Here are some background notes that outline the shape of the presentation I made at the gathering of Cruxifusion in Toronto last week. The theme of the conference was "Equip" with a focus on equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. I offered my thoughts on what will best equip pastors to equip their congregations to be faithful disciples of Jesus in our time and place ...
"Rabbi" - The central malaise facing the church in North America is communal amnesia. It has forgotten its odd 'mother tongue' and become assimilated into a narrative that has forgotten that when "The Lord is our shepherd we don't need anything else" (Psalm 23:1). In a culture that teaches us that we need more ... more stuff, more security, more leisure ... this odd counter-cultural claim of trusting in the one revealed in Jesus Christ requires rabbinic work by the church's pastors. It means soaking the community in the narrative of scripture. Literally, re-scripting the community. It is the patient, slow work of giving the community back its memory, one text at a time. Hosting scripture takes the community into the strange new world within the Bible rather than seeking to make the Bible relevant to the 'real world'. Each Sunday is an offer of an alternate real world - the Kingdom Of God which, as Jesus says, is at hand for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Keeping time in the Christian Year offers the prospect of an alternative calendar that shapes this bi-cultural people.
"Gospel" - The peculiar life of the church - its evangelical life - is its participation in the gospel (the good news) of God as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what it means to be set apart as a holy (or 'odd') people. Recovering a gospel identity is at the heart of equipping the church for its witness. This is true of liberals and evangelicals. None have a lock on the 'gospel' - either personal or social. As James K A Smith makes clear in "You Are What You Love" the formation of gospel character goes much deeper and is more complicated than simply learning about the good news. It is the long term work of worshiping communities that invite us into an alternative liturgical world to the shopping mall and the sports arena. The pastor is also called to an ongoing conversion to this gospel. It is not as though we already live as a gospel people and simply need to do a better job of marketing. Instead, we are called to the long term work of "patient fermentation" (Alan Kreider) in the gospel so that the living witness of the church becomes a winsome, daring offer of a salty people.
"Cruciform" - At the heart of this gospel life is the call of Jesus to follow him by denying the self and taking up one's cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, "Jesus calls a person to come and die." To this Peter responds to Jesus that this will never sell, that the way of suffering as the path to eternal life is not marketable. We too often point to Jesus as suffering on our behalf while forgetting that he invites us to join him on the path through death to life. Paul (Romans 6:5 & Philippians 2:5-11) understands this also. The gospel is an invitation to the counter-intuitive logic of God - paradoxically full life is to be found when we die to our ways. It is what it means to drown in the baptismal font. What does a cruciform church look like? It is a people whose life together is patterned on the three day journey through Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. In this deep patterning it is learning to walk through tragic ending and loss, the experience of journeying through absence while waiting for the surprising newness marked by a God who is in the business of resurrection. Such a people does not turn away from ache and trouble, but is learning to be present in the midst of loss trusting that it is here that the God we meet in Jesus is up to reconciling and making new.