Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Len Sweet, in his book Summoned to Lead, spoke about the quality of “hearing” as an alternative to “vision.” Vision, in churches especially, is commonly understood as the leadership quality; yet, Jesus spent most of His time teaching us how to follow, not lead. We are made to be followers of Christ, more concerned with listening than leadership. With this in mind, we at Westwinds have begun efforts to attune ourselves to God through these four emphases:

Jesus spoke about four mission fields in the Great Commission: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. For our purposes, this truly means we are to be missionally engaged with our own city, our own region, those parts of our city that are destitute, and all the rest of the world beyond our borders. We must ask ourselves, ‘what is God calling me to do to engage these fields?’ and ‘who is He calling me to be?’

Imagination, practically, means that you can start any ministry you want at Westwinds. Whatever passion God has given you, whatever purpose, you need to pursue it and allow God to guide you in living out your dreams. We need to let our imagination run wild – to once again be a people of godly play, and let this spirit affect everything we do. If you have the passion and the drive, if you’re willing to be tested and walk the long road you can fulfill all of your spiritual ambitions as a part of our community

It is time we applied our imagination – not towards satisfaction – but towards service.

Too frequently in churches, people feel as if they need permission from church leaders to actually be missional, to be involved in ministry in their lives. They feel that, unless church leadership endorses their noble desires, they would be better off doing nothing. PerMission means that we need to be looking for opportunity anytime to help those around us, to serve our community, to bless everyone we meet and come in contact with in the name of Jesus Christ. We want to be vocal about giving our people permission to be Missional – go and bring peace and healing and love to our world.

We like to think of this as guerrilla ecclesiology.

When the British and French came to colonize the New World, they practiced a very direct style of warfare [everyone lined up in big rows and shot their guns at their enemies…ish]. This simple tactic led to many brutal losses at the hands of the Native American Indians who were fighting for their freedom and protecting their homes using guerilla tactics. They fought in forests, set up ambushes, and used clever military devices to cause great harm to their oppressors.

As christ-followers, we live with the reality of spiritual contests. These battles are not only fought in church or in “christian” environments, however, and our inattention to this little fact is tantamount to making the same mistake the British and French did in colonization. We take heavy losses because we think the enemy fights like us. But the truth is that real spiritual contests happen everywhere. Every bar and movie theatre, every restaurant and dinner table, grocery store and bus depot is a battlefield.

Guerilla ecclesiology means we’ve got to see our entire lives and every relationship as part of this great contest, as opportunities for us to be the church outside of church walls.

And you have perMission to do so.

Authenticity is the funniest thing. Truthfully, it’s not an end in and of itself, but a deliberate attempt not to be plastic and fake and full of garbage. There is so much advice on what a “good christian” looks like, but that is advice that – by and large – leads us astray.

To illustrate, I’d like to use the example of being cool. We all know there are certain rules to being cool. The problem lies in the fact that if you follow all of the rules, it doesn’t make you cool; rather, it makes you look like you’re trying to be cool [which is terribly uncool]. Take John Stamos for example. He follows all the cool rules and looks like a cheeseball. But Thom Yorke from Radiohead, who is skinny and whose clothes are out of style and has bad British teeth, is supremely cool and anyone who every sees him recongnizes that in an instant.

Cool is not contained by rules, but what’s inside of you. So, be cool. Be authentic. Let Jesus come out of your pores and don’t sweat all the little rules.

Sweat Christ.

A major part of church is community, and community is tough. Though there are many aspects to community, such as reaching into our local neighborhoods and trying to demonstrate God’s love [as we emphasize in Imagination and perMission], the aspect of community that we’re referring to here is the love-one-another-somehow-get-along-live-missionally-with-the-preferences-and-beliefs-of-others-in-mind-and-demonstrate-love-practically-in-an-earthy-daily-kind-of-way.

Community is the hardest part about Christianity because it means we’ve got to make it work with people we don’t like and with people we might not care about. Sadly, most of us choose not to make it work and that can cause a kind of social cancer. When this is allowed to spread, to become competetive and mistrusting, everyone suffers and no one wants to remain in community.

Being in community requires depth, because it is hard work, it’s deep work, and we don’t develop a healthy community through education, we develop a healthy community through immersion and through transformation.

So, if you’re not in a place where you are daily struggling and fighting to love people who drive you nuts, you probably aren’t in a place where God wants you. Chances are, you’re comfortable…and might be a bit useless.

You have to be tested, and testing is true community.

Curator, A Teaching Pneumetaphor

One of the most significant evolutions in emerging worship is the swap of a worship service for a worship environment. More and more, we are seeing young leaders and entrepreneurial ministers establishing an ecosystem for the purposes of worship. Worship leaders are becoming less than Darlene Zschech and more like Martha Stewart. Worship is being seen as ecology, something more than music, something more like a wilderness of expression or an expanse of open thought and immersion theology.

To better facilitate individual people connecting with Jesus Christ, we are moving away from a front-and-center model of theatrical liturgy to a decentralized mapping of prayer stations, labyrinths, media interaction, personal and corporate prayer, individual study in the midst of conversation, and laughter alongside remorse. Such a radical redesign of contemporary worship praxis requires an equally radical rethinking of a Teacher’s leadership.

Mark Pierson offers the notion of a pastor/teacher as a curator in his groundbreaking CD Rom Fractals,[1] "So instead of being a worship-leader, or worship-planner, I have become a curator of worship. I provide contexts, experiences of worship for others to participate in… In a worship setting a curator would become: A maker of a context for worship rather than a presenter of content (the content would be prepared by others.), a provider of a frame inside which the elements are arranged and rearranged to convey a particular message for a particular purpose.[2]"

A curator sets up an exhibit so that guests can interact personally with the art on display. The curator his/herself is not the exhibit, but a facilitator. Teachers facilitate Christian people coming together to fellowship, grieve, worship, laugh, learn, love, and tell in the presence of God. He is the Grand Exhibit, the Display of Heaven, available for everyone to touch.

The Greek word didaskalos[3] is used 58 times in the New Testament, often as a translation for the Hebrew word rabbi. Jesus is referred to as didaskalos 41 times, translated in English as both “Master” and “Teacher.” A didaskalos appears in scripture as an instructor, someone who “communicates content by modeling a lifestyle.[4]” Weston defines the Ascension Teaching Gift as that which “God gives certain members of the body of Christ to present God’s Word in a manner that displays spiritual authority and unusual accurate promoting of health and maturity, while equipping individual members and the Body itself for the work of the ministry.”[5]

Both Jesus and Paul operated as excellent examples of Teachers in the New Testament, employing the traditional form of moral exhortation, called paraenesis[6] in Greek. Jesus utilized this known form while giving the Sermon on the Mount; but, like many things Jesus did, He offered paraenesis with a twist. He alluded to everyday objects and items as a means of illustrating divine truth, but went one step further than the conventional wisdom. Paraenesis consists of “traditional ethical material expressing conventional wisdom approved by society…and illustrated by models of virtue”, but Jesus exhorts His audience not only to obey the Law but to surpass the Law by loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, forsaking oaths, and even keeping our minds free from unfit thoughts.[7]

Similarly, Paul employs forms of paraenesis in his epistles as he instructs believers how to live “in the light.” This notion of duality – lights versus dark, the spirit versus the flesh – is common enough in wisdom literature,[8] and Paul continues his rabbinic trend-setting by calling upon believers to “focus on social virtues and vices…expelling such things as envy, strife, and malice.”[9] Some of these letters were written specifically to address situations where common sense should have ruled, and the paraenesis served to remind the people of those things they already should have known:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.[10]

Paul and Jesus used the role of the Teacher both to illuminate and to inspire in the New Testament, though – admittedly – the teacher types tends more towards a logical, rather than an emotional or sensual, approach to life and faith. It is because of this kind of tendency to over-intellectualize and systematize faith that Teachers need the “unction of the Holy Spirit to make teaching a channel for the impartation of life as well as knowledge.”[11] The ministry of a Teacher involves comparisons of spiritual things with other spiritual things, wisdom with divine speech, and knowledge with mystery[12]; and teachers must be careful to embed these comparisons with inspiration. The Holy Spirit Himself has a part to play in instruction, and we are instructed by St. John to be mindful of that anointing as we are taught.[13]

It is the ultimate aim of the Teacher to see the Word applied to our lives, and not merely be informed about the Word. As such, a Teacher should be a “living epistle”[14] and must teach by precept[15] and by example[16], , and by conduct[17] in what s/he does. The lessons are thusly enhanced by the Teacher’s own spiritual life as s/he is formed by the Holy Spirit and filled with the possession of true facts [knowledge], the interpretation of truth [understanding], and the application of truth [wisdom].[18] This is consistent with the wisdom tradition presented in the poetic books of the Old Testament where wisdom was defined as doing what you knew to be right, as in the case of the wise man and the foolish man where the wise man applied his knowledge and the fool – who also possessed the same knowledge – did not[19]; and it is consistent with latter New Testament writings such as 1 John 1.6 where we are warned to “do the truth.[20]

I’ve often thought o f curators as underutilized human encyclopedias, making their weary way through halls of artifacts that invigorate them while speaking to people who are dulled by them. Truly, the best curators are those who are able to translate their passion for art to their audience. It is this kind of curator to whom we refer below, and there are five significant ways in which the curator and the teacher crossover in local church experience. When we take the biblical materials and the pneumetaphor and weave them together, we’re left with a more holistic view of how the Teacher functions today.

A teacher/curator creates contexts
The Teachers is an experience architect. Their task is that of an interior designer, and they responsible for the space we use to interact with the Holy Spirit as a community. In western Canada the hunger for authentic spirituality is so strong, anyone who spends ten minutes on the street in downtown Vancouver will be assaulted by every conceivable manner of spiritual connectivity by a gaggle of bus-boy gurus and business-lunch witches. Sadly, church attendance remains depressingly low, and we are forced to conclude that churches are not meeting the demand for spiritual encounters. Our problem lies in not providing the “right kind of opportunities and environments”[21] for people to actually connect with the spiritual dimension of their lives.

We must respond to this disconnect by creating space. Such space exists simultaneously in three realms: [1] the chronos[22], [2] the diistemi[23], and [3] the phronema.[24] The chronos is the space in time set aside for worship and thanksgiving. Throughout Christian history and tradition believers have set aside daily, weekly, seasonal and annual space to remember and celebrate the goodness of God. The creation of chronos-space for worship is a statement of faith, particularly in our frenetic culture of busyness and fragmentation. More so, it is a statement of defiance that, in spite of the pace of life dictated to us by our culture and society, we – the people of God – choose to slow down and remember who we are and Who we are serving.

The diistemi, or “space apart”, is the physical dimensions we set aside for worship. Worship space, worship environment, and worship setting are all synonyms for this notion of sacred space. In the emerging world, diistemi-space will need to be mapped out virtually as well as physically, emotionally as well as kinesthetically and/or sensually as we endeavor to experience God through a multitude of new highs. It has been our great oversight to take diistemi-space for granted, and Evangelicals have allowed their auditoriums and worship places to be unset-apart thereby allowing the sense of holy space to become corrupted by an attitude of indifference.

Some factors to consider in creating “holy space” include the arrangement of furniture in the room, lighting, sound, the art/aesthetics, the equipment/tech, and the air.[25] Jonny Baker, in Alternative Worship, comments on the creation of sacred space through advanced mixed-media technology, an eclectic use of the worship traditions of the church, and ways in which fragments of liturgical tradition – rituals, icons, prayers, and responses – are inserted into a multi-media context.[26]

Another important Greek word here is the actual word used for “holy space” which is the word hagion. Strong’ defines hagion as:
1. reverend, worthy of veneration
a. of things which on account of some connection with God possess a certain distinction and claim to reverence, as places sacred to God which are not to be profaned
b. of persons whose services God employs, for example, apostles[27]
This is the word that is used when speaking of the Holy of Holies in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. There is precedent and exposition, then, of the importance of the space where we meet and meet God, and it is the duty of the teacher/curator to set it aside.

Phronema-space is the space made in our minds for the Spirit. Distractions abound. There are always many, many things greedily tempting our conscious self, and it becomes a matter of discipline in worship to stop the mental chatter and make space in our minds for the Spirit. The Jesuit prayer site http://sacredspace.ie/ is an excellent working model of a Teacher motivated to help his constituents make phronema-space, using slow scene transitions and a serene musical score to enhance the experience of the written prayers supplied by the Order. Despite our collective unfamiliarity with mixed media, Evangelicals can look to sites such as this as a practical blending of ancient faith with future experiences rooted on a timeless God.[28]

A teacher/curator facilitates interaction with the exhibit by the people
Folk theologian/philosopher/storyteller Garrison Keillor once wrote that:
If you can’t go to church and, for at least a moment, be given transcendence; if you can’t go to church and pass briefly from this life to the next; then I can’t see why anyone should go. Just a brief moment of transcendence causes you to come out of church a changed person.[29]

We must always be mindful of the fact that people are not coming to church to experience us and our ideas; people are coming to church to experience God and His love, power, grace, mercy, transcendence, joy and peace. The task of the Teacher is to put them in as close and inviting a locale as possible with the Holy Spirit in order that people may experience God themselves, and not be funneled through a mediator, for there is but one mediator between God and men.[30] As Mark Pierson says, “the worship curator trusts that the Holy Spirit will make the exhibition uniquely real, alive and appropriate to each participant.[31]” Even in the secular realm, there is widespread recognition that deep spirituality involves “the direct investigation of the experiential evidence”[32] that we encounter when in the “higher stages of consciousness development.”[33] This direct investigation may be thought to include rites of passage[34], such as baptism or weddings and funerals, as well as meaningful worship experiences.

Spirituality is about transcendence, about connection with the supernatural, and moments of divine contact. This transcendental priority is often recognized by everyone but church leadership. As a result, the most important task of the Teacher may be to simply get out of the way.

To illustrate, know that in 2002 80% of polled Canadians claimed to believe in God[35], while 75% of adults and 70% of teens claimed to believe in a God that cares about them personally, while approximately one in every two adults reported that they have experienced God’s presence.[36] Even among those who do not believe in a God who cares about them personally, approximately one-in-five report that they have actually “experienced the presence of God”[37] and report that that experience has lasted within their consciousness over time. Those direct experiences with the divine cannot be substituted by our words and actions, so we must re-focus our efforts onto getting people into the presence of God.

We have to get them close to the Exhibit.

A teacher/curator possess insight and knowledge into the exhibit that most people don’t have the time or leisure to acquire, though many may come who do.

Teachers and professional clergy are blessed to have as part of their life’s work the study of God’s Word. Our profession affords us the opportunity to dialogue with intelligent and critical thinkers on a host of theological issues, to spend time in silent meditation and prayer before an open Bible, and to count as part of our work the pursuit of God and His specific will and purpose for our lives and the lives of those in our care. Few others can boast about the access they get to the life-giving scriptures, but it is also the task of the teacher/curator to distil these wondrous moments of elevation into a drink everyone can taste. A teacher/curator has to take profound thoughts and make them simple. A teacher/curator has to field questions and probe insightful comments about “how things work” and how “they were made.” It is the task of the Teacher, not only to learn, but to teach so others may learn and know.

A teacher/curator cares personally about the exhibit and is not emotionally detached from what is on Display

Perhaps the most heart-breaking story in the Old Testament is the tale of the Levites who devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the people and, and in the process, overlooked God. This passage out of Ezekiel is the horrible judgment God passes on ministers who place the ministry over the Creator:
11 They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and stand before the people and serve them. 12 But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the house of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin, declares the Sovereign LORD. 13 They are not to come near to serve me as priests or come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings; they must bear the shame of their detestable practices. 14 Yet I will put them in charge of the duties of the temple and all the work that is to be done in it.[38]

The Levites are permitted to continue ministry, but God punishes these servants with the ultimate torment: separation. Because of the misplaced priorities of the Levites, God promises to allow them to continue ministry at the cost of relationship.

Relationship is the most significant task of the Teacher. God is not just for the customers, God is for the Curator.

A teacher/curator cleans up when everyone else leaves
When a museum closes for the night, the last person to leave is the curator. The curator makes sure everything is reset for the next day’s customers. The curator makes sure nothing was damaged, or taken that should not have left. The curator ensures that the janitor knows which spots are dirty and need to be cleaned, or what access needs to be closed off until further notice.

So it is with the teacher/curator. After everyone leaves, the Teacher must endeavor to know what happened: did anyone get hurt? Is everything as it should be for the next gathering? Did someone get too close to the Exhibit and not understand it? Was there anyone who never got to see the Exhibit firsthand, and, why not? Did something not work that will require that area to be “off limits” temporarily? These are the questions that stay with a teacher/curator during times of decompression.

These are the closing thoughts.

[1] Due to our use of the Five Ascension Gifts in this paper, we will expropriate this metaphor for teachers, having ascertained that the Pastoral Gift is better illustrated otherwise.
[2] Mark Pierson, Fractals. (see http://www.cityside.org.nz/events.html)
[3] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 1320. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=1320&version=kjv
[4] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 43.
[5] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 43.
[6] M.B.Thompson, "Teaching/Paraenesis," in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 1993 ed.
[7] cf. Matthew 5-7
[8] cf. Proverbs 4.18, 19 and Psalm 1.6
[9] M.B.Thompson, "Teaching/Paraenesis," in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 1993 ed.
[10] Phillipians 4.8,9
[11] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 191.
[12] 1 Corinthians 2.6-14. “6We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”[a]– 10but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.[b] 14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
[13] Cf. 1 John 2.27
[14] 2 Corinthians 3.3
[15] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 192. Also, 2 Timothy 3.10.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 192. Also, John 13.12-15, Matthew 5.19.
[18] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 192.
[19] Proverbs 12.15, Proverbs 14.16, Proverbs 17.28, Proverbs 29.11, Ecclesiastes 2.19
[20] poiou’men th;n ajlhvqeian, lit. “do the truth”
[21] Reginald Bibby, Restless Churches: How Canada’s Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance. (Kelowna: Wood Lake, 2004), 90.
[22] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 5550. lit. “time” http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=5550&version=kjv
[23] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 1339. lit. “space apart” http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=1339&version=kjv
[24] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 5427. lit. “spiritually minded” http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=5427&version=kjv
[25] cf. Michael J. Gelb, How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci. (New York: Delta,1998), 140, 141.
[26] Jonny Baker and Doug Gay, AlternativeWorship: Resources from and for the Emerging Church. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 27, 95.
[27] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 39. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=39&version=kjv
[28] There is no shortage of arguments among Evangelicals that internet community isn’t real community, and that “church” cannot happen without being together in a physical sense. While this may have been true at one point, it becomes increasingly less true everyday and we may find that our grandchildren relate on an entirely different level via cyberspace that offers them more meaning than other forms of community. Consider that in 1998, 48% of adults in the USA had Internet access, but 88% had it by 2002 of which almost half are business users comprising over one million businesses online. Source: Michael Levine, Guerilla P.R. Wired. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001), 18.
[29] Garrison Keillor, “Door Interview: Garrison Keillor,” The Wittenburg Door (Jan-Feb 1985), 16. As quoted in Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami. (Grand Rapids, 1999), 211.
[30] 1 Timothy 2.5
[31] Mark Pierson, Fractals. (Auckland, 2004).
[32] Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything. (Boston: Shambala, 2000), 77.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Reginald Bibby lists rites of passage as one of the key contributors to Canadian religious curiosity in his book Restless Churches: How Canada’s Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance. (Kelowna: Wood Lake, 2004) He maintains that churches are too often bothered by these requests from outsiders, but that the reality is that these rites are among the highest successful entry points in bringing new people into church communites.
[35] Versus 18% annual church attendance. Reginald Bibby, Restless Gods. (Kelowna: Wood Lake, 2002), 150.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Reginald Bibby, Restless Churches: How Canada’s Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance. (Kelowna: Wood Lake, 2004), 15.
[38] Ezekiel 44.11-14

church death?

i always feel charmed when i hear people talking about how "the church is going to die"

when i was thirteen i had a shaved head, wore a bandana around my leg, and believed that if you listened to u2 you were on the amtrak to hell
when i was eighteen i had long hair, a couple of piercings, and believed that if i listened to amy grant i was in hell already
we must change, or our present form will die - and the slower we accept a kind of evolution, the faster we'll deteriorate, but that's different than an actual death or a literal death.

perhaps dan kimball said it best when he remarked that the changes that are occuring in our culture are not simply changes in form or style, clothing or music, but in how we process information, understand truth, and embrace spirituality.

be cheerful - change, though painful in the short run, is actually the thing that keeps us alive.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ground Control, A Pastoral Pneumetaphor

Once I heard Len Sweet speak about pneumanauts, I was hooked. In the last ten months I have becomes fascinated by the notion of being a “sailor of the spirit”, and have begun to invest myself in articles and information about the exploration of space. Ultimately, it was my wife Carmel who recognized the parallels between a pastor and a ground controller, as she and I were involved in a conversation lamenting the absence of a Canadian version of NASA. Like all pneumetaphors, ground controller has a breakdown point – in this case, pastors are never seen as exploring space themselves – but it functions as a new way of seeing something very crucial.

The Greek word, poimen, literally means “herdsman” or “shepherd.” That is an important point to note because it tells us that “shepherd” and “pastor” didn’t have a metaphorical relationship, but that they were synonyms. In fact, poimen is only translated as pastor once in the New Testament[1]. It was only after the New Testament period that Christians began to commonly refer to local ministers as pastors, rather than simply as shepherds.

Jesus sets up the role of the shepherd by referring to Himself as the Good Shepherd[2], and to His followers as sheep. He also instructs Peter to “feed my sheep[3].” Acts 20.28 instructs leaders to “feed the church of God” and Peter exhorts similarly, telling us to “feed the flock of God[4].” The pastor’s responsibility is for care and vigilance, guiding, training, and nurturing like a herdsman who leads, feeds, waters and guards sheep. St. Paul, demonstrating this kind of personal commitment to individuals as well as communities, even goes so far as to list more than twenty-seven people at the end of his letter to the Romans[5].

Because of the number of enemies to the sheep, Jesus also instructs that the “Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep[6]”, demonstrating the kind of commitment and protective outlook that pastors ought to have. Shepherds have to be wary of strangers, thieves, robbers [violent thieves], hirelings [who run at the first sign of trouble], and wolves in order to protect the lives of the sheep.[7] In churches, pastors must be wary of people with no convictions, crafty folk, manipulators and dominant personalities, vocational ministers just earning a living, and any number of false teachers or pretenders who come as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Paul further identified his pastor’s heart, rooted in his understanding of the good news and how it brought people into fellowship with God, by outlining the progression of faith he hoped every believer would follow in the churches he started. Paul’s own obedience to Christ was evident in his willingness to be the apostle to the Gentiles[8], an obedience he commended to other believers[9] which he felt would help them become one in Christ[10]. This oneness was seen as a membership in the body of Christ[11] – literally as body parts of Christ – and ultimately resulted in the unity and security offered as members of God’s family[12].

"He will bring back the lost, heal the wounded; but, He will judge the fat and the strong that hurt each other.
For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.
12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.
13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.
14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.
15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD .
16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
In the Old Testament, Ezekiel prophecies that the Lord would raise up pastors according to His own heart[13]"

...and lists the following actions as attributed to the Shepherd.

He will search out His sheep shepherd them.
He will deliver them on a dark day.
He will bring them to their own land, feed them and pasture them.

This passage gives marked insight into both the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of pastors in local churches. Jeremiah also adds that the shepherd will bring the sheep into folds, or local congregations, and that the sheep will trust the shepherd and neither fear or be dismayed[14].
There are also other terms in the New Testament that refer to the pastor. In fact, there is general acknowledgement that “in the Early Church the titles Pastor, Elder, and Bishop all referred to the ministry of the same person.[15]” An Elder, referring to the man himself, was seen to hold an office in the church; a Bishop, referring to this office held, was seen to preside over a congregation; and a Pastor, referring to the work/function, was seen to shepherd the flock of God.[16] Of course, it is also taken for granted that the pastor will be a sheep his/herself, as well as a pastor – having come in through the door of the sheep pen[17] and being one to whom the Porter, or Holy Spirit, will open the way[18].

Every pastor must consider his/her own spiritual formation and relationship to God a foremost priority and give their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.[19]
It is also important to note the tremendous strain, due to misinformation, placed upon local church pastors in our present context. Whereas the Bible clearly denotes a five-fold ministry of sacred leadership, often in churches there is simply one pastor appointed to oversee the life of a congregation. This forces the people to expect the pastor to be an all-around “one many ministry[20]” and frequently results in burn out or mental/emotional/spiritual break down.

There is wisdom in the New Testament model of five Ascension ministries, and local pastors are well advised to pursue lay leadership and denominational support and involvement in order to bring the sacred equation back to balance. The Apostle Paul modeled this by surrounding himself with “colleagues who could share in the pastoral task.[21]” Such support was gleaned from Timothy by sending him to help pastor in Corinth[22], and later Titus[23], and Paul also took companions with him on his missionary journeys – most notably Silas, Barnabas, and Timothy, showing us the value of shared leadership and community in oversight.

In the past we have, by biblical default, looked to the pastor as a shepherd who cares for the sheep. This is an excellent metaphor! Having never seen a sheep, however, I am more inclined to think of a pastor as a solid metaphor for shepherding than I am to think of shepherding as a workable metaphor for pastoring. Should I ever find myself surrounded by actual sheep, though, I do believe I could tend them using the very same skill set that I have cultivated as a minister in a local church caring for my congregation. To be fair, I have never been a part of the ground control of a space expedition, but the pneumetaphor holds because of the familiarity through films and pop cultural references.

There are five crossover points for the pastor and the ground controller.

A pastor/ground controller sends others into the heavens
In the Ron Howard film Apollo 13 Ed Harris plays the Flight Controller – the head of the ground control crew – Gene Kranz. When things go very, very wrong for the men aboard the space shuttle, Kranz takes definitive action and changes the mission from one of lunar landing to one of safe earth return. As I went back watched the film again, I was struck by the similarities between the flight controller and the local church pastor. Both send others into the heavens, trying to advance the human experience in space and history, trying to understand what is “out there” and answer some of the fundamental questions of human existence: namely, “are we alone?” “how did this all begin?” and “what mysteries await us on the other side of space?”
The Greek world kosmos, which Ken Wilber rightly defines as “the patterned whole of all existence, including the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual realms[24]”, is the root for our transliterated “cosmos” from which we get “cosmonaut” or “sailor of the stars.” It is into this kosmos that we send our parishioners as their pastors/ground controllers to investigate and discover first-hand what resides in heaven. “This is really pure exploration” says Tim Appenzeller on space travel.

“This is sending the Nina and Pinta out to see how many dragons there are on your way to India.[25]” And so it is with spirituality. We release our people into a world – setting up all cautions and protection we can – and try and help them navigate the unforeseen, the unknown, and the mystery that reveals us all to be “part of a continuum of life in the cosmos… life [that is] common.[26]

A pastor/ground controller ensures safety and recovery of crew
It is into this wonderful context of post-Cold War cosmonautical fantasy that free enterprise and privatization have most recently emerged. Men like Richard Branson, CEO of the 9 billion dollar Virgin Group and Virgin Galactic[29], Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon.com and now Blue Origin[30], Burt Ratan[31] who won the $10 million X prize for breaking the space barrier with his SpaceShipOne, and Buzz Aldrin are just a few of the many entrepreneurs who are venturing into commercial space flight.[32]

And they are all consumed with safety.

“Affordable space travel opens a new era in human history[33]” says Branson, but he also goes on to speak of the potential disaster shareholders may observe if something bad happens. “We’re taking every precaution. Safety is not an afterthought.[34]” At $200,000[35] per 2 hour flight, all concerned with intergalactic commercial travel are certain that safety is the primary concern, because just one incident and millions of dollars could be lost forever.

Safety in space is the task of the ground control.

Safety in spiritual experience is the task of the pastor.

In space, pastors are forced to ask themselves questions with elusive answers, such as “What variables are there in having a guest come to speak? Will their theology and teaching be biblically based and bear good fruit in the lives of our people?, “What must we do to further the connection with God that our people experience in worship without pushing them so far past their comfort zone that they resent the encounter?”, “How will this kind of expression affect those whose faith is sincere, but either steeped in tradition and/or cutting its teeth on a creative rind?” These, and many thousands of others, are questions of spiritual safety, and pastors are often blessed and obsessed with getting the perspective they need to protect the people of God.

A pastor/ground controller controls much of the navigation of the journey
In space, astronauts have limited control over the destination of the space craft. Side boost thrusters are employed to correct pitch and yaw, measured by a kind of gyroscope, and they are able to control lunar modules and smaller maintenance crafts outside the ship, but larger navigational issues are all controlled by ground control.

In church, people come and go and are given very little control over what happens. Regardless of how they feel or respond, in most Evangelical churches they are going to participate or not in whatever has been prepared. The pastor or service/design team put together a liturgy or order-of-service, and the parishioner is left to control their personal navigation through this space by way of emotional and spiritual side thrust boosts.

This is an awesome responsibility for pastors, and extends far beyond service design and into an understanding of spiritual formation, as in discipleship, and eccelesiology, as in the choice of model or understanding of church function. The key for any leader faced with such a task is to “focus on what’s important to you and where you want to end up, no matter how difficult things seem[36]”, a reminder that may just serve the constituents as well as the clergy.

A pastor/ground controller has a broader perspective than those in space
Visually, an astronaut is going to see much more of actual outer space than anyone in ground control; yet, the ground controller has access to information and data that controls where the space craft is headed, what calculations need to be made in order for a safe landing, orbital debris and possible planetary concerns like the atmosphere and weather back on Earth. In fact, many of the Russian cosmonauts recalling their days of Soviet exploration claim that space can be dull due to days spent in complete darkness.[37]

It is this broader perspective of the pastor/ground controller that allows the astronaut to appreciate space with diminished concern for details and worries and greater concern for mystery. It is a better way to learn[38], it provides the freedom to enhance our spiritual experience with the unknown and the opportunity to see that there is “an eros to the kosmos…a subtle, slow, relentless evolutionary drift, that unfolds higher and deeper connections.[39]
A pastor/ground controller works long hours and absorbs the stress of those in space
Apollo 13 depicts Gene Kranz and his ground crew working round the clock to find solution after solution to problem after problem on the Apollo 13 space craft. Says Kranz:
We wrote two more words into our vocabulary in mission control after the accident, he said, “tough and competent. Tough because we will never again shirk from our responsibilities because we’re forever accountable for what we do, or what we fail to do. Competent, because we will never again take anything for granted, we will never stop learning. From now on the teams in mission control will be perfect… As a team, we must never fail.[40]

Consistent with any article or record of the Apollo 13 miracle, Ron Howard uses the medium of film to show how Kranz brought the crew home safely because he believed “failure was not an option.[41]

So it is with pastors. Knowing the danger is not theirs, knowing that the stresses and difficult times in life are actually the province of those who live the lives that are affected, still countless pastors with the heart of a shepherd/ground controlled work tirelessly to bring new peace to families and lost souls. There are dangers to the pastors inherent to this level of concern and good will, and the issue quickly becomes whether or not pastors can fulfill their calling to ensure that a “holy presence can be received, imagined, and practiced.[42]

[1] Ephesians 4.11
[2] John 10.11
[3] John 21.16, 18
[4] 1 Peter 5.2
[5] Romans 1.1-16
[6] John 10.11
[7] John 10.1-13
[8] Romans 15.8,18
[9] 1 Corinthians 11.1
[10] Galatians 3.26-28
[11] 1 Corinthians 12.12-27
[12] Galatians 6.10.
[13] as noted in Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 184 and also in Ezekiel 34.11-16.
[14] Jeremiah 23.3,4; Jeremiah 3.15, 17.16, 6.2-3
[15] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 181.
[16] Connor explores this in more detail in Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 181.
[17] Cf. John 10.1,9; John 14.6.
[18] John 10.3
[19] Acts 6.2-4, see also Jeremiah 2.5-8, Acts 20.28, and 1 Timothy 12-16 where Paul instructs Timothy to stay spiritually vibrant.
[20] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 175.
[21] P. Beasely-Murray, “Paul as Pastor” in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarstiy Press, 1993, 657.
[22] 1 Corinthians 4.17
[23] 2 Corinthians 8.6
[24] Ken Wilbur, A Theory of Everything. (Boston: Shambala, 2000), xi.
[25]Tim Appenzeller, “Search for Other Earths.” National Geographic, December 2004, Vol. 206, no. 6, 91.
[26] Tim Appenzeller, “Search for Other Earths.” National Geographic, December 2004, Vol. 206, no. 6, 75.
[27] Patrick Di Justo, “Mysteries of the Cosmos.” Wired, December 2004.

[28] Patrick Di Justo, “Mysteries of the Cosmos.” Wired, December 2004.

[29] Xeni Jardin, “Richard Branson's space tourism foray – ‘Virgin Galactic’" http://www.boingboing.net/2004/09/27/richard_bransons_spa.html
[30] By Alan Boyle, “Amazon founder unveils space center plans”, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6822763/
[31] By Alan Boyle, “Private rocket ship breaks space barrier: History-making pilot copes with serious control problem” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5261571/
[32] There has also formed a multi-nation corporation concerned with intergalactic commercial transport, called “The Personal SplaceFlight Federation.” Cf. By Alan Boyle “Space racers unite in federation
Industry group will follow up on new law”, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6936543/
[33] Richard Branson as quoted in Spencer Reiss, “Rocket Man.” Wired, January 2005, 140.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Spencer Reiss, “Rocket Man.” Wired, January 2005, 140.
[36] Kevin Cashman, Leadership from the Inside Out. (Minneaplois: Leader Source, 1998), 94.
[37] Cf. http://www.thespaceplace.com/Cosmonauts.html
[38] Cf. Len Sweet, Summoned to Lead. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 162.
[39] Ken Wilbur, A Theory of Everything. (Boston: Shambala, 2000), 130.
[40] Jeff Foust “We must never fail”: Gene Kranz, Apollo 13, and the future. http://www.thespacereview.com/article/357/1
[41] Ibid.
[42] Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home. (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1997), 9.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Rock Star, An Evanglistic Pneumetaphor

Bono is an evangelist. Honestly, I can’t count how many different times his lyrics have prompted a homecoming for me as a teenage prodigal. From lyrics about abandonment and disillusionment with religion, to lyrics of idealist hopes and new promise, Bono has reminded me how to sing when I had forgotten. His gospel is sung on behalf of those who cannot sing for themselves. Shocked? The truth is that Bono has been more of a slide into Christ for me than Billy Graham, so the pneumetaphor here is far more
autobiographical, and far less universal, than all the others.

In contrast to the offices of apostle and prophet, those of the evangelist, pastor and teacher have been widely accepted and noted throughout church history. Certainly the 20th Century has provided resplendent examples of Evangelistic greats like Billy Graham, Luis Palau, Bill Bright and Reinhart Bonke, and we are in a position in the church today to recognize and appreciate the effectiveness of such large scale mission.

Is it the job of the euaggelistes[1], or evangelist, to announce good news and to declare good tidings. B.E. Underwood notes the evangelist as the “person with the ability to present the gospel in such a way that people will respond to the claims of Christ by repentance, conversion, and discipleship[2]”, a definition we see represented in the life of Philip who journeyed in Samaria, Jerusalem/Gaza, and Azotus preaching repentance, baptism, and performing miraculous signs in the name of Jesus Christ so men might follow Him.[3] It is precisely that quality of Philip, that he preached a person and not merely a doctrine, that has endeared him as a hero of the faith to so many.

In addition to euaggelistes, the New Testament employs the variations euaggelizo[4], relating to the ministry [from which we get our word evangelism], and euaggelion[5], relating to the message [from which we get our word gospel]. Kevin Connors has taken these three dimensions of the man, the ministry, and the message and woven them into a healthy understanding of the distinctive calling of the Evangelistic office in his book, The Church in the New Testament.[6] Says Connors, “evangelists are the messengers and bearers of glad tidings to a lost and dying world[7]” and notes that their purpose is to perfect and mature the saints, to bring new saints into the body of Christ, and to edify the church.

Other significant Greek words in use to describe the functions of an evangelist are the words kerygma[8] and martyreo[9], meaning “to preach” and “to bear witness” respectively. Kerygma centers on the person of Jesus Christ and was a “definitive call that demanded a response[10]”, whereas martyreo was a kind of storytelling in which the speaker testified as to the personal effect that had been worked upon their lives through some encounter.
The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist[11]”, meaning that he ought to pursue unbelievers around him in order that they might repent, convert to faith, and be baptized.

Faith toward Jesus Christ (Acts 20.21, 20.43, 11.17, 16.31) was more than assent to spiritual facts; it included also commitment to a personal God revealed in Jesus Christ, not without basis in certain propositional truths about him (hence the severe warnings about heresies and false teachers), not without evidence of good works (cf. James 1.21-27, 1 John 2.28-3.24) and not without persistence of hope (cf. Hebrews 11-13, 2 Peter 3.17-18).[12]

This was the kind of motivation employed in the absence of someone fulfilling the evangelistic office in the Early Church, and often is employed in our churches today. Indeed the majority of evangelism in the New Testament appears to take place in the homes of believers among their friends and family as every believer operated as a kind of missionary. The need for those with the gift of evangelism to self-identity and enter the arena of church life was as poignant then as it is now, though we are still reminded as believers that their absence only means for us a greater obligation to contribute what we can as part of a personal fulfillment of the Great Commission.

I was eighteen when I first began to understand that music was my torah. Music spoke to me in ways that meant something, it communicated a sensitivity and a savagery that nothing else could evoke. When I read the bible and I see examples of the evangelists having such impact on people, the only thing I can relate that to in my life is the power of music. Thankfully, music is redemptive and easily serves the intention of our Maker; but significantly, it is above all other mediums in meaning for many people.

1. An evangelist/rock star has a subversive message and an agenda
Bono is famous for his ability to circumvent the established channels of authority and power and find a way to align himself with the people. Take, for example, his offer of his sunglasses to Pope John Paul II, whom Bono called “the greatest front man the Catholic Church ever had”, and his refusal to give U.S. President George W. Bush his sunglasses during a press conference regarding Bono’s candidacy for President of the World Bank. It is these kinds of gestures, like kissing fan-girl Lori Watson on stage at a Vancouver concert in 1993, that have endeared him to the common people for almost three decades. In fact, “U2’s music is so broad and welcoming it can express ardor equally for Christ, wives, supermodels, children, or Bishop Desmond Tutu[13]”, while at the same time bringing about social awareness and change in such important arenas as the AIDS pandemic, the struggle in Northern Ireland, and the quest for a global adoption of Jubilee. Says journalist Ann Power’s, “Bono and his band no longer worry about who owns their souls – everybody does, and that’s exactly what U2 wants.[14]

Songwriters like Bono typify the sort of subversive speech uttered by evangelists: a speech that topples authority and calls reality into question, forcing people to be confronted with the reality of their soul and the spiritual dimensions of life. Evangelists take music seriously – they find power in “song”, in the moment of granting voice to the hope that lives in mankind. In this way evangelists function as exiles, as people who are not of this place, but who are caught here all the while knowing they belong somewhere else:

Exiles sing dangerously. They sing what cannot be printed or announced officially:

10Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
you islands, and all who live in them.
11 Let the desert and its towns raise their voices;
let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice.
Let the people of Sela sing for joy;
let them shout from the mountaintops.
12 Let them give glory to the LORD
and proclaim his praise in the islands.[15]

Every song of exiles is a new singing of homecoming and possibility[16]

When the evangelist/rock star comes to “sing”, they come to pull apart the illusion that the world and everything in it is primarily social and economic, and give voice to the underground assumptions of supernatural contact and divine love.

2. An evangelist/rock star is there to proclaim
Not only is the message of the evangelist/rock star subversive, but it is a proclamation of good news that – once it has been internalized – changes reality for the people who believe. It not only makes reality seem different, it actually ushers in a new reality with new resources for believers and new access to a new community.

Calvin Miller, in his moving trilogy The Singer[17], describes an evangelist by the name of Anthem going from town to town proclaiming the good news that the Singer has come to teach people their “song.” This is the song they were born to sing, and learning it will bring them true happiness and contentment. In the book, as in life, there is a great difference between a new song being heard and learning a new song. Everyone must learn the song in order to sing it, and as believers we identify immediately with the need for such ownership.

For example, the first time I heard “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from the U2 record Rattle and Hum, I was introduced to the idea that searching for meaning is important. Now, having learned all of the words, each of the guitar parts, the melody, the drum part, and having rehearsed three different bands to perform the song as a band director – I can say I know that searching is important and my quest for greatest spiritual fulfillment in Jesus Christ is a quest that gladdens Him and that He has chosen to – and will continue to – reward.

3. An evangelist/rock star is consumed with big themes
‘According to Leonard Bernstein, the best translation of the Hebrew in Genesis 1 was not “and God said” but “and God sang.” For this reason the original Hebrew text of the Pentateuch was read aloud – or more accurately, chanted. In fact, it is still chanted in modern synagogues.

Then God [sang], “let there be light; and there was light”
Then God [sang]…and it was so
Then God [sang]…and it was so
Then God [sang]…and it was so.’[18]

Evangelist/rock stars are concerned with big themes: death ecological disaster and the struggle to hold onto optimism[19], spirituality, faith, and the aggressive search for true love and relationship. Nothing could be bigger or more significant that salvation, or knowing the God of the Universe personally. Nothing can compare with a discovery of purpose in death, or an awareness of victory through tragedy. These big themes are patterns of mystery that line our intelligence and cause us to wonder; they are timeless quests with an eternal answer and prize.

4. An evangelist/rock star depends on signs and wonders
I don’t know who has the better stage show: Coldplay or Benny Hinn. I don’t know who involves their audience more: Peter Gabriel or Nicky Cruz. I don’t know who has been more effective in reaching teens with a message of hope: Pearl Jam or Benny Perez. I do know, however, that in every big show there has to be a big gimmick.

Jesus’ gimmick was miracles.

Power evangelism and the demonstration of the authority of Christ crucified was a major component of New Testament proclamation and evangelism in the Early Church. Stories come to mind about Peter speaking to a lame man and the man getting up to walk, or rebuking a sorcerer and identifying true power; or Steven having the courage to be martyred after having performed many miracles; or Jesus supernaturally escaping capture one day[20], to willingly submit another.

The evangelist/rock star has to know that there is a contest of power in the minds of people, and that contest must be at least addressed if not fought. As a young man I remember reading Steven King’s novel Salem’s Lot, where the alcoholic priest is confronted by a master vampire. The vampire offers to test his demonic strength against the faith of the priest, if the priest will agree to put down the wooden stake in his hand. The priest agrees, then flies at the vampire with the stake and is quickly killed. The master vampire looks on the body of the priest and – in a line I’ll never forget – says, “It’s too bad. Had he believed, he would have won.”

Like it or not, signs and wonders are an uncomfortably significant part of the office of the evangelist, and we need more of them on our team in the coming days.

[1] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 2099. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=2099&version=kjv
[2] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 38.
[3] Acts 8.4-7, 26-40
[4] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 2097. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=2097&version=kjv
[5] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 2098. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?search=2098&version=kjv&type=str
[6] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982).
[7] Ibid, p.172.
[8] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 2782. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=2782&version=kjv
[9] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 3144. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=3140&version=kjv
[10] D. S. Lim, “Evangelism in the Early Church,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed.
[11] 2 Timothy 4.5
[12] D. S. Lim, “Evangelism in the Early Church,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed., 354.
[13] Ann Powers, “Band of Brothers: Death, Sex and Divinity still haunt and inspire Rock’s Grandest Group.” Blender, December 2004, 133.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Isaiah 42.10-12
[16] Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home. (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1997), 128.
[17] Calvin Miller, The Singer Trilogy. (Downer’s Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1975).
[18] As revealed in Len Sweet, Summoned to Lead. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 65.
[19] Ann Powers, “Band of Brothers: Death, Sex and Divinity still haunt and inspire Rock’s Grandest Group.” Blender, December 2004, 132.
[20] Luke 4.29,30

On Depth and Loftiness...

One of the most frequent irritations I have in ministry is the notion of depth. People who have been in church a long time seem to have a penchant for deep teaching that should reveal the hidden mysteries of the bible. Now, as an academic, when I hear the term depth I understand that to mean a closer scrutiny of a text; so, in biblical study that translates to a narrower focus on particular passages of scripture, the history of their interpretations by rabbis, priests, and biblical scholars, the applications of those interpretations, greek and hebrew word studies, and thoughts about the way our culture tends to interpret particular passages differently over time.

The problem is that none of that actually matters. None of it changes the way we serve Jesus Christ. It feeds our rationale minds but not our souls. Truth be told, when I deliver “deep” teaching, even those who claim desire for depth are lost in the minutae of academic gobble.d.gook.

It doesn’t satisfy.

On the other hand, when we discover something in scripture that hits us in the stomach, that levels us or brings us to our knees, we have a new fixation on the person of Jesus and our lives are changed forever. When we are confronted with the Word in such a way that our marriages are remade, our world is redeemed, our kids rediscover faith after a time of apostasy – in those times – we feel the worth and value of scripture immensely.

So here’s my thinking. “Depth”, as it’s commonly understood or talked about really isn’t depth at all. Rather, that depth is actually a kind of loftiness. It is a migration towards an overly rational, highly intellectualized understanding of faith that too often makes us completely useless. That’s not to say that scrutinizing scripture is bad [I am, after all, working on two doctoral degrees in that very field!], but it is to say that we must be cautious about how much we give over to the lust of the mind.

On the other hand, teaching that actually makes a difference in our lives is teaching that we should now consider deep teaching. This is teaching that means something in real life. This is the teaching and interaction with the Spirit that hits us where it hurts [boys, I think we all know what I’m talking about here]. In my mind, that’s real depth.

More balls, less brains? Well, it’s not as simple as all that; but, yeah – that’s what I’m saying.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Artist, A Prophetic Pneumetaphor

I have always been fascinated with the prophetic writings and imagination in the Bible. There is such richness and a color that is brought to faith, as prophets challenge the rule of wicked kings and disobedient peoples. Prophets are always expressing themselves in odd conduct and finding ways to get around the status quo in order to bring about a future that is more in line with how God sees that how man sees. A prophet is a seer, a visionary, and a master of the invisible. Prophets deal in intangibles, while manipulating a tactile word for the purposes of God to be fulfilled.Artist, A Prophetic Pneumetaphor

In the Old Testament, the Levite priests served as mankind’s representative before God by prayer and sacrifice. Prophets, on the other hand, were God’s representatives to man. As God’s mouthpiece, the Old Testament prophet was involved in two kinds of representation: forth-telling, communicating the mind of God for the present, and fore-telling, communicating the mind of God for the future[1]. These were the “teachers of true religion[2]”, divinely commissioned and inspired seers who were “gifted for the exposition of truth.[3]

In the New Testament, there is a notable absence of kings and priests in religious society; instead, every believer is both king and priest in the presence of God[4]. Prophets and apostles now serve as counterpoints to one another, giving checks and balances, and helping to navigate overall church direction and focus[5]. The prophetic office still involves both fore-telling and forth-telling, however, and we can see widespread evidence of prophetic ministry in the church today. This present-day prophecy is defined as the interpretation of the scriptures “in light of the present situation in the church.[6]” In this way the prophet acts as a representative of God, and as “spokesman and equipping agent to present the heart, will, and purpose[7]” under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The prophetic ministry today is reminiscent of the prophecy in Joel concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh[8] and the manifestation of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost[9], though it remains – along with apostleship – one of the greatly misunderstood components of our ecclesiology. For many years Evangelicals have shied from the term, believing that the office was no longer required; yet, the text of Ephesians 4 identifies the timeline of these Ascension Gifts extending “until” the church comes to unity and maturity. Anyone who has seen – for even one moment – the inner workings of a local church in North America knows that this reality eludes us for the present; such that our need for apostolic ministry endures. In fact, there is historical evidence of the ministry of the prophet in the Early Church. These accounts are recorded after the writing of the canon was closed, but the impression is given that such ministry “was not always encouraged” because “local bishops often assumed the prophetic ministry themselves and false prophecy was a growing problem.[10]” The writing of 1 Clement, for example, was necessitated by a split in the church in Corinth over the issue of prophetic ministry[11], and both Ignatius – Bishop of Antioch – and Melito – Bishop of Sarnia – claimed to be prophets[12]. Similarly, the Shepherd of Hermas [c. A.D. 140] and Dialogues with Trypho [c. A.D. 160] take for granted the existence of prophetic ministry in the Christian church and Ireneus testifies almost thirty years after Trypho to the presence of the charismata in Christendom.[13]

I have often dreamed of opening up a center for Christian artistic expression much like the studio that Andy Warhol lived in/ran in the seventies and eighties. It is a beautiful, utopian picture of men and women working together to see what cannot be seen while looking at the world as it is, and it serves as the inspiration for the four crossover points of this pneumetapor.

1. A prophet/artist “sees” the invisible
The prophetic quality of art has long been a favorite topic of coffee-house theologians and philosophers. Art is often understood as a window into a more just, egalitarian world where idealism is the lingua pura and hope is unnecessary. It is this quality of making the “inaudible become audible and the invisible become visible[14]” that makes the prophet/artist so crucial a component to the church. The prophet causes everyone to see differently; and in such light, art is prophetic – both foretelling the incongruity between the way things are and the way they should be, and forth telling as it illumines how we shall all evolve. As Walter Brueggemann put it, “knowing consists not in settled certitudes by in the actual work of imagination.[15]” St. Paul said something similar:
Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.[16]

Tomorrow’s leader is a seer[17] according to leadership guru Dave Fleming, and it is the job of the seer to “flesh out the unseen.[18]” Artists take what we can see and infuse it with what we cannot see. It is in this way that art is transubstantiation – taking the material and endowing it with divinity. So it is that artist’s terms are spiritual terms like “inspiration”, literally “bringing in the spirit”, or “animation”, meaning “the imbuing with animus or soul.[19]” This spiritual vocabulary is more than just vernacular, though; it is representative of real elevation and commerce between Heaven and Earth

2. A prophet/artist distorts reality into art that is true
Both art and prophecy are seditious methods of communication – they are guerilla tactics designed to upset the sociopolitical applecart and prompt a quick recovering into a truer state. Prophecy/art does not describe a “gospel-governed world but helps the congregation imagine it[20]” and the real power to do so lies in the imagination – in the hope, in the promise of God to intervene and save, or to correct and restore.

Imagination is the capacity to work through images, metaphors, and narratives as a way of evoking, generating, and constructing an alternative world that lies beyond and in tension with the taken-for-granted, commonsense world of day-to-day experience.[21]

This is the distortion of the prophet/artist: the distortion through imagination of how the world is in reality into an image or vision or how things truly will be once salvation is unveiled.
Take the untitled Andy Warhol picture "Untitled [Madonna with Child]" as an example. During the time of Jesus’ birth children were being hunted and killed, the wise men were afraid of Herod’s wrath and were probably more like court sorcerers than the goodly kings we often see portrayed[22]. Warhol is applying his imagination, his prophetic voice, to distort reality into art that is true to the way the event has come to be remembered instead of how the event transpired.

This is the power of the prophet/artist: not only to distort the present, but to remember the past alternatively.

Untitled (Madonna and Child) by Andy Warhol[23]

3. A prophet/artist uses art to deconstruct reality
The New York DJ Danger Mouse has recently made a name for himself by blending the rap lyrics of Jay-Z and the acoustically-driven pop of early Beatles’ tunes, calling the project the “Grey Album[24].” The Grey Album is a brilliant example of the way in which prophecy/art can pull apart the layers of reality in order to see what is at the root, the source, of each message and gesture. Prophets use this kind of vision to discern what is happening in churches and in individual’s lives and spiritual formation so they can better aid the purposes of God. As such, it is important to note that the “thing” itself – the art, the words, etc… – is not as important as the meaning behind it. Prophecy/art is the vehicle. “It’s not what you see that is art,” says critic Marcel Duchamp, “Art is the gap.[25]” That “gap” is the space between God’s purposes and vision and what we do with that purpose and vision.

Take Picasso’s Guernica, for example. Here is a piece of art that boldly states that the horrible saturation bombing of an ancient Basque city by revolutionaries cannot be forgotten or covered over with communist rhetoric. The picture itself, though brilliantly rendered, is not the source of power and meaning; the impact is in the statement and the intent behind the brush – in the “gap.”

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso[26]

4. A prophet/artist is often without peers because of their difficult temperament
One of the most significant truths inherent in this pneumetaphor is sadly unflattering to both the prophet and the artist; the fact that they tend to be remembered as difficult, contentious people. Perhaps that is their role, part of their unique social DNA. Perhaps they are here precisely to slow us down, irritate us and make us think, causing us to reevaluate and find alternatives. Paul Schmelzer notes that “[artists] ponder the sacred in non-dogmatic terms [comprising] a spiritual underground[27]”, suggesting that maybe one cause of prophetic/artistic abrasion is in the refusal to speak in acceptable language and reverence.
Biblically, we see many examples of prophets who were uncouth or offensive to respected persons. Hosea married a prostitute[28], Jeremiah bought land that has just been destroyed[29], Ezekiel lay on his side for over a year beside a model of Jerusalem[30], and King Saul even prophesied naked[31]. Jesus was no more orthodox than these, exemplified by his cutting down of the fig tree and prophecy of Temple destruction[32], nor was John the Baptist in any respectable to behold[33].

Regardless of whatever motivations the prophet/artist may have underlining their strangeness, a word of caution should be prepared – for us, not for them – to discipline our hearts and not to pass judgment, to receive anything that God may want to instruct us with, regardless of how abstract. All of those in scripture who ignored the prophets because of their behavior suffered for it, let us not repeat their mistakes.

[1] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 153.
[2] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 35.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Revelation 1.6 KJV.
[5] It is worth noting the close relationship of apostles and prophets in the New Testament, particularly the reference in 1 Corinthians 12.28,29 to church authority which recognizes apostles, then prophets before all the other positions. Likewise, Ephesians 3.5 notes that the revelation of the Church is given to apostles and prophets and it is upon they who laid the foundation for the church under the direction of Christ [Ephesians 2.19-22]. For a fuller explanation see Kevin J. Connor, “The Ministry of Apostles and Prophets” The Church in the New Testament, p.169.
[6] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 35.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Joel 2.28-30
[9] Acts 2.14-21
[10] K.N. Giles, “Prophecy, Prophets, False Prophets,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed.
[11] Cf. 1 Clement 48.5, 21.5; 57.2. as noted in K.N. Giles, “Prophecy, Prophets, False Prophets,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed.
[12] Ign. Magn. 1.1 where “God inspired” is understood as a claim to prophetic inspiration by Giles, Ibid. Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 5.24 describes Melito as one who lives “entirely in the Holy Spirit.”
[13] K.N. Giles, “Prophecy, Prophets, False Prophets,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed.
[14] Len Sweet, Summoned to Lead. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 57.
[15] Walter Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 12.
[16] 2 Corinthians 4.18, KJV
[17] Dave Fleming, Leadership from Unlikely Voices. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 73.
[18] Ibid, 120.
[19] Paul Schmelzer, “Divinity for the Reality-Based Community.” Adbusters, March/April 2005, #58 volume 13 no.2.
[20] Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home. (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1998), 30.
[21] Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home. (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1998), 59.
[22] Cf. Matthew 2.13-18.
[23] As printed in Time. David Van Biema, “Behind the First Noel.” TIME Canadian Edition, 13 December, 2004, Vol. 164, no. 24, 47.
[24] Cf. Eric Steuer “The Wired Rave Awards: Danger Mouse for Bringing Mash-Ups to the Masses.” Wired, March, 2005, 89.

[25] Marcel Duchamp, as printed in Paul Schmelzer, “Divinity for the Reality-Based Community.” Adbusters, March/April 2005, #58 volume 13 no.2.
[26] http://www.msjc.edu/art/djohnson/images/art%20100%20images/chapter%2023/guernica.jpg
[27] Paul Schmelzer, “Divinity for the Reality-Based Community.” Adbusters, March/April 2005, #58 volume 13 no.2.
[28] Hosea 1.2
[29] Jeremiah 32.6-15
[30] Ezekiel 4.1-13
[31] 1 Samuel 19.23-24
[32] Mark 11.12-21
[33] Matthew 3.4