Friday, October 24, 2008

Oct 08 Meeting

Ten of us met at Laura’s Cuban Restaurant last Tuesday night. Wendy and her husband Tarlton were newcomers, both to this area and to our conversation. We all enjoyed getting to know them.

After a brief re-cap of the article we’ve been discussing, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church.” Steve F. and Flavio shared their “stories” of the spiritual journey that led them to this table tonight. While neither this writer, nor this format, can do justice even to a ten minute summary of a person’s life’s journey, here were some themes:

Steve F. spoke about his “radical” dedication to the cause of Christ since “saying the sinner’s prayer” at a young age – living in community with other young Christians who were recovering from any variety of life’s scars, touring with a Christian rock band, and spending so much time “being all that” for Christ that he missed some of the basics along the way. In fact, he was stopped in his tracks one day when he discovered that one true meaning of the word “radical” was not what he thought. It actually meant “basic…fundamental.” He took a break from all the activity to explore the basic fundamentals of Christianity: to learn to love God and others and to grow to be more like Jesus. Ironically, in doing so, he was criticized by those in his church. Maybe that’s because now he really was being radical according to another definition, “Favoring or effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions.” Steve shared how he’s “served” the church for many years, but one reason he came to this table is that he simply wants friends. How radical is that?

Flavio grew up as part of a missionary family in Brazil. By the time he got back to the U.S. he discovered that although he was American by passport and heritage, he was “an invisible immigrant” since he didn’t know the ways of American culture. So, you know how kids get treated when they don’t quite fit in. Flavio’s experiences gave him a greater empathy for the marginalized in society, as well as an analytical mind. He’s seen church done all kinds of ways, and can rank them according to a number of attributes: doctrinal purity, worship, community, missional focus, hospitality to strangers and how decisions are made – ownership (with the later becoming more important and the earlier less so as time goes by). The question of how we can participate in and impact the Body of Christ (the “church”) and through it, those around us, is one thing that led Flavio to the emerging conversation. But his continues to be a journey which has not reached a destination. Should we ever feel we’ve “arrived?”

Flavio and Steve both shared of themselves, and we got to know them better. Church is relational. We’ll try to have one person share their story each month.

How we participate in the life of the church led us to the next part of the discussion, about “leaderless organizations.” Flavio and Matt shared some of the principles found in The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom who applied their business know-how to promoting peace and economic development through decentralized networking. In short, “spider” organizations are characterized by top-down hierarchies and communication, centralized knowledge, power and resources, rigidity and clearly defined membership. One major weakness? If you thump it on its head, it will die. By contrast, starfish organizations, like the animals they are named for, can regenerate if one part is cut off. In fact, these are their strengths: Distributed knowledge, power and resources, direct communication (not depending on intermediaries), flexibility, fuzzy boundaries and interchangeable roles based on the participants’ abilities, talents and giftings.

How then do we apply starfish or spider models to the “church?” We just got started on this fascinating topic. It was pointed out that starfish organizations can make decisions by consensus. Participants are then more invested in the decisions of the group, which makes it stronger. Wikipedia is one model here. Common goals are key. What are our goals in the church?

If church can be a decentralized network, how do we deal with “error?” What happens if participants start to embrace downright harmful beliefs and behaviors? Well linked communication is vital. Who are they talking to? Who’s talking to them? And where do we all get our instructions from? Jim pointed out that none of Paul’s epistles were addressed to “church leaders.” Is there really a Holy Spirit “…whom the Father will send in my name, [who] will teach you all things and … remind you of everything I have said to you.”? What is the Holy Spirit saying to you, and to us?

I know many of us are looking forward to continuing the conversation. We’re planning to do so again back at Laura’s on Tuesday night, November 11th.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Sept 08 Meeting

Seven of us braved the rain last Tuesday night to continue our discussion on what emerging or missional church should look like. Steve F.’s wife Linda joined us along with Flavio’s friend, Shannon, as newcomers. Robin M. started us off by introducing church boundary concepts from “Who is in? Who is out?” based on Stuart Murray’s book Church Planting: Laying Foundations, paraphrased below:

Bounded set – there is a clear line between the church and the world outside the church. Church members are required to subscribe to these boundaries and violation leads to exclusion.

Fuzzy set – there is more room for ambivalence, where doctrinal and ethical issues are open to debate rather than being resolved. There are still boundaries that can be violated, but these are less clear.

Open set – There are effectively no boundaries except those which are self-imposed. Belief and lifestyle are not matters of community concern.

Centered set – a dynamic, rather than static model, where the direction in which a person is facing is more important than their distance from the center. With Christ as the center, where a person is in relation to them is not as important as the direction that their life is traveling. This idea may result in someone whose lifestyle seems good, but is moving away from Christ, while someone who is new to the faith (or even still seeking) is moving towards.

While knowing Christ, and being a disciple or Christ-follower, is still paramount, some said churches can overemphasize the boundaries rather than the journey (Centered set). This can result in a de-emphasis on the importance of community, once someone is “saved,” along with an overemphasis on conformity to the “club rules” as opposed to growing in the direction of loving God and loving others - the “Jesus Creed”. One person reminded us that from God’s perspective, “we’re all out,” (except for Christ in us).

Shannon, who works as a DJ, said he was “saved” (and glad he was) a few years ago in a mega church, but found himself not only alone in a crowd but being told he could no longer associate with the friends he used to have. He explored a small local emergent church community (which was rejected by the mega church) and found real friends. How so? They are authentic, open, non-judgmental, and rather than having all the answers, “…can disagree at times, but all stay centered in God.” Shannon said being part of such community helped him…grow closer to God and to others.

So, do numbers matter? If mega churches can miss community, is church growth important? We were reminded of the fellowship of believers in Acts 2 where, “…the Lord added to their number daily…” When Shannon did meet up with his old friends, now as a Christ-follower, his love extended to one friend who he allowed to detox on his couch. The hope is that one day this friend can similarly reach out to others in need of God’s love and healing. Steve F. reminded us that God’s love starts with those closest to us, and that we can be more intentional about how we relate to those our own homes. He gave an example of how he relates to Linda. Church is in the end relational: Us toward God, and toward each other.

Flavio mentioned a "community experiment," "Buy Nothing New in October" ("NoNO") which led to a discussion on social justice. How can American Christians look at global poverty and justify lifestyles of consumerism? Jim offered that “tithing” can be graduated: the more you earn above median, the higher you go above 10%…”giving to those as have need.” (Acts 2:45)

We also talked about how some “club house” churches can create barriers to ministering to the poor and homeless. But can it work the other way? Can there be churches where persons of upper socio-economic status might not “feel the love”? Its possible congregations can become “boutique” churches, catering to certain ethnic, age or socio-economic demographics rather than the diversity found both in our communities as well as in the Body of Christ. This led us back to what’s important. In “Five Streams,” Scot McKnight writes, “First, the emerging movement becomes missional by participating, with God, in the redemptive work of God in this world. In essence, it joins with the apostle Paul in saying that God has given us "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Second, it seeks to become missional by participating in the community where God's redemptive work occurs. The church is the community through which God works and in which God manifests the credibility of the gospel.”

McKnight would, “…ask churches to begin by spelling out outcomes (and [he’d] want them to be loving God and loving others) and [he’d] ask pastors and leaders and churches to shape everything in that direction. How often have our churches been taught ‘how’ to love and ‘what loves looks like’ and ‘how we can become more loving’ (of God or others)? If this is the Jesus Creed, then why is it not more central to our focuses?”

What has love looked like in your life, and in our broader church?

Peace & Blessings,


P.S. Since Tuesday night, the after-conversation has been provocative, and I think ultimately bodes well for future discussion and Kingdom building. Some people have suggested that at our next meeting, a few of us “share our stories” of what led us here, in some depth. This will no doubt lead us into a variety of topics. And after all, “church is relational.”