Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Innovation is rarely embraced with eagerness within religious institutional contexts. This is because the nature of institutions are fundamentally predisposed to self preservation. The prophetic critique that often creates the combustible environment for innovation is often snuffed out by the aristo and bureau-crats of the institution. This has made for an interesting dilemma for the apostle. Often scorned or perceived to be a threat to the established order, they have no other choice but to launch out with entrepreneurial passion, founding new, and often more relevant, communities, ministries and churches. This bold and courageous venture is commonly entered into without the blessing of the institution, both in word and in resources. This makes for a difficult start. (But it sure empowers faith in the living God who supplies all our needs!)
It seems that when we approach this dilemma, we always assume the existence of the IC is a given. Sort of a taken for granted notion that the IC is always a part of the equation, that apostles always emerge from with in the institutional context. Almost as if the institutional church (IC) is the mother environment from which these giftings owe their emergence. It is true that the apostle is teased into action by the frustrating dynamics of the institutional context. But these vital gifts in the body do not have to have such a dysfunctional, reactionary beginning.
I want to suggest that apostles can emerge out of organic communities in a much healthier way. Simple Church is a great environment for the apostolic gifting to not only operate, but flourish. In my past experience with the IC, apostles emerge only after they are vomited out by the institution. This happens for various reasons, but primarily because the institution can not stomach the kind of innovation that apostles seek after.
An organic community is much more conducive for the apostolic function for several reasons. In an organic, simple community, there is no building to keep funded. There is no paid staff to keep. There tends to be less concern about self preservation of an entity or established order of things. In this type of environment, apostles are free to innovate, explore and pioneer new and exciting things for God without threatening every ones "stuff". Without the institutional dynamic of self preservation at work, new and innovative efforts can move forward without bureaucratic opposition from the powers that be. The institution is not there to call into question and frustrate the efforts of apostolic innovation.
So where does that leave institutions? Do they still have a place in the Kingdom? One of the major faults of the IC is it tries to embody the full spectrum of the Kingdom within the confines of an institution. This is impossible! Most of the metaphors used by Jesus to describe the Kingdom are organic. Fruit, Yeast, Seeds, Trees. As such, the Kingdom can be expected to find its most vibrant expression in organic environments.
That being said, the Kingdom, by its very nature as the rule of God, requires engagement with all aspects of life. Institutions are a reality that will never go away. This means that the Kingdom will interact and utilize institutions. So I am not promoting an anti-institution approach to Kingdom life. What I am promoting is a repositioning, a re-framing, or as my buddy Patrick would say, a re-aligning of the institution as it relates to Kingdom tasks.
Instead of viewing the role of institutions as the primal facilitators of the entire spectrum of Kingdom activity, they should take on a more focused role of specialization in Kingdom tasks. For example, starting a Hope Pregnancy Center, a Community Garden, a Youth Center for at risk youth etc. As institutions, they will be susceptible to all the trappings of institutional dynamics. But they key difference is that they are not trying to be the end all expression of the Kingdom. They are nor broadcasting themselves as striving to be the full embodiment of the Kingdom. They are specific, focused efforts to embody the Kingdom in specific ways.
What I am saying is that we need to turn the whole thing on its head. The spontaneous, organic, fluid environment of Simple Church can be a breeding ground for the birth of new and innovative communities, including institutions that have specific Kingdom tasks. Apostles do not have to be the step children of the IC, or the refugee poster children of missionary societies. Institutions do not have to be shunned or hopelessly tolerated by Simple Church. They can be an expression of Kingdom tasks, having their origins in the fertile evironment of organic communities.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Having said all of that, there are some fundamental elements to the PI that have a somewhat universal presence. This diagram is an overly simplified view of some of these elements in the process. The PI can happen on an individual level far before it manifests itself and is embodied in a group context..The pyramid is inverted to represent the small beginnings of a group of about 10-15 people. The increase in group size is represented by the expanding width of the pyramid as it moves upward. The next level would be 15-50 people. The next would be 50-200 and so on. Use your imagination.
The size of a group is critical to the development of the PI. As a group expands in size, it is propelled into the different phases of the process. This increase in the size of a group brings with it certain needs that demand a response from the group. Who is going to be responsible for __________? How will we accomplish __________? What about ____________? When the needs of the group reach this level of complexity, it forces the group to divvy out the work to preassigned roles. As a result, a hierarchy is either formally, or naively, informally created. As the group grows even larger, the needs of the group outweigh the capacity of the individuals to address them. (hi amanda) This is when the need for full or part time staff arises. This is usually accompanied with a central facility out of which to operate, if that has not already been acquired.
This process outlined above, though vague and lacking all the elements of this complex phenomenon, gives us a good framework to discuss the tipping point of institutionalization for a community. From a sociological perspective, once habits are formed by the group, with a certain degree of frequency, say once a week, then they are already flirting with institutionalization. Repetition is the fertile soil from which the seeds of institutionalism sprout. This is an important factor to keep in mind when we talk about the "institutional church" as opposed to the "organic church."
I would like to suggest a subtle, yet significant word to introduce into the conversation.
This term acknowledges the fact that, despite our best efforts, there will always be an element of the PI in our communities. Because we will undoubtedly develop patterns, habits and even rhythms of behavior in our communities, we will always be flirting with institutionalism. There will always be, from a sociological perspective, an institutional element in our communities. This is true without even addressing the size issue and all the complex dynamics that surface when a house church goes from one group to three groups or goes from 10 to 20. I think we would all agree that when we say "The Institutional Church" (IC) we are coining a term to describe what churches have become as a result of the PI. For most of us, our experience with the IC has led us to encounter some of the worst repercussions of institutional dynamics. Hierarchical control, abuse of authority, money centered, self-preservation, ritualism, traditionalism, corporate-ized ethics and methods in discipleship and evangelism etc. To call this type of church an IC is exactly on target in my opinion. But my word of caution to us is that we not become naive to the fact that there are also elements of institutionality in our own communities. Naivety on our part in this area will make us susceptible to becoming the very thing we have fled. Instead of being a traditional IC, we will be an IC with a different look.
The discerning question then is not "Are we institutional?" but "What degree of institutionality is our group experiencing?" Or more specifically, "What is the tipping point, and how do we stay organic and fluid enough so that we do not fall prey to the monstrous demands of the institutional dynamics?" (Maybe some one needs to come up with a top 10 list of "You know your institutional if....) The real goal is to avoid the constraints and limitations that come from being institutional. This will of course mean that we will want to avoid becoming a full blown institution. But the distinction I am calling for has to do with identity and focus. Our focus and identity come from the gospel and embodying this gospel in the world, not from being "non-institutional." I may be stating the obvious, but it is worth saying none the less. Being organic and non-institutional is a tool for the mission, not the mission itself. There is a big difference.
This tipping point in the PI will be different for every group. It will not be a clear cut and predictable line that can be laid over top of random communities in a universalized fashion. It will ultimately need to be communally discerned through objective analysis, intuition, and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Trust me, those who are phobics about institutionalism, of which I am one, will sound the alarm when we have begun to progress (or should I say digress) into heightened levels of institutionality. You know the deal.
As rule of thumb, staying small goes a long way in safe guarding the PI. I don't say this as a cry for huddling up in our own little worlds and not engaging the mission of God. But can't we be on mission with God and still be organic, fluid, flexible and free from institutional constraints? I would say yes! Thank God yes! This is what the Simple/House Church movement is saying at this moment. It is an experiment for us personally, and I am loving every minute of it!
Thursday, December 06, 2007
"The contemporary situation of religion is thus characterized by a continual bureaucratization of the religious institutions. Both their internal and their external social relations are marked by this process. Internally, the religious institutions are not only administered bureaucratically, but their day to day operations are dominated by the typical problems and “logic” of bureaucracy. Externally, the religious institutions deal with other social institutions as well as with each other through the typical forms of bureaucratic interaction. “Public relations” with the consumer clientele, “lobbying” with the government, “fund raising” with both government and private agencies, multifaceted involvements with the secular economy (particularly through investment)- in all these aspects of their “mission” the religious institutions are compelled to seek “results” by methods that are, of necessity, very similar to those employed by other bureaucratic structures with similar problems. Very importantly, the same bureaucratic logic applies to the dealings of the several religious institutions with each other.
Bureaucracies demand specific types of personnel. This personnel is specific not only in terms of its functions and requisite skills, but also in terms of its psychological characteristics. Bureaucratic institutions both select and form the personnel types they require for their operation. This means that similar types of leadership emerge in the several religious institutions, irrespective of the traditional patterns in this matter. The requirements of bureaucracy override such traditional differentiations of religious leadership as “prophet” versus “priest”, “scholar" versus "saint,” and so forth. Thus it does not matter very much whether a certain bureaucratic functionary comes out of a protestant tradition of “prophetic” ministry or a Catholic tradition of “priestly” one – in either case, he must above all adapt himself to the requirements of his bureaucratic role." Berger, Peter. Sacred Canopy p. 139-140
Especially interesting to me is his observation about the nature of intstitutional demands for personnel. If we apply this to the gifting in the body of Christ, just think about how many gifts are being wasted and under developed in the institutional church. the very nature of the institution does not allow giftings to operate. It is a black hole that is concerned about self preservation and maintenance. Doesn't it strike you odd that an institution can pretty much function without ever drawing on the rich fund of APEPT giftings?
Thursday, November 22, 2007
But Paul is no mere consultant. His concern and anxiety for his communities forbids him from exiting backstage for a quick get away. It is true that his role as link between the gospel and the lost only lasts until someone obeys the gospel. But at that critical point, the relationship between Paul and those who trust in the gospel is immediately transformed. His initial role of link mutates into that of a father
This synchronized shift from link to father happens as a result of the peoples new found relationship to the gospel. Once a person or group of people accepted the message of the gospel, their relationship to the gospel, and therefore to Paul, changed. This point is critical in framing the discussion about apostolic authority. While Paul retains his unique apostolic experiences as noted above, he is still simultaneously subordinated to the same gospel which he preached and which the new community has obeyed. Listen to Shutz on this:
The gospel is not an exclusive apostolic possession. On the contrary, the apostle is owned and authorized by the gospel. He does not stand as a unique and exclusive bridge between the gospel and the Christian, between the power he interprets and the goal of that interpretation, the Church. He mediates between the gospel and the Church to be sure; he links cause and effect. But all Christians participate directly in the gospel itself. They do not stand in Paul or some other apostle, but in the gospel. They were not baptized in him, but in Christ. This has specific implications for understanding Paul’s concept of apostolic authority. Just as the apostle must be understood in reference to his own autobiography and the relationship between his ‘self’ and that power which shapes it, so he must be understood in the context of a community in which every member has an autobiography which embodies his membership in Christ.Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority p. 249
In this diagram, it is important to notice that the apostle and the community both participate and are subordinate to the gospel. Both parties receive power from the gospel while simultaneously being vulnerable to its demands. Paul is first a disciple, and then an apostle. To get this out of order is to overlook the rich context out of which Paul functions as an apostle. His vulnerability to the death and resurrection of Jesus as a disciple is the foundational paradigm out of which he functions as an apostle. There is no bureaucratic separation between discipleship and apostleship. Both are intimate expressions of dying and rising with Christ. In other words, it is Paul’s cruciformity that shapes the character of his apostolicity. As such, when it comes to his relationship with other disciples, and even the communities he establishes, he is equally accountable to the claims of the gospel. This egalitarian relationship to the gospel and its implications for discipleship sets a healthy framework by which the nature of apostolic authority can be discerned.
When apostolic authority is defined by the gospel, it has the ability to exert its own constraints on the fleshly tendencies of authoritarianism, egotism, imperialism, manipulation etc. The gospel is not only the paradigm for discipleship; it is the paradigm for leadership. Understood in this way, leadership is an extension of discipleship, both of which are to be cruciform in nature.
Monday, November 12, 2007
An illustration of this definition of authority can be seen in the field of business consulting. When a company faces certain challenges and obstacles on their way to success, they tend to hire a business consultant to come in and help them through key phases of their development. The consultant will survey the business, conduct marketing analysis, study the business as an organizational entity, etc. When the consultant meets with the top dogs of the company, she will offer a successful model, plan or set of business principles for the company to implement.
In essence, what the consultant is doing is an act of interpretation. She is taking the wisdom and expertise she has gained from books, life experiences, collected data etc., and is interpreting this data in light of the companies unique circumstances. If the top dogs understand and ascribe to her proposals, she becomes an authority to their company. It should be noted however that, from the company’s perspective, this authority does not yet exist until they understand and decide to accept her proposals. This means that authority is a relational dynamic which is dependent upon the willingness of others to confer it.
This relational dynamic of authority gives it a sort of fragile quality. This is primarily due to it being dependent upon people’s willingness to accept another’s interpretation. Because authority is conferred upon an individual by another, it is within the ‘others’ ability to disrobe the individual of their authority. This divesting of authority would take place as a refusal to ascribe to the persons interpretations. A rejection of an interpretation, then, is invariably a rejection of authority. This rejection of authority brings with it a severing of connection to the source of power which the interpreter is trying to mediate.
In this initial phase of the relationship, the consultant stands as a link between the company and success. From where the company sits, she is an exclusive channel to the access of power. This qualifies the relationship between the company and the consultant as that of giver and receiver. The company is in the position of receiving from the consultant by virtue of the consultants’ relationship to power. This places the consultant in a critical role. She must be able to both accurately interpret and fully communicate this power if the company is to 1. Ascribe to her interpretation and 2. Be empowered for success.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
One of these questions has to do with apostolic authority. All would agree that the Apostle Paul is in his own league when it comes to being an apostle. This is true for several reasons.
1. His EXPERIENCE of the Risen Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road and personally commissioned him and sent (apostled) him to the Gentiles.
2. His PROXIMITY to the founding events of the gospel makes his situation especially unique. His social and historical location in reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus, along with is relationships to the other 12 apostles point to a unique access to the Jesus tradition and the original historical witnesses.
3. His SIGNS of an apostle are spoken of as one of the identifying characteristics of his apostleship. No matter where you land on the spectrum when it comes to the miraculous giftings of the Spirit, Paul certainly occupies a unique position in this spectrum as it relates to the relationship between signs and apostleship.
4. His PNEUMATIC participation in forming the texts which later became canonized by the Christian community. This is a wholly different discussion, but for us it will do to say that Paul’s role in producing texts which later became a part of the canon make his apostolic role all the more complexly distant from our own.
These distinctions, while not exhaustive, should be kept in the background when referencing Paul as a paradigm for the apostolic today. While the tasks and roles of the contemporary apostolic do overlap with Paul's apostolic role, Paul nonetheless occupies a unique place, a penthouse suite per se, when it comes to being apostolic. Some more discussion needs to be had on this topic. I will see what I can come up with on this. Any suggestions out there?
Saturday, October 13, 2007
If ideology is a foundational element that elicits community, then what are the implications of this for the body of Christ? It is my experience that when a group of people share the same ideology about things, they seem to gravitate towards one another. This happens for obvious reasons. There is comfort in being around people who think like you. There is also the broader interest of collaborating for specific tasks. Not to mention the discussions and learning that arise within a group who intentionally seek to press out the implications for their shared ideology on other part of their life.
You can see this in action with the EMC. There is a different ideology floating around out there about how to be the church, live as a christian and engage in mission for God. It is this different ideology that has elicited the EMC with all of its different tribal expressions. I am excited about this new move of God in the church. It is a breath of fresh air for me and a lot of other people.
What fascinates me about pioneering a community formation is the concept of ideology, praxis and boundaries. These elements are located close together, but I struggle to map their exact coordinates. I am inclined to say, in a linear fashion, that ideology leads to praxis, which then leads to visible boundaries. The only problem with this idea is that we do not live in an air tight, theoretical world. In between ideology and praxis is our culture, worldview, heritage etc. And in between our praxis and boundaries are flesh, hypocrisy, and imperfect knowledge. In other words it is a lot messier than we want it to be.
I have found some relief in the concept of bounded-sets and centered-sets which was first presented by a sociologist named Paul Heibert. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in their book The Shaping of Things to Come, discuss this concept at length. I like their metaphor about the wells and the fences. When it comes to herding cattle, you can either build fences to keep track of the cows, or you can build wells, which then become centers for cattle to gather around. The fences would be cultural norms, moral codes, external behaviors and even doctrinal confessions. The well would be a strong ideology that informs and shapes the above externals, but does not erect a barricade to those seeking water.
In the bounded set, it is easy to see who is in and who is out. The only problem is that it erects a barrier to those outside. Not to mention the enormous temptation for legalism. I mean, you could be standing right next to the fence, wishing you were on the other side the whole time. But to everyone else, you seem perfectly fine because you are adhering to the external code.
In the centered set, it is a lot harder to patrol the borders of the community. But really, the goal is not to get people "in the fence". It is to get them closer to the well! So they can drink and stay healthy. So, the question is, what is the well? It is most ambiguously an ideology. It is too simplistically Jesus. Is it more realistic to say that it is the gospel? I want to say that it is. The more I look at this Christianity thing, the more I see that the gospel, if understood and applied, is the foundational ideology for Christian existence and community. Within the gospel is the churches DNA, its ideology and its power. When people are facing this, seeking this and living this, they are drinking from the well.
So what do I mean by the gospel the scholar would say? I would point you to a book by a scholar Michael J. Gorman called Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. This book is dynomite! For me, it was the find of a decade. I found myself crying in awe of the cross and all the things I missed about the gospel in the Pauline writings. It is a must read. If the gospel is articulated and embraced, it becomes the governor of morality, relationships, spiritual formation, community, all the good stuff we try to facilitate with our own schemes. Paul does this by offering a pregnant constellation of metaphors. Could it really be this simple? Yes and no. The gospel is God's foolishness, but it is also a mystery. In other words, the well runs deep.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I can not find any good books out there addressing this in a theologically practical way. There is one book called Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority by John Schutz. This is the closest I have come to a book discussing these topics. But it really does not do the trick for me. it is a little too rabbit trailish on proving points which can be assumed from the get go. Although he does have a great section on the language of authority that Paul uses in his letters.
Do any of you have any books suggestions out there? Some of this needs to be explored because there is a minfield out there surruonding this apostolic idea. Mainly, the explosive potential of people claiing apostolic authority and power out of their own egos.
Monday, October 08, 2007
We want them to fail.