Friday, March 11, 2005

The power?

I have two guiding theories/teachings to which I am clinging right now. The difficulty of this journey has been had an emptying effect on me and in trying to make sense of this I have happened upon two authors who have some interesting insights:

The first is Watchman Nee. In his book The Breaking of the outer man and the Release of The Spirit he says that for most ministers of The Gospel the biggest limitation they have is themselves. They are the blockage! Therefore God's work is to empty the leader of him/herself and allow The Spirit to be "released." He makes a great point when he says, "The Holy Spirit has only one goal in all of His disciplining work: To break and dismantle the outer man so that the inner man can break forth. But the trouble with us is that we murmur as soon as we suffer a little defeat. the Lord has prepared a way for us. He is ready to use us. As soon as His hand is upon us, however, we become unhappy." Bam! Spot on. At least for my journey. A genuine shift of perspective and a challenge to my priorities as well.

Secondly, on vacation, I happened on a book by Marva Dawn in my Dad's library. I can't recall the title but it had something to do with a theology of weakness and the tabernacling of God. Her basic point, taken from 2 Corinthians 12:9 is that when Paul is speaking of weakness, he is talking about the "end of self" and he talks about "being strong" he is actually using an Old Testament image of God coming and "tabernacling" over us; the tabernacle being the place of dwelling for God with men. So in putting this together - when we reach the end of ourselves, THAT is when God comes and begins to live with us in a dynamic way.

What I find with this teaching and the one from Nee is that it reminds me that one of the primary things going on here is the shaping of a character, not primarily a church. Churches are a collection of characters shaped by the finger of God - often thru hardship and struggle. When it is less than that, when it is just an organism that lives on an institutional level, it does great harm to the Kingdom. Maybe the "organic" for which we are all striving is, perhaps, simply characters being shaped by God and doing the journey together in covenant?

One thing I do know is that I am glad He is still shaping me. If I have learned anything over these months is that the tendency in our church culture to elevate leaders, and in particularly entrepreneurial leaders, is crap. What if this had worked better than it has to this point? Would the speaking invites had started flowing? Just because I got one or two practical decisions right when I could've gotten them wrong? That is really all the difference between this thing going differently! Church planting doesn't have to be spiritual. Yet I would have had a reputation for spirituality that was informed by my "success." Yet I am a schmuck. I know this reality more deeply than ever. I am not an expert and no one is just because they may be great organizers or visionaries. We are all just dust being shaped by the sculptor into something useful.

Friday, March 04, 2005

It's been awhile

Well, let's get back to this.

Our journey has certainly been one of discovery. If I had described for you what I had in mind when we started and then showed you what we know now you would see how long we've come. I am very thankful for that but I am frustrated as well because it can tend to feel like a volatile place, bounced to and fro by the latest insight. The truth is - i am not a native postmodern and its values do not flow from me intuitively. I have to filter it all thru this emerging matrix in my mind and heart that has been informed by study and relationships with people who are. This has meant a slower road for us. Unfortuantely the old adage still lives, "speed of the leader, speed of the team."

Yet there is also the danger of over-reaction, i.e. idealizing things and losing the practical prespective that makes it "work." i know I have done this. A case in point is our growing understanding of the ineffectiveness of "attractional ministry" in reaching a post-Christian context. I believe it and have long felt the incarnational ethos is part of what God is up to with this generation. Yet the attractional element remains dynamic and helpful with Christians. We have lost quite a few people off of this team because that distinction was lost in our zeal and people who may not yet be able to embody incarnational mission could at least still be with us on an attractional level and come to grow into this ethos over time. One level of entry ends up excluding. It is an accidental elitism.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

how can i lead this generation. part two

I want to continue our line of discussion about this generation and their problem with authority. Our first blog on this was a fairly simple examination of the issue and while I think it was important to lay those ideas out, I now want to go a bit deeper.

One friend of mine had real issues with how our church met for worship weekly and in the same location. This perplexed me and what I came to realize was that these things were the beginnings of “institution” to him, which is the kind of authority that relies upon titles and hierarchies for legitimacy – the worst kind of leadership for this generation. It also smacks of commitment (come to the same place every week etc…), which is the enemy of the organic & fluid kind of existence he longed for. How do you lead someone like my friend, a person of insight and gifts, into impact? What kind of authority does he recognize? Is it possible to live “impact” without commitment? What do we need to learn from his apprehension in order to meet our generation and lead them – where they are- effectively?

The danger is that we move too far and lose too much for this “effectiveness.” Discipline is undeniably a crucial part of apprehending the Life of God in our journeys. And at the heart of discipline there is a commitment to a given path, so much so that other things are set aside to make space for this commitment. I fear that this generation would chuck this and lose out.

A professor of mine a few years ago was listening to us moan and groan about a paper that was due that week. We felt we had made some headway when he paused and said, “life is pretty stressful isn’t it?” However reality landed with a thud when he then added, “you know what, If you do not learn to do what you do not want to do for long periods of time, you will never amount to anything. Write the paper.” Thud. Never have wiser words been dropped on me. Through the years this quote has pulled me places where neither inclination nor pleasure would take me. I am weak. I want the easy road. And yet I also want significance! What is the path? Disciplined sacrifice and perseverance. There is no other road for a life that has substance and any demand of a generation that it be given a path less than that is a deception the church dare not take. Do not tickle those ears.

Yet there ARE some lessons to be learned in my friends’ apprehension that are legitimate. Why does the prospect of a weekly event in the same place put him off? It smacks of institution, not the “organic.” That word has been driven down our throats but it is exactly right in this instance. An institution exists to further itself – or the ambitions of its proprietors – while the organic is just about going with what is happening, what is real. Which comes back to the problems with commitment – ask this generation to commit to an institution and they will frustrate you every time. It’s like herding cats! Involve them in something which is happening and which addresses their longing for meaning and revolution…well then you may see the eyes light up a bit!

It comes back to a metaphor I read in a book called The Shaping of Things to Come. In it the authors draw the distinction between a bounded set and a centered set. The former is drawn with lines around it that delineate who is I and who is out and the only way to get it to “grow” is convince others that life is better inside than outside. (You then have to create ways to define who is in and who is out so you can know who else you need to get "in!") While a centered set organizes itself around central core values that compellingly draws others to them in varied “orbits” of intensity (for us that core value being Jesus and His Life & Ministry). They use the illustration of a ranch which uses fences to keep the livestock in or one that uses a freshwater well to keep the livestock close by because the terrain is so arid and dry they know the relevance of the genuine experience of thirst quenching will keep animals who want to live within the ranch’s “orbit.” The main requirements here are that the core values remain compelling and genuinely life transforming. If the water goes, the orbit breaks down. But there isn't a line of demarcation that gets drawn in the sand over which you must step to belong. All belong. Closeness to the center is the only variable.

What is frustrating to “modern” leaders is that this organic or “centered set” model is not organized around the furthering of their institution. The “end” or telos for this model is the people themselves and so lack of commitment means lack of “water in a dry and arid land.” You have to care more about the people you want to reach than your institution for this to work for you.

Which is rare.

Which is why our generation has a hard time with commitment and leadership.

how can i lead this generation? part one

i have been reflecting for awhile on a strain i keep bumping up against in the pomo and post-Xn generation i am working with: distrust of any and all authority. i think it is one of the chief defining characteristics of our generation and of crucial significance if we are going to be effective in becoming a safe place for them.

it trickles down into hatred of all forms of institution such as program, titles and commitment. try implementing a leadership covenant with a leadership team that won't sign anything because they hate commitment! in the end we just busted out the vino and drank a toast. that they could handle.

how do you lead when leadership is a four letter word? i think the key is in the idea of "leadership" the church has mistakenly taken from 1 Timothy and its list of "qualifications for eldership etc..." the problem with so many of us Xns is that we think the Bible was written for wasn't! it was written, or at least this portion of it, was written for a guy name Tim who lived in Ephesus and had a weak stomach. He was a bit timid and he was leading a church that was in a city hostile to followers Of Jesus and with members who were overbearing and opionated. Paul was writing to him to help him get his church back on the rails. specific advice to a specific situation! but we universalize it. what we should take from it is that during difficult times with much risk for the community, turn to trusted and prven leaders to lead you thru. thus Paul's list of "qualifications." ever wonder why we allow single men to lead in our churches if we are living by this list? paul was recommending married fathers because they will jhave struggled with leading and guiding their families thru the normal dangers of real life and can offer that to this situation. it was never meant to be a list to be laid over our church contexts blindly.

what does this mean for our discussion? i think this "qualification" mentality has worked itself out into leaders living under a pressure that killed any impulse they might have to share honestly and openly about their struggles. a buddy of mine in college once left a bible study because the leader shared too much about his struggles. "i can't follow anyone who is like me!" whoa. no wonder.

when the church engages with post-Xn or pomo people this foundational flaw acts like a red scarf to a bull. it triggers that basic cynicism in them which has been shaped by the reality of the emperor's nude ass. thus, the church gets lumped in there with politicians and game show hosts - worthy of distance and distrust.

the way forward? simply, quit faking it. leaders are shmucks too. it isn't easy to do because the impulses are so deep. yet the journey to freedom and trust starts with one simple step, don't talk about "them" the next time, talk about yourself. choose to reveal that if it wasn't for grace then you'd be lost too. reject the free pass that some people give you in the hope that this generation will see integrity where before all they’ve seen is self-delusion.

the truth is our generation only responds to what it respects. it only respects what it has come to trust. it only trusts what it knows. we are basically distrustful and it takes a lot of life to "earn" the words "I trust you." one of my mentors used to say, "you may impress from a distance but you only impact up close." that kind of proximity will of course show up our weaknesses and so our leadership simply must be honest and raw.

what about the qualifications? how about realness? honesty? a deep appreciation for grace that accepts radically? constancy and faithful friendship? What about love? these are what it means to "qualify" for this generation.

I heard someone say something pretty cool the other day about leadership and authority. He said that authority on the level of Gandhi or Martin Luther King – one that has nothing to do with title or position – comes from a life where the principles that are espoused are lived. I have heard it called integrity and it speaks of the rare experience of when actions follow words. The New Testament called this authority “exousia” and it referred to it coming “from oneself.” Jesus had it. Through Him we can have it. But only if we are living with the integrity of lifestyle our generation is crying out for.

Monday, September 13, 2004

a less "safe" world but a more trustworthy God

i have a growing sense of how much this world does not yet belong to God. This has created in me an increasing distance from the “victory” expectations this side of the end. George Eldon Ladd said it well in his "the gospel of the kingdom" – the kingdom of God has mysteriously and unexpectedly invaded the kingdom of satan before the order of things were altered. So we get a present kingdom but an unaltered order – an order ordained by the enemy & by our rebellion. this makes us "guerillas," not conquering heroes. conquest is ours on "that day," as Scripture calls it, not until then. real impact but not victory. My expectations have changed. My posture has changed. Firstfruits. Down payments. Experiences. Tastes. Whispers. These are available to me. But not satisfaction.

Also, my life is focused around and shaped by..."battle." sorry about the Warfare metaphors but nothing else captures the intent of the Truth here. opposition is unavoidable for those who want to live lives of meaning and purpose. There is no "safety" to be found yet in His "sovereignty" because this world is not fully within His rule & reign. Why do you think Jesus taught us to pray "your Kingdom come, your will be done?"

So, therefore, what are my expectations? What do I wake up to everyday? Am I aware of what i am living in the middle of? Am I prepared? Trained? Equipped? That is a huge question. Often I think that even if we are aware, we are so unprepared that we resemble soldiers going to the front lines with water pistols. Resistance fighters have to know the terrain incredibly well in order to be effective in a guerilla war. it is their advantage. naive, sluggish and ill-trained guerillas are sitting ducks. i'm not saying that our pain is purely because of our lack of preparation - this world is filled with pain and the most prepared cannot escape it - but i AM saying that there are some instances when we are victimised needlessly. i do not say that flippantly. but i am more and more persuaded that it is sometimes true.

i think a lot of the discouragement and disappointment people feel with God could be addressed by this lifeview. In the television series "The West Wing" there is an episode where the President (Martin Sheen) has an argument with God in Washington D.C.'s National cathedral. He hammers God for sending a tropical storm that knocked out a navy vessel and for arranging for his friend and secretary to be killed in a traffic accident. At the end, after yelling at him in latin, he walks away with disgust at a God who would do something like that. Powerful stuff. It brings up questions we all have asked. Yet i think it flows from the wrong understanding of how God operates. Be angry. Yet be angry at the right person. God is.

And wake up.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Is the church boring?

Had a very interesting conversation last night around this topic. The basic idea was that the church has "its butt cheeks too tightly clenched." In other words, the impulse toward piety has absorbed all of our attention and made us people who take ourselves far too seriously. I read an interesting measure of this from Dave Tomlinson - he suggests that evidence of this is how Christians are unable to laugh about sex. He talks about how C.S. Lewis saw the ability to laugh about sex as a wonderful example of humanity because what is MORE human than sex and what is less like the airbrushed images we all pretend are real than sex! I think i agree. What a wonderfully human thing.

There is a lack of freedom that pervades Christians because we are still so worried that our behavior will inhibit our acceptability - so we tow the line i.e., we live under the burden of the "have to." Yet when we really take grace seriously we realize that our acceptance is radically accomplished and freedom alone remains! This will always lead to a veering into imbalance for a season but then, if dealt with maturely, ages into a wonderful attitude known as "response." With this the freedom remains but a choice is made out of a positive place rather than a defensive place. I call it the "get to." This changes everything. That defensive, worried, unsure posture with which we appraoched the world is gone and we are now known, accepted and unburdened by the stifling "have to's." This is where we alone, in the pantheon of world religion, have the ability to experience what it means to be WINSOME. What a tragedy that we give that away by being just another bunch of religious people.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Random Ruminations part one

Thought i'd start this blog with some history. St. Sims is an independent church plant affiliated with the Soul Survivor family but of a different "mold." We are primarily motivated by the desire to "do church" in a way that is impactful and credible with Post-Christian (some say Pre-Christian) people. But how? This is the journey we are on and which we hope to reflect upon in these entries.

We started meeting as a Launch team last September and now, a year later, are a smallish group of 20+. We have three small groups that meet at different times and a weekly sunday a.m. gathering for worship/teaching. fairly typical, eh?! the question is ... now where?

You see, we have not brought a "template" to this enterprise, just the willingness to stick our butts our there in the wind and eyes to see if it is effective or not. jump and learn! we have learned a lot. here are a few lessons:

1.) Christians are creatures of habit. So much of what comprises a Christian's life is stuff that has been there for a long time and which gives security as well as some kind of meansurement as to whether they are "doing good" at this Christian thing. Go to church on sundays. Be in a small group. Do quiet times. etc...
2.) Many of those habits are completely ineffective in shaping followers of Jesus anymore and need to be shaken up to allow for fresh wine and a new perspective.
3.) Many of those habits are completely inaccessible for people outside the church. Almost odd.
4.) Spiritual conversations are really very easy to engage if you will approach it to listen more than talk. People are hungry to discuss these issues and are just looking for someone safe enough. By "safe" it usually means someone who won't take their honesty and use it as a platform for winning an argument nor someone who will try to tell them how those thoughts and feelings are incorrect. We all really only learn as we discover, not when we are told. That is all they want. The freedom and respect and trust to be allowed to discover.
5.) People love to talk about God over a game of poker or a cigar.
6.) Never trust decisions that come from a spiritual conversation that happens when they are drunk but pay attentiuon to the hungers and hurt that comes out. It may be the most honest moments of their lives. (not a suggestion to implement alcohol in missional strategy!)
7.) Film is the language of this generation. Learn it and you will see conversations about life, fear, hope etc... that you never knew were going on.
8.) Christians need to relax and explore what grace means to spiritual journeys. Religion has oozed into our M.O.'s and we need to root it out. Example: i hope this little community is full of people living lives that, well, that are full of all that stuff the church pretends none of them do! why? because if i wasn't following Jesus and experiencing His hope i'd be doing it too! if they can feel comfortable amongst us then real humans will be able to do genuine spiritual searching rather than the "hoop jumping" that is normally required as the price of admission to most churches.

I have been reading the Gospel of Matthew some and noticed anew what Jesus' reputation was - a party animal! They called him a "glutton" because he was present at so many parties with people partying their asses off. so much so that it defined him to those on the outside. that is the kind of church that understands grace and that is positioned for credibility and impact. i want that kind of church. a church that is IN THE WORLD. we often spend all our time focusing on the second part of that verse don't we? it seems that the really good stuff of God only happens when you are out there - that is when you see The Spirit doing His thing in people's live and when this gig gets exciting.