Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 2, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

Last week, I began to share about ‘Life at the Seams’. The seam is a line along which two pieces of fabric are sewn together in a garment or article of clothing. It can also be a metaphor for the spaces in our life whe0re plans, dreams, ideas and reality meet or are brought together, with either new forms emerging or the potential for tear and damage to occur.

Before I left South Africa with my family as a missionary for nearly 6 years, I had coffee at my favourite coffee place in Stellenbosch. There a significant conversation took place with my Bishop, Rt Revd Josel Obetia from Uganda. Last week, I shared the first two of seven important words that he shared with me. Today, I share the rest with you.

The numbered lines are what he said, with my italicized sentences as commentary.

  1. Some will be called to pastoral ministry.

The goal of new, visionary Kingdom work is to build the church. Therefore, some will be called out of communities that are at the edges of the Kingdom where new forms are being explored and innovated, and into settled pastoral ministry. We must support and encourage the move from the edge back to the center for those called to this work. At the same time there are some called to remain in the bridging places, innovating new pathways that do not yet fit into the existing structures and teaching and equipping people to cross back over the bridge spanning what will be to what is. In the body we must see, provide space for and encourage both those called to casting vision for new things and those called to shepherd God’s people where they are. Pioneering leaders must make space for settled leadership to emerge.

  1. Our place is to be the cutting edge.

While some are called to settled work, I am part of a community of pioneering Companions made to live and work on the cutting edge of the Kingdom where the future of the church is being forged in places that are often misunderstood and will not necessarily gain the traction we hope for in our lifetime. But we must take heart, because we are in good company of the many saints who have lived in these spaces in the centuries before us.

  1. Most of the work is done on your knees.

We must be leaders who understand that our deep connection to Christ through prayer is our primary and most productive task. The natural gifts of leadership often come with a bent and temptation to busyness. We must resist these carnal desires to do before we become.

We must first be leaders who find our identity and significance in Christ alone so that we enter our work envisioned and empowered by the only one who truly knows the future. We must also enter each day with the solemn awareness that we are hunted by evil. There are real forces of spiritual darkness who plan our demise and work intelligently and persistently to destroy us. Our power to resist such evil originates in the depth and constancy of our prayer life.

  1. As long as people live the Gospel.

The good news of the Gospel, the true story of the world is the first and the last thing. All of our ministry and our lives must be focused on remembering, living out and sharing the Gospel in thought, word and deed. We are free to innovate new forms and methodologies for ministry but we are never, ever to break the word of God. Jesus wants Gospel-centred disciples made.

  1. The Church is God’s instrument to reach a dying world.

As we go about the cutting edge, visionary, apostolic work we are made for and called to, we must never forget that the Church is the Bride of Christ. The Church is God’s beloved and therefore we must love her even as we co-labor with God to renew and reform her for His glory.

In this “seam season” I am grateful for a band of companions to journey with who love the Lord Jesus, one another and the Church.

Will you pray for us in NAMS – that we will remain faithful to this worthy but difficult calling? Thank you.

— Revd Gabriel Smith
NAMS Global Operations

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Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 2, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 1, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

All Companions of the missionary order we call NAMS are called to life at the seams.

As an ex-Army officer, one of the most important leadership lessons I learned was to “pay attention to the seams.” The line where two pieces of fabric come together is where the garment takes its form. But it’s also where the stitches are most likely to give way and tear apart.

Similarly, the spaces between life circumstances where plans and operations come together and either align or fall apart, have the potential to shape future reality but also are the most vulnerable to chaos. Leaders must pay attention to these places in both their personal and organizational life.

I am living in a seam at the moment. One month ago our family transitioned from South Africa to South Carolina after nearly six years as missionaries with an intentional Christian community we helped found.

In the weeks before we left I had a significant conversation with my Bishop, Rt Rev Joel Obetia of Uganda. I articulated to him in an uncertain, rambling fashion, my dream for building new communities of faith that would perhaps never really fit into the traditional Christian (Anglican) system.

As Bishop Joel listened patiently but with intense focus as only the way a man unencumbered by technology or the urgency of next things can, he told me seven things that I share with you in this two-part blog, that I hope may inspire and provide fuel for conversations among NAMS Companions and those who support and love us, as we seek to work together in years to come.

The numbered lines are from Bishop Joel. The italicized sentences are my commentary.

  1. Operate as if there are no boxes.

Boxes are not inherently bad. People relate ideas to concepts that they already know. In this way we all have “boxes” that we put ideas into. The first cars were known as motor wagons because they were seen as strange new versions of the horse-drawn, wooden wagons people knew well. But when those of us called to create new things operate only in reference to models and forms that already exist we limit our creative capacity to dream and give power to things in the “box” to control and shape the future.

Those of us made to dream of, create, and live out new models of Christian community must not be confined by the boxes that hold the settled local church in our contexts. We must be free to dream of new structures and ways to engage people in this lost and dying world. In other words, pioneers must be free and freed to pioneer.

  1. A movement will be limited if it becomes the church.

The institution of the church is necessarily an ordered society, slow to change and normally resistant to new ideas. New movements led by the Spirit to renew the church must operate outside of those church structures, otherwise their impact will be limited by the formal and informal constraints of institutional Christianity.

This is not to say that people involved in the movement shouldn’t also be part of the institutional church – they should. Individual presbyters and lay leaders in missional movements should be connected in healthy relationships to others in the more settled body, but their vocational activity cannot be completely controlled by the systems and authority of the settled church, lest the new apostolic work that God has ordained be confined to what already is.

The tension between fluid movement and established structure is difficult to navigate but is necessary if either movement and church are to fulfill their God given purpose.

Part 2 next week will complete the list of 7 things my bishop spoke to me.

— Revd. Gabriel Smith
NAMS Global Operations

Seeking New Life at the Seams – part 1, by Revd. Gabriel Smith

Family Discipleship — part 2 (by Sam Horowitz)

Last week we were reminded of the biblical mandate of carrying out the discipleship process within our households. But many who would agree on the necessity of doing so do not feel empowered or equipped to do it. I thought it might help to give some practical suggestions.

First, we must be continually repenting and believing the Good News of Jesus Christ, taking up his cross daily and following him. Obviously, we cannot help another strive toward Jesus if we are not doing it ourselves. But with such daily repentance we must also reconsider the kind of person we want the child or children in our lives to grow up into. What will they be like if we have been successful? Are we thinking first about their education or career? Or do we envision them becoming strong and faithful men and women of God? Having the right picture in hearts is an important first step.

Next, consider what may be some patterns (or rhythms or rituals) that may be able to help. For example, one purpose the Church has in gathering once a week for worship is to empower her members to be worshiping and living as disciples throughout the week. In the same way, it may be helpful to establish a set regular time for a family to gather and hear from the Lord and apply what they have heard to their life together. This time can be the bedrock for carrying discipleship through to the “in-between times” of life — walks to school, shopping trips, preparing meals, or even working on schoolwork. Daily prayer before school can help a child to remember Paul’s instruction to “pray always.” A weekly memory verse can help to teach a child the importance of taking the words of our Lord into our hearts. Find the patterns that work for your family.

Finally, here are some approaches that can help when you develop these practices.

  • Story: My own son is in a “tell me a story” phrase. He asks probably a dozen times a day for me to tell him a story, and most children do indeed love stories. May we not allow the entertainment companies to be the only ones taking advantage! This is an invitation to be teaching God’s overarching “Great Story” of redeeming the world as well as Jesus’ parables and other biblical stories. Take care not to turn these stories into fairy tales. When telling an Old Testament story especially, try to set that story within the context of the Gospel (we must help our children understand how David & Goliath is a Christian story, not simply a fable with an empowering the-weak-defeat-the-strong message). Parents will have to wrestle with the tensions of being honest about these stories while keeping them age-appropriate! Still, story is powerful.
  • Concreteness: Children much more readily latch onto things that can be directly sensed. Our family went through a season where at one dinner a week we would talk about a bible story and how our own family had experienced that same story. We would begin our meal by lighting a candle as I read from John 1 about the light coming into the world. That candle-lighting reinforced the identity of Jesus, and it marked out this meal and what we were doing as something special. Our young son much more easily grasps the biblical images that describe eternal life as feasts and celebrations than he does some vague abstraction of “going to heaven.” He has been to a family feast!
  • Jesus commands our faith be child-like (Matt 18:3). Do not patronize your children, but honestly consider what they contribute to these conversations. Allow their faith to inspire your own!

Many more words could be written, and there are many good resources available to parents who want to take the charge of Deuteronomy 6 more seriously. But remember that for thousands of years, parents have passed on the faith without off-the-shelf products!

Family Discipleship — part 2 (by Sam Horowitz)