interlacing networks that empower local communities to reach beyond themselves.
  • Seeing the "big picture"; thinking strategically and coordinating preparations across the movement for the plans that God has in store.
  • Encouraging established congregations to plant new fellowships and to get outside of themselves and set their sights on serving the wider world - both locally and globally.
  • Serving as guardian for the teaching of the Church; ensuring that the core message of Jesus Christ is being embodied in word and in deed in the local churches and in the movement as a whole.
Clearly, if this gift of apostleship is absent from our communities, we are missing a dynamic component of the Spirit's gifting. WithoutAdult Education at Heartland Friends Meeting, Wichita, Kansas recognizing, embracing and empowering the apostolic gifts among us, we are doomed to remain in a downward spiral of unreflective, self-centered ministry that ultimately results in the disintegration of the Body of Christ. We have witnessed this decline in the Religious Society of Friends in the West during the last half-century, and this trend is equally clear in the mainline Protestant denominations in North America.

But what if we embraced the gifts in our midst? They are there, after all; for God does not call us to anything that we are not equipped by the Holy Spirit to accomplish. What would it look like if we allowed Christ to transform us from settled, mostly self-serving communities into a Spirit-led movement that broke down cultural, ethnic, class and social barriers? What would we become if we laid down everything - even the Church as we know it - to follow Jesus?


1. 1 Corinthians 3:6
2. For the three major "lists," see Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.
3. Jeremiah 20:9
4. For a current description of gospel ministry, see Ohio Yearly Meeting's Book of Discipline: http://www.ohioyearlymeeting.org/discipline.htm#Ministry of gospel
5.For a description of elders today, see Ohio Yearly Meeting's Book of Discipline: http://www.ohioyearlymeeting.org/discipline.htm#Elders
6. Acts 6:3
7. For a modern-day description of the duties of overseers, see Ohio Yearly Meeting's Book of Discipline: http://www.ohioyearlymeeting.org/discipline.htm#Overseers

Resources for Further Study:
Sandra Cronk, Gospel Order - A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #297, 1991.
Martha Grundy, Tall Poppies - Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #347, 1999.
Lewis Benson, Prophetic Quakerism, Friends Bookstore, Philadelphia, 1943.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Missional Quaker Faith: Letting Our Lives Preach

Our encounter with Jesus changes everything. When Jesus approached Simon, Andrew, James and John while they were working as fishermen by the sea, his call to them was so compelling that they immediately left behind everything that they had known - family, profession, security - and followed Jesus.(1) When we experience Jesus' presence and hear his gentle but firm invitation to come and follow him, we are challenged to radically change our lives - both in the outward details as well as in our inward motivations.

In our life together as a community of disciples, we come together to follow Jesus and to practice deep listening to how the Spirit isFriends at Chestnut Ridge Meeting House, Barnesville, Ohio guiding us in this present day. As we listen for God's guidance in stillness and song, in rest and in work, we are drawn deeper together as a human fellowship that is rooted in love and obedience to the Spirit. It is in this context of love and trust that we are able to lean on one another as we walk together in the Way of Truth.

Ultimately, though, this loving community is only a small haven within a wider culture that is dedicated to the pursuit and protection of money, power and self-interest. It is in this wider world that most of us live the greater part of our existence, and it is to our hurting world that Jesus is extending his healing hand. Jesus knows the pain of this world better than any of us, and he knows what it is like to be excluded from polite society for loving those who are viewed as too sinful to have a part in mainstream society. He hung out with tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes, as well as with zealots, pharisees and desert mystics.

Jesus embodied God's love to those who the culture of the time had deemed unlovable. He was scandalous in sharing his presencePreparing a Meal at Renaissance House, Richmond, Indiana with those who were not even allowed to enter the Temple - the center of social, religious and economic life in his time and place. Jesus summed up his generation's judgment of him like this: "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners."(2) Today, we might well say of him, "a friend of Muslims and atheists." Jesus shows mercy to those who are open to receiving it; and if those our society regards as "successful" are not ready to hear the Good News, he will share it with those whom the wider culture has cast out.(3)

We are called to embody the reckless, socially unacceptable love that Jesus shows us. We are called to love not only to those who appear to be doing well in the current social order, but also those who have been rejected by mainstream society. We are called to show Christ's love to the poor, the uneducated, the physically and mentally disabled. We are called to love those whom our culture excludes. We are called to demonstrate our love in acts as tangible as washing feet and breaking bread.

If we truly wish to follow Jesus, our daily habits, patterns of consumption, and social relationships must change. As we struggleDowntown Chicago to embody the Gospel in our daily lives, we are challenged to open ourselves to people that we never would have associated with before. We are forced to get out of our comfort zones. Embracing the radical hospitality of Jesus means being confronted by our own routines of exclusion and self-centeredness.

We should be horrified that the modern-day Church tends to exclude the very people that Jesus commands us to embrace. How often have our churches treated the poor as a problem to be fixed, rather than as brothers and sisters to be embraced, loved? How many of us have treated our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters like the Pharisees treated lepers? How many people have we sent screaming into atheism and New Age religions through our legalism and scorn for those who do not fit into our boxes? How many of us, still within the Church, live in fear of being excluded if our fellow Christians were to learn who we really are?

Rather than relating to our Christian communities as fortresses to be walled off and defended against ungodly intrusion, I believe thatSharing the Good News on Boston Common Christ is calling us to use our communities as a base from which to reach out to the wider world. The mission of the Church is the same as that of Jesus Christ: to save the world, not to condemn it.(4) While we as followers of Jesus must be clear about our commitment to be obedient to Jesus as we know him in Scripture and in his present Spirit among us, our purpose is to call others to wholeness.

To live into Christ's mission of redemption, we will need to make substantial changes to our own lives, giving Jesus our house, job and bank account, not just our heart. Many of us who belong to privileged classes in our culture may be called to change our lifestyles, work, and living arrangements in order to do justice and live at peace with all people. Jesus' love is not about charity; it is not about sharing with those "less fortunate than us." On the contrary, when Christ is in us we see that we are just as deeply in need of God's mercy and transformation as anyone else, regardless of where we fall in the world's social hierarchy. The Spirit of Christ leads us into a life of self-emptying and service to others, in imitation of our Lord.(5)

A good outward measuring stick for communities that seek to live out Christ's mission in the world is the Twelve Marks of the New Monasticism.Chicago Cityscape These marks, including, "relocation to the abandoned places of Empire," and, "sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us," present a challenge to the prevailing culture in North America. In a society that consistently encourages us to enlarge ourselves, improve ourselves, promote ourselves, we are being called by Jesus to surrender ourselves, to die to self. As we meditate on the life, teachings, death and resurrection of our Lord, and as we listen to how his Spirit is guiding us today, it is clear that our lives must be radically changed in things as practical as where we live, who we buy our groceries from, and who we have over for dinner.

We will discover who we are in Christ when we commit to changing our lives in order to share the Gospel with all people - especially those on society's margins. The kind of sharing that we are called to goes far beyond putting a Jesus fish on our bumper or even delivering a sermon. When we are in Christ, we are called to let our very lives preach. It is through the way that we live, and the love that we show for others, that the world will come to know Jesus.


1. See Mark 1
2. Luke 7:34
3. Luke 14:15-23
4. See John 3:17
5. See Philippians 2:5-11
Resources for Further Study: