Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pastor, abbot, co?

Let me begin by saying noone should try to make pithy posts on blogger while thumbing from a handheld unit. Yet, I do feel it is time to cross into a subject that is near to my heart and probably a bit risky to discuss while being part of a quasi-military movement.

I have been on vacation (ah!)and have been reading a great deal. My ideal vacation burning up on a beach and devouring books. I have read two so far that have gotten the blog juices flowing.

"Generation Me" by Jean Twenge is a must read for those working with young adults. It is a candid look at generational differences and, in particular, a view of the generation my two sons belong to. I have also read "Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches" which is edited by Robert Webber.
Twenge confirms with hard data much of what I have experienced with the 20 something generation. This is a generation that really tends to be a generation that is stressed, paradoxical and dreamers who love to question EVERYTHING. I think I may have been born several years too early.

It is in this questioning and the turning away from the traditional church which is problematic for our movement which is big on salute and go. It is also problematic for traditional churches that are really big on pastoral authority. That is why so many emerging chuches are embracing what is called "the new monasticism." This is the formation of communities of faith that midrash and struggle with scripture and dogma in an open forum even in worship gatherings.
This is a far contrast to the current trend in our movement where we see the label "pastor/commanding officer" used so frequently. It is sometimes amusing to see those enamored with the idea of being commanders when they have a congregation of 10-15 and not much influence outside of the walls of their building. In fact, the notion of commanding much of anything with this generation is almost laughable.

While I do not want suggest preaching is not important, I would suggest that what may be needed for this generation may be the development of abbots. In the monastic days the abbot was the tour guide for those on the journey of spiritual formation in monasteries. Lest you think these monateris were cloistered, think again. Many served the poor and reached out to those who needed relationship with Christ.

Pastors/commanders tend to preach and moralize while an abbot mentors and encourages those who are searching to find their savior in an almost communal theology.

This is risky for us. It means we can be challenged and must welcome it. After all it really could mean healthier and deeper believers. The problem; this type of leadership and community means time and investment. It means that results will not be instant, unless the Spirit makes it so. In our statistic-driven, managment by goals and objective church culture (when did we adopt a very worldly way of doing church?) in which we find ourselves in the church this may prove maddening for some our more modern-leaning leadership.

So is it time for more abbots and less pastor/commanders? Is this a fad? Or is it the new wave of ou culture? Am I just fooling myself?

What do you think?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Liberal Christians?

I have been thinking a great deal about something I heard the other day. A respected friend referred to a place in our country as "A hotbed of liberalism." This person equated it with the idea of not being Christian. I sort of wondered when being a liberal became a bad thing.

During the 1980's a group of very legalistic believers began to say they spoke for all Evangelicals. The began to link social progressive thought with liberal/secular thought. These people began to define the Christian agenda as opposing gay rights and being anti-abortion. There was very little talk from them about fighting poverty, women's rights, or strong educational values. Instead, there was talk of cloistering ourselves as Christians in our own schools and not engaging culture. The tone of the conversation with those who disagreed with them became angry.

After over 20 years of the agenda, we have not found a good answer to the scourge of abortion. We have not faced the education crisis and in fact, the gap between the "haves" and "have nots" has grown. Poverty rates have soared. No real progress has happened in changing corrupt societal structures, through the efforts of this arm of the evangelical movement.

I have always seen the roots of our movement as being socially progressive. Instead of angry rhetoric, the Booths and the group of followers (most of whom came from the depths of poverty) dared to stare the Victorian conservatism of their day in the face and bring about a culture-engaging, poverty fighting, innovative and controversial style of Christianity to the world. They fought child slavery, took money from people of questionable standing and used it to do good, moved into poverty-stricken, crime infested neighborhoods to change the culture. They were frowned on as being less than Christian. They were not respectable. They challenged respectable Christianity. They loved unconditionally. They did not have pet sins which they chose to highlight. They loved in spite of the behavior. I believe they would have been called "liberals" today.

I think you know where I am going. Even though there is a small, vocal minority who espouse a legalistic type of Christianity, I believe more and more are seeing the value and scriptural mandate of being social progressives.

Recent conversations have given me concern within our movement, that we may have veered off course from our early days as social progressives; "liberals" if you will. In fact, someone sometime back used that term almost derisively as they called me a "liberal." I hope that we have not become legalists. It is easy in our Holiness tradition to lean that way, calling it purity of heart and life.

So have we bought into the legalism of some and denied our roots? Are we social progressives? Is that really scriptural? Is it a good thing to be a "Liberal Christian?" Is that what the Booths were?

What do you think?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Is Change Inevitable?

Many of my friends changed addresses this week. They moved to new towns. They moved into homes that were furnished and cared for. It was the week when our movement had new assignments take place. It has been more difficult for me than I thought it would. I did not move. I am not sure I do change well. You think it would be easier as I got older; not so.

Of course the old adage is "Change is inevitable." Others also come to mind like, "Time marches on." The latter is a fact that has not been lost on me in recent months as I notice signs of my age beginning to take hold on me.

However, there is another old adage that comes to mind as well, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Over the years there have been moments when I thought our movement had changed. We lost our bonnets and high collars (still viewed by many as the one of the most scandalous moments in our history). We have lost many of our practices that as we look back are bemoaned by many. Are we better off or worse for losing them? Who knows?

I think for the most part though, that we have basically stayed the same. We still operate except for our very security-conscious information technology with the same protocols and conservative ways as we did in the 1960's and 1970's. Permission for everything has to be asked and granted. Procedures and methodology although somewhat updated are basically the same.
Is that good or bad? You can be the judge.

Then the personal question comes, "Have I really changed?" Certainly, my political views have changed. My physical body has changed. My patience has grown. My temper has dulled. My energy has waned a bit as well. Is that really change?

I guess the question for today in our ever-changing society for me is "Have I changed personally in deep ways?" To be honest, I still struggle with many of the same spiritual issues. Even when I think I have them licked through the Spirit, they raise their heads and many times bite me.

I have had several friends talk about how they need to make changes in their lives recently. The changes have varied. They have been changes in exercise routines, jobs, education and even spiritual ways. I have even declared to myself that I need to change in many ways. I need to do better on several levels. I need many questions answered about me.

The question is though, for our movement and us personally, is change inevitable? What is good change? How do we keep what is the familiar thing and not always the right thing from dominating us corporately or personally?

Today we celebrate the 232nd birthday of our country. Think about the change during that time. Yet have we really changed? There will be cookouts, family get togethers and fireworks (my 4th will somewhat more subdued.)

I am a bit more introspective today on this festive day. What needs to change in our movement? What needs to change in me? What needs to change in you? What needs to change in our country? How do we make this happen? I am not sure anyone knows. I am sure I will get a few pat answers on this one. I think I am looking for a bit more depth today.

What do you think?