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.