Besides being the founding voice of ginkworld.net
, John is currently the Lead Pastor at 247Connection Church in Hickory, NC. He is a graduate of Drew Theological with a Masters in Divinity. He has just applied for his Doctorate at George Fox in Emerging Leadership. John is married to Tina and they are a blended family with three wonderful girls, Heather [who is married to Steve], Veronica and Lauren”
You won't meet a more creative guy than John. He is incredibly passionate about loving those in this world the traditional church seems to have overlooked. We are delighted to have the opportunity to ask John a few questions about his perspective on what's going on in the emerging church. Listen to this guy!
Not a guy to choose the way we've always done it. We title this article, respectfully:
by John O'Keefe
The PDL – Question # 1: John, you’ve been described as a creative futurist? What’s the most frustrating thing about living within your own skin?
John: Wow, a “creative futurist” cool! I have always seen myself more as a “creative pain in the… [Fill in the body part of your liking] ” but I like the idea of a “creative futurist.”
I think the most frustrating thing would be being me is I sometimes wonder if I am “getting it right?” I think there is a ton of baggage and responsibilities that comes from writing and having my voice. While I have never seen myself as a “great voice” or even a “known voice” [I have always been amazed at the people who read my stuff and get it]. It is like I am writing to get stuff out of me before I explode, and others write back and say, “Man, I am living the same garbage.” That brings a ton of pressure, but I trust God in this and know there is something I am doing right. While I love writing, I often worry about what I am writing [being dyslexic I never worry about spelling], and when I write something that I know is going against the flow, I try very hard to make sure it’s sound and that I believe God is with me.
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?
John: I tend to the tech, so for me having more podcasts is very cool; in fact we are in the process of developing our “praxis study” to be a podcast. I think tech allows us to break out and connect via many voices. With radio, you have a select few who decide what others will hear based on demographics and potential income. Podcasts can simply be voices who desire to speak and the listeners can be few, and the podcast will be heard.
For me, tech opened doors that could never be opened. I know I tend to be a bit of a radical and I am very willing to deconstruct anything. While I can be a loud voice, when needed, the internet allowed me to be me and express myself in ways never before known to me. Recently I was asked by Homiletics, the magazine, to write for them. My first reaction was “cool, I can do that.” But I soon found out that I could not do that; not because I could not write, but because I could not write the way “they” wanted. They are a good mag, but my style of writing and my style of teaching does not lend itself to a “three points and a conclusion.” Without tech, without the net, I know my voice would never be heard. Current tech allows for a vast freedom, while the old modern model allows for control.
Without tech, without the internet, my writings [my voice] would not be heard. I think the more tech, the more it develops, the faster the emerging church will jump on it and get it out to the people. My prayer, and my hope, is that it continues so strongly that I have to sit back and wonder what the next generation is doing – now, that would be very cool.
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?
John: Okay, this one pushed a hot button for me. I think we do spend too much time talking and not enough time doing; or we need to be better at sharing what we are doing, and stop talking about it. I tend to think that what we need is to connect in deeper ways, and I do not think “emerging conferences” do that; in fact I see them as more harm then good – we spend days at events where book sellers push their stuff, and authors speak before 10,000 people and we say, “this is truly connecting.” What? When we can not connect with people who are doing, relationships are not made; book deals and sales are made. So, when I hear people say that we are a bunch of disillusioned, armchair theologians I tend to think they have a point –
Over the past years, talk has centered around one “topic” or another, but very little in the way of action. Me? Personally, I am tired of all the talk I want to do. It seems like we are setting up the rules before we play the game, and that’s never fun. Some of the best pick-up games I had were ones where the rules developed out of the game, and were not set before the game started.
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?
John: None; and that’s sad. I think many publishers have no idea what to do with many of us in the emerging church; that is why I think a great many of the “emerging books” that are published are simply old thoughts in new packages – because it’s safe to the same, and yet claim to be different. They do not know how to deal with our “up front, in your face” expression of ideas; they are not able to grasp the concepts many of us desire to bring to the table. Because of that, they are unable to truly know our hearts and our spirit. But to tell the truth, I am okay with that. I am not looking for a publisher that does not get it – besides; the “print media” [like books] is a very modern thing. Publishers, like most things modern, will either need to change to reach us or die for a lack of trying.
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?
John: I think most emerging voices will be heard via the net and sites like ginkworld, the ooze, next-wave, d tour, The Porpoise Diving Life and others like them. I remember approaching a publisher a while back with an idea for a book on the “10 reasons your church sucks” article, and they were not very open to the idea; it might have worked if I change the title, and change the approach to what I was saying – in fact, they might have liked it if I changed what I was saying. Their reasoning was, “we are selling books to churches and such words and ideas will never sell.”
Whenever I speak with a publisher about anything concerning the emerging church they get freaked. Many simply want to have “the same old same old, but with cool words, written by people with cool haircuts.” They are not looking for new ideas, new expressions of new ideas or new anything. “New” pushed publishers away. If Baker Books is truly willing to hear the emerging voice [and not just “E”mergent voices], cool I am good with that. I hope it works. I hope they look around the landscape and strive to get a collective of voices to hear what we are saying. They would need to know that no one group, no one person and no one central idea express who we are and how we think.
But, I am not sure traditional modern publishing will be the way we get our voices out – I think blogs, podcasts, websites and others – future stuff – will be the way we get our voices heard. I have given up on any “book deals” and find it easier to just publish via a blog; and that is because I do not have to sell out an idea to sell a book. Sure, I am not going to make money – but I desire to get ideas out and not money in.
The PDL – Question # 6: John, 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?
John: I am not sure we are ready for the “Movement” status, yet; and to be honest I am even getting bored with the term “emergent.” Recently, Spencer Burke and I were talking about this “emergent” thing and I love his idea of being “evolving” and not “emergent.” Now, that could be because the ginkworld “tag line” is “proof that evolution is in flux” but I think it is more. In our conversation Spencer was thinking in terms of a “frog” – starts as a tadpole and then over time becomes a frog. In that, if we think in terms of the tadpole and it’s inability to live out of water. It is not that breathing out of water is bad; it would just kill the tadpole. So the same can be seen with who we are, and who we were. It is not that the “traditional church” is bad; it is just that it will kill us if we had to go back and breathe underwater. Granted, as Spencer and I spoke about this, we both agreed there was a lot to think about in this – but the idea of being an “evolving follower” is very cool in my book.
I think there are too many voices not being listened too that truly need to be heard before we can say we are a movement; I tend to think that while Emergent is trying hard to do some things, it is not very good at bringing voices together. It tends to be a kind of “you need to think like us” gathering and so many who would just not be allowed to speak find comfort in places like ginkworld. If all we do is hear Brian and the gang we are not even close to being a movement. If we are anything, at that moment we would be an “association,” like Willowcreek, except we would look better doing it.
But I also do not think we are just a “concept” either. I find us being a collection of voices in conversation. Think of it this way, many are still in the coffee shop getting a café mocha and talking, while others are still coming in the door. I think, for us to be a movement we need to have more people in the coffee house. If I were to “tag” it with what it is, I would say we are just what we are, trying to figure it all out and be connected to each other and being honest in our search for how God fits our lives.
The PDL – Question # 7: In your opinion, what are two of the most exciting things going on in the emerging church right now?
John: First, that there are places like ginkworld, the ooze, next-wave, dtour, off the map and others where people can express and share; where voices can be heard. I love the idea of hearing voices that differ from mine, and with the blog world opening up, and there are some very cool blogs out there that just share life at such levels.
Another thing that is exciting is that many of us who have been doing this for a while are talking with each other and finding new ways were we can interact and make the conversation wider. I love the idea of feeding each other, and lifting each other. And I love that God is moving in us, and we can see it. When Spencer and I were talking, it was very cool – because we both felt that God is moving in us in the same ways – and that is totally God. I am excited about that. (That's where the idea for these interviews came from John...fyi ).
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?
John: First, a lack of courage in talking about the hard things of faith – for example, the evangelical idea of “original sin” is not on solid ground, and should be deconstructed; the idea of “salvation” is not on solid ground, and should be deconstructed; the idea of the trinity is not on solid ground, and should be deconstructed – but people fear what will be said about them if they try to look deeper into the “traditional evangelical teachings” – but I think we need to be willing to be tagged a “heretic” in this. If we come to the same conclusions as they have in the past, cool – the doctrine has withstood the test of time – but if not, if we find a crack in the plan – I think knowing that would be cool.
Second, the lack of hearing voices that do not come from “churched” families. When ever I write from my life as not growing up in a church, people relate on great levels – because many people do not have a churched background. Too many of the “top” voices in the emerging come from churched backgrounds, and for a conversation that desires to reach out to others, many in the conversation have no idea what that means. ( Yahoo! Somebody FINALLY said it!...the PDL ).
The PDL – Question # 9: What may occur in the next 24 months that will surprise the established, denominational U.S. Christian community, but won’t surprise you if and when it occurs?
The National Council of Churches will publish their 2006 “state of the church” book and in it there will be some very interesting things – like the idea of blogs and tech on the church. Now, I am not plugging this because ginkworld and I, Spencer and the ooze and Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill were mentioned as “places to watch” – but because I think many in the Council will over look that section; those who do read it will not get it and the “old” leadership will never see the lost potential of the population they ignore.
I think the thing that will surprise many in the established church is that after being ignored, those who see themselves as “emerging” or “evolving followers” will simply walk away from the established church as seek to form new and different connections with other emerging communities – and even forming “associations” on their own. When that happens, many of the closing churches will be sold to make room for antique stores and baby stores.
The PDL – Question # 10: Do you live what can be characterized as a “Porpoise Diving Life?”
John: I try. I think I desire to be more than just “me” and see the kingdom as a place that is very cool and open to many. I think I seek not to exclude people from the kingdom, and I strive hard to have a generous heart for all God’s creation.
Our heartfelt thanks to a great guy...somebody you should be reading and corresponding with at www.ginkworld.net. Thanks for all you do for so many John...who you never hear from. That's the way infectious encouragement works. Please remain infected with passion, vision and the courage to walk the way we have yet to travel with folks we have never met....The PDL