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.