Tom and I have just returned from one of our quarterly retreats. These usually focus on our personal lives and the direction we sense God is nudging us into for the next three months. This time however I was focused on the transitions we are going through at Mustard Seed Associates. We are seeking to discern what MSA will become in the future, with new leadership at the helm. During the retreat I skimmed through three very helpful books which I will share about over the next few days.
The first of these was Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. Brueggemann has played a major role in shaping my theology in the past and I can that he will in this transition too. Though this is not a book about how to transition a ministry to new leadership, it certainly has a lot to say that can help in a situation like this.
MSA has always been a prophetic organization, challenging followers of Jesus to consider how the world is changing and how we as God’s people need to change to be more effective in the future. At its centre is a vision of hope, the belief that God’s kingdom of shalom is not only possible but is already breaking into our world and God calls us to be a part of that. We have always done a broad array of ministries – from Tom’s and my speaking and writing to networking and consulting and it is easy for us to look at the future and say – who can we find that can take over these tasks? It is easy for us to look at what we have done and attach the word forever.
As I read through Prophetic Imagination I realized that this will never move us into God’s future. The forever language is the language of kings and rulers who want to maintain the status quo. MSA has always been a prophetic organization and to continue to be prophetic we must be willing to let go of what has been and embrace the possibility of newness. Newness is only possible when we have the freedom to hope for something different and to allow for the possibility that everything can and should change.The question Brueggemann raised that really challenged me is: How can we have enough freedom to imagine and articulate a real historical newness in our situation? (44). Maybe beyond that, how can we allow others to have the freedom to imagine and articulate something that is totally new? Brueggemann goes on to say: The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. At this point we are not wanting to ask the questions – how can we manage change – that could stifle any possibility of something new. Our question is What is God’s vision of newness for us as an organization?
The prophet offers symbols of hope for a new future. Change and newness do not spring into being in a void however. It is not accomplished by discarding all the symbols and accomplishments from the past, but rather it means to move back into the deepest memories of the community and activate those very symbols that have always been the basis for contradicting the regnant consciousness (66). Israel stood agains the regnant consciousness of the Pharaoh in order to bring a new reality into being because they believed in God’s promise to Abraham that this alternative reality was both possible and desired by God.
So my question for us at MSA is what are the “deep memories”, the DNA of our organization that God would draw us back to? Interestingly as I thought about this none of what we do came to mind. It is not our activities but our beliefs and our passions that make it possible to face a future of newness.
Here is my sense of what that is, though I realize this is not something that can be defined without the discernment of the MSA team, Board and even the broader MSA community.
- From Biblical hope to new design: the core of MSA is its desire to articulate and bring into being something of God’s kingdom dream of a world made new where justice does come for the poor, healing for the sick and wholeness for all creation.
- A spiritually discerning community that seeks together to discern the will of God for us as an organization and the implement it. Ministry flows out of spiritual discernment in community not out of “what we do well”.
- A questioning organization (or should I use the word prophetic) that calls others to question the status quo of the secular culture and inspires them to create new models of life and faith that flesh out something of what they hope God’s kingdom will look like. It is only when we question that our imaginations can be stirred and newness can come.
- We are an organic organization and see planning as a fluid process that flows out of our spiritual discernment and constantly allows us to be reshaped by the ways God speaks to us as a community.
- Praxis and academia are both important to us. We don’t just want to talk about change, we want to be a part of it, allowing it to shape who we are so that we can move along the journey towards becoming the people God wants us to be.
I wold love to hear your thoughts on this. Some of you have travelled with us in MSA for a long time. Others have recently joined the journey. What is it that inspires and ignites your passion? As we move into the future we want to make sure that we listen to all the voices through whom God would speak to us. We want to make sure that allow for all the newness that God wants to give birth to.