Sunday, January 28, 2007

an open source teaching on spiritual accompaniment

i've been thinking a lot about evangelism/outreach/proselytizing/whatever you want to call it because in two weeks i am slated to teach on this topic and i need to get my shit together. okay, i confess that is not the only reason i've been thinking about it. i am also quite concerned that sinners and saints as well as the majority of churches and communities that are a part of the emergent conversation* are fairly clueless and/or ineffective at introducing people to the way of Jesus.

anyway, since i am teaching on this topic, which i've taken to calling "spiritual accompaniment," in two weeks and since i am also committed to miah's axiom that "all of us are smarter than any of us" i would like for you to offer your opinions, enter into dialog and explore this essential practice of the christian faith with me so that the community of God will actually benefit from my/our collaborative teaching.

are you willing to enter into this process with me? i hope so. in order to facilitate the discussion i am going to organize my thoughts under the following headings, what i'm reading, what i'm thinking, what others are saying and what do you think?. please not that this conversation is open to anyone and everyone...i am interested to hear what christians who are more conservative/traditional than me think, i am interested in what people who do not follow Jesus have to think, i'm even interested in what the authors of scripture had the gall to think. so, dear friends, if you're interested in this conversation and have something to add please do not censor yourself or hesitate to speak.

i'm really excited about this open source idea and i hope you are too. here we go...

what i'm reading

  • our journey home, by jean vanier. i started this volume, which i had failed to complete in the past, in hopes that jean, who is the founder of l'arche, would have something to say about my new work with those who have ability and are seeking employment. although, up to this point anyway, this book is more of an exploration in spiritual development for those who are longing for maturity and fecundity** i think that it will help me in a general sense.

  • hannah coulter, by wendell berry. this is another volume in berry's fantastic port william cycle of novels. these novels celebrate the simple, yet beautiful lives of reflective individuals, the importance of "membership" in one's community and the essential role "place" plays in the meaning of one's existence. i really enjoyed jayber crow, another volume in this series, so i decided to give this book a shot. it has yet to disappoint.

  • five streams of the emerging church, a CT article by eminent theologian and friend of emergent scott mcknight. in this article, scott fashioned my fear concerning our church's apparently inadequate approach to evangelism into words. i'd say more, but i've provided an excerpt below

what i'm thinking

i suspect that it is time for us to set aside the term "evangelism." i don't know about you, but for me this term brings to mind fear-based dawson mcallister altar calls, late night church camp viewings of a thief in the night and the hilarious encounters my friends fletch and tuxedo ken have recently had with street preachers. i am not interested in introducing people to Jesus as a proposition as much as a person and i suspect that one is not saved by believing certain propositions about Jesus but by living incarnationally in the way of my Lord. so i've started to talk about the practice of introducing people to Jesus as spiritual accompaniment. for me, the latter term implies an approach that is more focused on partnering with people, listening to them and, God-willing, helping them to see the places that God is intersecting with their ordinary lives than it is upon convincing them that they've broken the ten commandments and are going to see a gory movie of their lives in heaven before they are quickly shuttled to hell for not saying the right things about Christ.

that being said, i don't think that spiritual accompaniment is a practice that simply focuses on spiritual conversations. i think that spiritual conversations are good and we need to listen to people's stories without judgment and with real interest (i.e., not just looking for a crack under which we can pour the blood of Jesus). however, i think it is also important for those of us who follow Jesus to remember that we believe the way of Jesus is the most good, beautiful and true way to live now and in the fullness of the Kingdom that is to come. my friend tim hawkins recently told me that he hated a certain, well-known "emergentee" book because he thought it had encouraged young people to see initiating spiritual conversation as almost an end in and of itself. tim - and he can correct me here if i am wrong - thinks it is important for believers to have open, authentic spiritual conversations with people without giving up hope that all will be intrigued with and perhaps even decide to walk in the way of Jesus. i think tim is onto something here. merely having spiritual conversations is not enough. as my friend rags would say, we need to enter into spiritual conversation and the way of Jesus with the end in mind. or maybe that was steven covey who said that...i always get those success oriented mormons and ozark christian college professors confused.

one last divergent thought, i think that it is important for churches to create a culture of life into which prospective Christ followers will be welcomed and nurtured and out of which these believers will bless and serve the world. as i mentioned to my buddies at the s & s men's breakfast on sunday, i suspect that the existence of such an inclusive, well-defined culture is one of the reasons that so many people are drawn to mega-churches. i don't think people want to be a part of all-encompassing institutions that tell them exactly how to think, act and believe, but i also do not think that a group that is dedicated simply to spiritual conversation and artistic/intellectual expression are cohesive enough to offer people a since of belonging. so i think that s & s and many churches like us would benefit from giving due considerations to the following questions: what kind of culture is our church creating? what is the purpose of our church culture? what are the intended and unintended consequences of this culture that we have created?

what i've found

here's that statement from mcknight's article that i found so intriguing:

"This emerging ambivalence about who is in and who is out creates a serious problem for evangelism. The emerging movement is not known for it, but I wish it were. Unless you proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, there is no good news at all—and if there is no Good News, then there is no Christianity, emerging or evangelical.

Personally, I'm an evangelist. Not so much the tract-toting, door-knocking kind, but the Jesus-talking and Jesus-teaching kind. I spend time praying in my office before class and pondering about how to teach in order to bring home the message of the gospel.

So I offer here a warning to the emerging movement: Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe, and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitments clear, but we must always keep the proper goal in mind: summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God."

in becoming human vanier has a number of fascinating things to say about the exercise of authority. a topic which is more than fitting for church leaders to consider. here are a few excerpts:

"At L'Arche I have discovered two kinds of authority: an authority which imposes, dominates and controls; and an authority which accompanies, listens, liberates, empowers, gives people confidence in themselves and calls them to be aware of their responsibilities (pg. 110)."

"True authority does not seek to impose an ideal, but rather to guide reality towards an attainable and possible end. It does not impose, it guides (115)."

what do you think?

do you think that we should set aside the term "evangelism?" what would be the potential benefits and/or weaknesses of doing or failing to do so?

what does the mega-church movement and main-stream evangelicalism have to teach emerging communities about evangelism/outreach/spiritual accompaniment?

what are the negative consequences of the traditional approaches to evangelism that emerging communities should avoid?

do you share scott mcknight's fear concerning emergent communities and evangelism? why or why not?

is there any other reflections you would like to offer?

what color is miss lippy's car anyway?

* read that last part again. emergent is a CONVERSATION. not a movement, a potential denomination, a threat to traditional evangelicalism or even an ekklesia of mega-church haters, but simply a conversation between those who are committed to innovative theology, evolutionary missiology and the ascendancy of the democratic party.

jean uses this french word all the time to speak of the fruitfulness and life giving potential of one's existence. i think that it is a strange, yet beautiful word, even if it was coined by the dirty french.


g13 said...

um, i promise not all of the open source teaching posts will be this long. i think that the fact i haven't posted a while as well as the desire to introduce this series resulted in this ridiculously long post. my apologies.

Agent B said...

Thanks for that definition on emergent (being a conversation, etc) in that first star *.

With that being the definition, I think I can safely say that I will be a willing participant in that conversation.

Now I will read the rest of this long-ass post.

monts said...

okay, so i haven't read all of this yet, but i had a thought and think it's better to post it now before i forget:

i think before we can talk about evangelism we have to first ask ourselves 'what is the gospel?' because otherwise our evangelism will only fit into a niche and in a sense not be "true evangelism."

if the assertion is correct that paul presents us with over 50 different "gospels" or 50 different strains of the what the good news is, then to not explore that would seriously reduce the gospel leaving our evangelistic efforts shallow and one-dimensional

hawk said...

This is a topic I've given much consideration to, though, I can't say I have reached a conclusion.

I want to add one thought to the conversation that has to do with the authority and sovereignty of God in being the author of the gospel.

I say sovereign not in a predestined idea concerning salvation, but in the idea of God's creation. He cares more about seeing people whole, reconciled, redeemed, atoned, justified, sanctified and saved (I'm sure I'm missing a few) than any one of us who might consider ourselves friends of the gosepl.

I believe, this is where our propositional problems begin. We sense a need to formulate, convince, and sometimes contrive in order to get someone "in" we label "in".

Walter Brueggemann's book, Text's Under Negotiation has probably been very influential on me here.

I do believe that systematic theology is in need of deconstruction. That what we leave out...what has been pushed to the margins...what does not fit our soteriology says a lot, not about the gospel, but about what we believe the gospel says.

I have come to think of evangelism in a simplistic way: make friends and brag about God. This is not an order, system, scheme or evangelistic strategy, but a way of life.

Ultimately, transformation happens when someone knows Jesus. A tree is known by its fruit...not by the marker placed by a well meaning conservationist...even if he is an expert in the field.

g13 said...

wow, a lot of good stuff already. thank you for reading my long-ass post.

agent b - i'm glad you like the definition, but i can't claim ownership of it. that one comes straight from the blessed lips of tony jones.

aaron - why do you have to go and confound my conceptions? damn you! if we're trying to move towards an understanding of what the gospel means i think the place to start is LK 4:18-19, where Jesus describes his ministry in light of IS. 61:1-2. from there, of course, things get quite expansive. which leads me towards a response to tim.

hawk - i really resonate with your picture of God, in His sovereignty, envisioning and working for the wholeness of all creation. surely if we consider God's expansive desire for reconciliation and recreation of all things - i'm thinking in terms of Rom. 8 here - then the limitations of our systematic theologies, which by their nature reduce our conceptions for pedagogical purposes, become readily apparent. i like the pithy statement concerning ministry that you and sojourn use. however, i suspect if i was writing it, i'd have to admit that more often than not my statement would read "creating conflict and bitching about God." i suppose that the latter statement of mission would not be without purpose, but still...

one programming note. unfortunately i will not be able to respond to comments tomorrow during the work day. however, i will do my best to respond to comments after work.

thank you for sharing the journey!

Agent B said...


Damn, I don't know.

I always felt better when "evangelizing" meant doing things as opposed to verbalizing.

But that's just because I was always better at doing stuff and suck at talking or explaining or, god forbid, debating.

I don't know. Maybe just cleaning out the elderly's potty chairs because it needs to be done.

But then there's that "go make disciples" and "share the good news" part...and that sounds like verbalizing to me.

Don't know if that adds anything.

Jacob Paul Breeze said...

Hello, and thanks for the open invitation. I think of Acts 17.7 (they are defying all Caesar's decrees, saying there's another King named Jesus) vis-a-vis defining "evangelism" and "gospel", not least because of the Roman Empire's usage of euangellion for Caesar. The Kingship of Jesus makes me think, categorically, of citizenship and ambassadors as well...would this at least be a schema to think through the issue with?

Like others, it's hard not to want to look to Romans 8's picture of Creation Restored. Before I followed Jesus, I remember perceiving "Salvation" as escapism, (probably better: Gnosticism). I'm thinking of Salvation with a much larger scope these days.

I resonate with what agent b is saying about the bifurcation between words and actions. Is there room for a conversation about incarnational symbolic praxis? If we're agents of God's restorative healing for the whole world, is "evangelism" discriminated to our interaction with humanity? If so, why? If not, why not? Is it humans first IN ORDER to restore other components of Creation?

simkins said...

I can't believe you already have 7 comments on the board and no one has yet capitalized on the opportunity to announce that Miss Lippy's car, is in fact, green.

Beyond that however, I find that when I'm mulling over the term evangelism ,I find that a concrete definition is hard to wrap my fingers around. It's difficult for me to decide if it should be set aside or not if I'm not sure what I'm talking about.

From what I read here, it seems that Jeff is setting up a diametric between traditional evangelism and the emergent conversation. Here's what I'm thinking, (since you asked)

Grenz defines evangelism in a four fold way. 1. proclamation and 2. presence. 3. disciple making and 4. prayer.

1.Evangelism through Proclamation being a pronouncement, in light of Mark 16:15 which simply commands "Go into all the world and preach the good news." It is a proclamation of how God has intervened in history to liberate us from death.

2.Evangelism through Presence being the life of the escatalogical community as it plays out in the world that we live in.

3. Evangelism through disciple making. Borne directly from great commission, we are to teach and preach and make disciples, Christ followers if you will, and not just converts who've said the right words in a moment of religious ecstasy.

4. Evangelism through prayer. How often we presume that we actually have any power whatsoever to convert people, or to pursue them on the King's behalf? The Spirt, the Counselor, the still small whisper in the dark night of the soul . . . it is that presence that forever changes hearts. It would seem that we overlook our greatest tool in evangelism when we overlook prayer and the opportunity to invite the Spirit into our pathetic efforts at explaining the unexplainable.

What I find intersting as I think through these four "divisions" of evangelism is that I can pretty clearly peg which arms of the church champion each one. I can place the fundamentalists, the mega's, and the emergents in their respective evangelical catagories without to much trouble.

This leads me to say that I don't think that the term "evangelism" is in and of itself destructive. I think that incomplete views of evangelism, however, are. Balance, as in all things, is key.

Where are we left if we can own a theology of evangelism that successfully encompasses the entirety the four? What if the conversation wasn't "x" or "y" but both "x" and "y" (or in this case "a" and "b" as well.)?

Sorry this is roughly written, I just wanted to get it down. Looking forward to the conversation.


agent wife said...

All I know is that in my religious upbringing and in our religious society evangelism seems to be emphasized more than anything. There is this fierce pressure to make the numbers increase. Christ said the most important commandments are to love God and others, but most of us "christians" act like he made a mistake and meant that evangelism was first and foremost. Love is so illusive, so sacrificial. Evangelism works better on a to-do list: witnessed? handed out tracks? At least the evangelism I've heard of through religion.

g13 said...

thanks to everyone who read this long ass post and entered into the conversation. throughout the day, as i thought about the post and checked my gmail to read the comments, i could not help but think how an "open source" approach to this teaching is so utterly different than my previous approaches to teaching. i really believe that when i stand in front of the gathering and s & s in a couple of weeks to talk about spiritual accompaniment, i will not be bringing my own wisdom to share and knowledge to bear upon the assembled, but i will be sharing with them the collective wisdom and reflections of this weird little "community" in hope that the message of Christ and His Kingdom might be proclaimed, lived and incarnated in powerful ways. from my perspective, cooperative, collaborative approaches to information gathering, analysis, synthesis and application beat the living hell out of individual study. so yeah, "cooperation, not competition" that's your rear-entry gentry mantra for the day.

breeze - thank you for stopping by. i think that the fact that euangelion was used to herald the news of the Caesar/Emperor/Pimp o' the Palatine Hill is instructive, especially when you think about the diversity of messages that those heralds brought (i.e., birth announcements, news about battles, coronations, edicts, etc.). thank you for broadening our understanding all the more.

simkins - thank you for bringing grenz into the conversation. i didn't mean to present emergent as diametric to evangelism, so much as to suggest that at a number of points people involved in the conversation seem to be indifferent. i've already marked that passage in theology for the community and will read it as soon as i get beyond my prep for thursday night. i really like the focus on evangelism as prayer. in my life, i'm pretty sure that the most remarkable turnings to the way of Jesus that i've ever seen were the direct result of prayer. why i continue in abject prayerlessness, and am generally unrepentant of such failure, is is a great mystery to me. you always add so many dimenions to whatever conversation you enter b. i can't thank you enough for looking beyond my sleights as a bible college freshman and becoming a dear friend.

agent wife - "love is so illusive and sacrificial indeed." your phrase brought to mind one of the final phrases in norman maclean's a river runs through it: "it is those we live with and love and should know who elude us." that statement has always haunted meer.

i am going to resist the temptation to thrash up another open source post tonight. all of this conversation has led me down a number of rabbit trails and i need to figure out which ones might be worth pursuing and, most likely, plow through this rather full week before posting on this topic again.

of course, that doesn't mean the conversation has to end...for more grist, check out fletch and agent b's sites. much love.

monts said...

simkins, thanks for bringing grenz up! i appreciate the prayer strain--quite often myself i forget about the power of prayer, especially as it relates to evangelism... much food for thought.

gentry, i'm diggin' the thought of spiritual accompaniment as it relates to evangelism... especially if you take into consideration much of what happened throughout the gospels. it was people who joined in--not through a prayer, not through anything really but joining in with the movement... however, this really has to dig at the seeker-sensitive/traditional/modernistic church model where they must be able to verify/validate the conversion experience---i know it rubs at me.

but maybe that's the thought behind the emerging conversation--it can't be clear-cut, and it's going to be really messy.

Messianic Gentile said...

I linked here from agent B, and I find a very thoughtful and thoughtprovoking post and dialog. I have come into maybe four conversations on the web about evangelism in the last two weeks. I am not that pervasive a web surfer, so I figure the moon and the tides have the natives restless on this issue for some reason. Everyone is talking about it.

I am impressed with your reading list. I have a lot of thoughts of my own, but I will just recommend one more short book: What Saint Paul Really Said, by N.T. Wright.

It is a brief book but packs a punch. The Gospel, he says, is the Royal announcement that "Jesus is Lord!" Nothing more or less. And Paul criscrosses the Roman Empire confronting it with the message that there is someone else in charge other than Caesar.

Many blessings... said...

At least as far as the discipleship process being an aspect of evangelism these are some of beliefs that I have been moving mental furniture into over the past couple of years. Jesus went out and did what he did - he talked, did some miracles and along the way a bunch of people started to follow but with a very few, he asks them to follow. (This may hint at why we evangelize the way we do - if your not performing miracles and an original/good speaker then you will probably resort to convincing people to follow you.) Of those that he asks there's a wide range, from militant extremists to crooked government bureaucrats and even a few upstanding citizens. So after he has these people following him he very quickly starts to give them responsibility. A little while later he sends out a bunch to do the same sorts of things that he's been doing - spread the word, heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead. Now here's what twists my noodle. It's not until after he has sent out the 70 and the 12 that he asks - and he asks only the 12 mind you - "who do you think I am?" He gave them all that authority, authority to raise the dead!, and he didn't nail them down on the most basic of doctrines first. Another indication of how Gods generosity goes above and beyond the call is that this same authority was given to Judas even though he "knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him." What a generous God that we should have such access before we even really know him. It has left me thinking that, at least in part, maybe the way we know him and are able to say "you are the Christ" is by going out and doing the things he does. Ok, so now if I could just raise a few people from the dead... : )

Mike said...

i think that any attempt to define evangelism, esp by using Christ and/or the disciples as models that does not greatly depend on the understanding that Christ was introducing the Kingdom of God, to God's people first (the jews of the time) and later to the Gentiles - if it fails to comprehend this i think it fails.

the 70 were sent out to the jews (presumably) to announce that the Kingdom was breaking into this age. that is a far different message than turn or burn.