Monday, February 27, 2006

Confession is good for the heart?

Sorry if you have missed my blog. We have had a couple of very tough days. There has been a tragedy of sorts in our family. Everyone is fine!!! I would rather not get into the situation now, but everyone will come out just fine with some prayer, a great deal of patience and perserverence and a good insurance adjuster! So please pray for my family. We could use it right now. We need the Body to stand with us right now.

Maybe you have not missed my blog. I have. I have a couple of minutes to post now, so I will.

Donald Miller in his book "Blue Like Jazz," shares a story about how he and some of the Christians on his college campus set up a confession booth. The college he attended is known as one of the big party colleges of the country. You would think that Miller and his friends would take the time to minister through traditional means as the college celebrated what best could be described as a week of anarchy. Drugs, drunkedness and other crazy behaviors took over the campus the week they set up the confession booth.

The amazing thing about this confession booth was that it was set up for Christians to confess their sins. Miller and his friends set up this booth to confess and repent publically for Christians conducting the crusades, not being aggressive in their fight of slavery and apartheid and other sinful systems.

I have thought about this idea of repentance and confession. Honestly, I believe I ought to apologize if another Christian hurts someone, even if I had nothing to do with the situation, in the here and now. I must admit, I struggle confessing and repenting for Christian slave owners, since slavery was abolished 100 years prior to my birth. I can see, however, how the spectre of slavery still causes pain in African-Americans. In many ways, I do not think that African-Americans and women have caught up in the country. The playing field is more level, but still not completely. I am not sure that my confession of my forefathers' wrongdoing will help the situation, no matter how sorry I am about it.

I should apologize to Jews for Christians who did little or nothing about the holocaust and who still treat them with distrust and disdain. The same apology needs to go to Muslims as well. I did nothing in the situation, so what will my confession do?

Should I apologize to the poor for the church not fully giving the way we should to them? Should I repent on behalf of the weak response of Christians to famine in Darfur?

I am really struggling about where it all stops. Where does it stop? Honestly, this is not a rant. This is a legitmate question in my mind as a believer. My desire is that all people see Christ in my life. I want to be known as a man of grace and peace. I want people to see a new kind of Christian in me. If my confession will help, then I want to do it. I am conflicted though.

What do we as Christians need to confess and repent for to the world? Will that help? Does the Army organizationally need to confess or repent of anything? Will that help? Does an individual repenting on behalf of people or an organization mean anything?

I don't want you all to be on your personal soapboxes about this. I want you to really think as you answer. I want this to be a sensitive and reasoned debate. So do you think confession is good for the heart?

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A new wind?

Well friends, I know that some of you will ask about how Janet and I viewed our choice opportunity to share with the members of the Territorial Executive Council. I will do that. I want to thank you all first for your prayers, comments on this blog and the willingness to allow me to quote you. Talk about putting your money (or lack thereof) where your mouth is! Actually, some of the leadership read my blog, so they are taking the journey with us even if they are not commenting.

First of all, we went overtime. Drew was right, we did just get reved up after 30 minutes. I think we actually went almost 40 minutes.

We found most of our leadership to be attentive, respectful and seemingly willing to wrestle with this issue of emerging Christian Sprituality. I thought we pushed a couple of buttons that may have offended people, but were pleasantly surprised that many of the people saw what we have been talking about for the last several years.

We got the usual thumbs up, "Nice job," "Thanks friends," and "That was great." Those responses were affirming! One of the members commented that we had, "delivered the Word of The Lord for the group this day." Wow, was I humbled!

I think that the most affirming remarks were, "You have caused me to think," or "Now I understand a bit better why people are not responding the way they used to," or "Now I know why my kids think this way." Our job was not to tell people what to think, but rather to get them to start to take the journey.

The best part of my day was having our friends, Mark and Sharon Tillsley pray over us at the end of our presentation. We love and respect those two more than you would know.

We left the TEC with a bundle of reading. We knew we could only scratch the surface of what we needed to share about this important new wind that is blowing through the church. I am convinced many of the leaders will take time to interact with the material. Who knows what will happen as the Spirit speaks to them! Well, God does!

So where do we go from here emergents? I believe it is time for many of us to put legs to our voices. We cannot lead a rebellion, but we can be part of a radical revolution! Even if others do not want to be part of this movement, we need to be faithful to the voice of God.

We need to network. Commune often with each other through blogs, emails, phone calls and when we can face to face time. We need to PRAY. Then we need to continue to push into the heart of The Father on this matter. In short, we need to begin to emerge as an Army and not blame leaders for our lack of faith. It may not come quickly, but if this is of God, as many of us believe it is, this conversation will push forward!!!!!!

Here are the questions for the day. What can we do to open the sails on this ship we call The Salvation Army so the wind of The Spirit will move us where we need to go? What are some really practical (and may I add here, not whiny,) positive steps we can take to advance the Revolution? Will we be willing to throw caution to this new wind? How do you think we can best encourage our leadership to take this journey with us? Will we just be cynical and say, "I'm glad Larry thought it went well?" Or will we push the envelope and the agenda from the grass roots?

If this sounds like a cheesy altar call, maybe it is. I think of it as a call to faithfulness to me! If I am going to ask the questions, I need to try to find some answers with you. So, comment if you will.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Emerging Information

Usually I have questions to ask that are meaty and tough. Some of you are quite vocal. Some of you have said I hope someone in positions of power reads your blog. What am I, chopped liver? ;)

Well, Janet and I have an opportunity to share a presentation with the Territorial Executive Council next week. For those of you who don't know SA slang, the TEC is all of the Divisional Commanders, and Territorial Leadership, including the Ambassadors, Territorial Commander, Chief Secretary, Program Secretary, Personnel Secretary and Business Secretary. We have the privilege of sharing 30 minutes on the Emerging Church and The Salvation Army.

The presentation is supposed to be "educational." We are to give a brief overview of the conversation and relate how we might interact as the Army. I have a personal agenda as we share on this matter. We will thinking about the theology, missional agenda, relational traits and evangelism style of the emergents. I think, however, that if we don't listen to you we may be guilty of missing something in the presentation that is important for someone to hear.

We want your comments on this matter. We need our very bright, articulate and vocal friends to share with us some positive information regarding the emerging trends and what you think this group of leaders in our territory really should know and experience.

So if you had your chance to share the emerging church with our TEC what would you want them to know? What is the change we need to make? What is emergent about The Salvation Army? What about us is still stuck in modernity? Are the Articles of War Emergent?

What do you think? Let me know quickly, we need to finish up this weekend.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Follow the leader?

We have had quite a discussion on the idea of leadership in comments on my blog. Many of my blogs have started out about other subjects and then they have come back to this idea of "leadership." This one is just starting out with the question of leadership. Some of my statements may tend to upset you. I mean no disrespect.

This is an interesting concept to me. Spencer Burke talks about leadership in his book "Making Sense of Church." He suggests that the best metaphor is for us to think of leaders as not so much tour guides, who will tell everyone what to do, what to see and sometimes what to think.

Instead, he suggests that the better metaphor is that of a traveler. This metaphor sees a leader as one who is a fellow learner and someone who is on the journey. Some of the best lessons are learned from those who are supposedly being led.

What does this mean for us? It is a paradigm shift. Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. I have been with some shepherds. Most of shepherding happens from the rear with encouragement and gentle guidance. Shepherds don't necessarily order sheep around. Shepherds don't grab sheep. They don't yell and demand their own way. They don't make decisions for the sheep. They help them find their way to greener pastures where the sheep can find the best nourishment. In short, they want the sheep to be the best they can be. On the way, they really learn to love their sheep.

So how does this play out in the church? We have had modeled for us, by godly people, a style that is CEO. There is little knowledge of the inner working of the people, little in the way of collaboration and yet less in the way of humility. Heck, I had one person I worked with tell me the way for him to "control" his area of influence was for him to have a heavy hand and tell people "what to think." Unfortunately, I worked FOR him not with him.

I also see many of the leadership structures in the church that are rife with chauvinism and might even come close to bordering on misogyny. (I know there might be some blood boiling out there now.) Even in our own beloved movement we see this. We have a history of treasuring female equality in ministry. Catherine Booth was a champion for it. While we say women can be "leaders" how many married women were nominated for general? Rarely is a married woman even given the opportunity of traveling the same road as her married male counterparts.

We also have a system that sets up the ordained in powerful positions that really have no checks and balances from the laity. The people who could be valuable fellow travelers or should be guided to where the best nourishment is are often no more than a statistic or pawns in a ministry strategy. Is that really authentic Christianity?

I am struggling with this whole idea of leadership. IS what we practice in the church really biblical or have we twisted the idea of leadership? Is it more important to be a tour guide or traveler? Who is the best leader you have met? What made them the best? Did they tell you what to think or travel with you in the learning process? Does the concept of leadership need to be re-thought in this postmodern paradigm as the church emerges? Is the exclusion of women in leadership just systemic or cultural?

What do you think?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Super Weekend...A Good Call?

I am resisting comment on the Super Bowl. Many of my blog buddies have gone crazy blogging on this. Other than to say I watched the game with my family and friends (about 15 of us) and that we had too much food and a good time of just hanging out, there is not much else for me to say. Bless you Steelers fans.

There were a couple of times in the game when instant replay was used by the officials to see whether or not a call was right. I know at least one call that was made as a certainty was overturned "after further review." One controversial touchdown call was not overturned. Interesting what you see "after further review."

The weekend was "super" in another way. It was the annual pilgrimage of people looking for a refining of God's call on their lives to come to The School for Officer Training and Project 1:17 and see these ministry options first hand. The topic of calling was couched in a thematic setting entitled, "Take Your Stand." (Some of us had some fun with this theme. I might talk about my love hate relationship with themes for weekends in another blog.) It was super to see so many exploring the nature of the calling of God vocationally on their lives.

I confess I was amazed at the moving of the Spirit on Sunday morning. I must also confess that the cynic in me comes out at such times. I often think that we have become very good in evangelicalism at evoking a grand emotional response, with little meat to it in many cases. We know how to, in the words of one of my former partners in ministry as he was laying out the program for a weekend event, give "an industrial strength altar call." You can imagine my reaction after that planning meeting when I had a private conversation with him.

This was different. There was no big emotional call for prayer or the altar. There was, however, a spontaneity of response that was undeniable. Although, not completely sure of the reasoning behind the response (other than the Holy Spirit prompting people), I am sure that people were wrestling with this idea and thought of calling. I was glad to see this happening. I must say, however, I was not moved in the same way as others of my colleagues were. I was joyful to see people move at what they believed was the prompting of the Spirit. I did not experience a deep emotional response as others did.

I have over recent years thought much about the term "calling." I believe that I am called of God to be in ministry. I believe the idea of Salvation Army officership appealed to me at the time I entered ministry because, it was THE avenue of service that I could take. I am not saying that I would have chosen anything else, or that I have been living in denial for 25 years. I am thinking though that I might have examined other options. I am convinced that I would have returned to this avenue after exploration. I have a quiet assurance and peace that this is where God wants me.

I differ from some of my comrades in officership on the issue of calling. Some believe officership to be the highest calling in the Salvation Army. They see it as being more fully committed to the cause because we are willing to drop everything to rush where the Army needs us at a moment's notice. In fact, often at weekends such as this, I believe this is strongly suggested, if it is not openly said.

I believe that officership is a high and very holy calling. I do not believe it to be higher than others. I believe it to be different. I am strongly convicted that there must be strong leadership from the lay ranks in order for The Salvation Army to be effective in its mission. I might even go as far as to suggest that we tend to be a bit too officer-centric in our model in the States, sometimes to the detriment of the establishment of strong communities of faith and mission, because too much falls on the direct shoulders of officers.

Many of you have already read my blog on the young adult. You will know that my great hope is that the leadership structure of this movement (I am showing my emerging church tendencies here) will become more flattened and that the opportunities for laity to participate in the deep decision making process, not just the recommendation phase of changes in the way we execute our mission will become frequent even normal. I know someone eventually must make the ultimate decision, but I am thinking our structure could be a bit more democratic.

I also believe that emerging generations are ripe for new methodologies of implementing God's mission through The Salvation Army, which may not be fully embodied in our current officership model. I believe that God is still calling people to ministry in The Salvation Army, not necessarily to be officers. I believe that is a good call. I want as many people as possible to be called to mission and ministry through The Army.

After further review of the weekend, I pray that people were called to ministry. Do I hope that many were called to be officers, whatever calling might mean to you or me, or them? YES. Do I pray that some who came in thinking they were called had that call changed or, maybe more appropriately, clarified after further review? YES. I am especially hoping that for people who take officership as the only way they can fulfill calling. Too many follow that path because they do not try exploring all their options. They may later become disillusioned because they have limited the options God may have for them. Better to have the right call determined before game time.

I know some of you will see this as anti-officer. Please do not take it that way. I love being an officer. I do not see it as the ultimate calling, just my ultimate calling. Do I think that the idea and model of officership needs to change and become different in a postmodern paradigm? You bet! In fact, I think the product needs some big refinement.

So I continue to walk through this idea of calling. On a weekend when the Spirit was super, I have some questions.

What do you see as the real sign of calling in people?

Am I wrong? Is officership the highest calling in The Salvation Army?

Is there a real and greater role for the laity in our movement in the States? Or do we think only officers can do the real heavy lifting of decision making?

What about this idea of calling? What are the ramifications to our movement if we really see the laity as equal partners in ministry?

What do you think?