Like everybody else, I often prefer to read books (or watch movies or talk with people) that reinforce my worldview. It's nice to surround ourselves with a cushion of intellectual and cultural support, an echo chamber in which we can remain comfortably the selves we most hope to be.
I'm making an attempt at a greater level of spiritual maturity this Lenten season (yes, attempts at spiritual maturity are fraught with danger--bear with me). I'm studying, and now inviting others also to read: Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement.
On the one hand, this book might look like the kind of book that would reinforce rather than challenge my own worldview. I'm interested in developing a satellite ministry (or even satellite ministries, plural) of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. This book was recommended by colleagues as a great resource for envisioning and moving towards that goal. Voila, reinforcement!
However, when I started to read the book, all kinds of red flags appeared. The book made me frequently uncomfortable. I'm not surprised that others on our staff who have read the book have also been made uncomfortable by what they read.
Some of the things that make me uncomfortable include:
1) The authors assume less people are 'saved' than I do.
2) Some parts of the growth strategy sound suspiciously like Amway marketing.
3) The Ferguson's and their church are part of the dominant conservative evangelical culture--growth is therefore easier for them than us (although it is interesting to note they have often started churches in urban areas that would be a challenge for their social positions and theological outlook).
4) I'm not sure I want to develop a full-blown missional movement. I'm more interested in just developing some satellite ministries around Northwest Arkansas. The later chapters seem like instructions for developing a denomination, something we're already a part of as a member congregation of the ELCA.
5) I don't think God gives you Bill Hybel's private phone number in a dream.
All of that being said, once I got past some of my gut-level discomforts, the Ferguson's book challenged me to revisit some of my ministry assumptions, and I realized there are some patterns they build into their ministry that I really want to emulate. In fact, their book challenged me to re-think some places in my ministry where I think I was blatantly focusing on the wrong things, and for the wrong reasons.
As staff and leadership of our congregation (or anyone encouraged to read this book via this post), I'd like to invite you to read this book in this way. Don't read it as a book that provides a wholesale model for how we will do ministry in NWA, or how I think our ministry should change or develop. That's not my goal. My goal in reading the book is to glean transferable principles, insights that we can gain from their worldview that can intrude on our own and challenge us to develop better focus in our own context on ministries that "connect people to God through the gospel of Christ."
Read with an open and creative mind, this book can also help us imagine how to transfer wisdom in it to many other contexts than church. There are some principles in this book that might help us think more clearly about how to grow our small business, work at our office, parent, be a good neighbor, grow our book group, coach a sports team, and so on. Think of it as an exercise in wisdom sharing.
So here are some of my gleanings from the book I now carry with me. I'd love to hear yours.
2) I want to identify and celebrate artists and creativity. Lutherans believe in the freedom of the Gospel. Freedom in Christ is central to who we are. This freedom should extend to church life as a place for artistic license and creativity. Again, we're already a musical church. The goal here is to simply open the doors even wider to space for creativity and musical excellence, especially young people.
3) I really do think that each person is called to start a missional church movement at their own level of influence. This doesn't mean that everyone needs to become a pastor, or that everyone even needs to work or volunteer in a church setting. But each person can develop and multiply ministries in their own contexts. Parents are called to do this by raising their children in faith and being effective in mentoring their child's faith. Individuals are called to do this in the way they interact with their co-workers (many of the members of our church are outstanding at this and work in mentoring cultures like Walmart, Tyson, and the university--we have much to learn from them). If you look back at the original Reformation, Luther and Melanchthon were constantly hosting creatives and theologians and equipping them to go back out and start ministries in their contexts. Similarly, when Lutherans came to North America, they were starting up churches, and schools, and colleges, and hospitals, and non-profits ALL OVER THE PLACE! This should be a natural part of our DNA as Lutherans. We start stuff.
4) We especially start ministries that serve the marginalized. Again, the Ferguson's are great at this. Late in the book they mention that their goal is to reach the percentage of the population that has not encountered the Christ of faith, and also to walk alongside the 20% of the world's population that lives in abject poverty. Our own congregation has this kind of social ministry commitment, and I think we could strengthen it by learning from the principles in this book, many of which if modeled well could initiate ministries like Community Emergency Outreach, a significant ministry in Fayetteville that was birthed out of conversations initiated by pastors and other leaders of our congregation.
5) We can learn from their passion. They dream big dreams, write them down, and then cast that vision over and over again. I share their passion, even if the particular focus of my dreams are different, and I am inspired by their "sold out" commitment to the vision they believe God has entrusted them with.
These are the kinds of reflections I'm going to try and walk us through during the forty days of Lent. I'll try to weave in lots of stories from our own context and congregational life, because I think we already see glimpses here and there of what the Fergusons propose. If you have especially good stories you'd like to have shared, let me know. Keep your eyes open. Let's watch and learn together.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and read the book. It means a lot to me. Getting to a place where all of us share a common vision, though difficult and challenging, will bear much fruit. I trust God will grow and see and change us in order to fulfill God's vision for us.