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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thoughts on imagine's First inward/OUTWARD Missional Cohort, January 11, 2012

Ever since we started dreaming in Simsbury about how we were going to become imagine/Northampton, we knew that having some sort of small group culture would be an essential part of our DNA. One of my very  first experiences of church was spending seven spiritually formative years in a small house church of Christian artists. I learned the meaning of communitas there, especially regarding companionship in Christ. We had some flaws, but we were genuinely in each others lives.

So as Jim, Tricia, Catherine and I were developing the concept of imagine/Northampton prior to even having a Launch Team, we knew at some point we'd need to provide the spiritual/missional richness of small group church culture. But before I go any further, I should note we are a small group already because we are a small church. And too, in the last three and a half years, we've gathered in all manner of small group configurations such as imagine/WORSHIP, missional outreach projects, workshops, brainstorming sessions, brunches, picnics and parties, creative events, Visionation meetings, 1FlightUP, the Leadership Team, and soon: the Creative Arts Team. None were the species of small group we knew we'd need to put in place.

To that end, last year, the Holy Spirit repeatedly prompted me to conceptualize, put together and offer, with Tricia, the first inward/OUTWARD Spiritual Formation Workshop (subsequently changing the name to the inward/OUTWARD Mission Formation Workshop for its second iteration) designed to link the spiritual disciplines promoting intimacy with Jesus with the outward disciplines of the missional mindset central to closely and persistently following him.

The Holy Spirit also made me aware that from the workshop, we could form an inward/OUTWARD Missional Cohort. I picked the word "cohort" to capture the notion of a group of dedicated companions associated in a common cause that would be difficult to do - communitas. It's an ancient Roman military term that I think accurately reflects the missional life in the midst of very real spiritual warfare, particularly as Christ-followers start to make real inroads into the community and people open to discover and  follow Christ. I know Christ or the Church never adopted the term, but I think it fits, especially because it can become a communitas culture. I don't want to overstate the Military or battle side of it, however.

In essence, the i/O Missional Cohort is a training environment. In each gathering, we begin by silence and settling. We pray - including listening prayer - for the needs of Northampton, each other, people we are praying for individually, and working to build relationships with, plus imagine's Kingdom mission to Northampton. We all dialogue about  what God is teaching each of us; how we see him working in and through us, and what we're working on: the attempts, insights, opportunities, challenges, struggles, obstacles, spiritual battles and breakthroughs we experience during the week.Over the course of the weeks, we'll also read helpful articles, and look at the Scriptures. As it seems right to us and the Holy Spirit at any point in our journey together, we may even embark on a short-term missional project or trip together. We'll see.

So last Wednesday evening we set out on our maiden voyage ensconced in our Main Street apartment. There were 13 of us. We'll add 2 more this Wednesday. I have to say it set an atmosphere where you could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit. I don't say that all the time. People were open, vulnerable, real and engaged. It felt they really wanted to be there; to head out on this opportunity to help each other learn a growing intimacy from Christ, and from there, follow him into the Kingdom mission he has for each of us and all of us. The energy was high and people connected with one another. In fact, we hung out for another half hour around a lavish spread Tricia had made. People seemed to like being together, building relationships and sharing life.

A pleasant surprise for me was the relational atmosphere and spiritual tone the gathering had for me, and I think Tricia as well; an unmistakable" feel" we used to experience when we'd lead Listening in Christ Retreats at the Center For Renewal  in Simsbury. Something transcending happens when a group opens to the Spirit and thus one another. We let out our common humanity and our desire to know God more and be found in his will. I think this "feel" was most in evidence when we prayed for Jenn, anointing her with oil and asking for all that God wanted for her in our learning and mission together. Hearts are knitted together in such intimate prayer. I love that!

My deepest hope for this group and the groups which follow if God so opens the way, is we'll experience a depth of unselfconscious intimacy with the magnificent One who has deep affection for us, our desire to make him real to others could become infectious, or "viral," if you like. What we experience might even be shared naturally, and God will be magnified.

Tall order . . . astounding God . . . and he's gotten the likes of us this far . . .

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