I am thrilled that to announce that I just received my first bound copy of my book and it is available at a store near you… This book was born in the context of an eleven-year life altering experiment in ecclesial life, fleshed out in learning communities with thoughtful women and men who never ceased […]
Posts Tagged ‘ essays – mine ’
my relational leadership
by dwight friesen
Over the past few months I elicited a small group of friends to help me evaluate my person and leadership. This small group comprised of three men and two women have known me for an average of three and one-half years and we have been meeting weekly as a small group for most of that time. The observations and comments detailed below came through a series of conversations in February and March of this year.
Evaluation of my strengths and weaknesses in leadership:
Rather than walk through a list of the “pro’s” and “con’s” of my leadership I want to look at just two characteristics that are both strengths and weaknesses.
Leadership as faith more than certainty
“I don’t know,” has become one of the mottos of my life. I have a sign hanging above my computer reminding me of this. Giving up my “right” to the certainty of my knowledge has been a process. Raised in a conservative Evangelical (maybe even Fundamental) home, church and culture (southern Manitoba) my ability to present myself as a person with great certainty was prized I did this well. Having more answers than questions was deemed a sign of maturity and leadership potential.
Today, more areas of my life and leadership are marked not by certainty nor by doubt but by faith. My growing rejection of certainty is making me more open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in the lives of others and more open to dialoguing with the community and together seeking God’s direction for us. Simultaneously, this “uncertainty” often creates the impression that I don’t know what I’m doing both is and is not true. And those participating in our community life who want strong/certain leadership regularly get frustrated with me.
Leadership within interpersonal relationship
I do my best to lead from a position of personal knowledge. I do not lead from position, external authority or title, rather I lead from intimate friendship. I have made a commitment to personally know every person I lead within my Christ-community. This is just one of the reasons why our community has adopted a size limit. I boldly encourage people to follow me as I follow Christ, and as such, am committed to letting people see my life, to know me and my family, to be in our home and to observe how we live; to be open about our struggles and our celebrations. We have estimated that we have approximately 1,500+ people in our home each year. Letting those we serve see our life is demanding as it requires we actually live a life that would invite others to follow. Committing to relational leadership has many challenges: I am not perfect and the better a person knows me the more they see my imperfections. I often fail to love. Sometimes there is not a natural affinity between myself and another; a definite barrier to relational ministry. Relationality necessarily impacts the scope of our immediate ministry, it is limited in size as those I serve must be able to know me, and I know them. All of these things are potential strengths and weaknesses.
It would be inauthentic for me to proclaim “relationality” with God and one another while living in performance mode, or living in isolation. I believe life together with Christ, the church and all that is important is all about relationship; therefore I am committed to doing what I can to place relationship as my priority. Conflict, misunderstandings and missed opportunities to love happen more in deeper relationships; thus processing those relational failings become a vital part of the us of leadership.
The role of vision and voice in me as leader:
I understand my voice to be my person. In this sense I am the vision. What I embody, is lived out values and vision. As Terry O’Casey (a friend in the same doctral program) said in one of his online postings, “What makes a leader is; voice is authenticated by lifestyle.” I am the vision does not mean that the vision is about me. As this essay points out I am not an isolated being, my leadership is the perichoresis of Christ/Dwight/Community. My leadership is foundationally relational. As best as I understand it, my leadership is not doing anything in particular, but is being exactly who I was created to be, within the relational context God is placing me in. Authentic leadership is little more than discovering my completeness in Christ, and being fully present in my Christ-community and local context.
I am very cautious when using the word vision. I believe the popular usage of “vision” within the church often has more to do with self-promotion and grandeur, rarely is a vision articulated the places at its center “our decrease for Christ’s increase.” More often than not, vision has to do with my/our increase; vision rarely leads me/us to the crucify self. Thus, I am increasingly convinced that the clearer my sense of vision (a type of certainty) the less likely it is from God. Vision will lead me/us to dependence on Christ. God will always lead us opportunities to trust him, rarely will God lead us to five year plans with actionable items and quantifiable results though sometimes he may.
Clear action plans require antecedental clarity. Since my strengths are my weaknesses and my weaknesses are my strengths the only action plan available is to immerse myself in relationship. I am Dwight and can only lead as Dwight in community. I desperately need God and the people he is placing in my life. My goal is not to compensate for my weaknesses as much as it is to embrace them as the gift from God that they are. My weaknesses are one of the greatest invitations to relationship with God and others that I have been given. It is my strengths that are one of my greatest enemies; my strengths make me feel like I don’t need others. Therefore, my one engagement is to live as best as I know how to live within the unique relational dynamic of my life with Christ in the community he has placed me. The closest thing I can have to an action plan is a faith commitment, like a vow of marriage. A public commitment to pursue humility, service, openness and love of others.
Some of the commitments I regularly revisit, and often fail at are:
- I vow to lead within the context of loving relationships.
- I vow to receive personal criticism as a sober gift and to search it for God’s invitation to me.
- I vow not to teach or preach if I cannot interact with people.
- I vow to ask more questions and make observations inviting participation rather than give answers.
- I vow to hear, see, know and learn from Christ in others.
- I vow to decrease, to become less and to celebrate others more.
- I vow to ask for forgiveness when I wrong, to love when wronged, and to regularly express my need of others.
- I vow to love my limitations.
- I vow to be open seeing God where I might least expect him – “You never know.”
PDF of an unpublished Interview with theOoze.com/seedstories.
why relational church?
by dwight friesen
Doug has a love/hate relationship with the church. Some of his fondest memories, his life shaping moments and his deep relationships have been within the body of Christ. He became a pastor to help other people experience what he had experienced. Over the years he has had a front row seat to a spectacular Divine show: breathtaking redemptive narratives, broken relationships reconciled, hope discovered and embraced and so on.
His front row seat has also given him an all too close vantage point to witness the horror of the Bride of Christ morph into the Bride of Frankenstein, wrecking havoc on those in its path. Annual meetings that went sour, cruel unsubstantiated rumors spread throughout the body, declining numbers, shrinking budgets and the sinking feeling that he wasn’t good enough. He had come to dread random phone calls from parishioners who wanted to speak with him, fearing that they too were about to tear away yet one more strip of his dwindling dignity. He used to love being with people and now he increasingly saw them as interruptions. Doug read of large churches, often wondering how those leaders could be relationally connected in the detailed lives of the people in their churches.
When he and his wife, Renee left seminary they would often talk and dream late into the night with anyone who would listen about the wonder and beauty of doing life together. They spoke about the dream of being known and knowing others, about participating in the day-to-day life of their neighborhood as they let the light of Christ shine through them. They dreamt about bearing with one another, and about loving through disagreements, and about finding small practical ways to demonstrate their love for Christ by loving the members of their church family.
Five years into their first pastorate those passionate late night conversations were a distant memory. “Youthful idealism – borderline utopianism,” he said to comfort himself. Words like: exhausted, stale, alone, scared, defensive, and dry were now regularly appearing in his journal. Renee was also growing disillusioned with vocational ministry. She subtly dreaded board-meeting nights. As she watched Doug come home with mixed feelings, having often being misunderstood. She knew it was becoming too much for her. She had started to go to bed before he returned just so she wouldn’t have to see the discouragement on his face; sometimes she even faked sleeping. After five years he and Renee were done. Doug had submitted his resignation with nowhere to go. Maybe he could work with Renee’s dad.
While packing up his study and his dreams he came across a binder filled with essays he had written while in grad school. A wave of nostalgia washed in. He sat flipping the pages reading a paragraph here and there. He thought of some of his professors, his fellow students and the passion he had once lived and breathed. “What a far cry from this,” he thought looking at his boxed up life.
One of the essays he had written popped into his head. It was a book report on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. When he found it, he read the entire thing twice, with glossy eyes. “What had gone wrong here?”
Working with Renee’s dad was OK. Doug liked to joke that he went from hocking “Eternal Fire insurance” to auto insurance, usually eliciting little more than a slight chuckle. He and Renee had a hard time finding a church to attend, so for a while they quit going altogether. For the first time in their lives they slept in on Sunday morning and liked it.
As Doug and Renee talked with the people they were meeting in their new life they were surprised how many connected with their story. Their feelings of being disappointed or hurt by the institutional church found ready “Amens,” as did the sense of new freedom in their post-church life.
“Since I quit ‘going to church’ I have more time with my family and I love it.”
“Now that I don’t have committee meetings, I’m getting to know my neighbors; it feels like they actually want to know me.”
“Today, when I hear of a financial need or I see a friend who needs help I give, I don’t need to wait for a ‘church response.’ I am the church response.”
“Since I ‘dropped out’ of Sunday School and midweek programs our family has started to volunteer one Saturday each month at a neighborhood food bank, we’re making a real difference, I think Christ is pleased.”
“My husband and I go for walks on Sunday mornings. We talk and pray. And we’re no longer content with Christian clichés; instead we wrestle with God – together.”
Doug and Renee began to deconstruct their church experience and began to find others who wanted to deconstruct as well. They started a small group in their home. Often their conversations were as prophetic as they were profane. They discussed the church’s hierarchical power structures, external measurements of success, programmed spirituality, church marketing that seemed more image conscious than concerned with honesty, the myth of the priesthood of all believers, the disproportionate amount of money spent on buildings and religious professionals, and how so much church-growth seemed to stem from clergy’s instinctive grasp at self-preservation. Their conversations often took them back to Christ’s interactions with the religious leaders of His day.
Jesus’ ministry was so relational. He had such authority but refused to wield power, there was no discernable program instead He met each person uniquely.
After a while God’s Spirit began to challenge Doug, Renee and their small group. They began to sense that they could do more than deconstruct what they had experienced; God may actually be inviting them to begin something constructive. Maybe they could be a Christ-community; a church without power structures, and permission systems, without dogmas of exclusion but points of invitation.
Seminary had not trained Doug participate in a relational church. “Am I the only person thinking this way? Are there other Christ-communities that are wrestling with the meanings and implications of relational theology in the practice and structure of church life? How can relationality be the organizing and structural principle for a Christ-community?”
Doug is beginning to sense that his vocational ministry burnout may be one of the greatest gifts God has given him. Doug, Renee and their community still have a love/hate relationship with the institutional church but they beginning to find fresh life in relating with God each other and their world.
don’t waste your life doing things for God
by dwight friesen
Most people have this fascination with being profound (in fact “homosapien” means wise, intelligent being and we can’t forget the Garden of Eden). When we discover something simple we are p
rone to complicate it.
I fear we have muddied God’s beautiful vision for his church. We have all these pricey buildings, sophisticated programs, flashy services, and these senior pastors who think they are CEOs, generals, or in some instances even the Pope.
Christ’s church is simple. She is the New Community of Christ’s followers. She is relational the people of God united before Him.
Worship, preaching, evangelism, Bible teaching, missions, retreat centers, fellowship, theology, prayer, service, etc.; all of these can be good, yet every one of these can be idolatrous. When these kinds of things begin to drive us, we must beware for we may already be bowing before a golden calf. God is a jealous and holy God. He will not share our affections.
When the people of God become more task oriented than relational, a red light should illuminate our dashboard prompting us to pull over and be still. All tasks related to the church or the gospel must be birthed out of life with God. God never calls us to tasks but God always calls us to himself. When such a Christ-life is healthy every task finds its place. But when that intimacy with God is off, then we are in danger of defining ourselves by something or someone other than Christ. All God-honoring ministry can only result from the overflow of life with God. Ministry can never be a goal in and of itself, that kind of ministry will always be an idol. It doesn’t mean God won’t use such efforts. God can even speak though Babylon and Balaam’s donkey. Surely God can use an idolatrous preacher or missionary.
The sad truth is that idolatrous Christians whose lives are marked by such “fruitful” ministry may find themselves wondering why they no longer sense the presence of God. They ask: Why do I feel so alone in ministry? Why am I so full of pride? When did I stop hearing the still, small voice of Christ? When did I start pursuing power? Where did the joy of ministry go?
The flashing red light on one’s dashboard is God’s invitation for a person to park oneself, and be still. It is in the being still that God speaks, and can be heard. When a person is hearing God’s voice and responding, the relationship is growing. And the person begins again to live this simple thing we call the gospel.
The Church often seems filled with people racing along to their individually selected destinations, CD player blocking out the voice of God. God is a gentleman and rarely raises his voice. We need to find a rest stop, take time and listen, holding our destination very loosely. God often waits until the last moment before telling us where to turn. In fact, if the vision for your destination is crystal clear you may need to seriously reflect as to who’s vision it really is.
The church is so simple, God and his united people, together at the cross of Christ. Don’t waste your life doing things for God.
by dwight friesen
(published by aLife as “Green Hair and the Gospel”)
A twenty-four woman with green hair gets up from her table in the corner of a cheesy bar on Seattle’s eastside. She makes her way to a stool in front of small group. Taking a crumpled piece of paper out of her pocket and smoothing the wrinkles she clears her throat.
“I wrote this poem about two months ago, and wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to share it with anyone, I’m still not sure. But I’m gonna try.”
She starts to read, and it’s clear that something deep has been happening in her spirit. God has been at work. Her story, her art, her person demonstrate the living power of Christ, and a small community is lead in worship.
What will worship look like? What can it look like? What honors God?
* * * * * * *
Nobody sees a flower really
its so small we haven’t time
and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time.
– Georgia O’Keefe, painter
* * * * * * *
There is little doubt that our culture is transitioning from the modern to the postmodern. Books and conferences abound trying to help individuals and churches navigate the turbulent waters of change. So many of the very things the church fought for just a quarter century ago are no longer seen as vital. It seems like every method, structure and even message of the church is being deconstructed while the invitation to the goes out for all to create “truth” for themselves.
It is precisely in this kind of context that Quest is incarnating the love of Christ. “Quest” is a relational, missional church-plant. The
Pacific Northwest has often been described as one of the least churched regions of the United States, and though that is true, it is also true that the region is very spiritual.
The question that drives my community to its knees, and has kept us on our knees, is: How would a missionary approach the development of a church in such a context?
* * * * * * *
Christians are not relevant in the mundane;
How are we going to be relevant in the profound?
– Erwin McManus, pastor & author
* * * * * * *
Saturday night, my wife and I were at a party being thrown by a co-worker. A few hours into the party people were feeling comfortable and having a good time. The group started making fun of some of the people who weren’t invited. They started to poke fun of my boss. One of the guys shouted, “He sure needs to get SAVED doesn’t he Dwight?” All eyes turned to me; they knew I was a pastor and had dubbed me, “Pastor-dude.” I shot back, “Hey, don’t we all.”
No sooner had the words left my mouth when my cubical partner jumped all over me. “There you go again Dwight! You’re always sticking up for losers. Why bother the guy is a jerk.” I didn’t know what to say but replied anyway, “I’m just trying to see people the way Jesus does. Every person is of great worth, even jerks.”
Melissa was sitting right next to me. She is one of those people who are fun to be around; the party is where Melissa is. She leans over and asks, “What about me? Do you think I really matter?”
For a brief moment at a party in Seattle I was able to be Christ to a party girl named Melissa. A woman who had never been to a church building other then to witness a friend’s wedding and attend her father’s funeral.
What does a Christ-community need to be to serve the Melissa’s in your life?
* * * * * * *
Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn’t have guessed.
That’s one of the reasons I believe Christianity.
It’s a religion you couldn’t have guessed.
– C. S. Lewis, professor & author
* * * * * * *
In 1996 when God lead us to birth the community which now gives me life, I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought I knew what our church would look like, and it was going to be cool. But God said, “You must decrease and I will increase. Your vision must decrease for mine to increase.” These days I find myself wondering, could it be that the clearer my vision is, the less likely it is from God. God seems to lead me and my community not to clarity but trust him. Not to obvious action items but to a deeper relationship with the person of Christ.
You may have guessed already, that the Open Mic gathering in that cheesy Seattle bar is one of the gatherings of my church. Yes, we meet in a bar. And we meet in homes. We party together and share art and stories. We break bread and drink from the cup passed to us from our gracious Savior. We love and serve; we watch movies and drink coffee; we talk and do life together.
This is church. Nothing fancy; but the real stuff rarely is.
never go to church again
by dwight friesen
I am diligently working to destroy the er
roneous notion of “going to Church.”
We cannot go to church any more than a parent can “Go to Parenting.” Once a person becomes a mother or a father their entire life is forever and irrevocably altered. Though “Mom” and “Dad” are titles, those terms describe a life focus for the bearer of the title. To be a Mom is to be a person of action. A woman can not become a mother and continue her life exactly as it was before. In fact if a parent were to continue with life as usual that person would be abusive, negligent, absent, or dead. When a couple has a child their priorities change, the way they use their time is altered, it changes the way they look at life. Parenting is not something a person attends (like a movie) and then return to their life, instead parenting forever changes the person.
When a person encounters Christ and the grace he extends, God adopts that person into his family. We call that family the Church. To be part of the church is to receive a new set of lenses to see the world through. Church is not an event to attend. Church is a lifestyle. Church is living life as a person in communion with God, and in community with like-minded people. Its clear in the Bible that God has always wanted church to be more of a verb than a noun. We church when we our lives are marked by action.
Our community is in the process of transitioning our “church” gathering to our Community Groups. So that a person has truly been to church if they have participated in the life of their small community. Quest has often said that we never wanted to be defined by our “Expression Service” so we are going to great lengths to create little house churches pastured by teams of qualified, gifted, leaders.
So we’ve been wrestling with what it means to truly be the church. As I look at the Bible, the following appear to be core to what needs to mark the people of God. And when these things are taking place we are living God’s dream. We’re churching.
· People Intentionally Share Life Together A spiritual community where life’s resources are joined together, people are expected and are equipped to be vulnerable and accountable with one another and the community, and the needs of those inside and outside the community are met; love in action. (Acts 4:32-34, 2:42-47)
· Worship is Expressed and Experienced God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is central and God’s worth is lifted high and worshipped. A community bringing people into the meeting of heaven and earth and calls the believer to live life for the reality that awaits. (Romans 12:1-2, Rev.4:5-11)
· Ministry Happens Ministry is a natural out pouring and result of the gathering of Christ-followers and non-followers. (Acts 5:12-15, 2 Cor. 5:18-20)
· God’s Word is Applied The Biblical story is told and taught and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is lived out in the community. (Acts 2:42, 2 Tim 3:16)
· Sacraments are Shared The historical celebration and collective participation in Communion and Baptism. (Mt. 26:26-30, Eph. 4:3-6)
· People Regularly Gather Together The joining together in collective experience is necessary for a community to be a church. (Acts 5)
· People are Outfitted for Ministry “Lay” people are the “ministers” who function as leaders and are empowered to do ministry. (1 Pet. 4:5,9)
· Non-believers Come to Faith The church is the primary place where people come to faith and begin to live as followers of Christ. (Acts 5:14)
· Power of the Gospel is Displayed People’s lives are transformed and society is changed. (1 Cor 6:9-11)
When these things mark a community of Christ-followers, they are the church. Don’t judge a church by their youth ministry, their building, their nursery, their budget nor their stained glass. God’s invitation to his new community is so much greater. Commit with me to focus on allowing these things to mark us.
It’s an ideal – its God’s dream for us.
May it be so.
truth as paradox
by dwight friesen
God is plurality – God is one
Jesus is God Jesus is human
In the world not of the world
Paradox has at least three offspring: certainty, doubt and faith.
Certainty looks at paradox and says, “They can’t both be true. I will take sides. I will exercise my mind and my reason to confidentially claim my argument as true. I will gather data and build my case. I will defeat my enemies. I will defend my position adamantly, for I am right.” Certainty can be one of the chief enemies of relationship, because it draws a line in the sand daring others to cross. Inability to live with paradox requires the “Certain Person” to battle all contrary world views. “Us verses them” in a battle-royal-fight-to-the-death. It is little wonder that certainty often leads to closed-minds, closed-hearts, and I’m in/you’re out fundamentalism.
Doubt looks at paradox and says, “Neither is true,” or says “I can never know which is true and which is not.” Doubt looks within itself to create meaning. Doubt is void of relationship because doubt turns neither to God, nor other people but turns inward to make truth for itself. It relies on the individual as it is incapable of seeing beyond itself. Doubt often leads to materialism/atheism, and agnosticism.
concerned with the propositions and dogma then it is concerned about a person, Jesus Christ. So when faith sees paradox, faith humbly bows before God, saying “You are Truth. Let me walk with You and Your Truth will be my truth. Reveal Yourself in me and I will experience and know You, for You are Truth.” Faith approaches truth from its knees. Faith approaches truth as relationship with God. Faith is in a person not in a concept or ideology. Faith approaches truth with certainty not in principles, creed and text by with certainty of relationship.
When a person stands before God on that day the question is not “were You orthodox in your theology” rather the question is “did you know ME?”
All Christian doctrine is rooted in paradox so as to drive us toward relationship with Christ. When Paradox is not core to our theology our human tendency is to move theology toward certainty a knowledge which puffs up and divides, or to move toward doubt which says we can not know anything, so why try.
Paradox holds seemly opposing views loosely, offering them up to God as a sacrifice of worship inviting the Holy Spirit to guide us into all Truth.
Again, Truth is not primarily understood as a philosophy or ideology, Truth is a person to be known. Truth is Christ.
I began the article by saying that offspring of paradox are faith, doubt and certainty. Doubt and certainty are in paradox themselves. For the evangelical Christ-follower sitting with this paradox (doubt & certainty) may serve as an excellent starting point for all theology. Doubt and certainty are both the best friends of faith and faith’s worst enemies. And when these two are held in paradox certainty and doubt bring seekers to their knees and faith in Christ is born.