By Rick Jones
Published: May 2007
Related Topics: Current Issues
Pentecost is coming and the disciples hiding out will find their voices. The question is, "Will we?" My non Church friends like to ask me if everyone runs out of church after Pentecost services inspired to witness to everyone they meet. It is all in good humour but the underlying message is, "You folks in the church really aren't as full of the Spirit as you like to say you are."
I do have a response to these folks and it sometimes surprises them. I say, "Well they may not be running out on Pentecost morning but just get near them after the Spirit moved and they sponsored a new refugee family, or they invited students met at the church to study for exams and they made friends with these aliens in a foreign land, or they heard and told some stories and raised an extra $4,000 for St. Matthew's House, or they started a new men's ministry or rescued a refugee from deportation and death or created a new Jazz service or..." Pentecost still happens all the time, and when it does people are just busting to tell the good news stories of the Spirit working in their midst and in our communities.
I have just returned from a National Church sponsored symposium called "Nurturing Healthy Congregations", two or three representatives from all the dioceses in the Canadian Church gathered to hear two keynote speakers Alan Roxburgh and Tex Sample. They also attended workshops on fostering healthy congregations. Canon Michael Patterson and I were there to tell some good news stories from Niagara while Canons Rob Park and Nissa Basbaum were there to be our diocesan eyes and ears in the learning from the wider church.
I was struck by the keynote speaker, Alan Roxburgh, who approaches the work of the church from a post modern point of view and talks about missional churches. What I noticed was that his post modern process seemed to me to be right out of the second chapter of Acts!
In a nutshell it looks like this. Those post Easter disciples had been through a lot. They needed time and space to really talk to one another about what had happened. They needed to tell stories until a common story of their lived experience could emerge. In the telling and listening to one another the creative "Dabhar" Word of God moved and a new creation began. The Church found voice! Alan Roxburgh suggests that the Spirit will be found again in our local churches as individuals in small groups begin to really talk to one another about what has happened, what it feels like to be Christians in those churches and those local communities. The first disciples having found their voices rushed out to talk to others. But notice that they talked to many different people and cultural groups, "...each speaking in the native language of each" (2:6). It was because of these real two- way conversations "in the native language of each" that lives were transformed.
Roxburgh suggests that the local church will be in a better position to engage the local community if it finds its own voice first. Creative and imaginative ministries are local and contextual and must be tentative and experimental. The days of the big programme initiative from the Synod office or National Church are gone. This is modernist thinking. When we introduce some grand scheme and people all sign on, and within a short time it fails to produce the results promised, we squander our most precious commodity. That most precious commodity in the church today is Hope!
Pentecost does happen today in our local churches, you and I see it all the time. It happens when a group of people in a local congregation follow the first disciples. When they talk about how the world has changed and even though we are Easter people, it still feels scary and we really don't know what to do. (Jesus didn't leave a programme just people and stories) Then we take the time to talk together and tell our stories. We can create the space for the Holy Creative Spirit of God to inspire us, helping us to understand our story and the community's story in new ways. We don't rush to a quick programme fix....
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