Archives for September 2014
Is time spent with children exclusively about their formation and discipleship? Is it possible that God is doing a greater work in us as we practice presence with children? The Rev. Seth Richardson of St. Andrew’s Little Rock addresses these compelling questions for those in ministry to children and beyond.
In Matthew 18 the disciples come to Jesus and baldly inquire, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus responds, like he often does, with an analogy that challenges their assumptions, reveals their misplaced desires, and invites them into a new posture of faithfulness. “You must humble yourself and become like a child,” Jesus says, “and those who welcome children actually welcome me.”
Participation in God’s kingdom, Jesus announces, does not look like seeking status. It looks like humble presence with those regarded as the least. In fact, Jesus emphasizes that he is with us as we welcome children.
This is difficult to receive in a world where children are often a source of anxiety: made into our vicarious means of self-fulfillment or into objects that keep us from being or doing what we want. Indeed, this anxiety does not escape the church. Most pastors, especially church planters, viscerally know the weight of the question, “So, what do we do about the kids?”
This question is not unreasonable in itself. It logically follows from the desire to gather together, worship, and study Scripture well. But it might come from the assumption that God’s work in our midst begins after we’ve got the kid thing figured out, or that time spent with children is exclusively about their formation and discipleship.
The good news, however, is God’s work in our lives does not begin after the tension is resolved or in isolation from children. Rather, Jesus invites us to experience his presence and be formed more into his image by adopting a posture of humble presence with children. This means our anxiety around children is not a problem to be solved or ignored but the place where God wants most to speak to us.
Being with children is a fundamental practice of discipleship. Jesus is at work in our own lives as we are with children. In other words, if the goal of discipleship is transformation into the image of Jesus, then spending time with children is a concrete practice in which this transformation occurs. When we spend time with children, we are cultivating an environment in which both children and adults learn to encounter Christ.
As we see in Matthew 18, spending time with children grows in us a posture of humility and trust. In this posture we learn to loosen our grip on the need to seek status, which makes room for recognizing Christ’s presence with us. We learn that the way of Jesus is a descent in humility rather than an ascent in power.
Moreover, we learn to care for each other as the extended family of God, which stretches us outside comfortable pockets of affinity. This type of care-in-community is an expression of what the New Testament calls fellowship – an outworking of the Spirit’s presence among those who confess Jesus is Lord.
The implication of this reality for leaders is that when we ask others in our body to spend time with children, we are not merely recruiting volunteers in order to keep the programs running smoothly. We are, rather, inviting each other to experience God’s transformative grace through humble presence with the “least of these.” This means we do not need to leverage guilt around how important it is to serve the body (lest someone miss their “call” to serve in the nursery!). Instead, we are casting vision for concrete ways we can surrender our lives unto God’s formation in Christ – always trusting that God will make available all that we need.
It is understandable that this might all seem overwhelming. For those who spend most of their time with children already, it might be hard to imagine how such a mundane and sometimes stressful place could produce anything resembling transformation. Or for those whose time with children is limited, this place might seem wild and unpredictable – the lack of familiarity might lead to trepidation and avoidance.
Can we trust that God works new life in us as we humble ourselves with children? Can we submit our frustrations and fears and enter the place where Jesus promises to be present with us? What might change about our gatherings – large or small group – if we intentionally created space for practicing this posture with children?
Being with children is often difficult for me, but it is also a place of joy and transformation. Because I am not in control, it reveals parts of me I can usually ignore and overlook. It empties me of self-importance and makes me sensitive to God’s gracious activity. This lowly place is holy ground where I’m learning better to follow and trust Jesus.
The Rev. Seth Richardson lives in Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife, Caralisa, and is a presbyter at St. Andrew’s Little Rock. Seth most often thinks and writes about spiritual formation, theology and place. He probably drinks too much coffee. Contact Seth.
Freedom. What a great word describing all that we as a country fought and live for. Political freedom, tax freedom, religious freedom, freedom of speech, etc. These are just some of the freedoms we talk about often. But, there is also another kind of freedom: the freedom Christ won for us.
At All Saints Dallas, we spent several weeks looking at Romans Chapters 6-8 regarding a freedom won for us at the cross and that we still battle for in our hearts. These three chapters are the high ground of St. Paul’s Christian manifesto on freedom. As we come to Christ we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. He reminds us through the pattern of teaching to which we are committed that we have a new identity. Honestly, it takes years of prayer, study, worship and reminders that our self worth is ultimately found in one place only. That is, being a child of God. Nowhere else. No one else but God can give it to us. It is undeserved and unmerited. And no one can take it away. When we grasp this, we get less defensive. We take criticism more easily. The approval of others is not our ultimate goal. We are free from the culture trying to define us. We are free from the domination of sin. All those things that dominate the world don’t dominate us any more.
Is this your experience? Can it be? Should it be? In marriage, business, social settings, etc., we are given opportunities to live this out daily. Let your mind be renewed by these truths of our identity as we gain successive freedom by the power of the cross. Romans 6-8: It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
A young woman said “yes” to Jesus for the first time when a group of people from a rural New Brunswick church gathered for a service with visiting Bishop Silas Ng.
The service took place at the Ste. Anne de Kent oceanfront home of the Rev. Don Hamilton, Rector of Christ the Redeemer Church in Bay du Vin, New Brunswick. New to The Mission Canada, the church normally meets in Bay du Vin but as Bishop Silas was visiting mid-week, Don decided to hold a Eucharist service at his home. Some parishioners from Redeemer, along with Don’s family members visiting from Ontario and Nova Scotia, joined them in the spacious living room.
Bishop Silas preached on Matthew 15:21-28 with the central theme of saying “yes” to Jesus.
“He presented a very powerful and captivating message that I believe engaged everyone,” Don says.
Among the attendees was Don’s grandniece, Raeann. As she listened to Bishop Silas speak, Raeann experienced the presence of God so greatly that during the final hymn, she asked her father to ask Don if she could be baptized after the Eucharist. Bishop Silas celebrated the Eucharist, and after Don consulted with him, the group then moved to the beach. Bishop Silas and Don went with Raeann into the ocean and baptized her.
“This total immersion baptism was a first for both Bishop Silas and me, and it was especially meaningful and humbling for me to be asked to baptize my grandniece,” Don says. “I felt honored that she would want me to baptize her.”
Raeann later told Bishop Silas that she had been waiting to say yes to Jesus for quite some time, and after his sermon, “Jesus is Lord—Say YES, Lord,” she was finally ready.
“We all had such a powerful worship experience in both the Eucharist and the baptism of Raeann,” Bishop Silas says. “Please pray with us that God would help Raeann to know Him more each day and be with Him more each day. We are also asking God to bless all the parishioners of Christ the Redeemer Church that they can be freshly anointed and a true witness to God’s glorious and mighty works.”
Raeann’s family worship regularly at a Baptist church in Ontario, so Don wrote a follow-up letter to the pastor, advising him of Raeann’s baptism and ensuring she will be affirmed and nurtured in that community. Meanwhile, Don has high hopes for how God will continue to use Christ the Redeemer Church as part of The Mission.
“I would really appreciate prayers for our future,” he says. “We are a very small rural church and I believe the Lord is calling us to expand into a larger community. Please pray for God’s will and a very clear understanding for all parishioners in this.”
Learn more about Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church.
Ranging from Anglican to Presbyterian, from college kids to empty nesters, 170 people packed the Camp House, the main venue of The Mission Chattanooga, for The Mission’s first Abbey Event held August 5-8. The first annual Horizons Conference featured a lineup of popular speakers like Andy Crouch and James K.A. Smith who explored how God calls us to be His image bearers in culture.
The event kicked off with a special “Theology on Tap” event, an outreach The Mission Chattanooga hosts regularly in their city to invite people to explore Christianity. Conference leaders opened the Camp House doors and welcomed the general public to hear Dr. Steven Guthrie discuss mystery, beauty and truth over free beer. More than 180 people attended.
“It really set the tone for the entire conference,” Joseph Schlabs, one of the conference organizers, says.
During the next two days, a lineup of speakers presented on topics like “Creation, Culture and the Image of God,” “Church and Culture Throughout History” and “Worship as Cultural Formation.” While all speakers were well received, many attendees loved the accessibility of Andy Crouch, who served as a Malcolm Gladwell-esque presence combining journalism and academia as an onramp into the world of the church in culture. Others more initiated into the conversation loved the instruction of philosopher and prolific author James K.A. Smith. Speakers from The Mission included the Rev. Brian Hardin of The Daily Audio Bible, as well as the Rev. Chris Sorensen and Mary Ferguson of The Mission Chattanooga. Attendees then had the chance to attend breakout sessions and panel discussions to put the concepts they were learning into practice. A house band from Mission Chattanooga led the group in high-quality, ancient-future worship infused with liturgy.
Meanwhile, the Camp House’s urban setting and industrial 1900s building formed a perfect backdrop for attendees to observe how the work of “imaging” Christ in culture is done.
“It’s one thing to hear the ideas and another thing to see it done,” says Joseph. “At the conference we were talking about things like beauty, place, urban planning and engagement, and we were meeting in a place in downtown Chattanooga where we are kind of scratching the surface on these things.”
The conference also had an intimate feel, more like a classroom than a conference. Joseph describes the atmosphere as full of energy and excitement, with many listeners moved to tears as they were affirmed and inspired to bring art and beauty back into the Protestant church. Many people also built relationships with one another and shared their thoughts and stories after conference hours.
“It was a truly organic experience,” Joseph says. “Almost accidentally, we left the nights open so people could mingle, go out to eat together, or take over the upstairs of a bar for an after party. It worked so well for people getting to know each other that we plan to do it again next year.”
Plans are already in the works for the next two iterations of the conference. Joseph says extended interviews with Andy Crouch and James K.A. Smith, as well as all the content from the conference, will be posted online in the next few weeks, along with the exact dates for the Fall 2015 conference. Both Crouch and Smith will return to speak next year, and N.T. Wright is in talks to be one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 conference.
“For the next conference, we may stay with the theme of imaging Christ in the public life,” Joseph says. “We believe we could break it into categories and add niches that would allow us to expand further on this incredibly deep topic.” He also hopes to increase seating capacity and lower ticket prices when The Mission Chattanooga moves into its new building next year.
Ultimately, the Horizons Conference was a rich, unforgettable experience that the Rev. Chris Myers of All Saints Dallas, who attended the conference and blogs about it here, urges everyone in The Mission to take advantage of online.
“I would encourage all of you to experience as much of the content as you can,” he says. “All the speakers had things to say that would have immediate and direct benefit to you and your churches.”
Find Horizons Conference updates and soon-to-be-posted 2014 conference content. http://www.horizonsconference.com/
This past spring, Bishop Roland Gustaffson, Prime Bishop of the Mission Province of Sweden, along with the Rev. Bengt Birgsson, General Secretary of the Mission Province, visited The Abbey at Pawley’s Island to see how the church plant functions and learn to implement some of its strategies.
The visit came on the heels of a March church planting seminar that Apostolic Vicar Philip Jones taught in Sweden as part of The Mission’s ecumenical fellowship with other mission-minded Christians in Northern Europe. Afterward, the Swedish Bishops sought to witness firsthand the fruits of a church plant begun under both lay and episcopal leadership—specifically how it would look for a bishop to lead such an effort. By visiting The Abbey at Pawley’s Island in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, they hoped to further appropriate the knowledge that Bishop Jones shared with them on his visit. They were also coming to meet with the Diocese of the Holy Cross’s Bishop, Paul Hewett, and observe his church plant at Epiphany Cathedral. Last but not least, they were invited to be observers at the North American Lutheran Church’s annual meeting.
Canon Kevin Donlon greeted the Swedish leaders and spent a day meeting with them about furthering the cordial relationship between the two Mission entities. Ross and Marie Lindsay of The Abbey at Pawley’s hosted the two special guests for dinner, joined by the Rev. Dr. Bob Grant and his wife Susan. The leaders from Sweden were happy to meet Dr. Lindsay as they had read with interest his book about All Saints, Building a Church that Lasts.
On Sunday they joined in worship at The Abbey at Pawleys and had the opportunity to meet again with church planter and rector Bishop Chuck Murphy, who had visited with Bishop Roland when he attended the 2013 Winter Conference. Bishop Roland and the Rev. Bengt then traveled to Charleston to attend the Synod for the North American Lutheran Church and then to Columbia, South Carolina, to visit Epiphany Cathedral. There they enjoyed a meeting with its rector Bishop Paul, an Associate Member of the Society and Chair of the Federation of Anglican Churches in America, of which the Mission is a constitutive member.
Canon Kevin and the Rev. Bengt pledged to continue to explore the proposed fellowship agreement for common mission with the hopes for significant development by the end of 2014.
This month, we sit down for coffee and a chat with Patrick Schlabs, Worship Pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Patrick is working on completing his MDiv degree at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and also contributes to Three Streams, The Mission’s blog.Pull up a chair and join us in learning about his passion for cultural transformation and how he helps create ecumenical worship resources for the local Church.
What gets you up in the morning (energizes/motivates you)?
I love the idea of cultural transformation. I’ve always enjoyed people watching and participating in the normal rhythms of a city, but I’ve recently begun to develop a deeper understanding of how that fits into the Kingdom of God. And so of late, I’ve been obsessed with reflecting on certain aspects of culture and how they would look if the gospel took root and truly began to transform it. What aspects of the art, business, or education would be augmented? What aspects would fade away? What would the Kingdom of God look like as it takes shape in the reality of my neighborhood? That’s the question that motivates me these days. (Of course, none of that thought happens without good coffee, so that’s a factor as well.)
What is your daily devotional rhythm, or what does your own spiritual formation look like on a daily basis?
In my early 20’s, I had a season of intense discipline where I woke up really early and tried to read 10 or 12 chapters of the Bible every day. As you can imagine, I soon collapsed under the weight of that and didn’t make time for devotionals at all. I then spent a couple years back and forth between those two extremes. Thankfully, I’ve spent the last few years learning to balance grace and discipline within Anglican spirituality. That being said, most days, I read the Daily Office and pray the weekly Collect from the BCP. I also try to pray through morning or evening prayer at least once per week.
What is the most encouraging or memorable thing that happened in your life and ministry in the last year?
I am a part of a liturgical music collective in Charleston called Holy City Hymns. We’ve spent the last several years building relationship with like-minded worship leaders and partnering together to create resources for the Church. We’ve also had the opportunity to participate in ecumenical worship gatherings in the Anglican cathedral in the heart of our city. This past year, we gathered on Good Friday with over 500 people from churches across the city to reflect and respond to the grace of God revealed through the cross of Christ. It was powerful and so encouraging to hear so many voices lifting up the name of Jesus in Charleston.
What person has most impacted your life, and why?
It may sound a bit trite, but my wife has impacted me greatly. We married really young and have spent the last 10 years growing up together. She’s loved me through discouraging seasons. She’s taught me grace and daily dependence upon the Holy Spirit. She’s helped me grow as a husband, father and leader in the church. I am unspeakably grateful for her.
What is one accomplishment in the past that you are proud of, and what is one thing that you would like to accomplish in the future?
Honestly, I’m proud that I’ve been able to be in ministry for nearly 12 years. It’s been really difficult and discouraging at times, but the Lord has been faithful in the midst of it all.
I’m about 25% finished with an MDiV through Gordon Conwell and I would love to finish that in the next three years!