Catalytic Conversations: A beautiful and messy kingdom.

Leadership editor Marshall Shelley is in Atlanta this week for the Catalyst Conference, where 9,000 mostly younger leaders of churches are meeting to discuss ministry in today's culture. Here's his first report.

The conference officially begins tomorrow. Today was filled with "labs," 15 seminars on topics ranging from "Passion" (led by pastors Eugene Peterson, Craig Groeschel, and Mark Buchanan) to "Culture" (writers Andy Crouch and Lauren Winner, and the National Endowment for the Arts' Erik Lokkesmoe) to "Mission" (Shane Claiborne, Mike Foster, and Gary Haugen).

Right now I'm sitting in the balcony of the Performing Arts Center, where in a few minutes an informal "unplugged" session will feature a conversation between neo-church pastors Chris Seay of Ecclesia in Houston and Rick McKinley of Imago Dei Community Church in Portland, Oregon, and a Rwandan pastor whose name I don't know.

I heard McKinley for the first time this afternoon when he presented a lab on "This Beautiful Mess: a conversation on the Kingdom." Most people, especially the Catalyst crowd, know McKinley as "the pastor of the church where Donald Miller of ?Blue Like Jazz' goes." So I was somewhat surprised that Miller's name was never mentioned during the introduction or the hour-long session. But McKinley didn't need any borrowed credibility.

To the crowd of 300 or so, he offered a concise and provocative discussion of the relationship of the church to the Kingdom of God. This was theology, imminently practical theology.

"As pastors, we are tempted to build the church," he said. "So we send out postcards to targeted Zip codes and we promote church programs." But that misses the point, he argued. "Our job isn't to build the church. We're supposed to BE the church, and build the kingdom." He emphasized that the kingdom is to be experienced NOW, on earth, as Christians exemplify godly living, but he also pointed out, as the recent school shootings demonstrate, that the kingdom is also "not yet." God's kingdom won't be realized in its fullness as long as such sin characterizes our world.

He identified why many U.S. churches don't "get" the kingdom. The first reason is our individualistic culture. Ours is a "me and Jesus" spiritual life, disconnected from Creation, environment, relationships, and our surrounding community. Another reason is our tendency toward dualism: church vs. culture; sacred vs. secular; spiritual vs. physical. And ignoring the integration of those elements.

McKinley acknowledges the importance of Christ's atonement for the forgiveness of individuals, but as he emphasized, "The best expression of the church is NOT what happens on Sunday morning. It's what happens in the world during the week. And that's not something you can market."

October 04, 2006

Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

J. W.

October 07, 2006  9:56am

If we could just acknowledge that within that brief review lies the the true mission of God's church; if we could have that one thing in common, we would tranform the way we do church, we would silence all the things which divide us, and we would change the world. People NEED to see Jesus–not the products of human flesh that they have seen in the church for so long. The us-against-the-world or holier-than-thou mentality repulses the unchurched, fuels disdain for the organized church, and pushes more people away from a relationship with Jesus than all of our collective evangelistic efforts ever gain. I recently read a testimony of how this young man had a whole wardrobe of pop-Christian T-shirts and wore them proudly for years. Although they never once gave him a single opportunity to witness, they repulsed more than a few, to which he justified as his being willing to "suffer" for Christ. Then one day he was wearing a Fender guitar T-shirt and it got the attention of another musician. A friendship developed and his new friend accepted Jesus. When we separate the sacred from the secular, we create a chasm between our perception of how we believe we should live out our faith, and that which the average person can relate to. If Jesus–not pop-Christianity–is truly at the center of our lives, then we should be able to bring Him into the center of every situation, making Him relevant to every person we meet. To me, of all the things that the emergent movement has fostered–good and bad–this clarion call to return to being a missional church–a church that integrates the love, grace, forgiveness and mercies of Christ into everyday society–the sacred things that both secular and faith societies long for–is the single most important thing that God might want to accomplish through it all. That is really a very simple task. It doesn't need a litany if new how-to books to consumes everyone's time; it doesn't need a plethora of new seminars for some to cash in on, it doesn't need a new 'marketing' strategy, it doesn't even need another committee added to the too many that already bog down the efficiency of most churches; it simply asks us to love our neighbors, extending to them the same grace, forgiveness and mercy that we ourselves have found in a loving God. Jesus didn't need 50 million dollar sanctuary mortgages, He didn't need to spend his time writing books and He didn't require 100 dollar a shot seminars. In short, He offered for free the things the religious world was charging for and getting rich from. And it got Him killed. Isn't it ironic how we are able to manage the complexities of the institutions we designed to proclaim the Gospel, yet still fail in communicating that simple message in a way that everyone can understand it? Will we ever 'get it'?

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Marshall Shelley

October 05, 2006  9:54pm

Good point, Taylor. And (to all readers) in the interest of full disclosure, please don't hold Rick McKinley to the exact phrasing of my quotations. I'm sitting in the session with a laptop pecking away as he talks; I'll freely admit this is a condensation. For actual quotes, I'd need a recorder, which I'm not using. But I'm trying to communicate the essence and the spirit of what he said.

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Taylor Burton-Edwards

October 05, 2006  7:33pm

Thanks to Rick for provocative teaching, and thanks to Marshall for sharing this with the world. Way more than 300 people need to be hearing this and thinking through the implications of it. On one point I'd nuance things a bit... Marshall quoted Rick as saying: "The best expression of the church is NOT what happens on Sunday morning. It's what happens in the world during the week. And that's not something you can market." Rick may have included that in a larger context. I'd hope so, anyway. I absolutely agree with him about the "marketing" thing. My nuanced rephrasing would be "The best expression of church is WHEN what happens in the world REFLECTS what happens in worship on Sunday morning, and vice versa." We don't need another dualism in our discipleship to Jesus– "worship life" versus "our real world life." That doesn't mean that one or the other is or should be abandoned– but rather that the two in all their integrity resonate with the transforming power of God. The great ancient liturgies of the first five or six centuries reflect the kingdom of God alive and transforming the whole world– and they help to inform, form, and send out a people who do the same. While it would be really bad missiology and liturgiology to take the exact wording or phrasing of those texts and simply reuse them today and call that vital Christian worship, there's much we can learn about the power of God to make us into God's image through our worship, and much we can learn from texts describing how persons who lived those liturgies acted in their world to be God's transformation, agents (whether leaven or kudzu) of God's kingdom. Take a good hard look at Apostolic Tradition (usually dated ca 215), Didascalia (ca 230), and its later "release" as Apostolic Constitutions (ca 380), and you'll see what I mean. Did these folks get it all right? Were they as kingdom centered as they could have been? No on both counts. Not even in their own culture. Neither will we in ours. But you get a glimpse, at least, of the kind of "resonance" with worship and life that can maybe best be called a new song. Peace in Christ,

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Dan Wilt

October 05, 2006  6:16am

I appreciated all of the elements of this post. I'd like to expand on a comment though. Our "tendency" toward dualism has not been a "tendency" since Platonic thought syncretised with post-New Testament thought. In my estimation, that "tendency," expressing itself in the sacred/secular distinction, the "creational realm vs. spiritual realm" dichotomy, and in myriad other ways, has literally sabotaged the message of Jesus, and affronts the biblical origins narrative of Genesis at every turn. Human beings, made in the imago Dei, are part of the human family. Human beings, made in the imago Dei, who then respond to the covenant God has made toward us in our brokenness - this is the family of God within in the human family – also born of God. An ineffective and confused Church, as we can and have been unceasingly throughout our historical process, owes the significant amount of the dysfunction that has dogged us for millenia to the "tendency" toward dualism. It's time for those ideas to meet a horrible and thorough death. Secular comes from the word "saeculorum," which means "in the moment." I.e. Where we get the word "second." While there are heavily man-centric ideas ruling in the world, to be both learned from and challenged, God is a God who dwells in the "seconds" and "moments" of the world. He is familiar with blood, bone, earth, sky, water, spirit, life and death. A Church who sees the human family clearly, then sees the covenant family within it, and ministers out of that covenant with love to the human family, begins to see the biblical God – in this writer's impoverished opinion. Thanks for the update on the event. It was rich, and had beautiful thoughts within it to launch us into the day, following the truly human being, Jesus.

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