October 5, 2006
Catalytic Conversations 2: Rednecks, sovereignty, natural selection, and injustice.
Leadership editor Marshall Shelley is in Atlanta this week for the Catalyst Conference, where almost 10,000 mostly younger leaders of churches are meeting to discuss ministry in today's culture. Here's his second report.
Today was the conference's first full day, and in addition to a solid lineup of speakers (Andy Stanley, Marcus Buckingham, George Barna, John Maxwell, and Gary Haugen), the hit of the day, at least for me since my momma was raised in the hills of eastern Tennessee, was the surprise appearance of comedian Jeff Foxworthy ("If you put your TV that works on top of your TV that doesn't work, you may be a redneck").
Foxworthy had traveled to Kenya this past spring with Andy Stanley and some others to visit various ministries. He had fun with the audience pointing out that his definition of "redneck" is "a glorious absence of sophistication," which applies to many of the key characters in the Bible:
Samson, who grew "the mother of all mullets" and who caught 300 foxes, tied them in pairs with tails tied to a burning torch, and set them loose to burn the fields of their despised neighbors, the Philistines? "Sounds like a redneck."
How about David, who killed somebody with a slingshot, sneaked into a cave to play a trick on somebody who was going to the bathroom in there, and then spied over the fence on a naked neighbor. "That's as redneck as it gets."
Here are some other, less blue-collar, impressions from the day:
Andy Stanley retold the story of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar's madness, and Belshazzar's feast, and had everyone repeat the refrain that's repeated in Daniel 4 and 5: "The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes." The main takeaways:
1. Leadership is a stewardship.
2. Leadership is temporary.
3. Leaders are accountable.
4. Therefore, be diligent, fearless, and humble.
This was a refreshing opening message at a conference that some of the people sitting around me had criticized in past years for its undercurrent of "If you do ministry the way Andy and John tell you to, your church will grow like theirs." This clearly acknowledged God's sovereign and unpredictable way of putting unlikely people in leadership.
George Barna preached his message of Revolution, celebrating his impression that "some of the most committed Christ followers aren't finding a meaningful connection to the local church, so they're doing church apart from local congregations." As interviewer Gabe Lyons suggested, Barna came across not as a researcher (even though Barna claims his conclusions are based on research), but as a prophet.
My understanding of the difference between a researcher and a prophet is that a researcher discloses the methodology used for coming to his conclusions. By this definition, Barna must be a prophet.
John Maxwell talked about "natural selection" (my term, not his), that is, the unavoidable inequalities of leadership. People's gifting for leadership isn't all the same. He claimed that anyone can go from a low level to a high level of spirituality because it's a choice people make. (I'll pass on the theology embedded in that.) But not all people have the potential to be strong leaders, because it's a gift and a skill. And if a person is a level 2 as a leader, they can work hard and reach a level 4 or 5, but they'll never become a level 9. Only people who are born as a level 6 or 7 can ever hope to become a level 9.
The implication: if you want to develop strong leaders, don't waste your time with people of low potential. Focus on those who can reach the higher levels. He cited the example of Jesus, who didn't spend equal amounts of time with all people, nor even with all the disciples. He focused on the three, then the twelve, then everyone else.
While this may be true, it's also true that Jesus made sure to spend significant "face time" and "touch time" with the lame, blind, and powerless. IMHO, this is an element often lacking among those who choose to spend their quality time only with those of great leadership potential.
Finally, Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission brought the most moving presentation of the day, describing his work freeing slaves from captivity and forced labor in south Asia and young girls sold into the sex trade in other parts of the world. He pointed out the Bible's cry against injustice, which is not some trivial "getting caught in the 10-items-or-less express line at the store behind someone with 13 items." But injustice is "people with power taking something from people who lack power." His combination of Christian passion, a former prosecuting attorney's eye for evidence, and his legal expertise showed us we don't need to "sink into the paralysis of despair" over the enormity of the problems, but by putting what we can offer into God's hands, injustice can be broken.
He concluded with the story of a young girl, taken from her home and forced to work in a Southeast Asia brothel. After collecting the evidence and working with the right authorities, agents of the International Justice Mission were able to free her and return her to her family. On the wall of the room where she had been so unjustly used, the girl had scratched these verses from Psalm 27:
The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?
When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.
I don't think I'll ever read those verses in the same way again.
Much to think about today, and much to live out.