Friday, July 28, 2006

creative tension

This week I had the privilege of not only attending the "Changing World, Changing Church" conference in Palmerston North, but also giving a response to the input brought by the speakers - including Dan Kimball, Michael Frost, Mark Strom, and our own Carey staff member, Brian Krum.
In my response I tried to name six areas of creative tension that goes on within me when the subject turns to missional church (and also emerging church). Here is a brief summary of these tensions - which I do kinda enjoy grappling with:

(a) the tension between the changing and the unchanging
I do wish that 'changing world, changing church' had 'unchanging gospel' added to it. At Kiwi conferences like this one we readily assume what the gospel is - but we rarely take the time to articulate it. This encourages what is 'changing' to drive the agenda and relevance becomes dependent on contemporary trends, rather than eternal truths. This is the tension between sociology and theology and the former does tend to run the show... Our task involves looking AT the church and mission THROUGH a sociological lens in order to see what must change - but it must also include looking AT society THROUGH a biblical-theological lens in order to see what must be confronted. The authority of scripture demands no less than this.

(b) the tension between the eclipse and the lane
This is a quick history lesson on how best to interpret the 'post' words like 'postmodern' and 'postChristendom'. We tend to default to an understanding of history which sees one era being replaced, or eclipsed, by another one. The modern gives way to the postmodern. The discontinuities between the two are emphasised. This tends to make people very bold in their proclamations of a brand new era that is distinctive from all that has gone before. However I wonder if history works more like lanes... The premodern track becomes a two lane highway in the modern which then becomes a three lane motorway in the postmodern. It is this three lane motorway - with the postmodern lane being the busy and fast lane - that carries people into the future. And so continuities with the past can be seen as there is traffic still in the other lanes.
In the contemporary discussions on church which focus on eclipse, there is the danger of fleeing the arms of modernity and over into the embrace of postmodernity with the one constant being that the cultural captivity of the church remains ... But with a 'lane' understanding conversation across lanes is possible - as is being hit in our blindspots by traffic from other lanes - and a little Son-strike might help as well!

(c) the tension between 'front-door opening' and 'back-door closing' mission
We really do need both - and yet strategies for both seem to be relatively uncommon! The irony is that if we allowed the fullness of the biblical teaching on church and pastor and mission to own us - doors will open and close at the right time and in the right way. For example, take the biblical understanding of what it means to be a pastoral leader. I tend to start with five Ss: shepherd, servant, sage, seer, and steward. I am completely convinced that if these truly penetrated the lives of pastors and grew strong in them, we'd find God's Spirit take us to a whole new level in mission. This approach has not so much been tried and found wanting, but wanted and not really fully tried...

(d) the tension between the Kiwi and the North Atlantic
I stood atop Mt Maunganui earlier this month and counted 19 different waves at some stage of building towards the shore. Over my 22 years in leadership in the NZ church I could count about that many programmes and gurus in which our hopes have been placed. Two reflections on this phenomenon ... (i) there is something we should do with these waves: catch them early as they begin to swell, rather than riding them just as they begin to crash. Their application for us lies more with those early foundational principles, than with the later spectacular performance. Dan Kimball is inspirational - but probe for what shaped him and built him as a person (did I hear that he grew up in a Bible church? might that be significant?) in leadership and mission, rather than just for where he is now. The application for us is likely to be more with the earlier than with the later; (ii) there is something we should do with us: develop a culture of Kiwi-made missional research and take our own risks as we do mission in the margins and then live to tell the story...

(e) the tension between the minority world and the majority world
First World, Second World, and Third World doesn't cut it any more. Neither does Developed, Developing, and Under-developed... There is a Majority world (in the South and the East, primarily) and there is a Minority world (in the North and the West, primarily). This minority world is now a mission field - but how come we don't consult some of the mission force in the majority world for inspiration? Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom needs to be drawn into this conversation we are having as it speaks of the 'coming of a global christianity'. But we are not drawing this story into our conversation simply because the money, the power, and the media lives in the Minority world and so we don't hear these stories. Why not be really post-colonial and develop humble learning partnerships with the South and the East - and sit at their feet? When are some of our gurus going to have brown faces? When are mission trips from there to here going to commence? Within a generation only 10% of Christians will be in the North and the West and so our conversation this week starts to look like a little eddy off to the side of the mainstream of suffering and growth in the South and the East. Here in New Zealand - this remarkable confluence of North and South and East and West - we have the opportunity to lead the way.

(f) the tension between the critiqued and the affirmed
It has been understandably 'slippery' - but something has been critiqued this week (with some welcome restraint, I might add) and I think it has something to do with institutional - established - traditional church ... and something else has been affirmed and I think it has something to do with missional and emerging church. My suspicion is that what is being criticised is not as bad as we think and what is being affirmed is not as good as we think. It is possible to put a missional engine into an institutional chassis and I suspect that this is what God requires of most of us - rather than going home to 'clear the decks' and start again. But either way, embrace a principle of good research as you do so: engage with the best exponent of the opposing view, rather than with the weakest one. And so for those of us who have found the presentations both inspirational and aspirational (me included!), draw in a book like David Wells Above All Earthly Pow'rs (Eerdmans, 2005) as a conversation partner. You'll be the better for it...

A longer posting this time - sorry!

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

OE Unease?

In twenty minutes a young friend of mine flies out of New Zealand for what we tend to call the 'great Kiwi OE' - the Overseas Experience. It is kinda like a Rite of Passage. It is a great idea. We kinda know that down here in the Antipodes we are far from much of the global action and we like to go and experience some of it for ourselves.

Two areas interest me...

(a) A friend of mine who has been a young adults pastor once alerted me to how often the OE experience is linked with a 'prodigal' experience of drifting away spiritually ... and then how often people returned to NZ in worse spiritual shape than when they left. How true is that? I'd be interested in reading about the experience of others.

(b) As someone whose entire childhood was an OE (as a missionary kid in India) it does alarm me how reluctant Christian young adults can be to experience a culture vastly different from their own - thereby missing the opportunity of the OE to engage more with the peoples of God's world. To go to an African country or an Asian one - to worship with God's people there - to experience a different array of human needs - to sense a joy and a hope we rarely experience ... it almost feels like for followers of Jesus this should be compulsory! How fair is that? Again I'd be interested in reading other peoples' experiences.

My friend is settling into his chair right now, I suspect. And the flight attendants are looking relieved to have those TV monitors, saving them doing the vertical pilates routine of yesteryear.

"Please Lord, bring him home one day spiritually-enriched and missionally-challenged."

nice chatting

Paul

Monday, July 17, 2006

FAQ #1

A little further on preaching ... I appreciated that website offered by Sean (on the "Windy Place" posting) and those comments by Kim Fabricius. In it he returns to what I find to be the most 'frequently asked question' I hear on the subject of preaching: 'what about powerpoint?'

Fabricius writes the following:
"Technically, Richard Lischer oberves that 'when the brain is asked to multi-task by listening and watching at the same time, it always quits listening.' Substantively, if the medium is the message, how can the medium of IT - icon of postmodern power - square with the word of the cross? Lischer provides a thought-experiment: "What would Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech look like in powerpoint?'

What do you think? I think he asks a valid question. While powerpoint clearly has a place, its place is easily over-valued. Here are my cautions:
(a) I fear that the powerpoint imaging/support of the sermon too often receives more effort than the basic crafting of the sermon itself.
(b) I fear that the stuff on the screen too often becomes a crutch that is needed in order to give the sermon clarity and momentum. I would argue that if this is the case then the preparation of the sermon is incomplete - and this needs to be completed first.
(c) I fear that this growing confidence in 'image' is associated with a diminishing confidence in 'word', or even Word. This would be a serious error for preachers to make - and is adrift from biblical spirituality which, at its essence, is about a God who speaks and a people who listen and then obey. If people find it heard to listen, maybe they need to be taught to listen - because listening is just so important.
(d) While there is overlap between teaching and preaching, I fear that powerpoint drifts things across to the teaching side as the all-important persuasive element in preaching can go missing.

You might also like to look at:
http://www.davidmays.org/BookNotes05/TufCogn.html

nice chatting

Paul