|Photo by snowmentality (via Flickr)|
I've been talking recently about how "seeking the peace of the farm town" has been my mantra for living and ministering in the rural communities of Tama & Toledo, Iowa, since moving here last year.
This phrase is an adaptation of the Lord's commandment in Jeremiah 29, addressed to the exiles in Babylon in the 6th century BCE. The command is to "seek the peace/welfare/shalom of the city to which I've sent you into exile." The exhortation is an echo of the creational mandate found all the way back in Genesis, to "be fruitful and multiply," and that in seeking the welfare of the pagan city (and empire) in which they found themselves, God's people would find their own welfare.
I fell in love with this text in seminary, wrote a paper on it, and posted it here a few years ago. It became a paradigm for me, helping shape my early thoughts about what my church ministry might look like after seminary. In particular, I've found the thematic metaphors of "building" and "planting" throughout both Jeremiah and Isaiah to be particularly, um, productive ones. So church planting and community peace-building have for years now been inseparable concepts in my theological reasoning, and practical mission/ministry planning. My aim has been toward forming worshipping communities with community peacebuilding teachings and practices wired in from the get-go.
Cultivation takes time and patience and risk - among other things - and planting is just one step in the cyclical process of life (and death). So when I discovered the Slow Church blog a year or two back, which takes its cues from agrarian-minded sustainability movements, I found another fruitful metaphor for church planting.
Most recently, I've written and submitted a church-planting proposal for my local community that takes cues from this "slow church" movement. As a bi-vocational minister (i.e. I have a day job that is not professional/paid "church ministry" in a congregation), I've committed to a small, open-ended, slow, patient, and discerning approach to church planting, with explicit nods toward community peacebuilding. It's been approved by the committee overseeing these things in my district and is on its way to the Northern Plains District Board for final approval at their meeting next month. I'll outline a few major points below, and embed the entire document at the end if anyone is interested in seeing how I approached this proposal...
Disposition in/to the local communityI've modeled these after the fruits/virtues of the Holy Spirit...
- Patience – We’re not in a hurry to get anywhere. We’re content to take things day by day and simply be present to God, ourselves, and our neighbors, looking for hints as to where God is inviting us to go.
- Humility – We do not have all the answers. We are finite, fallible creatures who need God’s love, which is found – at least in part – in our shared life together.
- Generosity – We reach out to others in a posture of open-handed sharing and questing/questioning. We are people of God’s peace, and that peace is meant to be held lightly, and shared earnestly.
- Respect – We will respect the church homes of already practicing Christians in the local community, and I will strive to have collegial relationships with local ministers. This reflects an attitude of God’s abundance (not scarcity) for the body of Christ to live, grow, and faithfully prosper here.
- Joy & Hope – Depressed communities can be difficult to live and work in. Therefore the role of joy and hope cannot be ignored. We seek to be quick to smile, laugh, embrace, and celebrate.
- Neighboring – Being visible and engaged in our neighborhood and community, supporting local businesses, participating on boards, looking for grassroots community organizing opportunities to elicit deeper community engagement and giving a voice to the voiceless.
- Studying – Bible & book studies that seek to be ecumenical, focused on new Christians or people with no church background, and challenge Christians to be “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Rom. 12:2).
- Supporting – In small groups with an identified life span to read Scripture, pray for each other and the community, hold each other accountable, and develop Christian friendships which can deepen and spread God’s love one relationship at a time.
- Collaborating – Participation in the local ministers association, developing collegial friendships with area ministers and engaging in the shared work of serving the community.
- Networking – Leveraging social media resources to connect local efforts with broader movements like NuDunkers, Anabaptist Missional Project, Missio Alliance, etc., in order to bring the vitality of church planting/renewal movements into the farm town. Also working w/ the established CoB congregations in NE Iowa, and the wider district & denomination.
I've receive helpful feedback here from missional church doer/thinker, David Fitch (who's also influenced my thinking in the past few years), that I should be more explicit about worship practices here, and that's a point well-taken. Having been part of a congregation in the past whose majority energies were poured into worship planning, this certainly operates in my "background" thinking, but it will need to be manifest in whatever starts in our midst.
Finally, here is the complete document...