Archive for January, 2008

Backlash to the Emerging Church

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

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Recently I received a letter with a rather withering criticism of CRM for being “sympathetic” to the emerging church movement. I think portions of my response are worth posting here so there is no misunderstanding as to our perspective on this movement.

Regarding the “emerging church” and CRM’s relationship to this renewal movement, I believe it is important to understand that this movement is not monolithic. It is very diverse. It should also not be confused with “Emergent” which is a specific organization here in the U.S. but which does not, however, represent the totality of “emerging churches” by any means.

The emerging church movement as a whole reflects a variety of theological perspectives, some of which I would agree with and some that would give me pause. But overall, I personally believe this is a movement of God which stands squarely in the flow of the great, historical renewal movements of the past 2000 years.

As in almost all renewal movements throughout the history of Christianity, it’s messy. That’s to be expected. There are always excesses,muddy thinking, and some level of deconstructionism that takes place when such change occurs. That was even true of the Protestant Reformation. I saw it myself in the Jesus Movement of the sixties and seventies in the U.S. and astute observers see many interesting similarities to today’s situation. Regardless, CRM is committed to serve the emerging church and to help in any way possible to develop and empower the leadership of this movement.

What God is undoubtedly doing is raising up, on the cultural fringes, a new generation of people who are faithfully and wholeheartedly followers of Jesus and true to the bible, but they are committed to living that faith out in an increasingly secular, postmodern world. From my experience, what I believe is most unsettling to the traditional Christian establishment is not primarily the theological nuances and questions that emanate from emerging churches, but forms and ecclesiological expressions that are outside the acceptable box. While some would attack the emerging church on theological grounds, my suspicion is the real backlash is primarily cultural. In many respects, the emerging church movement is profoundly biblical.

Bodies of Water and Relevant

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

My kids think I matured in a cave and missed all the pop culture of the 60s and 70s. Probably so.

But hey, they’re making up for it. David (our son) and his wife, Meredith, and their band, Bodies of Water, were reviewed and interviewed today in Relevant magazine to coincide with the release of their latest album. They were also recently featured on Rolling Stone’s blog for new music.

I thought the interview in Relevant was fascinating and would that I could be as articulate as David. His commentary on food, music, God, their latest tour, etc., are all enlightening. I particularly liked his answer about fashion since there are lots of folks out there who wish I would take such advice from my son. But hey, the last time I did that, he told me rather clearly, “Dad, that’s a pathetic attempt to be trendy.” So I have to act my age.

Their CD just hit the stores. Buy it! It will help put my grandkids through college, that is if David an Meredith get around to having them in between music tours.

High Level Complaining

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

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Richard Farson, author of Management of the Absurd and The Innovation Paradox writes the following about how to evaluate complaints and whining within an organization:

“The paradox is that improvement in human affairs leads not to satisfaction but to discontent, albeit a higher-order discontent than might have existed before. This is what historians have labeled the theory of rising expectations. It fuels the fires of revolution and change because it creates a discrepancy between what people have and what they now see is possible to have. That discrepancy is the source of discontent and the engine for change.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow had an interesting way of describing this phenomenon as it applied to the health of organizations. He advised managers to listen not for the presence or absence of complaints, but rather to what people were complaining about—that is, the quality or level of the complaint. He called them “grumbles.” In the least healthy organizations, Maslow said, you can expect to hear low-order grumbles – complaints about working conditions, about what he called “deficiency needs.” For example: “It’s too hot in here.” Or, “I don’t get paid enough.”

In a healthier organization, Maslow said, there would be high-order grumbles – complaints that extend beyond the self to more altruistic concerns for self or society.

There is the absurdity. Only in an organization where people are in on things and where their talents are being utilized would it occur to someone to complain about those higher-order issues. What this means to the manager is that improvement does not bring contentment but its opposite.

Absurd as it seems, the way to judge your effectiveness is to assess the quality of the discontent you engender, the ability to produce movement from low-order discontent to high-order discontent. Easing the dress codes raises expectations for further change, and they now want more informal days, looser codes, clearer policies. Pity the poor manager who can’t imagine how a well-intended action led to such grousing. The paradox of rising expectations helps us better understand why it is on the best campuses that there is the most restlessness and demand for change.”

Tough Times

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

I had coffee this past week with a close friend whose mortgage company is going through deep waters. As the whole industry in the U.S. is being roiled by the sub-prime crisis and the resulting credit crunch, his company is in a vice that he has never experienced in his several decades of business.

Inside the cover of his diary, he had pasted the following quote from Thomas Merton which is poignant considering the circumstances:

“Tribulation detaches us from the things of nothingness in which we spend ourselves and die. Therefore, tribulation gives us life and we love it not out of love for death, but out of love for life.

Let me then withdraw all my love from scattered, vain things—the desire to be read and praised as a writer, to be a successful teacher praised by my students, or to live at east in some beautiful place—and let me place everything in Thee, where it will take root and live, instead of being spent in barrenness.”

Kenya

Monday, January 14th, 2008

I talked today with the folks serving with CRM in Nairobi, Kenya.

This couple, who are actually Nigerian, have lived and ministered in this East Africa nation for the past 20 years. I asked about their impressions of the violence and upheaval that has roiled Kenya after the conflicted presidential election held in December, 2007. One observation they shared was sad.

“In the midst of the social turmoil, the church has been strangely silent. And unfortunately, tribal loyalties have too often trumped kingdom loyalties. The situation is another example of the crises of leadership that grips the African church.”

In a land where the Christian veneer appears as a pervasive covering over all of society, to hear of another situation where ethnic bloodletting is tolerated or even encouraged by those who claim to be followers of Jesus is disheartening. It has the all too familiar ring of earlier events in Rwanda and Uganda. It is another example of the transformational presence and power of Jesus being compromised and being rendered impotent because cultural captivity.

Decisive Leadership

Friday, January 4th, 2008

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A quote passed on from Bobby Clinton this week stimulated some thought:

“When the church was on the move and both the Roman and Jewish leaders were opposing it, someone had to make quick, Spirit-led decisions. And we can only imagine the kinds of issues that could have splintered this frail organization when the church leaped over its cultural boundaries to include Samaritans and Gentiles. Because Peter was a leader whose ego could endure the threat of disagreement and challenge he was not afraid to act. He was not careless, but he was not afraid to move, and under his leadership the church got things done. Peter was a leader who made decisions that mattered.”—from Handbook to Leadership-Leadership in the Image of God, by Boa, Buzzell and Perkins (pg. 14)

I’ve worked and led some strong leaders over the years. Sometimes they are referred to as leaders who lead “hard.” I believe there is a desperate need for such men and women throughout the contemporary Christian movement, but all too often we seem to want to beat out of these people the very characteristics that make them effective. That’s understandable because some of us have been bruised by such people. So we live in a time where collaborative leadership, buy-in, ownership, and facilitation are the prevailing values. Peter, Paul, or Moses probably wouldn’t fare to well.

When I’ve recruited or assumed responsibility for people with strong personalities, (Enneagram #8, ENTJ, High-D, Type-A people), there are several non-negotiables that I particularly look for if I am to coach, mentor or supervise them:

1. Character – Do they have integrity? When push comes to shove, will they do the right thing?

2. Teachability – Can they follow, genuinely submitting to to the leadership of others? Do they have the posture of a learner? Can they be corrected or do they behave like the stubborn fool that Proverbs repeatedly warns us about?

3. Emotional health – How great is their need for affirmation and validation? Are their emotional needs such that they will they suck me and others dry looking for approval? Will they demand strokes which no one can ever adequately provide and in reality, only God can give?

4. Spiritual Vitality – Can they hear from God? If so, are they responsive to the Spirit and the Word and going ever deeper in dependence upon Jesus? Is there evidence that their rough edges are being refined in the process of submission to God’s sanctifying rule?

It’s naive to mistake strong, decisive leadership for authoritarian, top-down leadership. If servant leadership, thoroughly biblical in nature, can be exercised effectively through a person like Peter, there is hope for many others. We shouldn’t shy from recruiting and sponsoring strong personalities into roles of responsibility just because they can be a handful. At the same time, I’m not interested in putting myself in a relational cusinart, trying to help someone who is out of touch with who they really are and exhibits some of the disqualifiers above. They key, as we see demonstrated in how Jesus dealt with the likes of Peter, was knowing the difference.

2008 Wish List

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

If I could wish for a few things in 2008, it would include:

1. An affordable hydrogen car to come on the market
2. A spam filter that really works
3. The end of TV reality show
4. The US dollar and British pound to be at parity
5. A food that includes the benefits of broccoli, carrots and bran but tastes like an In-N-Out burger.
6. All-news channels that are really that and not forums for argumentative, unintelligent wind-bags
7. A rush-hour drive on an uncrowded freeway
8. Presidential primaries and campaigning not to start until six months before an election
9. Beginning to teach children multiple languages in the 1st grade
10. At least six more inches in economy on international flights
11. Refrigerator ice-makers that don’t jam or break
12. Getting off the summons list for jury duty
13. Affordable solar heating, cooling and water systems for homes
14. A candidate who represents the diversity of Obama, the integrity of McCain, the shrewdness of Clinton, the intelligence of Biden, and the values of Huckabee.
15. A larger Trader Joe’s nearby
16. A main sewer line that won’t clog up on Christmas day when a dozen people are coming for dinner
17. A pill that you could take and eliminate jet lag
18. Grandkids