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Christian Author and philosopher, Dallas Willard died today at the age of 77, after announcing earlier this week that he was battling cancer. I wrote about his book The Divine Conspiracy, just a couple of weeks ago. His books on spiritual formation and discipleship were a major influence on me and thousands of others. Along with many others I mourn his passing.  He will be greatly missed.  Below you’ll find a copy of his bio taken from Wikipedia.

Dallas-Willard-Quotes-2

Dallas Albert Willard (September 4, 1935-May 8, 2013) was an American philosopher also known for his writings on Christian spiritual formation. His work in philosophy has been primarily in phenomenology, particularly the work of Edmund Husserl. He was Professor of Philosophy at The University of Southern California.[1] 

In addition to teaching and writing about philosophy, Willard gave lectures and wrote books about Christianity and Christian living. His book The Divine Conspiracy was Christianity Today’s Book of the Year for 1999.[4] Another of his books, Renovation of the Heart, won Christianity Today’s 2003 Book Award for books on Spirituality and The Association of Logos Bookstores’ 2003 Book Award for books on Christian Living.[5]

Willard believed passivity to be a widespread problem in the Church (loosely summed up in his phrase “Grace is not opposed to effort {which is action}, but to earning {which is attitude}”).[6][7] He emphasized the importance of deliberately choosing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ (someone being with Jesus, learning to be like Him).[8][9][10] An important outgrowth of the choice to be identified as a disciple of Jesus is the desire to learn about activities that aid spiritual transformation into the likeness of Christ.[11]

In this regard, being an apprentice of Jesus (someone being with Jesus, learning to be like Him), involves learning about activities that might help one grow in the fruit of the spirit, namely love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).[12][13][14] Such activities might include spiritual exercises practiced throughout the ages such as prayer, fellowship, service, study, simplicity, chastity, solitude, fasting.[15][16] Willard explains the crucial role of engaging in spiritual exercises in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives—a book that was written after In Search of Guidance: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

Willard has a recommended reading page on his website listing specific titles by Thomas a Kempis, William Law, Frank Laubach, William Wilberforce, Richard Baxter, Charles Finney, Jan Johnson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jeremy Taylor, Richard Foster, E. Stanley Jones, William Penn, Brother Lawrence, Francis de Sales, and others.[17]

He was influenced by many, including Jacques MaritainAquinasAugustineP.T. ForsythJohn Calvin and John WesleyWilliam LawAndrew MurrayRichard BaxterTeresa of AvilaFrancis de SalesBrother Lawrence, and the Rule of St. Benedict.[citation needed]

He served on the boards of the C.S. Lewis Foundation and of Biola University.[18]

 

                                                                                                                         

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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. 

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 I visited a church today…. Forgive the pause.  I’m doing my best to communicate in writing, the “question mark” I’m feeling, trying to make sense of it as I consider the experience.  Forgive me in advance if I wander. 

There has been much written and discussed about why so many people are choosing to leave their “churches”.  Some obviously do so because of anger, or abuse.  Or sheer rebellion.  Some are mad at the leadership, or the leadership leaves because they are mad and burned out by the inordinate demands placed on them and their families as they try to meet the expectations of their congregation.  I’ve experienced all of the above.  But what is also true for me, and what I’m hearing from others is that, some are leaving in order to salvage their faith.  Does that sound radical to you?

The idea that some people would actually choose to leave a church because of an abusive situation isn’t a radical idea.  Simply choose another congregation, right?  A healthier one.  But if you leave what is traditionally called “church” because it actually hinders your faith, and choose instead to opt for a Faith Community that breaks the traditional mold, in their thinking something is obviously wrong with “you”.  Either you’ve been wounded and need healing, or you are bitter and need to forgive, or you’ve failed and need to be restored.  All of which may be true, and often is.  Thank God for churches that minister to these well.  But what of those for whom “leaving” is just another developmental faith stage through which they are growing.  Does your church have mature leaders and spiritual directors who can help such individuals navigate through those seasons of growth.  Truth is, few churches know how, and are not comfortable with it because their leaders have never crossed over into such terrain, or successfully navigated  through those “Dark Nights” themselves.  Nor is that what their church programs are designed to do.  So Jesus himself, the lead shepherd, intervenes (he still pastors his flock).

“Jesus is building his Church”.  He is preparing his Bride, and he loves her in all of her various expressions.  He is shepherding his sheep, and leading each of them (who will listen) to spacious pastures, where they can find nourishment and space to flourish.  I  do not believe it matters whether it be a house church or the church that meets in your house, or the church that meets in a big building with a steeple on top or a glowing neon sign that blinks the word Pub”.  Yes, I know of a faith community that even reserves space at a bar, and another who meets there every other week during business hours for bible study.  There is nothing wrong with the Church Jesus is building, whether we’re scandalized by it or not, and I’m excited about what I see happening (more on that in upcoming posts). 

I visited a church today.  And I am reminded that, yes, there are many people who leave churches for the wrong reasons, and those who have been wounded need someone to leave the ninety nine in order to seek and find the one.  

Many others, however, haven’t truly “left”; they’ve simply obeyed the voice of their Father to move on, to new works, creative works, and kingdom expanding ventures that defy being contained in old “wine-skins”.  Jesus is shepherding his sheep, and some will return to the “fold”.  But some will move on out of spiritual necessity.  Those who are “listening” know this to be true.

“Because they cannot play the religious game anymore….The social benefits of going to church could no longer compensate for the lack of spiritual life.”- Chip Brogden

Yes, I visited a church today.   

Roc 

“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty.  Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among human creatures.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper…. education and slavery were incompatible with one another.” – Frederick Douglas

“I am here to help you find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.” – Melvin B. Tolson (The Great Debaters)

Today is Presidents Day, and in honor of the holiday and the month (February is Black History Month) it seemed appropriate to post on a relevant theme and to begin with a quote from Abraham Lincoln.  Over the past couple of weeks my sons and I have been watching inspirational movies about the African American experience, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, The Great debaters, Booty Call (okay, kidding on that last one; just seeing if you were paying attention).  As I watched these movies and other programs, certain themes were consistent, mainly the ongoing role education and faith play in the pursuit of liberty.  So it got me praying and thinking about slavery, literally, figuratively (of the mind), and it’s expression in the church.  Here are some of my thoughts. 

In the Old South there were three main tenets regarding slaves and learning.  They were brutally enforced, and history says that overseers were trained to adhere to these tenets. 

  • Slaves were to be kept ignorant and uneducated.
  • Slaves must never presume to be smarter than their masters or overseers.  If they were, they never showed it.
  • Slaves must never be self-directed, that is, presume to freely choose or act in their own best interest without the approval or permission of their overseer.

“The power to enslave another class of people rests solely on the ability to bind them in ignorance.” – High School Teacher

Why would slave owners discourage literacy?  Because knowledge is power.  A smart slave was “trouble”.  They were less compliant because they were less ignorant and therefore not as willing to submit to exploitation.  When Lincoln emancipated the slaves, many slave owners withheld this information from them so that they would continue harvesting the fields for their masters. 

Though illiteracy and ignorance are not synonymous, knowing how to read and think critically helps to dispel the darkness of ignorance, and empowers an individual.  The one place a “slave” needs to be set free is in their thinking.  Reading is liberating to the mind, and in one sense this “truth” can help  set people free from the mind-set of a slave.  

“Nigga, who taught you Octagon?!” – Chris Rock (comedy sketch on slavery and reading)

Educated slaves, had to hide their learning from their masters and overseers.  The overseers, many of whom were themselves uneducated foreman who could barely read, would subject a slave who could read to unspeakable cruelty.  Their learning could spread to other slaves, instilling hope, a sense of accomplishment and worth, and belief that they too could attain their God-given destiny.  Such thinking would upset the status quo so, a slave caught reading would be severely whipped, or have some of their fingers cut off.  So, educating oneself was a perilous adventure that required great courage (and still does),  because for a slave to accidentally reveal that he could read or out think his “master” was a potential death sentence: 

“So think about the poor slave who could read, but was scared to teach their kids to read for fear they would be killing their kids. Think about the poor slave that rode to town every week. Think about the poor slave who rode the buggy to town every week. Riding the buggy…riding the buggy, And he could read, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. And up ahead he sees a busy intersection, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. Then he sees a STOP sign, —-. Now he’s in a big dilemma. “If I go through this intersection I’m a have a accident, If I stop, these crackers will kill me.” And he’s riding the buggy and in the last minute he says ‘**** it’ goes through the intersection has a big ol’ accident. Almost kills somebody. Then the police come; “Nigga what is wrong with you, Nigga what the **** is wrong with you. You could have killed somebody Nigga. Didn’t you see that stop sign?” “Oh I don’t know what you talking ’bout.” “You didn’t see that stop sign, that stop sign back there?” “Oh you mean that OCTAGON thing.”  “Nigga, who taught you octagon?” – Chris Rock

 

Day to day, in all sorts of circumstances, people (black, white, or purple) are still taught to hide their learning, or are made to feel ashamed for being smarter than their “overseers”, even in the church I might add, as if ignorance is a virtue.  Never does a week go by that I am not confronted with this “dilemma” at work or worship, with friends or strangers.  Knowledge is power, and the suppression of it is a power-play.  I’ve had to tell my sons recently, no “friend” who mocks and shames you for your love of learning, or seeks to intimidate you into hiding your intelligence, is a true friend; they do not have your best interest at heart.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.” – Ayn Rand (Anthem)

The freedom to choose is so related to liberty and freedom that even God Himself leaves us the freedom to choose whether or not we will obey Him and His commands.  It is so integral to our spiritual formation and identity, that to take away a person’s freedom to choose or act according to his will, keeps them in such a state of immaturity, that strong character and a worthwhile sense of identity is never formed.  The dependency this creates keeps one bound to their “master” and unable to see their own preferences as viable options or possibilities.  This is why Jesus himself commanded his disciples to not call their leaders master, rabbi, or father.  Only “One was their Father”.  In Ayn Rand’s book, Anthem, we encounter a world where all individuality, and freedom to choose ones own preferences has been programatically suppressed out of the human race.  There is only the collective “we” and the major sin is to have a preference apart from the group identity or, or which hasn’t already been pre-determined by the elders.  They could not even choose their life’s vocation.  Even that was determined by those in authority, and according to their predetermined “grouping” or status in life.  To presume otherwise, to even “think it” was a  “Transgression of Preference”, and they, “Asked so many questions that the teachers forbade it”.  Until their souls were awakened, they had no idea that they were functional slaves.  They lived within a box where they did only that which they were expressly told was legally allowed by the elders, “And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.”  That is not liberty.  We are free to serve God by faith working in love, as our conscience dictates (against such there is no law). 

“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” – 1Cor. 7:23 

It’s easy to look back at our history (Black History is America’s History) and see slavery for the shameful thing that it is.  But can we look at the past and see vestiges of slavery in our own lives even today?  In our thinking, our work, our places of worship?  In scripture, darkness is equated with ignorance and error.  Knowledge and truth with light.  We have one Father, one Lord, the Father of lights who has, “delivered us, rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son,” a Kingdom where:

 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Gal. 3:28

Peace,

Ron

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 

Groupthink: A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. -Irving Janis

Philippians 2:2- “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” -Paul the Apostle (and “Chief” of sinners) 

Today I’m beginning a series of posts on Groupthink and other relational issues, especially within the church community.  The issues I will touch on pertain to group dynamics in any organizational structure whether it be a family, business, political party, or school club.  I will, however, focus primarily on relationships within a church or other ministry context because there is something about religious groups that make them particularly susceptible to the dangers of Groupthink.

Irving Janis, who in the 70’s conducted extensive studies on Groupthink, was able to identify eight traits that were common to this group behavior:

  1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
  2. Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
  3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
  4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
  5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”.
  6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
  8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

As I read this list I couldn’t help but think of the recent elections and how each of these traits were symptomatic of the presidential campaign, and when I warned others of what I saw, I personally experienced numbers 2,4,5, and 8 on a regular basis.  It is within the church, however that I’ve routinely experienced this dynamic.  There are many reasons for this.  A core ethic of followers of Christ is unity.  We are to love one another, care for one another, pursue peace with one another, and to be like-minded.  Many of us within the Body of Christ take this to mean that all conflict is bad, critique is divisive, and dissent is an act of disloyalty.  Of course that is not what Paul meant when he urged us to be of the “same mind”.  He was not encouraging us to the form of “Groupthink” described above, which isn’t really “thinking” at all (in the biblical sense of the word).  Nor is this type of “Groupthink” the loving thing to do.  It does not reflect Christ’s nature or attitude.

“Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”

I won’t get too technical, but when Paul says be “like-minded” he is using the Greek verb phroneō, “to think,” and in some translations autos is added to phroneō and is translated “of the same mind”.  Paul’s appeal is not for thoughtless uniformity passing as harmony.  He wants us to have the same opinion or attitude regarding something in particular, something specific that makes for true harmony; something that produces unity in diversity.  The unity the world offers is a counterfeit to the harmony that Christ calls us to live out in community even when we encounter diverse viewpoints on a course of action, or are learning to live with, and care for those of another ethnos or group.  In either case we are called to be of “like-mind” and  “one purpose”.  How are we to do this?  

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

Of course it’s easy to see how our government has failed in this area.  Partisan politics makes it is extremely difficult for our leaders to acknowledge the value or worth of their opponent and their views for fear of losing power and influence within their own group.  They avoid critiquing the assumptions of their own group for fear of losing credibility or position.  But isn’t it strange that we see this same attitude among Christians even within our churches, denominations, and para-church  organizations? 

The eight symptoms of Groupthink are rendered less potent when leaders model Paul’s command to show others preferential treatment, and when they create a culture where the truth is spoken in love and differences are honored.  Groupthink becomes less the norm when we put away the vanity and selfish ambition that would cause us to use others for our own gain or self-preservation, or when we choose not to discredit and render “invisible” and voiceless those who disagree with us.  When we resist the urge to insist on uniformity of thought and opinion on secondary issues as a prerequisite to belonging, people are then free to be authentic, and creative in their expression of bold love toward each other because there is no longer a fear of reprisal or loss of relationship.    

So, consider the list above.  Have you encountered Groupthink in your group or sphere of influence?  Are you a leader who has enabled or even encouraged Groupthink, or have you been victimized by this manipulative practice?  Perhaps a little of both?  I would love to hear your thoughts, because in parts 2 and 3 I’ll give examples of what Groupthink looks and sounds like in practice, the effect it has on the spiritual and emotional life of the people within the group, and some practical suggestions on how to help yourself and others find freedom.     

Ron

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