Are We There Yet?

by Jeff Saferite on March 20, 2017

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Recently I’ve been wondering if our motivation for missional church planting is getting in the way of what God may be doing within the missional movement. I am not suggesting that our motivations are necessarily wrong. I’m not sure that I could have started my journey into missional planting any other way than I did. I saw the Church (in America) was on the decline, and from my experience, there was very little to no room for discipleship or time for missional practice. I concluded, as I’m sure many of you have, that if we were going to save the Church (odd thinking) we were going to have to get missional. So a group of us stepped into the neighborhood, fired up the grill, filled the cooler full of beer, and invited our neighbors to “do life with us.” We now have weekly community and neighborhood dinners. We have served one another, shared resources, prayed together, played tag, soccer, and hide-and-seek with the kids, and confessed sins and asked one another for forgiveness. Oh…and we have baptized some people. My point is not so much that our motivations or practices are false as much as they may be shortsighted or limited.

My wife and I are both from Kansas and now live just outside of Washington, D.C. We take the long journey home once or twice a year to see family. West on I-66, down I-81, west again on I-64, to I-70, and finally south on I-35. The journey takes us close to 20 hours but it only takes our kids about 20 minutes to get antsy and start asking the question, “Are we there yet?”

We (Hill City Church) are five years into this missional journey and I am sensing that some of our people are getting antsy. For some, the “Are we there yet?” question comes regarding growth trajectory, for others it pertains to this or that program, and still for others it centers around the right way to do Sunday. What I am realizing in these questions is that our people want to know if we are home yet. I have no doubt that we have have been fully invested in this missional journey for the past five years, but I am beginning to wonder what our motivation has been. I am sensing similar frustrations or questions from other missional church leaders as well. The question we must ask is whether we embarked on this journey to fix the church or to join in what God is doing? Did we go on this journey to meet with and participate in the things God is doing or did we assume that if we got “missional” people would eventually come back to church on Sunday?

When God sent Abram away from his family, he said, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Abram and Sarai were sent from Ur into a place of complete unfamiliarity to become a people who would bless all the families on earth. Abram was not asked to bring Ur to the land God would show him (Israel) and he was not bringing Israel back to Ur. God was establishing a new thing (covenant people) in Abram and Sarai that would require a new imagination.

When Moses led Israel out of Egypt through the wilderness towards the promise land several mistakes were made. They lacked patience to wait for God to give guidance and direction, and instead turned to their abilities to craft “gods” with their hands. They lacked contentment and trust in God’s provisions and longed for what they had in Egypt. They also lacked the courage to live into God’s faithfulness when they saw the giants of Canaan. All their lacking came from a lack of imagination for what God was doing because their social imaginary (the framework or bounds of our imagination) was stuck in Egypt. Fast forward several hundred years and we see that Israel successfully brought Egypt to Israel, i.e. the empire had come to Jerusalem.

My fear is that we (Hill City) and many other missional churches like us have ventured into the missional movement as a strategy for fixing the Church rather than truly entering “into” the missio Dei. Our social imaginary is stuck in Christendom where all roads lead to Sunday morning experiences and the institution or business of our 501c3. From what I can tell, the dominant or mainstream missional church is a coalescence of the New Perspectives movement and the social gospel. In this regard, our function (stories and practics) changes but our form (structure) stays the same.

Newbigin seeks a new imagination for the local church as a communal hermeneutic of the gospel, or else the social embodiment of the gospel in and for the local community. Brueggemann imagines the church as an alternative prophetic community that is a foretaste of what is coming. Bryan Stone, channeling Yoder and Hauerwas, among others, writes, “”[T]he way Christians eat together, keep time, celebrate, forgive debts, express thanks, show hospitality, demonstrate compassion, live simply, and share their material resources with one another is an actual participation in the life of the triune God through whose Spirit we have been incorporated into a body whose head is Christ. Likewise, it is in practices such as these that the church shares this divine life with the world thereby living out its mission as a model “family of believers” (1 Peter 2:17).”

I assume that every missional leader cheers these voices on. And some of us are saying, “Wait a minute! This is what we are doing.” And I believe you. We are too. The question I am asking Hill City is, “Why?” “Why are we doing these things?” Are we doing them in order to restore the vitality of our Sunday experience and the 501c3, or because these functions or practices are what is so beautiful about the life God in the Gospel grants us? Even further, what is the survivability of these functions? Can you continue to practice them when you get married, have kids, and/or advance in your career? Is eating together, showing hospitality, and demonstrating compassion a means to an end or an end in themselves?

Unless we begin to change our form, these practices will have an expiration date. I am not ready to call our practices an end in themselves but I do believe they are the means to a new ecclesiological (social) imagination. One in which the church actually becomes something alternative to the current reality. In order to change our form, we will have to change our imagination. To do that we will have to change the telos or end goal of our missional practice. It will have to move beyond the Christendom form of church and into a new economy and body politic. This is nothing new in the realm of ideas but, at least for us, it has not quite settled into the way we imagine church.

As my friends begin asking the “Are we there yet?” questions, I realize we have not done an adequate job, up to this point, in helping to cultivate the right telos point for this journey. Neither growth trajectories nor various programs or worship styles were the intention of this missional church plant. Participating in the mission of God and being crafted into his family in and for the local neighborhood community is our intent. In this sense, we are both on our way and at home already if we are embodying the presence of Jesus and cultivating the Kingdom of God through our practices.

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Awakening the Giants – Greece Pt. 3

by Jeff Saferite on January 4, 2017

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I have some good news! I’ll be heading back to Greece in February. And…my daughter is going with me on this trip!! How cool is that!?!

Not a day goes by that I do not think about my Syrian friends and the situation in Greece. My thoughts and conversations are constantly flooded with their struggles. Fortunately, I am in weekly and sometimes even daily contact with one particular friend.

I also apologize for just now getting the third installment to this series but my thoughts are often changing as I continue to process my time there. I have two major issues regarding the current situation. And I hope this trip will help me wrestle through one of them. The vast majority of refugees (I’d say 99.5% of them) have been left in limbo and are currently incapable of usefulness. They have been ripped from their homes, occupations, and culture. And now they are being robbed of their dignity.

I don’t mean to suggest that people are intentionally doing this. I don’t think that is the case. People are doing the best they can. Those who are volunteering themselves, putting their lives on hold (see my last post), are my heroes. But the refugees have become completely dependent upon the goodwill of others. Whether that be the EU, UNHCR, or the Anarchists (which I’ll get to in a later post). They sit around aimlessly most days awaiting interviews so they can be vetted for resettlement. Unfortunately, most have or will spend more than a year in this process.

That’s a lot of time! Just think, there are somewhere around 100,000 Syrian refugees in Greece right now. I cannot even begin to imagine the talent and gifts available in the camps and squats. There are teachers, business people, medical persons, storytellers, and so much more simply sitting around aimlessly. In the meantime, they are lost in grief and fear.

One problem facing squats and camps is the lack of school opportunities for children. Greece welcomed the refugees and opened their schools to the children but unfortunately the schools filled up and there is no longer any room. Another is the need to learn English or another language. English is a valuable language that will help refugees resettle in new countries. Additionally, Greece has been pretty welcoming of refugees but the lack of solutions to the crisis does have some impact on the situation.

What if we could empower and mobilize the refugees to serve themselves? What if they could teach the children who can’t get into schools, teach others English, create business in Greece, and/or prepare them with entrepreneurial skills for the future?Can you imagine the beauty that could come out of this?

I’ve often heard it said, “Don’t hand someone a fish, teach them how to fish.” Well…what if we just handed them a damn pole and let them fish? These are intelligent people with lots of various experiences and skills. I believe they can and will use their God-given talents, gifts, and creative imaginations to make the most of this horrible situation, if we can create space and opportunity for them to help themselves.

What if we were able to discover the gifts and talents the refugees possess? What if refugees could begin finding solutions to their own problems? Obviously, I am all for outside help. But rather than being paternalistic, what would happen if we empowered the refugees to begin organizing themselves. I am certain there is a wealth of resourcefulness, gifts, and talents among them. And that is what I’m determined to go discover.

My intention behind this trip will be to meet with some of my friends, as well as new ones, in order to ask them how they might envision helping themselves. My hope is to spark a new imagination of how they may serve and care for one another. I want to gather around a table and give them permission to dream. Who knows what will happen. Maybe some really cool ideas will come forth, maybe it will plant a seed for future ideas to be generated, or maybe (hopefully) I’ll discover that this is already taking place.

During my last trip, I met a refugee group that organized itself to serve their community. This group comes and cooks for one of the squats on a daily basis and recently began working with the children on various dances as a way to preserve their culture. I hope to meet with them during the trip to learn more of what they do. Here is a video and an excerpt from Facebook of what they’re doing with the children:

Among the Jafra team activities with refugees in Athens, the team established Naji Al Ali Dance Ensemble that consists of 12 children and trained them on traditional dance. After more than one month of training with children, the dance ensemble made a performance inside the 5th school (refugee squat) where they live.
On 18 December, the dance ensemble also performed in an open event for public in Monastiraki Square. The event involved singing, traditional dance “Dabke”, and another dance performance where they expressed their messages as children who witnessed conflicts in their countries and who escaped from their countries seeking for a safe haven for them with their families to find themselves stranded in Greece.

https://www.facebook.com/JafraGreeceR2R/videos/589508937900963/

Along with meeting with various people regarding what it may look like to begin empowering Syrian refugees to self-organize, we will also sit and listen to those living in the squats and camps. We will share pictures and tell one another stories about our families. As my friend Muhamed explained, “The greatest thing you can do is come and visit us. It shows us that you care and we are not forgotten.”

We will also supply various basic needs for the squats: diapers, baby formula, food, etc. During my last trip (with Servant Group International) those on the trip were able to raise enough funds to purchase two months worth of diapers and baby formula for 5th street school (one of the squats) as well as a week’s worth of breakfast and two weeks worth of dinner for another squat of 40 families. There is NEVER enough formula and diapers. So if you’re interested in helping please visit our gofundme page (click here) and consider giving 10, 25, 50, or 100 dollars today. Or…even $500 :).

As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to contact me. Thanks for everything!!

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Radical Humans – Greece Pt. 2

December 1, 2016
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I fell asleep on the couch last night. I’m not exactly sure what time I went down but I awoke to my wife telling my daughter it was time for bed. It was actually my daughter’s frustrated cry that woke me as she was asking me if it was time for us to watch Arrow yet. […]

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Rambling Through Speechlessness – Greece Pt 1

November 20, 2016
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Yesterday I had lunch at Sisters Thai in Fairfax, VA. The Red Curry Chicken is generally gold as long as they make it Thai spicy. For some reason the staff sometimes doubts my ability to handle Thai spicy. I ate alone (kinda) pondering my trip last week to Greece, attempting to collect my thoughts in […]

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Coffee and ISIS: A response to violence and nonviolence in the wake of Paris

November 14, 2015

This morning I’m sitting her drinking coffee and watching my children laugh and play while I’m grieving for Paris and those impacted by the Islamic State. Many who have followed my thinking and work over the past few years know that I am a vocal supporter of the nonviolent way of Jesus. Violence begets violence. […]

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Girl, Do Your Thing!

September 3, 2015

Have you ever made a professor so mad they cried? I have. At the time I thought he was weak and incapable of defending the very things he was teaching. At the time I found this utterly preposterous. But even more preposterous than a man not knowing how to defend his teaching was his teaching […]

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