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Monday, November 29, 2010

When a Man Decides to Leave Emotional Boyhood Behind.

When does a man mature emotionally?

What does that look like?

What keeps him from maturing such that he remains a boy emotionally?

I've been a counselor and spiritual director since the late 80's. I have worked with hundreds of men individually and in groups. I'm well acquainted with the emotional lives of men because I'm of that peculiar tribe, and have done the kind of work which put me right in the thick of how men feel and think. My work has centered on healing the wounds of the heart. With men, such wounds directly affect how robust their  masculinity is manifest in a real world, particularly matters of character.

You need to know I also went though a year of intense inner healing.

Let me begin by defining two key terms: emotional masculinity and character:

Emotional masculinity is manhood infused by character. Masculinity is more than being born male. Masculinity is an attitude of the heart and mind cultivated through struggle and consistent effort. It grows from core values which pervade a man's chosen way of living in this world. Character in a man is expressed through spiritually-informed qualities such as integrity, authenticity, courage, industry, generosity of heart, humility and compassion, especially for the weak, oppressed and powerless. Faith, hope and love (especially love), inform his deepest motivations and guide his most prized enterprises. He is fully human with sin, blindspots, prejudices, errors, weaknesses, failures and the persistent need for others to help complete him, especially elders in the way of living from wisdom and magnanimity.

He is neither Atlas nor Solomon. He is flesh and blood, but his heart has been turned gradually toward spending life not in hot pursuit of "treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal," but on "laying up for himself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." (Mt. 16:19-20). Those treasures are gained by giving away his life in the service of God and others, no matter his business or stated profession. He has decided in his broken humanity way to live for the good, the true and the worthy. Like Jesus (but as a mere man), such a man has "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Lk. 9:51), to "deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow [Christ]" (Lk. 9:23). He has given away his rights to personal empire to the One who will ennoble him at the finish line for doing so.

To put it bluntly, at some point, he's voluntarily surrendered all to become a doulos Christou (slave of Christ) even if he's not really sure what it will require of him at the time. For most, it turns out to be lifelong metamorphosis to be sure, and grace will have to pick him up or turn him around and put him back together more times than he'd like to admit, but this is the journey where emotional masculinity is forged and refined and spiritually crafted into Christ-likeness. It's the only way. Other men will look for shortcuts; many will settle for an agreeable niceness, and more than we might think will abandon the hard way of the Cross completely, but he will struggle quietly  to stay the course one step at a time over decades. It's because he's decided to leave emotional boyhood behind, although he probably would not think to call it that.

When a man chooses to stay in emotional boyhood he becomes cut off from his destiny. The promise God puts in him as potential to be activated by hard work of character building. Sometimes his choice is determined laziness (a character flaw), most often it comes from, sometimes profound, emotional wounding in his formative years. A key factor here is his ability to take initiative in the face of fear. Because of criticism, mocking, or abuse, he internalizes shame and thus has no platform of healthy self-acceptance and confidence to make a way in the world. So he hesitates, hides, buries himself in "wine, women and song," or worse, learns to manipulate or deceive others, including women, to get what he wants without revealing his deep-seated fear and shame.

He fiercely protects his emotional boyhood because the path to healing and freedom will force him to go into the pain and that's just too terrifying. He trusts no one and feels deeply alone because it. Boyhood is a cover and covering. The only way forward is gently, but persistently coaxing the boy toward the possibility of freedom. He needs to feel safe and supported in the process. He is much more fragile than he might look on the surface. Such a man needs to see that despite what was done to him, and sometimes it was horrific (it could be fairly termed rape or abuse whether it was done physically or emotionally),  Jesus has put the potential of masculinity into him, and will heal his "broken image" toward emotional masculinity if he opens to it. Every man is God's idea and has a place if he chooses to look for it. Inner healing is the first step forward.

So here's some of the more predominant characteristics I've noticed over 20 years of working with men who cultivate emotional manhood or preserve emotional boyhood. Remember this is a state of mind, and a way of coming at life.

  • Emotional boyishness lives for pleasure, especially of the body:  food, sex, comfort, getting high, physical strength, etc. Delaying gratification is anathema.
  • Emotional masculinity enjoys pleasure fully, but is not mastered by its pursuit in whatever form; it strives to avoid or bring into submission destructive pleasures
  • Emotional boyishness always shies away from facing its deepest fears. 
  • Emotional masculinity acknowledges deep fear and might hesitate for awhile or stumble under the weight of it, but it eventually turns and faces the "giants in the land."
  • Emotional boyishness looks after the interests of self first and will avoid doing the right thing unless it benefits its own interests or avoids punishment.
  • Emotional masculinity might hesitate doing the right thing because of selfishness or ignorance, but will eventually move toward the right thing because it is the right thing.
  • Emotional boyishness always blames others first; self-examination is not a strong suit.
  • Emotional masculinity, especially after self-examination, has learned to humbly accept blame where blame is warranted; it might not feel good, but character and righteousness demand it (core values).
  • Emotional boyishness places its rights above the rights of others always demanding, "What about me?"
  • Emotional masculinity sees the rights of others as equal to its own and will defend theirs as much as its, even at great personal cost occasionally.
  • Emotional boyishness stays committed to relationships, challenges, work responsibilities and life obligations as long as it feels good or benefits its interests.
  • Emotional masculinity stays committed to relationships, challenges, work responsibilities and life obligations because its word is its bond. Integrity matters.
  • Emotional boyishness is passive aggressive in order to stay in control when called to account.
  • Emotional masculinity tries to face the medicine honestly and accept blame for sinful motives, attitudes or behavior. It does not stonewall or shut down to stop the confrontation.
  • Emotional boyishness will finish what it starts if there is pleasure involved, the effort required is fairly easy, and someone else will shoulder the burden if it loses interest.
  • Emotional masculinity will strive to finish what it starts because it committed to doing so; stick-to-it-tiveness is a valued.
  • Emotional boyishness does not spend time examining or practicing virtues reflecting character; there is no immediate payoff
  • Emotional masculinity views a life of virtue as a high calling and a worthy lifetime goal of intrinsic value.

In sum, when a man decides to leave emotional boyhood behind he sets out on a rigorous journey into imperfect wellness and wholeness, but spiritual authenticity is the prize. He becomes a man defined by the Word of God. He's always is a work in progress, but he has "stepped over the line" (a critical act) in order to head toward holiness and righteousness. Such a man has a real shot at wisdom and Kingdom fruitfulness because he has embraced God's definition of masculinity. Jesus is the epitome, but all of his male followers are invited on the noble journey. Emotional boyhood might promise fleeting pleasures, comforts and safety, but a boy remains a boy, woefully dependent on others (even if he's unaware) to make life pleasant or successful for him. Emotional masculinity offers infinitely more, but it just requires the building of character by shouldering a cross one day at a time. Pain precedes the treasure and the treasure rewards the pain.

Helpful Reading:

The Silence of Adam: Larry Crabb
Wild At Heart: John Eldredge
Code of Conduct for Servants of the Most High God: Roger Van Der Werken

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Should The Church See Itself As A Missional Team?

Before I head into my thoughts I should state  I know the Church cannot be reduced simply to one aspect of its nature. I'm not practicing a mild reductio ad absurdum. I understand it's the Body of Christ from all over the world comprising all who've gone before, are now,  and are to come. I know it has many functions as God's now-and-not-yet Kingdom: hospital, sanctuary, training center, worship center, community, prophetic counterpoint, defender and advocate for the poor and powerless, sojourning witness, missionary presence, spiritual household away from Home, etc. Through the church, God's redemptive purposes are learned and lived out in the world by summoned people no matter their pedigree or place.

Ever since I read about the Church's DNA being missional from the writings of guys in the last 5-10 years, I've been intrigued by what missional actually looks like, particularly in terms of how an individual church understands itself, how it develops its culture, toward what ends it uses its resources, and how its people conduct their lives together and apart. In the process of actually helping lead a church trying to be missional in Northampton, MA, I've been asking similar questions as imagine/Northampton works out its way of being missional.

As I've been fond of doing lately, let's begin with two key definitions: what is a missional church and what is a team?

"A missional church is a unified body of believers, intent on being God’s missionary presence to the indigenous community that surrounds them, recognizing that God is already at work." (Brad Brisko,
 "A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable." (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993)

Notice  both definitions include the idea that the people involved are engaged in a commonly held purpose. It means something important to them, and forms a certain identity and culture. It implies informed dedication. Being "intent" and "committed" characterize a church with a clearly-stated mission. While individual people using their gifts may work toward the mission differently,even uniquely, they will still do so being unified around its essentials and mandates. Brisko calls it being "intent on being God's missionary presence to the indigenous community that surrounds them." Focused intent and unified commitment characterize a missional team.

I also think it important to note the idea of "performance goals" and accountability. I've been in the church in one form or another for 38 years. I know accountability and performance make people gun-shy when it comes to all things church because of grievous abuses in highly legalistic or controlling churches which turn Jesus-following into communities of fear and failure. I'm not advocating anything remotely of the sort. I've had the blessing of being involved mostly with churches which live grace-filled community.

The problem I've seen is that, beyond perhaps the pastor, elders, paid staff, worship team, and folks who work with kids, other church members were not held to account regarding any sort of missional "performance." We don't like thinking that way. It feels foreign. Church is not about performance; it's about freedom, love, grace and acceptance. Well yeah, but even the Scriptures call us all to account over certain spiritual , moral and ethical "best practices." "Running the race," implies more than strolling about. We abhor pressuring anyone into stepping up the the plate

I think performance and mutual accountability are quite appropriate missionally, similar to the way someone's work can be "measured." If we have no way to examine how all of us on the Kingdom team are doing with living our agreed mission, we have little way of knowing if we're actually doing what we said we'd do. It doesn't have to be done in a ham-fisted manner at all, but I think it is healthy to periodically examine the team (church) and its individual missionaries to grow at serving God who "is already at work" in our surrounding communities.

In turn, knowing each other's "complementary skills" for the mission makes us all aware of how God has mustered a group of people to a particular church in a certain community with specific work for them to do. We can see his economy of gifts and unleash them together to pursue the goals we've been given. When we're aware of each other's gifts in the mission we can be more intelligent about how we graciously support and challenge one another to "seize the day" as the Spirit summons. Awareness is power with focus for opportunity.

With the above said, I think the Church should see itself as a missional team. As soon as you use the term "team" you suggest a unified identity with a commonly held purpose and unfolding direction. Team implies we're gathered to do something; it's action oriented, not a place or program. So church becomes dynamically more than Sunday morning worship, a place of education and nurture, or a theological bulwark against the encroaching world. If we do not think of ourselves as a missional team, it's easy to settle into being spiritual consumers just trying to get by being the best heaven-bound people we can be rather than missionaries summoned by God at a particular time in redemptive history to love and serve others while building relationships to open them to Jesus.

Well-formed and functioning teams in sports, in combat or at work have a specific mandate and everything they do serves that mandate. There is focus, clarity, meaning and belonging derived from the mandate and the team pursuit of it. Why should it be different in church culture? Our goal is not to win championships, increase profits or defend our way of life from interlopers; our goal is to follow Jesus into all the places where all expressions of death reign in this world and offer the redemptive Kingdom of life one person at a time. For the Church to intentionally shoulder identity as a missional team with that express purpose acts as a laser rather than a scattergun.

I choose the laser. I think we all should . . . and together.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why God Gave the World Drummers.

I was seriously infected in the year of my 8th grade of high school.

When I was still in grade school, my dad had a pair of Cuban bongos around the house that I'd occasionally try to "play" when we'd have family gatherings at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and he'd play his guitar and sing (as I mentioned in an earlier post, he was very gifted at both). I had no idea what I was doing, but it felt strangely good anyway. The universe seemed to line up.

In 8th grade, I had a small record player in my room where I'd listen to Beach Boys and Chubby Checker, records, etc. At some point during those listenings I dragged out the bongos and "played" them with an old pair of brushes my Dad had lying around for some reason.

I discovered as I sat in my room with the Beach Boys, I could keep time to the record and it felt like it was what I was made for. I'd never felt more alive than when I was trying to play with the simple music I was hearing. I still had no idea which end was up, but I wanted to find out.

So I did.

At 15, I'd hop on the bus with drumsticks and books in tow and head downtown for a Saturday morning (I had to wake him up sometimes), lesson from the best teacher in Albuquerque, a jazz player transplanted from St. Louis with strong technique, an impeccable sense of rhythmic time, and wonderful musicality. He played the right thing at the right time and made it feel good for everyone playing with him. He enhanced the music through his musical sensibility. I wanted what he had with a vengeance.

Through high school I gigged with rock bands and what were then called dance bands. In one, I met Tom van der Geld. At the time he was a trumpet player. He was a couple of years older than me and loved jazz like I was growing to. Somewhere in college he switched cold turkey to playing vibraphone (an instrument most non-musicians call a xylophone or marimba because they look similar). At the University of New Mexico, we formed a jazz group and through a series of national collegiate jazz competitions, we both won scholarships to Berklee College of Music in Boston - he a full and I a partial. Off we went.

A few months after arriving in Boston, I met my future wife, Tricia and a few months later, through her, I met Jesus. One year later I was invited by James Ward to become a member of the first jazz-influenced Christian touring group. It's name was Elan. Before we hit the road we spent a summer rehearsing at Peniel Bible Conference in Lake Luzerne, NY. At summer's end, we played a "thank you" concert. In it, was some of the instrumental/improvisational music I had been writing.

After the concert a very distraught-looking young guy came up to me and wanted to know why we were playing such music, especially the highly rhythmic instrumental pieces. Did I not realize what rhythm did to people? He went on to explain he'd been to as seminar by a very popular Christian teacher at the time where he learned that highly-rhythmic music was designed to drive people to sexual activity. In fact, rhythm was the culprit. I have to admit I was almost speechless at hearing what he said. I'd never had anyone enlighten me of such a dreadful problem. While just a year-old believer I still knew his thinking was flawed and tried to gently help him recognize it. Not sure of the outcome from his side, but I don't think I won him over.

To his credit, his challenge forced me to examine and develop a theology of art. I'm still exploring. Because I am a drummer by nature and heart, I've done some thinking about why God gave drumming to the world.

1.  He created time, movement and sequence. One author said, "Time and rhythm are two elements that make up the very foundation of music itself. They are omnipresent and eternal elements that govern all movement in an orderly universe. Anything moving has rhythm. Oscillations, and waves have rhythm.  Movement is movement through time, however infinitesimal.

2. He created numbers which have their own rhythm when gathered in groups and sequences to be heard: 
123...123...12...12...123. Number orders rhythm. That's why musicians learn to count in order to know where they are and how to parse complex, multi-layered rhythms. Counting has rhythm. As soon as you go from 1 to 2, you've created a simple rhythm. Number also gives rhythmic sequences a contour and momentum over time. 

3. He created sound and the ability to hear it. Read this sentence aloud and there is a rhythm or cadence to it. We can distinguish the rhythms of language if we listen even a little. Poetry is like music in that regard. Word and sentence rhythm illuminate the hearing and meaning of a well-wrought poem. The words move the meaning by rhythmic sequence, however subtle. Or walk anywhere and you can hear a cacophony of rhythms from source upon source - all jumbling together in a constant flow of instants, but distinguished in pattern as we turn to notice and listen. We can pick out sequence and rhythmic shape. Our brains are hard-wired to catalog and reference them even before we give the sound a name.

The reality is there is no sound or music at all without rhythm. Musical notes are sound events oscillating at certain frequencies; the higher the note the faster the oscillations. In turn, there is no melody without rhythm because one note must move through time to get to the next one creating a sense of melodic shape. Rhythm moves musical notes into discernible patterns called phrases. Songs and larger melodic structures have many phrases all transported forward by rhythm.

4. God gave people the ability to sense rhythm and for most it is pleasant to do so. When people refer to a "beat" they're acknowledging an orderly rhythmic movement which can be felt in time. Musicians talk of "being in the groove." Drummers think about "staying in the pocket" or "keeping time." People tap their toes or get up and dance to rhythms which somatically move them. Moving to an infectious rhythm is invigorating and fun. Celebrations often include music with robust rhythmic pulses to get people in the mood for celebrating.

5. I think strong rhythms played by drummers are tied primarily to feeling. Drumming can create a somber atmosphere as when I, my son, Dan, and nephew, Jesse, played a slow funeral cadence on drums when my father's remains were taken out of the church to the cemetery while my daughter, Eslie, sang Be Thou My Vision. There was somber, respectful gravity in the air because of deep sounding low drums reminding us of our sadness and loss that day. 

Most often drummers enliven a joyous occasions spontaneously propelling people to their feet. It's commonly held among musicians that a bad drummer can deflate a band's energy and a great drummer can elevate or ignite it. Drummers create a sense of energy and excitement as they lock onto rhythms catalyzing people to move in sync with them, or at least to move. Drummers add a sense of power to dense musical structures and drama coinciding with passionate melodies or words.  They propel the music forward, giving it an unmistakable feeling of momentum and inevitability.

I think God created drummers because he likes watching passionate, dedicated players enhance the music with their ability to create interest and energy. He gave them the ability to serve the musicians and the music by creating and managing the orderly unfolding of musical ideas which move the heart and challenge the mind. Drummers invite people engage the kinetic energy of the music. Thus, they not only serve their musical cohorts, but the people gathered and listening so they might experience and feel something transcendent. 

God made drummers percussive animators of sound and sequence. He gave them the task of making the music dance and the heart leap. He gave them the calling to point people to joy and passion, the JOY and PASSION which STILL makes the universe leap to rhythms heard first in the place of their beginning by the One who said "Let there be rhythms for all the dances of life in the heavens and on the earth!" Drummers feel that original call in their hands and feet synchronized and flying, even if they don't know the God of the Big Dance or they play music dedicated to baser pursuits. You can see it in their passion. If the have heart and integrity in their work, you can see it.

These days I've come to think God made drummers to offer rhythm so others can fly, and sing and dance and shout. Go on YouTube and listen to the drummers who play with African bassist Richard Bona. Listen to congeros Giovanni Hidalgo or Poncho Sanchez, or drum kit virtuoso, Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez. Listen to Steve Gadd or Jeff Porcaro stay in the pocket. 

Oh yeah, and while you're at it, let our toes tap...It's good for the soul!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

When Mental Toughness Requires An Unexpected Change of Course.

"Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It's a state of mind-you could call it character in action." Vince Lombardi

3More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5 ESV

I've been fighting a funk the last 10 days of so. It's not a P-Funk kinda funk that causes your booty to shake; it's a funk that smothers your heart and pulls your thoughts into a thick, enervating fog. Your heart grows tired and your mind feels like the batteries need to be replaced so the light can come back on. It's stultifying to say the least.

My afflicting funk stems from the persisting and deepening financial drought we are settling into. It's feels like a fog which won't lift; it blankets our days and laces fear in our sleep. A palpable heaviness pervades it. We both talk of existential (although we don't use the word), tiredness. I know the weariness is from growing stress. Those of you who've been there know unpayed bills tend to stare at you with a withering gaze. It's no fun.

The long and the short of it is I'm just not making enough money to hold up my end of the bargain with supporting our household. imagine/Northampton is so small it can't carry my weight nor am I counseling
anywhere near enough to support  my salary.

In the midst of the work malaise I'm beginning to think God is signaling a change in my direction. It began with reading missional church guys talking about the bi-vocational pastor being the wave of the future. Much of what they write makes good sense to me. Is God calling me to this? What would be so bad about that?

As I said, my counseling and spiritual direction work has virtually dried up with just a handful of clients remaining. Tricia's is growing. The decline has been trending this way since the early summer of this year. Something has changed. I can feel it spiritually and the numbers show it. There looks no end in sight and I'm running out of time to turn things around.
What does this have to do with mental toughness?

Well, I think in my case, mental toughness, is being able to keep the mission I was called to in Northampton in firm view with no wavering while seeing the change I need to make in terms of remaining full-time paid staff as falling forward. In fact, it turns out to be part of God's taking me deeper into the mission in a way I never would have found on my own. In the quote above, Vince Lombardi combined sacrifice and self-denial with a "perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give up" I doubt I'll ever be capable of a perfectly disciplined will," this side of heaven, but I get the refusing-to-give-up character part because I'm doing that so far. I'm not quitting imagine until God tells me to.

 The Apostle Paul tells me that mental toughness has to do with enduring suffering and hardship so that godly character qualities take root in me, and hope can keep me stayed on following Christ while working to open the Kingdom to folks - hope infused with God's love.

So God can:
test my mettle,
put me in over my head,
take me to the edge of my faith,
remove all my safety nets,
and even change where I work,

to strengthen my character, making it tough enough to carry the weight of my task in imagine /Northampton's mission.

Mental toughness can also be about staying the course when God expands the scope of the mission he has given without consulting with me (as if he should!). For instance, rather than having me hold down the fort every day at the imagine/Northampton offices, or being the "Chief Communications Officer," a role I've played by temperament and default since we got up here, he gives me a job elsewhere and maybe it doesn't look like ministry at all on the surface, or maybe its in a form I didn't recognize before and would've never headed toward on my own. Just because my work environment changes doesn't mean the mission has.

More simply, mental toughness also means buckling down and helping dig us out of our financial hole even if my imagine/Northampton role diminishes considerably or has to end. I made a prior promise to Tricia to care of her that is of equal or greater worth. Integrity as a Jesus-follower includes meeting my financial obligations and doing what I have to even if it's painful. It's big-boy stuff.

Mental toughness never lets go of the cause or mission, or the non-negotiable values animating any effort of worth. The goal or cause is so compelling a person will pay the cost, fight through the pain, make the sacrifice, overcome the discouragement and hang tough when all appears in shambles. Mental toughness is the domain of those willing to go down with the ship if the ship must go down. I believe it's a virtue which ennobles ordinary people captivated by conviction.

Truth be told, it's taken me a awhile to get to the place of altering my short course to sustain the long haul. There've been "giants in the land," and I've hesitated to adjust my course far too long.  Adjusting I'll be in the days ahead. Pray for me if you think about it. I'll be heading out as a "stranger in a strange land." At least it feels that way at the outset.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

We're Not Looking to Get Members; We're Seeking to Catalyze Missionaries


Someone who belongs to a social group or an organization, especially individuals who have joined and participate in some manner. Members are entitled to the benefits, privileges, rights and responsibilities of membership.


A person, often in response to a compelling call to open people to one's deeply-held beliefs and convictions,who is sent on a mission to spread his or her faith, and/or provide educational, medical, or developmental help which enhances well-being: spiritual, physical, relational, and cultural. 

Last Saturday, I was graciously invited by Keith Tolley to participate in Vision ONE'S Leadership Intensive: Taking disciple-making to a HIGHER level. Vision ONE is dedicated to "Equipping and Connecting Local Church Leaders (in New England), for Disciple-making and Evangelism." It was expertly presented and chock-full of helpful concepts central to establishing a discipling culture as a way of life in the local church. As a result, I'm going to be applying this stuff in my role as Spiritual Formation Catalyst at imagine/Northampton.

Since the 2007 when I led a gathering called Conversations in our living room at the Center For Renewal in Simsbury, CT when missional concepts began to revolutionize my understanding of the nature of the church, I've been firmly convinced all Jesus-followers are by definition missionaries. At the end of December, 2009,  and into January of this year I wrote 4 blogposts on developing a missional mindset. Tricia and I are thinking about teaching the material from those posts in a Spiritual Formation group in January to help people develop their primary identities as a Jesus-followers committed to his mission in Northampton. Jim has taught about it on Sunday, and we talk about it all the time in our Leadership Team meetings. We've see it as part of imagine/Northampton's DNA since its inception.

So when we think about growing as a church, our main motivation isn't merely to add to our membership rolls: membership growth in and of itself is not of interest to us. By it's definition membership is about belonging, being a part of something. It doesn't necessarily imply being active in promoting the core values or spreading the mandate of the group to which one belongs. I can be a member of an organization such as AAA or the Musician's Union and not see it as my prime directive to get others involved. It's more about what I get from belonging.

To my point, one of the most vital conversations the Church has been having in the West for over a decade is about what it means to be the Church in a post-Christendom culture. It's no longer enough to be a friendly place where people go to receive spiritual services, whether they be great teaching, great programs, great worship or small groups. Consumer Christianity is being increasingly scrutinized by believers who are becoming convicted we're missing the mark in making a difference to people who want little to do with Christians today. It's no longer about attracting people with great stuff on Sunday or during the week; it's all about becoming an engaged, caring part of the community in such a way that we build true relationships or friendships with people who do not share our worldview. We love and serve them with passion, integrity and creativity, and pray like crazy Jesus will open their hearts so they can see him through us, and then maybe want to find out about this "God who is far more than they imagine.

imagine/Northampton has no "pathway" to becoming a member, in fact. We do not separate people into seekers, attenders, or members. We're looking for something more vigorous from people who cross our threshold and stick around:

1. We want them to become captivated by Jesus: what he's done for them; how he loves them beyond how they've ever been loved, and what he's calling them to.

2. We want them to be fascinated by the Kingdom of God: what it is; how it functions, and how they're invited to be a part of its unfolding.

3. We want them to be completely sold on the subversively redemptive mission of Jesus and the Kingdom: what it is; how it happens; and how they're called to be a missionary wherever they are.

4. We want them to see life as a missional Jesus-follower is their primary identity (all their other roles are platforms through which being a missionary takes place), and living in the Kingdom as a missionary is their WAY OF LIFE not just "my religion. faith or worldview."

In sum, imagine/Northampton as a church is working to be a supportive, creating culture of missionaries, a mission-infused community of people who love Jesus with abandon, love each other and love people around them with insight and abandon, including the "least of these," Jesus's brethren. We want to invite, heal, train, develop and support anyone who has decided to follow Jesus as their chosen way of living, their deepest longing and greatest joy.

I know we don't have it all worked out, to be sure, but we're underway, and glad Jesus has been so generous in letting us try to live this way with him in Northampton.

BTW: I'm not saying we'll pressure people into some sort of mold we call missional. You can come to imagine/Northampton and take the time you need to heal, understand and decide whether you'll dive into this way of life or not. We'll do our best to love, encourage, teach and support your unique journey. We won't downplay our mission, but neither will we force anyone into it. You'll simply have a clear opportunity to explore with us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

WOW! imagine/Northampton's First Halloween Hospitality Event.

Last year on Halloween, Karen Bayne took her kids around Main Street with her mom, Linda. They stopped at our apartment. In the course of chatting for a minute, Linda asked if I noticed which buildings were "dark" on Main Street. Apart from the County Courthouse and banks, I noticed the churches were. She noted all the kids and families out and going into local businesses for a treat, and it was a missed opportunity to connect with folks who've stayed away from churches.

I didn't forget what she said.

It was crystal clear to me Halloween was a wonderful opportunity to connect with these folks and help them be exposed to imagine/Northampton. Over the months since having our new space more than one person mentioned "they had never heard of us." So here was an amazing chance to change that, and what better way than with kids and families out for some fun together. We weren't championing Halloween; we were merely connecting with new people and blessing them.

None of us had any idea what would transpire. We figured maybe, just maybe 70 people might climb our 22 stairs for a treat. We also thought all the merchants participating in handing out treats would make it a special experience in some way - not merely hold out a bowl of candy - so we wanted it to be as well done.

We put our heads together to figure what would enhance people's experience and help them remember us. Karen suggested we take pictures of the kids in their costumes for free.  We asked and Nate, a professional photographer and with his wife, Ashley, would take care of the "photo op."  We'd also give kids a small bag of candy. For the adults, we'd offer hot cider, coffee, pumpkin muffins and apple cider donuts. The day before, Matt B., Tricia, and Kait (a student from UMASS/Amherst) carved elaborate designs in pumpkins for the kids to look at. Jen and Amy would help kids make things at a crafts table we set up. Tricia did a wonderful job pulling it all together logistically, and setting up the space.We thought all of it would keep their interest and make it fun without having to slow their pace in town.

A nice thing about the event was that it was something we could get everyone on our team involved in and include some friends as well. This event was really the first of its size we'd done. In September, we had a successful poetry event which required less help. As it turned out, yesterday we needed everybody.

Well . . .talk about God doing far more than we imagined. WOW!

The doors were supposed to open at noon, but we figured no one would really be out then, and planned to open at 2PM. It was supposed to go to 5PM. By 1:15 or so we had to open the doors because families and kids were already all over Main Street. We opened the doors and for the next three and a half hours watched a steady stream of kids and parents. We were slammed at times with lines of folks heading up the the stairs and down the stairs at the same time. The costumes were great. The atmosphere was festive and fun. There was all sorts of energy in what was happening. We resonated with it.

Matt , Jim and I manned the front door telling people what was available to them. They were curious. I heard a few say, "What is that place upstairs?" Sometimes they came in clusters. Karin and Tricia would be at the top of the stairs greeting and directing traffic, handing out candy, and replenishing the food and drink table.

We figured based on how many pictures were taken, and how much food we went through we had between 200 and 250 people. Three or four times, someone had to dash out to get more cider, donuts and candy, lots of it. We even had to get more photo paper after we went through the initial 180 photos we had paper for. Nate took pics non-stop for the afternoon. In spite of that, there were no serious delays and we didn't have to say, "Sorry folks, we're out of that," or "We can't offer any more photos today."

We found out that people were telling others to go to the place where kids were getting free photos, and because it was so cold, hot cider and coffee. Jim and Matt took their kids around the circuit, and we found out that no one was doing anything beyond giving them a piece of candy. What we thought would the norm and did accordingly, turned out to be far beyond what others were doing. In fact, people thanked us for being so "generous" and "kind." A number of parents said the hospitality we offered was the best of the day. Many couldn't believe we were giving away professional-quality photos, and they loved the imagine space itself. People actually hung around so that it was like a "warming" center. One woman joked, "She wasn't leaving." There were all sorts of thank you's.

Perhaps what was most heartening was that we had a number of inquiries about "what is this place?" or "What is imagine/Northampton?" It gave us the opportunity to say we are a church. There were all kinds of responses from: "Oh, really?" to frowns or questions. The questions gave us the chance to talk about what we do and what why we are here. They made us get to the essence because people up here are often very skeptical about the church, even antagonistic. I found myself, when asked what was our "ideology," boiling it down to: "Loving Jesus and loving and serving people." There were some folks who took our literature. Many were surprised we are a church, and some were surprised we were offering hospitality on a day like Halloween. Churches don't do that (unless it's a Harvest Party).

We'd been praying God would connect us with a few folks who don't know him even if that meant simply being Jesus-followers by offering hospitality and helping parents with their kids have a nice day. I think God graciously let us do that and let the name imagine/Northampton stand out yesterday. We challenged some stereotypes simply by being gracious, warm-hearted and kind. It takes more than that to open someone to see Jesus, but I think we made more progress yesterday in Northampton than in the 2+ years since we've been here. We had no idea it would happen that way. God did it, plain and simple.

After we closed up shop, we shared a meal as a team and enjoyed together what God had done. We all knew something substantial occurred. For me, sitting there and eating with everyone was beautiful. I was glad to be associated with each person in the room. They did a wonderful job with grace and generosity.

I earnestly hope this is just the beginning of all sorts of things God will have us do together in Northampton and with people we don't know yet.

Later as Jim and I were taking out garbage to be disposed, we both said almost simultaneously "This is what it's about." - connecting with people, loving and serving them in the hopes they open to Jesus and his Kingdom.

I rarely say "wow," but this was definitely a "WOW!"