Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Tony Stiff on The Good News

Illustration by Nidhi Balwada from India

Illustration by Nidhi Balwada from India

This entry is a part of an on-going blog series called The Good News, which is taking place throughout the Easter Season, from Easter to Pentecost. A full list of the contributors can be found here. Tony’s local newspaper is the St. Petersburg Times. Here is Tony Stiff on the Good News.

THE GOOD NEWS

As a kid I can remember ridding over the Clearwater causeway bridge in my mothers 1970’s Pymouth Duster. It was well named. It was a typical weekend day in Clearwater: traffic jams backed up for 45 minutes over the causeway leading to the beach, and 98% weather with heat that just seemed to stick to you. Event though it was a typical weekend day its one of the childhood memories I hold dear because spending a day like that with my mom was few and far between.

Clearwater is considered the spiritual head quarters for Scientology. My mother was the fourth most influential auditor (personal counselor) in Scientology. She would counsel movie star clientele and help train other auditors. Because of her stature in the movement I’d see her only about an hour a day: a half hour in the morning for breakfast, and a half hour for dinner. I grew up in the Scientology commune until the age of eight. This is why that typical weekend moment for Clearwater residents was one of my fonder memories.

The greater Tampa Bay area (Clearwater, Tampa, St. Pete) is like many coastal metro areas in Florida. Traditional Judeo-Christian movements don’t thrive here even though this area is geographically in the South its spiritual composure is more Northern, global, and post-Christian.

One thing you immediately learn about the people here is that this tri-metro area is a very fluid place with a commuter culture, which boosts the fluidity of people’s lives. We have very few walk-able neighborhoods and our attempt to address the relational and communal breakdown through the creation of malls has largely failed. Add into the mix the ethnic diversity of our area which in part is due to Latino immigrant communities pushing up through Florida, as well as international communities that have been relocated into the area (like those from the Bosnian war), and the Northerners who’ve relocated for their beach scenes and baseball teams; you’ll have our city which lives in perpetual fragmentation.

So what is the “good news” for the greater Tampa Bay area? The “good news” is that God has transplanted himself into creation in the form of His Son. He has in effect become the international war-torn Bosnian who is piecing together for Himself and everyone else what it means to remember rightly in a violent world (see Miroslav Volf, “The end of memory”). He is the relocated Northerner who is enjoying all the diversity, beauty, and cultures the greater Tampa Bay area has to offer. While at the same time as her Creator taking great pride and joy in what his creation is able to exude (see Andy Crouch, “Culture-making”). He is the entrepreneurial Latino immigrant who is pushing his or her family further up into the USA in search of a fuller way of life, but for God the ’fuller way of life’ is found embodied in his Sons practices of radical inclusion of the marginalized while courageously engaging the contemporary principalities and powers who perpetuate dehumanization (see Joel Green, “The theology of the gospel of Luke”).

The “good news” for the greater Tampa Bay area is all of these things and more, but what holds them all together is the amazing story that Jesus has fulfilled and completed (Matt. 1, Rom.1, 9-11) what was begun with a promise from God to another traveling stranger named Abraham (Gen. 15-17) that he would bless the nations and restore creation through his children, but when they and their kings failed (2 Kings 17; 2 Chron. 36), God’s faithfulness was even greater still. He entered the story as a faithful child of that stranger (Luk. 3; Col. 1.15-20; Heb. 1). In Jesus life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return is the “good news” that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming to the greater Tampa Bay area and beyond (see NT Wright, “Surprised by hope”).

Tony Stiff is a pastor seeking to make sense of an ever changing ecclesial landscape while continuing to bring God’s Kingdom to bear on a global/local world. This is almost as daunting a task as loving my wife as Christ loved the church, and raising my child to have her moms strengths rather than her dads weaknesses. I am currently searching for a pastoral calling in a city. My resume website is tonystiff.com.


9 Responses to Tony Stiff on The Good News

  1. Pingback: Dream Awakener » Guest Blogger Schedule for The Good News Series

  2. Pingback: What is the good news? My contribution to a blog forum of ministry practitioners who discuss this question for their cities. « Sets ‘n’ Service

  3. Thanks for sharing, Tony. It would be fascinating to hear how you transitioned from a background in Scientology to Christianity to ministry.

  4. Tony Stiff says:

    Mark it happened subtly. A friend in the neighborhood invited to a Young Life hangout and from the moment I walked into the room till the moment I left it I was engaged by their community and their welcome. Those together really intrigued me because inside my Scientology commune there was community but it was one created by fear and necessity, not by the kind of love and vulnerability that the good news stirs in us.

    After a year or so of spending time with them I realized that I wanted to spend my life creating and sustaining that kind of community and that kind of welcome for others. There’s definitely been experiences since then where I’ve said to myself, “if this is what I saw when I was searching in the dark I would have kept on stumbling around.”

    I think when the church loses its welcome and a communally-shaped shared-life she loses herself, her message which of course is expressed far more by how we do life with each other than what we profess to believe.

  5. sonja says:

    Tony ,Thank u for sharing a part of your testimony. It was powerful to hear the difference between a scientology commune and a believers community.

  6. JR Woodward says:

    Tony,

    I appreciate how you have richly connected the good news to the various people groups in your area. Thanks for your words.

  7. Dustin says:

    Tony,

    I really like how your writing comes from a community of authors striving to communicate the Good News, as well as, the Holy Scriptures, which point us to Christ and God’s kingdom. It is really powerful to see how God used authentic community to transform your life and immediately involve you in the building of replica communities.

  8. Tony Stiff says:

    Thanks JR and Dustin. Dustin that’s my hope, that he continues to use me foster and create such places :)

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