Tuesday, September 4, 2007


What is “conversational prayer,” anyway? 

That was the initial thought in my mind – as a 16-year-old dishwasher at summer camp – when one of the guys in our cabin group suggested it as a way of wrapping up our Bible study one sweltering afternoon. As it turns out, conversational prayer allows everyone to contribute a sentence or two in closing prayer, versus just one person praying. 

Hardly what you’d call “living on the edge,” but it did break the routine at our theologically  conservative camp. However, what happened next was way outside our mental and/or spiritual grids. 

Wed gone about halfway around the circle, and suddenly, everyone became acutely aware of a dramatic shift in the room. None of us had asked for it, but suddenly, the Holy Spirit’s presence filled our cabin. 

I remember lying on the top bunk, looking up at the worn rafters – roughly autographed by a succession of campers over the years – and not knowing if I wanted to laugh or cry, but definitely feeling a surge of Life flowing through me. 

A few moments later – or was it longer? – that acute sense of the Spirit lifted as quietly as Hed arrived. After a short, hushed silence, the prayer time resumed. But as the final “amen” was spoken, whispers buzzed around the room. 

My coworker on the bunk below – the lovable and zany worker-in-training known as “Ferd” – peered at me over the edge of the bunk, eyes wide, voice hushed with awe. “Did you feel that?” I could only grin and nod. 

I sat up, minding the exposed rafters just above, and glanced around the cabin. Clearly, everyone had felt the Spirit's presence, even the two guys who claimed disinterest in Jesus (that changed dramatically over the next two days). 

No visions, prophecies, or speaking in tongues to report. But there wasn’t anyone in that room who hadn’t experience the Spirit’s manifest presence. We had no theological grid or vocabulary to explain it, but the experience was undeniable.

Long after that hot August night, the hunger for more of the Spirit continues.

Brother Maynard has suggested that, for the month of September, those of us who self-identify as post-charismatic should collectively broach what apostolic leadership could/should look like. I propose an intermediate step: I’ve just shared my earliest “charismatic” experience (after becoming a Christian, that is).

Whats your story? Lets invest the next month in sharing our Holy Ghost stories around the blogging campfire.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Dingy & Musty

The door slammed behind them, driven by the wind perhaps, or else the seedy wharf-side tavern itself had a strong disaffection to natural light entering its questionable environs.

“Dingy and musty, a haven for the nefarious,” the Younger opined, as he took in the sights and smells of the establishment.

“Not so loud,” the Elder cautioned. “The local clientele may not appreciate your literary wit as much as I do.”

They exchanged conspiratorial smiles and threaded their way through the crowded tavern to order their drinks, the Younger momentarily stymied by the unfamiliar assortment of ales proffered. As per their earlier agreement, of course, the Younger paid.

Once they had found a place to sit, in a shadowy booth near the back of the establishment, they continued their conversation from the street.

“You still haven’t convinced me,” the Younger began, ever the skeptic, “that a flat leadership structure is such a good idea.”

“Excuse medid I really say flat, or was it flattened?” the Elder countered.

The Younger made a sour face, either in response to the Elder’s question or possibly the unexpected taste of the unfamiliar ale. “You’re not going to start playing semantics with me, are you?”

A small group of rowdies, obviously enjoying some comrade-time after a long day of work, stumbled past their table, at once merry and bawdy. The Elder seemed barely to notice their passage as he responded.

“It’s an important distinction.” A pause for another sip of ale. “There’s really no such thing as a totally ‘flat’—or leader-less—group. Every group has a leader. It’s more a matter of how many unnecessary or redundant layers of leadership there are, that get in the way of the rest of the gathering actually participating. So, I’m all for flattened leadership, but I don’t believe in flat leadership.”

The Younger frowned and studied the dark liquid before him before answering. "But I’ve heard quite a few people talking about their gatherings as being completely ‘round table’, following the leading of the Spirit alone. Are you saying they’re lying, or possibly delusional?”

“I wouldn’t put it in those exact terms,” the Elder laughed, raising his hands in mock surrender. “They’re probably quite sincere in their desire for such a group, but it simply doesn’t exist.”

“Well, then, I guess it’s my turn to play ‘devil’s advocate’. The Younger grinned, tossing his napkin down on the table with as much force as the thin paper product would allow. “Consider this the ‘gauntlet of challenge’, my friend. Surely there's some way of having a leaderless group that has a truly flat, repeat flat, leadership.”

The Elder gazed at the scoured wall above the back of the booth’s bench for a moment, not really seeing the faded and stained painting of a ship in high seas masquerading as art. “Yes, I suppose such a group is possible, as long as it (A) is made up of people who already have a long-standing shared history, (B) is small in number, and (C) intentionally does not allow new members to be added to the group.”

“The previously-established relationships would be more likely to safeguard the ethos of the group, and the small numbers would put relationships on a high enough premium that a certain—oh, how shall I say it?—status quo could be preserved. And by preventing the addition of outsiders, the group would be protected from people who don’t have the same shared history and concern for maintaining the relational balance, and who might introduce new ideas or direction.”

The Younger came perilously close to spewing his mouthful of ale across the booth, so shocked was his reaction. “Wow, that’s got to be the most unexpected thing I’ve heard come out of your mouth in... well, I don’t know, maybe ever,” he sputtered. “Why would you assume that new people would bring new ideas that would threaten the group? If somebody came in and tried to change the group, they would just have to be corrected. With ‘gentleness and respect,’ as St. Peter said, of course.”

The Elder leaned across the table, his eyes locked with the Younger’s. “And who would do that correcting? The whole group? That would seem like over-kill, I’d think, and the newcomers would probably run for the hills.”

The Younger toyed with the rim of his glass for a moment. “Okay, point made. Somebody would have to take the responsibility to deal with it, BUT . . .” he also leaned across the table. “The existing group would have already agreed on the direction of the group, so he or she would be speaking on behalf of the group, not just on their own authority.” And he settled triumphantly into the creaky bench seat once again.

The Elder raised his eyebrows. “So, would we then have to assume that the original ‘vision,’ if you will, of the first members of the group is binding on all who come later, and that none of the newcomers could possibly have something meaningful to contribute?”

The Younger opened his mouth to reply, thought better of it, and glanced around the booth, the nearby well-imbibed patrons, and the dimly-lit bar. Finally, with a rueful grin, he said, “I hate it when you do this.”

The Elder sighed and slumped his shoulders ever so slightly. “I’m sorry, that was more harsh than I intended. I’ve had some good friends really burnt in this area, and sometimes, like now, that affects how I say things. Forgive me?”

“Of course,” the Younger immediately replied. “I guess when it affects real, live people, it’s different than when we’re just discussing theoretical possibilities, eh?”

The Elder nodded. “We need to probably look at the impact of ministry among the poor, and how it affects the dynamics of flattened leadership as well, but let’s leave that one for later.” He smiled knowingly. “I have a feeling that might be a ‘live round of ammo’ kind of discussion as well. I’ll buy next time, of course,” he finished with a wink.

“Sounds fair,” the Younger agreed, glancing once more around the loud environs. “By the way, what are we doing here? This place is nothing like our usual spot.”

The Elder took an appreciative glance around the somewhat-less-than-trendy drinking hole. “Oh, several thousand millenia ago, when I was a college student, I used to come here after a long day at a summer job with my co-workers. This place is a good yardstick for me, whenever I start taking my ideas and myself perhaps a little too seriously.”

“How’s that? A yardstick? Are you going pre-Metric System on me again?” the Younger asked, feigning a puzzled look as he shrugged into his jacket.

The Elder favored him with a withering look before leaning across the table once more, his eyes now taking in the scene around them.

“Look at the people who would call this their ‘regular third place’. Do you suppose any one of them gives a rat’s patookus about modernity, postmodernity, or even calling a tavern their ‘third place’? That’s what I mean. This place reminds me not to create yet another layer of Christendom between myself and Joe Average or Jane Anybody.”

The Younger took another look at the regular patrons of the tavern, with a new sense of appreciation. “Well, at least we’re being ‘incarnational’, by being here, eh?” he quipped, as they got up to leave.

The Elder chuckled as their threaded their way back to the outside street, under the quickly-descending light of dusk. “Yes, I guess we’re more ‘authentic’ this way, but as long as our conversation in this place is on another plane of existence from the rest of the patrons, I’m not sure we're really all that much closer. But we’re getting there. Bit by bit, I really do believe we’re getting there.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Faded Jeans Blues

Have you ever loved a pair of blue jeans? Whether they be Levis or some designer label, stone-washed or acid-washed, boot-cut or bell-bottom? You know, just an incredibly comfortable, worn-forever pair of blue jeans? 

I just had to part ways with a pair that Ive worn literally into rags. It was hard to do. They were just so danged comfortable, so familiar, so dependable. 

It takes a while to get jeans broken in so they fit like they were created from whole cloth just for you. These jeans qualified. They were comfortable, well-broken-in, and finding them in the dryer while folding laundry felt like opening the door and seeing a long-lost friend. 

Whenever I looked in the bottom drawer of my dresser for pants, if they were thereeven on the bottom of the pileI’d dig them out without a second thought. 

They were getting pretty thread-bare. Holes in the knees had been followed by holes in the thighs. These holes not only got larger, but conspired to expand toward each other. The cuffs were hopelessly frayed from countless times of scuffling along the ground. The pockets, once trust-worthy repositories for coins, guitar picks, and a flash drive, began to betray my faith by allowing valuables to escape. 

The belt loop where I always clipped my car keys with a biner (pronounced beener) was now only attached at one end, an impotent reminder of its former useful self. 

Clearly, it was time to send these once-functional, well-loved companions to the Great Denim Warehouse in the Sky. Yet, it proved more difficult than I first anticipated. Familiarity and shared history, combined with good memories of days past, can make it difficult to do what should be obvious. 

Yes, my faded, worn-and-torn, ripped up blue jeans were hardly even functional by this point ... but they were comfortable, familiar, and getting rid of them would mean starting all over with a new, unbroken-in, unfamiliar pair. I wasn’t ready to face that just yet. 

Just days ago, I pulled them out of the dryer, glanced inside, and realized (a) the back pocket had had a falling out with the rest of the pant leg, meaning my butt would be unceremoniously exposed, (b) the crotch could do the same at any second, and (c) Im not young and hip enough to wear some crazy boxers underneath and call it stylish. 

So, left without options, I accepted the inevitable, although not without a twinge of remorse. I wadded my denim companions into as tight a ball as possible, and slam-dunked their faded and tattered remains into the garbage can under our kitchen sink. Farewell, good and faithful steed. 

Well, what do you think? 

Is this story really a metaphor for something else, or am I just writing about an old pair of jeans?


Thanks for all the comments and imaginative metaphors you thought I’d created. But no – I was just writing about an old pair of Levis. I hope that’s not too disappointing, but if so, why not try your hand at a creative church-related metaphor? Why should I have all the fun?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Final Worm on the Subject (Exiles #6)

This is it – I swear – the final utilization of worms as a pictoral metaphor whilst I wax expressive on Michael Frost’s worthy tome, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. This book rocks and should be in the Top 10 list of must-reads.

That being said, some parts drove me up the wall and halfway across the ceiling, inspiring an earlier reaction of:

“Frosty, I’m gonna drag you by the ankles over shards of broken glass before dumping your sorry carcass into a shark-infested pool of iodine …”*

*overwrought attempt at a comical metaphor 

Allow me to explain.

The final two chapters of Exiles are dedicated to singing the “dangerous songs” of the Kingdom. Frost continues to provoke us to live beyond a “Sunday go to meeting” faith, and he takes a hard look at sappy, self-indulgent, and theologically insipid worship.

Hearty applause: Frost and I are on the same page when it comes to ridding ourselves of safe and uninspiring ditties.

Standing ovation: Frost rejects converting “worship services” into evangelistic events, concerned that this will water down our worship.

But then Frost dives into the “feminization of the church” pond, and I find myself scrambling for my hip-waders.

I find it curious (and disturbing) that so many in the emerging/missional stream seem determined to pit God’s transcendence against His imminence. I’ve covered this before in Near/Far and Near/Far: 2nd Iteration, so I wont go over all that ground again. But I’d like to point out a couple of places where Frost seems to be playing fast and loose with Scripture when defending his point of view.

Frost makes the case that our current view of Jesus is so transcendent and doctrinal that we’ve lost sense of His humanity. I have no argument with his observation, but then Frost claims the early creeds “domesticated” Jesus, over-emphasizing His divinity.

Frost writes:

“Jesus isn’t romanticized in the earliest creeds. He is presented in flesh and blood, very real and very dangerous. Sadly, the early church was quick to move beyond the very earthy, actional description of Jesus in the Gospels to a more ontological one in the creeds ... I can’t help but wonder which came first: the impulse to sanitize and tame Jesus by encasing Him in abstract theology, thereby removing our motivation for discipleship, or our natural repulsion toward discipleship that forced us to domesticate Jesus to let us off the hook.

Respectfully – shards of glass metaphors aside – while I agree with Frost's basic point, it makes zero sense to me to suggest the early creeds were intended to “domesticate” Jesus or downplay His humanity. Any student of church history knows that the creeds were written to affirm and defend the reality of the Incarnation. The Gnostics and Docetists were the ones trying to purge the idea of Jesus as fully human and fully divine. Why Frost tries to assert the opposite is beyond me.

In the closing chapters of Exiles, he does something similar with Biblical passages on worship. Frost chafes at the “24/7 worship” view of heaven, and tries to debunk the idea by quoting Revelation 21:1–4, which speaks of the justice and societal equity found in heaven, as foretold in Isaiah 65:19–23.

However, he neglects to mention that the fourth chapter of Revelation describes, in great detail, an impressive worship concert which includes creatures that appear to exist for only one purpose: non-stop, 24/7 worship. I found Frost’s selective use of Scripture disappointing.

In the final chapter, Frost denounces “Jesus is my boyfriend” worship songs. I don’t like sappy worship, either, but there’s a difference between sugary and simplistic love ballads, and songs of spiritual intimacy. Frost disagrees, and suggests that song lyrics that speak of “loving” Jesus are “sexually charged” and therefore inappropriate for worship. Frost prefers to substitute “loving” Jesus with “obeying” Him, citing John 14:15, 21, 23–24 as proof.

I’d agree that loving Jesus includes obeying Him, but I wouldn't make the two synonymous. For example, a teenager may “obey” their parents by taking out the garbage, but love may have nothing to do with it. A self-serving recognition that obedience = car keys on Friday is an equally plausible explanation.

Ideally, we obey Jesus because we love Him. Thats not true to everyone ... fear of divine retribution or a desire to twist His arm to answer our prayers could also be the root of our obedience. Equating love with obedience is inadequate.

Another selective use of Scripture that jumped out at me was Frosts repeated appeals to the exilic passages in Isaiah (41:13–14, 43:1–6, 49:25–26, 61:8–9) about God’s care and promised redemption of the Babylonian exiles, while ignoring the Psalms that talk about our love for God (Psalm 13:5, 18:1–3, 25:7) and God’s love for us (Psalm 36:7, 48:9, 57:10).

Worship is, as A.W. Tozer called it, a multi-faceted jewel, and many times we’ve over-emphasized some things while neglecting others. But we need to be careful when balancing between imminence and transcendence, devotion and action, intimacy and reverence. The same God who said “Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)” also declared "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice … (Isaiah 58)?”

And that is my final worm on the subject.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Fifth of Worms (Exiles #5)

I didnt anticipate writing an entire Series of Worms out of my reading of Frosts Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. Id probably advocate this book as being near the top of any list of books to read about the emerging/missional church. Exiles provoked, at various times, a range of reactions:

Deep thought,

Hearty agreement,

“You're reading my mail” resonance,

“I’ll have to think more on that” reflection, and

“Frosty, I’m gonna drag you by the ankles over shards of broken glass before dumping your sorry carcass into a shark-infested pool of iodine.”

Any book that evokes such a wide range of reactions qualifies as a good read. I’ll explain my last reaction in a later post. In today’s post, I’ll comment briefly on Frost’s chapters on justice, the poor and persecuted, and on the inclusion of ecology and environmentalism in our stewardship of Creation.

Frost cranks out a lengthy and devastating list of human rights abuses around the world, horrendous depictions of the torture and murder of Christians, observations and predictions on the ecological rape of Planet Earth …

Whew – by the end of these two profoundly disturbing chapters, I felt overwhelmed and useless. The implications for Christian responsibility in every one of these areas are mind-numbing and soul-sucking in their enormity.

Where to even start? I’m just a blogger. I suppose I could post links to justice-oriented websites, but the longer I thought about it, the more pathetically childish the idea seemed.

What I finally came around to was simply this:

Pick one.

Poverty. The persecuted church. Environmental responsibility. Racial injustice. Homelessness. Immigration reform.

Just pick one. Do something. Anything. Don’t let the enormity of it all overwhelm you.

Pick one.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Semi-Worms (Exiles #4)

Today’s daily serving of wormage (chock full of natural flavor, taste, and over 1800 essential vitamins and nutrients in a savory sauce) comes courtesy of chapter eight of Frost’s sagacious tome, Exiles.

“Working for the Host Empire” explores how missional Christians should view their workplace or career. While that’s not news to many of us, Frost does an excellent job of sorting through the old dualistic, Plato-inspired, “sacred vs. secular” dichotomy, focusing particularly on our concept of vocation.

As usual, Frost stimulated the grey matter between my ears (which, according to CSI, resembles a bowl of worms – coincidence?), and I’d like to add my two cents to a thought that Frost presents:

“We routinely refer to people ‘receiving the call’ to Christian service, whether to church leadership or the mission field … We can easily think of a friend entering church-ordained ministry as following God, but rarely do we speak of a decision to become a computer programmer or a nurse or a filmmaker or an accountant as similarly following God’s calling in our lives (Exiles, page 185).”

Frost makes some excellent points about the impact of churches succumbing to a dualistic, sacred/secular divide, resulting in everyday congregants Joe and Josephine feeling there’s no God-given “call” on their vocational lives. It was all up to them – go ahead, choose a profession. Any profession. Just remember to tithe in support of pastoral staff who answered a call.

It never occurred to Joe or Josephine – and no one encouraged them – to ask God for His input on their vocational path.

Funny aside from that same mindset:

I have friends who, back in the day, actively avoided praying about their vocation, out of a knee-jerk suspicion that if they allowed God to have His say, they’d end up doing something they hated in a location where angels feared to tread.

If, instead, we began with the expectation that everything we are and have is God’s, praying for His “call” in our vocation would be the normal, default setting.

Or as my good friend, Nico-Dirk, once said, “What’s all this talk about ‘giving’ ourselves to God? If you’re a Christian, God already owns your entire a**!”

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Third Degree Worms (Exiles #3)

We now continue with the Series of Worms, not to be confused with the Diet of Worms.

I’m part way through reading  Michael Frost's excellent Exiles, but I thought I’d add me add a little disclaimer. This is neither a review nor a rebuttal of Exiles. It’s more like espresso for the brain, provoking me to thought and reflection.

So, yeah, Exiles is the inspiration for my wormy series – a sure sign of a well-written book.

Frost spends part of chapter six on the place of monastic “rules” in creating what he calls “missional communitas.” The Rule of St. Benedict is one example among many. A number of emerging/missional groups are already their wagons around a monastic order.

The “monastic rule” is a mutally agreed-upon set of practices, values, and commitments. As Frost is quick to point out, individual communities embracing this approach do so in creative, unique ways. “Re-monking the church” – a phrase Frost borrows from Stuart Murray’s Post-Christendom – helps everyone to know what they’re signing up for. I’ll resist calling it a “vision statement,” although that’s basically what it is. The monastic rule(s) also function as a community litmus test: are we actually doing what we said we were going to do?

Positive outcomes that come immediately to mind:

  • The rule’s objectivity helps instill “ownership” of the vision within the community
  • A clear commitment to the rule helps newcomers hit the ground running
  • When life gets complicated – as it inevitably does – the rule provides an objective standard to measure against, and a vision to call the group back to.

On the other side of the coin, however …

The now-infamous Shepherding Movement began in the 1970s as a way of providing discipleship and accountability, but quickly degenerated into a system of control and spiritual abuse, wreaking havoc on thousands of Christians.

I see some parallels in the adoption of monastic rules that require careful thought, lest we see a similar train wreck. The sociological milieu that fostered a climate where the Shepherding Movement could flourish share an uncanny resemblance with the early 21st century.

Then: Many anti-establishment hippies become followers of Jesus through the Jesus Movement, but harbor an ingrained distrust of "the man" (authority)
Now: Emerging generations of Jesus-followers harbor an ingrained suspicion and distrust of hierarchical, CEO-style leadership (authority)

Then: A genuine hunger for relationships; communes with little or no connection to established churches sprang up
Now: A genuine hunger for relationships; destructured house groups/simple churches/monastic <i>communitas</i> with little or no connection to established churches spring up

Then: Cultural changes (the aftermath of Vietnam, Watergate, and the 1960s in general) created anxiety in many, resulting in a felt need for stability and some level of certainty
Now: Cultural changes (post-modern cultural transition, “fatherless generation”) create anxiety and restlessness, resulting in a felt need for relational stability and some level of certainty

Then: Sincere, older believers seek to disciple “outside the box” Jesus-followers through books, cassettes, conferences, and personal mentoring
Now: Sincere, older believers seek to disciple “churchless faith” Jesus-followers thourgh books, blogs, websites, cohorts, and monastic orders/rules (Note: discipleship rebranded as “spiritual formation”)

Then: The question of accountability and authority becomes problematic; “covering” and being “under authority” teachings are given prominence
Now: The question of accountability and authority continues to be problematic; despite the Shepherding Movement’s collapse, “covering and authority” teachings have not gone away, and monastic rules risk becoming rigid and censorious under pressure.

Then: While not originally intended, hierarchical power structures evolve to safeguard conformity to accepted standards
Now: While not originally planned, community power – with the spoken or implied threat of “shunning” – evolves to safeguard conformity to accepted standards, rules, and/or commitments.

I’m not suggesting it’s inevitable that monastic communitas (what’s the plural of that?) will devolve into Shepherding Movement: TNG. But if we naively assume that it couldn't possibly happen, I’d suggest taking a step back to invest some careful, community-wide thought into building safeguards into the monastic rule.

The potential for good all but demands it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Kan Van Wormen (Exiles #2)

Kan Van Wormen is Dutch for “can of worms” (more or less). That should make my good friends, Nico-Dirk & Diana Van Loo, happy Dutch campers.

Michael Frost, in his book Exiles, has a couple of interesting observations about liminality and communitas:

“Those who have emerged from a liminal state are able to bring a challenge to normal society about the meandering ordinariness of life … As people undergo liminality and communitas in whatever forms, they should be able to return to normal, structured church society and engage in this important dialectic (Exiles, page 112).”

I’ve been involved in youth and young adult ministry since the original Miami Vice made its debut. I’ve lost track of the number of times YWAMers (or other short-term NGOs) returned to their home church, only to become frustrated and disillusioned by the church’s apparent disinterest, if not outright dismissal, of their liminal experiences.

The results were easily predictable: frustrated YWAMers gave up and went back to where life made sense and they felt understood and appreciated – YWAM. This, in turn, reinforced the resentful perception that para-church NGOs are “stealing” gifted young people from their churches.

The counter-punch argument usually sounds something like, "Well, if the church would just do what it’s supposed to be doing, the para-church wouldn’t be needed.” I can’t in good conscience subscribe to that mindset – although I’ll freely admit that, in my early pastoral years, I was guilty of giving it voice.

If repentance = changing your mind, then I’ve repented.

I think several things are going to have to change in the next few years:

Churches will start listening, carefully and strategically, to the liminal fringe.

The line between church and para-church will/needs to be erased. Para-church isn’t valuable only if the church fails at its mission. Para-church NGOs (liminal ministries) are part of the church and must be allowed to impact the rest of the church.

What if – instead of wracking their brains for more “felt need” attractional programs – churches invested in short-term liminal communitas that attract people who are motivated by service, rather than felt needs?

The mind boggles. Who knew Kan Van Wormen could be so nourishing (and tasty)?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Can O’ Worms (Exiles #1)

I’ve in the midst of reading Michael Frost’s Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, which I highly recommend. I’m only half-way through, and it’s encouraged, challenged, frustrated, and caused me to repeatedly set it aside so I could muse over the implications and dream about the possibilities. Books that accomplish this are gems.

Frost introduces the concept of communitas early in the book, which he describes as a community with a goal beyond its own existence. In order words, it’s not community for community’s sake, but rather community gathered around a shared missional vision.

Frost couples this with liminality – a radical middle season where faith, uncertainty, and experimentation are embraced and explored. It functions something like a spiritual version of chaos theory:

“Complex systems tend to locate themselves at a place we call ‘the edge of chaos.’ We imagine the edge of chaos as a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy.

“It is a zone of conflict and upheaval, where the old and the new are constantly at war … Finding the balance point must be delicate – if a living system drifts too close, it risks falling over into incoherence and dissolution; but if the system moves too far away from the edge, it becomes rigid, frozen, totalitarian. Both conditions lead to extinction.

“Too much change is as destructive as too little. Only at the edge of chaos can complex systems flourish.”

~ Michael Crighton, The Lost World

Where Frost’s comments open a can o’ worms in my mind – making me think long and hard – is the intersection between communitas and liminality.

Here’s the rub, or the “splinter in your mind, driving you mad,” as Morpheus says in The Matrix: A lot of people are currently detoxing from church, and have a visceral reaction to a typical churchs insistence on one-size-fits-all vision statements. They’re wary of a leadership approach that says, in essence, “Get with the program or find a new church.”

A popular phrase many church-exiters have adopted is the cryptic, “We had to stop going to church to learn how to be the church.” 

They can usually be found congregating in house/simple churches. And then along comes Michael Frost, suggesting that community that exists only for its own sake (just “being”) is self-centered and narcissistic.

Communitas is a deep community, but its based on a common goal or vision. The can o’ worms is the edge of chaos between genuine community that doesn’t revolve around “performance,” and yet is still intentional about the advancing Kingdom.

See what I mean? This book is making me ponder. What do yall think? Is communitas just another version of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss?”

Or is it possible that a season of just “being” the church is one leg in the journey, not the destination?

I think I’ll serve this can o’ worms with a side of fries and some salsa picante. Got me some more readin’ and ponderin’ this evening!