Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Role of the Academy

I was wandering around the blogosphere a bit tonight and ran into this comment posted by Jamie at emergent voyageurs:

"Many students, once leaving academy and entering into church ministry seem to stop thinking theologically, falling into business models of church structure and leadership. A gathering was held to explore why this happens and what can be done about it."

It caught my attention because I am in the "academy" right now hoping that I am thinking about things theologically and with a mind to listen to God in the midst of all this. I'm also thinking about the structure of church and how it should be changing. I thought about it a bit and made the following comments.

I have a couple of observations. I want to apologize ahead of time for the length of my ramblings and the simplistic generalizations. I hope they don’t offend.

The academy should be a place of blue sky biblical thinking - wondering what God wants to do with the church, imagining how the world can be changed because of a church that is doing what Jesus is calling them to do. It should be preparing people to understand their culture and see it with the eyes of Jesus. Instead the academy is often trying to prepare people for what the church looked like 20 years ago. So when students graduate from seminary they are often unprepared for the reality of church and culture as it is.

My experience upon leaving the academy was that it didn't prepare me to be relevant in the world or the church. It didn't prepare me to do theology in a real world environment. It didn’t teach me what people were really like or how to talk to them. It didn’t teach me about suffering and it didn’t tell me how much administration was involved in running a typical church. It didn’t tell me how political church life could be.

It did teach me to believe that the meat of the Word was a correct understanding of Reformed theology instead of humility, servanthood, death to self and learning how to hear and obey the voice of God. It taught me to preach theologically correct sermons instead of a message that changed my heart. It taught me that it was possible to study and understand the Bible in the original language and still be far from, and cold towards, the Word of God.

The academy lives in an ivory tower and the church has created an imaginary world in which to live. The church’s imaginary world parallels the business world in that they are both removed from real people. The business world’s success is measured by the bottom line and whatever it takes to get ahead. It uses people to make money and beat the competition. It needs effective leaders to make the tough decisions to grow the company – even if it means firing a few people or closing a few factories.

A church’s bottom line is often growth, measured by attendance, large buildings, many programs and a big budget. To accomplish this a good leader needs to be in place to make the tough decisions – even if it means firing a few people or eliminating some programs. Churches often use people to improve their bottom line. The leadership (pastor) is expected to put in lots of overtime to make it happen. The organization’s health and success is usually more important than the welfare of a few people who may become disgruntled. So a CEO type leader can be effective at running a large church. Firing staff when he needs to, getting people to run programs they are not gifted at (because we have to have a nursery/Sunday school/bus ministry/etc.) even if it means people are hurt or burned out in the process.

My response is that churches can learn much from many of the business models out there – especially the move toward teams and flatter, smaller organizations. However I think we made it the ideal that churches are to be big organizations instead of smaller organisms. A big organization needs a well-trained CEO. Most pastors are not effective in that role. A smaller group needs a father or a shepherd. The role of the academy is to dream. The role of the church is to disciple people to pastor in their place of business so that businesses can fulfill their role of providing honourable and equitable employment that gives value to people.

Appreciative Inquiry

There is an interesting thread at Vanguard Church on how to have an Appreciative Inquiry evangelistic conversation. He suggests that we start with creation rather than the Fall in our God Encounters. That means starting the conversation with God's grand intention for our lives instead of starting with our depravity and sinfulness. The diagram below gives you a hint as to where he's going with this. Worth a read.

Back Home Again

I arrived safely home last night at around ten. Even before I drove into my driveway I was reminded of why God called me here. My neighbour flagged me down and asked "How was Boston?" And then talked to me about his ailing mother and his prayers for her. Brigitte and I went for a walk later and talked to another of our neighbours about a significant spiritual experience he had. Then today we spent the afternoon with another of our neighbours. Neighbourhood life is rich and full and filled with God encounters as we see Jesus in the face of those around us.

My trip home was mostly uneventful but I found out later that the Mohawk Indian nation had roadblocked the bridge to Canada (at Cornwall/Hogansburg) and part of the 401 highway between Cornwall and Toronto earlier in the day and had planned on blocking it for the duration of the weekend. Fortunately some kind of settlement had been reached earlier in the day and I made it home in a timely fashion.

I drove through New Hampshire and Vermont and it is pretty there. The day was sunny and not too hot. I took some pictures as I drove along - and I am amazed at how nice they turn out going 100+ km/hr. The daytime picture is in Vermont and the sunset is just west of Trenton on the 401.

Although I enjoyed my time in Boston, it's nice to be home. However I won't see my daughter Kirstyn for another four weeks because she left for Germany last week before I got home from Boston. She's been blogging some of her thoughts and experiences at her blog. Check it out and leave a comment to let her know people are thinking of her.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On The Harbour

Or maybe I should write "harbor." I keep running into the "our" ending in many words here in USA. Words like behaviour and neighbour and harbour are spelled without the "u" south of the border. Most days it doesn't really matter but today we were talking a lot about the affecting the behaviour of others and it kept coming up as misspelled in my word processor (but not on the powerpoint presentation). I actually had to change my essay because I didn't think it would be all that well received.

At any rate, last night we went for a three hour cruise in Boston harbour - which is actually very expansive and has a number of islands and lots of lighthouses and a couple of forts. The whole Boston area is a history buff's dream come true. Boston was settled in the early 1600's and the founding dates of towns all around where we are is 1643, or even earlier. Just to put that in perspective, Thornhill was founded in 1795 - 150 years later.

it was a beautiful night and I posted some pictures here on the blog and on my Flickr site. The sunset was spectacular and the view of the city at night was amazing. We have a guy in our course whose sister runs a charter boat and we arranged to rent it for our class at cost (well probably below cost). They prepared an amazing meal for us and we spent a great evening together. Our class is quite small (only 6) and we've gotten to know each other quite well and we are having a good time.

We are doing school work as well and I'm in the middle of trying to put a proposal together for my next project which will also lead to what my thesis looks like.

100th Post

Wow! I've reached the milestone of 100 posts. Big deal.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Praying for a Friend

A friend of mine, Tim Huff, that I knew during my Evergreen days, just sent out a sad email about one of the youth he had been working with who took his own life. I thought I would share the email with you.

Dear friends,

I spent the afternoon at the hospital bedside of a seventeen year old homeless boy, just praying and being there talking to him (even if he could not hear me?) while the machines monitored the quickening pace of loss of brain activity. No family present. And this evening he has passed away. He took his own life, as his history and his world had worn him past what he could handle. As always, he took a piece of my soul that I can not get back and that will always leave me wounded – at least in this lifetime. But far more than that – he gifted me immeasurably with his presence, even into his final hours.

At the hands of death alone, I have said “good bye” to more than 40 teenagers in my 20 years among street-involved youth. All have deserved the best in life, all have been precious, fascinating young ones with extraordinary potential and countless dreams for life and love. And, having framed every bit of my own theology around the absolute that God is always both just and merciful…I believe all these ones, so damaged in this lifetime, so far removed from knowing sustaining love that reveals otherwise, are made new now in His care. I have to.

But it does not excuse a society that belittles, hurts and ignores those seen solely as a bother or nuisance or worst of all…someone else’s problem. A piece of all of us dies with ones such as this, whether we recognize it or not.

In his honour, and the good stead of what is a nonnegotiable when it comes to doing what is vital…I plead with you, that today you would cherish the young people in your arms-reach and have them know how special and priceless they are. In your home, at your camps, in your neighbourhood, in your school rooms, in your churches, on the streets…maybe just some nervous young person training at the till at a McDonald’s who needs you to be a bit patient and smile…anywhere. What you do and say on this day could change a young life forever. I believe it with all of my heart. Our sons and daughters, your sons and daughters, without question…God’s own.

Wearily and lovingly yours, Tim

Friday, June 22, 2007

First Week

We just finished our first week. It has been a very good week with lots of interaction and exchange of ideas. The main focus of this week of class has been the history of Christianity since the Reformation. We have looked at Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, Zinzendorf, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the revivals and awakenings that happened as a result of their ministry. Fascinating stuff.

A number of things really jump out at me. The first thing was how closely connected the church was to the state and how difficult it was to actually express new ideas without getting censured, exiled or killed. These were brave men to express and stand on their convictions.

The second insight is the amazing similarity of some of the moves of God in the 1700's. During Zinzendorf's time they experienced a pentecost at Herrnhut (the Moravian community he established) complete with shakings, a tangible presence of the Spirit, healings and a deep experience of the love of God. During the Wesleyan revivals and during the Great Awakening there were swoonings, tears and loud screeching during the services as people were brought under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. There were many more supernatural manifestations than we are normally led to believe.

The third thing is what impact the revivals had on our history as the Western Civilization. These awakenings and revival have really shaped who and what we are as a country and as a people. It established morals and ethics and governmental systems that have strong biblical foundations.

Finally, I was impressed at how they expressed their Christianity in the social realm. The result of these revivals was orphanages, hospitals, schools, universities and the relief of poverty. The changes were not only political but deeply social and made a difference in the day to day life of one's neighbour. It has inspired me to see that the significance of the move of the Spirit is always felt in loving your neighbour.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Day One

I just finished my first day of classes of the two weeks of classes that I will have while I am down in Boston at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary working on my Doctor of Ministry Program. We had a short chapel this morning and then went on to reconnect with one another. It was interesting that of the ten students that started this cohort last year only six remain - and of those six all of us seriously considered not coming back for the rest of the program. However we all agreed to stick it out and to try and graduate together.

We also lost one of our professors (Dr. Steven Kang) who was replaced with Dr. Gordon Isaac. Dr. Isaac is teaching on the spiritual renewal portion of the course (revivals and renewal movements focusing on the Reformation and Great Awakening this term) and Dr. Ray Pendleton is teaching on the "systems" part of the course (how a family, congregation and church operate as a system and how you effect change in those systems).

The rest of the day was spent looking over the time period we will be studying (Reformation 1500's, Pietism 16-1700's and the Great Awakenings in the 1700's and 1800's). It actually is quite fascinating and I'm finding a lot of parallels with our current cultural and church situation. If we don't know or understand our history we will be destined to repeat it. Who was it who said that? Any guesses?

I'll try to post most days as I'm down here and maybe even provide a few pictures. You can see the campus by looking on the website. You can also see where we are staying by looking at the website for the Marriott Residence Inn.

First Day In Massachusetts

A beautiful day and a fairly quick trip. I made it to the Residence Inn where we're staying by 10:15 or so. I will be sharing a room with Dean, one of the same guys I was with last year. Chapel is at 8:15 and class starts at 9:00 so I will be in bed soon. A picture to remember my only stop.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ruth Graham

According to an AP report, Ruth Graham-wife of renowned evangelist, Billy Graham-died on Thursday, June 14th at 5:05PM, at her home at Little Piney Cove, North Carolina. She was surrounded by her family and husband, who had earlier in the day been "huddled at her bedside."

A lovely lady putting up with a travelling salesman (one of the best) for a husband (smile). See the full story here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Emerging Church as the New Pietism

In my reading I've been seeing a lot of similarities between the historical movement called Pietism and what's happening in the current renewal of the church (part of which is referred to by the term Emerging Church).

Pietism was a movement within Lutheranism, lasting from the late-17th century to the mid-18th century. It proved to be very influential throughout Protestantism and Anabaptism, inspiring not only Anglican priest John Wesley to begin the Methodist movement, but also Alexander Mack to begin the Brethren movement. The Pietist movement combined the Lutheran emphasis on Biblical doctrine with the Reformed, and especially Puritan, emphasis on individual piety, and a vigorous Christian life.

Pietism seems to have a number of parallels to the emerging movement.
Pietism was a reaction to the rigid formalism of the state (Lutheran) church.
Pietism also focused on orthopraxy (right living) as opposed to merely orthodoxy (right belief).
It focused on an authentic faith, biblically correct but not just dry doctrine.
It often met in small groups in homes for deeper discussion and community.
All of these seem to line up with what is happening today.

In 1675 Philipp Jakob Spener (the founder of Pietism - and yes his first name is spelled that way) published his Pia desideria or Earnest Desires for a Reform of the True Evangelical Church, the title giving rise to the term "Pietists". In this publication he made six proposals as the best means of restoring the life of the Church:
1. the earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings, ecclesiolae in ecclesia (" churches within the church")
2. the Christian priesthood being universal, the laity should share in the spiritual government of the Church (all are called to ministry - marketplace anointing)
3. a knowledge of Christianity must be attended by the practice of it as its indispensable sign and supplement (orthopraxy - faith must be lived out)
4. instead of merely didactic, and often bitter, attacks on the heterodox and unbelievers, a sympathetic and kindly treatment of them (this is where the Emerging movement could improve - as well as those criticizing them)
5. a reorganization of the theological training of the universities, giving more prominence to the devotional life (a new way of training in seminaries that focuses on developing character and holiness)
6. a different style of preaching, namely, in the place of pleasing rhetoric, the implanting of Christianity in the inner or new man, the soul of which is faith, and its effects the fruits of life (discipleship focus in preaching - very similar to the focus of new style churches) - (adapted from Wikipedia's article on Pietism).

One focus that is not always present in the Emerging movement that was a core element of Pietism is "piety" - a commitment to outward and inward holiness. The key element in the Emerging movement seems to be cultural relevance - sometimes at the expense of what we have traditionally considered holiness. But with their commitment to orthopraxy - right living - there is a real hope that this new movement of the Spirit will breathe life into the entire church.

Monday, June 11, 2007


For Sunday's message this week, I was looking at some passages in the "Message" version of the Bible and came across a couple of passages that suddenly jumped out at me. That is the benefit of a different translation I guess. But to be honest, the Message doesn't always capture my fancy. Sometimes I feel that in the effort to become relevant Eugene (Peterson) actually loses the meaning of the text. And sometimes I read it and I find that it catches the meaning but makes it less emphatic than the original. But then other times (like this weekend) it puts a whole new spin on a familiar passage.

My point on Sunday was that we as Christians are living as exiles in a world that is becoming increasingly indifferent to Christianity. The word refers back to Israel's exile in Babylon where the ruling culture (Babylon) saw Israel as just one more culture among the dozens they had already conquered - no better and no worse and all quite irrelevant to daily life in Babylon.

This is how the world now views Christianity - a foreign, conquered system along with a dozen other equally irrelevant belief systems. How shall we then live in this culture that deems us insignificant and dispensable and completely absorbable. How do we not get absorbed? How do we get listened to? Paul says it this way (in the Message).

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2)

Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? (1 Corinthians 1:27)

The world is unprincipled. It's dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn't fight fair. But we don't live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren't for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Scripture really does have a powerful message and will speak to this culture - even when spoken by nobodies and it will expose the emptiness of "vain imaginations."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Longing for A Front Porch

A little while ago I blogged about "third places" - a place that's not home and not work, but where we can hang out and connect with people. Why do we need such places? - mostly because home is too personal and intimate and work relationships need to be kept more distant and professional. Why are we now hearing about third places and finding a place where everyone knows your name? Is this such a new concept? Maybe not. Before our world got so crazy, people did hang out in their neighbourhoods - that is before we had supercentres instead of main streets and before we drove everywhere (because there are no general stores/corner stores anymore), before we had automatic garage door openers, and before we had 492 channels 24-hours a day ... before those things, the front porch used to be one of the major places to connect with people.

The following quote is from a website that is called The Evolution of the American Front Porch that I saw in one of my books (The Search to Belong - look at the list of books at the left).

For the front porch existed as a zone between the public and private, an area that could be shared between the sanctity of the home and the community outside. It was an area where interaction with the community could take place. For "the master's farm business, the mistress's selections of goods and produce, the home craftsmen's sales, and sundry negotiations of the cooler sort (with the hired man, the foreman, the slave or house servant, the distressed or disgruntled neighbor, even with the unpredictable stranger from the muddy road) could all be conducted in the civil atmosphere offered by the shade of a prominent porch, apart from the sleeping and feeding quarters and without serious risk to the family's physical and psychic core"

The porch further fostered a sense of community and neighbourliness. In the evenings, as people moved outdoors, the porch served to connect individuals. The neighbours from next door might stop by one's house, to sit on the porch and discuss both personal and community issues. The couple walking down the street might offer a passing "hello," as they passed house after house whose inhabitants rested outdoors. The porch brought the neighbourhood and community together, by forcing interaction and an acute awareness of others. Indeed, the front porch and the ideal of community in America had developed into a congruous union.

Between the rise of the front porch in the middle nineteenth century and its decline in the post World War II era, the front porch developed a cultural significance. It represented the cultural ideals of family, community, and nature. As these ideals would decline in importance in American culture, so would the porch."

I still think people hunger for these "median spaces." For a while it was replaced by the mall. But I think the current expression of median places is Starbucks (or something like it).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


I thought I would include the introduction to my DMin paper as one of my posts. The title of the essay is "The End of the World As We Know It'" and in it I basically describe the shift in our society that is spelling the end of our culture's reliance on Christianity as a guide. So here goes ...

The church has been in decline in the West for a number of generations. The question is “Why?” We have the theological training centers in place to train new leaders. We have the communication technology in place to transmit the Gospel. We have creative thinkers who have suggested ways of transforming the church. We have the research tools to carefully monitor our progress. We have examples of highly successful churches that touch thousands every week. We have a variety of programs that clearly explain Christianity to those seeking God. We see examples of the church thriving in many other parts of the world. But the fact remains that the church in North America is not growing and her influence on the culture is waning.

In this paper, a number of resources are reviewed to gather insight into why this is happening here and now. One fundamental reason for the church’s ineffectiveness is the shift of our culture towards Postmodernity and its inherent questioning of the Christian metanarrative (indeed all metanarratives).

[A word of explanation for the readers of the blog: A metanarrative is literally a "big story" and it refers to the idea that most cultures rely on a story (a system or a worldview) to explain how the world works and how we can make sense of it. Our culture (Western culture) is based on the Christian Worldview - the Story of Jesus and his death and resurrection. Others might call it Judeo-Christian values.]

The traditional foundation of our society is also weakening. The Christendom model has lost its appeal and its force. Western culture is no longer Christian in almost any sense of the word. These are not necessarily bad things. They open the way for a radical rethinking of Christian mission and of our entire ecclesiastical structure. These events may force Christians to reexamine many cherished, but biblically suspect and often deeply entrenched, traditions, structures and doctrines.

There are new models of church being tried out and lived out in the Western world. Many fly under the radar and many can be grouped under the banner of Emerging Church. Some are short-lived. That is to be expected. Others may have more staying power. The general trend of this movement is to simplify church and reduce it to its most basic and irreducible form. Some try to get to the point where, if one more thing were removed, it will no longer be the church.

This deconstruction attempts to limit functions and forms not consistent with the first century church in order to recover its dynamic, subversive success. The other trend is to be intensely and intentionally “missional.” And missional means: “a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world.”

There are groups who call themselves a church where only two or three gather together. There are house churches whose primary missional activity is hospitality. There are new monastic communities experimenting with communal living among the poor. There are groups of churches acting in unity attempting to change the spiritual climate of a city or region. There are churches that adopt the music and style of the club culture, or the street culture, or of the urban artistic communities. Each is an experiment in the way church ought to be.

Granted, the critiques of our current church situation are easier to produce than the solutions. So, in order to see Christianity become effective again, we must be bold enough to experiment – even if some of the experiments fail, even if some of the experiments land outside the traditional boundaries of Evangelicalism and even if we don’t see stunning results. Our current situation is not producing many stunning results either.