"It used to be people were most likely to listen their way into the kingdom... now people are more likely to talk and watch their way in." -Todd Hunter
I don't think this image (above) really captures my thoughts, but I am a sucker for inspirations posters.
A few weeks ago I carpooled to the NWYM Focus Conference in Hood River with a few other pastors. We had a great time celebrating and commiserating the joys and challenges of pastoral
ministry. We were able to share our prayer requests pray for one another (the driver kept his eyes open).
The speaker for our conference was Todd Hunter, author, speaker and former president of the Vineyard denomination. His task was to immerse us in the world of postmodern culture: what is it and how do we communicate, engage, and minister within this emerging culture? For many of us this might have been review or common sense, as this is the "water in which many of us swim." He talked about how people are becoming more skeptical and are requiring more and different evidences for our truth claims. And people are asking different questions than they were even a decade ago. Questions like Is it true? And can it be proven are being replaced by questions like - Is it good? Is it helpful? Is it beautiful? In the premodern era, truth was revealed, in the modern era (the past 500 years or so) truth was discovered (logic, critical thinking, scientific method) now, people's experience of truth is...well... experienced. Todd said it this way, “It used to be people were most likely to listen their way into the kingdom... now people are more likely to talk and watch their way in. We need to be ready to respond by becoming people who listen and demonstrate.”
What amazed me most about my time at this conference was that the pastors and leaders were not anxious or threatened by any of this. It’s like they truly believed that they could trust God to be in control and to continue to speak and work in this world.
On the last day part of the dialogue was, how are we as Friends especially equipped and prepared to minister within a post-modern culture. Leading Christian thinkers like Leonard Sweet, (and Todd Hunter) believe that Quakers, as antiquated as they may seem, are uniquely positioned to speak truth to this emerging culture. Our values of Peace, Justice, Simplicity, Hospitality, Kingdom of God Theology, and Spirit Theology, and our emphasis on the life and teachings of Jesus really connect and resonate.
We ended our time together with a session in which Gar Michelson asked, “what are we (Northwest Friends) good at?” As an aside, I like that we can have that conservation and not be in danger of thinking we are better than other “tribes” (we know that we are a small, quirky bunch - what some might call a “peculiar people”).
Here are a few of the highlights from that discussion:
- We care for the broken. People who don’t have it all together, whose lives are messy, who have had addictions, who have been divorced, who need emotional healing - we welcome them and journey with them. We allow people to be who they are.
- We are good stewards of our resources. As people give to NorthwestFriends causes and local churches they trust that we have a record of using resources in a fiscally responsible way. And more than that, we seek to use our resources in generous ways as we look outward at the needs of our communities and world.
- We are visionary in our
ministryexpressions. We have more local outreaches in the Northwest Friends Network than we do churches. Homeless ministries, skateboarding ministries, addiction ministries, coffee shop ministries. Missional outreach is in our DNA.
- We have concern for justice issues. When it comes to equality, peace, justice, and rights for the oppressed, perhaps no smaller group has had a greater impact in the world than Quakers. We are sometimes surprised by how good a reputation we have.
- Listening. We have built into our church culture and rhythms listening as an act of worship. This has power to change and challenge the way we interact with the world (becoming better and deeper listeners, helping us understand before being understood), and the way we do church business (taking the emphasis off of what we think and want and onto what God thinks and wants).
Todd’s encouragement to us, his main piece of advice was this – don’t be anxious. In every culture, in every era of history there have been challenges and opportunities to share God’s truth and to invite people to live the Jesus Way. Our time in history is no different. It will have its own challenges and opportunities. So after spending three days with Todd and the other pastors of the NWYM, I have been forced to ponder…
- How can I better love people with a different worldview than me?
- How can I become more aware of which parts of my Christian faith are cultural and which transcend time and culture?
- Am I really ready to evangelize with my ears?