Vol 1:36 Sailing with the Spirit

Over the next two weeks I will conclude my reflections on Roxburgh’s and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church, at least for the time being – there are still other chapters in their book. The focus of these last weeks has been on following the winds of the Spirit.

Roxburgh and Boren challenge us to develop a new imagination for understanding the Spirit in being the people of God. I have discovered that there is a theological resurgence in interest about the Spirit – all across the theological spectrum. The Spirit is not an “it,” or just an abstract reality – a way of thinking and talking ambiguously about God. Instead, the Spirit of God is being, is the real and present presence of God, the real and present presence of Jesus Christ in the ordinariness of human life.

In John 3 we read about the Jewish leader Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the night to get some questions answered that confused him in his observing Jesus in action. Jesus said to him that he must be “born again.” But before you assume you know where I am headed with this “evangelical” statement, Roxburgh and Boren express that “another way to say this is, ‘You need a new imagination.’” (p. 121).

They state: “Jesus was saying that the rules had to change and, therefore, Nicodemus’ understanding (imagination) was missing what God was actually up to through the presence of Jesus” (p. 121).

To become missional people is to have our thinking, our actions, our discovering reframed – in fact it involves such a radical reframing that being “born again” may be the only appropriate metaphor to describe our embracing a new way of thinking about the real and present presence of God in the world.

The image of sailing with Spirit, that Roxburgh and Boren, present is a vital one for us living as the missional people of God. Too often, they argue, we as the North American church have puttered about in a motor boat being in control of direction, destination, and how fast we get where we want to get going. We want to manage and control the things of God, rather than yield ourselves to be directed and led by the Spirit of God. When we are in control, we know where we are headed, it’s dependent on our abilities – we actually only need God as a figurehead at the forefront of our boats. But to be the missional people of God, we come to recognize that the Spirit of God is the one who is in control directing the purposes of God in the world in making all things news.

So, if the Spirit is in control, blowing where the Spirit wishes or pleases, then we need to learn how to sail – to raise our sails to move us where the Spirit seeks to lead us, to use us – for accomplishing God’s redemptive purpose in the world. We only learn to sail by sailing – by putting ourselves into the wind, into the Spirit.

I remember the first time I sailed by myself – it was on a twin hull Hobie Cat. I put my sail up and the wind grabbed me and took me out into the lake. It was a frightening experience because I was fearful of the wind and I did not know how to sail with the wind – instead I fought the wind and I capsized my boat.

We can do that with the Spirit as well – trying to control the Spirit, fighting the Spirit and we end up grieving the Spirit – and we wonder why then that ministry gets so hard and we burn out. Rather, as Roxburgh and Boren express – “the experience of sailing, on the other hand, involves learning to trust the winds of the Spirit . . . . In sailing God teaches us to attend to the ways of the Spirit” (p. 121). In learning how to sail, we need to learn to trust the wind. In learning how to be the missional people of God, we need to learn how to sail the winds of the Spirit – we will be the ones who are shaped and transformed by the Spirit as we learn to flow with the wind, with what God is doing to make all things right in the world.

This involves trust, trust involves risk, because we open ourselves to be taken wherever the Spirit seeks to take us. To open ourselves in such a way to God is to be “born again!”

Perhaps an experience that ought to be requisite in learning to live as the people of God is for each one of us to take up sailing.

iMissional.org | Roland Kuhl