Permission For Ignition - 2006
“Permission For Ignition”
An Interview with Mike Brantley
Wellington, New Zealand
Mike Brantley has emerged as a voice in the EC people take note of....I listen to him. So does his wife (occassionally). His boys ignore him infrequently as well.
Mike and his wife Susanne, and their sons Logan and Jordan, live in Wellington, New Zealand where Mike pioneered and leads CRM New Zealand. CRM is a mission order that empowers leaders, helping resource and refocus existing churches and planting emerging churches that engage the culture not interested in conventional models. Mike recently mentored a planting team of a church now known as “The Living Room” and is resourcing several other church plants in NZ. Soon Mike and his family will move to London to serve with CRM UK. Mike has been involved in ministry in the USA, Australia, NZ and the UK, as well as Europe, Asia and Latin America. Mike’s focus is empowering emerging missional young leaders to dare step out and engage, experiment and make a difference in their worlds.
We thought it time that we sat down and gave Mike an opportunity to expound over a few questions, providing the "pod" with a feel for “what’s going on in the emerging church” from Mike’s perspective. If you are thinking about beginning to read this interview in some half-hearted way, forget about it. Listen to this guy! Read the entire article and ponder the points he brings up. Enjoy!
The PDL – Question # 1: Mike, do Christians in the U.K. read about the wacky stuff that the religious right proclaims in the name of Christ in the U.S. and get together and laugh, cry, rejoice or cuss about it?
Well, first off, in Britain and the Dominons (NZ & Aus) they don’t “cuss” they swear! Actually they do all of the same reactions many of us do: including swearing! IN Britain there is an awareness of the many facets of the US church. Seriously though, you’ll find people “buying” the exported non-contextualised pat answers, you’ll find the cynical who dismiss it all – but they often generalise and see all American ministry through those lenses. There are others who can see the different groups within the US church, as much as people seriously wrestling with the fact that 95% of churches target the 15% of people in our Western English cultures who will respond to the conventional modern model of church. They know that the “far right” fundamentalists are out there colouring us all, including them. They get frustrated and often sigh when they see resolute Christians with conviction speaking without reasoned argument. They don’t understand why these people feel threatened by dialogue, and perceive those who do as compromising. They think the privileged position of the American church in the 20th century has created cognitive dissonance, where a group reinforces their perspective amongst each other and dismiss any questions, challenges or differences from that of the controlling group. But bottom line, all Americans can become the relatives you aren’t always happy to be related to! Where they get confused is how the US church has had so much [negative] influence upon the political debate. They note that the church is known just about exclusively for everything its against.
The PDL – Question # 2: It has been reported that there are now more podcasts than radio stations in the U.S. How do you see technological advancements impacting the way the emerging church message continues to be delivered and distributed?
Obviously like every one, it does a couple of great things and some not quite as positive. The internet and pod-casts get the conversation happening now, today. The enlightenment era developed over a couple of centuries. Today that is a couple of years. It takes time to filter to the general public, but it is definitely very fast! It also cross-fertilises the arguments and thoughts out there. I would say it lifts the game of what people are exposed to and expect. Frankly, I enjoy regularly listening to several, including Rob Bell at Mars Hill in Michigan. I’m in freaking NZ and I can download Rob’s Sunday on Monday (my Tuesday in NZ).
Furthermore, the conversation by those of us wrestling with engaging this culture that left Christendom long ago is that we’re marginal at this time and don’t have the institutional systems to facilitate the conversation, and many of us want to avoid those as long as possible, including me! The net and pod-casts get lots of discussion going and allow marginal ideas and arguments to get exposure – the key for the discussion to occur, for ideas to be spread, for innovation to be known.
The PDL – Question # 3: It has been observed that there is no “coherent” message from the EC. In other words, there seems to be a whole lot of banter and no action being taken. Isn’t the EC really a bunch of disillusioned, armchair, theologian wannabes?
Sure, we have to admit that the internet has allowed every one with a bum (bottom, buttocks) to have an opinion! Some of those are weak. Much of the ecclesiology and missiology, as well as the theology is weak and some of it heretical. But, every one I know who is exposed to wide spectrum of the emergent argument finds it is no more heretical than any other “tribe” within the church: about 5%. BUT, it also gets us wrestling those ideas and hearing from people not traditionally accessible, like I can listen to NT Wright’s sessions with Emergent a couple of years ago! I can also check out what guys and gals I know back in Portland and Seattle are doing, how they are engaging those cultures where the population is largely anti-Christian.
At the end of the day, it’s a mute conversation: the internet is here, it isn’t leaving and it is the mode of today. We adjust or get left behind – cloistered in our past. Deal with it! Make a difference!
I’ve heard the accusation that there is “no action being taken” too. I’ve been told several times that there are no real success stories out there as they line up the latest transfer growth example. RUBBISH! The problem is there are so many you can’t count or categorise them! BUT it’s under the radar – not on the Christian TV or in the latest mega-conference guru parade. As I said, it’s out at the margins and not on the cover of the monthly Christian In-crowd. BUT it is happening and this is the greatest reason to use and carry the conversation on the web. You can find stuff out there, and sites that exist to link you to sites. For example “Google” “Café Church” and see what comes up, or “emergent church” and see the pages upon pages of sites and links. When you go to the sites, you’ll see ideas, experiments, and most of all people trying – not just singing “Cum-by-ya” or organising for the next “cruise” event. You find the encouragement that maybe your idea isn’t so mad – another “Google” idea: check out “Skate Chruch”! This also becomes the laboratory where compatriots are made. The internet provides us with the opportunity to connect when most of what has been happening the past ten years is under the radar because it is not central and not institutional. Let me give you an example. I am mentoring and resourcing several missional-emergent church plants in the US, from NZ no less! One is led by friends we knew in the US, the other, well, we became acquainted through the internet! Brandon leads Ecclesia Hollywood and is doing a bang up job! Sure, I encourage and mentor him, but you know – he encourages me and I am their biggest cheer leader! I am blown away by what they’re doing. As for doing: This year, this nine month old church plant has sent a team to New Orleans and to India. Locally, they are ministering to the homeless in the centre of Hollywood. Dude, what else does anyone want?
As for the arm chair wannabes: well, yep, there are some. We’ve all got great “BS” meters. Wade through and get the good stuff. It doesn’t take long. Nope, you won’t find the central thesis, method creed, or anything else like that. It is embryonic, but the culture is shifting and like never before is a mosaic of sub-cultures. It isn’t going to conform like the past. The lack of central authority and conformed single approach is the greatest opposition I face. They assume theological variance – but you ever stop and count the theological streams within the central church convictions? Most of the differences within the emergent group are not the primary theological convictions, but methods and they tend to endorse each other, not divide over it. My response to all those challenges is to ask why they feel such a fear and need for control and conformed single focus in approach.
The PDL – Question # 4: Emergent has said publicly they have struck a “strategic publishing arrangement with Baker Books to provide a platform for “post-charismatic/emerging voices.” Do you know of any publisher looking specifically for EC material from emerging voices?
I know Baker is doing a lot of that. Their “Brazos” label specifically is doing some. My tribe has another company, Regal. I am also finding there is more happening on the web in this movement. Part of this is resistance among most publishers to do anything not the typical “Wal-Mart” candidate for marketing. Another reason is the generations most identified with the emerging movements are internet comfortable and find it easier. I pray we don’t make the profit driven publicists our primary means – we’ll end up changing the message to make the profits.
The PDL – Question # 5: It seems that the “post-charismatic/emerging church” voice is muted by the established, mainstream Christian publishing houses (particularly those that feed the CBA…Christian Booksellers Association). How will the EC “voices” that “need to be heard” become heard?
There are several champions out there who are breaking through. Hirsch and Frost wrote “The Shaping of Things to Come”. Brian McLaren has written several, as has Erwin McManus and Sally Morgenthaller. NT Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Church of England is a screaming evangelical and emergent leader who is doing so much for the theology of the emergent church. He is as sound as any theologian I know. New voices, who write differently, like Don Miller from Imago Dei in Portland, along with his pastor, Rick McKinley, and Rob Bell from Mars Hill in Grand Rapids have also written and published. As it happens more and more and as the desire grows, so does the market – they will respond to what all business responds to: money. I hate to admit it, but it is reality. Barna tells us in his recent work, Revolution, that there are 20 million revolutionaries in the US alone who love Christ, live for mission, and yet “done with the conventional passive attend and have religion done to you model of church”. I would agree. Just five years ago, people talking and wrestling this rediscovery of the Gospel, which is the reality of what we’re talking about, and the implications of how we live as disciples, were small bands of covert groups of people with questions. In five short years, there are millions, of all generations, who are not just asking questions, but experimenting, and making a difference. Barna’s research tells us the indicators are more serious commitment to their faith, and much more likely to be involved in mission to people in their lives. I can count 30-40 in my life right now today who are on that journey. One young man, a spiritual son, was with me a few weeks ago. He was asking about the wild paradigm of the church being planted here. He asked if this was for real – would they follow through and live this way. He’d grown up in church, always been faithful and loved the church. But, he had been reading Acts and he saw, or should I say – caught, some thing new, afresh and determined on his own that this was the life he was hungry for, this was the faith he was dying to live. He then tells me that this was the life he was choosing and he would not commit to this new faith community if they weren’t serious about being true to this call. It was amazing: I had just seen a church planter conceived! I have no doubt Nathan will lead a church plant one day!
The PDL – Question # 6: Mike, is the emerging church really a “movement” at this juncture of it’s evolution or a “concept” with a catchy title and a lot of chatter?
Is Al Queda a movement? I hear the arguments daily about it being cultural lather with no substance. I hear the criticisms – and you know – we need to consider the nuggets of truth. In the middle of the snow balls there might be something to consider. Agree when they are right. BUT, we note what others have, that there are some indicators of movements and movements that change the world. Some of those are a white hot faith (passionate spirituality), flexible systems (that is definitely true!), empowering leadership (this is one of the most encouraging tenants), and a radical commitment no matter the cost. I know a guy who was doing the standard good ministry, a “tour guide” youth group… He quit, went to Africa for six months and has come home – not playing any more in the old system. He’s still detoxing about the future, but he knows he ain’t going back! That’s radical. It is a movement, like Al Queda is a movement. It isn’t the centrist model of modernity, but it is the model in postmodernity and in Eastern cultures. If you are a rice farmer, you don’t one day decide to drain your rice patties. If you do, you drain every one else’s. They all know this is a collective conversation and every one has a stake in the decision. This carries over into all of Asian culture. It is also a central tenant of postmodernity. Modern leaders fear this, not perceiving their roles as leaders are ever as important to facilitate and include and shape, preventing chaos, but not to impose their argument. The business community knows it. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” has a clear model of leadership: get the right people on the bus, the wrongs ones off; get them in the right seats (empower them where they best contribute) and THEN figure out where you’re going”. He goes on to say how they will help you determine where to go and how to best get there. Business has gone postmodern! One can look at those nimble leaders in industry and business who are running the old model companies in the dirt! Ever been to a software company’s campus? Hmmmm.
The PDL – Question # 7: In your opinion, what are two of the most exciting things going on in the emerging church right now?
We’re abandoning the idea of pastoring. Don’t get me wrong, we need pastors – in a sort, in a way. Let me explain. A year ago, Dan Lockwood, President of Multnomah Biblical College and Seminary dropped in on us here in Wellington. He asked us what we’d want to tell him in his role, for the future of the school, one which we have tons of respect for by the way. They get it –they are doing some things out of the traditional box and asking the right questions. Our response sounds nuts, but we’re dead serious. We told him, “Stop awarding degrees in pastoral ministry.” When his eyes widened and the appropriate moment of silence passed, I continued, “Everyone, everyone, everyone should have a degree in missiology!” Why? Because the degree of “pastor” was a Christendom model where we made assumptions about the culture and society and the church spoke from a position of authority and influence now passed. Grieve over it, but it is reality. Sit and die, go back and die, or get up and get in the fight! Where are the advances occurring? ON THE MISSION FIELD! Why? They arrive asking the right questions. Missiologists with undergraduate degrees are trained to ask the right questions, observe and connect with the culture, asking what are their questions and then engaging in meaningful ways. Meaningful starts with Isaiah 58: meet real needs! What does that mean in your neighbourhood? I dunno – you tell me! We don’t need the old definition of pastors who are the answer men. We need missiologists who know how to cause movement and create momentum, who can harness that momentum and empower people in being normal and yet so intentional as they engage their world!
So, why am I excited? Because this is happening! The emerging leaders are getting it and wrestling it and the permission givers are empowering them to do so. I am excited because they are creating the spaces where their faith communities are reaching people and living as communities where the Kingdom can be glimpsed. And it is occurring from the margins, like every other movement that mattered in the past.
The other thing that most excites me is seeing the church finally be “the church” Biblically in its response to the natural disasters of the past couple of years, from the tsunami, to the Pakistan earthquake, to and especially New Orleans as far as the US church is concerned. Event today, churches from across the country are still sending teams that are making a difference, no expectations, no conditions, just the incarnation of Christ. This is awesome. I am actually from New Orleans and believe it or not, I was on the way home from London and stopped in right before Hurricane Katrina struck. I went through it and then helped evacuated my extended family before flying out from Memphis to NZ. It has brought me to tears to hear the stories of the burden people have had across the country to invest in peoples’ lives there. That’s awesome and what we should be known for! And readers need to know, it is making a difference. The hardened spiritual shell of the city was cracked from that storm and there are things happening – good things.
The PDL – Question # 8: In your opinion, what are the two most difficult obstacles presently facing the continued growth and development/evolution of the emerging church?
That is a hard one. Like many things in life, the strength can be the weakness applied wrong. The situation that appears chaotic, and is at times, is an incubator for ideas and discovery, but it can be a weakness if some sort of leadership doesn’t emerge. It is occurring with men and women rising to the top. If this continues, it’ll go fine. Like the early church, there came a time for synods, where creeds were hashed out. I agree with Brian McLaren and NT Wright in that this paradigm shift is equal if not greater than the Reformation. The other weakness is that has not been solved yet is developing leaders. We still operate in a conventional model, which is not the historic model. Through out history, knowledge (informing) was only realised when processed in context with your master (expert). As an apprentice you learned, or gained the wisdom needed, to master the trade, or office. This is true of silver smiths, as well as clergy, as it was for a Rabbi and his Talmudim (disciples). On one hand we still have the academy (formal education) at the centre. It is important and I wouldn’t trade mine for anything. Yet it is useless unless applied wisely. Appenticing, not interning, aka slave labour in most cases, needs to return to the centre. It is happening and some schools are responding, some resisting. We’re not there yet. Why do I have such a bee in the ole bonnet over this? Because let’s be honest, most conventional models and expressions are going to struggle making the missional jump from being 1) attractional and 2) consumer oriented for the people there. Of all the existing churches I have come alongside of, 85-90% of everything they do is oriented for post-conversion and most of it not really moving people further in their walk with God. In fact, only one or two has had a though through systems approach. What I mean is only the one or two has stopped and asked about the paths people take from secular person to faithful reproducing saint and every step in the journey in between. Only this one or two has actually stopped doing over resourced steps and begun where there are the gaps. My long point is that the existing churches are simply not going to make the jump. They’ll continue to serve their congregations as they grey, following the foot steps of the their fore fathers whom they used to accuse of greying. The future of the church is in the pioneering and planting of new expressions. This rests on leadership, leadership that gets it! Our loose chaotic state right now prevents intentional production of the numbers of leaders needed. We need to be serious and we need to grow lots of them! We’re not doing well enough here.
Some would disagree and say the institutional church is the greatest challenge or obstacle. I disagree. They are frightened at what they may not fully understand. They aren’t stupid or bad, they just have not processed to be where you may be. Let’s help them process. For the latest adapters who refuse to change… the culture will vote with its feet. Even the largest mega-churches are beginning to learn when this reality check occurs.
The PDL – Question # 9: What may occur in the next 24 months that will surprise global Christian community, but won’t surprise you if and when it occurs?
Great question! I wish I had some prophetic show stopper that would be quoted globally. I’m just not that smart. I don’t think it will be in the next twenty four months, but it is coming and it is the inevitability that the scales are going to tip and the emerging church is going to become the influence centre for the church. I hope it occurs in a healthy way. Let me say clearly, I don’t advocate a style of service or worship. Erwin McManus’ Mosaic and Rob Bell’s Mars Hill, and Rick McKinley’s Imago Dei communities don’t look very radical at all when gathered, but the centre of their balance in each case is not Sunday: it is the community incarnating Christ in tangible means in their cities that makes them different. They possess a different posture and attitude – humble, an ethos of empowerment and sacrifice, and a single focus of mission, not hand holding.
Why do I think this is coming soon and going to be a surprise? Did you know the largest departing people group from church is not teens (few are there now anyway), but people in their 50’s and 60’s! They’re done! They still love God, but they’re done with the institution that consumes every hour of their lives, their sweat for the latest greatest pony show for no impact or result and they’re done giving themselves to some one else’s ego building programmes. They are simply living it out in many cases in their sacrificial incarnation of Christ to the people in need around them. You can read about this in Alan Jamieson’s “Churchless Faith”. He’s the pastor of Wellington Central Baptist here in Wellington, NZ, and I’d also recommend you check out Barna’s “Revolution” as well.
The PDL – Question # 10: Do you live what can be characterized as a “Porpoise Diving Life?”
I get called a heretic often! Does that count? I suspect I’d be lumped with a lot of people reading your site – I resist being cornered into a label. You know we resonate on every point we’ve discussed to date. Give us long enough and we’ll end the honeymoon with some contrast. Seriously, sure – I don’t hate and set out to tug on the collar of the central church. Even what we’d call central has shifted though! I have ‘rediscovered the Gospel afresh” though, seeing the implications and the Good News Jesus brought is a LOT MORE than what we’ve grown up with. I’ve also walked with God long past the recipe driven approach to knowing God. I’m at that point when people ask if I am Catholic or Protestant, Evangelical, liberal, Charismatic, etc. I simply reply that they are asking the wrong questions because I honestly don’t and can’t define myself or my relationship with God that way any more. I’m not trying to be different or weird, I just can’t.
I’d say I live a Porpoise Diving Life because I am asking lots of questions, exploring constantly, experimenting always, have lots of ideas that are more missiology that ecclesiology. In fact I’d state that my missiology determines my ecclesiology and that this is Biblical, not vice-versa.
Thanks for the opportunity to share. It’s about the only publishing I’ll get apart from the few articles here in little New Zealand. Ciao.