church, Discipleship, Musings, Relationships, theology, women

I Give Thanks for the Presence, Example, Leadership, and Gift of Women

This is a post I’ve been thinking of writing for a LONG time. I’ve waited, and waited, and waited. Not because really because of fear, though I have felt it. Not because I wanted to stay on the sidelines, though at times I did. Not because I wasn’t sure, though I have long wrestled. I waited, because I honestly haven’t even known where to begin.

But, to not begin; to not speak, I now realize is one of these things I confess each evening in my prayers: “I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and what I have left undone.”

Without equivocation or qualification, I give thanks to God for the presence, example, and gift of women pastors, ministers, elders, professors, mentors, leaders, and teachers. Not just for those in my own life, but for those throughout time. We are better because of you. I would not be more whole and healed in my life without you. In short: we need you.

While this post may feel like a bit of a hot-take toward certain articles and posts that have been circulating recently, that is not really my desire. And, I do not desire to rehash tired arguments. I will leave that to others. I will simply say that I believe that the full-inclusion of women in places of leadership, authority, and gifting in the church and the world (and fruitful partnerships of mutuality between men and women) is the more faithful response to the full story of our Faith and a more beautiful witness to the world of God’s kingdom.

I was recently in a meeting with a group of women who are working to serve and love some of the most marginalized and vulnerable in our region. I had a moment as I was sitting at the table where I just realized how blessed I was to be in their midst. These are some of the most passionate, smart, strategic, gifted, and hard-working women (and people!) I have met. I felt overwhelmed by the fact that I got to work with them; that I had a seat at their table. That I was being led by them. This feeling of blessing was then commingled with sadness for others who are missing out on this opportunity for reasons of belief or institution or otherwise.

But rather than parse out the reasons for my support and belief (which again, others have done very well) I wanted to take the space to honor and thank some of those women who have had such a profound impact on me. They have led me and modeled for me what it looks like to be fully human and a lover of what is good in the world. Note: ***I will inevitably leave far too many out, and I commit to taking more time to share consistently how women continue to challenge and bless me. Forgive me and grant me grace, especially if you are left out. But this is a start. I’m beginning…

My mom helped to instill a vibrant and intellectually honest and curious faith in me from a young age. She took note of my needs while in middle school to homeschool me for a couple years to help affirm my thirst for learning and affirm the mind God had given me. She modeled faithful service and imaginative ways of using her gifts and talents in a variety of jobs and places of service in the church and community. She created space for my questions, she entertained my wonderings, she endured (endures?) the harsher edges of my idealism and fundamentalism with grace and love.

I think of my seminary professors who have profoundly impacted me. Dr. Rebecca Hancock, my Hebrew Bible professor who opened up the beauty and significance of these texts in a way that still challenges me, and who led discussions around the Psalms which have shaped my own prayer life. I think of Rev. Amy Richter, whose deep love for Scripture and pastoral heart gave me a renewed imagination for my own vocation. I still remember hearing her preach and seeing her interact with every single one of her parishioners after the service. I saw, in a fresh way, how robust preaching and faithful shepherding can go hand-in-hand.

I think of Dr. Tracy Radosovic who helped me rediscover the Gospels as stories to be told, not simply texts to be studied. Her fervor for seeing the proclamation of these texts as fully embodied, dramatic moments has influenced my own preaching to this day. And, of course, Dr. Pat Foasarelli, the “Double Doctor” as I call her, as she hold both an M.D. as a pediatrician but also a D. Min. as a professor, Associate Dean, and trainer of seminarians (yes, all-male Catholic ones, too!). Her depth of experience in pastoral ministry in her parish, her stories of working children living with HIV and AIDS, and her way of pushing us into deeper questions about practical ministry, continue to serve as a fuel for my journey. Her matter-of-fact personality and her sensitivity to the work of God in others as a spiritual director is a gift to so many.

I also think of my own spiritual director, Jackie, who helped guide me as a sort of surrogate grandmother, helping me make sense of the rublmings in my heart around vocation and life direction. The times with her, sipping coffee at her kitchen table and listening the Spirit together will continue to shape my life for years to come.

And there are the countless women pastors and ministers who have taught me (personally or from afar) in one way or another about God, ministry, preaching, and self-care (And I will inevitably leave someone out!). Sandy Boone, Toni Draper, Cathy Oatman, Christine Parker, Michelle Rader, Christa Burns, Mandy Smith, Barbara Brown Taylor, Fleming Rutledge…gosh I could go on.

And, of course, in my work now with HopeSprings, I have learned and grown so much under the leadership and direction of Erin Donovan. I am grateful for her philosophy of leadership, her passion and compassion for those we serve, and her faithfulness through challenging times.

(I have chosen not to include my wife here, because 1) that deserves its own post and 2) she is not fond of public attention from me like this! But, at the risk of violating my reasons, Kara, you are a gift, a means of God’s grace, and a wonderful life partner to me! And to my sister, Amelia…I will save my words for the endorsement or foreword on your first memoir or book, should I have the honor of being asked to write them! ;-))

So, at the risk of a reductionistic and overused phrase, I say again: thank you. And for all those women not named here who are wonderful friends and sisters: we need more than just your competence. Your competence is a given. Your qualifications are evident. We need your presence and your example. And I commit to doing all I can to honor you and open any spaces I can for you to continue to bless and teach us all. Not because you need my help, but because we need your voice.

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church, Daily Office, Jesus, Musings, Prayer, Relationships, Suffering, Trinity

Ask God and Ask in Faith – Daily Office Reflection

Easter V

(Psalm 80; Deuteronomy 8:1-10; James 1:1-15; Luke 9:18-27)

James 1:1-15

1James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

9 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

Have you ever just felt totally stuck? There have been times where I have felt paralyzed by a situation or just completely at a loss when it came to a decision I needed to make. Some of you may be like in that you walk out every conceivable consequence or possibility which may result from a decision or conversation. It’s exhausting, right? So much time and effort is put into trying to figure out what might possibly happen. And then, there’s that point where you eventually realize you actually can’t control outcomes. How frustrating is that?

James, as he is writing this letter, is considering the lives of many who would have heard it. They were driven from their homes, likely by some sort of persecution–by things they couldn’t control. After urging them to choose joy (in light of what such trials produce, not simply the trials themselves), he says, if any of you don’t know what to do–if any of you need insight into the world around you–it is time to do one thing: ask God for wisdom.

If I’m honest, this step all-too-often a last resort, not a first impulse. It isn’t until I’m broken down, confused, and lost that I turn to God and ask for help and insight. Now, the remaining part of this passage which talks about asking without doubting can get us tripped up. Sometimes, people take this to mean that we need to be certain about what we are asking. For example, people will say things like: “You really need to believe God will provide for you or heal you or [fill in the blank]. You can’t doubt, or it won’t work.” I think that’s missing the point, and it is pretty dangerous. If God only worked when I was absolutely certain about something, he wouldn’t ever work!

Instead, our trust (the opposite of doubt, by the way) is in the One from whom we are asking. We believe that our God is trustworthy and the wisdom he shares with us is good and worth heeding. It would be like saying this: ask for advice, and then believe that the advice is worth following, even if it seems a little strange, difficult, or confusing. You can trust the Giver of the gift of wisdom, which means you can trust the value of gift when it comes.

What if we just took a small step toward God today of simply asking for wisdom? Is there something you can hold up today and say: “I don’t know what to do here, God, will you show me?” This is asking and asking in faith; faith being a deep trust in the One who loves us and is excited to give freely of wisdom to us.

A Prayer for Guidance

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would
have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save
us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see
light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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church, Daily Office, Jesus, Musings, Prayer, Relationships, Suffering, Trinity

“That they may be one, as we are one” – Daily Office Reflection

Easter II

(Psalm 119:1-24; Daniel 2:17-30; 1 John 2:12-17; John 17:20-26)

John 17:20-26

20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

A friend of mine recently made a print of this icon depicted above with the phrase “As we are one” underneath it. The original was created by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublyov in the 15th century. It is meant to depict the Trinity, as he interpreted the visiting of the angels to Abraham and Sarah as a theophany, or revealing of God in the three persons of the Trinity. Now, the print sits on my prayer altar in my home study, a reminder of the invitation and prayer of Jesus for people like me: that we would be one with other followers of Jesus and that this oneness would be same sort of unity as experienced in the Trinitarian life of God. No small prayer, to be sure.

Since beginning my studies at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute, my desire to see and embody more expressed unity in the Church has grown. I have had the privilege of learning alongside sisters and brothers from a variety of streams and traditions. I have been challenged, encouraged, sharpened, and blessed by this experience. In short, I think I have had a deeper encounter with this Trinitarian life of unity for which Jesus is praying.

As much as we catch glimpses of unity and deepened relationships with other Christians, we often see much expressed disunity. We have become professionals at fragmenting the Church and building walls around our respective denominations and tribes. If we are to take Jesus’s prayer seriously, this lack of unity is missionally irresponsible. Jesus connects our expressed unity to whether others will believe that Jesus was sent by God to love the world.

Where is the disconnect? Why is it that many who are the most passionate about people hearing and believing in the good news of Jesus can also be the most fractious and divisive? Why is church unity often pitted against evangelism rather than being seen as integral to it? How can we preach a message of reconciliation while living so unreconciled to other followers of Jesus, even where we disagree theologically. Hank Hannegraff’s (The Bible Answer Man) recent conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy and the negative responses of many to him and to this Tradition are very demonstrative of this hostility. (No link to the story, but feel free to google it)

Where can we join God in the movement of love toward others? The mission of God to love and redeem the world is rooted in God’s own life of unity. God is interested in bringing all that is not God into communion with God. This is God’s mission. What might it look like for us to participate in this life of unity, which is available to us as those who are in Christ.

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Baltimore, church, Life, Musings, Neighborhood

An Important Life Update and Transition

[Greetings, all. I have communicated the below information to my congregation, colleagues, and some friends. However, I realized that it may be beneficial to share this in a more broad manner to those with whom I’ve connected through ministry, neighborhood life, friendship, and the many other ways our life paths cross. The quick version is this: I’m stepping down from my position as neighborhood pastor at Gallery Church Patterson Park to enter a time of preparation and focus for what may be next.]

[One thing I’ve realized is that there are far too many ways to communicate, and it is impossible to engage these media without having some of you be inevitably left out. I sincerely apologize if you are one of the ones who feel left out. If nothing else, it may just indicate that we need to connect in other ways!]

So, what follows is the letter I wrote to my congregation. Feel free to reach out to me with questions. If you are the praying type, I would appreciate your prayers as we step into a new season of life.

Dearest Gallery Church Family:

After much prayer, consideration, wrestling, and discernment—and with the blessing of other leaders, elders, and my wife, Kara—I am resigning as the neighborhood pastor of Gallery Church Patterson Park. I share this news with a sad and heavy heart and with a hopeful expectation for the future.

Almost nine years ago, at Pastor Ellis and Ginger Prince’s invitation, I moved to Baltimore with a handful of other people to help start the Gallery Church. We believed that a small group of people, with love in their hearts for God and their neighbors-to-be, could see real change happen in our neighborhoods. I still believe it, and what is more, I have seen it. Our God has been at work in his people in our city.

Since then, I have had the opportunity and responsibility to serve our church and city in so many ways. I am amazed and humbled as I think of those with whom I have had the privilege of serving. I cannot adequately state how much I have learned in my time serving with Gallery Church. I have been changed profoundly during my time here. I discerned a call to vocational/pastoral ministry here and have truly grown up here, spending almost a third of my life in ministry with Gallery. This church has taught me what it can mean and look like to walk together in challenging and joyful times.

And now, this journey continues for me. In transitioning from this position, Kara and I are taking a step of trust with the Lord. We do not have another church job lined-up. We are not planning on moving, but we are going to be entering a time of preparation. I will be investing some more time in my schooling to finish my degrees. I will continue to work part-time with HopeSprings, and I will be taking time to re-discover and seek clarity in my identity and calling. We sense that this is a necessary and important time for whatever lies ahead. What form that calling/vocation may take in the future, we are unsure, but we have a strong and enduring peace about taking this step, knowing full well it will be difficult and challenging for us and others.

Let me help to speak to a few questions or thoughts that you or others may be having. Many pastors tend to resign in the midst of controversy, that is not the case here. I want to be as clear as I can here: I have not had any sort of moral failure which would disqualify me from ministry. Kara and I are doing well in our marriage, growing in our love for each other and the Lord, and are united in this decision.

Additionally, there are not any secret or unsaid reasons for my resignation. In times like this, rumors can abound and certain “gaps” in the information can be filled in with gossip or speculation. There is not any enmity between me, or any of the leaders or staff in our Gallery Church Family. I have been challenged and blessed by the diversity of our staff team and by those with whom we have labored in our city. I love them, believe in them, and no difference of opinion or issue has contributed to this decision. I believe in what God is doing at Gallery and in our city, and I pray for God’s greatness to be continually displayed in our church family.

Lastly, some of you may be wondering if we will still be “around”—meaning, attending at Gallery Church in the coming months. We have no desire to “cut-ties” with Gallery. We still view you all as dear sisters and brothers and neighbors, so you will see us from time to time. Pastor Ellis has been very gracious and kind to continue to offer times for me to be with you, and to use my gifts when appropriate. We will be taking a few months to seek continued counsel, to worship with other faith communities in our region, and to pray through our family’s rhythms of life. We also feel that some initial “distance” will be the best way to love our Patterson Park family as they collectively discern what God is doing next. My last Sunday serving as the neighborhood pastor at Gallery Patterson Park will be January 15th, 2017.

Gallery Church Patterson Park has a unique and specific calling to uncover and run after. I truly believe that, and I believe God is already at work to provide for this next season. One of the benefits of belonging to a wider church family is that we have sisters and brothers who can support and walk with you in this time of transition. Jayme Swanson (our neighborhood elder), Pastor Bill Medina (our Associate Pastor), Aida Medina (Cross-Cultural Ministries), and Pastor Ellis will be working together with other key leaders at Patterson Park, and our Central Ministries team to help lead and serve the church in this next season. They will be ensuring that our gatherings and growth community life continue on with care and oversight.

So here is what I will ask you to consider doing in the coming days:
Pray— I know this sounds like the thing you are supposed to always say, but I could not be more emphatic. God has desires for Gallery Church Patterson Park that he wants to make known. There will be an upcoming time of Prayer and Fasting with Gallery Church Downtown from Jan 17-21 each evening. I encourage you to take time as a church family or as a growth community to come and to pray for Patterson Park and what’s next.
Invest— It is in times like this where the members of the church can sometimes sit back and wait to see what will happen. I encourage you to take this as a season of investment, both financially and spiritually. Please continue to give faithfully and sacrificially. Please take the time to get involved in serving. This is your time to be the church you hope to see.
Ask— Times like this can bring up questions and sometimes confusion. It’s more than ok to ask questions. I cannot promise we have an answer to every question, but we will listen and be available as much as possible until we transition in January.

This letter is not easy to write. Kara and I have felt grief and sadness as we have struggled with this decision, and we have wrestled with how to love you best during this time. I love you all and I am so thankful to have had the privilege to serve as your pastor over these last years.

May God’s Grace and Peace be with you,

Derek H. Miller
Advent, 2016

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church, Musings

A New Season of Ministry/Life/Vocation

I am starting to learn how slow some of the good things in life can be. The best meals take a long time to prepare and some of us best enjoy them slowly with the good wine or beer that has taken a lot of time to ferment and mature. It is these slow, holy moments where we seem to take the scenic route in life, finding that he scenic route better actually takes us where we should be going!

I think that I am seeing that some of the seeds planted in me long ago are just now starting to poke through the ground, and I’m getting a look at what just may be coming. Almost a year ago, I took a three month sabbatical. Since that time, the struggles of learning to hear God, to attend to God’s presence, and to just “be” more have had ripple effects that are just now beginning to take shape.

One of those effects is me taking a new part-time job with a non-profit. Starting this week, I will be serving as the Co-Director of Faith Community Outreach for HopeSprings.

My initial feeling of a call to helping start a church was rooted in hearing another pastor talk of his heart for the “unchurched” and “de-churched” over 10 years ago. I don’t remember his specific words, but he mentioned something about the nature of the church: it should be a hospital for the hurting, not a place for the perfect. A couple years ago, Pope Francis said it this way:

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up.” (From “A Big Heart Open to God,” America magazine Sept. 19, 2013.)

I continue to wonder and dream, what would it look like for the church to recover her vocation to tend to the wounded and hurting in our city in way that is meaningful and responsible? What is needed to warm the hearts of the church again to the hurting who are all around (and within…and the hurting who are our very selves?)

What gets me so excited about this new opportunity is that I will be able to work with other churches in our area toward identifying how they can continue to better love their neighbors, particularly in areas of health inequality/disparity and those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. I think that the future looks bright as the church learns how to love her literal neighbors as much as she tends to love herself. Also, what an incredible testimony it could be to our region if the Church decided that we can all partner together on the main call we have in common: to love our neighbors.

I will continue to serve in my current position as the Neighborhood Pastor of Gallery Church Patterson Park, though now as a part-time pastor. I love our church and I am excited about what opportunities are created by me shifting to part-time. I created a little FAQ for our church family here.

For those of you who are the praying type, I would love your prayers for strength, wisdom, and discernment as I make this transition. Pray that our church can rally together to focus in on our mission in our neighborhood and that God will continue to guide us and inspire us.

Who knows what will grow and bloom?

I’d love to hear from you about this? What do you see? Have you ever experienced a stirring toward a new expression of your vocation?

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church, church planting, Musings, restored, theology

Restored: What I’m Learning about Church Planting from HGTV

My wife has successfully converted me to watching HGTV.

It started simply and subversively; where she would tell me about the shows she liked or the ideas she got for our house while watching. I would draw back at first, thinking, “Oh great…we can’t afford to do that to our home!” or “Is this kind of like home decorating porn?” Then I would watch an episode of Fixer Upper and would fall in love with Chip and Joanna Gaines (“It’s like they are our friends and we would hang out!”) or an episode of Flea Market Flip, where someone made $300 off of an old, dirty window frame, a can of spray paint, and an old milk bottle.

Particularly, one of the shows Kara loves is Rehab Addict. For those of you unconverted or uninitiated to the HGTV faith, the host of Rehab Addict, Nicole Curtis, is obsessed with finding historic houses and returning them to their original glory and beauty. She always tries to use original features and materials where she can find them. The idea is not simply to flip a house and make a profit. It is a labor of love, spanning months and months, whose end result is to place back on display the original beauty and splendor of houses as they were originally built.

I compare this to how I’ve noticed houses are often “rehabbed” today. In our neighborhood, houses are being bought, redone, and sold for a huge profit margin. The house that we recently bought in Highlandtown was done similarly—modern feel, new kitchen, recessed lighting, etc. But I wonder: what could we be losing in this obsession with what is new and modern?

This has been an idea that I’ve been sitting on for awhile now, and it’s related to my own story. Part of my own motivation in getting involved in church planting (starting a new church) was because I felt like the Church was in need of renovation. How many of you have lived in a house while noticing all of the little issues with it? And you long to fix what’s wrong, but as you dig deeper, you start to notice the wiring is bad, and the wood is rotted, or that ugly, fake wood-paneling has to go—and before you know it, you’ve ripped the house apart?

In my idealism and younger days (though I like to thing I’m still kinda both!), I was convinced I was right and that finally, we were going to get the church right. And I had pretty much one tool: a sledgehammer. As a church planter, you can decide what you want to do and how you want to do it without the nuisance of other people in the church telling you what they think or questioning it. So I felt like we were starting with a gutted house; a clean slate. We didn’t sing at first because I was so burned out on the worship music machine, that if I heard one more song by Chris Tomlin or Hillsong, I was going to scream. We met in an Irish pub to worship, mostly because it was free and the food was amazing, but also to make our Baptist friends nervous. I would find myself talking a lot about what we weren’t, rather than what we were. I was proud that we were stripped down; I was proud that we didn’t sing.

It wasn’t until I started actually studying the history of the church with more depth and a little more humility, and I started to read about the world-wide movement of the Church, that I started to realize, in horror, what I’d done: I had smashed it all to pieces-I’d deconstructed the whole thing. The baby was out with the bathwater, but so was the old claw-foot tub and the tile in the bathroom. And as a result, I had severed the line between me and brothers and sisters all over the world and across time.

In the past few years, I have come to see the value of re-examining the things that the church has done and still does; the things that we share with those who share our faith. Not just the beliefs, but the practices which both arise from and inform those beliefs. So that is what this series is about: I want us to re-examine some of the core elements of our ancient faith. I want us to fight against the desire that we often have to think that we are somehow more enlightened or advanced that those who have come before us.

So, I decided to try to teach on this and explore this in our church family, because I often teach to learn. We will be talking about Word, Prayer, Sin/Confession, and Table in the coming weeks and how we can restore them to practice and use in our community and life together. Check out the latest podcast stream on my page here and let me know what you think.

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church, church planting, Musings, theology

Starting from Scratch? Church Planting as Deliberative Theology

The current trend of church planting has certainly seen a revival of sorts in the last few decades. For those who aren’t hip to the way cool church terminology of the day, church planting is the process of starting a new church “from scratch”. It usually involves a lead planter who will likely become the pastor (at least for a time) and he/she will pull together a team of people to be the building blocks of this new church community, usually called a core team. These people may be seasoned Christians or new believers; they may be local or from other places. Regardless, once they begin meeting together regularly, they begin the process of becoming church (or many would say, are church). The goal is to grow numerically and spiritually, with the desire to fulfill the mission they’ve been given. This, of course, plays out in different ways and forms, but the idea is that the “making of disciples” thing happens, because Jesus told us to do that. 🙂

Now, there are so many things to talk about when it comes to this process, and I am by no means an expert. Seriously, I’m not. I was brought in to that “core team” to help plant the Gallery Church of Baltimore in 2008. Eventually, I was able to come on staff for the church, fulfill a variety of roles, and now pastor one of our neighborhood churches. It has been a blast. It has been incredibly difficult. It has been rewarding. It has been frustrating. It has been instructive. I love it.

Which leads me to the particular topic of this post (and perhaps future ones). While this desire to “share the gospel” is certainly central to church planting, or it ought to be; there is a certain novelty in seeking to “begin again” with one’s church expression. My own initial draw to church planting was, to be perfectly honest, selfish and idealistic. In my view, everyone else got church wrong, I think I have it right, and if we just start over without all the baggage, we can “fix the church”.

I’m not alone in this; at least, I don’t think I am. Even in our own city, there is a newer church community endeavor called the Slate Project. On their website, they state the following:

“We are asking, “What if we had a blank slate for being and doing church?” (That is where the “slate” comes from, get it?) What would we choose to wipe away? What would we leave behind? What is no longer working or serving us? Where do we need to confess and repent and turn back toward the path, the Way?”

I am not criticizing this process or statement at all (actually, I find what they are doing intriguing, compelling, and very honest). And I have no insight into motives and am not even trying to guess or judge them. I’m sure they are far more pure than mine were. (to be clear: zero criticism here!) However, what I want to point out is something of which I personally haven’t seen a lot written: the fact that church planting is often just as much fueled by what it doesn’t want to be; namely the same old system. And as such, this creates a different framework and even theological process.

This process, to borrow a term from Stone and Duke in their book How to Think Theologically, is called deliberative theology. Deliberative Theology is the understanding of of faith that emerges from a process of carefully reflecting upon embedded theological convictions, questioning what has been taken for granted, reflecting on multiple understandings of the faith implicit in the life and witness of Christians, and identifying and/or developing the most adequate understanding possible. In short, it is the process of examining, rejecting, and accepting certain aspects of ecclesiology and tradition (in all their various forms).

So, here is my question/thought: could it be that church planting is, at least partially, an exercise in deliberative theology, writ large? Could it be that many who are even “attracted” to newer churches are in a place of doing deliberative theology themselves, their old answers and expressions no longer being satisfactory for their new questions and life situations?

Lastly, is this good or bad? Dangerous or beautiful? I hope to examine that more in a future post.

What do you think?

References:
Stone, Howard and James Duke, How to Think Theologically. 3rd ed. (Augsburg Fortress, 2013).

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