Photo credit: Ryan Klinck

Photo credit: Ryan Klinck

The Missional Community as a Means of Grace, Week 2
Andrea Lingle

I am fascinated by words. Specifically names. If you have ever read a decent fantasy novel, you will have a firm grasp of how important names are. Names give you power over a thing. You should never tell anyone your true name, or they will have power over you. If you know a thing, you will know its name. Good stuff.

I think words create atmosphere. If we are not careful how we describe ourselves and what we do, we allow words to have power over us.

One of my favorite examples is “Children’s Time” or “The Children’s Sermon.” Of course this is meant as a time that we, as the church, acknowledge the children in our midst. In the churches I have attended, Children’s Time is an unstable cuddle-puddle of combustible energy. All the children are invited down, just out of reach of their parents, to gather at the feet of some short-stick-drawing adult who will try to navigate the pitfalls of mentioning age, pets, loose teeth, or grandparents. Or airplanes. Or birthdays. Or water of any kind. If you mention those things, you’re done. The kids will haul you off bodily to pepper your twitching body with tales of that time that they went to grandma’s house for their birthday but their dog threw up in the car just as they lost their first tooth, see!!

But Children’s Time implies something else too. 
          Everything else is Adult Time.

Words shape the world we live in.

Words can be divisive. They make the world into us and them, they describe the “we”-ness of us, they keep others out.

Words can also be useful. They can invite us in, they can show us the way, they can make things clear.

It is our goal to use these words to invite others in.

John Wesley used more than his fair share of words in his lifetime, and they have power. Wesley talked about grace. Grace is that which feeds the flame of the Divine spark within us. It connects the Spirit of God, always and everywhere present, to the breath of our being. Grace is the medium of the mystic’s vision, it is the kindness in the voice of the weary caregiver, it is the tear on the face of the joyful and the grieving.

Wesley, most practical of all theologians, taught about ways to channel grace into one’s life. He called these channels “Means of Grace.” There were methodically described practices to which one could ascribe to inundate oneself with streams of God’s Grace. Fellowship, eucharist, and prayer are some of the Means of Grace.

Underneath all of this measured practice, throbs something far wilder. Wesley called it Prevenient Grace. Prevenient is one of those words that immediately makes eyes glaze over. It is a bit lofty. But it is not. Prevenient Grace is the song sung at Creation. It is the shimmer of the dragonfly’s wing. It is in the rings of the tree and the smile of a stranger. It is the tug of the nucleus on the electron. It is the Divine mystery, and it is powerful.

Prevenient Grace is, literally, the grace which proceeds. It is that which calls humankind toward the expanse of the Creator. It is what calls a soul out of nature’s life and death struggle for survival into being the image-bearer of the Divine. It is not exclusively ours or for us. It is not even exclusively described by us. It is that which is deeper than our scurryings and scratchings. It is the ripple in the water where the Spirit hovers.

It is mystery.

Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:

  • What are the words that define the groups you are a part of? Do you consider these groups to be Missional? Why or why not?

  • If Prevenient Grace is before us in all, how does this change your understanding of missional communities?

  • Does Prevenient Grace make all community missional?

  • If Prevenient Grace is before us in all, how does this change your understanding of missional communities?

  • Does Prevenient Grace make all community missional?

Adapted From: 
Wendy J. Miller, Come With Me (Missional Wisdom Foundation, 2015).