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.