Equippers as Environmentalists: Re-Imagining Leadership in Today’s Western Church Part I
Lately I have been focused on my studies as well as preparing for and conducting funerals, working with the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, engaging in meaningful community and seeking to meet needs around me, so I am just catching up with some of the latest buzz on the attractional/missional discussion or should I say spirited conversation. I’m not sure that I have the time to fully interact with the discussion, especially since I am about to take some time away for reflection, discernment and just hang time with friends, so my hope is that this series of posts (one of my latest papers I wrote for a class at Fuller Theological Seminary) will somehow be a contribution to this important discussion. I would love to interact with you about this paper, for I would love the feedback and conversation on this topic.
When I think of the book of Acts and the early church, I think of words like waiting, prayer, empowerment, tongues of fire, witness, power, communion, community, sharing, martyrdom, serving, change, resistance, Holy Spirit, love, movement, transformation, culture, healing, persecution, and story. The book of Acts is a disturbing, encouraging, and challenging book. It is disturbing because it challenges the status quo. It is encouraging, because we see God at work among His people and in the world. It is challenging, because it stirs up many debates. We debate issues of soteriology, pneumenology, missiology as well as ecclesiology. We argue whether we should interpret the book in a descriptive or prescriptive way.
Debating and wrestling for understanding are good things. We see the early Church having heated debate about big issues, like who is a Christian in Acts 15. The classes I have taken over the past year and half had led me to continue to wrestle over many things. There are a number of themes that have captured my attention over the last couple of years – the kingdom of God, holistic salvation, mentoring, the five equippers and how to minister in this crazy, urban, postmodern, globalized, post-Christendom context. Developing practical ways to cultivate a missional ethos as well as consider how to cultivate contrasting societies where genuine transformation can take place has benefited the congregations I serve.
If I had to sum up my largest passion that incorporates all of these things, it would center around what has come to be known as Newbigin’s Triad, the church between the good news and culture. As a church planter, I want to cultivate neighborhood churches that embody the good news in ways that are faithful to God, genuine to our context, and that proclaim the good news by our way of life as well as with our words. As a church-planting coach, I desire to help other church planters cultivate contextualized contrast societies that are a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s kingdom. This vision burns within me because too many churches today don’t take our context seriously.
I’m reminded of a letter that I came across recently that had to do with bumper stickers. I’m not very big on bumper stickers especially ones with Christian messages. But people have made bumper stickers that say, “Honk if you love Jesus.” There is the Jewish version says, “Honk if you love Moses.” And finally there is one for the full-time pastor, “If You Love Jesus, Don’t Honk, Tithe.”
Well, there was this young guy who received a letter from his very religious 88-year-old grandmother. Here is what she wrote:
The other day I went to our local Christian bookstore and saw a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker. I was feeling particularly sassy that day because I had just come from a thrilling choir performance, followed by a thunderous prayer meeting. So I bought the sticker and put it on my bumper.
Boy am I glad that I did. What an uplifting experienced that followed! I was stopped at a red light at a busy intersection, got lost in thought about the Lord – how good He is, and I didn’t even notice that the light had changed. It’s a good thing someone else loves Jesus because if he hadn’t honked, I’d never had noticed. I found that lots of people love Jesus! Why, while I was sitting there, the guy behind me started honking like crazy, and then he leaned out his window and shouted, “For the love of God! GO! GO! GO! Jesus Christ GO!” What an exuberant cheerleader he was for Jesus! Everyone started honking! I leaned out of my car window and started waving and smiling at all those loving people. I even honked my horn a few times to share in the love.
There must have been a man from Florida back there because I heard him yelling something about a “sunny beach.” I saw another guy waving in a funny way… with only his middle finger stuck up in the air. Then I asked my teenage grandson in the back seat what that meant. He said it was probably a Hawaiian good luck sign or something. Well, I never met anyone from Hawaii, so I leaned out the window and gave him the good luck sign back. My grandson burst out laughing… Why, even he was enjoying the religious experience.
A couple of people were so caught up in the joy of the moment that they got out of their cars and started walking toward me. I bet they wanted to pray or ask what church I attended, but this is when I noticed the light had changed. So I waved at all my sisters and brothers grinning, and drove on through the intersection. I noticed I was the only car that got through the intersection before the light changed again and felt kind of sad that I had to leave them after all the love we shared. So I slowed down the car, leaned out the window and gave them all the Hawaiian good luck sign one last time as I drove away. Praise the lord for such wonderful folks.
This letter had me rolling on the ground the first time I read it and it still makes me laugh. Although it is quite funny, I know of something that is not: when we resist change and fail to meaningfully embody the good news in the context in which God has placed us. I sense the Holy Spirit prompting others and myself to move out in fresh and dynamic ways. I also find in others and myself the urge to resist change, because we lack healthy models and sometimes it just seems too difficult. Sometimes obedience can feel unclean in this new context, but then I am reminded of Peter’s vision of unclean food and his challenge to share his life with “unclean” people. Like Peter, I am experiencing the ecstasy of what it means to experience a two-way conversion.
The thesis of this paper is that if the church is to faithfully rebirth herself in the Western context and cultivate a fruitful missional ethos, she must awaken the five equippers to live as environmentalists instead of master programmers.
If leaders are to help the church faithfully incarnate herself into our current context, we must first learn what it means to be environmentalist as well as how to engage in the art bilingual theological reflection. Secondly, we must learn to navigate the major shifts that are taking place in our culture: the media shift from print and broadcast to the digital age; the philosophical shift from modernity to post-modernity; the science shift from classic science to new systems science; the spatiality shift from rural living to urban living; and the religious shift from Christendom to the Post-Christendom era.
Next, we must re-imagine what leadership might look like in light of our mission and context. I will contend that the church needs polycentric leadership, as described in Ephesians 4, where equippers live as environmentalists who cultivate a fruitful missional ethos fully activating the priesthood of all believers.
And finally, we will examine the practical ways that the five equippers can organically shape environments where life emerges in spontaneous ways and cultivates communities that are a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s kingdom. But first we need to come to a better understanding of the world culture. That is my next post on this topic.
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