Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Radical Reform Without the Radical?

As I strive to promote radical reform in the Church, I often stress that "radical" actually means "of the root." In other words, radical is synonymous with original. Being radical is about returning to the original intent or purpose of something. So, it is important to ask questions like, "What did Jesus require of disciples from the start?" or "How did the church form and what does that term mean in the first century context?" Then, we can examine whether we have strayed from the root or maybe planted something new altogether.

I am aware that when most people hear the word radical they most likely equate it with extreme. The funny thing is that some changes that need to be made are, in fact, extreme when compared to our current practices only because we have gotten so far away from the "root." The result is that sometimes people think they are being radical and reforming the church substantively when, in reality, they are only tweaking things. People often claim to be radical, "outside the box," or new in their ways of doing things in the church while still leaving the overall structure of the church untouched. Today's topic is a prime example of this mentality.

In a fairly recent issue of Grace & Peace magazine, a "Dialogical Resource for Nazarene Clergy," the Executive Editor, Bryon McLaughlin, wrote a piece entitled "Charting a Course in the New Reality." This, in and of itself, gets to the point I am trying to make. While I have no problem with such an article or essay in a magazine for denominational leadership, it reveals the prevailing assumption that church reform must be directed by pastors. This would be an example of calling for major ("radical") reforms in church practices and attitudes while using the same old vehicle to bring about the change as always. In actuality, it is the hierarchical structure in place that can interfere with our ability to remain close to the root in the first place.
Now, to be clear, this is not a rant against organized pastoral leadership. I also am not slamming McLaughlin for his stance. In fact, as I stated earlier, it is appropriate to write about such things to pastors considering where we are now. It seems like a logical starting place in our current situation. It is just not how Jesus operated. That's all.

Jesus did not do leadership training. Jesus discipled followers to disciple more followers who, in turn, would disciple more, you guessed it, followers. Due to our mental pre-sets that view everything in society, including the church, in hierarchical manners, we have an obsession with the idea of becoming leaders because it inherently carrries with it the sense of progression. If we are becoming better leaders, than we are growing, improving, arriving, or so we say.

Jesus, on the other hand, was obsessed with shaping followers. The root of Christianity consists of obedience as a follower of the Head of the church. If we are not careful, then we replace the root with a desire to mold more leaders to become "heads" of the church. We convince ourselves that this is what spiritual maturity is all about. This road may be paved with good intentions, but make no mistake, it is a road that leads away from the root. It is not the path of radicals.

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