Last Sunday, I presented and explained the outline below. In it I lay out a rationale for how imagine as a small, missional church community will seek to REDUCE (our costs), REFOCUS (our potential and resources) and RE-LAUNCH (our mission in Northampton and wherever else God summons us). The 3-R’s are necessities for getting back on our feet so we might press on in a healthy, vibrant way.
I began by reminding folks imagine’s mission remains: Helping People Discover and Follow the God Who Is More Than They Imagine. Since we came here that mission has not changed. We’ve had varying degrees of effectiveness executing it, both as individuals and as a group, but we’ve never jettisoned it for some other mission. Helping anyone we encounter to discover Jesus beyond their stereotypes or ignorance of Him remains our “prime directive.” Walking alongside those who join our Christ-loved and loving community becomes our opportunity to help each person follow him through their gifts in his redemptive Kingdom work wherever he sends us – individually or as a group.
Next, I fleshed out the following:
I. We’ll seek for our Kingdom life with God and one another to be lived through 3 interweaving expressions:
• Spiritual Formation: Training the life of heart, the life of mind, and the life of the spirit: teaching, retreats, spiritual direction (learning the disciplines), healing. I reiterated intimacy with Jesus was the wellspring from which fruitful Kingdom work flows.
We’ll continue to train the minds of people to think from a Scripturally-informed, practical and spiritual theology which helps each one know why they believe what they believe and are convinced it’s the way, truth and the life in a world of competing spiritual/cultural world views.
We’ll continue to train the heart of a people to love God and know his love. The heart pursues what it has passion for; what it loves, desires and cherishes. In turn, because God so loved the world that he gave it his son, we want people to love what is good and beautiful and worthy of cherishing. Ultimately, we’ll work to train the heart so its deepest desire and joy is what God wants. A heart captivated by God because it knows him can become full of peace, passion, and joy through all of life’s vicissitudes.
We’ll continue to train people’s spiritual vision to discern, reflect on, and follow the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. We’ll encourage everyone to become more aware of the handiwork of God in their lives; how he reveals his Presence in the ordinary and the extraordinary. We’ll encourage the spiritual disciplines of spending time on retreat, listening, reflecting, journaling, studying the Scriptures, reading the great writers of the spiritual life, prayer walking – all practices which lend themselves to such training in deepening a person’s openness to the Holy Spirit.
• Connecting With One Another: worship, teaching, getting together to build relationship.
W’ll keep encouraging imagine folks to form deep filial friendships: spiritual bonding, shared interests and passions, helping one another practically; just spending time with each other. So we get together for worship and teaching on Sundays and sometimes in workshops. We’ll have meals together; go to events together. We have also formed cohorts from the inward/OUTWARD Missional Formation Workshop where we seek to know how each off us actually engages and walks with Jesus in everyday living. We;ll continue to do that also so we can help create life-giving spiritual and practical connections.
• Connecting With and Serving Others: the missional way of life to the community and surrounding culture. (The imagineART Gallery, Interfaith Shelter meals, Feast, Halloween, Christmas Giveaway bags, Winter hats giveaway, sending boxes of diapers to poor mothers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in ND, cultivating the The Florence Organic Garden, etc.)
We will still see ourselves as a community in the midst of a larger community we are called to serve. We’ll also see ourselves called to be of help to our neighbors beyond our neighborhoods. We have embraced the missional way of life as the normal Christian life and will not abandon it. Listed above are some of the efforts we have made to connect with folks in Northampton over the last 5 years. It’s all about building relationships by loving and serving people that they might come to realize God knows and loves them; in fact, he made the ultimate sacrifice for them. We’ll not leave that aside.
II. We’ll adjust our structure:
The Leadership Team decided we needed to change our rhythm of life together in order to reduce, refocus and re-launch. Some of that had to do with leaving our current worship space because of the cost. Some of it had to do with better integrating the facets of our life together so we were connecting internally and externally. Therefore:
•2 Sundays/month we’ll gather for worship in Northampton or in homes.
•1 day/month (could be a week night) we’ll gather for an event of interest or refreshment: art, hiking, movies, plays, canoeing, concerts, dinner/brunch, bonfires at camp, day trips, sports events or activities, wine tasting, (all are invited to suggest an opportunity) etc.
•1 day/month we’ll gather for a service project to bless our communities (all are invited to suggest an opportunity) helping the poor, joining a multi-church effort, helping a town effort, helping a neighbor in need, etc.
We want each month to reflect such a rhythm so we’ll have regular opportunities to connect with each other, serve together, and grow spiritually in friendship with God, one another, and folks he puts in our path.
III. We’ll express these values:
Core values animate any group, whether embraced formally, or inferred from corporate mindsets and behaviors. So does imagine.
• Creativity (art, ministry, worship). We still want our life together to reflect creative sensibilities whether in and through worship, events, service or community life. We’ll seek to harness the arts and creative thinking as a way of being. We need to get back to that.
• Deepening community and friendship. We’ll continue to work to experience life together as communitas: communally shared Kingdom values, and the passion for that which we’ve been given in one another. We have an abiding passion to live for the greatness and glory of God and his Gospel of grace. We recognize such communities of spiritual friendship can change the world and we want to be one of them, even if in a small way.
• Growing habits of outward missional service reflecting love for God and people. We still want everyone who comes to imagine for any duration to develop and embrace a life habit of outward missional service. By use of the word habit we’re describing an unfolding mindset and spiritual attitude, a growing habit of looking at the Christian life as a combination of intimacy with Jesus out of which flows the missional way of living day to day.
• Building up one another (and others) in the way of freedom, grace and sacrificial love. People have remarked spontaneously over the years that we are a church which extends grace to others. While perfectly, we’ve wanted to be such a community and still do. We’ll remain committed to the notion that everyone who joins our community will experience freedom to work out their life with Christ without pressure to be perfect. We’ve always said we’re a community of the redeemed broken. We still want our way of life to be one of building up anyone in the way of freedom, grace and sacrificial love. The sacrificial love part enables us to be sure that in our freedom we give our lives for others with increasing frequency, individually and together. Therefore, grace for us is not the freedom to do as we please no matter who suffers, but to do as God pleases in and through our lives.
Our hope in all of this is to carry-forward rather than give up or merely carry-on. As I’ve written many times, the challenges and difficulties we’ve faced since coming here have been formidable. But we love each other and want to keep our hats in the ring until God says we’ve completed our mission, if he does.