Archive for March, 2008


The New Conspirators

March 25, 2008

by Tom Sine, Mustard Seed Associates


In the UK, more churches were planted in the last seven years than Starbucks were opened—over 1,000 churches as compared to only 750 Starbucks coffee shops. Interestingly, most of these church plants were ethnic and multi-cultural.

God is doing something new through a new generation, as I report in The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time, which will be published by IVP in 2008. I believe God is working through at least four streams: the emerging church, missional churches, mosaic church plants and the monastic movement. We have received very positive responses to the two most recent Seed Samplers the emerging and missional streams. This issue will attempt to describe what God is doing through those in the mosaic stream, which I define as multi-cultural church plants. While the emerging and missional leadership is overwhelmingly male and white, in this stream, God is doing something new through leaders from a number of different cultures.

In this issue, we have included some voices that are calling us to deal with issues that could enable the church to be more inclusive in terms of race and gender. David Park, of Next Gener.Asian Church, brings a very clear word about his concern with racial division in the church. Julie Clawson who administers the Emerging Women blog raises important questions about gender inclusion in the church, particularly within the new streams.

As I confessed in my book, as an aging author, I may not fully grasp all that God is doing through the young and the risk-taking. As a white author who has always been a part of a culture of privilege, I am certainly not the best one to write about the mosaic or multicultural stream. Eliacín Rosario-Cruz, who is a member of our MSA team and originally from Puerto Rico, holds our feet to the fire on issues of race, power and privilege.

It is past time for those of us who are white to wake up to the reality that we are living in a new majority world. By 2060, the United States will become the first non-European Western nation—a nation of Latinos, African-Americans and Asians. Those of us from European roots will just be another group. All of our churches need to help prepare to not only live in this future but receive and celebrate the gifts from other cultures as well.

In other words, the days of people with European roots running the world and the church are rapidly slipping away. While the churches in Western countries are overwhelmingly in decline, many churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America are growing at an explosive rate. Many of these churches are involved in reverse missions—planting churches in the United States, Canada and Britain. The leadership of the church will also increasingly shift to the majority world.

Clarkston Bible Church in Clarkston, Georgia, has already awakened to the new reality. Older white southern women in their Sunday finery find themselves worshiping with immigrants from the Philippines, Togo, refugees form war-torn Liberia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Afghanistan. Slowly, more and more churches are becoming much more like our richly multi-cultural world. But not only traditional churches are beginning to wake to this new reality. Young innovators are as well. Increasingly, multi-cultural leaders are beginning to come to the fore.

Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson’s book The Hip Hop Church and Tommy Kyllonen’s Un.orthodox offer compelling evidence that God is doing something new through young people from a spectrum of diverse cultures. Acknowledging some of the difficult issues associated with hip-hop culture, for example, sex, violence and materialism, both books recognize hip-hop as not just an expression of urban African-American culture, but the language of a new generation all over the planet, connecting young people in Britain, Germany and Japan.

Though most in the mosaic stream have never heard the word “postmodernity,” the urban youth of hip hop culture share a suspicion of modernity, authority and pat answers with the young leaders of the emerging church. Efrem Smith tells me that urban hip-hop culture isn’t just postmodern, but also post-institutional, post-soul and post-civil rights too.

Urban African-American young people are hungry for a spirituality to which they can relate. There are reportedly some 20 hip hop churches in United States and more are coming. Hip-hop churches are only one expression of what God is doing through a growing number of multicultural churches.

Kyllonen reminds us that the times are changing: “The emerging church is also the young black male in the hood. It is the second-generation Mexican in LA and the child of the Chinese immigrant in Houston. The emerging church is the Puerto Rican female on Wall Street.”

A number of second-generation Asian churches in Canada and the United States have chosen to become multicultural congregations. Some multicultural churches in California came together around inter-racial families that didn’t feel completely at home in mono-cultural churches.

There are even a few mono-cultural churches that are beginning to question whether that model is fully biblical. Kingston United Reformed Church in Britain, comprised of Korean, Russian, Nigerian, Chinese and English members, has worked very intentionally to become a multicultural congregation. Pastor Leslie Charlton believes diversity is essential to being church. “You cannot call yourself a church if you are all the same.” She added, “It may be a nice group, but a church, like the kingdom of God, must have room for everybody.”

In Doug Lee’s church plant, called Catalyst in Culver City, California, the multiethnic congregation enjoys the rich gifts of several different cultures. People from the South Pacific Islands bring a spirit of warmth, welcome and generosity. African American members teach others about being fully present to God and highly invested in worship. Latino members remind the congregation of the importance of family and hospitality. And Asian members bring service without the need for recognition. Doug Lee says his church family is richer because of diverse gifts people bring.

I experience something of the rich gifts of the tapestry of God’s new community at the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association, started by John Perkins. They always have an urban choir in whatever city they are meeting that lifts our souls to the rafters. I also experience rich gifts at the Urbana Missions Conference because those who lead worship represent the many of the wonderful cultures of our world.

Mustard Seed Associates hosted an evening with community activist Rudy Carrasco called “The Color of Love in the City” to start a conversation about what love looks like between communities. After Rudy shared his stories, Eliacín Rosario-Cruz led a discussion on race and culture. To my surprise, people from a range of different racial backgrounds shared very openly about both their pain and their attempts to live faithfully in a multicultural society.

One of the most innovative congregations in the US in the area of ethnic diversity is a church in Southern California actually called Mosaic. It is located in Los Angeles, California, where people from all over the world settle. The church responds to the challenge of a multi-cultural, postmodern, pluralistic and global community. Like the emerging church, they give a major piece of their life and mission to the arts; their group Urban Poets includes artists, dramatists and social innovators.

Most of the pastors of these churches are not content to just create interesting programs to meet the needs of people within the building. Like missional leaders, these church planters are intent on involving their members in word and deed ministries that impact the lives of people in their communities. Eugene Cho created a multicultural church plant in Seattle called Quest. Quest has been devoted to local and global mission from its inception. Their coffee shop, the Q Café, serves as a place to engage their community and a performance space for local artists. They work with the homeless and offer computer education classes for kids struggling in school as well as being involved in global initiatives.

As you can see from this brief overview, multicultural churches—along with the increasing number of immigrant churches—are going to be part of the growing edge of the Church in Western countries. This new mosaic stream is quite diverse, but what they all seem to share in common, like emerging churches, is their desire to a reach out to new generation. Like the missional churches they also see their mission much more focused on the needs of those beyond their congregation. We all need to pay more attention to what God is doing through the mosaic stream and explore new forms of collaboration that enable the church to lead in celebrating the gifts that will be a part of our richly multicultural future.




March 25, 2008

12 Marks of a New Monasticism


Throughout the history of the church, monastic movements have emerged to explore new ways of life in the abandoned places of society. School(s) for Conversion is a communal attempt to discern the marks of a new monasticism in the inner cities and forgotten landscapes of the Empire that is called America. This book invites us into a way of life that is simultaneously ancient and wonderfully new. By combining first-person accounts of the marks of Christ-formed communities with rich historical and biblical reflection, the various writers provide truthful and hope-filled descriptions of contemporary Christian community. First in a series. Paperback, 190 pages.



March 25, 2008

Biblical Wisdom for a New Monasticism


Conversations between contemporary Christian communities and Benedictine monasticism are among the most surprising and promising in the church today. Given that the roots of monasticism and of contemporary Protestantism lie in different parts of the Christian tradition, mutual engagement between contemporary Christians and monastics has been rare. Recently, however, the scene has shifted, and Inhabiting the Church represents the new eagerness to learn the art of living together faithfully from experienced and ancient practitioners.
—Christine D. Pohl, foreword

If the church is more than just a building, what could it mean to live in it — to inhabit it as a way of life? From their location in new monastic communities, the authors ask what the church can learn from St. Benedict’s vows of conversion, obedience, and stability about how to live as the people of God in the world. Second in the series that began with School(s) for Conversion. Paperback, 140 pages



March 25, 2008

The Journey of a New Monastic Community


In the 1930s, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer anticipated the restoration of the church after the coming second world war through a new kind of monasticism, a way of life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. Since then, the renewal of Christian monasticism has become a great spiritual movement. Imbued with a love for God and neighbor, and with a healthy self-love, people are going to monasteries to deepen their relationship with God, to pray, and to find peace. While some monastic institutions are suffering a decline in traditional vocations, many Christians are exploring monastic lifestyles. This book introduces The Community of the Transfiguration in Australia, the story of a new monastic community and an inspiring source of hope for the world at another time of spiritual, social, and ecological crisis. Third in the series that includes School(s) for Conversion and Inhabiting the Church. Paperback, 186 pages

Click here for “Community of the Transformation” on Amazon UK


NEW MONASTICISM:What It Has to Say to Today’s Church

March 25, 2008



“New Monasticism” is the name that a recently formed movement of evangelical Christian communities has given itself. In the last 10 years, more than 100 of these small communities have formed in order to seek a relationship to God through mission work, evangelization and radical poverty.

Frustrated with the increasing commercialization and social isolation of mainstream religion, New Monastics endeavor to live and interact with others as Christ would. Often from Protestant backgrounds, they seek to serve the wider church. Many are inspired by, and seek guidance from, traditional monasticism.



What It Has to Say to Today’s Church

“It’s hard to be a Christian in America,” writes Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a leader in the New Monasticism movement in America, a growing group of committed Christians who are living lives of radical discipleship. However, the movement doesn’t mirror traditional monasteries — many members are married with children and have careers, yet they live differently, often in community in once-abandoned sections of society.
Wilson-Hartgrove founded a New Monastic community and works with an alternative theological collaborative. In this book, he takes readers inside New Monasticism, tracing its roots throughout Scripture and history and illuminating its impact on the contemporary church. He identifies the key tenets of New Monasticism, including:

How monasticism is the oldest form of counter-culture in the West

God’s alternative economy and financial practices for church

Hospitality and active peacemaking

A model for grassroots ecumenism

What the church offers New Monasticism: stability, diversity, and structure

“Monasticism isn’t about achieving some sort of individual or communal piety. It’s about helping the church be the church,” Wilson-Hartgrove writes. A must-read for New Monastics or those considering joining the movement, this book will also appeal to 20- and 30-somethings, pastors, leaders, and those interested in the emerging church. Paperback, 160 pages

Click here for “New Monasticism” on Amazon UK



Downward Mobility in an Upscale World

March 25, 2008


The vision of Jesus is not spread through organizational structures, but through touch, breath, shared life. It is spread through people who have discovered love.

Not long ago, I sat and talked with some very wealthy Christians about what it means to be the church and to follow Jesus. One businessman confided, “I, too, have been thinking about following Christ and what that means … so I had this made.” He pulled up his shirt-sleeve to reveal a bracelet, engraved with W.W.J.D (What Would Jesus Do?). It was custom-made of twenty-four karat gold.

Maybe each of us can relate to this man — both his earnest desire to follow Jesus and his distorted execution of that desire, so bound up in the materialism of our culture. It is difficult to learn to live the downward mobility of the gospel in this age of wealth. For the most part, those of us who are rich never meet those of us who are poor. Instead, nonprofit organizations serve as brokers between the two in a booming business of poverty management.

I believe that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, but that they do not know the poor. Yet if we are called to live the new community for which Christ was crucified, we cannot remain strangers to one another. Jesus demands that we live in a very different way.

I recently surveyed people who said they were “strong followers of Jesus.” Over 80 percent agreed with the statement, “Jesus spent much time with the poor.” Yet only 1 percent said that they themselves spent time with the poor. We believe we are following the God of the poor — yet we never truly encounter the poor.

About five years ago, I became part of a community called the simple way, a group of Christians literally born out of the wreckage of the church. Dozens of homeless families and children had moved into St. Edward’s, a cavernous, abandoned Catholic church in one of the most struggling neighborhoods of Philadelphia. A small group of us who were students at Eastern College, a suburban Christian school, decided to move in with them as a gesture of solidarity. From that initial step, one miracle followed another as those families mentored us in community, worship, and love.

Eventually, we settled in a rowhouse in Kensington, a few blocks from St. Edward’s. It is the poorest (but most beautiful!) district in Pennsylvania. There is no place we’d rather call home. Here, we play and dance. We plant gardens. We feed people. We cry. We have a community store. We help kids with homework. We live, and we spend our lives joining folks in poverty as they struggle to end it. Because we know that we cannot end poverty without ending wealth, we also spend time talking with Christian communities about our work and hosting visitors.

Before moving to St. Edward’s and then Kensington, I had worked in Calcutta, India, first at Mother Teresa’s home for the destitute dying and then in a leper colony. A week after returning to the United States, I began a year at Willow Creek Community Church, one of the largest, wealthiest congregations in the world — where a food court graces their worship center. Talk about culture shock!

This contrast brought me face to face with Christ’s radical love, a love strong enough to bring us together across chasms of difference. I longed for the two worlds to meet, for the lepers to know the landowners. I committed my life to trying to make that a reality.

Over the years I have come to see how charity fits into — and legitimizes — our system of wealth and poverty. Charity assures that the rich will feel good while the poor will remain with us. It is important that the poor remain with us, because our capitalist system hinges on it. Without someone on the bottom, there is no American dream and no hope for upward mobility.

Charity also functions to keep the wealthy sane. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, also function as outlets that allow wealthy Christians to pay off their consciences while avoiding a revolution of lifestyle. People do their time in a social program or distribute food and clothes through organizations which take their excess. That way, they never actually have to face the poor and give their clothes, their food, their beds. Wealthy Christians never actually have to be with poor people, with Christ in disguise.

If charity did not provide these carefully sanctioned outlets, Christians might be forced to live the reckless Gospel of Jesus by abandoning the stuff of earth. Instead, thanks to charity, we can live out a comfortable, privatized discipleship.

But when we get to heaven and are separated into sheep and goats (Matt. 25), I don’t believe Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me” or “When I was naked, you donated to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He is seeking concrete actions: “You fed me, … you visited me, … you welcomed me in, … you clothed me.…”

If we are to truly be the church, poverty must become a face we recognize as our own kin.

Several years ago, I attended a protest against sweatshops where the organizers had not invited the typical rally speakers — lawyers, activists, advocates. Instead, they brought kids from the sweatshops. A child from Indonesia pointed to his face. “I got this scar when my master lashed me for not working hard enough. When it bled, he did not want me to stop working or to ruin the cloth, so he took a lighter and burned it shut. I got this scar making stuff for you.”

I was suddenly consumed with the overwhelming reality of the suffering body of Christ. Jesus now bore not just nail marks and scars from thorns, but a gash down his face. How could I possibly follow Jesus and buy anything from that master?

If we are content with discipleship that ends merely with generosity, we still serve money. Generosity is a beautiful response, but we should not confuse it with love. Generosity is merely what is expected; what is required is to return that which has been stolen. God did not create some of us rich and others of us poor.

Basil the Great, writing in the fourth century, put it this way: “When someone strips a man of his clothes, we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not — should not he be given the same name? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute.” Or, in the words of Dorothy Day, “If you have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor.” Should we not, then, return our stolen goods with humility, like a child returning a stolen candy bar to the grocery store clerk? Should we not cry out, in the words of St. Vincent de Paul: “May the poor man forgive me the bread I give him”?

Often wealthy folks ask me what they can do for the simple way. I could ask them for a few thousand dollars, but that would be too easy for both of us. Instead, I ask them to come visit. Writing a check makes us feel good and can fool us into thinking that we have loved the poor. But seeing the squat houses and tent cities and hungry children will wreck our lives. We will never again be the same.

As we have done this work and have accompanied others new to it, we’ve come to see a pattern. People join us with the idea of “saving the poor.” Later, they say instead that “the poor saved me.” But both comments have one thing in common. They revolve around me — what I have to give poor people and what they can give me. God wants us to move beyond ourselves to join all of creation in groaning for liberation. There we face, perhaps for the first time, the reality that we, too, are poor.

I believe the church has forgotten its identity. The church is not an institution, a meeting, or a building. It is not something we go to. The church is something we are — an organism, not an organization.

Instead of living out this alternative vision, the church has been content to be a broker between the rich and the poor. Both those trapped in poverty and those trapped in riches view the church as a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. No radical new community is formed.

In this model, both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get fed) — but neither goes away transformed. They do not join together to discover a new way of living.

In ministering in this way, the church has adopted the model of many of our nonprofit organizations. Functionally, many nonprofits act as brokers between the rich and the poor. They facilitate the exchange of goods and services, putting plenty of professionals in the middle to guarantee that the rich do not have to face the poor and that power does not shift. Rich and poor are kept in separate worlds. Charity does not feed fundamental change.

Brokering poverty also seduces Christians into being gatekeepers to power. Our progressive movements are haunted by the temptation to facilitate power. If anything, the recent dismantling of the welfare system and the corresponding public praise of small attempts by churches, nonprofits, and other faith-based institutions to take up the slack has increased this pressure. Policies like charitable choice (where churches compete for federal funding to run social programs) allow our government to pat churches on the back: “You do a better job at managing poverty than we do, so we’ll just discontinue our social supports and let you do the job!” And our churches, flattered and uncritical, scramble for the new state money like a prize.

In that model, the power structure has not budged. The power has merely changed hands. But power does not trickle down. Just as trickle-down economics has failed, trickle-down politics does not bring change.

Many beautiful Christians working for social change in a range of movements believe we can bring about fundamental change by using power benevolently rather than reworking the power equation. We see ourselves as the good guys who will use our influence for justice — and perhaps, in these terms, we succeed in getting our candidate on the ballot or elected. But the Christ we follow has a different, harder path–one of downward mobility, of struggling to become the least, of joining those at the bottom.

Several years ago, I was at a meeting where a new movement to end poverty was announced. I looked around. The only poor people in sight were the handful of people I had come with. Launching a movement to end poverty without poor people in critical roles is like launching a civil rights movement without Black people, or a feminist movement without women. As long as the poor are not present and intricately involved in the process, ending poverty will remain an intellectual, political concept. It will not convert us.

The church needs to stop talking about ending the pain of the poor and instead join the poor. All around us, the poor are crying out. They can no longer be silenced. Wherever that outcry is heard, the church must be present.

All this does not mean that social-service organizations do not do a great deal of good. I am not calling for all these organizations to be dismantled. But I am calling Christians to ask critical questions about their relationship to God’s poor people.

I believe all our “programs” should have their genesis in true relationship. At our house, we tutor — but we did not start by deciding to do a tutoring program. We simply fell in love with kids who needed help with their homework. We feed people — but we did not begin with a decision to start a feeding program. We simply fell in love with our neighbors, and they were hungry.

We have now established a nonprofit organization ourselves, but we did this in order for the organization to serve us. We are not committed to the organization, but rather to our fellowship together.

I see many communities doing amazing things through established organizations. God can — and does — work through these organizations. But the reign of God dwells in people.

Those of us who yearn for the kingdom of God must follow in the steps of Jesus. Jesus was not “in charge” of the poor. He was poor. The message of Christ from the manger to the cross is that the world is conquered through weakness, through leastness, through struggle–not from the top, but from the bottom.

The people wanted a mighty Messiah. They got a baby refugee. They wanted a powerful king to take over Rome. They got a wandering homeless man. He could have saved the world with his mighty power, but he did it through his ridiculous love. The power of God lies in the brokenness of Jesus: naked, cursed, spit upon, with birds picking at his flesh as he died the rotten death of a criminal.

The great temptation of the church, and of every believer, is the offer Satan made to Jesus in the desert: to win the world with power. But power will not end poverty. We must discover another way of living.

Jesus did not set up a program, but rather modeled a way of living that incarnated the reign of God. That reign did not spread through organizational establishments or structural systems. It spread through touch, through breath, through life. It spread through people who discovered love.

I am haunted by the command of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves. I struggle because I sleep in a house while my neighbor sleeps in a cardboard box; I eat twice a day while my neighbor hasn’t eaten once. I draw strength from following Jesus in community. I live with people who, if they pass someone with a worse pair of shoes, have taken their shoes off and switched; people who have quietly handed over winter jackets to someone they met on the street without a coat.

This is the reckless love of Jesus, which teaches us to see the connections between our wealth and our neighbor’s poverty. The love of Jesus will teach us another way of doing life, a way that will bring God’s reign to earth as it is in heaven. The reign of God is not for the future. It is something we live today.

Jesus reminds us that it is easy to love people who are just like us: “Even idolators do that” (Matt. 5:47). We are called to love those who hate us. Love those who create poverty, and love those who are trapped in it. See in each of them yourself — the same blood and tears We are all capable of the same evil, and we have potential for the same good. As one believer said, “In the oppressed I recognize my own face, and in the hands of the oppressor I recognize my own hands.” From addicts I learn of my addiction, and from the saints I learn of my holiness.

The God of love and the love of God know no bounds. The unending love of Jesus teaches revolutionaries to love police officers, anarchists to love politicians, vegetarians to love meat eaters, peacemakers to love soldiers. This is the love that makes us the church.

Ultimately, only this radical love of Jesus can end the poverty-wealth dichotomy. When the rich meet the poor, together they will end wealth. When the poor meet the rich, together they will end poverty.

People do not get crucified for charity. People are crucified for living out a love that disrupts the social order, that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them.

Few pastoral and practical guides help conscientized Christians to move beyond guilt, charity fatigue, or paralysis when they finally confront privilege that insulates. In Beyond Guilt (Adventure Publications, 2000), George Johnson addresses the struggles common to Christians as their social consciousness changes, moving through the natural emotional cycles of reflection, denial, and feelings of frustration and disempowerment to develop a commitment to justice that can be sustained. Though it sometimes diverts from its focus (moving privileged people into liberated, constructive engagement) to talk about the issues themselves, this is a good resource for individuals and groups who wish to make their privilege a tool of empowerment for themselves and others.

This article was first published in the November 1, 2000 issue of The Other Side, and was reprinted with permission of the author.


Celebrating the eight days of Easter

March 18, 2008


We celebrate Easter each day this week.  We keep celebrating so that we might continue to enter into the meaning of the resurrection.  In the early Church, the newly baptized would be at each liturgy this week, wearing their white garments.  We go through our everyday lives this week conscious of the “white garments” we all wear.  We are renewed as a priestly people, committed with Jesus to give our lives for others.

The resurrection stories, which we read this week, come from communities that are proclaiming the good news.  The tomb is empty – Jesus’ tomb and every tomb that tries to claim us in death.  These are not believers who, in their deep desire, just made up the resurrection.  These are people who can hardly believe what they are seeing and experiencing.  They, like us now, had trouble recognizing his presence with them.

We let the prayers of this Easter week draw us into the joy.  Jesus is with us.  He is not dead, but alive.  And, that makes all the difference in the world in how much hope and courage we have, before any struggle, any possible fear of death.