living intentionally for mission

wow, there is an overwhelming amount of material in the “blogosphere” about intentionally missional churches!  since an initial google search last week, i probably came across at least one hundred blogs dedicated to this.  interestingly, a lot of these bloggers kind of strike me as very similar– progressive white guys educated at places like fuller.  i really appreciate the time they took to document their experiences; some of the recent ones can be found here, here, here, and here.  many of the discussions i came across seemed to reinforce the modern-western concept of “church”, or an organization dependent upon a full-time pastor and a traditional leadership structure, which makes sense if all these guys went to grad school to become pastors.

i have come across almost no information about what an intentionally-missional “small group” would look like, which is what i’m essentially interested in.  i don’t even know how living in an intentional community would be possible in a traditional “church” setting unless that “church” essentially started out like an independent small group.  i love my church and its dedication to the great commission, but churches are not going to be spontaneously planted out of small groups that ostensibly revolve around “fellowship”.

i think i’m attracted to the idea of “missions” because of its seeming radical commitment to the gospel in a perpetual season where the “workers are few”.  from my years of being an “overseas missionary” on full-support, i found that our “ministry” was in many ways a glorified and complicated version of what a good christian life should look like in the states:

  1. be actively present in the local culture through tentmaking or going places where people are
  2. actively pursue friendships and relationships
  3. share christ whenever appropriate and possible
  4. disciple those who come to faith
  5. repeat cycle with new believers

and yet i hesitate to do the above here in LA, at least actively and intentionally, because i do not like relationships driven by agendas or view people like projects.  i like things to be “organic” and “relevant” and yet find it difficult to reconcile this with being “intentional” and “missional”.  i’ve shared and lived the gospel in multiple ways with my non-christian friends.  they get it, they don’t want it, and i can’t force them.  i’m still, of course, friends with them, because i need them as much as i need my christian friends.  i also have little energy to go out and make “new” friendships.

over the last five years, we’ve tried different things: international student ministry, starting a ministry with homeless families, and leading a life group.  they were all great experiences but we still feel like we’re searching for a ministry model that fits.

we are starting to think about what it would look like to be part of a church-sponsored life group that is committed to an intentionally missional lifestyle.  such an endeavor would likely require a high degree of collective commitment and even require some major life changes, like moving to the same neighborhood. it would basically be similar to an overseas or urban ministry team-based model, except that everyone would be bivocational– meaning nobody would be on support and everyone would view this ministry as like a second job and not one of many commitments.  like parachurch missions ministries, it would probably involve  a “memorandum of understanding” where individuals would commit to certain guidelines and principles.  it would be highly-structured even though these sorts of undertakings usually attract non-structured people.

i’ve been thinking more about this since having a conversation with a friend from life group.  she and her husband are planning to serve in the middle east next year and, as our life group leaders, have been thinking about “multiplying” our life group since it doubled in size to over 20 people in the last few months.  “multiplication”, at our church, is designed to happen as a result of life groups growing from new believers, not because of a revolving door of christians, which has been the case for most of our groups.  for example, most of the members who were part of the life group bry and i led a few years all moved to a santa monica megachurch once we decided to “close” the group since we were moving to pasadena (after failing to raise up new leaders).

i plan on praying through this more intentionally this year and hope that God provides an opportunity to see this in action– even if it remains in “dialogue” mode for awhile.  one MAJOR lesson bry and i learned as leaders is the importance of your “team” having similar levels of personal and relational commitment and conviction.  everyone loves the idea of doing awesome things for the kingdom but few are ready to make the necessary sacrifices.  as bry and i were talking about this last night, we agreed that something like this would likely precede with at least 6 months of “preparation” of major prayer, intense bible study, disagreements and reconciliations.



resurrecting this blog after nearly 3 years. what’s happened since then?
* facebook became and remains wildly popular, sadly killing many blogs
* we moved to pasadena
* bry finally finished his phd and is now a professor!
* we led a life group and tried to spearhead different ministries

i (mar) have been wanting to journal more substantially about what it means to live missionally. i randomly started another wordpress @intentionallymissional, but realized that it was probably easier just to continue what we have here, since this is supposed to be a sort of documentation of our spiritual journey together. it realistically captures about 1% of what’s really going on in our lives but it’s a nice little depository for us to reflect back on. i’m also (finally) a full-time grad student again so i need some diversions from my dissertation.

– mar

culture making

Andy Crouch is out with his long-anticipated book on Christians and culture. It has apparently already temporarily sold out on Amazon, but the PDF of the Intro through chapter 2 and chapters 3-5 are available on the book website.

I just read chapter 5, so let me summarize the argument. In the past century, Western Christians have typically adopted one of the following postures toward culture:

  • Condemning
  • Critiquing
  • Copying
  • Consuming

While these may be appropriate cultural gestures from time to time, our postures ought rather to involve Creating and Cultivating. We are to adopt the creative posture of artists and gardeners if we really want to fulfill the vocation God gave to humanity in the early chapters of Genesis.

And a quote:

Do you want to make culture? Find a community, a small group who can lovingly fuel your dreams and puncture your illusions. Find friends and form a family who are willing to see grace at work in one another’s lives, who can discern together which gifts and which crosses each has been called to bear. Find people who have a holy respect for power and a holy willingness to spend their power alongside the powerless. Find some partners in the wild and wonderful world beyond church doors.


letting the enemy go free?

I read most of the book Kingdom Ethics while home in Michigan for my sister Lindsay’s wedding.  Stassen and Gushee take Jesus’ own teaching, and in particular his Sermon on the Mount, as foundational for their Christian ethics.  They see in the Sermon a series of triadic sayings, each of which break down as follows:

1)  traditional teaching
2)  identification of a vicious cycle of sin
3)  prescription of transforming initiatives designed to break the vicious cycle

It’s a helpful book, emphasizing the transforming initiatives rather than rules.  For example, they don’t try to answer the question of just war theory vs. pacifism (whether war is ever permissible as a last resort), but they highlight the strengths of each view before turning to an emphasis on just peacemaking theory (how to defuse situations before they get to a state of “last resort”).

With “just peacemaking” in the back of my mind, I was fascinated when I came across the article “A Smarter Way to Fight” in Newsweek and a mention of 2 Kings 6 on Greg Boyd’s blog.  Could it be that in the bloody world of the Old Testament and in the bloody world of today, the most powerful action in ending cycles of violence is actually to let the enemy go free?  Excerpts below.

“Not to Exterminate the FARC”

Strange things are happening in the jungles of Colombia. After years of fighting a fierce, conventional war against the leftist guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s military accomplished a major feat earlier this month without firing a shot. The Colombians used a complex ruse to free 15 hostages, including three Americans and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, eliciting international acclaim and comparisons to the Israeli hostage rescue at Entebbe. But what happened afterward—which hasn’t been widely reported—was almost as remarkable, according to Colombian Vice Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón. The Colombian Army cornered the hostages’ captors, the FARC’s notorious 1st Front—the latest success stemming from Bogotá’s tactic of dropping its special forces into the jungle and keeping the weakened guerrillas on the run. “But we took the decision not to attack,” Pinzón told NEWSWEEK, because the government wanted to convey it had a new “strategic concept.” “We want to send a message to the FARC and to the world: not to exterminate the FARC but to welcome back anyone who wants to come into the system.” Last week, to drive that point home, the Colombian military equipped helicopters with loudspeakers that began booming Betancourt’s recorded voice over the jungle, saying “Hey, guerrillas … demobilize now … You’ll recover your family, your honor, your liberty.”

The Aramean Attack Is Thwarted

8 Once when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he took counsel with his officers. He said, ‘At such and such a place shall be my camp.’ 9But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, ‘Take care not to pass this place, because the Arameans are going down there.’ 10The king of Israel sent word to the place of which the man of God spoke. More than once or twice he warned such a place* so that it was on the alert.

11 The mind of the king of Aram was greatly perturbed because of this; he called his officers and said to them, ‘Now tell me who among us sides with the king of Israel?’ 12Then one of his officers said, ‘No one, my lord king. It is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.’ 13He said, ‘Go and find where he is; I will send and seize him.’ He was told, ‘He is in Dothan.’ 14So he sent horses and chariots there and a great army; they came by night, and surrounded the city.

15 When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, ‘Alas, master! What shall we do?’ 16He replied, ‘Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.’ 17Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18When the Arameans* came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Strike this people, please, with blindness.’ So he struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked. 19Elisha said to them, ‘This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.’ And he led them to Samaria.

20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, ‘O Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they may see.’ The Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were inside Samaria. 21When the king of Israel saw them he said to Elisha, ‘Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’ 22He answered, ‘No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.’ 23So he prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way, and they went to their master. And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.


margaret has written! (her first post)

I’m helping our friend “Joy”, a single mom who lives in a transitional housing facility, find a place to live with her newly acquired Section 8 housing voucher. She’s actually always lived a pretty plush lifestyle but recently ran into a string of bad luck and is now officially classified as “homeless”, despite her clearly defying stereotype. We’ve been trying to find a place here in the Westside since she’s decided to go back to school here but it’s been nearly impossible finding a manager that will allow Section 8 residents. And by “Westside”, I don’t mean Beverly Hills, but more of the working-class yet slowly gentrifying areas of Palms, Mar Vista, and Culver City. Where we live.

I am no stranger to searching for Westside apartments and have helped a number of friends find a place to live. However, I have called over 60 managers and have only been treated with complete coldness, arrogance, and bigotry by most of them. Several of them have even laughed at me when I asked them if they accepted Section 8. I’ve been hung-up on many times, several of whom did it while I was mid-sentence.

We had 1 promising lead, a woman who had rented one of her units to one of Joy’s friends who also used Section 8. We went to go check out the unit, which was actually the manager’s place, and it was spilling over with Christian paraphernalia; we actually share many of the same books. But this chick was the rudest of them all. She exuded pure condescension and she talked to us as if we were children. But since it was the only opportunity we had, my friend made an appointment with her to submit an application. Later that afternoon as I was making my rounds calling listings on Craigslist, I ended up calling her (unknowingly) for the same unit that was $50 less than what she quoted us. She, of course, was much more pleasant with me until I realized that it was the same lady. She hung up on me when I asked her why she was charging us more. And when my friend went to her appointment the following day (taking inconvenient public transportation with her baby), the chick stood her up! When Joy called, she said, “I told your friend yesterday that the appointment was cancelled because you didn’t have a job”. None of which is true. My friend thinks it’s due to racism since she is black and her friend who has a unit there is white. I quickly discarded the thought…there’s no way that could be true, could it? Omigosh…is it?

Even though I’m just helping someone, it’s hard not to internalize all this rejection. What is it like to be constantly subjected to these types of unremitting micro-aggressions when you’re just trying to get back on your two feet? And to receive the harshest treatment by a fellow believer was pretty appalling. We fail to understand how critical it is to live out Jesus’ teaching in even our seemingly mundane tasks.

“Why do the poor stay poor and how can they get out of it?”- this thought pretty much dominates my mind on a daily basis. There are myriad theories out there that try to explain it, but my hunch is that it is deeply connected to how people can internalize the powerlessness and helplessness that is communicated by present systemic and structural injustices, which is then misunderstood as “laziness” (though there are lazy people out there, rich and poor). It’s probably a lot easier for me than my friend to navigate the “system” because my own sense of resilience hasn’t been battered, even though my very brief brush with it has kind of profoundly discouraged me in a way I haven’t experienced.

This is my first blog post and I think I may write from a more praxis-oriented perspective. It’s important for me to carve out the space and time to articulate my otherwise jumbled up thoughts and experiences.


shane claiborne on cnn

Shane Claiborne and his used-vegetable-oil-powered “Jesus for President” bus tour are the headline article on CNN right now!  Check it out.  I sat next to this dude on the grass a couple weeks ago.


“hoping for a surprise”

Well, Wright was on Colbert, sure enough, talking about his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Not the easiest format for talking about these things, but he did alright.

A friend told me that Stephen (a Catholic) teaches Sunday school.

I, for one, really appreciate his show and how it exposes the absurdity of those in power. I think he and Stewart convey more real truth in one hour than you’ll get on most news programs during the rest of the day.