First Third Conversations

Reflection on the Missional Church Consultation presention by Terri Elton

Jesse Weissby Jesse Weiss, MA senior at Luther Seminary

A Redefined Childhood

In order to embrace a “Faithful Future,” we need to understand the influence of the consumer society on faith formation.  Dr. Terri Elton pointed us to the reality that Identity in American society had been based on tradition. Families went to church because that is simply what families had always been doing. Society has now shifted the place we find identity from tradition to consumption.  Consumption has become how we achieve social solidarity, how we connect to each other, and how we find value. 

This, as Terri stated, has redefined childhood itself. Now we can consume in order to make us who we want to be.  Childhood has parents choosing what they think will have the most value in their child’s life in order to help form their identity.  We have let the life of the church function with this same sense of consumption.  Interaction with the church is an opportunity for a person to get their needs met and then to get on with the next thing in their life. 

Short-term need vs. Long-term community

This view of church as just another short-term need to be consumed creates a huge void in the nature of church as community.  In his workshop Mike King spoke of the need to experience the church as long-term community in which we dwell.  Instead of identity as something consumed, identity in the church comes through we are connected to.  Belonging shapes our identity.

A New Identity

This is not an easy task, especially in today’s digital world.  As Terri Elton pointed out, technology means that youth are living in several different worlds at once. But the church must view its missional calling as being the place in which the First Third of life finds identity. As Terri stated, this means the church must starting by asking what it means to be a person today and become a place of deep identity formation .  To do this, churches need to be serious about developing concrete ways of helping youth to experience otherness through relationships with peers, parents, and adults of all ages.  Through these relationships, we must be willing to name the brokenness that we have in our lives in order to find the commonality of our individual identities, which leads to the need of the church to truly be a sacramental community.  We need to embrace the now and not yet that the sacraments represent to help our youth to find identity through their reality.  Responding to that identity in the now and not yet, we start to find purpose in our identity as those called to be part of God’s ongoing mission in the world.   

A Missional Imagination

All of this means that a missional imagination must come to the forefront and the church must be willing to offers the utmost meaning in a person’s life.    Understanding the church as missional means that mission is not an addition or an extra to the life church, but rather is the very nature of the church.  Likewise, a missional approach to First Third ministry means that it is not a program of the church but it is part of the core existence of the church.    

Becoming Curators of the Environment

This means being a church of long-term community in which we dwell.  To do this, Mike King pointed us to becoming “curators” of environment.  This can be done in explicit ways (through rituals, sacred spaces, scripture, traditions), implicit ways (behaviors, values, philosophies) and through null ways (what we are ignoring or avoiding).   When we curate this environment, we create a source of identity out of belonging rather than on consumption.  Curating a community of belonging means that we experience the congregation as the “curriculum.”  We live out community when the practices of the congregation give a sense of identity to those involved.  

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