Skip to comments.Are You My Mother? [The Journey of Christ Church, Plano: Part II]
Posted on 12/20/2006 8:35:46 AM PST by sionnsar
I have learned to be a different kind of leader the last six months. Our decision at the end of June of 2006 was unlike any decision I had ever made. Before June I had been a visionary leader for Christ Church. My reference point in the Old Testament (and my hero) was Moses. He followed a dream, a vision that God had given him. He saw the land before he ever really looked upon it from the heights of Mt. Nebo. He organized the wandering children of Israel to go on the journey where they experienced marvelous escapes, near disasters, spiritual failures, amazing miracles, God's provision and stern rebukes. I could identify with that at a deep level.
But in June at our pivotal Vestry meeting I began to pick up a very, very different assignment. It was more "Abrahamic." God was telling us to go out but not showing us exactly where to go. Remember what the Lord said in Genesis, "Go to the land I will show you!" That leaves a lot of room for insecurity. It is a walk not so much of courage and vision but of faith. And it required Abram to stay connected to God regularly... and when he didn't, bad things happened.
My paradigm for leadership has shifted from Moses to Abraham. Our church is starting to grow again. The spirit of worship is here. The studies and small groups are filled with Christians and seekers, new and old, eager to come under discipleship and training for the life of faith. But right now Abraham is our iconic saint... walking by faith.
We have left one land... and are not yet at the other. We are walking by faith, it seems, looking for a new home within the Anglican Communion. But where? Where can we be connected and aligned within the Anglican Communion?
For a lot of our members (and for me), this is a big deal. Dallas is the home of the Bible Church movement and there are dozens of standalone churches that are congregationally ruled and supposedly self-sufficient. That is not what we want and it is not who we are. Our heritage and parish genetic code are set up to be in an oversight relationship with a bishop of the church. And that is our plan. It is written into our new by-laws. We are Anglican.
I gave a brief opening talk at the Plano conference "A Place to Stand" in October 2003. It was a high-stakes conference filled with high energy. I acted as a host and moderator of the event. But before other, more well-known and gifted speakers came to the podium, I had a few words of my own. My comments centered on a simple metaphor. I said that the Anglican Communion was like a beautiful constellation of stars in a dark universe. There they all were... in a wonderful and particular alignment... showing forth a pattern and a picture of the Christian faith in a global context. It was a constellation that has been seen and admired by millions and millions all over the world and for centuries. But recently, I went on to say, a star has moved. It has taken off in a new direction away from the constellation. We must say, with love and charity, we cannot go with you. We are called to remain within the Anglican formation.
For the next three years I had that picture in mind. The Anglican Communion was a constellation... and the ECUSA "star" was pulling away... we must say clearly and definitively, we cannot go with you... and find a place to be. A place to stand.
That is hard to say... and it is even harder to do. How could Christ Church leave ECUSA and still stand within the Anglican Communion?
Remember the book you might have read to your children at bedtime, "Are you My Mother?" That's the way I felt, in a sense. I was now looking for a place that our church could grow, be nurtured, 'overseen,' and supported... all within the Anglican Communion.
Over the last few months, I began to think of the hopes and expectations I would have in a new association within the Anglican Communion. So I did what I do almost every day of the year. I made a list. The list I made was not exhaustive but fairly comprehensive. I knew enough not to expect all these hopes and values in one place... but I have been looking!
So here is my list.
1. A Clear Evangelical Mission: I am looking for an alignment where we can do the mission that God has called us to do, and do it with the support and encouragement of a national and international body. I have seen and witnessed hundreds of men and women coming to a living faith in Jesus Christ. It is one of the truly great joys of our mission and ministry at Christ Church. I think our church is most alive when we retain this strong sense of gospel mission: reaching people with the enduring message of Christ and the hope of glory. I still have this passion within me and I know that Christ Church does, too. We have a full and exciting opportunity to continue our mission at Christ Church and help plant other churches around the country. The field is wide open!
2. An Earthquake-Free Zone: I want an alignment relationship that will not have regular or irregular earthquakes that shock and destroy the work that we do. I have felt for several years that every time the General Convention met in session or a prominent mainstream Episcopal leader spoke... we were forced into a damage-control mode. The stated positions of ECUSA, the conflicts coming from General Convention and the endless meetings around the nationall of these generate too much instability in ministry and create distractions from the central task of effective and lasting mission.
I realize that no church organization is free of conflict, but ECUSA has exhausted itself in a 40-year conflict. Enough! I want to find a place that is separate and apart from it so that the mission of the church can go forward.
3. A Position Under Scripture: Of course, the main reason why ECUSA is being shaken apart is that there is no common understanding of Scripture as God's revealed Truth. None. Many believe it to be a resource only... at the level of an 'inspiring word' for the church. I believe it to be the Inspired Word to the church. Therein is the fault line which causes the triennial earthquakes.
I am looking for a place that will stand under Scripture, in humility. I know that there are plenty of debates and healthy discussions to have among faithful people about the role, use, meaning, and application of the Bible texts. I am willing and eager to engage others in this quest for God's perfect will as found in Scripture. I don't expect compliance on every matter of doctrine or agreement on every aspect of the Word. But I do expect and am looking for a general sense of submission to the Bible as God's final revelation. That is what I mean by standing under the Scriptures... as opposed to standing over them.
I have heard for over two decades in ECUSA that God was going a new thing among us all. I can't believe it. I don't believe that God does new things... He makes all things new... but He doesn't do new things. The last new thing He did was to raise His Son from the dead and supply us with the Holy Spirit. Let's go with that!
4. A Magnet for Young Leadership: I am also looking for a place to find and bring young leaders who have an eager heart for the Lord. I am convinced that Anglicanism is the perfect blend of form and content, structure and freedom that can have a broad appeal to a new generation. I think that large numbers of new young leaders would be willing to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ within a reliable framework of Anglicanism. I will hope for this new alignment of Anglicanism to attract, equip and deploy young leaders.
5. A World Wide Connectivity: One of my base assumptions is that we will remain within the Anglican Communion. We are not structured as a Bible church or a
"congregation rule" parish. We are a church that is part of a worldwide Anglican Communion. And, while the Communion is strained to the breaking point, there is still a lot of life and value in being a part of it. Christ Church has friends and colleagues all over the globe and even within ECUSA. I intend to keep my brothers and sisters in Christ as friends at home and abroad.
In addition, I have always believed that Anglicanism, when followed and practiced in its biblical and historic form, is a reliable and powerful way of being a follower of Jesus Christ. Many of the tools and patterns and disciplines that other denominations deeply desire are already ours! We have them all: a prayer book tradition, ancient worship, reformed teaching, catholic heritage, Bible basics and church order. I want to be in an alignment that actually uses them to the fullest extent possible.
6. A Cultural Relevance: It goes without saying that I want a church that is also relevant to the culture that surrounds it. This is part of the Anglican experiment that I am not willing to relinquish. The Anglican Church all over the world is able to be indigenous, to take on the culture, the look and the feel of the people around it. Obviously, the further the culture is from the heart of God the harder it is for the church to be "in" the world but not "of" it. This is the dilemma and demise of ECUSA. Without strong adherence to Scripture and its tradition, ECUSA has taken on the look of the world surrounding it. Nevertheless, as dangerous as it might be to attempt, I still believe that the church must be relevant and uniquely attuned to the culture.
7. A Proper Modesty: I also believe that a new alignment must see itself as part of the whole body of Christ: Catholic, Protestant, and orthodox. We should not claim or act as if we are THE Church or have any exclusive rights or special place or position among others in the body of Christ. That's modesty. We should see ourselves as part of a whole and entire mission force that God has mobilized to take the Gospel into the world. In other words, we need to value the work and witness of the Pope and the Baptist preacher across town.
8. An External Focus: For years I have felt that the weakness of my former denomination was its emphasis and excessive interest in its own internal life. Whenever the leadership tried to get the church focused on an external interest (whether racism or the 20/20 vision) the promise of a new agenda was always trumped by the same old topic: sex. All the while the church was sidelined from effective witness in the world. Therefore, in a new alignment I am interested in finding a structure that can focus its energy outside the maintenance issues of its internal polity.
9. A Place to Give: I think that we need to find an alignment where the people, staff and institution of Christ Church can be maximized beyond our parish. God has done incredible things at Christ Church and I believe that we have a stewardship obligation to put the talent and experience to work in the Kingdom in a maximum way. I hope to find a home for us that will allow us to contribute to the life of the wider church in meaningful ways.
10. A Place for Mere Christianity: I love the Gospel. I love the Christian world view. I think of myself and my theology in terms of C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer, J.R.W. Stott, and other contemporary evangelical theologians. I love the traditions and the tools of the heritage we have in the Anglican Tradition, but only to the point where they keep the Truth of the Gospel in clear focus.
That's my list, so far.
There are many other aspects of the kind of church I am looking for. I want a place that honors the traditional family, has great clergy fellowship, a place where women and men have a place in the ordained ministry, a place that honors excellence and growth, a place that will make inroads into urban areas (where lots of people are) and a place that will take clergy training and continuing education seriously. I want a place where we have a clear and Cross-centered answer to the pressing issues of our day: the environment, consumerism, Islam, and of course, human sexuality.
So I presented my list of values and hopes to our vestry and clergy staff. We refined them, prayed over them, adjusted them, and come to agreement about them. And then my work began. I opened up my calendar for the Fall and began to set up some appointments and visits with key leaders around the Anglican Communion. My travels took me far away and close by. I went to Pawley's Island, London, Houston, Pittsburgh, Little Rock, and Lima, Peru! I spoke with Anglican leaders as far away as Nigeria and as close by as Ft. Worth... leaders whose names are well known to anyone who reads the blogs and keeps abreast of the high-stakes drama unfolding in the Anglican Communion.
My reflections and thoughts about the options I found and the way forward for Christ Church will be the subject of the next two articles.
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