Monday, December 26, 2005

Letter to Tim Keel about Spiritual Leader Formation

I spent so much time writing this letter to my new friend Tim Keel, the pastor of Jacob's Well in Kansas City, and because it was all inspired by my reading the wonderful warm, funny things he said about me on his blog after we hung out at the recent emergent get together at Princeton, I thought it would be good for my PR to have others see what he said, and then to read what I said as a good general blog type entry. There's also a picture of Tim and me and if you look at it carefully (it's easier to see it if you save it - it gets bigger), you will see an interesting set of observations: I have a clean unused glass, there is a pitcher of beer filled to the top, I am gripping my glass tightly, I am reaching for's a moment of potentiality (that had a wonderful outcome).

On to the letter I wrote Tim.

Hi Tim,

This is Jeff from Communion of the Arts (Cota). I saw your blog, where you say such a nice thing about me. Thanks for that, it really encouraged me. And thanks for the time that night at Princeton it really helped me think through some things.

I was so glad to read what you said because I had felt a bit of a bond with you that night, and what you wrote made me feel it was somewhat mutual. I’d love to be emergent buddies and hang out whenever the Lord brings us together.

When I was 9 yrs. old, we moved from Michigan to San Diego, and we took a train all the way across America. I think we stopped in Kansas City, so that was the only time I’ve ever been there.

So my little group is coming along, building some momentum. We’re meeting Thursday nights, and hope as it progresses to get it to Sundays in the late winter, early spring.

All along as I planned and prayed about this new church I had in my heart the idea of a new way of training pastors, so I was thrilled to read some of the stuff on your blog about Allelon.

To give you a few of my thoughts as well on this subject, first I have to share a bit about how we plan to do our worship gatherings and how I came up with these ideas, and how the overall design bodes well for future pastoral/church planter development;

We are planning to have a weekly Wednesday night inductive bible study time with all our small group leaders, where we will spend an hour privately studying (all in the same room), and then come together for a big dialog about the passage we’ve just studied. I did this two summers in a row with the arts ministry that got me mixed up in this whole spiritual leadership thing (the Haven

Then on Sundays at our worship gathering, we’ll have an hour of musical worship and original creative liturgy (the big group), then we’ll all break up into small groups right there and do a bible study dialog together (plus fellowship stuff). That bible dialog will be lead by the small group leader that was there on Wednesday evening. Just in between the big and small groups, I will get up and give a brief ten minute overview of the passage being studied that week, to kind of prime the pump.

So, that is how we will fulfill our biblical mandate to teach. No sermon.

Once a month, in a paean to our American cultural needs, I will give a sermon in order to give overall guidance and encouragement (and so people will know who the pastor is). It will also give one week a month off, for all the small group leaders (no Wed. and no Sun) to keep them healthy and happy.

So, because that is the way I have planned to do the church, it leads me very naturally to think of many implications for raising up new leaders to multiply church plants. Because we are, at our core, “reading in communion” it changes the whole expectation of what is needed in a new pastor. Rather than the pastor being a specially trained guardian of doctrinal truth that is publicly dispensed through weekly public lectures, he becomes the facilitator of mutual spiritual enrichment/encouragement. Becuase we nourish one another, we also have communion together. We teach one another, and the pastor is there Wednesday night leading, guiding, mentoring and encouraging all the small group leaders as they study and prepare to do the same in their small groups Sunday morning. In addition, the pastor is there on Sunday morning giving overview and context and kind of pointing out things to look for when they dialog in their small groups in a few minutes.

The reason this is how things developed as the Lord led me is because I was in YWAM for many years, and I spent nine months in their School of Biblical Studies (SBS) inductively studying every book in the bible.

Six days a week, 6-10 hours a day, plus three interactive lecture/dialogs, cramming our way one book after the next all the way through to book number 66.

That was the hardest thing I ever did in my life (funny, I used to say that with no reservation, but I just now realized that this church plant is giving it a run for it’s money). After such a grueling, life changing experience, inductive study is just in my soul. I could do it or teach it without one moment of preparation.

So, a few years ago I flew up to Toronto to get together with two of my old YWAM SBS leaders, a married couple, and over a weekend we hashed out a simpler version that could be done once a week in an evening for busy people.

Here in busy NYC you cannot give people homework. They come and do it all together, all that night.

When the Haven would take the summers off, I ran a special summer study using this new method we had worked out. It was totally awesome!!! The discussions after everybody has just spent an hour inductively studying the passage are one of the most fun things I have ever done – they are just so dynamic with everyone coming up with either amazing insights, or amazing questions that the group can grapple with and answer.

In addition, these summer studies totally informed our Haven bible dialogs the rest of the year, and most of the participants became core Haven leaders.

Also, my church worship gathering structure is basically based on the Haven, but souped up and modified. The Haven was totally organic, no planning, nothing, just a little group of artists hanging out that my friend started, that ballooned to 300 people every Monday night.

No one knows how we started doing it, but we had a big group meeting of worship music, and then broke up into small groups and did a bible dialog. Because as we started growing I took over that whole second half, of recruiting and training the small group leaders and writing the curriculum, and getting a lot of them involved in that, I really gained a lot of insights into how all this works – so my church though new, isn’t really, I’ve already done it in a simpler format.

But my main point is to say that the thing I became so convinced of after 3-4 years of doing all that was of how significantly we can teach one another. I truly would be amazed every week, even though I had written the dialog, had re-written it with comments from a special team, then had taught it to the small group leaders an hour before the Haven, still every single Monday night, some person in my small group would pull something so profound out of the text that would spiritually nourish me.

I began to feel that it was actually better than hearing a sermon. Later, I felt the reason that might be so, is because it was happening in the context of relationship. I was hearing that person talk about their life, and I had a relationship with them, and then when they shared how a certain verse meant something to them, it just had an ability to get itself lodged into a deeper place within my heart and mind because I knew them and their life context. I surmised that maybe because we are so relational at our core, that this kind of "relational learning" had more power than listening to a lecture, or "rational learning". If that is true, it has powerful implications for ecclesiology.

Later as I began thinking and praying about the church, the Lord brought all these things back to me. I was in a whirl of being influenced by the newly discovered emergent stuff, and by all that I had been learning through the Haven experiences. I became convinced that we could come up with a way to provide, not just adequate, but even better spiritual learning than we had been having under the sermon/public lecture model.

I was already convinced that we could teach one another from the Haven small groups, but I knew it had to be deepened, enriched, supercharged. The book, Reading in Communion by Stephen Fowl influenced me even more along that line, and really answered the obvious first question people have – “How can you guarantee doctrinal soundness”? (which to us emergents sounds very modern, but is still a serious question for a lot of people).

Stephen Fowl basically says that by “reading” scripture (studying, learning, dialoging etc.) in community, we have an automatic correction device. Doctrinal “weirdness” will be caught by others and corrected automatically by positive group pressure.

In fact, he says this is far better than what we have now, because basically now we have theologians who study in the ivory tower, and no one questions their personal life or faith. They just study, and go to academic gatherings to give papers, etc. They could be living horribly, and not be close to Christ as they endeavor to study his Word. Our current system has no personal accountability for theologians, and even in many cases for pastors preparing sermons on a weekly basis. But in community we are all together, living and loving together. It makes perfect sense to me in my new way of thinking everything through communion.

That lead to bringing together all these different things, and so we are studying, reading, dialoging in communion on Wednesday nights, and then we are teaching one another on Sunday mornings.

Instead of one man studying during the week, and getting up and giving a public lecture to a passive audience who all go home and forget 95% of what he said…instead we have a group of people studying on Wednesday, and then the whole church bringing something to the table on Sunday (bringing something to the table...a potluck communion!). Everyone is involved. Everyone is thinking about Philippians chapter 3 that week. All of our overall church problems and forward direction things are all being informed by all of us in the scripture together. And of course, deep relationships are being developed in the process – communion.

So…all that being said, it lead me to think about training pastors for church multiplication, and what I realized is that after a number of years of leading a small group with a commitment to study in communion every Wednesday night, and lead the group on Sunday morning, we have a wonderful "future church planter" set-up here. And they already know basically how to do one of the core components of the church, they don’t have to be great public speakers because that’s not needed anymore. Eventually, they would be raised up through this structure, they might lead the Wednesday thing, and train new small group leaders the inductive method we use, and general small group leadership things. They'd be well on their way to being ready to start their own church.

They could probably go do the YWAM nine month SBS, and then have some other spiritual leadership/prayer stuff added to that and in under two years you could have a great pastor training. I could imagine a way to do it full time, year round, in 1.25 to 1.5 years (rather than a two year academic schedule).

I thought we could start using the resource of YWAM SBS training and then eventually develop our own.

I’m hugely into the idea of the pastors main role to be a man of prayer who follows Jesus so closely that he knows how to keep everyone else near Jesus. That Jesus leads the church. And that the only possible way for that to be real, is for the pastor to be deeply focused on maintaining prayer/spiritual formation at the center of his schedule. I wrote about this on my blog, I call it the Monastery of the Morning.

So, I would love to take the inductive bible study training and add a whole spiritual formation dimension and put that all together. I love imagining how the new monastic stuff could inform that and look forward to hearing what others think about it.

Ok, so I always feel guilty about not blogging enough, and I started to write you this personal letter that has just gotten so long, I just have to post it to my blog. I hope that doesn’t take away any of the intimacy (!?). Plus because of the nice thing you said about me, I have to let some of my people in on that.

Blessings for all you are doing, look forward to knowing you more.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Start Team Growing

My friend Christian, a church planter in Berlin, who spent a year here in NYC before going to plant a similar kind of church in Berlin's hip, artistic urban center came up with the term "start team" instead of core team or launch team, and I liked it.

We just had a wonderful young married couple join our team - Mauricio and Cindy. They are real go-getters and gatherers and overall inspiring folks. They both just recently graduated from Juilliard, Mauricio in acting, and Cindy in dancing, and he still runs a campus fellowship group there. They also have a wonderful ministry taking Juilliard students for a three week camp in the summer to do art projects with underpriveleged youth in Florida and South Africa. They've done it for three years now and it has amazing support, with growing requests to do it in different countries.

The other members of the team are Christy, a three time church planter and musician and overall confidence inspirer, Emily a dancer and encourager and team sweetheart, Lauren a former violinist and arts administrator, who recently left Juilliard to work in the corporate world, and the first member of the start team whose presence so encouraged me in that early time, and who is a gatherer and organizer, Pablo a musician and former youth pastor and is a textbook emergent - someone whose heart was broken by the institutional church and who desperately wants to find Jesus in community.

We are really coming together as a team, and I must say that the love I feel for them and from them is the joy of my life. I also feel an incredible love for the Lord because I struggled so much in the last year as I knew the time of "recruiting a team" was coming, and I was so worried that no one would want to come along. Then to see who he sent me, who he knew he was going to send all along makes me smile to myself.

Church planting is hard, but it puts you right in the stream of Gods energy and that is a good place to be - well worth the hard parts.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Work

So now the drama is over, and we're chugging along with Thursday night meetings and Sunday afternoon with the start team. I've been doing, "vision casting" with the start team for the first three weeks and for a little longer, but also this week we began our first real work assignments - we have to focus on fundraising, because we havn't joined a denomination yet, and so we are on our own financially.

We're producing a brochure that we can use for fundraising and in general, and I'm putting together a Board of Advisor's. I almost did that a year ago, but it just wasn't time yet in the development of things. I pretty much have a group of pastor friends who have been organically been fulfilling the role of a Board, but now I'm going to formalize it. This is also important because we are still independent.

Soon we will have to start working on music issues, finding composer's for the original works we want to do, and then musicians and other aspects, along with a salaried worship leader.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Our first meeting

Hey, I've been in a sea of both joy and stress from our first meeting, and then our second meeting, so I haven't blogged. But I was really, really thrilled to finally have our first meeting. Now after two years of prayer, preparation and planning (and freaking out) - we are finally a church.

We gathered in a circle, slowly more people came, until we had 10-12 people (I purposefully didn't count). We had a long time getting to know one another, then I shared about our plans for the fall, and then I talked about how we needed to start by having a time of making sure we were starting in faith and not in reactionism to hurts and frustrations with the church. We had a time of prayer to forgive if we had any of that in our past, and then asked the Lord to heal us. I believe this is an important thing for a new movement like the emerging church to do. We are the body of Christ, and this is one small evolution in our 2,000 year history, and being Christlike and moving out of love and always being quick to forgive is our unchanging 2,000 year old way.

My whole journey on this has been so based in prayer, so based in following Christ every small step of the way, that this was just so clear to me how we had to start. I deeply fear getting it wrong, being divisive or being deceived and so the only way I know how to go forward is by staying really close to Christ. He constantly said he only does and speaks what he sees the Father doing, and so that is my method.

We also had communion now both weeks which has been wonderful, we're trying different ways of doing it. Here is my big piece of solid church planting experience from the front lines...don't use crusty french breads for communion, they leave crumbs all over the floor.

After passing around that loaf, when we put all our chairs away, there was a circle of crumbs on the floor.

So, then the next week I buy this interesting looking loaf from a bakery, and it looks really soft and pliable and not crumbly - and so we open it up, and it's in a little silver tin, and that's there to hold the super buttery bottom! Just oozing, almost dripping with butter! Awesome. So we had to tear the top off and leave the bottom there. I'm starting to get a little idea of how the little communion wafers came into being.

More soon.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

COTA Begins!

The wonderful tale continues to unfold. We got the space I had hoped for in the East Village!

It's a wonderful old building that used to be a library, and then became a church, and is located right in the heart of one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Manhattan. There are a number of neighborhoods in NYC that could be considered as hotspots for the art scene - Chelsea, Williamsburg, Dumbo - but the East Village is carries far more historical weight, and continues to be far more vibrant with nightlife and incredible centrality to other key neighborhoods like Soho, Nolita, Chinatown and Little Italy. You really couldn't ask for a better spot.

For those in NYC, we are at 61 Rivington St. between 1st and 2nd Ave. Rivington is two blocks south of Houston (a fun connection for outsiders: Soho means SOuth of HOuston and is a few blocks to the west). You may have heard of Moby's tea place, Teany, it's also on Rivington just down the street.

We are going to be meeting every Thursday at 7pm, starting Sept. 15th.

Now we have our work cut out for us to pray and plan and prepare for our first full worship gathering in February 2006.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I've had two meetings now with a pastor who wants to help us, along with being asked to consider joining his denomination - though he will help us either way.

We are definitely going to get some space to use, but there have been some details to work out with the schedule. So, good news!

Also, I had been hoping we could get space eventually in a certain part of town (they have two spaces), and at first it looked like we were going to be in another part of town - but because of some of the scheduling issues, we talked again, and he thinks it would be better for us to be in the other part of town, the part I prefered! Also, this space has the potential to be our permanent space for a number of years - to be where we hold our first service in Feb. 2006. That would be great - no need to look for space, but just grow into what we have. (maybe the Lord is going to give us growth earlier than we expected!!??)

Also, they are only going to charge us a percentage of our offerings, rather than a set price we have to come up with!! So, no financial pressure. Maybe that's why we don't have a denomination yet and the money they would provide - we may not need it, and will be free to grow naturally and support ourselves right from the start. That is a miracle in NYC.

We are going there next week to view the space and decide where is best (plenty of choices, in a large space). So, this is all taking longer than I wanted, but when you are being graciously offered real estate in NYC, you go according to their schedule.

In addition, another offer of space has been made in a local ministry space that I think we might use for our start team (leadership core team) meetings on Sunday. So, in NYC we have more offers of space than we need - that, my friends, would be like a homeless person having more money than he had pockets to hold it in! What a blessing.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Architecture That Changes the Load Bearing

We all want community

We all want to participate

We don't now have community

We don't now participate (unless an authorized leader)

I have seen churches promise to be something new...cooler, more arts based, more relevant...

But rather than listen to their promises, what I like to do, is to just watch the journey of one or more individuals when they come in the church door, while they are inside, and then as they are leaving.

I still basically see them doing the same thing - coming in, taking a seat, listening to others and then leaving. The only thing they do that requires anything of them, is to sing well known songs.

There are some others who actually do something right before and right after the service begins - they set things up, clean things, take things down...custodial work.

In the end, I see very few people carrying any responsibility for the spiritual benefit of others - but a few at the top.

So, even though I hear hope for change, promises of change, in reality I'm not seeing any change in this passive consumer worship service. I just don't believe that changing the content of what is passively consumed, a little here, a little there, really matters at all.

And so I have wondered...what is it that causes us to not really change, when so many seem to want to change? And at the end of wondering for a long time, and praying about it passionately, what I think, is that it is the undergirding architecture that is responsible for what ultimately manifests - not the content. So that as long as that undergirding architecture remains the same, you essentially manifest the same thing.

The answer is obvious...the architecture must be changed.

I would describe the architecture as both the leadership structure, and the structure of the public worship service.

So here's some of my plans to change it.

Worship service...oops, I mean worship gathering:

Sermon...sorry, you have to go. You served well for a long time, but like the carriage, and the whip, your time is up, we leave you with sadness, we don't quite know what is ahead in this new world, but we know that you are not the future. To leave you in place would be to miss out on the most incredible opportunity to do something new, to change. Once you go, suddenly new worlds open up - and these new worlds are everything.

But you are such a huge behemoth, that it is only new church plants which can deal with don't have to painfully uproot, that which was never there to begin with! (Yes!!! Church Planting Rules!!!)

Here's the new world...essentially what happens is that when you remove the sermon, this gaping huge wad of the public worship gathering, it creates a vaccum which has this positive sucking action of pulling all sorts of other people's giftings up into its void. It's the suck that doesn't suck. It's the suck of life. The suck that keeps sucking - sucking formerly passive consumers out of their seats and into being spiritual weight bearing do'ers. Bearing the weight of being responsible for the spiritual benefit of others.

When the weight bearing shifts from a few at the top, to many all over - much greater loads can be borne. Community in the spiritual - communion...comes when many bear responsibility for one another. You don't love those with whom you share nothing. Casual friends don't change your life. Jesus Christ cannot use one person to minister his love to another person if they don't have a significant relationship of bearing some load for one another (even though maybe strangers).

Many of these loads are of a joyful, "my burden is easy, my load is light" nature. They are love giving through care for the others needs in an enjoyable relational way. Sometimes the load is difficult, but the nature of God's creation, an unchangeable law of the universe, is that it is better to give than to receive, and so those who carry difficult heavy loads for others are always blessed in God's world.

Our new load bearing architecture: Every Wednesday night, all the small group leaders gather with the pastors and elders (these titles/names available for upgrade) in a room. They spend one hour privately studying that weeks passage (say Phil. 3) using an inductive study method (tweaked with help from two of my old professors during a long weekend in Toronto into a weekly two hour group format, and which I have used two summers in a row with amazing results)...then after that first hour of digging into the text alone, they gather together and have a huge wonderful dialog about everything they are seeing, or questions that were raised for the second hour...this is the most fun I have ever had, this second hour. A room full of people who have just intensely studied and are now digging out solid gold together. It is really more fun than skiing, or hang gliding.

Then, the fun continues...that was Wednesday it's Sunday morning, and we just finished the main public portion of the worship liturgy...congregational harmonies weaving through the room...prayer poem cycles...communion with real wine (port)...a dramatic rendering of a psalm.

One of the pastors or elders comes up front and puts up an overhead of Phil. 3. He walks through the major issues that the passage covers, he reviews a little of last weeks scripture, he builds context by talking about Paul and the church in Phillipi. He basically whets the appetite for ten or fifteen minutes, so that now the whole big group of the church can regather into small groups, permanent groups that last a year and a half and they can dig deeper into the passage together, led by the small group leader who was at Wednesday's inductive study/dialog. Each person must bring something to the table. They will teach one another. I promise it will work.

So...instead of one man sitting in his study alone all week and coming up with a public lecture (sermon), now we have many, many people carrying spiritual responsibility. Many, many people are now required to do something that benefits the spiritual life of others. They have all been wonderfully sucked up into the vacuum created by losing the sermon.


The suck that keeps sucking!!!!

Two years go by...that young small group leader has personally, inductively studied huge portions of scripture, and has carried the spiritual responsibility of showing up every week for the spiritual benefit of others - I think we've got a disciple. I think we've got a person who is well on the path to spiritual maturity. I think ten years from now out of twenty such young people, at least five will be multiplying into other church plants as pastors or foundational elders...I think I see my Kings kingdom expanding.

So, we changed the leadership structure - we spread it out to many. We changed the worship service structure - we lost the sermon, along with adding many other "spiritual weight bearing" liturgical art experssions. Therefore, we converted a bunch of either passive attenders or custodial workers into disciples who carry the responsibility of working for the spiritual benefit of others.

We also had tons of fun doing it. We also had tons of NYC artists excited about how their liturgical expressions of art were used as building blocks of the public worship gathering, and possibly they invited their friends from the off off Broadway play they are in, the ones who don't ever go to worship gatherings. Those friends were pretty impressed at the sense of community they felt, at the way everyone pitched in, and how everyone's voice was sought out, and there didn't appear to be any big mucky mucks who thought they knew it all telling everyone else what's up.

I am one emergent who still loves the word vision, because what I just described is a beautiful vision. I pray the Lord will allow us to do it. You're welcome to follow our journey as we attempt it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Search for a Home

Here's some of our/my story of this developing church.

I spent the last year and a half by myself in this journey, hearing God's call to do this, getting that confirmed by submitting it to many in the local community, and then going through a church planter training process with a very cool big church here that trains people outside of it's denomination (but it's only here in NYC, so unless you're here it can't help you). During that year I wrote a 17 page church plan (like a spiritual business plan), that helped me think through a lot of things. Around this spring, I found myself with nothing left to do but actually start the church. I was kind of nervous about now needing to gather others together to walk this out...what if no one felt like taking the walk?

There are many ways to start. I considered many, and decided to try and do it somewhat originally as I want to be emerging, so I don't want to start in the same old way - I had been developing a bible study on the minor prophets, and I thought I might just let people know I was doing that , but I wasn't quite at peace with that.

So I asked my very small team that the Lord had just kind of popped in my lap, to give me suggestions, and especially at one meeting where everyone was travelling and there was only two of us, my team member Jonathon said he didn't feel that positive about the Minor prophets study because it wasn't specific enough to what we were trying to do. He said why don't we do something where we can cover all these emerging church issues, like postmodernism, and stewardship of the environment, and art and faith, etc. Boom! I knew he was right - this way we could attract the specific people who might be into emergent.

A week later, the same guy said, "why don't we do like a panel discussion"? And he mentioned, why don't you call Tony Jones and ask if he can come be on the panel, and also see if he could get Brian McLaren? Boom! yes, this way we could not only build momentum for our church, but also for emergent issues in general! Awesome! This was happening in a leadership format where I was not coming up with all the ideas, but we were in community! Awesome!! Emergent!!

So we started putting it together. I have always been a natural networker, I like people, and when I'm in a room, I talk to many of the people in it. As a result over the years I have developed a pretty big community of friendships in the NYC Christian community. So, I started calling all the young up and coming ministry leaders in the city I knew, and assembled a panel of eight people, 2-3 per week, to cover all the topics in the eight week series. We called it, "TALK about church". The greatest thing about it besides the dialog's themselves, was how it brought together all these future leaders and gave them a chance to get to know each other.

So, one day I called Tony Jones up to see about coming to one of our meetings, and to see if he could ask Brian for us. When I called, they were in the car together returning from the recent emergent summit meeting in Tony's family cabin in Minnesota (if you follow the actual group Emergent, you probably heard about this, they made a lot of decisions about their future, and appointed Tony the new National Coordinator, effective after he finishes his Doctoral studies in the fall). Well that was awesome, he was able to talk to Brian about it, and hook me up with him. Tony couldn't come himself, but Brian did. You probably know how busy Brian is, and it turned out to be during his vacation, and the week his daughter was getting married (which he mercifully didn't tell me), but he came out to our last summer meeting on August 15th. You can read about that a few posts back. That gave us tremendous momentum going into the fall.

So, now to some things like our overall plan, meeting space and denominational affiliation, etc.

Our plan now is to start meeting every week throughout the fall in a home fellowship group kind of format - to have a place for people who are interested to come while we begin to do the work of preparing for a full public worship service. We hope to have our first big service in Feb. 2006. I believe during this fall the Lord will do many things to take my basic vision and flesh it out through the vision and giftings of all that he gathers in.

Finding meeting space in NYC is quite a challenge. Once again connections are everything. I am working now to find space for our fall meetings, and then we will work together in the fall to find the bigger space we will need for February 2006. I just had a meeting today with a pastor friend of mine who wants to help us, and we are meeting again on Monday, so no news yet.

As for money - we have none! I am going from being a poor artist to a poor church planter, so I'm not coming into this with any base of past prosperity. Living in NYC is always a financial struggle, and add to that all the pressures of church planting, and you have quite a powerful combination of forces that drive you to your knees in prayer. So far that has really been my actual method. Prayer.

I think denominations are a wonderful thing when you are a church planter looking for someone to help and support you. So I have spent almost a year looking for one. I have invested serious amounts of time in two. In the first I attended a local church for two months and developed a relationship with the pastor and the people, and in the end it just wasn't right. The problem was that that congregation just wasn't large enuogh to support another church plant - the pastor was enthusiastic at first, but then when he realized that out of his 30-40 people, it was possible that maybe five or ten would go with me, he realized that that was just too big of a loss for them. If they had been a much larger church that wouldn't have been a problem. The other problem was that that denomination only gave a very small amount of money to church plants.

Then I spent months meeting with the regional leaders of another denomination (because they didn't have a local church). I actually got quite far through their minsterial licensing process - going through training, being "assessed" before a four member panel for three hours. Everything was on track, and I was feeling good, though not completely solid in the decision of whether to join or not. I had one more training to attend for four days out of town, and in the approach to that I wanted to really be sure we were right for each other, because after that I would have been licensed - and I didn't want to have that license if I wasn't actually going to join them. And then things just began to not feel right - I didn't want to join a denomination just for the money they would provide, but because it was the right fit, and the Lord wanted us together.

I still have one more denomination that I've been looking at, and today I was asked to consider joining another - so we will see how that process develops.

If we don't join a denomination, we will by default be independent. It will mean we will also not have any financial support other than what we can raise ourselves. I think there are strengths and weaknesses either way. However, the one good thing, is that if we do go independent, no one will be able to accuse us of not trying otherwise. There's no "independent spirit" here.

This brings up the question that many emerging church plants will have - how do we get support to do it? One of the big problems I have had is that I am so excited about what is coming in the future with all the Lord is doing through this wonderful emergent dialog, that it's hard for me to get excited about some already existing denomination. I don't have anything against them, but joining a denom is like dating and then getting married. If you don't "feel the love", that lack begins to show, and it undermines the relationship. Honestly, money is the most important part of the "support" needed, and it has made me feel very uncomfortable to be developing a relationship where I'm asking them for money, but my heart is really with another woman. There are words for things like that.

So, the natural conclusion is to create something new. There has been a lot of talk about that, and I know there are many who want this to stay an organic thing, with no money involved - and I understand their heart motivation. Many have been hurt by big religious institutions, and they want this new thing to be their warm cozy friend who won't grow into a giant megalopalis and end up trudging all over everything and hurting again. I can promise you I have been hurt very deeply, very many times over my 27 years in Christian organizations - but the reality is that conversations become movements, and that human beings will organize in order to channel energy and resources. So, given my failed attempts to find a current denom, and my uncomfortableness with the process, and given that I don't want to be all by myself - I am increasingly attracted towards the idea of creating some kind of support network to help plant new kinds of churches.

I talked to Brian McLaren about this while he was here, and he hears rumblings of it. He doesn't think we are quite there yet - that we have made the transition from conversation to movement, because primarily he doesn't think there are enough people at the table yet, whose voices he would like to hear. And by that he means that this is still a white male evangelical thing, and he wants to see more women and more leaders of Christian churches from the developing world, and more historical streams of Christianity, like the Anabaptists and Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox at the table. I agree with this, but I think it also reflects his place in the scheme of things - even though he's planted two churches, and been a pastor for almost 30 years, that is in his past, and his future with this movement is to be a thinker...a theologian/writer. People that are more focused on church planting as their actual work in the future, are not going to wait for everyone to get to the table before they start acting. I would like to see both happen somewhat simultaneously.

He also would like to see the emergence of a number of different movements - not just one official, "Emergent" thing. Which I think is very wise. He may not actually lead one of these groups formally, but his writing and speaking influence will continue to lead.

So that's a bit to catch you up with our journey so far. Now I can post future developments. I think however, that prayer is the most important thing. my relationship with Tony Jones has been very helpful, and that only came as a miracle that God did without my effort (other than unknowingly walking around and being led to a physical location). Here's a link to the story of that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A New Committment to Blogging

In an effort to transcend my inherent blogger limitation (I'm over 30), I am going to try to start blogging more often. This may turn into one of those, "join the healthclub" things where you start well, and then one day wake up with a donut in your mouth and the realization you haven't worked out for over a month. But I do like to write, so there is a seed of hope. In fact if you were to take my collected writings of the last year, I would be considered a prolific blogger. It's too bad that I don't have the impulse to put those out for everyone to read, on the other hand if I had, you might think I'm an idiot - and there's the rub for me. I want to use blogging to encourage others and stimulate dialog, but I don't want to publish my every casual thought and look as stupid as I might actually be. So, we'll just see how it goes.

Thanks to Cindy Bryan for encouraging me. I'm very relational, so reader comments will help me along, and actually create the hoped for dialog. You can make me seem like a younger man, a blogger - but don't be confused, though I'm not a blogger, I am a hip NYC artist.

Maybe I should try to treat blogging like an artistic medium. Maybe that will motivate me. Too bad I'm a musician, and blogs produce no sound. I'll go ahead and consider writing as my tertiary medium (TV commercial spokesperson is my secondary). The great thing about blogs as a writing medium, is that you always get published. The royalties are wicked light though.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Brian has left the building

Wow, what a night! Brian McLaren in the middle of his generally busy schedule, but with his daughter getting married this weekend, came up from Baltimore on the train to spend the day with us on Monday.

I had the privilege of spending four hours with him during the day, then we had a pre-meeting get together with our team, and all the guys who blessed us by being on the panel for our summer dialog series – “TALK about church”.

I picked Brian up at Penn Station and we went out to eat and then went to my place and relaxed before the meeting. We talked about so many things. It was just a wonderful time getting to know him personally, and getting his insights or advice on so many things related to the church and to some of my personal struggles. I wondered what he thought about the city, because he often mentions his love of nature in his writing – and surprisingly he said, that if he were ever to plant a church again, which wasn’t likely, that he would like to do it in NYC! That was great, so I knew he would “get” what we were trying to do, and why NYC offers so many unique opportunities.

Then a very special thing happened. As you may know, Brian is working on a new book called, “The Secret Message of Jesus”, about the Kingdom of God. Well he pulled out of his backpack a rough manuscript, full of his personal handwritten notes and changes, and gave it to me as a gift. There’s something about seeing someone do something, that appears so difficult in the abstract, but when you see it in real life, somehow it feels one step closer to being possible. I have had a book percolating in me for the last year or so, and never having been published, it seems like such a huge mountain – but then seeing this manuscript, and the laptop he wrote it on, it just seems more possible to imagine doing it myself. That is mentoring.

Then we headed over for the team time before the meeting. As we met in the room in a circle asking Brian questions, after a while you could begin to feel the energy of people coming in to the lobby outside. I decided to go check and see how long we could get away with staying in the meeting room with Brian, while they congregated in the lobby. There were ten or so people. I went to do a little work on my remarks, and then about quarter to seven I went to check again, and the whole lobby had completely filled up, and it was like they were going to have a hard time breathing soon. So I had to go in and get the guys to end the pre-time with Brian, and open up the room.

Swoosh! It just immediately filled the whole room, and then we just started cramming more people into every corner, and then started spilling over until the lobby was filled also. There was a tremendous buzz and energy.

At the appointed time of 7:15 Brian and I came in and we started the meeting. What a joy, after a lot of craziness and stress planning and preparing for this meeting, to have such a huge and energetic turnout. Brian spoke for a while then took questions, then spoke for a while more, then I spoke for a bit, and then Brian came back up to take questions.

He spoke on 7 aspects of a new kind of church. That it should be missional, global, artistic, etc.

I shared our vision for Communion of the Arts. The great thing, the thing we wanted, the thing that happened, is that by Brian coming, he was able to pull out of the woodwork all the unconnected people in the city that had an interest in emergent ideas, but who didn’t know each other. Some of those people will join with us, others will know we exist and be able to send people our way. We now have a momentum that we didn’t have before, and we have new relationships that mean everything.

We will start meeting in September (NYC is like Europe, everything is dead in late August) and see what the Lord does. Our plan is to grow slowly throughout the fall while we prepare for our first full worship gathering in Feb. 2006. The way we get from here now, to Feb. 2006 is wide open. I have some plans, but I also suspect that God has some plans that he hasn’t shown us yet, and that will unfold in real time through real people. I am so into not getting in his way, while at the same time being responsible to prepare at a certain level – finding that balance is the key, and my “method” is to be in daily prayer at a significant level.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Brian McLaren is coming!

We are very excited about our progress as an early stage church plant for the artistic community in NYC (a wide group including those who love and support the arts). The big event this summer, that God has opened the doors of through my wonderful and growing relationship with Tony Jones, is that Brian McLaren is coming this Monday (Aug. 15th) to speak at the final meeting of our summer series. Tony has further blessed us by mentioning it on the emergent-us blog and their email newsletter Emergent/C which popped into my inbox today.

This summer series has been an opportunity to ignite a dialog here in the city of important issues facing the church, from a generally emergent perspective, and to give some momentum to our church plant by drawing others to help us, and to hopefully gain a "start team" by the end of the summer. We assembled a panel of eight up and coming ministry leaders here in NYC to guide us through a weekly dialog on a different topic each week. It's been a wonderful process, the highlight of which has been the chance for these different leaders to get to know each other and build future unity in the body of Christ here in NYC. There were only two of us who were "deeply emergent", you might say, and so it was great to both hear other perspectives and allow them to become more aware of the emergent conversation. It was also great to just be able to hear what the members of the audience thought as they dialoged - to get outside of the circle of professional leaders and hear the people!

Now we are busy preparing for Brian's arrival, and the word is getting out, so we anticipate a great meeting. What we hope for in particular with this meeting is to draw out emergent people who are in the city but unconnected to one another. We hope some of them might want to help us plant this church. We have also been trying to let other bloggers know about it, in case they have NYC contacts who are friends or read their blog who might be excited to know Brian is coming, and that an emergent church is being planted here in NYC.

The next step is that we will begin meeting as a start team in September every Sunday afternoon, and begin to become a little body, that does the hard work of praying, planning and preparing to become a bigger body when we open our doors, Lord willing, in Feb. 2006.

I never wanted to become a pastor, and I am honestly astonished that this thing has come this far, but it seems God has this thing about liking to work through those who are weak, so he can show himself strong. I'm OK with that (though his constant killing of me isn't a walk in the park). Please pray for this new work.

We are just about to start putting up a series of articles I have written about our vision, the core of which can be understood by extrapolating our name, Communion of the Arts - we want to create a place of communion for the NYC arts community, and to engage artists of faith into the life of the church by engaging them in undertaking the massive construction effort of creating an entirely new worship liturgy of words, music and physical space. We want to make our contribution in the moving from an emergent conversation to an emergent movement, by mobilizing our amazing resource of NYC artists in doing the heavy lifting of creating one calendar year of liturgy, which can then be used by others to create emergent churches which will appeal to the post-Christian generation - especially in urban settings with large numbers of cultural creatives.

To say that more real world, we'll have lots of ways of being in community, through small groups right on Sunday morning, to being involved in using your artistic talents on a musical liturgy creating team, or a word team, or a visual space team. Then we hope you can feel comfortable inviting your post-Christian peers in the NYC art community to our worship service to see the debut of some of your work. We hope when they come they will be aesthetically thrilled by the congregational harmonies, by the moving prayer-poem-cycle, and most importantly by the love they see that we have for one another in community.

I'd love to hear from you and share more. We'll be rolling out a lot more information in the coming weeks now that we are almost done with our summer series, and are moving into the fall. So, keep in touch.

Also, I thought it was funny that Tony nailed me by mentioning I am an "occasional" blogger - a sadly true observation, for which I am trying to improve but am fighting a natural inclination towards the private enjoyment of my thoughts, and an utter lack of desire to share them publicly online. I do enjoy public speaking, talking to humans and writing, but for some reason I don't have a strong inner impulse to blog. But all things are possible through you know who.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Monastery of the Morning

As the emergent conversation continues, the role of the pastor continues to be an important focus. Many of the people joining in the conversation are pastors and elders, or are about to become one, and so they have a keen interest in understanding how this is all going to affect their actual daily life.

Some anxiousness may be imaginged as we rethink issues like the profession of the pastorate, the salary, and seem to move in a direction that favors less professionalism - and therefore affects the money.

I believe the professionalism of the pastorate is one of the key structures that is going to tumble and fall to the ground in a big thud of cleansing health for the body of Christ. However, I do not equate the loss of "professionalism" with the removal of a full-time salaried spiritual leader.

Take a deep breath all you radicals...I think we need to affirm the idea of a salaried leader - however with a whole new way of doing it and thinking about it, and that's what this post is about.

I wholeheartedly agree with the popular emergent idea of the pastor as a fellow journeyer who walks the walk of faith alongside his congregation - and not as a specially trained public speaker who has to maintain a role model status above and beyond his congregation. That part of professionalism is surely teetering and ready to tumble.

But what I am concerned with, is not what old stuff has to be gotten rid of, but rather what new stuff has to be created to build this new thing?

I think one of the core things that the emerging church is moving toward, is this idea of the gathering of a community, a communion, rather than a bunch of individuals all attending services. But how do we actually get there?

This really is a massive change, and it's not just going to happen by itself. There need to be tremendous changes in our expectations first, and then in our structures. What are those? How do we get them going? How will it all work out?

Well the first step, which may seem obvious, but cannot be assumed to be obvious, is the understanding that we are the church, the body of Christ - and any changes that happen, only happen because Christ is causing them to happen.

Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing. We must only change what we see Christ changing. In order to see Christ changing things, we must be in his presence.

The problem is that it is really hard to be in the presence of Christ and to see him doing things that you should be doing. That is a place he reserves for those who seek him with earnest. That is a place of daily prayer that is measured in hours and not minutes.

That is the only place that leaders of an emerging church can move out of - any other attempts to change the Church that Jesus loves and died for are labors done in vain, with no power and no end result other than division and confusion. I can't imagine attempting to change the church of my dear savior without being steadfast in his presence - not just for the big picture, but for all the daily little processes and adjustments as we progress.

And therefore, here is my main point: the pastor of the future is going to be mainly understood to be a man of prayer, spiritual formation and communion building. And that is in deep, deep contrast with the pastor of today who is understood to be a man of education, knowledge and leadership ability.

This is the core, "changing of expectations" that I believe must precede real change.

If we want communion to be our big new thing, we need communion creators, communion inspirers. Communion is a very real spiritual thing that can only be created by people who live in the presence of Christ. It is not a natural talent given at birth, it is not a skill obtained through training.

Community building does come natural to some people, and can be obtained through programs, but not communion building.

I believe that the new kind of churches we want, will require this new pastoral way, along with the fact that we are going to have to change the hearts of a lot of people and then do a lot of difficult work, and I don't think that can happen short of a movement of God. We all know for sure that movements of God only come in response to prayer.

No one man is going to create thousands of new churches that are emergent and actually create the reality we are now talking about. It is going to be first hundreds, and then thousands of pastors/spiritual leaders who are going to do it. And the only way they are going to do it is to move forward as they see Christ moving, and to work with his strength which he bestows upon the worker who takes the time to see the work Christ is doing.

And so now to the practical, how do we do this? how will it play out?

We need to begin to change our cultural expectation of what a pastor gets paid for. (ahaa, back to my original affirming of a paid pastoral leader). Does he get paid for being the pastor of the past (educated public speaker, CEO), or does he get paid to be the pastor of the future (person who has enough time to spend in prayer, so he can be a communion creator)?

I don't think this will be very hard because many people are tired of the status quo, and are going to be thrilled when their pastor announces that he is not going to take any appointments, or do any other work before noon, because that is his Monastery of the Morning where he prays, and reads, and meditates, and reflects and seeks to be in the presence of Christ.

People are thrilled and feel safe when they feel their pastor is really a man of God who seeks God. We don't have to even have a big conversation saying that we are going to change people's expectation of what they pay the pastor for - we just have to start doing it, and let the cultural expectations change naturally as the people see the fruit that is born.

In order to get this thing that we want - less individualism and more community, we must affect tremendous cultural change. By being in the presence of Christ all morning - which requires a salary - the pastor is so changed, so filled with the presence of Christ, that he becomes a fount of love pouring forth on the community. A communion creator.

This is how he leads. Others see it, feel it and also want to become closer to Christ, and as they do they are spiritually strengthened to do all the little things that create authentic community.

They are more patient with their brothers. They do not gossip against a person whom they love. They suddenly understand that they are un-reconciled with their friend and go and speak forgiveness and seek peace.

They are emboldened to take risks of love, because they know Jesus is right there with them to protect them if things don't go well. Authentic community/communion is created by a thousand little acts of love - of people thinking more of others than themselves - and that only happens to fleshly, sinful people, when Christ is in their midst. Christ only comes into the midst of a group of people that are seeking him seriously (and have a pastor leading them to do that).

This whole concept reaffirms the idea of the paid pastor, because it is necessary for men to work to meet their personal responsibilities, and we recognize that in contemporary America that life is so busy and difficult and expensive, that it is not realistic to imagine a man would have time for the Monastery of the Morning along with other leadership responsibilities if he also had to hold a full time job separately.

Can you imagine as a pastor how much better your life would be? No more running around doing everything and feeling bad because you hardly ever pray.

Up till now, you have been doing what your congregation as influenced by our culture has expected you to do. You joined in agreement with those expectations and scheduled your life accordingly. They live busy, harried lives, so you live a busy harried life.

I think the study and practice of monasticism, and other spiritual disciplines that are beginning to be understood again, are going to help lead us this way. There's lots of discussion of this on emergent blog's.

Some thoughts: It's not prayer only, there are a combination of things to do that keep you focused and awake during this time of spiritual formation. Mix it up. We are fleshly, and we need to get creative in how we overcome our flesh. It's also a time for reading books, and reflecting prayerfully as you read.

And not only spiritual books - you have to be reading general cultural stuff while you are in this spiritual zone with Christ, so he is informing your development along these lines.

Read, pray, take a walk, sing, pray some more, worship, intercede for your list of people, pray for your church, write all the ideas that come in this time - and through all these various ways and means - be in the presence of Christ so you can know him, and see what he's doing.

Then go and do the rest of the stuff you have to do - without you even knowing it his presence within you will begin to love others and create communion in the body of our Savior.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The next step - actually creating a new kind of church

Here's an email I sent to a friend the other day:

I'm looking forward to sharing with everyone some ofthe ideas I have for what kind of core things a new kind of church may have that really help create the inner changes necessary that will then manifest outwardly in a way concurrent with all the changes we see around us. Without significant inner/structural change, we cannot expect significant outer change - what will happen is simply surface cosmetic change, which by definition is shallow.

Things like how the pastor of the future is primarily to be understood to be a man of prayer - that he is being paid to be in the presence of Christ, so that he can lead the congregation towards Christ. Contrasted with the pastor of today who is understood to be the recepticle of knowledge that he alone has gained at the academy and faithfully dispenses to the faithful.

That if you want community - the pastor has to be in the presence of Christ and literally become a fount of love pouring forth in love-relationship to the rest, showing them how to love one another well. Then when the body loves one another well in communion - the world sees it and is drawn to Christ. This can only be accomplished by the congregation expecting that the reason they pay the pastor money is so he can be in his "monastery of the morning" - every day with Christ literally creating the community in prayer. As contrasted with the expectation that he is paid to produce good sermons and programs. Along with this, the pastor has to not be the center of visibility all the time - when there is less of him, there is more room for others to be raised up in their gifting, which creates community.

That in order to go from this period of new ideas to really seeing thousands of "new kinds of churches" exist - we need to create an entirely new kind of worship liturgy. The worship liturgy is all art - music, words, designed space. We then fill those artistic forms with our worship. We need a massive revival of artistic activity to create this. I am excited about what the Lord can do with us here in New York City because we have the personnel! We have access to tremendous artistic resources to do a large chunk of this work. Of course many places will contribute, but I think New York will be a key player in this.

The most moving of all the worship liturgy I believe is the music (maybe I'm biased as a musician). We cannot go forward with the same pop worship music we now have. That music came out of the California Jesus movement of the late sixties and seventies, through the Calvary Chapel and later Vineyard movements, and then in the eighties a lot came from England, and of course this then flowed into the seeker sensitive movement of the nineties. So in other words this musical era is 30-40 years old!!

Those were solid modern years - and the baby boomers responded well to it. But to reach this new uninterested post-Christian generation, we have to create something new, something of transcendant beauty.

Many churches looking for the latest church growth technique, and buying books with the word "postmodern" in the title, are I think misunderstanding the need for deep change. Investing in more multi-media equipment, and making the service move faster does not in any way address the hunger of this generation - all you're doing is presenting what already exists in a different way. They are already inundated with incredible media presentation through well funded media outlets on television, and through the promotion money of advertising. They don't want to go faster, they want to go slower. What is needed is not more ways of presenting what exists better, but creating something completely new.

They need to walk into a service and hear musical worship that makes them want to weep. Deeply layered congregational harmonies that represent the communion of the body through the art form of music I think are one way - using more deep and complex harmony structured over more well thought out melody produces a more deeply beautiful work, and when sung in interweaving harmony by a group of people in worship - you literally get a slice of heaven on earth, a form of art so transcendant in its beauty it speaks to us about why God created art in the first place.

To a generation in love with art, but raised in a somewhat impoverished artistic era, this blast of sheer aesthetic beauty infused with the spiritual power of worship could be transforming. As an artist in New York City, I see the rumblings all over of a hunger for a return to real beauty in art, and of this generation struggling towards it. They don't really know how yet, partyly because they are undertrained, and partly because it is just so new, but they are going to go there. (If you're not up on contemporary art history, the art world abandoned beauty in favor of intellectual art in the latter part of last century).

In other words, at a certain point the intellectual conversation will begin to transition to a time of actual building - of creating a new worship liturgy and congregations that will worship with it. If you are new to the emergent conversation, and wonder where it is in terms of it's evolution, I think we are just now beginning this transition. It is this transition that will bring the conversation out of just leadership circles, and into the view of church members. If you have wearied of talk of postmodernism, maybe it's because you're more of a builder than a talker, and now your time to take action is at hand. Jump to it - get on your knees. If you are an artist or creative person, get ready for the exciting journey from being ignored and in the backwaters of the church into being the most sought after by the pastor member of your congregation.

(one note: I think the impulse to "dig up" vintage forms of Christianity was the first step towards this - a desire to find more transcendantly beautiful forms of worship which happened to already exist in the churches ancient storehouses. But now it is time to create our own - each generation is responsible to reach it's own).

This and much more.

Bless you brother, Jeff

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A Theology of Art

I’ve been trying to understand what it means to be an artist of faith for some time, and God has led me on quite a journey in this regard. For the last five years I’ve been involved with a group of artists of faith that meet weekly in New York City, and observing and sharing their journey has helped me greatly in my own. This summer I gathered a set group of twelve people to meet every five days (I didn’t want to wait a whole week between meetings and lose momentum) for 11 sessions to dialog, pray, think and try to understand what it means to be an artist of faith, how to experience God’s presence both in the creative process and in the difficult process of carving out a career in the NYC art world, and to basically ask, what is art? (I’m not sure if this is a theology or a philosophy)

It was a wonderful time, and at the end I distilled all I had learned into a three point theology of art (sorry not a story). Here it goes:

1. Art is a glimpse of the ineffable beauty of God

2. Art is a glimpse of the true soul of humanity

3. The artist is a servant motivated by love for his audience, who through a difficult process of training and apprenticeship acquires the heart and skill to be able to produce either singular works of power or works of craft or multiple replicatable designs in order to give his audience number 1 and/or 2 above, and this is good.

Some explanations: the word ineffable means “that which can not be expressed in words”, so that art has a special place using various mediums to express deep things where words may fail, (I didn’t know the meaning of that word until this summer).

The three classical areas of truth, beauty and goodness are represented in the three points to be somewhat poetic, while making a point, although I think all three can be seen in each point.

“Singular works of power” means individual, original works of art, like a painting or a piece of music – generally the fine arts. The idea is that one of the things that separates art from craft is that art has a power to affect the individual in a way that craft does not. Craft however has its place in that although it doesn’t have singular power to affect, it does generally imbue the atmosphere with joy, and I include it. The lines are hard to draw, but there is also the area of design which requires similar skill and talent and is generally for works that are to be produced in, “multiple replica”.

One of my main goals is to understand why all art is suffering in our day. I believe that “secular” artists are being debilitated by false views of art just as much as Christians are debilitated by false views of art. The difference is that there are simply far more secular artists in the population, and so there is a greater chance that they will produce more quality works in general – just like bigger high schools can field better teams because they have more kids to choose from than small schools. To a certain degree, it doesn’t matter how screwed up you are, if you have incredible talent you will produce good art whether Christian or not. On the other hand, just beyond the prodigies – maybe five percent of artists, lie the other ninety five percent of artists who take longer and struggle towards reaching a certain level of excellence, and amongst this group the various debilitations are more significant, and they and their audience would benefit from a renewal.

The main benefit of this understanding of art is that it helps us to understand where we went wrong. Christians have lost touch with their humanity. They have sought to live a life where they try to walk in the spirit, while increasingly shedding their flesh, and have confused their flesh with their humanity, so that they increasingly move away from their humanity. The biblical understanding of flesh and spirit is that we are to be so filled with the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit, that we are enabled to know him more fully, so that just as Jesus never did anything but what he saw the Father doing, we are to walk in the Spirit, to constantly be in touch with the Spirit. The opposite of this is being separated from God and being so full of yourself that you can’t see God, and often others. To be filled with the Spirit leads one to become a more complete human – just as Jesus the human is fully filled with the Spirit. Humans were made to filled with God, and they become the most human when they are the most filled with God.

When applied to certain observations of life, this helps me explain a number of things.

Why does “Christian art” always seem worse than “secular art”? – because Christians have lost touch with number 2 – they fail to show the true soul of man, often because they are so busy trying to show number 1, or because they confuse shedding their flesh with shedding their humanity. Often when they do attempt to speak of human things, their work is seen as less honest. Maybe this is because they feel they must represent something in line with an agenda to promote God, and so they aren’t willing to really look at what it means to be human. I feel the underlying solution to this is that Christians need to embrace their humanity. Jesus is human. Being human is good.

Why do Christians often dislike difficult art? – This is the kind of art that usually deals with the true soul of humanity in all its struggles and ugliness. This is usually related to more of the truth side of art rather than the beauty side. Because Christians misunderstand that decreasing your flesh and increasing your spirit does not mean abandoning your humanity, but rather means filling your humanity with Christ, they feel uncomfortable with honest depictions of human ugliness. But when honest depictions of the human soul lead to reflection and change this is good.

Where has secular art gone wrong? Interestingly, I don’t think they have lost sight of the glimpse of God, as Christians have lost sight of the glimpse of humanity. All artists are created in God’s image, and they cannot help themselves but express much of the beauty around them or in their hearts. The main place they have gone wrong is in point 3, they have lost a sense of what their motivation should be. Many artists create for the things they can get out of it, rather than as a servant giving a gift to an audience. Given the nature of art, that it was created by God for his purposes, when anyone fails to engage art in the way God designed, they are destined to suffer a diminishing.

Much of the problem with art is that artists must work so hard to get any notice, and therefore make a living, they often resort to a diminished form of art – pandering to the audience that wants decoration more than art, or using shock and flamboyance to get attention, which is essentially manipulating the audience rather than serving.

How does this help artists? – This view of art can be tremendously encouraging if you are an artist of faith, because it gives you a clear motivation and trajectory in order to endure the many difficult years of development required. If you are a servant motivated by love, then you have tremendous resources of God’s gifts and power to endure.

How does this help the audience? – Developing your own clear understanding of what you like, what is good to you is easier when you are able to see that you are being manipulated for the artists gain (and the profiteering industry that surrounds the artist). Learning to not follow the crowd but to be able to pick out the unnoticed gems is extremely satisfying and helpful to those around you without such clarity.

I believe that as artists we need to undertake the journey with a greater sense of God’s presence in our artistic process. That just as we trust him for our daily bread, and to have the grace to forgive others, we must learn to trust him to do better work and to open doors for us in our careers. How often do artists get together to pray for one another’s work, as we get together to pray for various ministry works, or our personal problems?

When an actor faces the difficult decision of playing a role with “squirm factor” – swearing, nudity, violence, sex – they can use these ideas to help. Does the complete work show the soul of humanity in a way that is true and thus benefits the audience? Or have writers, directors and producers decided to gratuitously add something to manipulate their audience for profit?

There was a recent play that had excellent reviews and was considered “good” in that it really helped the audience to understand something of our societal journey out of racism and towards egalitarianism. It also had two scenes with full frontal male nudity. All the reviewers agreed that it was not at all gratuitous, but really helped the story to be told in its fullness because the social group of men involved went on a journey together that required the portrayal of their intimacy in order to reveal the revelations they had of each other (no gay sex implied, just men in tight living quarters). An actor of faith who is a friend of mine took the role, and I applauded him.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Welcome to my new blog. I wanted to get this up quickly, so come back soon for my first real post. Last night at the emergent cohort meeting I shared my new "theology of art", and it seemed to go over pretty well. I'll share that soon.