Monday, July 30, 2012

Still Learning to Leave

A month and a couple weeks have gone by since my original post about leaving well.  We’re now 2 weeks away from our “last Sunday” and driving away, God willing, from the church we've been pastoring for the last 10 years.  Compounding this is that we’re also leaving the province that we've lived in for the last 21 years – which is the longest stretch we've ever lived anywhere.  This is a giant of a transition for our family, especially since we’ll be leaving 2 of us, my son and his wife here on the Island.

This much closer to leaving I have a few more thoughts to share with you on things I feel I’ve learned through and about this process.

1) Unless there are really good reasons for it, the distance between your resignation and actually leaving is probably best held to 30 days.  We’ve exceeded that but for us it’s been helpful as the planting pastors to help chart this course for the very first time.  I wouldn’t make 30 days a law but I’d highly recommend it as a guide.

2) Don’t put off having that conversation, meal, bbq or coffee.  As St. Bruce of the Cockburns remarked, “Don't the hours go shorter as the days go by…”  Indeed they do.   Carpe the diem out of leaving, you won’t get to do this again…at least in the same way.

3) Take the opportunity to speak prophetically into people’s lives.  Don’t take parting shots or set people straight on your way out.  It could be easy to take that route and honestly completely worthless.  Speak words of life and what can be, regardless of what has been.  Don’t lie, but don’t lob grenades on your way out either.

4) People will feel awkward talking about the future around you and the new man or woman or couple who are coming to take the baton from you.  Do your best to make them feel at ease and celebrate the excitement.  Don’t make comparisons or try to subtly or overtly get people from your church to compare you with those who might take your place.  It’s not a competition.

5) Let people make a fuss over you and throw you a going away party or even parties.   This is soul therapy for you and the church.  If people offer help, take it.  Not every leaving is on positive terms but when it is, make the most of the opportunities to celebrate what has been and take time to look at the faces of those whose lives have been impacted by your own.

6) Pray into where you’re going and who you’re going to.  Don’t wait until you’ve left here to start building there.  Pray ahead and speak words of life and encouragement where you are going and the people to whom you will be building a future.

7) Pass the baton.  This whole ministry thing is like a long distance relay.  When you leave it’s time to pass the baton.  Do your best to organize things for the next guy so it’s easier for him/her to grab the baton.  When possible, personally bless your successor, welcome them and relationally hand off what you’ve been carrying and give them the fastest (healthiest) start possible.

These are some of the things I’ve learned through this process.  It hasn’t been perfect or easy but it’s been good.  We’ve done our best to follow God’s Spirit in this process and having just met the couple who will follow our decade here we have great confidence in what God’s going to do next and the leaders He’s called to take the next leg of this marathon.

What have you learned about transitions that would be helpful for others in times like these?

Thanks to Frank and all the other National ThoughtWorks bloggers for letting me share this space with you, it's been an honour.  Blessings on your journey!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lonnie Frisbee

I'm reading Lonnie Frisbees posthumous Not By Might Nor By Power: The Jesus Revolution which just came out about 20 years after Frisbees death. Di Sabatino's Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher is almost required viewing in our congregation. This enigmatic figure has captured my own imagination since I discovered he was "that young man" from the 1980 outpouring on the Vineyard. Reading his book is evoking mixed feelings within me. I can hear his voice in the words, but I also hear something of a  strained naivete as someone longing for a purity of heart that the damage done to his life might always keep out of his reach. I hear it in the pleading that we believe what obviously was painful for him to have people discredit in the past. But even through this his stories are so inspiring.

I think what I like best about Lonnie is that despite being so obviously broken - he was still profoundly employed by God to do stuff that most of us only dream we could do. He's like the little engine that could - giving all of us hope that we can too. I think he paid a great cost to be that inspiration, but somehow I think he also knew that was a privilege. At least that seems to come out in his writing.

I wasn't really going to review this book, I may do that later, but I did want to ask a few of the questions that Lonnie's life raises for me.

Do we really believe God wants to move in powerful ways today? 

Is Lonnie an example that we want to follow? I think in many ways he is. At the same time I struggle with my own doubts about how much God wants to move. Lonnie didn't seem to have this problem (and there was a time when I don't think I had as much problem with doubt either). It is not that I don't believe in the supernatural - in fact I've seen and experienced too much not to believe that God can and does move in powerful ways. But life ends up being a lot more mundane than I thought it would be in those bright eyed days of faith. I've also learned that doubt is not something to be feared - but something to be embraced as in the possessed boy's father's honest declaration: "I believe, Lord help my unbelief."(Mark 9:24)

What I love about Lonnie's new book is that he is more concerned about sharing Jesus with everyone than he is about miracles - and he is pretty desperate for miracles. I wonder about how much we can be afraid to bring Christ into our everyday lives and I think that our biggest hesitation is that we are not convinced that God wants to touch, heal, restore, convict, or convince all the people in our lives. I'm not talking about forcing that stuff ourselves - but rather expecting that this is simply the natural way that God wants to supernaturally move in and through our lives. I know that in moments where I expect God to move God shows up in powerful ways. But I struggle with why I don't believe God will show up all the time, no matter where I am or who I'm with. The challenge of Lonnie is to expect God to move everywhere we are/go simply because we believe that this is what God wants to do. God loves people, God loves the whole world actually, so perhaps it is time to say "Lord help our unbelief."

Do we really know what the cost is for God to move?

Of course this is going to be costly. One of the things we've learned over the years is that moving in the prophetic is something you grow in - you need to practice listening to God to learn to hear better. I've seen some amazing things as I have practiced this gift. God has led me into some pretty awesome situations. But the cost is that to act on what we are hearing involves risk. I love it when God shows up and brings confirmation, but we don't always get to see that even. And worse, sometimes we just flat out hear wrong. I am so humbled by the graciousness of God to choose such flawed and broken vessels. But didn't Lonnie epitomize that?

The cost of really believing is being willing to see what God is doing anywhere and everywhere - and to do what we see. Sounds nice until you live it. Lonnie talks about how we get spiritually lazy in the free world. I confess that he is right - comfort is a very tempting proposition. When God moves it can get uncomfortable quick. God doesn't box up nicely - and God is not something we use like a tap we turn on and off. Paul tells us the reasonable worship is to lay down everything, our whole lives, and certainly all of our own expectations, before God (Rom 12:1). It is a costly affair this Jesus thing - but why would we expect anything less?

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region 

Monday, July 16, 2012

What is the Value of Theory?

This past academic year I taught a class on the theory of religion. Sounds boring, but the class was far from boring. We explored the way that religion and spirituality function both in the world and in the lives of those who count themselves as believers. The kind of stepping back from our own experience that is necessary is not easy. Most of us just want to live out our spirituality/religion and not worry about the bigger picture. But in this opportunity to spend a lot of time thinking about theory and how theories affect us. I want to identify a few strengths of making the stretch to be able to think this way.

1) Theory helps us evaluate our own behaviour. It is tempting to think that our religion or spirituality is perfect, completely intact, and even communicated from God. But the reality is that religion and spirituality are conversations. Yes there is something of God's initiative and design in there. But there is also a lot of us in there. We interpret, we act out, we even argue from our own personal experiences of God. That doesn't make God, or our whole religion, fall apart. Rather it lets us know that we can always get it and do it better. That is, we can always express our love for and service to God in better ways

2) Helps us bring life to our tradition so that we can better navigate tough issues. One of the most common issues that my students had with discussing theories of religion is that they come to the conversation thinking all traditions of their religion are essentially the same. No religion (or spirituality) is monolithic. The sooner we establish this reality the sooner we can begin to see what our own tradition brings to the table. So as Christians in the Vineyard, we have a lot to bring to the conversation about life. In fact, time and time again, I am impressed with the maturity and depth of the conversations that happen in our denomination (tradition). I do also think we have lots to learn from other traditions, but it is being able to think through issues that has been one of our consistent strengths. Consider the approach Wimber led us into with healing prayer. He sought to equip us using a somewhat clinical approach. Keep your eyes open. Listen to the person, listen to God. The amazing part was that those of us who inherited this tradition learned how to fearlessly pray for the sick. It is how we got better at it too. I'm suggesting that we do this for the whole of our faith experience. This is just one the gifts our Vineyard tradition has to offer to Christianity today. 

3) Helps us to not take ourselves so seriously. We take ourselves too seriously when we get defensive about our religion or spirituality. It is somewhat natural, religion and spirituality are deeply implicated in our self identity. But when we go on the defensive it reveals two things. First that we haven't really thought through the idea we believe is being challenged. When we have worked through an idea the ground is a lot less fragile. And second, we are not able to hear other people on their own terms. We take ourselves too seriously when we think that we have it all right and no one has anything they can teach us. We take ourselves too seriously when we do not listen to the voices of experience and wisdom - or worse we stop listening to God. 

4) Helps us to see that we have more in common with other people than we often think. Nothing can make us appreciate other traditions more than when we realize our common ground. Unity is not an absence of diversity, rather it is the recognition and celebration of diversity. But even apart from building unity amongst the traditions of a particular religion, realizing the commonalities of all religions lets us find places for real dialogue to happen and hopefully real witnessing to occur. As an evangelical with a desire to see people follow Jesus I am convinced that witnessing has to start with listening.

A big part of doing academic theology is working with theories. Theories can remain abstract and irrelevant - or they can help us attend to the details of living out our faith with integrity. My hope is that whenever we engage in conversations at this level, we eventually find the conversation changing our faith lives for the better.

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region 

Monday, July 9, 2012

the invitation of theology

Last year I taught a course in Christian Spirituality to first year university students.  It came as a bit of a surprise to me that the students who had the most difficulty engaging with the material were those who were devout Christians.  It was not the agnostics nor the persons curious about spirituality in general that showed resistance to exploring the topic; it was those who were heavily invested in their own Christian traditions.  In one class, I even had to halt an argument between two Christians which escalated into personal insults and threatened to derail the whole class.  Sad, really sad.

This afternoon, I watched part of a talk from the Wild Goose Festival (Soul of the Next Economy). Pamela Wilhelms works in leadership development and one of the aspects she is involved in is helping companies shift from old paradigms which use mechanised systems to embracing living systems models.  She mentions that it is much easier for her to sit with executives from Google and talk about body life as a model for leading their organisation than it is to broach the same topic with church leaders.  Interesting.

What is it about our Christian traditions that makes us so resistant to exploring other viewpoints or new models of engaging with God and with each other?  Jesus encountered the same rigidity in the religious leaders of his day, and it appears that not much has changed.  It is embarrassing how unteachable we as followers of Jesus can be.  We begin our journey with Jesus desperate for transformation.  We are attracted to new life and committed to ongoing growth, but somewhere along the way, we seem to lose these values.  Are we so convinced that we have found the truth that we are no longer moved by it?

I went back to studying theology several years ago because I thought I would find it interesting.  It continues to be an incredible adventure.  It challenges me to see things in a new light and invigorates my appetite for exploration.  It humbles and confuses and mystifies me.  It makes me ask questions instead of assuming I know the answers.  It reminds me that I have only scratched the surface of what it means to engage with God.  It has also brought me into contact with many voices from the past who have much wisdom to offer, both by their mistakes and their successes.  I believe that followers of Jesus should be the most eager learners on the planet and the most humble and faithful students, pursuing truth while recognising his complex, dynamic, and loving nature.

Here is something I wrote after I finished my first year of graduate studies in theology:

"A lack of love results in premature, biased conclusions.  A lack of love allows us to categorise theories and opinions without coming face to face with the truth that we need to be examined every bit as much as the data or the text.  Love and humility open the door to genuine learning that is not only enlightening, but transforming. 
Theology is an invitation.  It is a welcome mat.  It invites us to come and bring all our thinking about life, about meaning, about truth, about unity, about justice, about the Divine, and to submit it to careful, courageous, sometimes slightly messy, but always loving, interaction.  It invites us not only to study the grand story, but to give it a place to grow in us.
I believe that a skilled theologian is able to explain profound concepts to a scholar as well as to a 5-year-old.  And a good theologian knows that she can learn a thing or two from a 5-year-old as well.  Children appreciate mystery more than we adults do because they do not feel the need to explain things that only ask to be wondered at.  And in the adventure that is theology, one must always be willing to be surprised by wonder:  wide-eyed, wordless, reverent, and loving wonder." 
-Matte (trying to be a life-long learner)
the photo:  looking out from a friend's apartment on the day she moved into her new place.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Happy Canada Day!

Ok, so I know I'm a day late.

This blog is the Canadian National blog so it is fitting we reflect a bit on what it means to be a Canadian Vineyard person. I'm going to pick up on something about our Canadian context that is (or should be) important to us all - diversity.

The sheer immensity that is our country presents considerable challenges to any national movement. Across this great nation of ours we are far from a homogeneous people. From the friendly Atlantic people to the trend setting West Coasters, we are an amazing collection of people. Even within our regions we possess a great diversity - and it is something that we, as Canadians, value. What an incredible freedom our diversity exhibits - but it is not without its challenges. We have to work hard to not let our differences keep us from working together. As Canadians we live in a society that is so very diverse, yet it is still united around  common values like: peacemaking; taking care of the homeless, jobless, and aged; even being irenic and polite. As the Vineyard movement we also find our unity around such values as Kingdom, worship, justice and mercy. Despite the fact that not all of us see these things the same way - it is our shared desire to serve the King that unites us in all our diversity.

Diversity is a richness. It is precisely the creative design of the Father who displays endless possibilities within creation itself. Each living creature, every snowflake, and every beautiful landscape speaks of the creativity of God. From diversity we draw wisdom and insights that without embracing diversity we would never own. God, in wisdom, made us to need each other, even just to get a glimpse of how great God's glory truly is. We see God's glory reflected in the many faces of those who we serve and who serve with us. Valuing diversity prepares us to bring the gospel to our world. 

At our last National Gathering I was encouraged by the passion of our leaders for discovering ways to incorporate more racial diversity into our movement. In fact I think we need to dig deep into our Pentecostal roots (via Calvary Chapel) and claim for ourselves the Pentecostal passion for tearing down the walls of racial separation. (Just as many of us have reached back into our Quaker roots to pull forward a passion for social justice.) This passion speaks, to me, of how the value of diversity shapes us. This value calls us to go beyond our comfort, that of being surrounded by people who think, look, and even act like us, and to experience new ways of looking at and being in the world. I know we find this hard, but it is a worthy goal. Canada is a mosaic of different peoples, and as Canadians our Vineyards should reflect this mosaic as well. 

We, as the Vineyard, are also diverse in how we do church. I love this about our movement. I love the big churches, providing amazing centers of worship and ministry that transform our very cities. I can't help thinking about the River City Vineyard in Sarnia, having built a homeless shelter in their church building - you do not get much more hands on than that (and they are not the only ones to do something like this). I also love the alternative looking churches that are exploring what it means to reach the folks who are not attracted to more traditional church settings. To be honest, I am convinced we need both - and that both of these groups really need each other. I even long for healing to come to the rift that sometimes comes between these two amazing expressions of church. The advantage of forming a movement around Kingdom values instead of restrictive notions of what it means to be church is that we can have a diversity of expressions and reach even more people with the Good News. 

I love the diversity of our movement in Canada. I love the diversity in Canada itself. Such rich opportunities - as God has even brought the world to our doorstep. As we continue to dream big God dreams - let's let the creative diversity of those dreams match the awesome greatness of our God!