As a youth worker I have often had to discuss young people in a church staff meeting (i.e. why aren’t they coming to our church services, can you do something with the ones that are “hanging around” outside, can you keep a tight reign on the enthusiastic ones . . . that kind of thing), young people who are not “churched” do not naturally fit with church . . . and years ago, a great Bishop dude of the Church, Graham Cray said this,
“Youth ministry involves entering young people’s world in order to plant the gospel and the church there – it is not a bridging strategy but a genuine commitment to new forms of church. It is not a temporary way of holding them in church until they learn to worship properly like the rest of us “
This was written back in 2002, which is almost a decade. I am not aware of many places that have authentically tried this. We generally try and tweak the model (what ever our churchmanship, catholic, evangelical, liberal, crazy etc) despite the fact that – in the western world at least, we get very little return for this endeavour with those who are not already immersed in church culture (however contemporary we are aiming to be) . . . SO, when I see a headline talking about a Church LEADER being a misfit . . . I am very interested . . .
A big thanks then to Annie Kirke for putting me on to an article about Dave Gibbons and his church, the article (sadly, no longer available) was titled “Dave Gibbons is a Church Misfit.” The impression given by the article is that in deciding to “go small” back in 2005 rather than aim for the mega-church stratosphere that the church is, in fact, well, small – but I would not call a multi-site church spread across America and also in Mexico City and Bangkok small. Maybe it is all a matter of perspective. However, in describing Dave as a “misfit” . . . I just don’t get it, he is – according to the article – “effortless hip”, and clearly is articulate, fashionable and FITS – maybe, in American Church culture you can only be a “misfit” or a “maverick” or a “?” if you go from being IN a particular model of church and then choose (when in a position of growth and strength) to do something else – but, what if you were never IN to begin with?
What if you START from the place of being a misfit . . . and that is where you are likely to stay – in oblivion generally.
I LIKE nearly everything Dave Gibbons is quoted as saying in the article . . . but – I do have some questions / issues:
1. Everyone is AMAZING? I love the intention to develop something that is focused on the needs of the individual and NOT make some homogenous thing, this is church, one size fits all etc . . . however, there is a paradox with what emergent / emerging and 21st Century Church is saying and doing – on the one hand, an acknowledgement that “one size does not fit all”, and on the other hand – if taken to Gibbons extreme, we will “tailor discipleship just for you” . . . at least that is what is implied in the article. The go small dynamic does not seem to be about that simply being better for discipleship . . . the go small is about focusing on a few AMAZING people so that rather than reach 1000s we can reach millions . . . this does not seem to resonate with scripture when you look at Jesus’ own practice. The whole point about his 12 were that they were not AMAZING – he picked a bunch of nobodies – not a bunch of Fortune 500 Execs and Rock Stars . . . and apart from a talent for getting it wrong, they did not appear to be able to do much until Pentecost and being filled with the Spirit.
We are all AMAZING not because of what is inside us – but because of WHO is inside us, by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . all can be transformed. All are AMAZING. When Jesus transformed the lives of nobodies, they became someone because of Jesus . . . . what scripture does not tell us (apart from with a couple of notable exceptions – Paul, being the most obvious) is what they went on to do next. The woman with the issue of blood? The Centurion?
2. Leadership is recognised / branded? There is a cultural dynamic in the land of the free, that anyone can start anything and make something of it. This seems to be at the heart of some of the Church growth stuff in the States. What is the affiliation of some of the mega-churches? Well, they create their own. Leaders build churches and then “go global”, in this respect Gibbons appears to be like others – Bill Hybels and Rick Warren (Willow Creak and Saddleback are global church brands that others “affiliate to) . . . the difference being that he has the hope that “newsong” will disappear as a brand . . . and, for all churches, the hope that one day we might just be “the church”.
The problem we have in the denominations in the UK is you cannot lead anything unless you are first recognised by your denomination (Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, URC etc) . . . you have to FIT before you can be a MISFIT, but not in the same way as in America . . . in both America and here it is recognised that people (especially young adults) have a suspicion of “institutions” and “hierarchy” that thinks it knows best and is going to tell them what to do. We know this . . . but our “models” – going back to Graham Cray’s quote do not really give us the space / the freedom to explore beyond the walls . . . and yes, beyond a certain measure of control (someone else determining what you can and cannot do) what Church might look like.
If the Church of England genuinely asked the question “what would Church look like without our buildings?” where might that take us? You can only really ask that kind of question nationally if you are IN . . . I do wonder how many “misfits” are getting on with stuff that is ministry, is what they are called to, and is making a difference, is authentic Christ like community . . . but apart from themselves, and those they are doing the stuff with – nobody else knows about it.
3. Does it matter who knows? Everyone I know in leadership wants to know that they are doing ok. Including myself. It is not enough for most of us that the person who knows us is God. We might say we have an “audience of ONE”, and Christian youth work dude Mike Pilavachi wrote a book about it. However, we want and need (crave even) the affirmation of others. This is not about getting ordained or about having a sense of call to the priesthood. Irrespctive of differing views on that . . . whether we have that recognition or not, the desire for it from others continues . . . hence, people knowing (and not just knowing, but approving) matters to us. Now, when that group was really small (say a bunch of nobodies in an upper room 2000 years ago) what others knew and approved did not matter . . . well, sort of did not matter . . . the early disciples continued to meet in the temple courts because all they knew was temple worship AND possibly more importantly, they waited (longer than they should have) in Jerusalem . . . it took a misfit and a radical maverick outsider (who, actually, was a transformed insider – but that is for another blog!) to get it all going.
Would the likes of Paul be welcome in the Church today? Would a Peter? IF I could really be myself . . . would I?
Sorry in advance, reading it back it feels like a bit of a mess . . . BIG respect for Dave Gibbons for stepping away from much of what was expected of Him . . . I would love to hear stories of leadership, stories of hope and stories of communities being transformed by people of whom nothing was expected . . . . who, BUT for the audience of one would never amount to anything.