Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What does "Missional" mean?

Greetings, Friends. Today I am writing from a tiny motel room in Cayucos. The price is right, the weather wonderful, and I am enjoying the time to think and write and yes, play a bit of golf. I played the course in Morro Bay yesterday. I will play once more before I go home on Friday. First, my review of worship last Sunday at the Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, including the fashion worn by the pastors.

Two pastors participated in the service on Sunday at 11 a.m. Both wore jeans, tennis shoes, and plaid shirts. They did not wear Hawaiian shirts. Teaching pastor Dan Kimball has become a well known teacher and travels all over the world to teach about starting "missional" churches. Pastor Josh Fox is the stay at home administrator and giver of pastoral care. Both are young, in their 30s, and both seem to do their jobs very well. Sunday was a special day for them since they were sharing with the congregation of about 400 (almost all under 40) the plans made by the church leadership board for "Renovation." They put the word "Renovation" up on the screens in an attractive graphic. They are in process of raising money and gathering energy to fix up the old building of the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Cruz. They have already changed an old social hall into a coffee shop, complete with baristas and pastries. They charge for the coffee and espresso drinks, but pass out coupons for free coffee to new people like me. The new colors make you feel like you are in an up to date facility.

As of January 2008 the Vintage Faith Church, which was started by Santa Cruz Bible Church, has merged with the First Presbyterian Church. This made it important for me to visit this place. Vintage Faith had been using the building of First Pres as a place to worship, and carrying on discussions with the leaders of the church about what they might do together. They came to realize that they had similar goals and were compatible in the way they worked. The members of Vintage Faith essentially became Presbyterian and the churches merged. The current pastor of First Pres became one of the staff of pastors, in charge of family ministry and pastoral care. The 9 a.m. service started out to be the more traditional one, and is the smallest. The 11 a.m. service seems to be filled with mostly young families with lots of children and pregnant women. They made a point of saying that in their planning they had to take into consideration that they have 18 women about to have babies and that their nursery would have to expand. The third service is at 7 p.m. and is full of college students. The total at all three services is over 600. The Presbyterian Church had shrunk to about 100 in worship before this merger.

The service began with with the old Gospel song, There's Power in the Blood, then a Country sounding praise song, and the Come Thou Font of Every Blessing. These songs were played by a praise team consisting of a guitar player, a bass player, a drummer who played a wooden box with his hands, and a vocalist. They were simple, but very talented. Their Groups and Fellowship Director gave announcements and encouraged people to "connect" with the projects of the church. Instead of a "moment for mayhem" like we have at Lemoore they have a "Mixer" time where they encourage the worshipers to spend about 5 minutes getting to know people around them that they do not know. I met two young families. The offering was received. The pastors spoke. (Normally only one would speak.) The service lasted about an hour and a half. Pastor Dan taught about the "missional" nature of the early church and what that means for things like the church facility.

What does "missional" mean? This is the major concentration of reading for me on this Sabbatical and my answer is not only what Dan spoke, but his sermon reflected what I have been thinking about. A missional church is a church that sees its purpose as being a missionary presence in its community. This is contrasted with what most churches actually do as we work to establish and maintain a religious institution. There was a day when people believed in institutions and joined them. People wanted to be members of churches and clubs. That day has passed. We can mourn its passing if we want, but it would be a waste of time to try to recapture the importance of the church as an institution. Reggie McNeal, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church is hard on us institutional types (like me) when he says that people these days are simply not interested in joining a religious club. They do not want to be a part of a group whose main purpose is to continue its own existence. From my own observations, I agree. We can figure out how to be the best religious club the universe has ever seen, and still go out of business in this post modern world.

Missional churches, like Vintage Faith, have a vision for putting their faith into action in the communities and world around them. Instead of inviting people into the club, they look for ways to be a Christian presence where ever they live and work. They are as likely to have a Bible Study in a restaurant as a home or room at the church. They talk about helping people to "connect" with service projects of the church, not join. When they think about their facilities they try to think of ways that they can use them to serve their community rather than protecting them from use. A Missional church tries to focus all its energies outward. It is, of course, impossible to focus all of the energy outward, as seen by the talk by Josh at Vintage Faith when he discussed the renovation projects ahead of them. However, the whole talk was about how these renovations would make service more possible.

This is only a taste of what you can expect from this blog in the near future. If you want to look at the website for Vintage Faith Church you can go to www.vintagechurch.org and see what they are doing and how they are defining themselves.

Blessings to you all. I pray for you daily.


Thursday, May 1, 2008


On my fourth Sunday of Sabbatical I visited friends. Paul is pastor of an old Presbyterian Church in Burbank, CA. I was his youth leader when he was in high school in Eagle Rock (Los Angeles), officiated at his wedding to Carol, and preached at his ordination. They are important to me. I worshiped with them on April 27. Before I tell you about that experience I want to tell you a story told by Carol.

One morning after church someone in the church pointed out to Carol, a good pastor's wife, that there were two people standing in front of the church crying. She went to investigate and found a mother and son standing, hugging each other, weeping together. She asked if anything was wrong and the Mom looked up and smiled, "O no, these are tears of joy. We are so happy. This is our first Sunday worshiping here and we have finally found a worship service with the joy we have been looking for." On my Sunday there I sat across the aisle from this beautiful family.

These people found joy in the worship service. I think this may be among the very best things to be said about a time spent in worship. JOY! Joy is central to Jesus' message, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (John 15:11) I find that I, and other church leaders, tend to relegate joy to the role of by-product of good Reformed worship. We rest on the idea that if we put all the right elements in a worship service, as we have been taught, then people will be joyful as a result of having worshiped. It will be an interesting web study over the next few weeks to discover the purposes that lay behind the historic elements of worship, but for now I am challenged to discover how a worship service can bring joy to we who worship.

This fourth of the worship experiences of my Sabbatical, in an old Presbyterian Church on a corner in Burbank, was absolutely the wildest, most raucous, least traditional, most fun worship experience of my life, much less of this current time off. The praise band included 3 guitars and bass guitar, drums, and two vocalists. The graphics for song words and for transitions were fabulous, including several Scripture slides. The service was seamless, going from one element to another with ease. All of the major elements were present in the order, including sharing and prayer, confession and assurance of pardon. I sat next to an elderly couple who sang their hearts out, in back of a woman about my age, and across from a family with teenagers. When the children left for Sunday School part way through there were at least 50 of them up through teen years.

Do you remember the old Monkees song, "I'm A Believer?" Did you know that if you change one word so that the chorus reads, "Then I saw God's face, now I'm a believer." that the song becomes a great Christian message and celebration? We started the service with this song, well played and led. We went on to sing, to pray, to hear the Word in an excellent sermon, and have fun! When Paul began there as pastor 12 years ago 80 worshipers attended one service. Now 250 crowd into 2 services in a long, narrow inconvenient room that seats about 150. Somehow, with this spirit of fun, they also produced joy in the hearts of those who were present. By the way, Paul had on the new uniform for preachers. He was wearing blue jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, and old tennis shoes.

There are some demographics that make this craziness work for this church. They are located near the Disney studios and other studios. Most of the people in the church work in the entertainment industry. They are artists and people who sew and take care of costumes and set up sets and engineer sound and lights. They are creative, slightly crazy, and are able to produce amazing work. For instance, every year on Academy Awards Sunday they have a special service in which each of the nominated best movies are skewered with cleverness and grace. It is all in who they are.

Every congregation has a unique clientele. I am not suggesting adding "Now I'm a Believer" to the musical repertoire of Lemoore Presbyterian Church. (I will let someone else do that.) I am suggesting that we find ways to have more fun and produce more JOY in our worship experiences. I know, we do have fun. We have lots of fun at times, but perhaps we can think of new ways to let more joy be expressed.

Before I leave this subject I want to admit something. The other worship that I enjoyed every bit as much as this raucous, joyfilled time in Burbank was the worship at the "Everthing Must Change Tour" in Seattle. The music of that worship was quiet, prayerful, thoughful, and spiritually challenging. The focus of much of the worship was on committment to working for Jesus in the world. We sang about hunger and poverty and about responding to such problems in Christ's name. We were introduced to new music written by Tracy Howe. You can find lyrics at the website: www.songsforarevolutionofhope.org I bought two CDs of this music and have been listening to them ever since. I love it. There is joy expressed in that music, also, as well as hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. To quote one of Tracy's lyrics, "Hey hey, ho ho, we have nothing if we don't have love."

I have also worshiped now at two cathedrals built to our National Pastime, in Seattle and in L.A. I was able to take photos of the cathedral in San Diego, but there was no service going on at the time. Ten runs scored by the Dodgers in the first inning is an ispiration matched by few other experiences. The last four runs were the result of a grand slam home run hit by Matt Kemp. It filled me with joy.

God bless you all.