Tuesday, January 06, 2009

sustainable spirituality: beyond missional

“You have a hard act to sell” he said. I looked puzzled, so he explained. Your essential message is “You don’t need to be here. That’s the opposite of most churches, which involves getting more involved with their vision.”

I could interpret this conversation, held in a sunny spot a few days ago, in missional terms. I could take it as a compliment, an acute and accurate summary of my preaching and my commitment to Kingdom trumping church, to sending over coming, to life in the world over life indoors.

But what might this thinking look like in sustainable spirituality terms? You see, a person might not need to be here at church. They could be missional in their workplace or home.


But, in order for that to happen, they will need sustaining, when their energy leaks, when the season is winter, not summer.

What’s more, they will need connecting. What are the already networks, existing and present that they could plug into, serve with and among.

What’s more, they will need community, like minded people to share stories among, theologise with. Such community could be in the missional network. It could equally be a smaller grouping of likeminded people, a collective committed to the shared missional context. It could equally be the multi-form already existing gathered community, the “here”, the ordinary Sunday service, in which liturgy and preaching are formed and pre-formed, by questions of God’s mission.

At times, they will need resourcing. This could be as simple as a shared library. Or by dipping into a specific course, weekend or block.

And along the way, there are people who have no idea, yet, of what it means to partner with God in God’s world, to live missionally “there.” They’re broken – by debt, by marriage, by mental health. They are scarred – by unforgiveness and sickness and addiction. They need a gathering point, and a wide range of relationships to provide nurture and healing.

In other words …
Sustainable spirituality says “you don’t need to be here”, but some of us will be here, to connect and resources and sustain. Sustainable spirituality will celebrate church as ordinary, singing as everyday and faith as regular. It knows that these situations are findable, and can be hospitable, and become agents of healing. Sustainable spirituality will work hard at creating constant and multiple pathways by which the “out there” is connected and resourced.

Posted by steve at 08:48 AM


  1. Steve,
    I’m struggling with the idea that a “lone ranger” spirituality that merely access resources at times of needs is sustainable at all.

    Let me offer an example. In the UK we have the NHS, the National Health Service. It’s free to anyone, and the standards are the same for those who access it, whether young or old, rich or poor. There is a private medical care sector too, but that’s only available to those who can afford it.

    For most people, they only access the NHS when there is a problem. I go when i break my leg, or get depressed, or when my weight gain causes other health complications. This makes the NHS a place i go to to get fixed, and it stretches the already limited resopurces available to it. Someone has said that in reality we don;t have a helth service, we have a sickness service.

    More regular contact with a medical set-up that sought to help people avoid falls, keep good mental health, have a better relationship with food and excercise might, int he long term, result in a healthier happier nation.

    A sustainable spirituality is surely one that is regularly connected with the community and resources of the faith, not just in times of barrenness of crisis, no?

    In short, I think the message “You don’t need to be here” needs re-examining.

    Comment by Jonathan — January 6, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

  2. useful reflection jonathan that i really appreciate. i don’t see “not being here” as being “lone ranger” cos what lies behind this for me is Luke 10:1-12, in which the “church” can be found in 3 locations – discipling community being sent, on the road in 2s, and at tables of culture. those are not lone ranger, but in relationship. You don’t need to be here is about that sentness-in-community, which seems at the heart of missio dei. It’s about our participation in God’s work in God’s work, which, if God is Trinitarian, is never lone ranger. It’s about our fundamental orientation being for the world, rather than for the building/church/saints.

    i find your health analogy well worth pondering. what you seem to be saying is: medical systems are based on looking after sick people. but what would it mean to have a spirituality that keeps people healthy. that seems to be to a great question – worth a post all on its own, tracing sustainable for health.


    Comment by steve — January 7, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  3. Jonathon, the more i think about it during the day, the more i think your doctor analogy supports what i’m arguing for. surely a doctor actually wants people healthy, not sick. in other words โ€œYou donโ€™t need to be here.โ€

    yes, a doctor can act like an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, rather than be a health encourager. again, that’s exactly what i’m arguing, that we as churches want to be out in the community, encouraging healthy lifestyles.

    but as we do that, we know that there are some people who will need somewhere to come, that no matter how many seminars on healthy eating and garden collectives we form, will still need to visit a doctor, and so we think about how we structure ourselves to both provide a doctors office, while encouraging healthy lifestyles,


    Comment by steve — January 7, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  4. Steve,

    I’m sure we’re agreeing more than disagreeing. I am not suggesting a congregation-centric faith, and in my last two churches have been part of transitioning them into a more missional community.

    But I wonder – using the health anology again – maybe we need to be here to be healthy. That by regular contact with the health professionals we find the encouragement and resources to be and stay healthy? The truth is, it seems to me, that if i saw my doctor more regularly I’d be a healthier person. And my need to see the doc would change from being a dependency on them to “fix me” to becoming a resource to help me stay fit and healthy. This means more contact, not less, and more meaningful contact at that.

    Maybe we’d be better kicking this around over a beer…


    Comment by Jonathan — January 7, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

  5. my doc suggests wine, and red, rather than beer ๐Ÿ™‚ steve

    Comment by steve — January 7, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  6. Hi Steve
    I’m reminded as I read all this stuff on sustainable faith why I so enjoy conversations with you.
    Also interested to see earth abbey highlighted as I’ve been nurturing my own spirituality through this means as someone who is often on the road and serving others.
    I think in raising sustainability you are ‘reading the signs of the times well’ which is what we are called to do. At present language about sustainable lifestyle is the talk of the market place -and not just the financial markets, but sustainability as lifestyle – so I find missional conversations happen almost as a ‘by product’ but perhaps ‘natural outcome’ would be a more authentic description!
    I’m having another thought regarding ‘beyond missional’!? Could you express this using the concept of Alan Roxburgh’s diagram on emerging that you’ve worked with? I have a hunch that some of the stuff we struggle with is because we think in a linear fashion. What do you think?
    Need a photo to go with the BIO – piercings and all!

    Comment by Olive — January 8, 2009 @ 5:52 am

  7. Hi Olive,
    nice to have the unwhiskered church mice on blog ๐Ÿ™‚

    which al rox diagram do you mean? the green/blue/red one? if so, I always saw that as non-linear cos it has circles in it; plus the sense that, as in any family, there is always a mix of zones – kids in green, adults in blue, grandparents in red – and there’s nice harmony and chaos in that,


    Comment by steve — January 10, 2009 @ 11:31 pm

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