Friday, September 28, 2007

An Ancient Church Tradition

While attending the Ancient Future Community Group Life Conference at Willow Creek, I had the opportunity to participate in a spiritual tradition that is both ancient and present (and hopefully will be future). Amy and Judge Reinhold led a breakout session on contemplative prayer, actually a presentation and demonstration of lectio divina or "sacred reading" of scripture that incorporates periods of silence to listen to what God might be saying to us through a text. This was not a new practice for me, but the testimony provided by this couple of the impact it had made on their small group (at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles) and their own lives was inspiring. The Bible has actually become the agenda of their small group.

The simple truth of their presentation is that reading and meditating on the Bible can make a difference in people's lives. Many of us come from a tradition that says it values Scripture but that actually tends to ignore it. Episcopalians use more Bible reading in their worship than any Baptist church does! In Bible study, we often talk about ourselves and our needs more than we talk about the Bible. If we really want to be traditional, let's read the Bible more!

God, help us to listen for your voice in our busy lives!

Monday, September 24, 2007


Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by a couple who do mission work in a very challenging part of the world. There are perhaps a 100 believers in the people group with whom they work and no indigenous churches. They were very candid in saying that they did not have any "warm fuzzy" success stories to share, but they provided some great insights into the strategy they are using to reach people and plant churches in a difficult environment.

Although they are working to develop relationships with people through a specific platform that will give entree into the society, their goal is developing house churches that are indigenous, organic, and reproducible. There was a good time of discussion in response to the question "What might not be reproducible?" in a church located in a non-western, resource poor area. We talked about how a perceived need for credentialed clergy, printed literature, and buildings could hamper church growth in their situation. Becoming dependent on resources that are not readily available in that context could kill an indigenous church movement.

The key question they asked was, "Do we really believe that the Word of God and the Spirit of God are adequate to plant and grow and church?" This is a good question both in the culture where this missionary couple work and in our own. Are we so dependent on programs and expensive resources that we continually need a new "fix" to keep our churches going? Is it possible that we have neglected the Word of God and the Spirit of God in starting and growing churches?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Starfish and the Spider

I have always been interested in the way that organizations function. There is a new organizational phenomenon among us, one that I hesitate even to call an "organization." This is the decentralized structure exemplified by Napster, Wikipedia, or even the Internet itself.

Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom have written a book entitled The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations that gives a very informal but insightful introduction to this type of structure.

The key to this book is understanding the difference between a starfish and a spider. A spider has a head. If you cut it off, the spider dies. If you cut off a leg, it’s gone; it doesn’t grow back. A starfish does not have a head. If you cut off a leg, it will grow another one. If you cut it in half, you will have two starfish. A spider is a centralized system. A starfish is a decentralized system.

In spider companies, power and knowledge are concentrated at the top. In starfish organizations, power is spread throughout. Contrary to the title of the book, decentralized organizations do have leaders, but they are not traditional leaders. Spider organizations have a head or “president” who is in control. Starfish organizations (at least initially) have a catalyst who promotes chaos.

Key principles of the book are:
1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized.
2. It’s easy to mistake starfish for spiders.
3. An open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system.
4. Open systems can easily mutate.
5. The decentralized organization sneaks up on you.
6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease.
7. Put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contribute.
8. When attacked, centralized organizations tend to become even more centralized.

How can we make the best use of this approach to structure in the mission of the church? What does this say about the way that a "denomination-like" entity such as CBF should operate? I will attempt to unpack some of that in future blogs, but I welcome your input (that's part of the decentralized approach!)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Respect for the Uniform

As I listened to a profile of General David H. Petraeus on NPR today, I was reminded again of how much I respect the men and women who were the military uniform of our country. I supposed this goes back to 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower ran for president on the Republican ticket and my parents, lifelong Democrats, voted for him. They felt that Eisenhower, as the supreme military commander in Europe during WW II, was a hero, a man of integrity who had proven himself in the service of his country.

I have a great of respect for men like Colin Powell, Wes Clark, John McCain, Jimmy Carter, John Kennedy, and others who have held command and then continued to serve their country in other ways. I respect and honor the men and women who serve in our armed forces today. They have various motivations for their decisions to become part of the military, but they all place their lives on the line on behalf of other Americans. They endure hardship so that the rest of us can avoid it.

I have worn the uniform, and it was by choice not chance. Making that choice resulted in a tour of duty in Vietnam, a military exercise that continues to divide and trouble our nation. I served not because I thought that Vietnam was a "just war" (that's a subject for another time), but because I had taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. I followed through on my commitment, even if it was unpleasant and inconvenient. Others made greater sacrifices in that war even to the point of giving their lives. I knew some of them.

Although we live in a democracy (or more technically a "democratic republic"), we must remember that the military is not a democracy. I think we can make a case that for many it is a meritocracy and has offered opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. Military leaders are not democratically elected with but one exception--the President, the commander-in-chief. The president is the commander of all armed forces. In our system of government, the military is ultimately under civilian control. We don't elect our generals, but we do elect our President, who then selects civilians to serve as Secretary of Defense and of each military service. The generals recommend and then carry out the orders given to them. I think I would prefer that our President be someone who has worn the uniform and, even more to the point, one who has served in a real war. I think such a person would be less inclined to commit young men and women to battle when diplomacy and economic coercion might product better results. A person who has served or who has a family member in the military has more credibility for me when it comes to making decisions about military action.

A former Secretary of State is reported to have said, "What's the use of having all of this military power if we don't use it?" The point is that we have it so that we don't have to use it except as a last resort.

May God bless the Americans who wear the uniform and may God guide those who make decisions about their future.