Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Can you talk in nice voices please?

How many of us have said this to our kids? If we ask it of our kids, can we ask it of each other as we talk about the emerging church?

I am in Auckland teaching a masters course on the emerging church. Titled Critical missional issues it uses the emerging church as a case study to reflect on mission in Western Culture. I taught the first week in April. It is my argument that there is no such thing as the emerging church, only emerging churches and an emerging conversation. So to study the emerging church, you have to put aside McLaren and actually study the practices of living communities – what they are doing.

So we spent our first week in April exploring how to read a living theology, the Word enfleshed in a body of Christ. And the students went away to put this into practice, to study the worship and ethos of an emerging church.

This second week we are due to spend discerning the missional lessons that can be learnt from the emerging church. What might the emerging church learn from Scripture, from how Jesus treated those outside the church (the wise men, the Samaritan woman, Canaanite woman), or how the early church engaged with culture (the Ethiopian Enuch, the preaching of Paul in Lystra and Derbe)? What might the emerging church learn from reading mission history.

And we also as a class need to listen to contemporary critical voices. But how could we go about talking in nice voices please. How could we listen fairly to a critic like Don Carson?

And so a few weeks ago I was given a gift. A Christchurch pastor came to me. He has a PhD in Biblical studies, is a pastor, has been reading Carson,whom he respects. And now he has some questions about the emerging church. And could we talk. Can you see why this is a gift! Not hissing over the internet, but face to face. Nice voices.

And I asked him if we could video the conversation. Could I show it in my Masters class this week? It would be so easy for me in my small classroom to conduct a monologue, to summarise a critic like Carson and then trash a critic like Carson.

But a conversation. That would be different. Allowing diverse voices into the classroom. Face to face. And allowing the critic, in this case Carson, to have the right of reply and even the last word. 55 minutes later we have a video, and what I hope will be a great gift to the class.

But whatever the case, I am trying to learn to talk in nice voices. Anyone out there want to join me? What could happen if we all try to use nice voices (as we talk to each other about faith and ministry today)?

Update: This post wasn’t a video distribution plug, but a reflection on how I am processing what it means for me to engage in constructive talking, how we might build bridges and treat those who have different ideas that we do. I’m trying a more conversational approach. What are you trying?

Posted by steve at 04:41 PM


  1. i am so impressed steve by the way you have thought about this course – what you are offering people seems so right – i am not very good at talking in a nice voice – but i agree with you completely that it is something that those of us who live within new and emerging ministries need to become increasingly literate in – how could i join you ?? given the distance – and my smallness ??

    Comment by julie — October 3, 2007 @ 4:53 am

  2. alright… alright… you twisted my arm. is there a way you can post the video or snipit’s of it?

    Comment by joe — October 3, 2007 @ 7:34 am

  3. Hi,
    I am only one half of the conversation. I’d need to check with my co-converser before the video was used beyond the classroom setting/original purpose.

    BTW, this post wasn’t a video distribution post, but a reflection on how I am processing what it means for me to engage in constructive talking and how we might build bridges and how we treat those who have different ideas that we do.


    Comment by steve — October 3, 2007 @ 8:08 am

  4. … And here’s something for us ‘ down under ‘ types (Kiwi’s, Aussie’s and Africana’s) to consider. I’m married to a Canadian girl and one of the interesting ‘ hick ups ‘ that we’ve discovered in our relationship has to do with my ‘ tone ‘. At first I had no idea what she was talking about but I came to realize that in my Kiwi culture we communicate in a very, how shall I say, forthright, to the point, no-nonsense, even ‘blunt ‘ manner – I’m not saying that we intend to be rude, it’s just how we are. Canadians on the other hand tend to be more sensitive, polite, are predisposed to have a posture that ‘ gives way ‘ Particularly in heated discussions. I love Canadian culture ! They’ve taught me a lot.

    So as we engage in these discussions with one another, lets be aware of our ‘tone’, so that we don’t allow that to de-rail a good conversation with misunderstanding, particularly with others of another culture. Just a thought…

    By the way, I don’t like the word ‘ NICE’. It’s so… Ambiguous, annoying, condescending, cheesy. How ’bout ‘gracious, maybe ‘Humble, – too religious ? Maybe we should say, ” let’s try to be more ‘ Canadian ‘ to each other “…. Oh , there goes my ‘ tone’ again, sorry mates !

    Comment by Tangira — October 3, 2007 @ 11:40 am

  5. Tangira,

    yep. good point .. tone … polite tone … polite Canadians ….

    So if I google “emerging” … I will come across all these Canadian websites talking in a polite tones about the emerging church?

    is that what you’re saying 🙂


    Comment by steve — October 3, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  6. Well, actually you might be surprised. I think you might see quite a different ‘ spirit ‘, particulaly in contrast to U.S ’emergent’ sites. However, what I’m saying is a generalization. We do have plucky, cocky Canadians here too but I think they are more the exception. Why not check out the website I’m affiliated with – http://emergentcanada.blogspot.com/

    It’s where I’ve been involved and have evolved…

    Comment by Tangira — October 3, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  7. Steve, what do you do when the person on the other side of the table is only interested in “converting” you to their way of thinking? We want to enagage and we want to dialogue with respect but they are only tring to convince us we are wrong and they are right. Of course it isn’t as upfront as that; it is much more subtle!

    Comment by mark — October 3, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

  8. Steve, I like the invitation to talk politely to one another on this issue. In my experience most of the talking happens in the confines of conferences and conferences tend shape the type of engagement. In one conference I feel like I have to be a cheerleader for the emerging church and look down my cool nose at the uncool “traditional” church. In another conference I feel like I have to throw rocks at the emerging church and look down my snooty theological nose at it. The assumptions of who the audience is and where they’re at tend to frame the type of engagement. How could a conversation be held where we could ask and be asked serious questions that might challenge us all to grow (in understading or practice etc) within the framework of acknowledging we are all passionate followers of Jesus and leaders in his church? Often, in the different contexts, I feel like the level of engagement is superficial and we’re passing one another like ships in the night.

    Comment by Andrew — October 3, 2007 @ 4:39 pm

  9. Andrew, the July Sharpening the Edge conference was the closest I’ve come to being part of genuine dialogue. The use of diverse stories and reflective panels created a learning community. It was a really positive step IMHO.

    And i think it requires both parties to step toward genuine dialogue. When Brian Mclaren came to NZ, I set up the Chch conference to include dialogue panels, to enable diversity. The best part of the day was seeing Murray Robertson engaging with a young leader from Primal. I feel like the e.c.is making an effort and I hope to see that reciprocated in NZ.


    Comment by steve — October 3, 2007 @ 5:05 pm

  10. I think you’re right about the e.c. making an effort and it needing to be reciprocated. I get scared off from engaging in many settings becuase you get the impression that if you try to ask questions or disagree there’s a look of “oh, he’s one of them, so he’s not one of us” and the shutters come down. I know that I’m guilty of doing that myself! We can all be quite partisan and it can get quite painful for everyone. Genuine open dialogue is pretty tough and I admire you for seeking it.

    Comment by Andrew — October 4, 2007 @ 9:25 am

  11. Steve, what do you do when the person on the other side of the table is only interested in “converting” you to their way of thinking?

    Comment by mark — October 8, 2007 @ 8:03 pm

  12. mark, i go back to luke 10. my commision is to speak “peace.” that means not just in word, but in the ongoing integration and submission by which i walk the christian life. (and that peace is not always bland piety, it might be fairly straight to the point).

    it is then up to the person if they recieve my peace.

    if they won’t i will know that i have done what i can. i am willing to move on. but in moving on, i do not get angry because i know that jesus is coming after me. and in luke 9, jesus refuses to judge those who the disciples think should be judged.

    does that have any relevance?


    Comment by steve — October 9, 2007 @ 9:13 am

  13. Yeah it does Steve. I think, however, that one of the hardest things to do as a minister is keep the peace of your spirit in the midst of conflict! Especially when the conflict is with other ministers.

    Comment by mark — October 16, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

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