What kind of Lion?

They (emergence christians) must begin now to think with intention about what this new form of the faith is and is to become; because what once was an engaging but unnocuous phenomenon no longer is.  The cub has grown into the young lion; and now is the hour of his roaring.”  (p. 163)

Phyllis Tickle , writing in the wildly popular book “The Great Emergence:  How Christianity is Changing and Why” , lays out a mapping of emerging Christianity, particularly from a western perspective where Protestant Evangelicalism has its roots and cultural dominance.  She summarizes that roughly every 500 years, the chuch has a kind of ‘rummage sale’ (16) to throw off old forms and take on new ones that are more relevant and perhaps even more missional to its social construct.  She asserts that previous authorities are challenged and new ways of thinking, believing and doing of church evolve into distinctive patterns that are incarnational to its contextual milieu. 

While I question the broad strokes that Tickle paints of Christian history, she does nail some cotemporary observations quite well.  She writes a section in chapter 6 that is incredibly accurate to my theological and ecclesiological journey.  Starting in 1997, I begain asking some probing and haunting questions internally that were like an erosion of soil beneath me.  These questions dealt with the kind of church I found myself in as an American evangelical.  As i understood where culture was presently and where it was going, I was horrified with the knowledge that this kind of church could not touch that kind of world.  I felt undone.  From 1997 until about 2000, I felt alone with my questions.  The more I voiced my concerns, the more the establishment around me reacted in fear and looks of disapproval.  It was a rough transition.  I left my evangelical-seeker-rapidly growing church staff position and went to seminary to peacefully leave ministry, hoping not to shake anyone’s faith that I had influenced along the way.  I had my own questions, but I wanted to honor the journey of others.  Seminary for me became a sabbatical experience.  A place where I could rest, think, study, research, write and ask questions.  In my final year of Seminary, I recognized that I could not re-enter into the world of industrial Christianity within capitalistic and manic church growth theory, rather, I was going to attempt a more simple, communal and ordinary exepression of church.  I had learned a lot through study of St. Patrick and his Christian clans of Ireland, I wonder if I could do the same amongst the unreachable postmoderns of society.  So in 2001, we embarked, alone.  We planted Ordinary Community Church, a network of house churches in the northern suburbs of Cincinnati.

“Since established churches, regardless of the quadrant in which they were located, could not accomodate such an ill-defined and amorphous presentation of the faith, the new faithful began to meet among themselves and hold worship services among and with those of life spirit.  The house church movement began and then quietly boomed, as did such outre things as pub theology and bowling alley masses.”  (p. 134)

Looking back, around 2000, something different was clearly emerging.  There were others out there like me, not just in America, but around the world.  With the boom of blogging, emerging Christian bloggers began to find one another and realize their questions were not alone.  A conversation was born, something vaguely peceived as “emerging church”.  For a few years, I stuck with the conversation, it was enthralling to realize I wasn’t alone.  There was the aroma of change, it was invigorating.  But as quickly as the conversation moved forward, it began getting defined, debunked, debated and in some ways debilitated.  There were emerging camps within this new conversation:  neo-monastics, house churchers, intentional comunities, neo-reformers, hybrids, deep churchers, those branding emergent, new emerging church celebrities, new conferences to challenge the old ones etc.  New buzzwords were flying:  postmodern, missional, ortho-proxy, monastic, mystical, participatory, experiential, connected, community, ancient-future, incarnational etc. ad nausea. 

Tickle says on backlash:  “Whenever there is so cataclysmic a break as is the rupture between modernity and postmodernity or; to put it in religious terms, between inherited church and emergent church, there is inevitably a backlash.  Dramatic change is perceived as a threat to that status quo, primarily because it is.”  (p. 136)

There were many who left their ecclesiastical structures that were angry, hurt, disallusioned and looking for approval.  These stories are painful, at times ugly and several completly dishonoring to the Body of Christ amongst individuals in power and service.  Change was happening and many felt uneasy on both sides of the fault lines.  I made a conscious decison in the early years that I would only network with “doers”, or practitioners.  I knew none of us had all the answers and the real revelations would not be known for perhaps generations.  It seemed to me that the best thing we could do with our time in the meanwhile was to just try things.  Make attempts, not take ourselves too seriously and error on the side of being doers.  I consciously pushed away from the table of those who wanted to spend all their time blaming the system, the old ways, the big churches etc.  I was not interested in being right, I wanted to experience ekklesia.  The network of the Holy Spirit led me to about a dozen like-minded other couples around the US with the same heart, mind and passions.  We became family to one another and remain so to this day.  We are not a denomination, we are not a known network, we are an unknown family to one another for mutual support and encouragement.  These leaders are working out their ekklesia in their contexts and my community gets to be a part of a larger whole.  No money, no positions, just relationship.  2 of my best friends in this network moved on to Kingdom fullness within 2 weeks of each other in 2006, the most painful and beautiful time of my life.  In suffering, in a spiritual war, our bonds grew.  Its not theory for us, its life and we have determined that hope and life would be our rebellion.

Tickle on “center set” thinking:  “is assumes that something other than ‘rules’ is holding things together while, at the same time, also preventing the whole construct form skittering off into chaos.  In the final analysis, in other words, it places authority in the existing center.”  (p. 158)

I was struck with Tickle’s concluding focus on John Wimber and center-set thinking.  It was Wimber’s teaching on this “open” way of thinking and leading that was so influential to me in my early days of questioning in the late 1990’s.  I felt called to be a ‘church planter’ but I felt called to do it with an entirely different set of measurements and philsophy.  This was not popular thinking and even heretical to a few.  We did not employ marketing, management principles or popular church growth theories.  We sought to embody a community of those seeking to be the people of God on earth.  Our prayer would be that we wanted to see the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven and spend the rest of our lives in one place trying to figure it out.  Simply put, we would follow Christ, with these people and let Him set the agenda.  We could do this becaue our model didn’t require money, we had all the time in the world to “figure it out”.  No external pressures, just trial and error and a comittment to Christ and one another.  This was our center.  We wanted to think and live communally, not individually.  We wanted to detangle ourselves from consumeristic tendencies.  We wanted to be about ‘other’ when it came to our ekklesia. 

There was quite a bit in the final part of Tickle’s book that I could ressonate with.  I still don’t think we know what kind of Lion the emerging church is.  I’m not sure I agree with Tickle that it is time to for the young lion to roar.   We don’t get to say that, that is determined in the mind of the One who writes history.  Our role is to follow:  not map, not figure out, not conclude, not accuse, not argue, not debate etc., we exist to follow. I am blessed to be a part of a Dmin cohort that is committed to being followers too.  We are reflective practitioners, these are the kind of people I want to be around.

peace,

Marshall

Things I’ve Learned This Semester

I knew that starting a doctorate program would be academically arduous, intellectually challenging and time cosumning.  No one told me it would be utterly fascinating, fun and would fuel my innate passions.  Vocationally, I oversee academic advising for regional satelite campuses of a Christian liberal arts university.  I often tell students to not measure themselves based on GPA, rather that “learning is its own reward”.  This has certainly been the case so far with DMinGML1. 

Europe Advance:

Looking back over my notes, here are some key things I took home-

  1. “There is a price to the work, do a little, often.”  (Jason Clark)  I attempted this, but now moving into next semester, I know a lot more what the wisdom is behind that.  Loren Kerns added, “It takes a semester to find your way, establish new patterns”.  Now I know a lot more how to organize the semester and plan out my time.  Mostly, make sure I am writing often, get my thoughts on paper for my ongoing project. 
  2. Martyn Percy at Rippon College outside of Oxford, England was someone I could have listened to all day.  He reflected on the “climatology of ecclesiology”.  He closed with a kind of lament into our modern consumeristic ways:  “It is our ‘option’ to choose Christ.  It is no longer our obligation or compulsion.”  His reflections were helpful to me as I reflect on “consumerism” within American culture for my project.
  3. Caroline Ramsey, while at the London School of Theology, discussed Reflexivity.  That you will shape what you see in the world based on what questions you ask.  We must both look within and focus on “other” to do good reflective practice.  This kind of “big picture” reflection was very helpful at the onset of the semester.
  4. Mostly, the Europe advance allowed the gathered cohort to learn of each other and attach ourselves to one another’s story.  Over the course of several days, we became a learning community.  Social media and our weekly chats continue to knit the web of these networked relationships and I can see how the diversity represented sharpens my thinking.  It is so rich to be a part of “non-americentric” cohort, exactly what I was looking for.

James Davison Hunter  To Change the World:

This was a provacative first text, it challenged many of my presuppositions and affirmed others.  I was impacted by two ideas the most-

  1. Ressentiment – that groups will powerfully define themselves based on what they are against as opposed to what they are for.  They write a narrative of ‘personal injury’ and rally others to it for a common enemy.  One of the major reasons I wanted to do a DMin was for me to leave my past stories of ‘ressentiment’ behind and work towards a future where micro-communities can have healthy and well grounded ecclesiologies.  Particularly in the the “organic/simple/house” church language present today, they refer to Institutional Church and its rarely positive.  I find that ressentiment to be a small idea given the history of the Church.  What is ekklesia?  The Kingdom of God is the big idea to work towards in our ecclesiologies, not just what we don’t want to be.
  2. Elites are where change happens historically.  Hunter really challenged me to develop a positive category for elites in my leadership thinking and to not be afraid of opportunities where I may find myself in those positions with power to lead and affect change.  Recently, I was asked to consult with a mega-church in Cincinnati to help them with a missional project of wanting to plant dozens of house churches around the city and country.  I’m not sure previously to reading Hunter that I would have been open to giving them the time and attention they needed to pursue their vision.  I decided to get involved and it’s been a pretty good experience so far and a cultural exchange.  Micro and Mega working together at the same table for a common purpose, to see people get involved and experience the Kingdom of God where they are at.  I wonder what the future could be with these kinds of networked relationships.

D.W. Bebbington  Evangelicalism in Modern Britain:

This was probably my favorite read of the semester.  I love history and was entralled to read the stories of the men and the women who have come before me to engage their culture and build ekklesia in their day.  It was very helpful to get a big picture perspective on the history of Evangelicalism.

  1. Bebbington’s quadralateral for defining Evangelicalism was helpful as a reference point – conversionism (life transformation) , activisim (gospel in action), Biblicism (high view of Scripture) and crucicentrism (high view of Christ, particularly the cross). 
  2. The passion, thinking, dreaming and teaching of leaders such as Wesley, Whitfield, Spurgeon etc.  was inspirational, as saints who have gone before us.  As well, that Evangelicalism was born in England, not America.  😉
  3. Bebbington was effective at pointing out as well how the larger cultural ideas of the day impacted the theology and ecclesiology of evangelicalism.  Enlightenment and Romanticism in particular gave rise to the movements we see in history.  That draws immediate reflection on our present day philosophies, such as postmodernism, to see its effect today on church.

 

Overall, my window of perspective globally, historically, biblically and theologically has expanded greatly.  I am seeing more than I was a few months ago.  My lens is deeper in its reflection and it spurns on more learning.  Though the time constraints are challenging, I am truly loving the learning and can’t believe how fast time has gone.  Being reflective practitioners, that is our call.  It’s a call I’m having fun pursuing. 

 

 

 

 

A light has dawned . . .

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Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

2 The people walking in darknesshave seen a great light;on those living in the land of deep darknessa light has dawned.  .  .6 For to us a child is born,to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be calledWonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.7 Of the greatness of his government and peacethere will be no end.He will reign on David’s throneand over his kingdom,establishing and upholding itwith justice and righteousnessfrom that time on and forever.The zeal of the LORD Almightywill accomplish this.Peace to your 2nd Sunday of Advent,Marshall

She Blinded Me With Science

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In honor of the 1982 British new wave hit from Thomas Dolby, I can say somewhat metaphorically, that Margaret J. Wheatley  blinded me with science in the first half of her book “Leadership and the New Science“.  Unlike Dolby however, Wheatley is no one hit wonder.  I found her scientific analogies within the new sciences to be a fresh and unique perspective on organizational leadership.  She gets us out of the world of mechanistic parts and into the world of cellular whole relationships.  In particular, her journey takes us through three unique areas of science:  1) Quantum physics, 2) Self-organizing systems and 3) Chaos theory (xii).   That these sciences are radically different in paradigm to the older dominant Newtonian views that ruled the Industrial and Modern age.  Newtonian approaches are isolated, closed, mechanistic and inhuman.  The new sciences are open, free and deeply rooted in complex networked relationships. 

Particularly in the arena of church and christian organizations, are there lessons to be learned in the cellular world of life sciences that can help us work smarter and not harder?  What we don’t need is more recipes for disaster.  See these statistics on the sources of burnout for pastors.  In western culture, we keep a manic pace hoping to secure more production within our measureables.  Our churches can become machines of arduous labor, our ministries relentless in their need for the crank to be turned.  Wheatley suggests:  “Somewhere – I knew and believe even more firmly now – there is a simpler way to lead organizations, one that requires less effort and produces less stress than our current practices.” (5). 

Here are some of my reflections within her writing :

  1. On teaching.  Wheatley states that within the new sciences there is a “new kind of freedom, where it is more rewarding to explore than to reach conclusions, more satisfying to wonder than to know, and more exciting to search than than to stay put.  Curiosity, not certainty, becomes the saving grace.” (8)  From a pedagogical perspective, what if our teaching/preaching was geared to helping people wonder more and conclude less?  To re-embrace the awe and the mystery of the narratives within Scripture and to breathe them deeply in before making objective and pre-determined conclusions.  Do we trust the Holy Spirit to lead the study of the Scriptures or do we need a professional to tell us what they said?  A tradition within our community has been to practice ‘lectio divina’, or sacred reading.  We read the passage together, out loud, sometimes 3-4 times and in different translations to let the story/words wash over us.  We then discuss the questions and observations we have in our reflective readings.  As a teacher, I don’t start with a conclusion in mind, that comes from the reflection of the community together.  I facilitate the discussion and bring contextual information to the discussion. Pedagogically, this makes for a scripture-centered learning and not a teacher-centered experience.  The conclusions for the community are in the mystical union between the Trinitarian God, his Scriptures and a submitted community of learners.  As a teacher, I believe my job is to push us towards deeper wonder, not draw their conclusions for them. 
  2. On embracing chaos as opportunity.  Wheatley describes Ilya Prigogine’s term of “dissipative structures” that a gradual loss of energy is actually the catalyst needed to create new order (21). What if the church embraced its new position within pluralism of western culture as an opportunity to create within the chaos?  What if we were a dissipative structure that wasn’t threatened or defined itself as impending doom for these new challenges, but rather saw them as opportunity to harvest new energy towards creative production?  What if chaos wasn’t something to control to avoid the death of our system, but as a great new awakening of life-giving creativity and reproduction?  What if the church didn’t define itself based on what it has lost, but rather defined itself on all the energy it has for finding new?  “Dissipative structures demonstrate that disorder can be a source of new order, and that growth appears from disequilibrium, not balance.” (21)
  3. You can’t control free will.  If you are in the people business, the sooner you give up the fantasy that you can predict and control human interactions the sooner you can get busy actually doing the work you are called to do.  Until then, you are spinning wheels.  People are not machines, they can choose wrong even given the best of information and opportunity.  On the flip side, as soon as you have judged them to a certain doom, they can unexplicably resurrect and surprise you.  Wheatley suggests from the quantum world, “relationships are not just interesting; to many physicists, they are all there is to reality.” (34)  I would suggest that relationships is all there is to the work of ministry.  The entire old and new covenant of the scriptures is the theme and call for God to be our God and for us to be His People.  God allowed his people to have free will, and with free will comes utter unpredictability. Our choices are at times glorious, and at other times completely destructive (see King David). 
  4. Relationships matter.  “All of us need to become better at listening, conversing, respecting one another’s uniqueness, because these are essential for strong relationships.” (39).  I was taught in church growth theory to plan on burning out my initial “launch” team, that they will be the ashes that will grow a church.  In a sense, they were just replaceable parts that play their role and then are discarded for new and improved models.  The church plant would be a machine and crude, strategic thinking would be necessary to erect the institution.  There was no focus on relationship, that these people and their hearts mattered, they weren’t throw away parts.  I proposed a more relationally dynamic model that was based in community as an end in itself, not a means to the real end of “numeric growth”.  It was rejected somewhat routinely based upon not having well defined measureables.  A community where relationships were center and not physical structure was yet a foreign concept.  Today in the western church however, I see this perception changing.
  5. Think globally, act locally.  This may be cliche, but I think it applies here in Wheatley’s description of quantum relationships.  Recognizing that you are a relational part of a dynamic whole should empower and encourage us in our immediate ministry contexts.  We don’t need to be the end-all church/ministry to the entire world, we just need to do our part where we are.  “When we choose to act locally, we may be wanting to influence the entire system.  But we work where we are, with the system that we know, the one we can get our arms around.” (44)  Missiological theory has taught us that we can have our largest and most sustained impact where we are native.  Empowering other natives in their context is the long-term solution for effective development of ministry or humanitarian aid, not acting as imperialists who eventually leave that context.  We can be doers right where we are at.  And as we work and serve where we are at, know that we do it in solidarity with the entire Church universally as one breathing, living system of God’s people on earth. 
  6. Pay attention to the unseen.  Wheatley describes invisible fields that are real and shape our behavior.  “The invisible is more of an active player in our lives then ever before.”  (53)  There is a spiritual reality to our work in ministry, we are not building impersonal machines.  Each time we serve, each time we proclaim, each time we care, each time we plant, each time we give . . . they are all acts of war.  We are in a war that is unseen but always felt.  That reality ought to drive us to deeper prayer and consecration, this is our ministry context.

I”m interested in other’s thoughts within their context, did Wheatley blind you with her science as well?  😉

peace,

Chris

Being found

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From today’s Celtic Daily Prayer Morning office reading:

10-14 He found him out in the wilderness, in an empty, windswept wasteland.He threw his arms around him, lavished attention on him,  guarding him as the apple of his eye.  He was like an eagle hovering over its nest, overshadowing its young, Then spreading its wings, lifting them into the air, teaching them to fly.God alone led him; there was not a foreign god in sight.  God lifted him onto the hilltops, so he could feast on the crops in the fields. He fed him honey from the rock, oil from granite crags, Curds of cattle and the milk of sheep, the choice cuts of lambs and goats,  Fine Bashan rams, high-quality wheat, and the blood of grapes: you drank good wine!  (Deuteronomy 32:10-14 The Message)

Do you long to be found?  Do you want to know that you count?  Do you want the lavish attention that comes with being an entity of intrinsic worth?  Do you want to know in the end, that your value is worth finding?

In a world of overcrowding, why do we yet feel alone?  In a world of so much, why do we feel empty?  In a world of so much information, why are we void of meaning?  In a world of hyper social media, why yet in disconnect?

This season of Advent, this is what I’m thinking about.  700 of years of Israel lamenting in exile, left to desolation, left to loneliness, left to being lost and wandering in darkness.  Then, in the middle of the night, a light has come . . . for us.  All of the Hebrew Scriptures point to a coming hope, one that will bring fulfillment to what ails us.  To a people that were lost, in the announcement of a birth, they are found.  We are found.  The King lavishes his attention on us and ascribes royal worth to our beings.  We are worth being found.  In the middle of the night, the King comes and starts his conspiracy of mercy.

This is Immanuel, God with us.  We are found, break out the good wine.

peace,

Marshall