I'm not a blogger... I've realized that now as I have agonized over what to write in this inaugural post of the ECO blog! Oh, the pressure! So, let me begin with this: Hello, ECO world! Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get down to business. This ECO baby has been birthed and we are well into our toddler stage. Churches have transferred into the entity formerly known as the "New Reformed Body." We have two presbyteries, one of which is in the process of splitting and forming into three presbyteries. We've met together as a Synod. We're planting new churches and ordaining new pastors. And all along the way, we are learning new skills, just like small children beginning to use words, eat solid food, and walk with confidence! In ECO terms, we are living into our identity together as we build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ. One way we are doing this is through the formation of Mission Affinity Groups (MAGs).
As all of you ECO folks know, Mission Affinity Groups are not a suggested practice, but a "must do" in our ECO world, like toddlers must use their words and eat solid foods. We "must do" Mission Affinity Groups because they are a life-giving way we grow into the call that God has placed on us as we participate in His kingdom-building work in ECO. And, much like using words or eating solid foods, sometimes learning a new skill or way of living life together is easier said than done. At least, that's what I've experienced in the role of chief ECO MAG match-maker . . . I mean, Mission Affinity Group Director!
Here are some observations and tips I'd like to share in hopes that it will help you and your congregation get connected in a MAG:
First, if you need a refresher on what MAGs are or need information for your session, check out this page on Covenant Relationships. Also, there is a webinar on RightNow which walks through the various steps of MAGs.
Second, the MAGs that have formed so far across ECO and The Fellowship have been primarily pastor-driven. I’m not saying this is either a bad or good thing, but this is what has happened so far. At our recent ECO gathering in Greenville, I met with the elders in attendance and encouraged them to help change this dynamic! What's important to note, though, is that the groups that have formed so far have had a leader in each of the congregations that have been the advocate for MAG formation and have made it happen within his or her respective sessions and with other churches. Has your session identified a MAG advocate? Maybe it's YOU!
Third, churches who are in MAGs know who they are and what they're looking for in a MAG. Those churches have clarity about their vision, their context and community, their missional impulses, and even their strengths and weaknesses. They know what they have to offer and know where they need help. This has helped them connect with other churches who fit their needs and who present opportunities with whom to share best practices.
Fourth, the low control/high trust ethos of ECO has certainly come into play where MAGs are concerned. The Covenant Relationships page and the RightNow webinar we've created are guides to what we think MAGs should look like ("we" being Jim Singleton, Dana Allin, Joe Farrell, and me, along with others). But you know your context and situation better than we do! The existing groups have varied things a bit while staying true to the intent and purpose of MAGs. The primary and ultimate goals for MAGs are accountability and spurring each other on in good deeds. The Narrative Questions on Mission and Ministry are a tool used to create accountability, develop relationships, and grow trust. There may be additional questions your group wants to explore together. You may find meeting for half a day once a quarter works better than doing one longer annual meeting. Remember — keep your focus on the main One and the main thing: Jesus and accountability. The structure is flexible!
Finally, pray, be patient, and get started! I know this probably goes without saying, but have you and the session of your church been actively praying about your connection with a MAG? And be patient . . . some of the groups have come together naturally and organically while other churches have struggled with getting connected to a MAG. Other churches have taken a little longer while they've healed from the dismissal process. Lastly, get started! If you and your session have not begun working through the Narrative Questions, I would encourage you to do so. Perhaps working through those questions will help clarify just the kind of MAG God is calling your session to join.
Let me close with this: We are in this together! If you need help connecting to a MAG, please let me know. I can be reached by email or at 256.251.5518. I want to hear from you! Please share with me your thoughts or ideas on how your MAG is working. They say it takes a village to raise a child. The best way we can continue raising this ECO baby is by praying for one another, learning from each other's successes and failures, and by spurring each other along. Won't it be fun to look back in the teen and adult years of ECO and see just how God has grown us? To Him be the glory!