A Recalibrating Gathering of “Big Guns”

kinnon —  February 8, 2009 — 14 Comments

I confess that I do get a little tired of this – no matter who the “recalibrated big guns” are.

George Fox Seminary had a gathering of some recalibrating emerge-church-publishing “big guns” this past week and Peter Walker has been reporting on the event. I find his irreverent responses rather appealing. And would have loved to hear Dr. MaryKate Morse in the midst of the testosterone-fueled others. (Imbi and I interviewed MaryKate at a missional church event in the summer of ’06.) From Peter’s notes,

Morse begins talking about her book Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence, introducing it as a recalibration of the concept of power. She uses the example of kids playing in a sandbox to begin: “no matter how much fun all of the kids are having, some other kid comes in and takes it on themselves to smash what everyone has been building. Why does that happen? How does that happen in the church? I think it has to do with Power.”

She continues, “the problem is, we have a hard time getting along with each other. We can talk about theory and think about things, but we need to get our heads around power. Make this organic community a place where it really can thrive!”   [emphasis added]

One of the questions I would have asked of the assembled big guns is “How is this worked out in your own lives? Tell us about your involvement in local Christian community?” My fear is that only Dr. Morse and Dan Kimball would be able to tell us.

Read Peter’s reports here, here and here.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

14 responses to A Recalibrating Gathering of “Big Guns”

  1. I read a little about Morse’s ideas on Blind Beggar, and my curiousity was piqued. I’ve been thinking a lot about power lately too – and I like her point about the myth that power always corrupts and is inherently bad. But rather, it is neutral, and something to be stewarded properly.

    As you point out here, it is so, so challenging to move from talking about ideas and theories to telling our stories. It’s so funny because we even discuss ideas about “narrative” and “storytelling” but rarely engage in it. Or, we only engage in it as a means of explaining our theories – rather than as a viable and pragmatic option in itself which is more important than theory.

    Maybe testimony is more powerful than theory. As the people of God tell their stories of Who He is to, and in, and through them (toward others) in the context of their lives – I think that there is something powerful that happens in testimony (the story of God with His people) that transcends theory. And I have a strong academic bent, so that really means something to me to say that. 🙂

    I have nothing but love for anyone willing to buck cultural syncretism in the church, and some people have some important things to say. But I still have questions about the platform (whether it be a literal platform or a publishing deal) in the context of attempting to become more missional, organic, and relational.

  2. The Abbess thinks you might be a little harsh, brother, on the gathering. The experience of it was different. I will go and read Peter’s reports.

    I do not know the specifics of the others, but please do not sell Alan Hirsch short on walking the talk….

    MaryKate was awesome and I’m looking forward to finding some time to read her book soon.

  3. Peggy,
    I love Al, think him a good guy and value his writing. That being said, and as you feel you know him better, tell me where he’s ongoingly engaged in local Christian community now that he lives in the States?

    Having been a fly on the wall with a video camera around a number of missional writing “gurus”, I can tell you that most are theorists rather than practitioners – though they may have once been.

    At my advanced age I’ve become more attracted to the show me, rather than tell me world of Christianity. There are more than enough treatises on “missional church” – 528 available from Amazon at this moment. I want to hear real stories from those engaged in them – rather than more opinion and commentary.

  4. Hey Bill,

    I am going to go read Peter’s comments – but I did use an example or two of missional adventures when I spoke. One of my points that I actually made is that we Christians and especially Christian leaders can be very guilty of losing contact and ongoing relationships with those we are talking about being missional with. So I make it practice that I give examples and stories from within the past week or two. I did at this event briefly and shared about being with a non-church going friend and talking about spirituality and his sweat lodge experiences until 1:30 AM the week before. I also shared about someone else who was not a Christian and just put faith in Jesus the week before as well as a result of God using the music venue/coffeehouse/art gallery that our church opened.

    To me, if we are talking about mission, we should be sharing examples of both successful and non-succesful experiences of the adventure we are on. I pay attention to speakers and listen to whether they are sharing stories – as I believe that is important.

    Anyway, wanted to thank you for your thoughts here!


  5. Dan,
    I fear that I may have become a curmudgeon – scratch that – I am a curmudgeon when it comes to the stage bound chattering classes that want to expound on their latest treatises. I am no longer shocked by the disconnect that exists between how some actually practise their faith and what they deign to share with us as to how we should live our own.

    I began to suggest these kinds of questions for missional gurus a while ago and have perhaps become a little more strident in my response. I am not willing to listen to opinion, laced with bombast when it comes to missional engagement. Tell me your stories – don’t share your opinion based on how you once may have lived your life.

    I appreciate that this is what you are attempting to do.

  6. Sarah,

    Maybe testimony is more powerful than theory. As the people of God tell their stories of Who He is to, and in, and through them (toward others) in the context of their lives – I think that there is something powerful that happens in testimony (the story of God with His people) that transcends theory. And I have a strong academic bent, so that really means something to me to say that.

  7. Bill,

    I’m with you, but in all honesty the problem with sharing stories is that it tends to level the playing field. In my experience “missional” stories tend to sound quite a bit like the stories we hear at other churches; missional, non-missional, mega, house, mainline, you name it. Everyone has stories. God is at work in (and out of) every context.

    And therein lies the problem. If emergent folks and missional folks can’t be distinctive then they won’t sell books. It’s easier to be distinctive if you remain in the realm of theory.

    How’s that for cynical?

    Maybe if we stick to telling stories we all end up back at the same table together, affirming one another and learning from one another. That could be cool.

  8. I’m not sure it’s cynical, just accurate.

    I sat at the table and heard stories from folk who may not be on the exact same theological page as me – but I learned more from them than they did from me. ‘Twas a God thing, I dare say,

    Great comment, Jason. Thank you.

  9. Jason and Bill,

    I know for me, it doesn’t matter if a church is a megachurch, organic church or anything in between. What matters to me if a church claims to be missional (or a leader) then there is joy in hearing various stories from them of what recent adventures have occurred while on mission (no matter what size or type or denomination). We can all learn in rejoice in what others are actively doing.

  10. Bill, you’re a cool dude. I’ll be hanging out here more often. Thanks for the shoutouts – sorry it took me so long to get to you. I’m trying to vacation, and it’s a discipline I’m not very good at.

    I think it’s important to have genuine relationships with those outside our church walls. I think Dan makes real sense in reorienting us BACK to the heart of missional evangelism: relationship.

    But I also think it’s important we don’t begin “counting” our non-Christian friends or non-Christian conversations like honor badges or points. If we aren’t careful, I fear we’ll start scoring points for conversations – like we used to (or still do) for salvations – walking someone through the Sinners Prayer.

    Now frankly, if we’re GOING to be handing out points, I’d rather do it for conversations than for salvations because it doesn’t put pressure on us to “close the deal.” But it’s still the same tune – same song.

    Talking about real-life relationships is a vital part of contextualizing and GROUNDING evangelistic/missional activities. Hopefully, it keeps us real. BUT if we start requiring such stories to validate each other’s opinions, then we’re doing the same thing as handpicking Scriptures to topically back our pre-existing agendas. We’re USING (and possibly abusing) real folks for religious fodder.

    I still like what Dan is talking about – it focuses our attention outward. But let’s not go so far as to “prove ourselves” by using folks who deserve to exist in relationships with us – not sound-bytes for us.

  11. i guess jesus washing feet is a poor leadership example?

  12. Peter,
    One of the saddest stories I ever heard was of a man who placed squash with three non-Christian friends. When someone asked him whether he’d still play squash with them if he knew they would never became believers, he stopped and thought for a moment, and then said, “no, I wouldn’t.” Rather than loving our neighbours no matter what the outcome, too many of us want to do it from a transactional stand point. “I will have relationship with you for X amount of time, and if you don’t become a believer in that time, I will then move on.”

    The stories we need to tell are of ongoing relationship, in my not humble opinion. It’s not about a one time “missional engagement” – and I’m sure that’s not what Dan is saying. It’s about moving back into the neighbourhood and being a good neighbour – laughing with the joyous, weeping with the sad – offering and recieving hospitality – always willing to give a reason for our hope but never suggesting that unless you cross this line, I can’t remain your friend. We must see people as Eikons – image bearers – however cracked, rather than as projects.

    Great to have you commenting here, Peter.

  13. Bill I resonate with the question you finish with. ‘Do we smoke what we sell’? is one way I like to phrase it.

    I tire of talk about how church should be by people not engaged in church communities back at home.

    And I’m not talking about formal institutional church, just any kind of real community, engaged in mission, something other than traveling and talking about mission.

    And I say that with regards to the question you raised and not speaking directly to anyone on the panel, many of whom I don’t know their personal church context.

    But your question would be in my mind if I was listening to them.

    I do know Dan a little, and MaryKate much more, and the connection and commitment to embodied church, helps me listen to them more.

  14. I agree. I don’t need care about theories or ideas anymore. Let’s see it in action. I’m interested in the stories. I am afraid the whole missional conversation will be just that … a conversation. It’s time to put feet on the gospel of the kingdom by living it out and watching what God does in the lives of the people we connect with.

    Thanks for saying what I’ve wanted to scream. I don’t think you’re a curmudgeon at all. – unless I’m one too… 🙂


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