Saturday, February 26, 2005


I've recently started researching the historical and theological backgrounds on the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third Wave movements. My inspiration was the question:
"How would people that I know -- once happily part of these movements, but now describing themselves as "post-charismatic" -- see their charismatic roots being played out in a postmodern world?"

"Post-charismatic" is a phrase I've started playing with to describe a growing number of people from these camps. It would perhaps better be labelled "post-HYPE" -- it is definitely NOT my intent to write anything that would be NON-charismatic or ANTI-charismatic. A recent post (Room For Giftedness) basically addresses the beginning of the journey on being post-hype but still pursuing a supernatural God who works supernaturally in the midst of a mystical community called "The Body".

I've ordered some of the books that people have been recommending (it sure would be a whole lot easier if we all lived closer geographically and I could just borrow the books!), because I don't want to deal simply with the current issues that I hear about (Ie. the issues of "covering", "being under authority", etc.) without properly delving into the history and theology that gave rise to these practices.

It's already proving to be a fascinating study, and the more I dig into the historical & theological roots, the more I find myself saying "oh, now I see where that came from and why people accepted/put up with it".

I'll be posting my findings as I continue, but it will be a few weeks yet before the first instalment. And as a disclaimer, let me be clear that I'm writing as a sympathetic insider. My goal is to examine the roots and fruit in order to see the wheat separated from the chaff, for the good of the Kingdom and the sake of the world (to paraphrase Todd Hunter).

Monday, February 21, 2005

Room for Giftedness

One of the questions that can't be ignored in our discussion about less hierarchical "level playing fields" of the Body is: how exactly DO we see people functioning in their giftedness?

In our attempts to see the structure of leadership levelled so that, to quote John Wimber, "everyone gets to play", what are some of the assumptions and uncomfortable questions?

  1. That everyone in the group actually wants to discover, and share with the group, their spiritual gifts.
  2. That the group is in a healthy enough space (depending on where in the "detox" they find themselves) to be a "safe place to take risks" in discovering spiritual giftedness and to begin to express those gifts.
  3. That the group is not so turned off to excesses they've seen under the banner of "spiritual gifts" (particularly those who feel they are "post-charismatic"), that they recoil from the journey of discovering and growing in their own giftedness.
(Potentially) Uncomfortable Questions
  1. Is there a common theological grid to understand how the gifts function and can be developed/exercised within the group?
  2. What if some of the gifts (I.e. prophecy, teaching) mean that some members of the group seem to get more time & attention than those with differing gifts -- do we expect these people to squelch their giftedness in order to preserve the status quo of the level playing field?
  3. To restate the previous question in a less volatile manner, how do we make room for gifts that function more publicly, without creating another hierarchical structure?
  4. How do we balance between (A) pursuing spiritual giftedness and (B) NOT becoming another insulated/isolated subset of Christendom?
Perhaps one of the most difficult things, as people work through their time of detox, is re-learning (or re-inventing) ways of building positively a healthy DNA for a community of faith. And one of the beginning steps of rebuilding needs to be an honest, careful evaluation of how spiritual giftedness is understood, encouraged, and allowed to function.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Pay's The Same

Jesus told His disciples this -- no matter how long or hard they worked, the pay was the same. It doesn't really matter who gets the credit, it only matters to hear "well done, good and faithful servant".

I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to visit a new church plant, started by a former youth group member who I'd invested a lot of time with -- we'd gone out for breakfast once a week for three years.

The former youth group member, now the planting pastor, pointed me out to his congregation and said to them "I wouldn't be in ministry today except for my friendship with Rob" -- wow, how can one comment be simultaneously so encouraging and humbling at the same time?

The pastor then addressed me directly, "Man, I don't remember a thing you taught me, but I'll never forget the relationship."

Here's the punch line: he then went on to quote me (almost verbatim) in his sermon -- TWICE!! He just didn't remember that it was me who had taught him those things.

Which is my point: It's not important that this young pastor remembered that it was me that taught him those things -- it was important that he learned them and was passing them on to others in his church.

And it occurred to me that morning, that the old saying is true: "It's amazing what can be accomplished, when nobody cares who gets the credit".

But it's still encouraging to realize that you've made a difference somewhere.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Ministerial Martial Law

I've always found legalism to be repulsive and death-dealing, but if I were to adopt a "rule" of some kind, maybe even declare ministerial martial law (sort of along the lines of "don't ever do this or you will be shot for treason"),it would be this:

Manipulation has no place in ministry, period. No matter how good your goal may be, it's always completely, absolutely, unquestionably sinful to use manipulation to achieve some end.

Last year, I ran into a "ministry" that used manipulation to "get people broken down so we can build them back up" -- the way it worked was that they would run a retreat, break people down through some pretty heavy tactics, and then love-bomb them into accepting a new paradigm. Some of you are now pulling at your hair and screaming "that's what cults do!", and you're absolutely correct.

Back in my Providence College days in the mid-80's, I wrote a paper for our Cults class entitled "Cultic Aspects of Fundamentalism" (NOTE: this did not make me popular with certain students and faculty, but the professor of the class gave me an "A"). I wrote it after reading a check-list in the (now-defunct) Moody Monthly magazine that listed "eight sure-fire markers of a cult" and I couldn't help but notice that six of the eight markers could be applied to many youth ministry models that I had seen. So, I wrote the paper to point out that, if we really believe that what we believe is the Truth, then our methodology had better be on a much higher level of integrity than the cults on which we are looking down.

The ministry that I encountered last year was an eye-opener. I had quite a long discourse with the pastor who was leading these retreats. He told me that half of his congregation had been through them, all of his leadership team, and -- here's where I get upset as a 20-year veteran of youth ministry -- all of the youth. It was basically an ingrained part of their church culture. Near the end of our two-hour dialogue, he admitted, "Yes, it's highly manipulative, but it's to a good end, so that's okay."