Northwest Leadership Institute 2019: Liberation, Resistance + Dreaming of a New Church

I totally geek out at conferences. I’m a life long learner and love immersing myself in new stories, concepts and images. I got to take some friends from our team to Northwest Leadership Institute in Boise, Idaho recently. Thought I’d share some highlights for any of you who love leadership, the church and how we can make this world a better place with the one life we’ve got. Enjoy!

Duane Anders (Cathedral of the Rockies) opened on Wednesday evening with these thoughts on a sacred story about a guy inside a fish and our call to follow God.

  • A called life is a surrendered life.
  • How far do we run from God’s call?
  • Jonah called to love evil empire.
  • Every act of disobedience has a storm attached.
  • God gives mercy to One who wouldn’t give mercy.
  • It’s hard to go to the enemy.
  • What enemy is God inviting me to?
  • When is a prophet no longer a prophet?
  • Being called by God is a mess.
  • Something it takes the belly of the fish to remember our call.
  • What do you do when God’s call is bigger than the church?
  • Where’s your Ninevah?
  • Mercy is what God does for me.

On Thursday morning, Leroy Barber (Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team) looked at Ephesians 3 and a church reimagined.

  • We often like our ways of being church. We make people fit into our understanding of our cultural assumptions.
  • We say all means all, but how many people of color, homeless or poor people walk through your doors?
  • If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ has no value. Paul’s audience has been taught people must be circumcised. This is what they know. They’re following history. But now it’s changing profoundly on them. Paul, from within their ranks, has shifted. What they used to know now has no value.
  • What will we do if being an ordained elder has no more value in our culture?
  • The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
  • Who do they appoint as leaders in the midst of cultural breakdown? They were all Greek leaders. Immigrants. They came in to make sure liberation was truly liberation.
  • Those affected the most need to be making the decisions.
  • So often in the Bible, the people called into leadership are from the margins. Moses, woman at the well, Rahab, Canaanite woman, etc.
  • The church always recreates from the bottom up.
  • If your theological jargon doesn’t work on the streets, it doesn’t matter.
  • Our Creator has more for us than we can ever imagine.
  • If we can figure out how to diversify this thing, then our imaginations will be blown.
  • Bring on the suffering, do more than I can imagine.

Ginger Gaines-Cirelli (Foundry UMC in Washington DC, author of Sacred Resistance)

  • I surrender how much? All.
  • We often think our resistance in the public square is separate from our faith. It’s not.
  • What does it mean to resist in the way of Jesus?
  • What makes resistance sacred?
  • Sacred resistance is a stance. A way of being in the world. An ongoing orientation to the world.
  • This posture resists all that is not God.
  • Our baptismal vows give us the power to resist and the freedom to do this work.
  • When it’s God that inspires, sustains and provides the ultimate vision of our action, we are engaged in sacred resistance.
  • Sacred resistance shows up in our personal attitudes, communal protest, spiritual practices, political advocacy, in how we spend our time and for whom we will risk our safety.
  • Sacred resistance is part of the identity and nature of any community who truly seeks to follow Christ.
  • We will cultivate an inward posture that centers on God and resists all that is not God.
  • This posture prepares faith communities to be ready in moments of crisis to discern where and how God is calling them to respond.
  • Sacred resistance is trying to be more like Jesus. It calls us to a different loyalty. It makes our primary citizenship in the Kin-dom of God.
  • Tweet storms make us feel like we did a good deed but then we simply move on to the next thing on our list. We can do better.

Grace is the natural flow of things when you don’t resist it. – Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ

Mike McHarague (aka Science Mike & The Liturgists)

  • Millennials are born between 1980 and 2000.
  • 25% of the US population. Post-Millennial generation is bigger but we don’t have much data on them yet.
  • They value experiences over things. The most diverse generation ever (until Post-Millennials).
  • Millennials are last generation to be at least 50% white.
  • We can no longer normalize the white experience as the total experience.
  • Wildly progressive in what others do, but conservative in their own actions.
  • They don’t trust institutions.
  • Least religious generation in American history (until post-millennials). It’s important to note that it’s the White American church that’s collapsing. We don’t see that trend yet in Black and Latinx culture.
  • Time spent with friends and family has dropped 20% since 2000 for millennials and post-millennials.
  • “All screen activities are linked to less happiness and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. 8th graders who spend 10 hours or more a week on social media are 56% more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.” – The Atlantic
  • Mike shared that he gave up social media and after the initial two weeks of anxiety, he is now happier than ever. Except his business started to collapse. How do we handle our addiction and now necessity with social media?
  • We are meant to be social. We get great validations from social interaction. We get dopamine hits. Potential rewards!
  • Depression is at an all-time high. Heavy social media use increases depression risks by 27%.
  • Data shows that participating in sports or church communities report a massive shift in personal happiness. It mitigates the effect of digital isolation.
  • The church is a big potential response to the biggest health crisis in history and we can’t figure out how to connect people to church.
  • Heavy smartphone and tablet users are 35% more likely to have suicidal ideation. Much of this is due to the Instagram Effect. We have given the curation of our lives to an algorithm tech person. The algorithms survive by getting my attention. The more we look at the screen, the more they can convince us to buy things.
  • Pictures of other people smiling and having fun are engaging. Millennials are going out less than before. But each time, they post a picture having fun with their friends. Everyone is digitally isolated and thinking that everyone else is always having fun. It’s a recipe for suicide.
  • We are in a digitally induced mental health crisis. And science tells us being a part of a faith community is a proven solution.

Mandy Sloan McDow, Los Angeles First United Methodist Church

  • The church is dying. The Body of Christ will live.
  • The church she serves in LA tore down their building and didn’t end up rebuilding. She started holding worship in their parking lot instead of building a new building.
  • Be willing to make unpopular decisions. You’re going to lost people. You might have to let them go.
  • People sleep in our parking lot during worship because they’re safe.
  • We’re not doing more than we can handle.
  • We don’t over-promise on what we can do.
  • Our buildings can be idols. We look inward at our needs instead of out at our community and seeing their needs.
  • We value land over people. We value land over ministry.
  • Pastors are not developers. Surround yourself with people with this skill set.

Michael Gungor, Musician & Co-Founder of The Liturgists

  • They started a church in Denver and tried so hard to love the city. It felt like throwing drops in the ocean. It didn’t make a difference. And they were killing themselves for those drops.
  • Community is messy. There’s no easy, clean or perfect way of doing this.
  • If I were to be part of a church again, I would go to this kind of church…
  • A God of love for every person regardless of creed, sex, age, body shape, world view, etc.
  • Values and embodies difference.
  • Liturgy that can engage my mind and my whole body – it can hold the variety of my emotions.
  • Don’t make me pretend like I’m not a full human body.
  • Free of shame.
  • Free to evolve – that’s not stuck on hang ups of its leaders.
  • Not built on thoughts of a single person on a stage talking to me for an hour. I want to be together. I want the us.
  • Cares for the oppressed but doesn’t look down on them.
  • Cares for earth and knows we’re not separate from it.
  • Celebrates doubt without becoming prisoner in it.
  • Loves my family and my kids and my neighbors and my enemies and my light and my dark.
  • Opens my heart to the grace of this moment.
  • Celebrates incarnation and resurrection.
  • I want eucharist that teaches me everything is holy.
  • I want baptism that invites human ego to die.
  • I want to sing with my whole heart and love with my whole being.

Mike McHargue

  • Church was my sanctuary. Losing the church was the hardest thing that ever happened to me in my life.
  • He started to realize lots of people went to church and sat in a pew but wasn’t sure they believed it all. They were terrified to tell anyone because their entire life was in the church. There was terror of being ostracized and that was enough to never talk about it.
  • Waffles at 10am on a Sunday should be a sacrament.
  • He found churches with beautiful theology and mind-numbingly boring worship services. Or there were churches with incredible vibrancy but you would be burning in hell forever if you didn’t fit their specific criteria.
  • Every denomination is a reaction to something. People screw it up so another thing is birthed.
  • Successful churches lead the way on inclusion, value community over programs and universally affirm human dignity.
  • What does it mean for a church to be communal, not programmatic?
  • We can’t make communal culture programmatic. It has to be organically modeled and permeated through culture.
  • Ask Millennials in your life: What breaks your heart in our community? How can we partner with you to meet that need in the community?
  • We’re not good at partnering. The church is good at colonizing.
  • The church has been making the lost sheep that Jesus cares so much about. We wonder why the most diverse generation in American history doesn’t want any part of it.
  • May we be the people who tear down all the ways around the church. May we apologize to every heart we broke.

Leroy Barber

  • John 9:1-12 – Leadership From the Margins
  • The more Jesus freed people, the more trouble he got into.
  • Who sinned? This man or his parents? We talk about poor people, but we don’t let poor people talk. We talk about houseless people, but we don’t let houseless people talk.
  • We make our own plans for people out there. Instead of bringing them into the conversation, then we can go forward together.
  • The person Jesus heals is right in front of them.
  • The religious leaders have some questions about this guy who they’ve seen blind for his entire life.
  • He walks in free and religious leaders don’t believe them. They doubt his story. They make him prove something. Religious leaders defend and control. They don’t see who God is liberating. They question the very liberation that sits in their midst.
  • When did he heal you? That question makes them miss everything God is doing and rely on a system they thought God set up.
  • They ask questions about healing on the sabbath. Jesus disrupted on purpose and kept healing on the sabbath. Religious leaders didn’t get the message.
  • We have a race, culture, gender, sexuality problem. We don’t know how to handle it because we don’t have the right people leading the conversations.
  • Communities of color already know how to be community. The wrong people are leading.
  • You’re pulling us into a white story. Instead of saying, “hey, teach us.”
  • They turned to the blind man and asked, “Where are your parents?” Let him speak for himself.
  • We see it often in the Bible, those who are excluded come in and teach us.
  • Self-centered leadership leads out of fear, not freedom. Insecure leaders see everyone as competitor.
  • The religious leaders hide behind the letter of the law to keep power and position. As if laws have always been equal and fair. They assumed this man was lying.
  • As a black man working in lots of white spaces, I can identify with this more than I like to admit.
  • A person from the margin is healed and we look for the flaw so we can heal it ourselves.
  • “I’m not hurt by the Church. I’m hurt by white folks who don’t understand Christianity.”
  • Healing is standing right in front of him. Jesus didn’t hurt him. Those in power – the system – hurt him. I’m not mad at Jesus or the Church. I’m mad at white folks who aren’t living this thing out.
  • Invite marginalized people to the front to lead you.
  • Blind man is preaching out of healing. He just got healed. He’s not upset. He’s excited. He’s telling his own story. “I was blind, but now I see.” He’s not even sure who did this. But praise be to whoever did!
  • Religious leaders insult him and throw him out.
  • Imagine the scene: We see the parents and religious leaders in the temple. Seeing man outside and Jesus strolls up. Will he go to the temple or check on the seeing man? Jesus makes a bee line for the seeing man. He has a conversation and relationship with him.

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