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.