Downloading from the “Boot Camp”
I took the day off work Tuesday to drive up to Winston-Salem and hang out with a group of folks who were gathering at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship offices for a day-long “Non-Militaristic Boot Camp of Friendship” with Tim Conder and Doug Pagitt.
This was non-militaristic in contrast with another church planting “boot camp” that was held in the region in the not-too-distant past, which was decidedly militaristic in its tone, according to Tripp Fuller.
Anyway, there was a good group of people there (who you can’t see in the picture, because I just photographed Tim and Doug). It was mostly a seminar from Tim and Doug, talking about how they started Emmaus Way (~2 years ago) and Solomon’s Porch (~8 years ago), respectively. Tim learned a lot from Doug’s mistakes, and Doug has learned a lot from Tim’s friendship over the years, as well.
Tripp recorded much of the audio from the discussion and is planning to post it in chunks over on the Dogwood Abbey website, so check over there for the raw, unfiltered through my brain content — coming soon!
So here are just some of the interesting thoughts that I’m taking away from this time sitting at the feet of the masters (just kidding, ya’ll—lighten up!) …
Lessons Learned: Going Bivocational, Going for Participation
One of the interesting lessons that both Tim and Doug talked about learning is the importance (in emerging churches) of shifting power away from a hierarchical leadership structure and accomplishing this by having a true co-pastor situation and/or having pastoral/ministry staff be bivocational. As the “senior pastor” at his former church (Chapel Hill Bible Church), Tim was paid the same salary as the youth minister (except for a slight increase based on years of experience). Doug and his wife, Shelley, already run several businesses (rental property management, etc.), and he says Solomon’s Porch is currently rethinking its whole financial structure right now because it’s “two or three years out of date.”
One of the other reasons for this move away from the idea of full-time “professional pastoral” roles is, they say, an effort to create a better environment for the “priesthood of all believers” to really take hold. Tim said he hates the word “volunteers” in the context of church/ministry. The idea is that every member of the community should be allowed to fully participate however they are gifted and feel called to be involved. This is, they say, what is killing hierarchical, top-down institutional church models: cultural creatives simply can’t function in a church world where they aren’t allowed to contribute and co-create.
I found this point particularly interesting because it ties in—in a way I’ve never connected it before—with what’s happening in the world of journalism with the rise of citizen journalism and the new media technology putting the power to communicate into the hands of every citizen. I’ve connected this to mission with my own concept of kingdom journalism, but I hadn’t really tied this into ecclesiology and church planting yet. Now I’ve got new ideas bubbling and brewing on this point that I’m excited to explore.
Church As Family
Right around the time that Doug and his wife, Shelley, were starting this holistic missional Christian community called Solomon’s Porch and embracing a James 1:27 kind of faith, they moved into a new neighborhood where there were two Hispanic foster kids living next door. Literally, orphans were living next to them, and the question they were faced with was, “Is this a theoretical ‘missional’ life we’re talking about living out here? Or is this an ‘actual’ thing that we’re going to do?” (my paraphrase) And so they ended up adopting these two boys, Chico and Ruben. The Pagitts now have four teenagers. And the remarkable thing to me was how Doug related this story to its impact on the life of Solomon’s Porch.
He described how the church is like a family, and we’ve all heard that one before, right? “This church is like a family. When you’re here, you’re family!” (oh wait, that’s Olive Garden) Anyway, what he said was (again, I’m paraphrasing), “We didn’t welcome Chico and Ruben into our living room, and say, ‘We’re glad you’re here! We’ve got some donuts and coffee over here and some literature about the programs we have going on. We’d love to get you plugged into a small group right away so you can ‘go deeper’ and really grow here in this home!’ No, we didn’t say that.” Instead, they joined the family as full members with the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else—and in so doing they didn’t make the Pagitt family bigger, they actually formed a new family unit.
Doug applied this principle to church structures and shared the story of a 24-year-old woman who is a part of the Solomon’s Porch community even though she “doesn’t believe in the God of the Bible.” As a member of their community, Solomon’s Porch is a different church than it would be without her. Her participation is transformative in the community, and Doug says, that’s a good thing. For many evangelicals, the idea of a “non-Christian” having a contributing role in a church is anathema, but as Tim and Doug explained so well, this is indicative of a fundamental shift …
From Bounded Set and Centered Set to … Relationally-Centered Set?
So Tim and Doug did a great job of explaining how most churches are organized as either “bounded set” or “centered set” communities. Tim described “bounded set” as churches that have doctrine “guarding” the perimeter of the community, forcing everyone to affirm a certain set of beliefs before they are allowed to enter in where (the philosophy is) they will be transformed in the midst of community. The so-called “believing before belonging” approach.
I honestly don’t recall how they explained or described “centered set,” but I do recall a slide on the screen that showed a big cross in the middle of what looked like an amoeba. So maybe that will help you figure that one out.
The alternative they offered as the primary/preferred “model” is what they called “relationally-centered set” communities. Another word for it might be a social networking model for church. The gist of this seems to be that its authentic, organic relationships of people that bind the community together. And as people come and go, flow in and out of proximity, they legitimately transform the fabric of the community. And that’s the way it should be.
I loved what Tim said about doctrine: “We talk about theology all the time—it just doesn’t have the same place in our community.” (or something like that; again, paraphrase)
Zach Roberts added an insightful comment/observation that every community is actually “relationally-centered” and the “bounded set” or “centered set” is just systems artificially imposed on top of the underlying, organic foundation of relationship.
And that seems like a good place to end these reflections on a good day in Winston-Salem. On the subject of relationship. Friendship. My thanks to the Dogwood Abbey and CBF for putting on this event.
BTW—There are more events coming up for connection and friendship. Another event that Doug mentioned at the “Boot Camp” is a “Great Emergence” conference with Phyllis Tickle coming up in Memphis in early December.
UPDATE 2/27/2008: The first segment of audio from the “Non-Militaristic Boot Camp” has now been posted on the Dogwood Abbey site. Zach Roberts says there are two more audio files to be posted in the coming weeks, as well. Jump on over to the Dogwood Abbey to download the audio and check it out.