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“What’s next?”

July 6, 2011

So I’ve been carrying around this little note in my wallet that was a summary of many things I wanted to say as a follow up to my Wild Goose reflections. I guess I should not have waited so long to write as the wallet went through the washer and the note is nowhere to be found! So armed with nothing more than a weak memory and some words strung together in a stream of consciousness I wade in…

At the Wild Goose my friend Bart Campolo asked me, “So, what’s next?” Bart tends to pop the questions that I need to be asking before I know I need to be asking them. He has played the role of prophet for me on many occasions. I doubt he would be comfortable with that term – prophet – but I can’t think of any other way to describe him. He just knows stuff, sees stuff and calls things way ahead of what I see about myself. If he wasn’t so dang nice it would be intimidating. But he IS nice and he knows how to ask the big questions and guide people in a way that is affirming but firm and loving but not soft or sentimental. So he asked the question…

“It seems like things are running smoothly at the body shop and you are getting lots of energy from that but what are you doing with that energy?”

Essentially I sensed him asking: What are you doing with the freedom of time and resources that the body shop now affords you?

I got into the business almost 10 years ago for this very reason. I wanted freedom of time and resources to pursue other dreams. It was never intended as an end but a means. It was never my primary calling. Turns out, running a local business was more related to my primary calling than I would have ever guessed at the start and I’m still peeling the layers off the onion of the question, “What is my vocation, my calling?” Yet, in all honesty I got into the business to support my family financially and ultimately give me the freedom I now have to pursue whatever was next… but here’s the thing: I had some vague hopes and ideas of what getting to this point would look like but I my vision for actually being here was not clear. I guess I was scared to really risk hoping for something that might not happen and I certainly didn’t expect it to happen as soon as it did. Yet, however feeble my vision I did make decisions to set the business up in a way that would give me the freedom I sought. I developed simple systems to handle recurring challenges.   I hired some really great people along the way who loved the business as much or more than I did. I developed some amazing strategic alliances with local car dealers, insurance agents, and referral groups. I learned and implemented a bunch about internet marketing and optimizing my website. I stumbled into a great location right on the main road through the middle of my target market… long before I even knew what my target market was! I had lots of friends who occasionally (ahem!!) need my services. I collected several advisers and coaches along the way. I have a sister in the business who can control spending way better than I. My dad’s generosity and practical help to get started and his reputation in the industry opened doors that might otherwise have taken years… and most important of all God blessed these little fish and loaf efforts with a multiplier effect in ways I could only dimly dream of. Now, all this adds up to freedom. I am at the cusp of achieving what I dreamed a little less than 10 years ago. I have a thriving business that is prospering in ways that blow my mind and that requires very little of me but gives me an abundance of time and money and even joy.

So, back to the question… the one I am not really ready to answer. The one Bart popped at the festival: “What’s next?” And the truth is, I really don’t know.

But I think this question is getting answered with another question asked by yet another prophetic voice and friend, Phyllis Tickle. After I wrote my reflections about the Wild Goose Festival Phyllis asked in a comment, “As always, Kevin, you come with gentleness and a sledgehammer to hit the mark dead-on. Yes, it’s time to start talking what IS and IS A-BORNING, not what has to be cleared away…or so I think. So I hope you’ll keep on keeping on with this line of conversation. My guess is that there are literally thousands of Emergence Christians out there more than ready for some strong voice to say, “OK, so now what?” and begin to discern prayerfully the process that will eventuate in the answer for our time in Christian history.”

So I’m starting to think these two questions are tied together. The “What’s next?” for me personally, locally, in my context may be bound up in a larger set of questions many in the church are asking, “OK, so now what?”

Those are the questions I want to begin unpacking and if you’re interested I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Many of you have been asking these questions longer than I have and I want to learn. I think at a minimum this is going to take a bunch of posts probably pursued in a somewhat non-linear way — meaning there may be some false starts and rabbit trails but for me, writing has become a necessary practice to unpack what is next.

Our next stop: A question Phyllis asked at the festival that she didn’t know the answer to and we couldn’t hear her anyway yet I have a hunch it is THE central question we need to be asking and trying to answer if we expect to move forward in our pursuit of what’s next. “Where will our children locate religious authority?” In other words, what are the sources of authority the next generation will base their eternal souls on?

+++ Lord, I’m quite confident you are not perplexed or confused or uncertain about what the future holds. Will you please help me to walk confidently yet humbly with you into this uncertain yet bright future? Will you be our guide as we unpack what is next and move confidently in step with your Spirit into what is being born in this time amidst the various gardens you’ve given us to tend? And give us the strength of joy as we journey with you. Amen.”

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2011 12:02 pm

    compelling…I only wish I were closer to participate in a cozy Brown House conversation like this!! I do think we need to discern and probably dis-entangle authority, leadership and control, which have been bound together for too long. I like the trail that James D. G. Dunn has wrestled with:

    ““As E. Kasemann has rightly insisted, so far as the Pauline community is concerned, authority resides in or belongs to the act of ministry itself – it resides neither in the person nor in an office per-se, but in the particular charisma itself. Moreover, the concomitant responsibility to evaluate that charisma is laid upon all. Now this fact is true of all ministry, of all charismata, in the Pauline vision of community.”

    I truly believe this applies to authority, which if it resides in Christ, resides with the movement of the Spirit. The journey toward this is a journey toward maturity vis-a-vis the Spirit. If we as leaders are to cast light and not shadow, we need to embrace the gift of discernment and seek to understand the shadows that populate our hearts in order to bring them to Light and experience the transformation of on-going maturity:

    Insecurity. Many leaders are insecure (OK, maybe all of us are!). We become insecure possibly because we don’t think we know enough, aren’t expert enough, aren’t “insert-your-own-insecurity” enough. When leaders aren’t secure in their own identities rooted in Christ, we can often foster an environment that deprives others people of their identities, as we are busy supporting our own insecure place and identity. We need to heed the sacred call to embrace the gift of being ourselves. I keep coming back to the fact that I need to embrace the gift of myself. God wants me to be me, I can’t be Moses or David or Wimber, I need to be myself; the ironic thing comes forth at this point: the more I can be myself in Christ, the more I can be real and present to other people and even in embracing who I am, there will be a family resemblance because of Jesus living through me. But I can’t be divided…I can’t be two people. Again, as I mentioned before: there is a cruciform-shaped authenticity at the core of servant leadership. Walking with authenticity is walking with a limp.

    Pride. Another shadow common among leaders is the pride of “functional atheism”, which amounts to the deep-seated belief that we are responsible for everything and it all comes down to “me.” This sort of pathology “wishes” God might show up, but “acts” in a manner that never expects much from God, but expects almost everything from me. This kind of pathology leads to depression, burnout and can carry us close to “losing our religion”. It is very difficult to lead people so that they follow Someone Else. Full disclosure: Most of the anxiety in my life is focused on “outcome”, and I forget scripture clearly states that the “outcome” is God’s responsibility, and my responsibility is just to be obedient (even if that makes me look like a fool for Christ), as Mother Teresa used to pray: “I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness.”
    Fear. Related and underlying the first two is fear or perhaps reactions to fear. One primary reaction of leaders to fear is taking control. In this way, we have over the years tangled and bundled power, authority and control. I think it is time we together enjoined the task of unweaving these baselines of leadership. We can see clearly that most of Jesus’ meetings (in which He was clearly the leader) we a mess…messy human need, fear, insecurity, pride, and everything that comes with those. Unfortunately, we leaders try to organize and manipulate and eliminate the mess. But what we might find ourselves doing is organizing the work of God right out of our meetings, and we find ourselves creating an oppressive environment rather than a liberating and empowering environment. The insight of scripture is that almost always messiness is a precondition for creativity. We witness this in Genesis where there was formlessness and void and darkness…as the Spirit was brooding, then life itself emerges from the mess. There is a precarious balance between spirit and structure that creates the condition for life to emerge and thrive. But in order to embrace this good tension of structure and freedom, leaders must through fear, be discerning, and embrace courage. As US President Roosevelt once said: “The only thing we have to fear if Fear Itself.”

    The road toward maturity is a road travelled in fellowship. We need to remember that throughout history people matured and “grew in Christ” primarily through relational and communal engagement. This engagement engenders trust and deep relationship that forms us on the way and helps us – and our children – to discern and locate authoity. There is also a deep sense that this is about living your life out-loud. OK I’ve rambled on too long…

    peace bro

  2. July 6, 2011 12:16 pm

    Steve!! You could not possibly ramble too long… you are brilliant! I resonate deeply with all you wrote especially the part about being formed in community and not taking on more than we are supposed to ie becoming mini-messiahs… we are not cut out for or qualified for that work! Thanks for the reminder to just be who we are and serve out of that… that alone could yield big time fruit. Great words as always bro.

  3. July 6, 2011 12:38 pm

    Amen. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Kevin. I’m excited to be meeting you now and will be following you on your journey into what’s next!

    • July 7, 2011 9:17 am

      Likewise Steve! I was reading your blog and checking out your site this morning and look forward to staying in conversation…. hopefully in person at some point as well as virtually!

  4. July 6, 2011 1:30 pm

    “The road toward maturity is a road travelled in fellowship”, well said, Steve. P

  5. Mike Bishop permalink
    July 6, 2011 1:50 pm

    Kevin,

    It’s really good to see you writing and talking about this out loud. The Spirit has been prompting me to do the same…it’s time to get our voices out there again.

    There is a bunch here that I resonate with, of course. Amber and I were talking last night about the transition(s) that are going on in our life and awakening to our calling. We are beginning to see things happen that God was speaking to us and we were dreaming of 10 years ago. Why is that? Why does it take so long to see the fruit and why is the road there so twisted? I can’t help but think about our friends like Gordon Cosby and EuPete. Even Wimber, stubbornly waiting for a year to see someone get healed. We are still waiting for many things, but in the meantime we’ve been raising three kids, I have my engineering license, and there is a community of people here in Jupiter that love us.

    That question from Phyllis kind of takes my breath away. It’s a scary proposition thinking about what our children will inherit in regards to spiritual authority. The polarizing effect that is happening in church, politics, and in pretty much every social issue will be their ‘normal’. However, I do think we are on the right track with focusing our energies on the local/relational rather than detached generalities. That’s a legacy I want to leave my kids. The kingdom happens right in front of you, not “somewhere out there”.

    By the way, I love Steve’s quote above. (Is that from “The Theology of Paul the Apostle”? I read a portion of that recently on Winn G’s recommendation. Sounds familiar.)

    I think a Brownhouse gathering of the elders is in short order. I miss everyone.

    Peace,
    Mike

    • July 6, 2011 6:55 pm

      @ Mike – the quote is from Dunn’s two volume work: The Christ and The Spirit, specifically from volume 2: Pneumatology…

    • July 7, 2011 9:21 am

      Mike! So good to hear from you and thanks for the encouragement… we need some face time man… I hear great things are happening in Florida… I’m coming down next Spring perhaps we can meet up ??

      You’re always welcome here of course … I too am feeling drawn to re-gather the Elpida friends (and add a few new ones!) and re-connect…. you would be coming the farthest (unless we can twist Evan’s arm as well!!) so when would something like that even be possible for you? The Fall?

      Miss you man. Thanks for the encouragement to write. You have more to do with this recent spurt than you may realize….

      • Mike Bishop permalink
        July 7, 2011 12:37 pm

        Evans must come. Consider that boy called out! I’ll email you and maybe we can work something out…

  6. July 6, 2011 6:53 pm

    Thanks, Kevin. I like how you pointed out the parallels between your vocational “What’s next?” and our corporate “What’s next?”. I think there is often less of divergence between the two than we think.

    I have slowly embraced many of the shifts we have seen in the Church over the last decade or so, but I am also freaked out a bit at times – feeling as though the Church is a “mess”. I relate to what Steve said about fear and would love to find myself in much more of a state of peace as I trust God for the most beautiful outcome that could occur from the messiness I find myself in: that “life itself [would emerge] from the mess.”

    I’d love to be counted in if there a Brownhouse gathering emerges from this!

    • July 7, 2011 9:23 am

      Lots to process…. consider yourself “counted in” when we do the Brownhouse gathering… I’m feeling the urge to get some likeminded folks together and hash some of this out in person… as well as just to deepen the friendships and conversations that have meant so much to me over the past decade or so…

      I owe you some pictures! Do you still need/want those?

  7. D.G. Hollums permalink
    July 7, 2011 2:52 am

    Can’t agree more and I’m in bed with the United Methodist Denomination that is crumbling as well. It’s scary that a postmodern mindset might be asking for/ forcing another Council of Nicaea. I agree that Wesley have great thoughts and intentions using, Scripture, Tradition, Reason, & Experience, but for most people, if they sense a tipping point in one direction (The crumbling/redefining of scriptural authority) then they weigh down the seesaw with experience. It is only after the dust settles when the seesaw levels out (especially when it is four sided (Wesley) or three-sided (Episcopal Three legged stool). But, I agree the assumption of communal discernment will always be key! And as our society makes the transition between post-Christian to pre-Christian I’m in debt to Christ to call you brother, friend, & fellow servant!!!

  8. July 7, 2011 9:25 am

    Love you my friend! Looking forward to processing with you in person!!! i still need to meet your kid to !!

    What is the Episcopal 3 legged stool?

  9. July 8, 2011 11:48 am

    always the pragmatist here, there is nothing better than face to face, but with factors like $, family, work, ministry etc. it is a real challenge to make long trips for some to the Brownhouse. However, it would seem to me that we could utlize skype or something of the sort to stream these conversations and questions so that it was accessible for those that its not practical to travel at the given time.
    Ok, taking my pragmatist hat off and reflecting with y’all. I believe strongly in the kinds of round-table conversations of different bends toward traditions so that tethered together, we have a broader view of the murky waters known as the future. Catholic, Anglican, Charismatic, Evangelical, Anabaptist, Monastic etc. Because of relationship and humility, we are capable of a conciliar process much like our African monastic fathers in the first 5 centuries of Christianity as they worked through the false teachings and challenges of the early faith. The questions that are facing us are simply too big to be answered alone, we need one another.
    Count me in . . . never alone.

    • July 8, 2011 11:56 am

      yes! that is exactly my sentiment also vis-a-vis relational conciliar processing (minus the first pragmatic piece – my experience with skype is that fact-of-the-matter meetings tend to work well when you have a pre-agreed upon agenda and specific outcome you’re working toward, but for wrestling and exploration meetings, it tends to suck)

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