My friends, Dave Fitch & Ed Stetzer in part two of their missional conversation - with the focus, Can Megachurches Be Missional?
Our middle child (and second son), Rylan was born in the late morning, 21 years ago today. I'm convinced he entered the world talking in complete sentences - he was winning arguments with us shortly after his 2nd birthday. (We had to revert to the "because we are your parents" defence way too often.)
Ry is brilliant (Dean's list - I'm not just bragging), funny, very musical (drums, keys, vocals, harmonies, recording engineering) & still winning arguments (with us still, occasionally, reverting to the argument above).
The shot below is from a gig he and his older brother, Liam, did two years ago - their band, Substance Over Style. Rylan, Liam and their younger sister, Kaili have a new band with the intriguing name, Kinnon - more to be heard about them at a later date.
Rylan is in his final year of his undergrad at Victoria College, University of Toronto.
His mother and I are very proud of him and thankful for what God has done and is doing in Ry's life.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RYLAN!
As some of you are aware, there are hours of footage in the Medri Kinnon vaults waiting to be turned into finished productions. Imbi's documentary on Church Leadership in the 21st Century is probably the longest and most involved. One of the important voices in that doc and one of our favourite people on this topic is Bishop Graham Cray.
Graham, and his beautiful wife Jackie (an Anglican rector), were in Toronto for Wycliffe's ReFresh conference in the early summer and Imbi and I shot a conversation with Graham and Wycliffe's Annette Brownlee talking about the launch of Fresh Expressions Canada.
Graham was one of the people behind the Mission-shaped Church document that led to the creation of Fresh Expressions in the UK - a partnership between the Anglican Church of England, the Methodist Church and the wider UK church community. Early this year, Graham became team leader of Fresh Expressions.
In Part I of the interview, Bishop Cray talks about the history of FX, it's application in the North American context and the monetary costs of creating a local fresh Expression of Church. The interview is introduced by Nick Brotherwood, FX Canada's Team Leader (and all round good guy).
I can't speak highly enough of my friend, Andrew Jones. The French phrase, joie de vivre comes to mind when I think of Andrew. And though I have yet to meet the rest of the Jones clan, I can only assume that joy infects the entire family.
Andrew is a missional conspirator. (Conspire = to breath together.) And he inspires those he meets and works with to both live and share the gospel - in a winsome manner.
Like many missionary families who live by faith, the Jones Family has been rather severely impacted by the global recession. Giving is way down. This morning Andrew issued an urgent appeal for support on his blog. Would you join us in supporting the important missional endeavour the Jones Family is engaged in? Please.
A couple of things jumped out at me as I scanned blogdom and Twitter this morning. The first was Jonny Baker's post, it's clearly richard sudworth day - that pointed at Sudworth's post - which, as Jonny puts it, is "a very poignant critique of the over against rhetoric of kester brewin and pete rollins."
i often get asked what i think of pete's work and usually respond by saying that i love having his voice in the conversation but it's not the only voice i want to hear. i loved the book how not to speak of god. but this conversation reminds me a little bit of the book nation of rebels: why counter culture became consumer culture which makes a powerful critique that the over against rhetoric of liberals who talk a good game round the dinner table about the evils of the system and overcoming it are not the people who effect real change in society. it's the people who have engaged in the public square, engaged in civil rights marches and so on - often long slow painful processes - who have done more. on reading that book i was challenged to think that actually being alternative is a poor strategy for change... (emphasis added)
Sudworth commenting on Kester Brewin's Christians as Pirates attempted meme, says,
What I sense in Kester's piece on piracy, and indeed in Pete Rollins' publications, is a de-centred viewpoint. Both are keen to articulate a place from the periphery that is "unorthodox", "heretical" or "piratical", in their terms. I'm reminded of Alasdair MacIntyre's assessment of contemporary society which has lost any sense of objective morality or authority; one that is working with the "fragments" of moral traditions. The arguments are pieced together, magpie-like, from sociology, philosophy, contemporary culture, with the occasional leitmotif of scripture (I won't even begin a critique of the cod-populist vision of Jesus the de-bunker of Jewish tradition, the anti-authoritarian on a mission that is all about correcting the wrong road of Judaism that Kester offers!). But this de-centred moral perspective forgets the one essential lesson of postmodernity: that all our standpoints are situated; there is no "view from nowhere".
What I feel I am left with if I'm to take seriously "the fidelity of betrayal" and a "plea for Christian piracy", is a moral vision centred on the individual and thus a "theology" that is yet another rotten fruit of modernity, (there are times when I wonder whether I should read this material acknowledging a wink and tongue-in-cheek at the hyperbole, but the gravitas afforded published books, my experience of their persuasiveness amongst Christians and the earnest hopes of the project (?) suggest I should be treating them seriously!). Kester and Pete are in danger of articulating something that is always and intrinsically "over and against" (the "empire" of the church). So where is it? Kester poses the question "what should we think of the Somali pirates", suggesting the global geopolitics of western oppression might give an alternative vision of who the real baddies are. Well, if you ask a poor Somali woman whose children have been killed by the Somali warlords growing rich on the piracy (for that is yet another side of the story), the answer would be a no-brainer. The point is that there is a coherent moral vision to be applied, inescapably, and we practice that moral vision in community and in our tradition. What i would describe as "an ecclesiology of iconoclism" is in fact licence for the individualism and self-referencing that i know Pete and Kester would otherwise disdain. The example of the shift from "pirate radio to BBC" and "Napster to Spotify" betray more than a whiff of the romance of the new, the trendy and the latest: a vision of consumerist heaven confirming my suspicions?
In the comments on Sudworth's post, Jason Clark adds,
I remember reading a well-known emerging-church blogger who wrote an autobiographical piece on why he had left his church. He described how the members of the church drove in their cars past the poor, the homeless and drug addicts, on their way to spending their money on putting on a Sunday worship service, having bypassed the needs around them.
It was enough for him, showing how the people of his church had failed to engage with the poor, to justify the leaving of his church. He had taken 'action' against the failings of his church community.
I did wonder why the author was unable to stop himself on the way to the service, why had he not tried to minister and invite the other members of his community to serve the poor with him.
Perhaps then something amazing and truly revolutionary could have taken place instead.
And beyond romanticizing ourselves as pirates, we know that real pirates do not form a life with others, but conquer, control, steal, loot, pillage, and bends all things towards their own ends and self creation, controlling others with fear and intimidation.
I confess a profound weariness with the kool kids who want to blow up the present church to create what - a groovy new way of doing church? Who spend more time dancing with the words of Foucault, whilst wearing Lyotard's - than struggling with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
But then I see something like this - via @lensweet on Twitter. The Horner Homemaking House.
"Having a facility that truly models the home environment will allow students to put into practice the foundational principles learned in the classroom.This is an exciting and practical way to impact a future generation of families in a way no other conservative theological institution can," Terri Stovall, dean of women's programs, says.
It is only the healthy fear of the strong Estonian-Canadian woman I am married to that prevents me from writing words of which Patrol Magazine completely approves. You have got to be kidding me! A Homemaking House. This isn't a "conservative theological institution," it's a white bread, lost-in-the-50's school that has confused American Consumerism with the church. God help us all.
Both stories remind me of Imbi's favourite lyric from a Bruce Cockburn song, The Trouble with Normal is it Always Gets Worse. And the normal at both ends of the Church conversation just seems to get worse.
The last word goes to Sudworth,
What story are we a part of? If we own the Christian story, we have a responsibility to bless and be blessed by the whole church; to challenge and be challenged by the whole church. There is truth and there is authority; we just don't have the complete take on what that truth and authority is.
UPDATE: Read Kingdom's Grace's take.
Bob Hyatt has some fun with my previous post - a response to his two recent Out of Ur posts - There Is NO Virtual Church 1 & 2.
In his response he points to the Perry Noble video (also discussed @ Out of Ur) where Perry goes off on those leaders who would dare express concern about Video Venues (and, by extension, "Internet Church" one might reasonably suppose.)
Perry's argument is basically, 'I have a big church. You don't. Since size is proof of God's favor, shut up.' Pure power pragmatism - the engine that drives much of the Western Church. (UPDATE: Read my friend Dan's post on Perry's video.)
Bob then decides to add a bit more fuel to the discussion's fire and says,
...here's where I'll go ahead and tick off the other side of the spectrum.
Me and my buddies sitting around the firepit in my backyard is not church either - absent things like praying together, teaching the Word to one another, the sacraments, some sense of accountability and discipline, biblical eldership (and many other things)...
What I'm saying is that it's easy to look at the internet church and call it lacking and silly. Shooting fish in a barrel.
But I think the "de-churched" movement makes the same exact mistakes (albeit in a less technophile way) and just doesn't see it.
What follows is most of my response from the comment section of Bob's post.
As to shooting fish in a barrel, I hate fish but I will comment on the de-churched.
At one level, if one is a believer in Jesus Christ, it is impossible to be de-churched. It is possible, however to be De-Institutionally Churched. (And yes, we will avoid the acronym for that.)
Most of the folk I know who have walked away from the Institutional Church had been leaders therein and were rather badly hurt in their experiences. The "Not EVEN Virtual Church" of their experience left them profoundly gun-shy on one hand, and craving something a little closer to what they saw promised in the New Testament. (Though thankfully, the NT is full of problematic expressions of church as it tells God's story of real people.)
Relationships across fire pits where conversation continues into the wee hours of the morning, speaking of the things of God with wounded brothers and sisters who hunger for a holistic Gospel is a lot closer to a "virtual church" than is the consumer-driven model of much, if not most of the church in the West. (As the graphic says: Virtual = almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.)
Focus on the Sunday morning service, on the primary importance of the preaching/teaching surrounded by great music, entertaining children's ministry and good coffee for the 30 minutes folk hang around after the service (in deep hunger for actual relationships) has turned the Western church into a deliverer of feel good infotainment built around effective pulpiteers (or at least those attempting to be).
As our friend, Dave Fitch says,
I fully grant that good teaching is necessary and it feeds the soul. (I regularly defend the 9 a.m. communal teaching hour at our church as essential.) Certainly consistent doctrinal exposition of texts is important on an interpersonal dialogical level in a smaller class room type setting. Unfortunately in larger arenas, the retention rate is next to nil from week to week. Good charismatic (entertaining?) preaching soothes the soul as opposed to feeds the soul. It can become a consumer item, even if it is expository preaching. Under these conditions, Christians, who are told to connect to the local church for the sake of their discipleship (as opposed to being part of a politic of mission in the world) - will naturally gravitate towards the most exciting preacher. They will leave the previous church because “I wasn’t getting fed.” For the small community churches of modernity therefore, whose members are graying, who are seeking new and younger members to replenish the dying saints, they must compete for the remainders of Christendom by presenting the Bible in as compelling and entertaining a way as they can muster. To those who can’t compete, they are in a quandary. (emphasis added)
Perry Noble's position on this is simply the logical place to be - based on what he's been taught the Western Church looks like. He's used the Hybels-Warren-Young Jr. model to build a big enterprise with lots of happy-clappy butts in the seats. The fact that the community has not changed dramatically around said enterprise does not even enter into the picture.
It's not about Luke 10 - it's about moving from Good to Great. And Perry would tell you he's done that - and from his perspective, I daresay he has.
The conversation continues here and @ Bob's Blog.
After this week's U2 excitement ebbs and TIFF comes to a close, I'd like to remind you about two upcoming events.
The first is the screening of Manufactured Landscapes on September 24 at the Ignatieff Theatre, Trinity College, University of Toronto. Jennifer Baichwal, the award-winning director of the film will be there for an audience Q&A afterwards led by the very engaging Professor Stephen Sharper. The entire Kinnon family will be in attendance (with some Medri's thrown in for good measure) along with a number of other interesting folk. I look forward to seeing you there, too.
Then on the 30th, my friend, Ed Stetzer is in town for a Church Revitalization event that Darryl Dash has put together. You don't need to be a Fellowship Baptist to attend (at least I don't think so, grin) and it will be more than worth your time to hear Ed - who is a New Yorker and married to a Canadian - context won't be an issue.
According to the Toronto Star headline writers, U2 blew the roof off of the Rogers Centre last night (I still think of that venue as the SkyDome). Actually, the weather has been so dry these last 18 days, the Dome's roof was wide open for the event - treating downtown T-dot to U2's tunes. Torstar had this to say,
It's a satisfying spectacle, with enviable musicianship – Edge the most dominant, with his intense ringing sound on electric guitar (and a deft acoustic turn on "Stay (Faraway, So Close)" – fantastic sound and consistent energy and emotion. They made use of the stage, wandering its outer rim and running across the moving bridges. Even drummer Larry Mullen Jr. left his kit at one point to walk around playing portable congas.
Bono, as limber physically as he was vocally, was jumping, skipping, spinning with arms outstretched.
Triple D was there and tweeted,
@DashHouse: Wow. I'm a U2 fan and that concert still blew my mind. They are at the top of their game. #U2360
UPDATE: Triple D goes back for a second helping. Whatta guy. (GA = General Admission)
@DashHouse: In the lineup. Yes, I'm going again. This time general admission. http://twitpic.com/i31e1
I remember two live music experiences at the same Toronto venue in the last millenium - five days apart. (If the great google god is correct - March 19th and March 24th, 1992 respectively.) The first was Dire Straits. The sound was amazing - when they played quietly they were quiet - when they played passionately and full-on, they were loud. U2's Zoo TV, five nights later, was a different story. Whether a quiet tune or full-on, the sound pressure levels were the same - compressed to death. There were no dynamics. It was painful to listen to - even if the tunes were great.
Apparently that's not the case on this tour as the Star reviewer says - "fantastic sound." Maybe having the roof open helped. I saw Dire Straits and U2 in that old hockey barn, Maple Leaf Gardens - and the U2 sound engineers just couldn't make that old barn ring true. (Oddly enough, I'm listening to Mark Knopfler's fantastic new album, Get Lucky, as I type this. And loving it. If you are interested, buy the digital download from Knopfler's site as you get extras iTunes doesn't offer.)
The Kinnon boys and a group of their friends (whose bodies litter the floors of our loft) head down to the U2 show tonight. I'll update this post with their feedback.
My buddy, Gerry and his son, Jason, are in town for the show, as well, from points west and wanted me to join them. I said I was too old. Now I'm regretting my decision. Perhaps it's just that I still haven't found what I'm looking for, eh. I'm having breakfast with Gerry in the morning, and will add his thoughts. (He's just a bit younger than moi.)
BTW: Mike Todd has the video of the U2 EPK (Electronic Press Kit) @ his blog, if you want to see what U2 is providing the media for interview footage and B-roll.
It was good.
It was wrong.
Most western churches don't even make it to virtual.
In Part Two, Bob appeals to Calvin,
Calvin’s definition of “church” is where the Word is preached, the sacraments are received, and church discipline practiced. That’s a good summary of the defining characteristics of the New Testament ecclesia and a good summary of the main problems with internet church.
Really? That's a good summary? Of ecclesia? Sticking with the Reformed for a moment, according to Donald McKim in the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (via),
In the New Testament, the term ἐκκλησία (church or assembly) is used for local communities and in a universal sense to mean all believers.
Communities that at their best - according to the New Testament, hold all things in common, love each other unconditionally, confess their sins one to another, practise servant leading, take care of the widows, orphans, those in prison, the sick & the dying, gather to hear the Word, correct and are corrected, grow in wisdom and understanding, study the Scriptures - and that's just scratching the surface - all of this done with a passionate love for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When you next gather with your fellow believers, ask yourself, is this what's happening?
This isn't an attack on Bob. From what I know of the community that he leads, they do their best to live like this - and are just as fallen and broken as the rest of us - but they are at least working at living what they believe to be true.
Internet Church, however, is the logical outgrowth of the Western Church. It is the consumer church on steroids - about meeting my needs in a way that "works for me." To the point of being ridiculous.
I was aghast - filled with shock and horror - when I read Drew Goodmanson's 5 Online Trends for the Future of Faith. The first point being doing the Sacraments Online. ARE YOU SERIOUS!? (And I'm not suggesting that Drew supports all of these things - he's simply reporting them. At least, that's what I hope.)
Online Baptisms?! In the comfort of your own bathtub?
Heck, why not just mimic some denominations, and stand over the sink and pour water over your head, three times for good measure. Do-it-yourself baptizing. (Why not go all the way and just be your own saviour?)
And receiving "Holy Communion" via the Interwebs?
If I have any Christian home, it would be amongst the Anglicans. Even there I struggle with their "delivery" of the Eucharist. I read Jesus telling us to break the bread and drink the wine at every meal in remembrance of Him - especially at the communal meals we will, of course, be having regularly together. (See jonny baker, here.)
Drew's point two is the The Rapid Growth of the Internet Church.
As people blur their sense of presence (with things like mobile apps that constantly tether you to distant places) the idea of having to be somewhere in person for it to be ‘real’ will be lost in a digital generation. Already there are fully packed online services for churches to launch their own Internet campus.
I am no Luddite when it comes to technology and the net. And I have significant community with friends scattered across the globe - connected via email, our blogs, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and more.
Like the nightmared little girl whose mother said, 'just talk to Jesus if you're scared' responded with "but I need someone with arms on," we both need and are the hands and feet of Jesus. Digital tethering can enhance the ecclesia, but it cannot begin to replace the warmth, touch, smell (occasionally ripe) of the body gathered. And Internet Church is at best, silly and at worst, simply wrong.
Would that the church were truly virtual!
Since you're reading this, you occasionally must stumble through the multiple nodes of the interwebs wherein dwells the "Church Blog World." And as you wander through the mysterious tales and imaginations of this pushed-pixel, Western Christian universe, you've probably asked yourself, "Gee, I wonder who the Top 100 Church Bloggers are?"
Kent Shaffer has heard your thoughts (which is kind of scary and we should probably do some serious witch-hunting investigating) and through the use of statistical analysis and a little eye of the newt, has come up with that very list. *
My friend, Ed Stetzer, one of the company of 100, whose blog has rocketed up the charts (he's #23 with a bullet - up from #39 in January) made this observation on the list,
...it is fascinating to see how dominant the "Reformed camp" is in blog town. Some see the Emerging Church conversation in decline, so that may be reflected in the rankings. But there are many others who consider the Emerging Church as the leading voice calling for change in the church. However, clearly it is the Reformed who are getting traction in the blogosphere. (Now, of course, that could be because those Reformed people are not at all those great contemporary church conference and are, instead, home blogging!)
Second, it is interesting to me how these worlds generally do not mix. If there are three major spheres in blog town today, they might be the Reformed, the emerging, and the contemporary.
Andrew Jones, the towering, South-Pacifican thinman, who once dominated the church blog charts (he fell to #15 in January and now sits at #25) responded to Ed. TSK offered five points of his own as to why the Reformed Camp dominates, citing the impact of RSS feeds on the emerging conversation (as an example, I read blogs in Google Reader rather than visiting the actual websites), the move to Twitter & Facebook and the reduction in linking. (There are some good additional thoughts in the comments on Andrew's post, plus I should note that Andrew does not blog as consistently as he once did - thus the drop in his top blog position.)
Andrew's final point notes the power of heat to draw a crowd,
The emerging controversies and conversations were huge a number of years ago but are now a more accepted part of the church and mission landscape. The new reformed movement, on the other hand, has generated some fresh controversy in certain denominations that will not be named [ . . . OK . . . Southern Baptist!] and controversy generates buzz which generates LINKS and links lead to rankings.
My take would be that the Reformed section of the blog pool, along with their close cousins the Truly Reformed, are more willing to take categorical positions on primary, secondary and tertiary issues. They aren't afraid to call out people they believe have abandoned a Reformed understanding of the Gospel. (N.T.Wright is often in their cross hairs. See this, if you have an hour to spare.) To these folk, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are certainly not Christians.
It would seem that the lenses in their theological frames were hand-crafted by John Calvin, and those who can't or won't see through those glasses are probably 'not part of the elect anyway'. The brethren and sistren in that camp are quite willing to state that - generating lots of heat... and traffic.
I found Ed's and TSK's posts interesting in light of two other items that appeared in my browser in the past 24 hours. One was an article from Cardus - Joe Carter on NeoCalvinism or Kuyperianism. As I've said elsewhere, a number of my friends are Kuyperian in their reformational philosophy - and practice a kinder, gentler, more inclusive - to other Christians - form of their faith.
Note that Carter writes and is web editor for First Things, the magazine founded by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus. As well, a number of my Kuyperian friends are signatories to the Evangelical Call for Response to Pope Benedict's Caritas in Veritate. (I should mention that the blog Joe started years ago, Evangelical Outpost, would have once been in the single digits of any top christian blogger list.)
The other item was a post from Fuller's Richard Mouw writing on Abraham Kuyper's younger colleague, Herman Bavinck. According to Mouw, also a NeoCalvinist, Bavinck's
"...tone was more moderate, and he treated views with which he disagreed with much charity—unlike Kuyper, who often came across as a polemicist. Bavinck’s kinder and gentler orthodoxy holds out much promise for us in North America, especially since his works are being assigned these days to students in a variety of seminaries on the more conservative end of the Reformed and Presbyterian communities."
Mouw quotes Bavinck,
We must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride. Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentence, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians. The Christian life is so rich that it develops its full glory not just in a single form or within the walls of one church.(Emphasis added)
Quite a friendly tone, for a Calvinist writing six decades before the reforms of Vatican II.
Indeed, wise thoughts all. If that way of being “orthodox Reformed” were to take hold here in North America, we might have a real revival on our hands! (Emphasis added)
Last evening after reading Mouw's post, I tweeted the Bavinck line,
It's a powerful line. Actually following Bavinck's generosity might cause one NOT to climb the charts of the Top 100 Church Blogs. But. What might it do for the Kingdom?
PS - I should note that this humble nanonode of Church Blogdom had a more precipitous fall on said charts than did my dear friend, Andrew - from #50 to #85. By next January, I would expect to be off the charts.
*Sorry for the out of focus shot of the metal Top 100 logo - dang squirrel jumped in front of my camera.
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