gentry13

Random Reflections on 11 Years in Ministry

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

I almost started by saying, “ten years in, where to begin?” then it hit me. I’ve been in New England eleven years and that’s a really lame rhyme.

Here are some disconnected strands and fragments of ideas that are ricocheting through my heart and mind as I look back on eleven years of ministry and start this sort of fearless ministry inventory.

1. I felt at home in New England almost the moment the decrepit Lincoln Christian College bus rolled in during “Week of Evangelism” 1997. My connection to this place and these peculiar people has yet to abate and I suspect, hope, dream that they never will.

2. Although I’d like to report otherwise, I haven’t been able to sustain a partnership with the Christian Church, Church of Christ (CCOC) tradition of my youth out in this area. If you’ve read or spoken with me before, this is not news. However, what I’ve realized the past few days is that over the past eight years or I have not only experienced a growing disassociation from the CCOC, Restoration House Ministries, Danny Clymer and the like, but have also experienced some degree of growing disassociation from evangelicalism as a whole. As much as I would like to lay the blame for my disassociation from tradition at someone like Clymer’s feet, I’ve also worked with other young evangelical leaders in the area who are no longer interested in or do not think they can sustain a collaborative relationship with me. I’m neither angry with nor bitter about any of my former colleagues in the latter group, but am simply observing what appears to be reality.

3. In regards to evangelicalism, it seems to me like there is a rapidly growing split between neo-fundamentalist evangelicals – especially of the Calvinist stripe – and evangelicals who are open to the evolution of their theology and unexpected new relationships/missional engagement with our incredibly pluralist society. The first person I heard talk about this shift was Dr. David Wells at Gordon-Conwell in the early aughts. He openly admitted that he embraced a foundationalist theology, could probably be characterized as a fundamentalist, and wasn’t sure that non-Calvinists should be considered evangelicals. In later conversations with friends like Jenny Wise, he distinguished evangelicals who looked at theology and practice as a foundation with those who looked at theology and practice as a journey. I am a part of the latter group along with others – many of whom would self-identify with or would have sympathy with the Emergent Conversation. Dr. Wells clearly sees himself as part of the former group and is part of what appears to be a rapidly growing neo-Calvinist movement within evangelicalism. This latter movement – which includes a number of people I deeply value, whose ministries I treasure, and am honored to work beside – appears to be generating a significant amount of growth in white and Korean American Evangelicalism. The rapid growth of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Churches as well as the associated Acts 29 church planting movement is, in my mind anyway, paradigmatic of this growing neo-Calvinist movement. Unfortunately, it seems to me that there is rapidly growing differentiation – as well as often a rather startling lack of charity – between the foundation evangelicals and the journey evangelicals. I suspect that as the foundation evangelicals take even stronger positions of leadership within large denominations and quasi-denominations such as the Southern Baptist Conventions, fewer and fewer of the journey folk will speak of themselves as evangelicals. Although I still speak of myself as an evangelical, I think the latter migration is happening already and I have decidedly mixed feelings about it.

4. All that being said, I think Soong-Chan Rah – see The Next Evangelicalism – and the great folks at the Emmanuel Gospel Center are right in suggesting that the first and second generation immigrant churches are the new strength of American Protestantism and Evangelicalism. We’ve only begun to see how globalized Christianity is going to reshape our understanding and practice of the faith. I’m generally excited about this process, though a little nervous about the potential of the continuing growth of patriarchal theology and practice within the church (you can substitute complementarianism for patriarchal if you so choose).

5. I have started to understand my faith much more in light of practice than I do in terms of a fixed theology. I think the reasons for this shift are my natural emphasis – though sadly inconsistent practice of! – on prayer, my family’s current location within an Episcopal parish, my understanding of preaching as a spiritual practice, and other unknown factors. I am becoming quite comfortable with a life of faith characterized by vibrant Christian practice and an evolving theology. I realize that a lot of people would not be comfortable with that and I’m ok with it.

6. I served in the altar party – as a crucifer – for the first time this past week. Before the service a priest asked me if I was going to pursue priesthood. My immediate, indeterminate response was that I was “not going to stay out of the pulpit forever.” I think that response reflected both my CCOC roots as well as my intended if murky trajectory.

Okay, that’s it. I gave myself 45 minutes to write and I’m going to post with minimal editing. Please keep that in mind if/when you comment. Of course you’re free to question, challenge, or harrumph anything you like.

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  1. Having spent my adult life safely “within an Episcopal parish” most of what you are talking about simply passes me by. Journeying with God as a theme, is all over the Scriptures, from Abram to the Hebrews, and on and on.

    It seems to me that the story of the Rich man and the Poor man named Lazarus is a clear warning to action, not to just worrying about doctrine.

    From my perspective, it seems a lot of Evangelicals argue about how Doctrines (how many Angels can dance on the head of a pin), in their Suburban Church Campuses while Lazarus lays by the gate, hoping for some crumbs falling from our tables.

  2. Br. Patrick,

    Thanks for your comment. My family is definitely finding that our journey with God is being nurtured by our Episcopal parish (www.christchurchhw.org) and we’re thankful for that.

    Although there is definitely a strain of Evangelicalism that is characterized by the mores of the suburbs and encourages an individualistic approach to spirituality, I think it is important to note that Evangelicals still give substantially more revenue and volunteer hours (per capita and gross) than their mainline peers. Nicholas Kristof of the NYTimes is just one of the outside observers who has recognized and celebrated Evangelical’s commitment to reversing global poverty over the past few years.

    In regards to Evangelical social action, I think Phillip Yancey said it best when he noted that “once you get Evangelicals past their condemnation, you can get them to do anything.” In my experience Evangelicals are far more open to social justice initiatives than they were when I was at Gordon-Conwell a decade ago. I think this is a positive movement that will have a positive impact on the world and it’s one of the reasons I am proud to still identify with Evangelicalism.

    The Lord Be With You!

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