About Joe Reed

Director of NieuCommunities South Africa (a division of Church Resource Ministries).

UnHelpful Critiquing

Unfortunately, our natural inclinations are way too often negative attacks masked in the form of “constructive criticism”. Constructive being an operative word that is often left out. Though to be fair (and constructive of this assessment), people (I believe) are good natured and want to build things up. It just happens that we forget how to communicate in ways that are helpful in our regular analysis of… anything.

For our purposes though, I’m talking about unhelpful critiques of ministries and churches.

You’ve heard it in every church across the globe: “oh that church doesn’t do…” or “this church does this, and that one doesn’t…” whatever. Fill in the blanks, you get my drift.

Why do we do that? What is so deeply wounded in our souls that leads us to conversations about this? It can come across as arrogance, pride, competitive natures that are tearing down rather than building up. So where did the wound come from and why do we refuse to be healed from it? Or do we even realize what we’re doing?

This line of questioning is something that NieuCommunities is wrestling with together. All of the ministry endeavors that NieuCommunities participates with hear these critiques, and have contributed towards the spread of negativity ourselves. It’s time to stop the unhelpful critique and learn how to accurately love and assess those we partner with to build the kingdom. That will require healing from wounds that, unfortunately, have come at the hands of the very ones we are caught critiquing.

Face your shadow and mourn. Move towards Jesus and be healed. Look to those that have hurt you and forgive. May the kingdom of God come because we choose this path of honest and helpful, loving and respectful assessing and uplifting of all parts of God’s Church.

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Strategic Ninjaing

Sometimes you can’t fight back the tears.  Sometimes you listen to the reports of what God is doing and if you have a pulse, you are overwhelmed.  This week’s gathering of the Ninja leadership team in one of the residence halls at Pretoria University was a strategy and planning meeting.  The year here is coming to an end and it’s time to recruit new Ninjas.  The head Ninja graduates this year, so it’s also time to entrust leadership.

In the review section of the strategy meeting, this is what God’s been busy with…

  • Three students in the last month have given their life to Christ
  • New cell groups are forming in the corridors of the residence halls… and their mixed with white and black students
  • One of the black Ninjas was running for house committee and received a large bulk of white votes (that’s a pretty massive deal as this one is usually done along racial lines)
  • cultures are colliding on sports teams & at the dining tables (the social part of the res hall).

Next year is still in the works, but one of the things that was abundantly clear, Ninjas are multiplying next year.  They want to increase the leadership circle and make a higher commitment level that demands each Ninja to reach out and disciple a minimum of 2 other people.  This is the start of a much wider movement.

Thank you for your prayers on this front.  The University being in our back yard, this is a really great way for us to engage the population from the grassroots up.

Controlling Improvisation

“Leaders must master the art of improvisation-navigating concrete contexts with the right measure of knowing and not knowing.” Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice.

It’s no secret that one of my greatest joys in life is the art of the open mic night with various musicians who have never played together before.  Something about laying down simplistic rhythm patterns and seeing how other people contribute to the formation of sick riffs just brings out a picture of heaven.  It’s usually out of control, gets a little ridiculous, but always creates something bigger than anyone could do on their own.

My time with NieuCommunities has taught me some pretty interesting lessons about improvisation that I knew applied in music but didn’t think was acceptable ministry or business practice.  In apprenticing missional leaders and journeying with them in their various ministries, you have a choice to tell people what to do or coach them towards discovery of all the options available.  You have a choice to control a destiny or improvisationally create a hopeful future for people you will never meet.

There are way more times I’ve erred on the side of telling vs. joining a discovery process.  My theory is that telling is faster, so it has to be more effective.  Problem with that though, every time I’ve joined a discovery process, new expressions of mission happen that I never even thought was possible.  Students I have never met are meeting Jesus.  Families I’ve never visited have been given new sources of energy for their homes.    And so on and so forth…

Something about improv jazz & mission that is just more fun and fruitful than the controlled polka flavored mission.

Gotta stop trying to control discovery and creation.  So much gets lost when we start doing that.

Accountable for Action

One guiding principle we use in our coaching is that you must leave a meeting with us knowing what you will then go do.  Usually those we coach come up with 3-5 action steps that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound (SMART).  When we gather for another round of coaching, we usually start by asking about the progress of these goals.

In the words of Dr. Phil, “how’s that working for ya?”

I found it rather odd that the week after I arrived back from my trip to the U.S. that three of the guys I’m in formal coaching relationships with not only gave me updates on their progress, they gave me an evaluation of the last 7 months of work we’ve been doing together.  Each leader represents a network of people that are being impacted with the gospel.  Their progress reported included people coming to Christ, raw conversations with University students around racial tensions that still exist on campuses here, and social projects in the townships that are empowering multiple communities to be uplifted.

Why each of these three individuals happened to share that with me in the same week, I’m really not sure.  When I asked each of them why they thought things were moving this way, the answers were all the same: “we’re accountable for action”.  Each of these leaders have formed community around themselves (a core training element of NC).  In these communities, they hold each other to higher standards than they would left to themselves to serve.  By pushing and prodding our way forward together, the kingdom is coming and is now here more every day.

Pyramids and Banquet Tables (5 of 5)

I want to end this series of posts with this section on the costs of following Jesus.  I wonder if reading this section of the chapter in line with the other parables actually makes it that much MORE difficult to read in the end.  Jesus in essence is telling us to renounce everything for the sake of following Him.  But following Him into what?

I think Jesus is inviting us into a table way of living.  I’m not just talking about loving the poor, I’m talking about loving humanity as a whole.  I’m wondering if the way I do that is by saying to my “stuff”… “you don’t belong at this table…yet.  I’ll give you a call when WE are ready for you.”

What would happen if I actually acknowledged that my degrees, my nationality, my savings account, etc… were TOOLS for the kingdom, for the whole of the Body and not just for my own progress forward?  What would happen if I laid those things down, entered into friendship with those at every level of the pyramid, and collectively discerned how to best leverage EVERYONE’S God given resources to bring the Kingdom to this place?

I think what would happen is a revolution.

But slow down and let’s talk about the logical next step.  We have the end game: Jesus wins.  But for today… I think the only thing I can do TODAY is lovingly pursue friendships and see how God wants to open those friendships up to do amazing things.  The final sets of questions…

  • How am I pursuing friendships (do I see them as things I can give myself to, or places I can receive from as well)?
  • What kind of pressure do I put on these relationships, and how do I need to back off and let things blossom in time?
  • What would happen if collectively with these relationships we discerned what God wanted to do in our context and use the collective resources to bless everyone else?
  • What does it require of me to sit at this table and what does it require of people at other levels of the pyramid?

 

Pyramids and Banquet Tables (4 of 5)

This is the section of the chapter that has created the most calamity in my soul lately.  Why aren’t the rich sitting at the table?  Why wouldn’t they relax about their possessions and just enjoy the feast?

Because they have the most to lose in the pyramid system of thinking.

Imagine for a moment that they chose to sat at this table.  What’s the worst that could happen?  Well, they might lose everything.  They would be treated the exact same as the poor man.  Why would that be so bad?

There’s a reason why throughout the gospels, we see the poor, sick and destitute flocking to Jesus.  There is an understanding there that could really empower those in the upper levels of the pyramid.  They could see that they don’t have to be slaves to their possessions.  They could see that there is a fullness to life by not striving but rather in sharing.  I want to deal with the middle class questions in the last section of this, but from this section, some of the questions this has raised for me have been…

  • Do I chose to sit at the table or go back to my own controlled world?
  • What am I afraid of in sitting at this particular table?
  • What will I lose and what will I gain at this table, and is that even a helpful question in the first place?

 

Pyramids and Banquet Tables (3 of 5)

Growing up, I remember my parents teaching me something they may not even be aware I was paying attention to.  Every Sunday, we would arrive early to church and sit in the back pew.  At first glance, you would think that was an escape tactic (the back row would be the first to get out after the service).  But we were always the last to leave.

My parents’ taking the back pew allowed others to sit closer, hear more clearly, participate in the congregation more.  The position of our seating was a posture of service.  It made no sense to me at that age, because my reckoning was that the earlier you arrived, the more “right” you had to sit wherever you wanted.  But my parents chose to lay down this social power dynamic for the benefit of the whole.

Jesus paints a picture here of the importance of positioning. Keeping in mind that the banquet table scene is coming, this parable really begins to challenge me in my own attempts for importance.  The questions is raising for me…

  • Why do I think I have a right to sit at a seat of importance over anyone else?
  • What would happen if every human being from every level of the pyramid would leave their resources at the door, sit at the table, and then collectively discern with God what He would have for the context… THEN pick up the resources and leverage everything towards THAT end?
  • Who do I hurt by sitting in a seat of importance?

 

Pyramids and Banquet Tables (2 of 5)

There was an episode of “The West Wing” where the story line had the Mexican economy falling apart.  When one of the aides in the West Wing asked why the US would consider bailing them out the response was, “when you neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t debate about who gets the hose, you just get the hose.”  In a similar thread, Jesus starts this important chapter in Luke with a similar line of thinking.

Pharisees and lawyers are gathered together on the Sabbath.  Jesus comes to dine with them when a sick man comes before Him.  The Pharisees are watching him closely to see if he breaks the sabbath.  With a sweeping comment, he challenges their spiritualization of NOT helping.

One of the issues that I’m battling through on this journey away from the pyramid towards the table is coming to terms with how I spiritualize NOT helping.  The questions this section raises in me are…

  • Why would I value the life of my own son more than that of another human that God loves even more than I love my own son?
  • When do I over-think the process of helping… to the point of just not helping?
  • What does my NOT helping reveal about my true understanding of my power, privilege, resource, etc…?

 

Pyramids and Banquet Tables (1 of 5)

My colleague and community mate (Curtis Love) recently shared an interesting image that has been very helpful for me in addressing some of the questions I posed in my last entry.  The image is that of a pyramid with doors at each level.  This is the image of how society is structured.  Those at the top of the pyramid have access to every door down the side.  If they chose, they can move into the townships and live like kings.  Those at the bottom of the pyramid, however, have access to only the door in front of them.

It’s true.  But that’s not the only picture I see.

I see a journey forming that starts in the pyramid scheme of society but is moving towards the banqueting table of God.  Let’s be honest about this.  The journey God has me personally on, and consequently NieuCommunities South Africa, is a messy journey.  No one can force another person to walk through these questions that God is placing in our hearts, and we aren’t interested in doing that.  But we feel that for us to be honest about our journey with God, both individually and collectively as a community, we must begin to pay attention to many complicated themes in our pyramid society.

To do this, I want to invite you to follow along with me as I do a light reflection over Luke 14.

Dear Mr. Rodgers,

Growing up, I would regularly watch the television series, “Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood”.  His theme song was so catchy, repeating, “won’t you be, won’t you be, won’t you be… my neighbor.”  This was my first exposure to the questions on what it means to be a neighbor.
Then I moved to Pretoria.

Dear Mr. Rodgers, what does it mean for someone to be my neighbor HERE?  Is it that they live next door to me?  What about the guys that live in the flats just opposite the waterway?  Are they my neighbor?  What does it look like to be the neighbor to this guy and that guy when both of them live at complete opposite ends of the social spectrum?  Please put your house shoes back on, get your puppets out and educate me again, because I am lost!

I feel like God has been taking me on a personal journey and raising a ton of really hard questions in me.  Consequently, I think He’s using this to lead our community into some harder conversations about our context in Pretoria and what our responsive postures need to be.  A few of those questions are…

  1. What are the implications of the incarnation for Jesus?
  2. What does it look like to incarnate in our context of Pretoria?
  3. What IS our context in Pretoria?
  4. What is the gospel to Pretoria and how is Jesus inviting us into this way of life here?

These are really just a few of the many many questions God is spinning around in my heart at the moment, but it’s enough to give you a window into where we sense God is taking us.