Sunday, November 11, 2007

Questions, Hopes and Wonderings from Junaluska

Susan Cox-Johnson has been blogging from the first ever gathering of bishops, cabinets and extended cabinets from across the connection.

All three of her posts (so far) are well worth the read. The title of this post here links back to her third post from today (Sunday). She offers the signs of hope and melancholy she sees, and then asks some great questions.

Here are some of them:

Doubt: Can 847 mostly gray haired over 55 types really do what it takes to change when we are all so entrenched in the "system?" Is there a way that we can listen better? How can a church that is so shaped by modernity find its way out of one paradigm and into another? Can it? Those who are willing to lose their lives will find them. The test of any of us at any time: Are we willing to give up who we are for who we may become?

I have some ideas about some of her questions, which I'll put into the comments, below.

But don't just listen to me. Offer your further questions, answers, postulates, and struggles as well.

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards

1 comment:

journeyman37 said...

Right now I live inside the institution at GBOD. And in my previous ministry, a lot of what I did was to take on the role of a community organizer trained in Asset Based Community Development.

Mike Green was one of my trainers in that work. I have found his handouts on the relationships of institutions, associations, agencies , and citizen movements to be a really helpful tool in thinking through these things.

I offer these responses from both of those perspectives-- as bureaucrat and community organizer-- as eye opening or blinding as either may be.

So to be perhaps too bold to answer your first doubt-- I believe the answer is a resounding NO, if by "do what it takes to change" means that the institution thinks it can MAKE the changes happen ELSEWHERE. Support them, maybe. Make them happen-- no.

Unfortunately, that's often what the institution thinks-- that IT can make the changes that will directly cause better things to happen. Institution as Savior! If Nashville gets it right, we all will!

The answer is also NO if the institution tries to pretend it is a movement or to present itself as if it is. It's not. It can't be.

That the institution is not a movement is not a problem-- just a basic reality. The institution is an institution. It can do "institutiony" things quite well-- things having to do with stability, meta-structure, fiscal accountability, and resourcing (financial, curricular, and material).

It cannot make disciples, though, or make them grow in holiness, or send them and support them in mission (well, it can for a very few specialists, but that's not what we're after is it?), or surround them with a missional community. That's what a movement does. And that's not us in the institution.

The answer moves closer to YES if the institution starts listening for signs of the kingdom of God already at work, for signs of movement present and emerging, and rather than trying to control them, organize them or "take care" of them (for good or for ill!) decides instead to ASK THEM how it can SERVE them. And then actually delivers on the offer-- rather than making those "served" into its servants.

The institution (whether an established congregation, a DS, Conference staff, bishops, denominational bureaucrats such as myself) often lives with the illusion that it can "build the kingdom." It can't. It shouldn't try. God does that. It tries and often ends up like the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

And partly because our modernist impulses tell us in the institution that we SHOULD be able to transform the world ourselves. Modernism and atheism are very close allies.

God is faithful. God's kingdom is happening, all the time, everywhere. The mustard weed can spread anywhere the soil is tilled just enough to let it in. Sometimes even where it isn't! We have people to care for, sheep all around us, even if they're not in "our flock." The good shepherd invites and expects all of us-- inside or outside the institution-- to offer that intimate care for them all in every way we can. But that's a personal thing, a group thing, and usually (though not always) not primarily an institutional thing.

"Those who are willing to lose their lives will find them." Indeed. As I read and ponder that teaching and it application here, the "life" we need to "lose" in the institution is NOT being an institution-- but rather being in charge and throwing our weight around to get our own way for our own institutional ends. To the degree that our institutional "life" is directed consciously or unconsciously by these ends-- yes, we must lose that, that must die.

Losing that kind of "life" may well open us to the life happening all around us, that we miss, that we ignore, that we do not see, like Lazarus at the door.

And maybe it thereby opens us to see what we, as institutions, can do that actually SERVES the people and the movements that are in mission.

It's not that we don't try to do that as it is, of course. We do. And sometimes we succeed.

But I think we're all aware that our corporate cultures throughout our systems are much more driven by a desire to control rather than to tend, to direct rather than serve.

That's the habit we have to break. And we'll likely have to break it by acting our way into a new paradigm-- not by waiting for our institutional leadership to come up with the next big plan to make everything right.

What do you or others think?

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards