A friend of mine and fellow blogger has asked me to publish this, as it might be a little too close to home for the congregation served. This friend, a good person and one I think highly of, would love your advice and response.
Dear Missional Friends,
Recently I have noticed a number of excellent posts in the blogosphere about flat leadership structures, the role of authority in missional church, and the kind of leadership that is necessary in the current cultural landscape. I am more than committed to all of these values. We are attempting to lead a church with nearly a 100 year history in an established denomination toward missional transformation. This is not an easy thing. We have focused on process rather than outcomes. We have sought to level the playing field so that every person can have equal input into the conversations we are having. We are working hard to hear the minority reports and the voices of the poor and brushed aside. All of this has been a challenging but rich experience. New leaders are emerging in this climate and taking up the challenge of leadership in the missional church.
But I am having a serious, recurring problem. Perhaps it is my extreme urban location, maybe it is my denomination which tends toward fundamentalist theologies. Nevertheless, here’s my challenge: into this open and inclusive process has walked some people who have their own very specific agenda, either to convert us to their theological program (in my case this is always fundamentalism with heavy apocalyptic overtones), or take over the church. When I say “take over the church” I literally mean that there is a group which has infiltrated the church and they are attempting to swarm their numbers and take over control of the church.
I have had members and non-members accuse me of being a hypnotist, a Scientologist, an atheist and immoral. Some of these accusations have come as loud outbursts in public worship services. Currently I have a visitor to my group who is passing around 10 and 12 page handwritten documents claiming that our church is part of a vast Satanic plot to destroy God’s people. The ironic thing is that this sort of propaganda gains traction among 10-20% of my church members. Enough to cause a serious problem.
Clearly, I have some thoughts about how to deal with this. And while you might think this is one isolated case, I can assure you that I have had a steady stream of these issues since I became the pastor two years ago. In one case a man was working his way into church leadership (in our open and flat structure) when we discovered, through some concerns raised by members, that he had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from his former church and was now entering into questionable financial relationships with our church. We have had one of our adult Bible teachers enter into a shady financial deal with another member in which the trusting member lost a significant sum.
Two thoughts keep coming to mind in all this, and then I’d like to hear from my missional and emergent friends about how our new approaches to leadership can handle the sickness and (can I say it) downright evil we sometimes witness in the church. The first thing that comes to mind is Alan Kreider’s book, The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom. In this book he discusses the challenges the early church faced in vetting new members. We are seriously considering such an experiment here. This would involve open and “flat” community, but within boundaries. The second thing I remember is that Jesus had Judas along side him all the way to the very end. I take it that Judas was trying to “help” Jesus see the light – set him on the straight and narrow.
What do you say? What kind of things should I be thinking about, because as much as I love the openness and inclusive nature of the new forms of church that are emerging, I’m a little nervous right now.
I look forward to the good people who read this blog helping my friend out. Some important questions are raised.