Saturday, August 27, 2005

Shepherding Movement: TNG?

Coming out of a discussion that occurred yesterday at The Bean Scene here in Kelowna, Len Hjalmarson posted some thoughts on our conversational topics. I had mentioned (as Len reports) that conditions in the current state of the church are perhaps setting us up for another version of the Shepherding Movement which caused so much damage in the 1970's and 1980's.

Allow me to flesh out (briefly) some of the parallels that I have observed, which are causing me concern:
Then: Many anti-establishment hippies become followers of Jesus through the Jesus Movement, but hold a real distrust of "the man" (authority)

Now: Emerging generations are committed to being followers of Jesus, but have developed a suspicion and distrust of hierarchical, CEO-style leadership (authority)
Then: A genuine hunger for relationships; Christian communes with little or no connection to established churches/ministries spring up

Now: A genuine hunger for relationships; destructured house groups/simple churches with little or no connection to established churches/ministries spring up
Then: Cultural changes (the aftermath of Vietnam, Watergate, and the 60's in general) creates anxiety in many, resulting in a felt need for stability and some level of certainty

Now: Cultural changes (post-modern cultural transition, "fatherless generation") creates anxiety and restlessness for many, resulting in a felt need for relational stability and some level of certainty
Then: Sincere, older believers seek to minister and disciple these "outside the box" followers of Jesus (books, cassettes, conferences, personal mentoring)

Now: Sincere, older believers seek to minister and disciple (spiritual formation) these "churchless faith" followers of Jesus (books, blogs, websites, conferences, personal mentoring)
Then: The question of accountability and authority becomes problematic; the teaching on "covering" and "being under authority" (based largely on Watchman Nee's writings) is given prominence

Now: The question of accountability and authority continues to be problematic; despite the collapse of the Shepherding Movement, the concepts of "covering" and "under authority" have not gone away
Then: While not originally intended, hierarchical power structures eventually develop to safeguard conformity to accepted standards

Now: While not originally planned, community power -- with the unspoken threat of "shunning" -- develops to safeguard conformity to accepted standards (and all house groups/simple churches have leaders, which becomes immediately apparent if something that threatens the status quo of the group is introduced)

I'm not suggesting that we can't avoid another controlling, abusive version of the Shepherding Movement developing in the 21st century; I'm not even suggesting that most of us are susceptible. Most of us would probably assume that we're far too saavy and discerning to get sucked into something like that (which would be a little naive).

My main concern is that we carefully and prayerfully develop a solid understanding of how spiritual formation (discipleship), authority, and accountability function in a healthy, biblically-based way, before the inevitable pendulum swing creates a vacuum that results in Shepherding Movement: The Next Generation.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Post-Kings Head Pub

During last night's King's Head theology pub, it occurred to me that I started this blog two years ago today. Which of course led to another "toast" around the table -- predominantly Guinness, with a few drinking other, lesser brews.

It was amazing to see how quickly people who had never met before -- including Norm, who just showed up hoping to spot the theology freaks (not hard, apparently) -- just began talking together, sharing their stories. We were one of the loudest tables in terms of laughter in the pub that night.

At one point, I was asked, "When things go bad, how do you keep from losing your faith?" The level of vulnerability and openness was incredible. I was also privileged to hear bits and pieces of other's journeys (the good, the bad, and the ugly), and again, the vulnerability and openness was quite profound.
Emerging Grace had asked us yesterday, "How do you envision a more missional or emerging church expression?"

When I posed this question to the entire group, Ken (The Reluctant Blogger) suggested, "It looks just like this." Meaning a group of Christians sitting around a pub table, with Guinness, being authentic and honest with each other, and enjoying friendship and talking about God.

Optional addition: Jamie Arpin-Ricci chimed in that a few Canadians (the people, not the beer) should ideally be a part of any grouping, while Dan-D suggested that the beer should be required to be Guinness, or at least a Canadian brew (apparently, the conventional wisdom is that "American beer" is an oxymoron).
There was some discussion about Emergent Canada starting up, which Jamie and the Tall Skinny Kiwi had already started blogging about. We bounced the topic around for awhile, and came up with this:
  1. We're all in favour of the expanding conversation in Canada, which Jordon Cooper has been trying to faciliate through for over a year already.

    Jordon has wisely recognized the regional diversity of Canada makes a unified, national voice difficult, so he's been encouraging people to gather regionally as they see fit. Regionalism in Canada is much more pronounced that in the USA, and so while Emergent Canada is great as a resource and sounding board, the various regions of Canada will likely have a fairly strong regional voice amongst themselves.
  2. There was concern over "franchising" or "branding". We all had generally positive opinions of the work that Emergent Village US and Emergent UK are doing, but a sticking point was "paying for friendship" -- you have to make donations to Emergent Village to be a part of the conversation, which hasn't gone over that well with quite a number of people. The concensus seemed to be that if Emergent simply asked for donations (perhaps through a PayPal link on their site), people would be willing to help out as they could, but the idea that donations were required for "friendship" wasn't as appealing.
  3. The most important piece, for me at least, was that we need to reaffirm a commitment, as bloggers, to being in conversation with each other. The sudden appearance of Emergent Canada caught many off-guard, and the question that seemed to sum it up was, "Who are these guys, anyway? Have any of us heard of them, or have they been in the conversation already?"
When we finally left (around midnight), there was a general feeling of "this was a great first outing -- let's do it again!", which I'm sure Brother Maynard, having survived with his secret identity intact, would be willing to help facilitate (he's downstairs wanting coffee right now, so I'll "recruit" him before leaving town on Monday).

Thursday, August 11, 2005

King's Head Theology Pub Update

For all those who have set their hearts on pilgrimmage and are joining us this Friday night in Winnipeg at the King's Head Pub, an important bit of breaking news follows:
We're starting at 7:30 instead of 8:00 because apparently Brother Maynard turns into a pumpkin or some other form of vegetable matter after 10:00.
While I'm as curious as the next person to see exactly what manner of vegetative life-form Brother Maynard may morph into, he is a husband and father, so in deference to his lovely wife and adorable children -- who probably prefer his continued non-vegetative presence -- we'll amend the beginning time to 7:30 PM instead.

See y'all there!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Attention: Dan-D from Canada!!

You've mentioned a couple of times that you'd like to grab a coffee/brew when I'm in Winnipeg...

Brother Maynard and I are inviting you -- and any others within driving distance of downtown Winnipeg -- to join us (and others) for a "theology pub night" this Friday, August 12, 8:00 PM at the theological pub shrine called "The King's Head" -- 120 King Street.

Reasons you don't want to miss this:
  1. Enjoy the finest brews (especially Guinness) at one of Winnipeg's finest pubs.
  2. Enjoy theological musings and general ecclesiastical mayhem with Brother Maynard, Robbymac, Jamie Arpin-Ricci (of Emergent Voyageurs notoriety), among others whom Brother Maynard knows and I'm about to meet.
  3. Discover Brother Maynard's secret identity!! Of course, you must be sworn to secrecy later. Consider it an initiation rite or something.
  4. We're always interested in meeting new people.
Hope to see you there. And any others who are drawn to set their hearts on pilgrimage and join us this Friday, feel free to stop by. We'll be the theological freaks; easy to spot.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Grumpy Holiness

During a "chat on the front steps" conversation yesterday, a good friend of mine (and former next-door neighbour) made the following comment:
"They (the church he had visited in the States recently) are very serious about holiness, but it's a happy holiness, not a grumpy one."
I had to laugh, because I knew exactly what he was referring to. Some people who live exemplary lives of holiness, purity, and zeal for Jesus are so refreshing to be around. They exude life -- the life of Jesus.

Others are technically living a life separated from the world, but they are rigid, judgmental, and seem to have the "gift of condemnation". They can suck the life right out of you, and often they're quite bitter about how others don't live up to their standards.

It's not unlike how some people approach prophetic ministry. People's personal "schtuff" gets in the way of a simple message that God may be speaking through them. Something as simple as "God loves you" can come out in radically different ways, depending if the person has happy holiness or grumpy holiness.
"God wants to remind you how much He loves you. The Father wants you to know that you are precious to Him."
"Have you not heard? Have I not said? Thus saith the Lord, how many times must you hear that you are loved before you believe it? Jesus died on the Cross, isn't that enough?"
Same message: God loves you. Different flavours, depending on how the word is delivered. One brings life, the other condemnation.
My neighbour's comment reminds me of one of my favourite "Ministry 101" Bible verses, Proverbs 18:21:
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
I know which kind of people I prefer to hang out with! And it's my prayer that I am also someone who is growing in a happy holiness.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Wild @ Leadership

Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment, but let me comment a bit on John Eldridge's Wild At Heart, especially as I think it pertains somewhat to leadership in the church.

One of my professors at seminary really disliked everything Eldridge wrote, and regularly referred to Wild At Heart as a great step backwards into patriarchical attitudes and the disempowering of the feminine voice. To listen to her, you'd get the impression that Eldridge was Bill Gothard: The Next Generation, wanting to place women back under God's chain of command the way ol' Bill thought she should be.

Of course, this particular professor also was reknown for her seething diatribes against all things Pentecostal, Charismatic, and especially the Vineyard, so I figured if she could be so passionately wrong about that, maybe her reaction to Eldridge was similarly over-stated.

There were a number of places where I found myself heartily agreeing with Eldridge, and others where I wasn't in agreement. But his discussion on the emasculation of men twigged an idea in my mind about the emasculation of leadership in the emerging church.
See? Even when reading a book that has nothing to do with the emerging church or leadership, somehow my mind ends up there anyhow...
One of Eldridge's biggest beefs is that he feels that our contemporary society has emasculated and "tamed" men, resulting in a lack of masculine identity and a host of males that fit into the category of a "shell of a man".
I don't share his view. :)
But to extrapolate his point: in some parts of the emerging church, I believe the same thing has been done to people with leadership gifting. In our rush to avoid the abusive and authoritarian models of church leadership that seem to crop up everywhere -- whether it's the CEO model where the "boss" controls everything and fires dissidents, or the "touch not the Lord's anointed" charismatic version that silences all but the "yes-men" -- many have tossed the Spirit-given gift of leadership out with the authoritarian bathwater.

Some house churches insist that their level playing field approach means that there's no leadership but God's. Usually, it only takes visiting these groups once or twice before the real leaders become fairly obvious.

You can't escape the reality that God has placed people within the Body who have been gifted by the Holy Spirit with leadership. To force people to squelch their spiritual gifts in order to preserve the status quo of the "level playing field" is emasculating (dis-empowering) the laity as much as any authoritarian hierarchical structure. To paraphrase an old saying, the answer to bad leadership is not "no leadership", but rather biblical, Spirit-gifted leadership.