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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Rhythms of Grace

On Friday evening I was getting ready to write a new blog post, when I felt a tug from the Holy Spirit to stop. I was going to continue with some thoughts on dancing as a picture of leadership and church community; but I felt the Spirit say to me that it is possible to do so much thinking, discussing, reading, strategising, (and blogging!) about such things so that it becomes just another method. And that however we 'do church' or are church in this  new season, God wants for it to come from real and authentic relationship with him, and spiritual revelation from him. 'Unless the Lord builds the house, we will all labour in vain.' The new things that God wants to do in this season must come not just from new concepts or models, but from a deepening relationship with him. It's understanding that this dance does not start with us mapping out the steps but with letting the music of the Spirit penetrate into our souls. The dance flows from the music getting into you. This involves resting in Christ, and then walking in the Spirit in everyday life. He says to us:

'Come to me. Get away with me and...I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.'  (Matthew 11, The Message)

So this might mean more or less blogging. I don't know. He's setting the tempo. And I'm dancing to his tune.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Let's Dance Like This!

Here is a video of a dance that my friend, Tony Campbell, drew to my attention. It shows brilliantly the need for both individual gifting/expression and synchronicity if we are to create a beautiful dance. Different people take the lead at different times and no-one is the superstar. They are working together and honouring one another as well as each using their gift. This is how I want the church to dance! What do you think?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Leadership and Dancing

I implied in my last post that any model of authority and leadership for the church should be rooted in a revelation of God as Trinity. And that historically the Trinity was pictured as a kind of 'dance' of 'mutually self-giving love.' I have been thinking of how an understanding of this concept of 'dancing' might affect how leadership works in practice. Here are some initial thoughts:
  • leaders do not expect others to 'orbit around' them but move in such a way as to release others into their expression of gift and personality; 
  • leaders release creativity, freedom and self-expression but in such a way that they contribute to the beauty and symmetry of the dance of community;
  • in the kind of dance I envisage, there is no 'prima ballerina' who is the focus of attention but the focus is on the beauty of the whole dance;
  • within the beauty of the whole, different individuals may come to the forefront at different times but nobody hogs the limelight or tries to upstage the rest of the group;
  • there will have been a choreographer, or a team of choreographers, and they will themselves be part of the dance, but anyone watching is not aware of that - just of the amazing artistry of the group (this is hidden leadership);
  • sometimes the choreographers set the moves but often they are worked out together as a group;
  • there is room for individual improvisation but the most impressive moments are those amazing feats of synchronization because it is the group working so well together that is so remarkable - leadership helps enable this but it requires mutual submission to achieve it;
  • all the dancers are moving in time to, and being inspired by, the music of the Spirit as they dance.
I hope that this blog can be a forum for conversation about the journey that some of us are on in our understanding of such things; so do please feel free to add comments - some of you will have further insights - or to ask any questions you like. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Dance: Trinity and Authority

In the understanding of authority I used to have, I was pointed to the triune Godhead as our model - for here we have equality of persons with hierarchy of roles. The Son is subordinate to the Father and the Spirit is subordinate to the Father and the Son. This was based on who sent who and who did the will of who. I see it differently now. But I still believe the Trinity is our primary model and source of revelation about the counter-cultural nature of authority in God's different kingdom.

I was reminded of it again today while meditating on John 8. I noticed again how the Son wants to honour the Father (v.49) and the Father wants to glorify the Son (v.54). There are many other references of the person of the Godhead seeking to honour and glorify the other (e.g. John 16:14, 14:4, 5). What we actually see in the Godhead is the movement of each person in mutual self-giving love and submission to the others, with an emphasis not on role and authority but on willing submission and service that comes out of relationship and love. The key to the government of God was not role and hierarchy but honour and submission from love, not from the fulfillment of a role in a divine pecking order.

This movement around each other in the Godhead was called by the early church fathers, 'perichoresis' which means 'to dance or flow around' (we get our word choreography from it). Many writers are rediscovering this now. Here is a taster from Tim Keller:

'...self-centredness is to be stationary, static. In self-centredness we demand that others orbit around us...The inner life of the triune God is utterly different. The life of the Trinity is characterised not by self-centredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we  delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we centre on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance, particularly if there are three persons, each of whom moves around the other two...Each of the divine persons centres upon the others. None demand that the others revolve around him. (Keller, The Reason for God, pp.214-215)

Our patterns of leadership and authority - and indeed of all of church community - must begin here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Confession and Culture

What we believe or confess is not enough to determine what we get. The word confession is sometimes used to refer to a detailed statement of faith, a declaration of what a person or church or organisation believes (as in the The Westminster Confession of Faith). We can 'confess' certain beliefs - state them ,write them, preach them etc. But if those beliefs do not permeate right through our inner and outer culture, then we will find that we have a church culture that is at odds with our confession. If we say we value the manifest Presence of God but do not let that affect our attitudes, lifestyle, practices, priorities, choices and so on, it will not be what people experience when they come among us. We may say (confess) that we believe that everyone in a church family is free to be who they really are, but unless we create a culture where that truly is so, it won't happen.

In the church I help lead, we are still on a journey of cultural transformation. For the most part, this has not involved a major change in our basic beliefs; rather, it is the recognition that we must let those beliefs affect our culture. In relation to authority and leadership, we may very sincerely believe in and confess a conviction about leadership that is servant-like, and authority that is liberating and empowering (we always have really). But now the Holy Spirit is teaching us - and we are beginning to learn - what that really looks like in practice and how we can make it happen. He is showing us that our confession must be and can be matched by our culture.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Hosting God's Presence

I'm going to take a break from the subject of authority and hierarchy for now though I will come back to it: I want to suggest some thoughts on structures and culture of leadership in the local church once we abandon hierarchy. But something different for now.

I'd like to use this blog to occasionally write brief reviews on books that are influencing my thinking right now. I have just finished reading Hosting the Presence by Bill Johnson.

Worship and valuing the manifest presence of God is something that is part of our heritage, for many of us. I am so grateful to spiritual fathers like Bryn and Keri Jones who helped to lead a movement in the UK, one of whose main legacies was to transform the experience of worship for so many - they paid the pioneers' price so that we could enjoy a church culture that experienced freedom, passion, genuine intimacy with the Holy Spirit, exuberant joy, the gifts of the Spirit and an expectancy that God would manifest his presence and power when we gathered to worship. I honour them for that. (One of my favourite books by Bryn was Worship: A Heart for God, almost certainly now out of print).
Bill Johnson's writings on worship, intimacy with God and the Presence therefore so resonate with this key aspect of the journey many of us have been on for years. In this recent book he puts it in the context of God's ultimate agenda to live among people - in the garden of his Presence. Then he reflects on different aspects of what it means for us to be carriers of the Presence both individually and corporately. Where I think he takes us further on the journey is in encouraging an expectancy for the supernatural lifestyle as living in God's Presence becomes normal for us; and for our experience of the Presence to actually lead to a transformation of cities as the Presence we attract actually changes the atmospheres and environments in which we live. 
He gives us so much to think about in this as in others of his books. People often say that a book was so good they couldn't put it down. I usually say of most of Bill Johnson's books that they are so good you have to put them down - he writes in such a way that you want to stop and think about what he has said. And often just to worship! The only other writer who wants to make me stop and worship is A.W.Tozer.
Bill Johnson argues that for many years, churches have camped around the sermon in our gatherings. We need to value preaching and teaching but learn again to camp around the Presence, and to discover more about its transformative power. I agree. 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Benevolent Hierarchy?

Is it possible to have a benevolent hierarchy? Well, yes, perhaps...but it's still hierarchy. And hierarchy is ultimately, even if inadvertently, restrictive and dis-empowering  I guess benevolent hierarchy is kind of what I used to believe - my being 'over you in the Lord' was for your own good. And I genuinely tried to be relational and considerate (if not always succeeding) in the exercise of it. I think now that the problem is not just the manner in which authority is exercised, but with the actual model of hierarchy itself.

In Luke 22:25-26, those  in authority are referred to as 'benefactors' - the idea was that those in authority were for the benefit of society. But Jesus includes this in what he wants his followers to be different from - "But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." (v.26). He is turning hierarchy on its head! He is not just challenging its abuse, but its very place in the kingdom community.

For years, I was taught - and in turn taught others - that authority (and by this was really meant hierarchy) was central to the Godhead, nature, society, family and the church. It was of the same essence across all of these. And then it was argued that modern society faced a crisis of authority. We needed to see its value and have more of it, and the church could show the way. The problem is that we didn't take into account sufficiently the fallen nature of this world, including its model of authority, nor the radically counter-cultural nature and dynamic of God's different kingdom.

The world does not need more authority of its own kind. It needs a radical redefinition and re-modelling of authority in terms of servant-hood,  self-sacrificial love and the empowerment of others.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Authority and Family

I have said that authority must be seen in the context of family. If a stranger came into my home to meet my family and one of the first things he asked was 'who's in charge around here?', 'who's the boss?' how would I feel? Terrible. Offended. Upset. I would want them to experience the life, fun, play, messiness, thrills, spills, laughter, love, tensions, honesty, openness, security and intimacy of family life; not concern themselves with the 'government' of the family. Even where there is loving leadership and responsible parenting, it does not draw attention to itself. It's success would be in its own invisibility. 

I'd love for the same to be true of the local church family. It's not that there isn't leadership or authority but that it is not the focus, or the first thing people notice. Hierarchy is never invisible and is an inappropriate structure for family, including the church family. Apart from inevitably working against the servant nature, the 'power under' dynamic of the different kingdom, it ultimately stifles the life and freedom that is the birthright of every child of God. And it requires constant attention to maintain - over the years I have heard more arguments about and attempts to organise how such church government works. Family is far more organic and vital - it also requires continual attention, but this is to all of the relationships involved, not just to governmental structures.

For the church to work effectively as family, we need to prioritise relationship, release the gifting of all in the family, including the various gifts of leadership, and discover those spiritual parents whose gift, maturity, faithfulness and stability help bring strength and security to the family even as other kinds of leaders are released in their gifting. 

Monday, 1 October 2012

A Different Kind of Authority

I guess I used to think that authority in the church was basically the same as authority in the world but that we were nice about it! I thought that when Jesus was telling us not to lord it over people like the Gentiles do (Mark 10:42-45) that he was just talking about the way in which authority is exercised. We were still to exercise authority 'over' people but that we were to be gentle and considerate about it.

Because the kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36), I now see that authority  in the kingdom and therefore in the church - the kingdom community - is of a totally different nature, kind and order. Authority in the kingdom is not 'power over' but 'power under'. It is not hierarchical - it is not about who's in charge, who has the last say, where do the lines of government lie, who's accountable to who? When we think that way, we are beginning to imitate the kingdoms of this world. Instead, we must look to the Godhead for our model.

In the Godhead there is total equality, yet not one that is grasped at (Phil.2:6); rather, there is a willing, voluntary, beautiful submission of the Son (and the Spirit) to the Father. It is in this model of the community, or family, of the Godhead that we must find our example. As it is in heaven, so let it be on earth. And the heavenly model of family is the context in which authority must be understood.

For of course there is still a place for authority and leadership. And in the church that includes issues of direction, decision-making, instruction, purposeful restraint (in the sense that it is not a free-for all, for everyone to do as they see fit) and even discipline. But they must be seen in the context of family - and the heavenly model of family (Eph.3:14-15) - in which the desire of the father/parent is for the realisation of the full potential of the son/child.

And it must also be seen in the context of the counter-cultural, 'power under' dynamic of the different kingdom - authority that serves, sacrifices and empowers. I hope to develop this more tomorrow.