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“Differentiation means the capacity of a family member to define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from surrounding pressures; to say “I” when others are demanding “you” and “we”.” – Edwin H. Friedman

“Self-differentiation always triggers sabotage.” – Edwin H. Friedman

9781596271678_p0_v2_s260x420 And the ninth book on my list of 15 Spiritual Formation Books that have influenced me is A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, written by Edwin H. Friedman. Friedman (1932–1996) was Jewish Rabbi and family therapist. Before his death he was well respected among both religious (Jewish and Christian) and secular establishments as a therapist and leadership consultant. He took the concept of “Self differentiation” and family systems theory, as developed by Bowen, and applied them to congregational leadership systems and leadership in general. His book, Generation to Generation, was so influential that it is now required reading at many Christian Seminaries across the country. The book was written primarily for congregational leaders for the purpose of helping them develop in three areas:

  • Being self differentiated
  • Being non-anxious
  • Being present with those one is leading

Friedman defined self differentiation as, “Knowing where you begin, and others end”:

“Differentiation is the lifelong process of striving to keep one’s being in balance through the reciprocal external and internal processes of self-definition and self-regulation. It is a concept that can sometimes be difficult to focus on objectively, for differentiation means the capacity to become oneself out of one’s self, with minimum reactivity to the positions or reactivity of others.”

This, “reactivity to the positions or reactivity of others”, has to do with anxiety. Friedman believed that how a person handled anxiety, their own as well as the anxieties of others, was a maturity issue, and had more to do with the success or failure of an organization than simply learning data and techniques, whether the “organization” was a family, business, or Church. One illustration he’d use (I cant remember which of his books I read it in), is that of falling dominos. The anxiety that organizations experience when confronted with change is like someone knocking over a domino. The domino falls, causing other dominos to fall in succession. One by one each domino falls…UNTIL, one domino chooses to stand firm. The self differentiated leader is a principled leader who knows himself, and is in healthy control of his emotions, so he does not “react” to the anxiety of the group. Friedman, however, is clear to point out that such a leader:

“…is not an autocrat who tells others what to do or orders them around, although any leader who defines himself or herself clearly may be perceived that way by those who are not taking responsibility for their own emotional being and destiny… is someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about…. is someone who can separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence… is someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.”

In the presence of such a leader the dominos stop falling. The snowball effect of escalating anxieties, and the sabotage that others engage in, are lessened as people learn to stand upright in the face of a crises.

Of course, for such a leader to have this kind of influence, they must be present. It’s easy to be non-anxious if one removes themselves from the company of others. The idea is to absorb the anxiety, to remain non-reactive in the presence of instability. Friedman taught that, “Nurturing growth always follows two principles. One is: Stay out of its way; you cannot ‘grow’ another by will or technique. But the second is: Do not let it ‘overgrow’ you.”

In A Failure of Nerve, Friedman further developed the ideas he presented in Generation to Generation, presenting to us a vision of the self-differentiated leader as someone who:

  • is able to detach from the emotional reactions of others
  • is principle centered and clear about their vision
  • is transparent and willing to admit areas of weakness
  • has the stamina to withstand resistance from others
  • is able to regulate his own emotions in the face of sabotage

Although this is marketed as a book on leadership, it has done more to expose my lack of spiritual and relational maturity than maybe any other (the only other leadership book to affect me in a similar way was Dan Allender’s Leading With a Limp). A Failure of Nerve exposed the reasons I had failed in many areas of my life, not just relationally, but also in accomplishing goals that were important to me. It continues to challenge me to grow into maturity, and one of the most important ways it does this is by reminding me that we are only as mature as our relationships reveal us to be, and the importance of staying connected to those we love and serve, even those that are difficult. The concept of self-differentiation, and the role anxiety plays in our relationships, and the need to manage it well, has been life changing to me. No. I have not mastered it, no one ever arrives at being fully differentiated, only Jesus can lay claim to that, but this book has helped me to be quite a bit more resilient in the face of crises, to cultivate healthier relationships with others,and to focus on walking in my own integrity. I’m also better able to stay connected with others even while remaining my own separate self, and regulating my own emotions in response to the reactivity of others; how to not only help others take healthy responsibility for themselves, but maybe just as important, how to stay out of the way of the growth of others. We leaders have a way of thinking we know more than everyone else, at least more than those we serve, and the temptation is to try and lead others by trying to change those who do not want to change, or control them. One of the lessons Friedman has taught me is that:

“The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choicest words lose their power when they are used to overpower. Attitudes are the real figures of speech.”

In the face of change, or other crises, its easy to allow anxiety, our own or others, to overwhelm or distract us, diverting us from that which God has called us to be or do. Or maybe we resort to quick fixes as we try to control and change others as a way of accomplishing our goals. It takes courage, or “nerve” to choose another way to be and lead.

If you are interested in a quick, and entertaining, visual illustration that summarizes some of the principles in this book, here’s a link to a fun video that does an excellent job. Check it out:

“Let us Trust in God’s love more than we believe in the Fear that paralyzes us!” – Edwin H. Friedman

I’ve been in the process of moving (and everything that goes with relocating) so, Its been several weeks since I last posted.  Before my move, I considered doing a series of posts on King David and his son Absolom.  Now that I’m somewhat settled in, my thoughts continue to return to their story.  King David, late in life and not for the first time, was forced to flee his home and his kingdom in order to escape from his own flesh and blood who had waged a rebellion and usurped his place as king.  It was arguably the lowest point in David’s life. 

Much is written about King David, “A man after God’s own heart”, a “Warrior Poet”.  King David, however, also had many weaknesses, and committed sins that would disqualify him from leadership in most any Christian (and secular) organization today.  Yes, David was intimate with God, and was a wonderful leader of men but, he was also one susceptible to the temptations of power, lustful toward women, negligent toward his family, tempted by vengeance, and often emotional to the point of over-sentimentality.  As  Gene Edwards wrote in, Tale of Three Kings, early in his campaign as a leader, David lead hundreds of  “no-goods” and they were stuck “with a leader who cried a lot”.  It was these weaknesses, namely his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, and his negligence as a father, that was directly responsible for this present crisis in his life.  Thus enters Absolom.

Absolom, harboring (and hiding) a long held grudge, deep wounds, resentment, and bitterness, used his intimate awareness of David’s most personal weaknesses and failings as a leader and father, to seize an opportunity to usurp David’s authority and make himself king.  Through vanity, deceit, and false pretenses of reconciliation and justice, he not only stole the hearts of the people but, also the allegiance of David’s friends and counselors. 

Nevertheless, despite his failings, and true to his character, David (a man after God’s own heart), rather than fight for what was rightfully his, he left in order to spare the city from civil war, because at this point staying to fight would have divided the people and torn the kingdom apart:

“Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.” – 2 Samuel 15:14 

He decided to flee like a fugitive, leaving his loved ones, his home and his kingdom, to go into exile, trusting that God would do what was ultimately best; that if it pleased Him to do so, God would restore him in His way and in His time.

You can read the story of David and Absolom for yourself  (2 Samuel chapters 13-19).  It’s a compelling page-turner full of intrigue and invaluable lessons for the reader.  

Peace,

Roc

Litmus Test: 1. A crucial and revealing test in which there is one decisive factor.   2. A test that uses a single indicator to prompt a decision.

I wasn’t planning on posting again until next week but, in light of some of the personal responses I received this week because of my last two posts (I Visited A Church Today, and 15 Theses), I decided it best not to put it off.  Something I learned last week is that though it’s sometimes good to play the provocateur, it only works if its clear that that is in fact what you’re doing, and then you better clarify quickly where you stand on an issue.  Since all of the discussions that revealed my full position on the Theseshappened off the blog rather than in the comments, I’ll give a response now.

Wolfgang Simson made some provocative statements about church reforms (some I agree with in spirit), but some I do not (as I stated in the post).  I was asked to give a clearer position on where I stand on some issues (what I perceived to be a “litmus test”), as to where I stand in the faith, and regarding clergy and church life.  I’ve never been fond of such “tests”, but I’m willing to do so for the sake of clarity (and salvage my reputation amongst the head hunters).  I’ll be plain and direct.  

I am not anti-institutional church.  But I am anti-“Tradition of The Elders” (what Jesus referred to as religious rules taught by men but passed off as the commandments of God).  I’m against it because Jesus was against it.  Jesus was against it because they presented stumbling blocks to true worship and often misrepresented the heart of the Father toward his people and those who were searching.  Tradition is good however, when it aids us in worship, and also when it protects from ungodly cultural influences and false doctrines that threaten the church.  Some of the traditions passed down from the “Church Fathers” were pragmatic responses to legitimate threats to the orthodoxy of the Faith.  But when our traditions interfere with our worship, or no longer serve their intended purpose, then we should be open to innovations.  However, it can be difficult for some to distinguish between the Commands of God, and modern day versions of the Traditions of The Elders.  That isn’t a negative criticism, just an observation.  

I am not anti-Pastor, but I am anti-rigid clericalism where church leaders take on the role of “priests” creating a huge clergy/laity divide where they are content to minister to a passive congregation (and the people content to have it so), when they are called to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry”.  This equipping does not mean training for ushers, filling communion trays, and raising up volunteers for church programs (though the church may indeed need servers who do these things), but equipping for the ministry as fellow priests, ministering to “One Another” according to their gifts and abilities by the grace God has given to each.  I am decidedly for Church Elders (overseers) such as these .  There is no Calling I respect more (except maybe good parents;-) than church elders who preach the Gospel and lead in this manner, and they should be honored.  

I do not believe that “house churches” are the biblical mandated way of “doing” church, though some do prefer it.  In fact, some of the views within the the house church movement (though not all), and Emergent churches, regarding preaching and authority, concern me.  Nevertheless, the small group advantage some of these expressions provide, is important.  They provide the forum through which a church can grow more connected the way a body actually “assembles”, providing nourishment to each part of the body, and thereby becoming more Christlike as they learn to build up “One Another” in love.   The reformer, Martin Luther, expressed a desire that an alternative service be formed for those who wanted to meet in this fashion, but never made such reforms because in his words he did not think the people wanted it, nor did he have the men capable of leading them: 

“The right kind of evangelical order cannot be exhibited among all sorts of people, but those who are seriously determined to be Christians and confess the gospel with hand and mouth, must enroll themselves by name and meet apart in one house, for prayer, for reading, to baptize, to take the Sacrament, and exercise other Christian works. With such order it would be possible for those who did not behave in a Christian manner to be known, reproved, restored, or excluded, according to the rule of Christ (Matt. 18:15). Here also they could, in common, subscribe alms, which would be willingly given and distributed among the poor, according to the example of Paul (2 Cor. 9:1-12). Here it would not be necessary to have much or fine singing. Here a short and simple way of baptism and the Sacrament could be practiced, and all would be according to the Word and in love. But I cannot yet order and establish such an assembly…In the meantime I will call, excite, preach, help forward it, until Christians take the Word so in earnest, that they will themselves find how to do it and continue in it.” – Reformer Martin Luther-1526 

The obvious solution: Train leaders who are capable and then allow them to lead those who do wish to meet in this fashion.  Do not forbid Innovative or Simple Churches, but rather raise them up as a means of strengthening the body, and when appropriate, recognize them as legitimate expressions of “Church”.  And nor should we tear down the institutional church but rather draw from their resources and continue to add to the spiritual health of the body.

An old friend of mine, who is an elder in his church back east, suggested that a good place to start is to define what is a local church.  I like the description of a local church community that Mark Driscoll gives in his book Vintage Faith

“The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.”

Regarding a “litmus Test” for defining a “Church”, For me, this is the “One decisive factor”:  A community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Mark, a reformed pastor in Seattle (who also believes that all of the gifts of the spirit are for today’s church) leads a large “institutional” church, with small groups (led by many who have, and could be pastoring their own churches).  His ministry has planted  numerous missional churches around the world, and he goes on to say that there is “confusion because nowhere in the New Testament does church in any of its forms refer to a building”.  (Hmmm, he can’t be anti-institutional).  He quotes Wayne Grudem, a leading respected Bible scholar:  

A “house church” is called a “church” in Romans 16:5 (greet also the church in their house“), 1Corinthians 16:19 (“Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord”).  The church in an entire city is also called “a church” (1Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; and Thess. 1:1).  The church in a region is referred to as a “church” in Acts 9:31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up.”  Finally, the church throughout the entire world can be referred to as “the church.”  Paul says, “Christ so loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25) and says, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Cor. 12:28)….We may conclude that the group of God’s people considered at any level from local to universal may rightly be called “a church.” – Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

This is introductory stuff; nothing “deep”, or radical, or anti-anything.  Just  basic Bible doctrine.  

Hopefully this gives you a clearer picture of where I’m coming from.  I’m not seeking to play the iconoclast and tear down our institutions, but the Kingdom of God really is at hand, and although I am Theologically Conservative, I am also Culturally Innovative, and I believe in being missionally creative.  I want to be a part of what Jay Tolson in his article, A Return to Tradition described as “…innovative returns to tradition….a means of moving beyond fundamentalist literalism, troubling authority figures, and highly politicized religious positions…while retaining a hold on spiritual truths”.  Is this easy?  No.  Sometimes messy?  You bet.  Mistakes are made, but its worth pushing the boundaries for the sake of others and their stake in the Kingdom of God.  Especially when those boundaries are mostly in our hearts and in our heads.  

Well, I took the litmus test (and maybe presented one as well?).  Ultimately, God is our judge and he knows our hearts; and what matters most is “faith working in love”.  And as the second definition says, a litmus test also “prompts a decision”.  Have you been “prompted”? 

Peace,

Roc

In 1517 Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses and posted them on the Wittenburg Door, and the Protestant Reformation was launched.  His ninety five theses were the driving force behind the Reformation.  It brought attention to the abuses of the Church and the un-scriptural practices of the clergy.  It encouraged the people to reconsider what they had been taught by the priests, regarding doctrine and practice, in light of the new testament scriptures.  And though the Reformation brought about needed corrections regarding doctrine, by Luther’s own estimation there were some things left undone regarding practice and the priesthood of believers.

As I said in my last post I am not prescribing the “right ” way to do church.  I  am not advocating “house” churches per se (nor the harsh stance on institutional churches), although I do believe we are still in need of continued reforms, and a simpler more organic approach to church-life would be healthy.  On that note, today I’m posting 15 Theses by Wolfgang Simson.  I may not totally agree with everything (and neither must you), but it does accurately articulate many of my own sentiments at the present.  Please read prayerfully, and be gracious when considering how each point may play out in your own situation, because we are still the Body of Christ no matter how or where we meet, and that bond transcends place, because we are a “priesthood of believers” who serve a “God who does not live in temples made by the hands of men.”

Semper Reformandum                                                                                                (Always Reforming), 

Roc                                                                 

 15 Theses By Wolfgang Simson

God is changing the Church, and that, in turn, will change the world. Millions of Christians around the world are aware of an imminent reformation of global proportions. They say, in effect: “Church as we know it is preventing Church as God wants it.” A growing number of them are surprisingly hearing God say the very same things. There is a collective new awareness of age-old revelations, a corporate spiritual echo. In the following “15 Theses” I will summarize a part of this, and I am convinced that it reflects a part of what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church today. For some, it might be the proverbial fist-sized cloud on Elijah’s sky. Others already feel the pouring rain.

1. Church is a Way of Life, not a series of religious meetings

Before they where called Christians, followers of Christ have been called “The Way”. One of the reasons was, that they have literally found “the way to live.” The nature of Church is not reflected in a constant series of religious meetings lead by professional clergy in holy rooms specially reserved to experience Jesus, but in the prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday life in spiritually extended families as a vivid answer to the questions society faces, at the place where it counts most: in their homes.

2. Time to change the system

In aligning itself to the religious patterns of the day, the historic Orthodox Church after Constantine in the 4th century AD adopted a religious system which was in essence Old Testament, complete with priests, altar, a Christian temple (cathedral), frankincense and a Jewish, synagogue-style worship pattern. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther did reform the content of the gospel, but left the outer forms of “church” remarkably untouched; the Free-Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it into a uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and the Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the superstructure. It is about time to do just that.

3. The Third Reformation.

In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the Church through a reformation of theology. In the 18th century through movements like the Moraviansthere was a recovery of a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the Second Reformation. Now God is touching the wineskins themselves, initiating a Third Reformation, a reformation of structure.

4. From Church-Houses to house-churches

Since New Testament times, there is no such thing as “a house of God”. At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded unequivocally: God does not live in temples made by human hands. The Church is the people of God. The Church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There, the people of God: -Share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, -Have “meatings,” that is, they eat when they meet, -They often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings, -Teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God’s word, dialogue – and not professor-style, -Pray and prophesy with each other, baptize, ‘lose their face’ and their ego by confessing their sins, -Regaining a new corporate identity by experiencing love, acceptance and forgiveness.

5. The church has to become small in order to grow big

Most churches of today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become “fellowships without fellowship.” The New Testament Church was a mass of small groups, typically between 10 and 15 people. It grew not upward into big congregations between 20 and 300 people filling a cathedral and making real, mutual communication improbable. Instead, it multiplied “sidewards”, like organic cells, once thesegroups reached around 15-20 people. Then, if possible, it drew all the Christians together into citywide celebrations, as withSolomon’s Temple court in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church as we know it is, statistically speaking, neither big nor beautiful, but rather a sad compromise, an overgrown house-church and an under-grown celebration, often missing the dynamics of both.

6. No church is led by a Pastor alone

The local church is not led by a Pastor, but fathered by an Elder, a local person of wisdom and reality. The local house-churches are then networked into a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called five-fold ministries (Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelists and Teachers) circulating “from houseto house,” whereby there is a special foundational role to play for the apostolic and prophetic ministries (Eph. 2:20, and 4:11.12). A Pastor (shepherd) is a very necessary part of the whole team, but he cannot fulfil more than a part of the whole task of “equipping the saints for the ministry,” and has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.

7. The right pieces – fitted together in the wrong way

In doing a puzzle, we need to have the right original for the pieces, otherwise the final product, the whole picture, turns out wrong, and the individual pieces do not make much sense. This has happened to large parts of the Christian world: we have all the right pieces, but have fitted them together wrong, because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy and a power-and-control mentality. As water is found in three forms, ice, water and steam, the five ministries mentioned in Eph. 4:11-12, the Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists are also found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places: they are often frozen to ice in the rigid system of institutionalised Christianity; they sometimes exist as clear water; or they have vanished like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and “independent” churches, accountable to no-one. As it is best to water flowers with the fluid version of water, these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new, and at the same time age-old, forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual “ministers” can find their proper role and place in the whole. That is one more reason why we need to return back to the Maker’s original and blueprint for the Church.

8. God does not leave the Church in the hands of bureaucratic clergy

No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional “holy man” doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive religious consumers Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament. The heavy professionalisation of the church since Constantine has now been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into laity and clergy. According to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5), “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in-between people and God forever. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems, because it basically asks only two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be OK for politics and companies, but not the Church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His Church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, the hands of ordinary people made extraordinary by God, who, like in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume and revolution.

9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity

The “Body of Christ” is a vivid description of an organic, not an organized, being. Church consists on its local level of a multitude of spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network, where the way the pieces are functioning together is an integral part of the message of the whole. What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straightjacket, often choked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control, faithcan trust. Control, therefore, may be good, but trust is better. The Body of Christ is entrusted by God into the hands of steward-minded people with a supernatural charismatic gift to believe God that He is still in control, even if they are not. A development of trust-related regional and national networks, not a new arrangement of political ecumenism is necessary for organic forms of Christianity to re-emerge.

10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God

The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized, a bit euphemistically, as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes against a holy fee. Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise called “worship service” requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy to keep going, formalized and institutionalised patterns developed quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional 1-2 hour “worship service” is very resource-hungry but actually produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people, that is, in changed lives. Economically speaking, it might be a “high input and low output” structure. Traditionally, the desire to “worship in the right way” has led to much denominationalism, confessionalism and nominalism. This not only ignores that Christians are called to “worship in truth and in spirit,” not in cathedrals holding songbooks, but also ignores that most of life is informal, and so is Christianity as “the Way of Life.” Do we need to change from being powerful actors to start “acting powerfully?”

11. Stop bringing people to church, and start bringing the church to the people

The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people “into the church,” and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.

12. Rediscovering the “Lord’s Supper” to be a real supper with real food

Church tradition has managed to “celebrate the Lord’s Supper” in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the “Lord’s Supper” was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.

13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations

Jesus called a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious companies withglobal chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing witheach other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has, therefore, become politically insignificant and often more concerned withtraditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into denominations. In the early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and then organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbors organizing themselves into neighborhood- or house-churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporatenessof the Church of the city or region. Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the Church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the City-Church.

14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit

They crucified Jesus, the Boss of all the Christians. Today, his followers are often more into titles, medals and social respectability, or, worst of all, they remain silent and are not worthbeing noticed at all. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted”, says Jesus. Biblical Christianity is a healthy threat to pagan godlessness and sinfulness, a world overcome by greed, materialism, jealousy and any amount of demonic standards of ethics, sex, money and power. Contemporary Christianity in many countries is simply too harmless and polite to be worthpersecuting. But as Christians again live out New Testament standards of life and, for example, call sin as sin, conversion or persecution has been, is and will be the natural reaction of the world. Instead of nesting comfortably in temporary zones of religious liberty, Christians will have to prepare to be again discovered as the main culprits against global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe. That is why Christians will and must feel the “repressive tolerance” of a world which has lost any absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God withhis absolute standards. Coupled with the growing ideologisation, privatization and spiritualisation of politics and economics, Christians will, sooner than most think, have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. They need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.

15. The Church comes home

Where is the easiest place, say, for a man to be spiritual? Maybe again, is it hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed up in holy robes, preaching holy words to a faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office? And what is the most difficult, and therefore most meaningful, place for a man to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of his wife and children, where everything he does and says is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow. Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots, back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history. As Christians of all walks of life, from all denominations and backgrounds, feel a clear echo in their spirit to what God’s Spirit is saying to the Church, and start to hear globally in order to act locally, they begin to function again as one body. They organize themselves into neighbourhood house-churches and meet in regional or city-celebrations. You are invited to become part of this movement and make your own contribution. Maybe your home, too, will become a house that changes the world. 

You are welcome and encouraged to redistribute this article.

In answer to my last post on failure, today I’m posting a response by John Stanko of Purpose Quest http://www.purposequest.com/.  Feel free to check out some of his past articles on the subject of failure. 

Roc

Well, I haven’t quite declared my annual Celebrate a Failure Week, but I may soon. In the meantime, I have a whole body of failure articles that can be found at http://tinyurl.com/c8xkyr. I often tell people the following trilogy of statements that help explain the purpose of failure:

Q: Isn’t failure often a learning experience?

A: “Yes!”

Q: Don’t we often learn more from failure than success?

A; “Yes!”

Q: Aren’t we always to be learning?

A: “Yes!”

Q: Then should we, should you, be failing as often as possible?

A: Silence

So what say you to the last question?

In previous posts on groupthink (this is the last) I’ve tried to show it’s potential dangers, but that isn’t to say that I think that groups or teams are bad.  Just the opposite!  As one of my graduate school professors said to me (who was very much into groups),  “Yes, Ron, community is necessary for spiritual growth, but only if the group is healthy.”  Healthy or not, people do gather, and because of the relational baggage we carry, or the emotional wounds from our past, our stories often collide as we experience one another.  Nevertheless, good things can come out of these collisions if there are those within the group who are committed to Christ-like solutions.  Groupthink methods can certainly help control these collisions but there is a better way.  Teamthink.  Neck and Manz (1994), coined the term, but it’s characteristics can be seen in scripture.  They defined it as, “effective synergistic thinking within the group.”  Unlike groupthink, teamthink is characterized by these traits:  

  • Encouragement of divergent views 
  • Open expression of concerns/ideas
  • Awareness of limitations/threats
  • Recognition of member’s uniqueness
  • Discussion of collective doubts  

Acts 15 offers us an example of these characteristics at work.  A conflict arose in the church of Antioch because the more traditional Jewish believers wanted the Gentile followers to obey the law of circumcision.  I won’t get into the theological implications of law and grace, but instead consider the way the group resolved the conflict by cooperating with the Holy Spirit and each other to reach a decision on the matter. 

  “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.”- Acts 15:1-3 

First notice the phrase “sharp dispute and debate”.  Though it is rare that you’ll ever “convert” anyone by arguing with them (though it does happen), there are times when such debates are necessary.  Labeling as divisive those who are contending for core issues of faith is misguided.  Paul and Barnabas were not being divisive.  Those promoting wrong doctrine and encroaching on the liberty of the non-traditional Antioch church were the cause of the division.  Elsewhere, Paul actually speaks of “Those who cause division because of their wrong doctrine”, but encourages Timothy to rebuke them sharply and to correct them. 

  “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.’  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.  After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’  The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.  When they finished, James spoke up: ‘Brothers, listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.'” -vv. 5-14 

Notice that the concerns of all parties were heard.  There was “much discussion”, and there was no attempt by the apostles to pull rank or distance themselves from the less powerful, least represented Gentile members of their group.  “God who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinctions between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”  What is amazing to me is how we today, who do not have the credibility or authority of the early apostles, lack their humility when we try to wield more authority over people in our faith communities than they were willing to force upon their own in their day.  

  “It is my judgment therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”  Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.” – vv. 19-22  

Here we see the “us” in consensus.  They did not dismiss the concerns of the more established or powerful group.  They acknowledge the legitimate threat to the faith and their standing within the religious traditional Jewish community, but addressed them biblically, appealing to cultural sensitivity.  Love, even under the pretense of liberty, does not needlessly cause others to stumble.    

  “Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing.  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:  You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.” -vv. 27-29 

 Once again we see an appeal to be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of the other group, concerns that were rooted in both scripture and culture.  It was with this in mind that they set reasonable limitations on the Gentile community that did not place on them unnecessary religious burdens or violate their liberty in Christ. 
 
In making these decisions, the group and their approach was no less “spiritual” because they did not have a “Word” from God, though they would have responded to one if the Spirit had chosen to direct them in that manner (which, ironically, was common in the Antioch church).  Nor did the leader come down from the mountaintop, having heard from God for all the others, while they all compliantly obeyed (though God does speak through others, the “word” is still judged for authenticity).  Nor was it less relational because they disagreed sharply.  Peter and Paul were not subversively undermining the church because they broke with the status quo of the more influential majority group.  They took a stand on biblical grounds regarding what they understood to be essential.  Though their experiences among the Gentiles were unique, they were recognized as credible, and rather than being dismissed as “just another opinion”, it added to the realization of a new harmony and, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”.  Wait a minute!  The Holy Spirit?  How did He get in there?  When did He show up?  You mean with all these leaders fighting for their view of what is right, all these people with all their stories and experiences, their opinions, their traditions, their liberty, their you name it; with all this religious testosterone in the room, the Holy Spirit was there the whole time helping, leading, and trusting them to work it out according to His heart and mind?  Yep. 
 
So, here in scripture we see a positive example of decision-making in a group context.  Not just another technique or opinion of man, but a lived out, New Testament example from those who came before us.  
 
When it comes to team work and decision-making, a thinking team is better than groupthink, and… “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit”.  Let me know what you think.
 
Roc 

Please forgive my slowness in posting lately.  It isn’t for lack of interest, but a round robin of cold and flu symptoms at home.  I have had some time to let some thoughts germinate, and if it comes out rather random, well, I’m not feeling particularly clear headed these days. 

First, in light of what I’ve already written about the dangers of groupthink, for the intensely independent readers, I would like to point out that I do believe in community, and it is my intense desire to be a better, more authentic member of the Christian community as I understand it in scripture: A body of believers,  “One Anothering” each other, caring for one another, ministering to the needs of one another, breaking bread and sharing their spiritual gifts with one another, impacting their community around them with one another, sharing their food and belongings with one another.  Basically, sharing life with one another.  Little of what I just described actually happens in a church meeting on Sunday mornings (we have professionals who are hired to do those things), but I do believe in the assembly of the body of believers, though I maintain that it will look different for various communities (especially if a church community is dedicated to living out what I described above).

I also believe in leadership.  Please do not make the mistake of mis-interpreting my previous posts on groupthink and the wrong kind of leadership as being a rebellious take on legitimate authority.  I’ve been misunderstood in the past, sometimes understandably, other times either in an attempt to discredit the message and the messenger, or in reaction to some point that struck too close to home.  Note: If it appears as if I’ve been aiming at you, I’m not directing what I’ve written at anyone in particular.  To quote a former pastor of mine: “I’m not shooting at you.  You’re simply in the line of fire.  Get out of the way.”  The Church needs servant leaders.  Spiritually gifted men and women, of proven character, sound in doctrine, who know how to walk along side their brothers and sisters, not lord it over them; a person of strong faith, who understands the way of the cross, the way of sacrificial love; leaders who are in touch with their own weaknesses and transparent about their failures, so they are comfortable with the weaknesses and failings of others as they grow in maturity.  Leaders like that take time to cultivate, but once they are, they can be trusted, and their faith should be imitated, and their authority within a church community should be recognized. 

Regarding community, another word that has repeatedly come to  mind, but I’ve resisted using until now, is consensus.  Community, team, relational, communal, consensus; these are all words that have grown in popularity in recent years with entire theologies built around these themes coming to the forefront of theological discussions.  What we mustn’t lose  sight of is that consensus does not begin with man at the center.  Christ and discernment of His will, His purpose is the goal of every community. 

By consensus, I do not mean uniformity, but harmony.  I’ve met leaders (and too often have been one) who preferred that others would be more like them rather than more of who they truly were.  Using  music as a metaphor, we want to be a part of a group that’s playing the same tune.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  A group cannot “play” together unless they’re playing the same tune.  Some leaders, however, mistake the unity of playing the same tune as meaning that everyone must play the same note.  Certainly, a group playing a tune by insisting that everyone play the exact same notes on their instruments will ensure that everyone is playing the same tune.  But this kind of “unity” is neither reflective of skill or maturity.  It allows for no thematic variations, or emotional nuances brought about by the interplay of major and minor chords that make music, or any relational dynamic, so thrilling, memorable, and yes, at times  even dangerous.  Nor does it allow the interplay of musical themes (people’s own stories or sense of purpose) into the mix because things might get “complicated”, and yet these are exactly the kinds of complexities life brings us, complexities that small-group and organizational leaders must learn to conduct. 

The very meaning of the word consensus is to harmonize, and ironically, you cannot have harmony without differences.  It is when notes are played that are different, but sympathetic to one another in arrangement, that harmony is created.  These differences allow a simple tune to be transformed into a beautiful composition.  In the same way when a group honors differences while seeking to be like minded (sympathetic), embracing the diversity of gifts within the group, listens well, and speaks the truth in love, then harmony can be achieved.  But it takes skill and maturity for a conductor (leader) to orchestrate complex arrangements or a diversity of gifts within the Church Body (ultimately it’s the work of the Holy Spirit).  Many leaders simply resort to control mechanisms or more traditional, or authoritarian forms of leadership simply because it’s easier (I’m not the only one, am I?).  That does “work” in a pragmatic sense, if one is forceful or charismatic enough, but when groupthink is the result, it’s a song sung off key. 

My question is, “How can a leader avoid groupthink, and co-operate with the Holy Spirit in facilitating harmony within a community unless they themselves learn to sympathize with the instruments and notes (struggles, strengths, gifts weaknesses, callings, stories, etc.) that others in the group carry within them?” 

It may not be linguistically precise for me to do this , but I like to think of consensus in this way: Con (means with or part of) + sens (sense or awareness of) + us (others I am relating to or interacting with).  Consensus: with a sense or awareness of others.  Doesn’t that sound better than simply trying to get everyone to agree with you?  Or allowing the group to be controlled by those who want consensus simply as a means of thwarting true Godly authority.  Consensus is about including informed others who’s strengths can and should be brought to bare on issues of discernment or decision making.  We see this in Acts 15 at the Church of Antioch when a groupthink posse from the more established church in Judea tried to dictate to the  gentile converts who did not feel bound to the same traditional restraints. 

 I’ll wait until my next and final post in the series to unpack their conflict and we’ll see the creative way the leaders overcame groupthink, and in co-operation with the Holy Spirit helped to “orchestrate” harmony in the community.  

Peace,

Roc 

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