I loved the week I spent with my two eldest children, driving 2,500 km from Edmonton to Vancouver and back in 5 days. My daughter Maddi needed to renew her passport, which must be done in person and at the consulate.
24 hours in a car gives a lot of time for incidental conversation. It also gives a lot of time to listen to music any anything else we happened to have on our phones. I felt old.
We caught up with friends in Vancouver. Sam and Danni both worked with Fusion in Australia and are closer in age to Josh and Maddi than me. It was helpful for me to see the way that Sam and Josh chatted about the podcasts they listened to.
Maddi and I listened to a couple of Josh’s podcasts on the way home and it dawned on me that there is a whole other digital world that is largely invisible to me.
The podcasts were basically groups of people seemingly talking about nothing for a couple of hours at a time, and yet enjoying audiences of millions of people. It is a whole new form of media that doesn’t really make sense to me.
It struck me that groups like Rooster Teeth and people like Pewdiepie are the Beatles and Elvis Presley of this generation… and most of us have never heard of them.
If I am to be honest I have thought that these people were simply a distraction that Josh would grow out of, and maybe they are, but they are part of his world at the moment and to know him I need to know the things that shape him.
In my last reflection I wrote about creating a culture of honour in my family. It’s an idea that has continued to frame my thinking. As one of my readers commented last week, creating a culture of honour is not only the key to a healthy family, it is the key to any healthy group. It is also much easier said than done.
The phrase “a culture of honour” was coined by Danny Silk, one of the pastors from Bethel church. His book “Creating a culture of Honour” has challenged me and provided a vision of the difference between how people normally relate to each other and how a group of people shaped by the truth of the gospel would relate to each other. His book has given me a vision both for my family and also for what the church should be.
The fundamental difference between a culture of honour and what is normal is that in a culture of honour people are trusted and people are different.
Silk’s book has been re-enforced by a paper I read a number of months ago by John McKnight called “A Twenty-First Century Map for healthy Communities and Families”. McKnight contrasts the normal way we organise ourselves, through hierarchies, with what he calls “associations”.
McKnight believes the typical CEO/Board of directors model is:
“primarily a structure designed to permit a few people to control many other people. It’s hierarchical order is basically a means of creating control.”
It is interesting that most churches have adopted some version of this model. I also have to admit that most of the most challenging questions in leading my family are “who has control here?”
Danny Silk challenged me when he wrote:
“A controlling God, who is usually represented by a controlling church leadership, is just not good news.”
He is right. But a culture of control is pretty much all of us know. It is how we structure our organizations, it is how we structure our churches and it is how we structure our families.
McKnight points out that the other strength of the top-down organization is that:
“it’s primary utility is its ability to produce a great deal of the same thing, whether goods or services. The hallmark of the hierarchical system is mass production — lots of the same.”
When I was reading McKnight’s paper I instinctively knew he was pointing out a significant challenge for the church… we produce a great deal of the same thing because of the way we structure ourselves, however I couldn’t simply name the alternative. Silk has helped me do that, although Josh and Maddi should have taught me that before now.
Maddi and Josh are extremely different and the same parenting approach that works with one, simply doesn’t work with the other. The same is true of Dan and Sophie.
In my church and in my family, I need to think less about control and more about creating a culture where its ok to be different and its ok to risk. Silk writes:
The difficulty in leading free people is risk—the risk that they could use their freedom the wrong way. But unlike God, many of us in the Church do not understand why the risk is worth it.
Silk believes that the risk of freedom comes through love. He says that a:
“safe place is what gets cultivated when freedom is expressed through love. The essence of love is safety and connection. If people don’t feel safe to be themselves and don’t feel a sense of connection with people around them, then it’s hard to convince them that they are in a loving place.”
As I was listening to those podcasts I realized I needed to guard that part of myself that wanted to tell Josh all the reasons why those podcasts were stupid. I need to create a family culture in which all my kids are free to be themselves.
Silk believes that the reason my family, my church or my organization is not that safe place, is because I am too uptight when it comes to risks, but he kindly points out that I am not the only one:
A majority of leaders, not just Christian leaders, are pretty uptight. The same goes for far too many parents. When they need to go somewhere with their kids, many parents are uptight from the moment they say, “It’s time to leave!” If you are a pastor preparing for Sunday morning, it’s a pretty good chance you are uptight. If there is something important going on, and the outcome matters to you, there is a good chance you are going to bring uptight with you. It’s quite common.
Silk believes that another word for “uptight” is fear, and if fear is shaping our response to life then the only option we can see is to move towards control.
What Silk does very helpfully is pull back the veil on the spiritual reality behind my need to control. He says:
Heaven, the kingdom of love and freedom, is invading earth, and love is directly confronting the fear that has governed us. Fear and love are enemies. These two spirits will not hold the same place together. Love and fear are like light and dark…fresh water and salt water…blessing and cursing. And one of them has to win. Love casts out the fear. Love not only casts out the fear; it brings security and safety and shalom.
The Kingdom of God produces a culture based on love and not on fear. It’s not simple though when your teenager is making decisions that look dumb or even dangerous. Everything in me wants to grasp the steering wheel of their lives and drive for them until I am convinced they will drive in a way that I think is safe. Silk points out that my struggle is not unique:
It is typical, for example, when a teenager begins to explore his or her freedom, that his or her parents become afraid. The fear stems from the fact that the child is choosing options that the parents either wouldn’t ever or wouldn’t again choose for themselves.
The wrestling match is over how different the child can be so as to individuate from the parents and how much the parents can keep the child looking like them. The further the child moves from how the parents live, the more likely the parents are to step in and shut down the child’s choices. The result is conflict. But when the teenager and the parents both practice honor, which contains within it love and trust, fear is not allowed to rule their decisions and freedom can be preserved
I resonated with what Silk was saying, however it was important for me to hear that he wasn’t arguing for an absence of conflict. In fact conflict is essential in the process of journeying towards freedom, and freedom itself creates conflict, as Silk acknowledges:
As you can see, the culture of honor both facilitates a safe place and in turn, creates a place of great conflict. The question is whether we will learn to use honor to navigate through the conflict when it arises.
I like how Silk names the place of conflict:
Conflict is not inherently evil. As a matter of fact, when conflict goes away, life most likely left with it. Sometimes we hope that peace means the absence of conflict, but true peace is always the result of victory. I cannot think of a victory that did not first begin with a struggle.
And how he names the real job of parenting and leadership:
There will be no culture of honor without the active use of effective confrontation. The skill of combining these two relational elements—honor and confrontation—is the key to sustaining an environment of grace.
The conflict Silk is talking about is not about control. It is not about forcing my will but is about naming the boundaries and pointing out the consequences… and not saving people from those consequences. It is not avoiding, and it’s not easy.
This kind of conflict requires a high level of maturity, which I think is why Paul names maturity as the main outcome of effective leadership in the church.
I am preparing to preach on Sunday about how Paul suggested leadership be structured in the church… and it wasn’t a hierarchy:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
(Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)
Paul’s vision for the church was a fellowship of people who were one but different. He didn’t name a CEO and there wasn’t a board of directors.
Paul named a fellowship that was directly lead by Christ and was dependant on different people exercising different gifts.
As I journeyed with Josh and Maddi I was reminded how different they were, both from each other and from me.
I also saw that my main task was to help them grow up.
I needed to be ready to listen to them, see their world, listen to their music and podcasts and try to understand and value the differences in who they are. They need to know that I love them.
I also know that I need to be ready to have the right kinds of conflict. Its ok for me not to like the podcasts. Its also ok for me to tell my kids that I think they are making wrong decisions or naming boundaries in my house and expecting them to stay within those boundaries. A culture of honour is not a culture without conflict.
I am glimpsing both the kind of family and kind of church I want to be part of. I am also glimpsing the kind of work I need to do in order for it to be true.