If I Want Your Opinion I Will Give It To You!

Between October 24 and 28, 2007 I attended an event called Soularize sponsored by The Ooze.com in the Bahamas. It was billed to be a “conversation for the journey” a “learning party.” We, ACCD, decided to get involved with Soularize as a sponsor and participant based on promises like:

  • “Changing Times: Your Church is Changing… Shouldn’t Your Conference Change Too? Expand your horizons from a single event to a continual learning journey. Join us as we gather TheOOZE global community for a learning experience that will truly be one of a kind.

And

And

  • “Come and lend your voice, your experience, and your dreams as we explore the Evolving Church – rethinking and reinvent what the Church could be in years ahead.”

Something happened during the question and answer period of the opening evening session, given by the Pauline expert and biblical scholar N. T. Wright that inspired me to start blogging.

In the opening of his lecture Dr. Wright made the distinction “method contains message.” It lingered in my mind throughout his sharing. I found myself wondering about what seemed to be a paradox. Dr. Wright had been waxing elegantly on Jesus’ ministry for over an hour and 15 minutes uninterrupted. As I took notes and listened I was not only inspired, I wondered, “what is the message in this method of teaching?” Not that there was anything wrong with it; it was interesting, safe, pleasant to listen to, entertaining and informative. While it was all of that, it wasn’t a change in church, nor was it trans-formative. It was still the same thing I get at church, a broadcast. Only this one was supercharged! Was Dr. Wright aware of this paradox? As he spoke, I thought “No rethinking church, definitely no reinventing church yet, but lets see where it goes.”

After his lecture, came the traditional 10 or 15 minute question and answer period where the participant invites the speaker to demonstrate their expertise by way of safe and sane questions. No dialogs, no risk, no wondering, just a tee up for the speaker to expound.

So, I decided to “ask a question that would be an invitation to explore. You know, I wanted to “lend my experience and share my dream” in the spirit of a ‘learning party.” I asked, “Doctor, what do you speculate the message is in the methodology you used tonight?” A noticeable silence came over the room, my heart jumped into my throat. I became aware that I had broken the implied protocol of this methodology. Dr. Wright gave me an eloquent answer, only it didn’t address my question. So, I thanked him.” Then I continued, “I was wondering what you thought the message in the method of teaching you used tonight was?” He then explained to me that he was asked to speak for an hour and 15 minutes and that is what he did. I interpreted his mood and obfuscation of my question as saying, “That isn’t the type of question that is supposed to be asked.” So, I excused myself and sat down. Afterward, while waiting for the bus a Scottish gentleman approached me outside and said, “Sir, that was rude and uncalled for!” The statement was proceeded by a long uncomfortable pause before he continued through a sly smile and with a wink, “And, absolutely necessary!” I really didn’t get a chance to ask him what he meant because my bus arrived and people were moving before I could get the question out.

While I road back to my room in the bus I began to speculate what it was that the gentleman thought was necessary? Was it that I stepped outside the dominance of the methodology that was being used? Was it because it supported a personal agenda he may have had with the speaker?

It occurred to me that talking about changing church and actually changing church are really two different endeavors. There are some really articulate people who study what it might be like and broadcast about what it would look like, but few I have met are willing to get into the “journey” of it and have a “conversation.” Can we really evolve if we are unwilling to change our methodologies? What if new ideas communicate old messages when methodology remains unchanged? Perhaps that is what Jesus meant by a “new wineskin?”

Could the church’s methodologies be perfectly designed to yield the results we have in the culture?

For me the message of our contemporary methodology used to “proclaim,” “preach” and “teach” the gospel is in-congruent with its content. What if Jesus was an invitation to join in his conversation? What if the method we use to communicate his invitation sends the message, “if I want your opinion I will give it to you?!”