Showing posts with label ecclesiology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ecclesiology. Show all posts

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Let's Meet At Peter's Cafe

Frans Johansson identifies two kinds of "ideas" in his little book "The Medici Effect" (Harvard Business School Press, 2006): Directional & Intersectional. "The major difference," he says, between a directional idea and an intersectional one is that we know where we are going with the former. The idea has a direction. Directional innovation improves a product in fairly predictable steps, along a well-defined dimension...The goal is to evolve an established idea by using refinements and adjustments. The rewards for doing so are reasonably predictable and attained relatively quickly" (pp. 18-19). The recently published ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship), heralded as a hymnal for a new generation, which will help congregations provide engaging worship focused on God's mission, is an example of a directional innovation. So is every effort to restructure and rehab our denominational offices. So is every plan to inspire young people in our high schools and on our college campuses to consider a "call to ministry" (i.e. putting in four years at seminary to become parish pastors). So are programs to "license" lay pastors in regions where there aren't enough ordained ministers to go around. "Intersectional innovations, on the other hand, change the world in leaps along new directions," Johansson says. "Intersectional innovations do not require as much expertise as directional innovation and can therefore be executed by the people you least suspect." He says interesectional innovations share these characteristics: They are surprising and fascinating; open up entirely new fields; provide a course of directional innovation for decades to come; and can affect the world in unprecedented ways. Many of us "in the church" - even those who have been at the forefront of pushing directional innovations - believe the time has come for intersectional innovation. In fact, I think many have advocated various directional ideas because they know something has to be done and haven't known what else to do. We feel in our bones that something in the culture has shifted and that "the church" as we have always known it is becoming and needs to become a new thing, or maybe a new-ancient thing. Or maybe it's the gospel itself we sense stretching, groaning against the confines of institution and tradition, calling us into newness of life and renewed mission. Whatever it is, we feel it. We know that just "refining" what we're already doing is insufficient...and maybe even irresponsible. Johansson may have something to offer here. He uses the term "intersectional" innovations because, he argues, these creative explosions only happen when you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, and cultures so that existing concepts can be combined with new ideas. He describes how to overcome the natural barriers that exist between fields, how to combine concepts and find combinations, how to ignite and capture ideas, how to work together through failure and across differences. He concludes:
"Today there are more reasons than ever to seek out the Intersection. Disciplines and cultures are connecting faster, more often, and in more places than ever before...We can all create the Medici Effect because we can all get to the Intersection. The advantage goes to those with an open mind and the willingness to reach beyond their field of expertise. It goes to people who can break down barriers and stay motivated through failures. But we can all do that. Most of us have a desire to connect ideas and concepts from our disparate backgrounds. So why not actively seek out these connections? While writing this book I met a vast number of people who were working in one area they find interesting, but at the same time expressed marked interest in another. Someone working in the nonprofit world might want to use their ideas for for-profit practices; another might wish to link two different cultures. "If I could just find a way to connect these fields, bring the pieces together," they say, "then I could come up with something exciting, something new." Well, they are right. In our world it actually makes sense to combine sea urchins with lollipops, guitar riffs with harp solos, and music records with airlines. In our world it makes sense for spiders and goat milk to have something in common or for a person to launch a solar cell company one day and a cookie company the next. Like the creators of fifteenth-century Florence, this is how we break new ground; this is how we innovate. The world is, in some ways, like a giant Peter's Cafe, the place where sailors from every port on the planet stop for a beer, a conversation, and a chance to mix and combine ideas. The world is connected and there is a place where those connections are made - a place called the Intersection. All we have to do is find it...and dare to step in" (pp. 189-190).
The ironic thing, of course, is that those of us "in the church" LIVE in the intersection. Our congregations, our synod councils, our churchwide assemblies ARE like a giant Peter's Cafe. "The church" - even in its current form - has gathered "sailors" (and teachers, nurses, mechanics, lawyers, moms & dads, plumbers, doctors, Little League coaches, senators, high school & college students, retirees, taxi drivers, homeless people, musicians, CEO's, insurance brokers, social workers, computer technicians, scientists, kids, and people of all races & classes & ethnic groups) from every port on the planet. The question I'm asking myself is: With such a diverse group gathered together, why so few creative explosions? Why so much hand wringing about how we can't pay our bills, can't find enough pastors to fill our pulpits, don't have more people filling our pews, can't even dream of starting or trying anything new? We have everything we need right here to spark the kind of innovation in "doing church" and "being church" that can affect the world in unprecedented ways! So, why so few surprises, so few leaps in new directions? What are we doing (or not doing) when we get together that prevents the barriers between disciplines from falling? What are we doing (or not doing) that prevents people from combining their ideas and igniting new ones? Why aren't people, in so many places across the church, talking to each other and mixing it up and learning from each other and trying new things? Or to flip this question around, where IS true intersectional innovation taking place "in the church?" Where will you find the insights and ideas of a CEO, a retired school teacher, a stay at home mom, a seminary professor, a carpenter, and a bishop all given equal weight (for REAL); encouraged to try new things; given permission to fail early and often; respected and valued because they see things differently than everybody else? Or let's just start here: Where are the ideas of a Frans Johansson considered just as interesting and just as valuable as those of a Karl Barth? Wherever "in the church" THAT is happening, I believe we'll see something new emerge, something world-changing. And, dare I say it, something HOLY.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Welcome Development?

Over the years, as the "emerging church" conversation became more and more popularized, it has tended to lean in the direction of style over substance. And I'm not sure it's out of the woods yet. But there are signs that something new is happening. For example, www.emergentvillage.com has teamed up with North Park University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary to sponsor a summer conference here in Chicago that might be worth checking out. Although, from my perspective, it still leans right (in fact, at least one member of the conversation - see link below - believes that, eventually, "emerging church" will fold into evangelicalism just like all of the other renewal movements of the past decades) this conference does feature a diverse line up of speakers, including women and people of color (although, interestingly, no Lutherans!)...in addition to the usual suspects. But here's the best part. This is from the web site describing the event:
You don't even have to be especially "emergent" to attend. "Missional" is a much broader term than "emerging", and we've invited speakers from a wide spectrum of belief and practice. All you need is a conviction that the church is at its best when it's giving itself away, and a desire to learn how to do that better in your own context.
"The church is at its best when it's giving itself away..." & our job is to "learn how to do that in your own context." Now, I would say that the church is ONLY the church when it's giving itself away...but I'm not going to be too picky. This is good stuff. The contextual piece (which was at the core of the early emerging conversation, even if it sometimes seemed to get lost along the way as emerging came to be identified with a particular way of worshipping) goes way over the heads of many mainliners, who still think everybody ought to be using the same hymnal. And we may be able to learn some things by listening in on this part of the conversation. (Note to conference planners: We'll learn the most, of course, if you're walking the walk and not just talking the talk. That means, among other things, practicing love and respect for those who come from congregations filled with little old ladies, pick-up truck owners, and migrant farm workers...and helping them understand more deeply what it means to "give themselves away" in their contexts.) But what's even more exciting to me is the emphasis on turning "the church" itself inside out. I'm increasingly convinced that "church" is what happens when we realize we can do more TOGETHER than we can on our own. It would be a good thing if that remained the driving force behind the emerging conversation...and within every faith community. I stuck a link to this conference over there on the right. What seems to be happening here is an interesting and possibly creative convergence of multiple "church renewal" streams. If it's for real, this would be a welcome development. Let me know what you think and if you plan to go. P.S. One of the profs at North Park had an interesting article about emerging church in Christianity Today a few months ago. It's worth a read. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Conversion of the Church...Again

A couple weeks ago, I gave a copy of "The Church Inside Out" to a friend whose ideas I've always really admired and who is one of the best thinkers I know. He had never heard of Hoekendijk before but he eagerly read the book overnight. In the morning, my friend said with a smile: "I just kept thinking, as I read it, 'Hey, I thought those were my ideas!'" Have you ever noticed how, really, nothing is new under the sun? For example, Darrell Guder is an influential participant in the missional church conversation. I have been especially influenced by his 2000 book, "The Continuing Conversion of the Church" in which he argues that we have to repent of the ways in which we have tried to "reduce" the gospel to individual salvation and trivialized God in order to make God "manageable." This has led, naturally, to a reductionist understanding of the church and its mission. Instead of a movement that God has set loose in the world to bear witness to the inbreaking kingdom, the church has taken shape as an institution, "its focus...more and more on the administration of salvation. Its worship centered on the message of individual salvation; its sacraments established and regulated the status of salvation; its doctrines sought to define and delimit salvation. The questions it asked and anwered were these: Who is saved? Who is not? How can one be sure? How can salvation be lost? How can it be guaranteed?...More and more the clergy became the special caste of Christians who managed everyone else's individual salvation...[and] the overriding problem repeatedly has been a control-driven combination of concerns for public order, institutional security, and the protection of power" (chapter 6). Just for fun, I made a list of the things Guder recommends for the conversion (i.e. renewal or transformation) of the church in this new century: 1. Start With Scripture: Ask The Right Questions, Expect Something To Happen, Act Like Christians 2. Order The Ministry For Mission: Redefine The Office (i.e. the job of a pastor is to make sure people are equipped for mission & ministry in their daily lives), Expect More, Catch Up With The Spirit 3. Call People To Mission: Keep The “So That” Front And Center (i.e. the gift of salvation is a call to discipleship), Be Clear about what God has done and is calling us to do 4. Conduct Evangelizing Worship: Expect Jesus To Show Up, Be Open To Change, Worship Is A Public Witness (not a private club), Let The Good News Happen (i.e. we should experience it not just hear about it when we gather) 5. Disagree Christianly: Expect Conflict, Remember That Jesus Is Lord 6. Let Mission Shape The Community: Move Away From Membership, Reverse The Flow - not gathering but sending - not in but out Want to know more? Read Guder's book. Or, you could read a little tract written in 1675 by Philipp Jakob Spener (another voice that deserves a new hearing) called "Pia Desideria." Here's his list: 1. Start With Scripture: Make This The Most Important Thing (for laity, too!), Read It In Context, Read It Together in Small Groups 2. Reform The Leaders: Leadership Begins With The Heart, Reform The Process of Shaping Leaders (i.e. seminaries...because the system we have instills arrogance and know-it-allism in them), Tear Off The Masks 3. Exercise The Universal Priesthood: Unmask The Devil (i.e. clericalism), Call People To Action 4. Deliver Evangelizing Preaching: Make It Real, Preach To Save People 5. Disagree Christianly: Stand Firm, But Love 6. Put Faith Into Action: Practice Love, Practice Accountability Separated by over 300 years of history, these two theologians (prophets?) were saying essentially the same things about what is needed to pull Christianity out of Christendom in order to rescue the followers of Jesus from bondage to hierarcy/clericalism/traditionalism/etc. and set them free to participate in God's loving mission in the world. The point is: Nothing's new. The question is: Why would we expect it to be? Each generation, in its own way, tries to put God into a little box so that we can take control of the gospel. And in each generation God raises up voices that call us to repentance. God raises up people who pray/work/hope/cry out for our conversion. This has been happening since Paul called Peter on the carpet for putting institutional concerns, church polity, and personal security ahead of gospel freedom (Galatians 2:11ff). It is happening today. I hope that, if you are one of those people who has been praying and working and hoping and crying out for the conversion of the church for the sake of God's loving mission in this world, you will know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Doors Are So Last Century

This is a shout out to the woman who grabbed me after my final presentation at the Open Hearts, Open Doors Conference in Duluth, Minnesota a week ago. (The mission of this annual, ecumenical conference is to assist congregations in becoming more welcoming to LGBT persons and their families. It's the first conference of this kind that I've spoken at and it was awesome to be invited.) With a furrowed brow, this lady - in her 60's or 70's - said this after spending a day and a half listening to me preach & teach:
"I don't know what I think about all this (i.e. your presentations)...It took so much work to open these doors to everyone...and now you're telling us, 'Why do you have doors at all?'...(long pause) and I think you're probably right. But I'm going to have to go home and spend some time thinking about this."
I really appreciated her honesty...and her willingness to wrestle with new ideas, including this one: Putting a sign on the front lawn of your church that says "Everybody is welcome here!" just doesn't matter...if no one "out there" can think of one good reason why they should care. In this postmodern, post-Christendom, post-ecclesiastical, post-bourgeois, post-personal, post-(you fill in the blank now) world people are no longer lining up to get through our doors. If they were, a welcome mat would be all we'd need. But they're not. They couldn't care less if "we" are ready to welcome "them" because they think we are irrelevant. And who can blame them. Mostly, we're answering questions they don't have. And it doesn't seem like we're even interested in the questions they do have. Let me say this another way: They don't think we're irrelevant because we're not welcoming them into our places of worship. They frankly don't care whether we welcome them or not because they don't believe we have anything they could possibly want or need. This is one reason I just can't get very excited about the "let's make our denomination more welcoming" project that consumes a lot of people inside every mainline church these days. It's not that I think we shouldn't be welcoming. That's a no brainer. It's just that the project to become "welcoming" is, in some really big ways, so...last century. In this new century, people "out there" don't care whether or not there is a congregation in their neighborhood that welcomes them. But I DO think they would be intrigued if they got to ACTUALLY MEET a living, breathing, believing, loving follower of Jesus on their home turf...in the house next door, in the cubicle next to them, working under the hood of their car, coaching their kid's little league team, running for city council, playing pool with them at the local pub. I think they would be really interested if they could see, in the way we ordinary Christians live and act and serve, what true freedom looks like. I think people would be moved to real curiosity if they ever found themselves in the presence of someone who shows them what it looks like to be really free...free from sin, death, and the devil (ala Martin Luther)...free from peer pressure, self-loathing, greed, bondage to material things, and all the other stuff that strangles the life out of people in this culture...free even from the suffocating politics and legalism and traditionalism of the institutional church...free to serve others, free to give themselves away to make a difference in the world, free to be the priests they were ordained to be at their baptism (no degree, no credentials necessary!), free to die to self for the sake of neighbor, free to love even their enemies! Hoekendijk again: "Rarely do our words arouse amazement, but people look up when they meet a free person who uses that freedom to serve" (1954). No one looks twice at our "welcome" signs, anymore. But heads snap when a free person walks by! In this new century, WE will be the only church that matters. Not the building. Not the pastor. Not the membership roster. Not the clergy roster. Not the rules. Not the sign on the front lawn...no matter what it says. WE are the church. I wonder what we would be fighting over, arguing about, and striving for if our heads were really wrapped around that idea.

The Bottom Line

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:13-14