Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Blurred Vision

I have several friends who have shared about having their dreams die, and not being sure if they even want to dream again. Since then, I've been alerted to another facet of the conversation: what is "vision" supposed to be, and what's the focus of the vision.

Huge topic -- a few quick thoughts:
  • "When the people can't see what God is doing, they run into each other." (that famous verse in Proverbs, but as The Message translates it). The bigger question, in my mind: Is it the job of leadership to provide "what God is saying" so people all run in the same direction, or is it the job of leadership to help people discover what God is saying to them individually, and equipping/encouraging them to run with it, even if it's in 20 different directions?

  • Vision should be as much personal as corporate; being a "cog in a ministry machine" may give some people a sense of belonging in the short term, but it doesn't produce long-term community that is anything but project-centered. To be fair, many who start as "cogs" do grow spiritually, but the community aspect is not automatic; it must be cultivated.

  • "Rallying the troops" to the vision statement of the church is tricky. It runs the risk of becoming a pep rally more than reminding people of what God has called them to -- coming across more as reminding people of what that particular church wants them to do. And often it can degenerate into manipulation and performance-orientation: "You're not committed to the vision God gave us for this church." (Translation: Get with the program or find another church.)

  • Having to have a "vision" to get people to rally around puts way too much pressure on the leader to come up with something, and if that leader isn't "successful" in rallying people to their vision, they can (out of fear and guilt) become unintentionally manipulative as they try to get people "plugged in" or "hold them accountable". Or they beat themselves up (and other leaders may participate in beating them up as well): "I guess I'm just not cut out for leadership" -- and another Godly person with leadership gifting drops out because the false expectations deceive them into thinking they're "not doing it right".

  • Leadership should be equipping people to hear what God is saying to the individual, not trying to get people to "sign on" to the leaders' vision.
Here's a question that I'm still trying to nail down: Is it possible for a church leader (pastor), with the following goals in ministry, to be "in the system but not of the system"?
  1. To equip individuals in the church to hear God's voice for themselves

  2. To assume that God will speak individual vision/dreams to individuals, and it's okay (even desirable) that they don't match the vision/dreams of the leader

  3. To actively choose to not be the up-front guru who builds the ministry around their own "giftedness and passion" (or ego & personal charisma/ability to manipulate?)

  4. To have "leadership gatherings" where the first item is always praying for each other and building the community, and "planning" takes second (or third) place if there's any time left after praying for each other and caring for each other

  5. To honestly "give it away" to those around him/her, hoping to see others thrive in the use of their gifts, and

  6. To invest a good chunk of their personal time to "hanging out" with no other agenda than to be in community (versus having "coffee" with someone when the leader has an agenda item that is the real reason behind the personal contact)

  7. Suggestions? I'd really like to brainstorm this thing as much as possible.
These are still half-baked and needing more reflection and refining. As George Mercado used to say "help me out".

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Generational Angst... Again!

Did you know that they (whoever "they" are and whyever "their" opinion is considered so dang important) have identified a new "generational grouping" in our North American society?

No, not a new nickname, stereotype or label for the emerging generations, but a further re-definition and re-alignment of existing generations (gasp!). It's called Generation Jones -- and apparently I'm one of them!

This is such a shock. For so long, I've thought I was Gen X. Now, I've got to completely re-learn my true origins of identity, who I've been victimized by and therefore should be upset at, and what my goals/dreams of life have been for the past twenty years or so. I am experiencing existential angst.

Y'all will have to forgive me if it takes a wee bit of time to completely make the shift from my old identity as an "X'er" to my newly-discovered true identity as a "Jones-er".

Or is it possible that my identity is found somewhere else - other than reactionary "notice me" marketing demographics invented by the media & corporations who want to sell me stuff?

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Absolution (with a Pointed Stick)

I was talking to an acquaintance of mine here in Winnipeg a few weeks ago, and he mentioned that whenever he speaks in certain settings, he always "beats up" the people on issues that he thinks are being neglected.

His amazement is that they keep asking him back to speak again, and everytime he "beats them up" for not ___________ (fill in pressing issue of the moment).

I mentioned off-hand that I've often noticed that evangelical Christians seem to enjoy the occasional "tongue-lashing" in a sermon/teaching, although it doesn't seem to do much good beyond allowing people to feel vicariously guilty for a short time -- not that they will change anything as a result of it.

He seemed puzzled by my comment, and I was also aware that I needed to give it some more thought as well. Why DO Christians, who believe in salvation by grace as a gift of God that cannot be earned or merited, seem to enjoy the masochistic guilt that some speakers bring with their "you're not doing enough for God" sermons?

People who otherwise would be repulsed by "legalism", seem to really enjoy the occassional guilt trip.

I heard one speaker say "Ask God every 30 minutes to show you all the ways that you're offended Him -- it will revolutionize your Christian life". I walked out, appalled at how little this speaker understood of salvation by grace, or God's Father-heart, but the majority of the people present thought this was a word from God! Leadership even encouraged people to buy the tapes of the message -- "it will change your life".

Yeah, it probably would, but not for the better. It will just make you convinced that your Heavenly Father is primarily sick and tired of how pathetic you are, and also encourage you to work in your own efforts to improve yourself so that God will not be so disappointed in your performance.

All this gets me wondering why Christians seem to enjoy the "beatings" that some speakers seem more than willing to hand out.

I read something in "Celebration of Discipline" by Richard Foster (can't quote it directly because I accidentally left the book in Hamilton) where he was basically saying that evangelicals are good at teaching on salvation by grace and not of works, but that we tend to have a poor handle on the Catholic understanding of "absolution" -- we don't hear the words "you're forgiven" from someone we trust has the authority to tell us this. Oh, we protest that we understand that we're forgiven, and in faith we receive it, but I think Foster is onto something.

Is it possible that the reason some Christians (and I've experienced this, too) are almost grateful to have some speaker tongue-lash them about how compromised and worldly they are, is because -- deep down -- we feel we deserve some punishment for our sins, and that we're getting off too easy by just claiming the blood of Jesus?

When Jesus tells His disciples that THEY have authority to forgive sins of others (or retain them), does that make us uncomfortable, since WE'RE also disciples? I think we may need to take a second, more thoughtful look at the concept of "absolution" if we're going to see people, including ourselves, truly free of a performance-based Christian walk.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Road Trips Rock

My best friend since high school, Patrick Thomas "dang-straights-I'm-Irish!" Prowse, and I just went on a "road trip of self-discovery and explored ideals across the scenic Canadian Prairies and ending at the breath-taking majesty of the Rocky Mountains".

Well, not exactly. We drove non-stop from Winnipeg to Calgary, slept for five hours, and then drove non-stop from Calgary to Winnipeg -- all to pick up Pat's new pet: a two year old Great Dane the size of an adult velociraptor. With the jaws to match.

The dog's name is "Apollo", which is kinda fitting; other possible monikers might have been "Terminator 4: The Rise of the Canines", "Jurrasic Dog", or "MegaMutt & the Masters of the Litterbox". Saints be praised, Apollo is potty-trained. Ever heard the expression "pee like a racehorse"? HAH! Horses have nothing on Great Danes.

What do you do when you drive back and forth across the Prairies non-stop (with not much sleep)? You listen to all of your favourite CD's (twice), and you have great talks about life, God, church, non-church, and why classic rock is so much better than most of the drivel on the radio these days.

Pat & I don't agree on everything that we hope/pray for the future of the church in North America, and I love the diversity of our discussions and our friendship, but one thing seemed abundantly clear after two days of driving, great tunes, and the fruit of a friendship that goes back 23 years: the "problem" with church structure, de-structure, re-structure, non-structure, etc. is, simply, people. Until people change at a heart level, it won't matter a hill of beans what structure or de-structure they end up with. Churches aren't the problem. House churches aren't the solution. It's people.

People are the problem. People are the solution. We probably don't need "Revivalists" or "Reformers" as much as we need Repenters. All of us. Unless we get really seriously, desperately, deliberately committed to letting God have His way with us, first as individuals, then as groups, and even as "institutions" -- there will be nothing new under the sun. If we stop carping about the structures and people who "don't get it", and start focussing on our own spiritual walk, and encouraging others, then we'll see the Holy Spirit produce true fruit -- and structure won't matter anymore.

That's what seems obvious to a caffiene-addled, sleep-deprived brain after 27 hours of driving and five hours of sleep. I may be more poetic and profound after I take care of my immediate physical needs (potty break to deal with all that coffee and then some serious Z's), but then again...

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Humble Beginnings

First day on the blog. And the two questions foremost in my mind are:
  1. What will I end up writing on, day after day?
  2. Will anyone read this, even if I do?
Everyone says blogging is so easy a badly-trained monkey could do it.

Right now, I'm feeling evolutionarily challenged...