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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Emerging

There is an ongoing discussion within the convention about the Emerging Church Movement. Originally, it was seen as a mostly harmless group of "younger" leaders who pushing for authenticity and social involvement. Since then, due to the ambiguous nature and "more questions than answers" style of emergent authors like Brian McLaren, popular opinion has changed. Now, the label "emergent" is equated with "liberal" (or worse). People who are sympathetic to emerging church ideas are accused of abandoning truth in order to make our faith relevant to the world.

I admit that my worldview is different from most of my fellow missionaries. This is due in part to the fact that I am younger and that I was raised outside the Bible Belt. It may also be that living in Western Europe and investing my life into studying the culture and integrating into the community has led me to adopt some of their worldview. Either way, I am not typical.

Unlike most of my coworkers, I have yet to see a contemporary expression of our faith that I am comfortable with. I am tired of labels. I believe in God's sovereignty, but I can't stand the arrogance of most Calvinists. I'm open to new ways of doing church and living missionally, but I don't want to be written off as "emergent," "Generation X," or "Postmodernist." I can't even grow a goatee. If I were to have a conversation with a member of the Board of Trustees about politics, they would most likely label me a liberal. Theologically, I'm very conservative, but our style of ministry would make many church members back home scratch their heads. I have a hard time trusting institutions; even the one that sends me. I believe that the Bible is without error, but that none of our interpretations is. I believe in truth, but I don't believe any of us have it contained in a formula, book, or study guide. I am not Purpose Driven.

All of this is to say that most of my questions here are not born of any desire to make the gospel "cool" or "relevant" or "easier to swallow." I understand that the Truth is offensive, and that it always runs counter to both human nature and the flow of culture. No, my questions aren't about me making things work for them, I'm trying to make it work for me. (Philippians 2:12,13)

So even though a lot of my posts sound like sermons, and I tend to state my opinions as though they were fact, the purpose of this blog is for me to work out my salvation- my calling and ministry- by asking questions, exploring ideas, and being critical. I appreciate those of you who read, and those who take time to comment. That's why I'm doing this, um, publicly; to hear from others who might be able to encourage and challenge me.

I want to understand my faith, and to be able to share it with others. I want to plant churches that are free of the modern American religion that I'm having such a hard time with. Marty Duren wrote an excellent post on this at SBC Outpost. If you haven't read it, you should. I think many of us can relate to what he says about legalism.

One thing I'm becoming aware of is how negative some of my posts may sound. (All of my posts?) In my next couple of posts, I'm going to try to propose some positive solutions for making sense of things for myself and the culture I live in. Please feel free to add your own.

14 comments:

David Rogers said...

Wow! What a coincidence! At the same time you posted this, I was working on a post on pretty much the same topic on my new blog http://loveeachstone.blogspot.com/.

Don't feel so alone. Yes, each of us is going to have our unique perspective on lots of things. But lots of us are struggling with and thinking through the same issues as you. We all need a major dose of the grace of God to continue to be positive and loving, while at the same time speaking clearly regarding how we understand God working and leading us.

Anonymous said...

stepchild, again let me say how refreshing it is to read your thoughts and to know that we work in the same "company". I wish we could hang out together sometime. I share many of your ideas.

Many of the phrases you use to describe your self are paradoxical and complex. I find that wonderful! I have recently read a great book: The Complex Christ by Kester Brewin. In the introduction he quotes another book by James Fowler: The Psycohology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Fowler idendifies 6 stages of faith. The first two stages (INtuitive-Projective and Mythical-Literal) describe the rather childlike understanding that we may have of God. It is at Stage 3 (Synthetic-Conventional) that many Christians and churches seem to get stuck.

Brewin says, "Many Christians (like you, stepchild) have moved beyond this 'loyalist' phase to Stage 4, to what Fowler calls the Individuative-Reflective stage, where they begin to critique the beliefs, teachings and practices of the group. It is a loss of innocence, a realization that the truth is more complex than we thought."
"Stage 5 (the Conjunctive stage) is a place of humility, with none of the brash arrogance of Stage 3; a place where the doubts and criticisms of the Stage 4 are not extinguished, but the self is able to hold things in tension and appreciate mystery"
"One of my concerns" Brewin concludes, "...is that we are in danger of failing to progress through the stages; that we are stalling after the more childlike stages and being caught in a cultural and spiritual infantilism." (sounds like the SBC to me)

Personally, I am greatly encouraged by the emergent/missional "conversation" having been a part of it both virtually and physically for about 4 years now. It has helped me to move from stage 3 to perhaps the beginnings of stage 5, to live comfortably with paradox and mystery in my faith. To not have all the answers but also learning not to critizes those who think they do. I look forward to your future posts on Emerging.

So continue to "hold things in tension and appreciate mystery"! It makes for a great adventure.

Joe Mishenry
PS:I could be coming your way in May

Anonymous said...

You distrust the very organization that sends you? That's funny - you say you distrust them, but are still accepting financial support from them? Now help me out here, is that from the "outside the Bible Belt" wordview that you have somewhat adopted? Or is it from another, possibly "postmodern" view? If you haven't trust for the "the organization which sends me," maybe you shouldn't be a part? But I guess that kind of integrity might cost a little too much cashola, eh? Sorry if this sounds disrespectful, but I have a lot of respect for "the organization which sends you," even if I do not agree with their recent decisions. If you don't trust this organization, maybe you should consider affiliating with another. Trust is the very foundation of cooperation. If I were underwriting your missionary efforts and you were publically (and yes, your blog is public) talking about how you "distrusted" me - I wouldn't give you another dime. Please forgive me if this is too harsh, my friend - but I would have expected a better and more cooperating spirit from one of our missionaries.

drawnbylove said...

Dear Anonymous,
I think I understand how from the outside saying that one "distrusts" the organization they work for might sound disingenuous. But have you ever been a long-term overseas M? If so, did you deal with any of these questions that stepchild (and as seen by the comments sections, many other Ms) are struggling with? And if not, then why do you judge so harshly without having walked in their shoes?
In my experience, I dealt with all of these same issues when I was on the field. You see, when we are serving, we are not serving our "organization." We are serving GOD through our organization. We are serving with our organization because that is HOW God called us to serve. There is a calling on our lives that one cannot deny and that calling (at least in my experience) included the location, the timing, and the HOW--meaning the IMB. I believe, for the most part, that if an M felt that God was leading him/her away from the IMB to serve under another organization, they would resign in order to follow God's specific will for their lives.
However, I don't think the issue is in being an IMB missionary. I think many Ms are now in a place where they are questioning the whole role of being a "professional missionary." And I believe this is an inner struggle. Some Ms have no problem with that, and others, like myself, struggle with the idea. (Are we an "employee of the IMB" or a "disciple of Jesus Christ" or both? I know these questions seem very simple, but sometimes on the field you get so caught up in "strategy" and "logistics" you wonder if you're even "making disciples")
And I agree that "trust is the very foundation for cooperation." But unfortunately, I think some Ms do not feel that they can trust the IMB (the "employer") because of the very reason that you're demonstrating in your comment. Ms don't even feel like they can express concern with policies or any notion of disagreement for fear of reprisal or being fired. And it has nothing to do with money, btw. Yes, IMB Ms are well taken care of, but it's sure not an occupation to be in if you're looking to get rich. ;)
I love the IMB. I love that they are wanting to reach every person with the good news of Jesus. I just think that, for me, I was struggling with my own identity as a believer and how that manifests itself in a culture that is so different from America, and how I could be 100% obedient to the calling God had put on my life.
Thanks for your comments, Anonymous, and I pray that you can maybe get a glimpse of some of the struggles that sincere, dedicated Ms are dealing with day in and day out.

stepchild said...

Joe Mish,
Thanks for the outline of "The Complex Christ." I'll check it out. You're coming our way? Email me- maybe we could get together.

Anonymous,
You're right about the ethical dilemma of taking money from an organization I don't trust. I wrote about it in my very first post here, called Missions Misunderstood.

I'm sorry that I offended you. You may very well be "underwriting my missionary efforts," and that is exactly why I'm posting my thoughts publically. You wouldn't even know my thoughts on all of this if you weren't reading my blog. I'll go ahead and mark you down as someone who doesn't see room for folks like me to serve through the IMB.

I think it's interesting that you don't ask why I have trust issues with the Board.

Anonymous, even though your sarcastic use of parenthesis kinda hurt, thanks for reading and taking time to comment. Please know that I didn't come to work for the IMB because of the money. If the Board were to decide that I'm not the type they want to support, I'll move along.

Anonymous said...

Dear "Drawn by Love,"

Thank you for yout gracious response to what could have been perceived as a very judgmental posting. To answer your question, yes - I have dealt with these kinds of issues on the field. And as a matter of fact, the hurt I endured was absolutely earht-shaking for me. And because I could not support and trust the sending organization I chose to seek other funding. If I am not trusting of the sending organization, my working for them (you correctly identify them as an "employer" at least of sorts) is a conflict of interest. I believe that God calls us to support our spiritual leaders wholeheartedly. Does that mean we can't disagree? Of course not. It simply means that we're still supportive of and trusting of the other party. I may disagree with something my wife does, and I'll certainly share that with her - but I'm not going to start telling others that I "distrust" her. Those are very harsh words, indeed. I have my own issues with the sending organization in question - and believe me, Ihave a few. However, the principle still remains. When we are supported to do the work of Christ, we enter into a very special relationship with our supporters. And contrary to your separating "working for God" and "working for the sending organization," I believe they are quite connected. How can you work for God and have such a strained relationship with your sponsor that you are compelled to tells others publically that you "distrust" them. IPlease forgive my tone if it sounds judgmental. M raises some great issues, and I agree with 99% of them. However, as long as we consent to be associated with the organization, we should speak well of it before others. When we crticize (and that's ok), we should always do it with Christ-like love in mind (even though, I admit, that is sometimes hard to glean from mere written words - as was evidenced in the response to my last post.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Dear Step Child,

First of all, I do not think you should not be an IMB missionary because you raise critical questions. I applaud you for that. However, if you do come to the ultimate conclusion that you do not trust IMB, I would say that it is not appropriate for you to serve.

Second of all, the reason I don't ask "why" you have trust issues is because I also have trust issues with the IMB and if you and I were to compare reasons, I'm sure they would be similar. I don't doubt that you have legitimate issues, but brother, if you can't trust your sending agency, then let's work together to get you underneath someone you CAN trust! Your work is TOO important for you not to be able to trust your senders.

Thirdly, please accept my apologies for the way my post came across. I do not doubt your sincerity for half a second. However, I would like to see you step up to the plate and take action if, after your searching process is complete, you conclude that you really cannot trust the IMB.

Finally, you say that if the IMB decide that you are the kind of person they do not want to support, you will move along. I have no doubt you would. However, if you were to voice, in a forthright fashion, your distrust OF the board TO the board - THAT would be the reason they may have questions about you serving. Not because you're emergent, postmodern, or whatever else. Once again, my issue is the trust issue - not your criticisms or concerns.

I hope you hear my heart in this. I don't mean to be judgmental - only to suggest an avenue of blessing to you. Get with an organization you trust, brother. In my opinion (which could be wrong), you're missing out if you don't.

Blessings.

drawnbylove said...

Dear Anonymous,
I think you bring up some very good points. Thanks for the dialogue.
However, you say this:
"When we are supported to do the work of Christ, we enter into a very special relationship with our supporters. And contrary to your separating "working for God" and "working for the sending organization," I believe they are quite connected."
I, too, believe they are connected. However, I see my "supporters" as a different entity than my "sending organization." I was always very grateful to those back home (who I didn't know) who sacrificed and gave to the cooperative program so that I could be on the field full-time without having to raise support. What a blessing to be able to focus 100% on our ministry. And more importantly for us, were our hundreds of prayer partners (who we did know personally), who we kept abreast of prayer issues and news from our side of the pond. THEY are the ones I see as our supporters. The IMB, too, has many people within it who were very supportive of and encouraging to us. However, I think it's the "well-oiled machine" (as someone called it in a comment on another post) that brings some of us to question our role.
I guess one question I've often had (I hope this is not too off topic) is IS there another way? Is there a way that the IMB can be who we are yet not be so employer/employee-like. I really like when stepchild talks about trusting the employees and having more accountability. Could it be more like a microcosm of how the Body of Christ should be rather than the higher-ups speaking to their underlings all the way down to we peons (ISCers) at the bottom? It's very possible that I'm just naive and because we were on the bottom that I don't see the big picture.
Anyway, just some thoughts...

Anonymous said...

Dear Drawn by Love,

This is a good point you raise. And perhaps therein lies the difficulty with my suggestion - the "supporters" certainly are the SBC members who give to the CP, not the IMB itself. I recognize that, and I think that if that is how one honestly sees the situation, then there could be some justification found in distrusting the institution while trusting in the work of God in the hearts of Southern Baptists who give faithfully to the CP.

As for your question - it's a good one. I'm afriad my missions experience is limited, but one thing I might offer is a possible restructuring of the IMB. The IMB is top heavy, hence the struggles StepChild is having. A better way might be to go the route of Frontiers (www.frontiers.org) and make the orgnization structured like an inverted pyramid. In other words, big decisions and authority is/are "field-based." There is enought trust given to the missionary by the sending organization such that the missionary is empowered to act without having to fear being "disciplined" by a board 4,000 miles away. How about this?

Thank again.

steve w said...

I want to interject a few thoughts in this discussion. The trust should be a two-way street. Stepchild has indicated that there was full support for what he is doing when he was first sent. That has now changed in some ways. Does the IMB no longer trust him? Some of the comments other M's are making elsewhere raise questions about the IMB's trust of people they tested and approved and sent out (i.e. people that gained their trust). Is the IMB changing the rules in the middle of the game?

I don't know all the ins and outs. I don't pretend to understand either side of this issue. I just know there's more to this picture than Stepchild's questions and concerns. And the IMB is just as obligated to earn my trust, and stepchild's trust, and the trust of every M and every contributor. The recent policy changes, and the way the Board of Trustees is handling things has been a real trust breaker for many people. And the fact that leadership from other SBC entities are meddling "outside their jurisdiction", so to speak, doesn't engender a lot of trust either.

Also, I very much appreciate Stepchild's questions. How would we know anything of these issues if someone didn't speak out? How would we know to pray about these kinds of things if we didn't know about them?

I hear Stepchild expressing gratitude to the IMB several times on his blog. I've heard him express, essentially, he has a clear conscience that he is doing what he agreed to do (what he was hired to do, if you will). As a CP and Lottie contributor, I'm glad he's one of the recipients.

Thank you Stepchild. Thank you for not bailing out, and for being faithful to those that truly support you -- God, and SBC churches & church members.

stepchild said...

Friends,
Kind advice from readers and friends has prompted me to elaborate the sentence in my post regarding trust and the IMB. For Anonymous and others, the changes aren't likely to be any less offensive and for that, I'm sorry. By making the the small change I intend to clarify, not to reverse, my original sentiment.
Thank you.

LIttleBlue said...

Wow. I couldn't have said it better myself. I was a church planter in Atlanta that started a church downtown that was really emergent before emergent was a word. Andrew Jones and Chris Seay were in a SBC networking group I put together for David Putman at NAMB. I've been out of the scene for about 4 years and it seems like things are more rigid than ever. Thanks for the post. I'll visit back often.

Joe Missionary said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joe Missionary said...

Hi there
i am a friend of Joe Mishenry. I was reading your questioning, or somewhat of a faith "sorting off". You have no idea how i agree with you, how i went through the same phase or reconsidering my faith and poundering again how much of what we consider "the truth"is merely our occidental christian subcultur interpretation.

I am so encouraged and refrshed to see this honnest hearth digging, God/truth seeking in your blog. The beauty of faith is not, how we have believed in the past, trusting a lot of already made black and white answers, but trusting God enough to be able to live with questions and uncertainty. It's great to let god be big enough to not be fully understood all the time. It's great to be able to say "i don't know" and not feel that the whole christiandom depens on us being able to explain and justifies everything. I enjoy so much leting God be God.

Looking foreward to meeting you in heaven and discussing all that unknown that will then seems so obvious.