The Virtual Extension to Faith Forward Forum | Jan 22-24, 2007

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Five Issues in which I have moved from Deconstruction:

By Todd Hunter [bio for event]

The answer to deconstructing ineffective, unethical, manipulative or even just “religious CEO” leadership is not to throw out leadership altogether. In the Bible, in the history of cultures, and even in the animal world, there is no such thing as “no leadership.” Leadership simply exists; it is more like the law of gravity than an option—like say a sunroof—on a car. We have many options for constructing positive alternatives for leadership, but “no leadership” is not one of them. Taking a no leadership tack just creates a vacuum that sucks up into it the neediest, most verbal and often most unhealthy people. This is why a radical, uncritical egalitarian approach will not work. There are differences among people. The Bible uses language like “gifts” and “callings” to describe these differences. This does not have to lead to power game hierarchy any more than it has to lead to mindless egalitarianism. Let’s think body life, humility and celebration of diversity. Leadership is simply a task: it doesn’t have to be sexy or celebrity driven; it can be functional, for the good of the body and the world, and done with holiness (see Jesus).

In the emerging church scene, there is much tension these days over the intention to evangelize. But, as above, the answer to wrong use is not “no-use”—it is right-use. As the people of God, we do not have the option to live unintentional lives with reference to evangelism, social justice, etc. I think a way forward here is to think about the difference between intention and manipulation. To manipulate means to control or play upon another by artful, unfair, or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage; in dealing with people, to give them an appearance of, but not a real choice in a matter and to do so for selfish interests. To intend something, however, simply means to have a determination to act in a certain way; to aim at a target; to have the resolve to will something into being; to focus one’s capacity to choose on an object or course of action. Intention, thusly conceived, is a natural and normal part of human life. What is needed in evangelism is the following thought: “It is not about me or you.” It is about God and others. Envision with me evangelism bathed in the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment. There: do you feel freer? I do, it gives me an imagination for how to share my faith in ways that others around me are actually freer themselves, not less so. Whether correcting, dining, rebuking or attending a wedding, Jesus was himself utterly and totally free. As a freed man, safe in his Father’s love, as a servant, he was free to intend to help others find the Way.

I see a deconstructive reaction in the alternative church landscape to the work of the Holy Spirit. Having spent a great deal of time around classical Pentecostals, Charismatics and Third-Wavers, I can see why. But again, we are forced to ask if we are throwing out too much baby with the water. My experience in the emerging church world leads me to say that the contemporary church must come to grip with issues of power and authority: who has it, how it is shared, how it is exercised with integrity, ethics and holiness. “Jesus is the head of the church” could be marked “True” on any theological pop-quiz. The same is true for “The Holy Spirit is the continuing presence of Christ in the church.” We move from theological lip service to action by actually repenting for grieving the Holy Spirit. Remember, he can be grieved as easily by being ignored as by bizarre behaviors. Then we invite Him into our communities of faith, we prayerfully listen with the intent of developing a conversational relationship with God—like the ones people had in the Bible. Lastly, we take appropriate risks, in faith, that like a child learning to walk or speak, God will be with us to train and encourage us. Experiential religion is the Biblical norm and the only kind of religion that will fly in post-modernity.

Fearing intention works against us in being “otherly” or missional, too. God did not, after creating Adam and Eve, say: “Now go and merely relate, just have community with each other and with me.” Sometimes we think of work and its associated intentionality as a part of the curse. But it is not so. God actually said to Adam and Eve: Come work with me, be my co-laborers, my sub-contractors in this cool new creation I have just started. It will be utterly satisfying to you—it is what you are made for. And by the way, in the process of doing stuff together, you, the human community, and I will develop genuine, non-utilitarian relationships. Instead of feeling used, you will feel like a devoted dancer who finally got to Carnegie Hall with all her best friends (Hunter’s paraphrase of Genesis). Of course, the fall and the resulting curse changed every thing. But cooperating with God’s intention for humankind takes intention on our part. This is especially true now that we know more than “good”: we “know evil” and how to use it; we know power and authority and how to abuse it. This is why “intending” spiritual formation is so important: so we can become the kinds of people God dreamed of; people like Jesus who only did what He saw the Father doing, only said what He heard the Father saying and who did not count equality with God as something to be grasped. Just try this thought: we cannot live unintentional lives in any important area of life. And despite the language to the contrary, no one is now doing so. Those talking the loudest about “just relationship” or “just community” are actually envisioning and intending a course of action as well. They just intend to leave behind an appropriate negative (manipulation); they intend an absence of something. But “stuff” must be done, action must be taken, decisions must be made to implement that or any other vision. It is like wanting a “garbage-free” room in the house: action is required, one must use their will, and they must determine and intend to pick up the litter in order to free the room of trash.

“I've died a thousand deaths...” Those words have frequently come out of my mouth the past few years as I've tried to answer people’s questions about the transition I've been in. I am not complaining with those words; the deaths were needed and still need to happen. I am better off for it. Losing one’s old life leads to a far superior one according to our Teacher/Savior/Lord. Still, facing "deaths" are a little scary to most normal people. Some of the biggest deaths for me have revolved around leadership. If I led "too much," shutting down the gifts of others, or worse, The Holy Spirit, I felt horrible; if too little, like a dunce who ought to know better after 25 years. Along the way I formulated a question: "What does it mean to function as a leader in a group of people who are supposed to be following someone else (God the Holy Spirit) and someone else’s (God’s) vision to have a redeemed, covenant people who would be his cooperative friends (not for merit, but of grace and “Spirit-strength”) leading constant lives of creative goodness on behalf of the whole world…even up to and including, the new heaven and new earth? Next, I developed a hypothesis: Christian leadership means to serve, coordinate and empower the sovereign given activities of the Holy Spirit in a (usually local) group of people. What is the biggest lesson in this Transition? That I needed “deconstructed,” like Peter having the rooftop revelation, like Paul grappling with ideas of Trinity and the Gentiles, I needed a new imagination for living Christian life. At worst, I have been tempted to let this process shut me down and rob me of so much confidence that I felt backed into a corner from which I could not say anything (“What is truth anyway?) or do anything (“It is just a power play”). If deconstructing faith and church leads there, we have gone down the wrong road. But if it leads to an appropriate dying to self that we might serve Christ as we serve others, then we can all thank God for the influence of postmodern culture.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, interesting article! I so appreciate being let into your journey.

Too much here to comment on completely but here are some thoughts that struck me as I read through it.

First off, I too observe that leadership "is," not like an option, but like gravity. What do you think about context? Is there a context that may call for a uncritical egalitarian approach? Couldn't that work in some contexts? I'd like to keep the option open. :))

You say "leadership is simply a task." How is that? I have seen many people attempt to "do" leadership, but because of the way they are being when they attempt to lead they fail because people don't want to work with them, even in the simplest tasks.

Could leadership be much more than a task? What if it was a conversation?

On Evangelism:

Much like leadership evangelism seems like a gravity thing to me. You know, we are always evangelizing people into something. It seems to me that our intentions would determine what we are evangelizing them into, but none the less we are always evangelizing. Even if we are evangelizing others to believe we aren't able to evangelize.

Your distinction about manipulation doesn't make sense to me. Are you saying that manipulation is a "bad thing?" And that intention is mutually exclusive from manipulation? I don't know exactly what you mean there, but it gave me the impression that "I should never manipuluate." I'm a Bad boy if I manipulate!!

The dictionary gives three definitions of manipulation. The first one is: "to treat or operate especially in a skillful manner" You have included the second in your article. Don't get me wrong here, I surely wouldn't want somebody using unfair means to manipulate me. Who wants to be lied to? But, the first definition hasn't to do with insidious intentions. Which is why I wondered if you were making intentions mutually exclusive from manipulation?

I often submit myself to skillful and competent forms of manipulation. Don't you go to the movies? When you call for worship in the church and you pick certain music for certain moods isn't that manipulation? It is a sillful art and I am grateful for it. Didn't Nathan manipulate David to recognize his sin and repent? That was a demonstration of great skill and wisdom.

To me your distinction is pretty much the modern Church Cultures dominant point of view. The idea that people shouldn't be manipulative seems very unrealistic and punative.

My observations of us as people is that we are manipulative. For instance this article is a manipulation to get me to think along these terms and I am glad you took the time to write it!

Perhaps there would be a brekthrough in spiritual formation if we (the Church) would deconstruct the idea that there is an appropriate way to die to self or an "appropriate way" to do anything and risk the despair of being wrong, looking bad, being out of control or not feeling good. Face the possibility of sinning honestly, while standing that Christ does the redeeming and that we no longer need to play not to lose!

It occurs to me that despair is not only the disease that destroys, but the disease that saves.


Dan Tocchini

4:26 PM


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