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Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Rising from the Ashes - Week 3
This week we continue our discussion of Becky Garrison's Rising from the Ashes. Given the nature of the book as being interviews from a wide variety of people, it is full of various and sometimes contradictory perspectives. But one theme that I found repeated from interview to interview was that of the need for accountability for the church. There seemed to be concern that new expressions of church (like emerging churches) might be prone to dangers because of a lack of structural accountability. Here are a few quotes that address this issue -

Phyllis Tickle - "One of the things emergent has to do, and do soon, is provide some kind of seminary education, instead of simply having people lay hands on someone and say, "You're now a pastor," or having someone set up a blog with a green leaf logo and decide to regard themselves a pastor. Another question has to do with accountability. Some of the gatherings have pastors who may or may not be a tentmaker, that is, who may be making their living elsewhere. If people only have accountability within their own group of thirty or so folk, there's the potential for going off into idiosyncratic theology and/or into a cult of personality." (p. 4)

Martha Grace Reese - "Any time there's some rapidly growing ministry, there are all sorts of contentions, struggles, distractions, confusions, crashes, and burnouts. We all need accountability." (p.14)

- Do you see this same danger/need for emerging churches?
- How do you see such a structure of accountability logistically working?
- Do you think this concern might be greater for those from a high church background as compared to those more familiar with low church structures?
- what sort of accountability do you see existing already in new and emerging churches?

One suggestion that seemed to be a common theme as well was to retain accountability but avoid hierarchy. Many of the voices called for stronger lay leadership and flattened authority -

Isaac Everett - "I love the Episcopal Church and it's been very formative for me over the years, but I'm not entirely comfortable with the hierarchical structures of authority and the way those power dynamics affect the church's culture. Liturgy tends to be very clergy-centric, and the laity are mostly passive during worship. A lot of people out there have become so distrustful of institutions that they have no desire to sit quietly in a pew and listen to an elite authority figure define truth for them. we don't trust the government, we don't trust corporations - why should we trust the church?" (p. 68)

Brian McLaren - "What I think will happen in this emerging church phenomenon is that we'll find a blurring of boundaries so that old hierarchies and institutions are actually part of emerging networks - they're networked in. As a result, everybody has the capacity to learn from, influence, and enrich everybody." (p. 86)

- How do you react to the idea of flattened or horizontal leadership in churches?
- Do you think such a leadership structure would solve problems or cause more problems?
- How do you see such a structure aiding accountability?

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posted by Julie at 4:30 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 1/16/2008 01:50:00 PM, Anonymous Adam Moore

    Tickle's comment sounds like a move towards an "emerging" denomination. I don't think very many people want that...or do they? What's wrong with the seminaries already out there? Do we really need to create our own?

  • At 1/16/2008 07:00:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Kwon

    Adam, point well taken. I agree -- I do not favor creating an emerging denomination or emerging seminaries -- I think the minute you fully institutionalize anything, you kill it, or begin its demise. I also hear Tickle's concern of developing communities isolated from a broader Christian Body and led by a personality in an unhealthy way.

    There's a lot of discussion in the book about networks, and I think accountability can be found here for those who want to be accountable. Of course some would rather not be accountable.

    I also hope there is a difference between accountability and control. I see accountability as open growth in connection with others who know you.

  • At 1/16/2008 09:47:00 PM, Blogger Deb

    1. The "seminary" question: Honestly, there is a base of Bible knowledge that you need. You need to understand the big picture behind the Bible. You need to have at least a smattering of church history and biblical history. You need to know how to do solid exegesis, first from just observing the text, then learning how to use language tools (I am not convinced that all the years of Greek and Hebrew make a big difference with the research tools at my fingertips. But whatever.) But do we need an "emerging" seminary? Nah. We just need professors who are willing to admit that old forms and practices are NOT WORKING to reach a jaded Western audience and to support those of us who are examining and questioning them.

    And, quite honestly, some of the bad writing and preaching done in "emergent" churches is because the pastors/founders did not have any Bible background other than warming a pew in fundamentalist churches and deciding there had to be more.

    2. Accountability in leadership.
    There has to be. There really is not a choice on this.

    Human nature being what it is, the visionary and idealist will resort to browbeating others into their ideas, or manipulating them. I've seen it happen at least twice in the last 15 years. Once I was an observer. Once I was a staff member. Fortunately, in the place where I am now it is NOT that way.

    There needs to be some kind of accountability, but the emergent church is typically staff-driven, staff-led. If there is no overseeing group, (i.e. umbrella group) then there needs to be someone around the staff who speak honestly and thoughtfully to them.

    Every class I have had in seminary has talked about accountability, having a network of people who are beside you (peers), ahead of you (mentors) and behind you (protegees.) As a woman, I have not found many women with many years experience in the emergent growth movement. That's my dream... to find and connect with someone who is.

    McLaren talks about everyone influencing, learning from and enriching everyone else. I think that is a worthy, but unmet reality. Some voices are not heard because they are not pretty enough or marketed enough. It is still a disproportionately white male voice speaking, even in the emergent church.


  • At 1/17/2008 12:26:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    I'm not a fan of Emergent becoming a denomination, but I think there would be a place for an emerging friendly seminary. Most seminaries fall into the conservative evangelical/reformed or the liberal camps. The conservatives hate the emergents and ridicule the new ideas and the liberals have never heard of us. I think it would be great to have access to an education that takes the emergent middle ground, is open to new ways of doing church, and allows for the exploration of all sorts of knowledge. It isn't something that has to be emerging/emergent just open to that way of coming at ones faith.

    And Deb - I am right there with you on wishing there were more women mentors in the emerging church.

  • At 1/17/2008 05:48:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Kwon

    What you said, Julie. I am encouraged to say quite a few people at the (semi-liberal) Seminaries where I've taken class were at least somewhat conversant with Emerging ideas.

  • At 1/17/2008 08:32:00 PM, Anonymous Becky

    Jemila - I went to my alma mater (Yale Divinity School) back in 2005 for the Emergent Village Theological Discussion. While I'm pleased they hosted this conversation, my subsequent interactions (and feedback I've received from others) indicates that the emerging ethos hasn't taken hold - it's the all talk and no action scenario if you get my drift.

    I have heard from others that Harvard has a more emerging focus and am glad to hear from you that other seminaries are following suit. Here's hoping YDS may start walking one of these days.

    Deb - your comments on accountability are spot on. I have an informal network of fellow writers, who love me enough to call me on the carpet and keep me honest. Without this network, I know I'd go off the rails.

    Here's an article I did for the Ooze titled "Too Cool to be Christian" (http://www.theooze.com/articles/article.cfm?id=1803) that reflected on some of my concerns around the issue of accountability or the lack thereof.

  • At 1/18/2008 09:45:00 AM, Blogger Linnea

    Hi all,
    Great conversation about Becky's book...I"m just working through it and love hearing the many different voices she brought together.
    I've been coaching church leaders in some form or another for over 12years now, and most recently formed Deep Shift with Denise VanEck out of my work with Brian McLaren. I'm thrilled with the fact that Emergent is questioning and shifting the theological framework for the church today. So many churches, especially mainline, that I work with often aren't even sure which Jesus they follow...haven't asked the question for a long time.
    I do agree that the Accountability shift is so needed in our own lives, lives of leaders, lives of communities. Again, I want to share my experience that the non-emergent churches I've worked with basically agree that they don't have any accountability either. Leaders don't hold other leaders accountable to behaviors that align with mission/vision; very few hold people accountable for acting out in unchristian ways including basic disrespect of their fellow parishioners...and I could go on. As we've seen over and over again with the catholics and methodist and others, pastors aren't often held fully accountabale for their behaviors...we just move them to another congregation.

    So, I agree there needs to be more accountability for all of us...and I know that the structures of the day aren't doing a good job of it either, and "institutions" don't ensure accountability.

    Such a journey...thanks for stirring up good convo with your book Becky!
    peace, Linnea (Nilsen Capshaw, for those who don't know me, www.deepshift.org)


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