each year, for the past 8 or so, about 20 middle school ministry specialists from around north america have gathered for a few days of fun and discussion. this year’s participants were: myself, Corrie Boyle (Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, MI), Kurt Brandemihl (Sunset Presbyterian Church, Portland OR), Jeff Buell (McKinney Memorial Bible Church, Fort Worth, TX), April Diaz (NewSong Church, Irvine, CA), Ken Elben (Christ United Methodist Church, Memphis TN), Heather Flies (Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN), Andy Jack (Christ Church of Oak Brook, Oak Brook, IL), Mark Janzen (Willingdon Church, Burnaby, BC), Kurt Johnston (Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA), Brooklyn Lindsey (Highland Park Church, Lakeland, FL), Sean Meade (Stuck in the Middle, Andover, KS), Alan Mercer (Christ Community Church, Leawood, KS), Jason Raitz (Willow Creek, S. Barrington, IL), Alan Ramsey (Fellowship Evangelical Free Church, Knoxville, TN), Ken Rawson (First United Methodist Church, Wichita, KS), Nate Rice (Forest Home Ministries, Forest Falls, CA), Christina Robertson (Journey Community Church, La Mesa, CA), Johnny Scott (Jr High Believe, Oronogo, MO), Nate Severson (Hillcrest Covenant Church, Prairie Village, KS), Phil Shinners (Mariners Church, Irvine, CA), and Scott Rubin (Willow Creek, S. Barrington, IL).
for the past few years, we’ve invited a guest to join us for a half day, to present some stuff that would become discussion fodder for the rest of our time. we’ve had chap clark, scot mcknight, an adolescent brain specialist, and christian smith.
this year, our guest was dave gibbons, pastor of newsong church in irvine, CA, and author of the monkey and the fish. we talked about third culture, adaptability, leadership, fringes and vortexes, and a variety of other stuff.
i’ll be posting edited notes from our discussions here in a series of posts. our hope is that these discussions will be helpful to others also…
click here for part one.
part 2 is the questions we asked dave in response to his talk (as well as his responses):
Scott: Is it too late? Are we really heading toward disaster in the next generation?
Dave: America seems to be out of touch. But the current economic crisis “scarcity brings clarity” is cause for hope. This is a big deal and we have a shot if we are really willing to change. We need to honor the past and move to the future. In order to do this though, we need to be willing to sacrifice everything we have to get there.
Kurt J: You have talked about the fringe people. The bigger your church the bigger the vortex. The danger is bigger because we can survive longer with our head in the sand. It takes more people to change things. On one hand I think we are doing it right and well, but you’d be an idiot to get comfortable in your current reality. What are your thoughts on this dilemma?
Dave: Are churches willing to be a hybrid? To use what we have with what we see coming? Bless and affirm, but launch new things. Maybe with new churches rather than within your own. Can you create fringe movements within your own church? Create community within community. The other choice is for the church to die. Are we willing to create a “sunset clause”? Churches tend to decline after ten to fifteen years because the culture changes around them. Are we willing to change or die?
Kurt J: How many are willing to do this?
Dave: Less than 1%, but those who know this are willing to do it in a second. Don’t argue about forms. Forms change. Are we really willing to lay it all down for the kingdom of God? Let’s get our pioneering spirit back.
Scott: What does that look like?
Dave: A church in Seattle decided to die and they joined a new emerging church and took on all the brand and name of this new young church. They were wise enough to see that they were declining in numbers and were not able to do it, so they gave it all up.
What would it look like if we were really willing to die to our forms?
Christina: Are you saying they will die if they don’t choose to die? Is it inevitable?
Dave: History says the influence dies. Is the church willing to recognize this? Remember though, that there is a place for many of these churches. There needs to be “retirement homes” for people.
MarkO: When you are intentional about paying attention to the fringe, what does that do to the vortex?
Dave: Bigger the vortex, the harder it is to move it. How much do you value the innovative edge? The bigger and older you get, the more center focused you become and the harder it is to focus on the fringe. Connect with people in your community – artists etc… You must think about doing this cross culturally. Go to places that are unfamiliar. Places where you don’t know the lay of the land or the language. It helps you become more fluid. Keeps you sharp.
Kurt B: What would you say to us where we are not the leadership team? We don’t always have the ability to change the organization from the middle of the leadership structure of the church.
Dave: You have to remember to affirm the leadership. Get the blessing of the church, but try to focus on the radical things you need to do. Create different metrics in terms of what your measurements are. Create an ethos that is actually a blessing not reactionary. Otherwise you are hurting and debilitating the structure of the church. If you’re reactionary, you tend to be too extreme. Kids need to know how to grow up in a place and adapt and live within the system and be fluid within the environment but raise up radical movements.
It’s okay to be big, but it’s overrated. Bless, affirm and create a culture that is adaptable. Help people go out or stay in. Do you have a Pauline calling? One where you are “all things to all men,” or do you have a calling where you are more homogeneous.
MarkO: In YM our history is to influence the influencers. Because of the splintering of youth culture, these kids do not exist any more. It might be really easy for that to quickly become a commodifying of people again. When you talk about the artist in Bankok, it seems like we are using him.
Dave: The old success model says that “I can do this rather than using the people God wants to use.” You must also keep in mind the culture. In Thailand, things are more “kingly” and Boyd, the artist is almost divine. This is not America.
Kurt J: Mark, would you say that there is no longer the stereotypical influencer that influences everyone, but there is still an influencer in every sub-culture?
MarkO: Absolutely, but I still struggle with the implications of this. Am I being utilitarian to use that kid for my benefit?
Scott: Isn’t that wise also?
MarkO: I’m not saying it does not work or even that it’s wrong. It makes sense, but it comes with a new set of pitfalls and traps that we have not had to deal with before. If I don’t recognize these pitfalls, my own faults and weaknesses would tend to use these kids.
In MS, we also know that you can’t really tell who the influencers are because they change every month.
Brook: There is also the accident effect. I was an accident. I was not an influencer, but my youth pastor was being faithful and here I am. As some level we just trust God.
Dave: We are not looking for the influencers. I look for people who have “that something” about them. I may not know they are great influencers.
One thing that is key in this discussion. When we apply business leadership principles, we look for “A” leaders and they are really rare. What we ended up looking for were people who could lead 50 or 100. What we were also then convicted of was that we needed to be doing both/and. There are some who can lead millions and some who can lead hundreds. We must do both.
Marko: Can we talk more about pain?
Dave: Your pain directs you and will be your guide. My life direction comes from my childhood when my parents were divorced. I have a passion for people like women and children because they are really the ones who are serving.
Looking at your pain connects you to humanity. People relate to your pain, not your strengths. Pain is your guide, your teacher, your leader. This is standard thought outside of America.
Jesus and the Via Delarosa – we talk about passion and ask students to talk about getting passionate about their faith. We need to be speaking more about pain and the gift of pain that leads to resurrection. Without pain you don’t have depth of understanding of grace. You need a “blackdrop” for grace to flourish.
MarkO: What relationship with pain do we want with leaders we are looking for?
Dave: They need to embrace pain. If you are on the forefront of spiritual activity, you must embrace pain.
MarkO: Isn’t it more than that?
Dave: Yes, you need to move beyond it and use it as a launching pad for ministry. Embrace your pain, it helps you.
Heather: The reflection is important. We need people who can speak hope and restoration. It does not define me but it shapes me.
Jason: Do most of the big “L” leaders you are around talk about pain?
Dave: In America, “no.” We need a both/and. We need to talk about and lead from strength etc…, but we also need to talk from pain.
If you want to reach the masses, you must reach the marginalized.
How do we utilize pain in our process?
Alan R: But that takes a lot of time.
Dave: How many people in your church really feel like they are seen? Quote: “learn to walk slowly through a crowd.” When you are a big-shot you walk fast through a crowd. How many in your congregation feel like you see them? How many feel like someone can look into their soul?
Bob Bhiel talked about: What’s your 70 and what’s your 30? Your primary thing will be your 70% and the other things are your 30%. Where do you spend your time and money? My 70% was weekend program. What I was articulating was leadership development and yet this was really more the 30% in reality. Are we really doing what we say? What if I put my 70% on leadership development? My church would look very different and that was really scary. Now, instead of spending 20 hours a week on my sermon, I must spend 5. Now I spend more time with people and affirm them. I am investing in the next generation.
What would it look like if we did not keep the incestual education system in our church and started really collaborating with other churches and were The Church? If we really think we are going to impact the world our time and resources must change.
I need people coming into my inner sanctum, not only inviting them to my program.
Scott: But you must also teach this because you have limits. Can people see souls if their souls have not been seen?
Dave: Yes, you must multiply and teach this and model it. Maybe people can see fragments without being seen.
You do this as a journey in a group. It’s a mosaic. This is a value orientation. It’s messy, it’s space and it’s listening. We need to change our focus. We are typically focused on production and efficiency. When we really start to listen and create space for learning we grow and really become more impactful. If you don’t have time to really do something that you value, then something is wrong.
Some helps and assessments for us:
Robert Clinton – “making of a leader” – he has the timeline factor. Write down all the people, places, and in your life. You’ll find the pain in your life. The pain piece speaks volumes about who you are.
The other assessment you need is the “energy metrics”
• Who energizes you?
• Who de-energizes you?
• What energizes you?
• What de-energizes you?
When you are feeling drained you are spending too much time with de-energizing people doing de-energizing things.
I need to hang out with people that are not like me – that de-energize me because it pushes me. But do I also spend time with people like me to energize me.
House Matrix: Draw a picture of a house when you were ten years old. Who was in the house and where in the house were they? This will tell you a lot about how you deal with conflict etc… Take a look at the year of a ten year old.
This is HUGE because when you are ten years old so much about you is formed.
Define Third-Culture: Adaptation – painful adaptation – second commandment – love your neighbor! Why did Jesus tell the story of the Good Samaritan? Our neighbor is really more about loving someone you hate, not loving someone that is like you? It’s a Nelson Mandela coming out of prison and saying “let’s love the one who beats us and imprisons us.” We gravitate toward someone who is like us and someone we are comfortable with. Jesus moved toward the outcast. Someone that was not like Him. John 5 – Samaritan woman. John 1 – contextualization – the Son of God became flesh, painful adaptation. John 5 – Jesus only did what He saw his father doing. He did what His father was doing no matter what he
Kurt J: Why not say “uncomfortable adaptation” rather than painful?
Dave: It might depend on the person. For you maybe things are just uncomfortable with you, but for many it may be really painful
Scott: Does it have to be people that look different than you?
Dave: NO – it’s not about skin color, it must be social-economical, and radically different that you.
MarkO: You are not talking third-culture as social scientists might use it (like a second generation immigrant).
Dave: No, we have tried to redefine it.
Phil: What are some of the things churches are doing right in terms of third culture?
Dave: They have incorporated systems that help to manage the church better. There is a process that helps them to assess where their church is. They have a heart for the world and the lost. Sometimes is way too simple, but at least it’s there. They want to give to the lost and the least. They have helped fuel the missional movement.
Ken R: How can I help my MS kids have a third culture point of view? I have some fear for the ramification of what the church might do if I tried this, but it’s more about trying to figure out what a 7th grader can do. How do we get kids to really engage third culture in their school?
Dave: It depends on your location: Education and exposure – experiential model. Take them to a culture and help them exegete the culture. When you walk into the city can you really know them by what you observe? Teach our kids how to read a city. Teach them skills that will help them analyze. Again, it’s a both/and. Help them learn these skills without taking them out of what they know.
Take them on vision trips. They might not really need to “do missions.” Our main purpose is to see what God is doing and learn from the people we see and encounter.
Have them read. Or watch something like “The man who planted trees” from PBS. The issue was not about occupation, but calling.
Maybe also “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” This captures the ethos of the role of the minster in the church.
“In the Name of Jesus” by Henri Nouwen is the best book on leadership.
Help students work their muscles to adapt to other cultures. Take them to nursing homes and things that take them outside of their comfort zone that help them see things other than themselves.
Films: Crash, Slumdog Millionaire
How do we take one step further with our students? Who are the marginalized and minimized in the area?
Scott: Once again, if the parents are the primary influencers, we may have some ability to communicate, but if they go back to a home…
Kurt B: How are artists “the message”?
Dave: They are primarily communicating leading thought and reality. They typically lead the way through culture moves. It’s not saying that you can’t be the message when you are not an artist; rather let the artists out of their departments and into the real structure of who we are and where we are going. From a cultural perspective, the artists are real innovators.
Our job is to platform those who can really do what we are talking about.
Kurt J: This was played out at “Believe” this year. Our kids resonated with the art and drama and could have done without the message.
Dave: It is an intersection of both. Americans are infatuated with the Word. Asian proverb – “The purpose of a fish trap is to catch a fish; once the fish is caught the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a rabbit trap is to catch a rabbit. Once the rabbit is caught the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a word is to capture an idea. Once the idea is caught, the word is forgotten.”
Nate S: What would it really look like for us to create a sunset clause?
Dave: I need to be willing to die to myself. I need to think about succession. The buildings I build are not that important. I need to think about the urgency of now as well as what will take place in the future. Where are we integrating our resources and is it the right place?
April: Can you talk about your kids and what you do with them?
Dave: My role as a dad is to see my children. Fathers often do not see their kids. I study my kids and who they interact with. I almost see them as a science project and I want to understand their world. I want to do a sort of blessing with my kids.
Informal: Hang out and do what they want and engage in what they like.
Formal: When they are around 7, I start to ask them to think about where they might want to go in the world. When they are 12 or 13 we go to that place and we do whatever they want to do. I write them a letter on the trip of everything I see in them. When we get home I give the letter to the kid and ask them to read it. I give them a gift to remember the trip by.
I want my kids to know that I know who they are.
What if you could do this in your church and every kid in your church is seen by someone.
Kurt J: Shoot some holes in some stuff that we are doing that need to be evaluated. For example “numbers” when we think about 30%
Dave: I don’t think it’s flawed thinking. It may not be a bad model, but the cautionary piece is in terms of your resource allocation, is this the best use of the resources you have? The problem is most see the mega-church as the model and it is replicated in areas and ways where it is not the best use of the resources.
I want to affirm the smaller churches that are not the mega-church and who have a small amount of people.
Brook: Where are you seeing this in the secular world?
Dave: All over the place. You need to affirm your own unique culture, but you also need to adapt to another style and culture.
Heather: How can I best minister to my kids of divorced homes?
Dave: There needs to be a sense that this is another home for kids. A place of health. We need to take the time to invest in these kids. Take them into our own home. Love on them and help them get a picture of a healthy home. Help to see them when no one else is seeing them.
Kurt B: how do we avoid sin when we adventure out into culture and whatever messiness that we run into as we adapt?
Dave: This is not the answer, but I have a group of people I talk with every day. It’s not an accountability group, but we share everything with one another. When we have a group that we can’t let down, we can endure a lot.
Andy J: You started today talking about the recession and the quote from Rodney Stark. What do you see the church’s major role in the next ten years?
Dave: This is the most excited time of ministry ever. You are living in a major crisis. This is a global crisis. No one knows what to do. Our opportunity is to be the message. Not just speak the message. The key is to be a purveyor of hope by lifestyle. This comes from being in close proximity to others. Ask “what do you need?” Not “here’s how I can help!” When you put yourself in a position of listening and learning you are helping them and blessing them. People are looking for value orientation.
Be communicators through the loving and serving components. You can create a new matrix of evaluation. You need to rethink and retool how you evaluate.
• Are you more hopeful?
• Are you more joyful?
• Do you have more belief in God in the midst of disaster than you did?
Evangelism has moved to a lifestyle and modeling thing rather than a proclamation model.
MarkO: One of the things I’m struggling with is how to teach adaptability to kids who can’t think abstractly.
Brook: Maybe the question is more “what are we doing to hinder the adaptability they already have?”
Jeff: How do we rather adapt to where they are and the sweet spot of the pain they are already in and sharing about?
Dave: Your role is about planting seeds. You don’t see the full maturation. But what you plant now will become fruit sometime down the road. They may never give you credit.
Additional Reading Material:
“Post American World” – Zakrkaria Fareed
“The End of All Poverty” – Jeffery Sacks
You are the church of the future and NOW. What’s great about your role is “the child shall lead us.” In some things the children are more mature than we are. It is so cool that they can flow the way they do and they become what you compliment. They can do so much and are poised to do so much.
When you are a “mature Christian” you are concerned with the next generation and are investing in them. Deitrich Bonhoeffer really states this well. Most in our church don’t follow this or believe this, but we trumpet it and continue to speak this out loud.
next up: part 3, our brainstorm of topics we might want to explore further, and our reflections on the validity of the third-culture concept…