A couple of years ago Patty, Tommie and me took a trip to Colorado. Barb graciously offered us a place to stay and it was very good for us. We rented a jeep for a day and went "off-road." The pretty white jeep looked well worn and muddy after following a trail – a first for us! On occasion the terrain provided tense moments. Rain fell the night before making the trails slick and a number of large puddles, maybe small pools, created uncertain obstacles. What an adventure!
A few weeks before Christmas I received my e-copy of, The Leading Edge, a publication of Assembly of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO. Earl Creps, D.Min. Program Director for AGTS, puts together a solid resource for ministry. I met Earl taking the first ETREK course. AGTS offered participants credit for the course. Earl put together an extensive bibliography centered around missional/emergent themes. About a year later while on vacation near Springfield, I met Earl for lunch. He treated me to some good barbecue.
One of the articles in the recent edition of The Leading Edge pointed out a way to get a copy of Earl’s new book, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders. A couple of weeks later I received my copy. I will offer a review in several segments over the next week or so.
Before looking at the first chapter I want to note something of the forward written by Dan Kimball. We have had Dan on ETREK conference calls over the past couple of years and he always offers balanced insight. It could be said, and somewhat an oversimplification I admit, the missional/emergent exploration of mission, ecclesiology and Kingdom come under intense scrutiny for suggesting a competing vision of/for the Church. Walter Brueggemann suggests, in Hopeful Imagination, great difficulty in "getting" the work of the prophets if we fail to consider the implications of "exile" and how the condition is expressed in our day. Recently in a sermon I noted the distinction between "exiles" and "patriots." One underscores our hopefulness in the new things God will/is doing bringing the Kingdom to bear in/to/with our world today. The other emphasizes the future reality to the near exclusion of the present with regard to the Kingdom of God. (The working out of this may be for another post.) Kimball seems to put the matter of competing visions of/for the Church when he notes,
Leadership is critical. I believe what we need in the Church today is not just leaders but missional leaders. Not every church rises to Jesus’ charge to reach out to the world. Not all church leaders respond to such a mission. Many of them fall into the trap of striving only for bigger and better programs or music, or whatever, for the already saved. Being a missional leader is entirely different. We need to prepare for the mission by developing patterns and disciplines in our lives and ministry that the Spirit of God can use to sustain us while we serve Jesus on His mission.(p.xii)
My youngest loves CSI. The idea of taking a scene apart and looking at things from a variety of vantage points to gain clarity and understanding seems to be at least part of the project of each episode. Earl notes his own need to take himself apart. Owning our vantage points is important for any leader. One of the pieces of Earl’s personal "puzzle",
My beliefs: I am almost painfully orthodox doctrinally, but with a Pentecostal identity bundled with a Mainliner’s open-mindedness.
Off-Road Disciplines breaks down into Personal Disciplines and Organizational Disciplines. The first personal discipline – Death: The Discipline of Personal Transformation. Paul’s statement of his own death, "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me," forms the fulcrum around which this chapter turns. The need for self-denial in the form of owning who we are and what that means when it comes to living missionally and taking up the cross of Jesus locating ourselves squarely in the "thing" God is doing keeps the missional leader developing the kind of interior life necessary for carrying on the "missio dei" in/with/to the world. Earl sums it up this way,
In the transition to the missional life through off-road disciplines, my best practice must be me. My generation (boomers) tends to look for a better tool, a better model, a better technology, and we have brought this preference into the Church. We like to transform things technologically, thinking of ministry as an instrumentality, ourselves as CEO, the Holy Spirit as sort of a power cell, and the church as an object we modify. In so doing, we risk creating not much more than a hipper version of irrelevance. A missional perspective springs from a transformed interior life that gives us moral authority to lead God’s people, "not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."(p.14)
It will be easy for some to target Creps notion the first practice must be me as some sort of narcissistic pseudo-spirituality. To do so would miss the underlying move I see him making from owning up to the fact we have practiced as "patriots" ("brought this preference into the Church") and missed the need to re-interpret ourselves as "exiles" ("springs from a transformed interior life").
More to come …