Monday, May 18, 2009

The New Wanderers

In my last post I mentioned that I have begun to be aware of a growing tribe of folks I refer to as The New Wanderers. They are not disenfranchised, angry, axe-grinders who have "had it up to here" with traditional church modalities and philosophies of ministry (there are plenty of folks in that category but I do not speak of them). Instead, they have been, or are being, extracted from ministry assumptions, structures, histories and philosiphies that simply no longer serve their deepst Christian values, personal callings or desires to serve Christ authentically.

These New Wanderers are not so much interested in "reforming" the church at large as they are in answering their present questions about the meaning of their lives and ministries. Many (not all) have a long history of kingdom life, church leadership (as it is usually configured) and spiritual giftedness. Nevertheless, they find themselves being tugged by the Spirit into the wilderness because they cannot quench, silence or escape the fact that He is calling them there. As in the case of all wildnerness wanderers, they have as many questions as they have answers. But they also have something else -- something of inexpressible value and incredible potential. They have the kind of faith that is willing to take big risks and a vision for something that looks a whole lot more like what we see in the New Testament than most of what is on the current church landscape.

I will write about a few specific "case studies" in upcoming blogs, but for now I would like to identify a few words that seem to capture what is at the heart of their quest:

1. Relationship - The New Wanderers are not focused on making a name for themselves, "branding" their ministry identites, kingdom building (that is, their own -- not His) or lording it over others by invoking titles or engaging in spiritual one-upsmanship. They value relationship, community, and fellowship of the real kind. They tend to be open set types, generous in their attitudes towards other, avoidant of drawing harsh lines about who is "in" and who is "out". They understand that they have a role to play in influencing others and take this seriously, but they are doing so by feeling their way forward into God's mission and, by this means, calling others to do the same.

2. Authenticity - The New Wanderers value the authentic, the "real", over the merely efficient. The tend to shun programs and structures that simply imitate someone else's success. They are attracted to what is often referred to as "organic" or "simple" ministry forms, structures and endeavors that actually land in people's lives in describable ways. They are not interested in the merely theoretical. They are interested in the palpably real and transformational. They like stories more than theories. They trust the organic over the manufactured and are willing to live with messes and loose ends as long as Jesus Christ the Crucified, Risen and Life-Changing is at the center of it all.

3. Economy - The New Wanderers appreciate the simple, stripped-down and efficient over the bloated, showy and wasteful practices, buildings, programs and vehicles associated with contemporary ministry "success stories". They are more likely to boast about what they have managed to give away than what they have managed to amass by way of symbols of ministry success. They are focused on the poor, the overlooked and the needy and believe that it is a serious sin to ignore or overlook them. If they have any gripe with the traditional church it is that it is too often self-serving, wasteful, self-aggrandazing and shallow when it comes to how its store of time, talent and treasure are actually employed. I recently heard one of those I would characterize as a New Wanderer describe her church's shift in the following terms: "we decided to stop trying to grow a "bigger church" and start growing the church (we already had) "big".

4. Missional - If there is any word that captures the spirit of the New Wanderers it is the word "missional". Of course, "missional" has now become the current buzz word in church circles of various kinds and is defined differently by different practitioners. Nevertheless, the New Wanderers are captivited by the Missio Dei - the "mission of God" -- and its outward-focused thrust. They embrace "incarnational" ministry that brings the ministry of Jesus to bear on the marketplace, the neighborhood, the campus and other everyday places over the "attractional" models of ministry that requires the people to come to the Christians' turf in order to recieve the message or the ministry that awaits them there. That has spurred a whole new set of ideas, sometimes very controversial, about what it looks like to "church plant" (for example).

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