Emerging accountability?

30 Apr

Yesterday I was quite horrified when I read an article on CNN about a couple who allowed their daughter to die from diabetes, because they were convinced God would heal her. I came to the conclusion that they were wacky Christians, and wondered why it is that it’s always the weird Christians or the fundamentalists that make the rest of us seem a little odd to the rest of the world. One, however, has to be open minded when reading media reports, because, as we know, the whole context of a situation is not always reported, and they can be biased. Before I continue you might want to read the article here, if you have not done so already.

In some way I guess this couple really thought they were living in faith, as they were utterly convinced that their daughter was going to be healed and raised from the dead. Both of them were convinced this would happen. Me, I would have given up after a while and gone to a doctor. Maybe some would say, then, that I have little faith? However, from reading the article it is clear that their belief system was a little eccentric.

What has really had me thinking over the past day though is that the family did not belong to any “organized religion or faith group”. They used to go to a pentecostal church, but moved to Wisconsin to open a coffee shop and started a prayer group there. They were seen as being “religious isolationists” The local police chief was quoted as saying: “They have gone out on their own,” he said. “… They have a very narrow view of Scripture and I would say not many people hold to that narrow of view.”

The coffee shop and prayer group made me read a little harder! 😉 Some people who are leaving institutionalized church (IC) are gathering in or opening third spaces such as coffee houses, book shops etc; as well as a host of other things. Due to this couples deemed isolation it has made me think about accountability and affiliation when it comes to emerging /missional “plants”. More and more are leaving church and gathering in smaller communities. Generally those gathering do not have a narrow view of scripture, as this couple have, and most gatherings are running successfully – however you deem that success to be. However, I guess many IC’s would consider these communities to be isolationist.

I think church has become too much like a business and rather legalistic. However, do you think new gatherings outside of IC should have more accountability or affiliation, if so in what form, and where would it come from? I’m curious as to what your thoughts are.

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17 Responses to “Emerging accountability?”

  1. Jeff McQ April 30, 2008 at 23:04 #

    A few years ago in my area, it was reported on the news that a house church had beaten one of its members for admitting to using pornography. Obviously, it immediately called into question the legitimacy or safety of all house churches, and we felt the sting of it as well–although we would never have imagined doing something so awful.

    But putting it in a larger perspective…everytime I hear a report like this coming from a smaller, organic-type group, I am reminded of at least one other time I heard about something similar happening in an IC.

    Every time.

    My point is, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen because of the form of church we happen to have. It happens because people are broken, sinful, and misguided. Believe it or not, this kind of thing happens *inside* institutions we would think would be safe places of accountability, as much as it happens outside–if not more. Sin, abuse, and heresy are issues the *entire church* have always had to deal with–not just the parts that are outside the walls.

  2. sonja April 30, 2008 at 23:23 #

    Interesting, Lyn. I just had a conversation with my BFF this afternoon about this very topic. She has been to both CLBs with me/us and we talked about the fact that the same problems existed in both churches … one very conservative and institutional, one very liberal and emerging. But the core problems were the same – that is the leaders were broken, ego-driven and manipulative. The fact that one was accountable to a denomination did not help in the least.

    OTOH … I think that the abuse dished out in the CLB2 was more traumatic for me because the context was more intimate and the setting smaller AND precisely because of the church answered to no one above them and no one from the outside was looking at the finances (for example). So there are more places where abuse and malfeasance can plant itself and grow in these small organic churches (unfortunately).

    In many respects this reminds me of a recent story about a homeschooling family here in the states where the parents were just incarcerated for child abuse and endangerment. They had adopted a child from Russia (I think) and had problems with the child; their discipline methods were extreme and harsh, to include withholding food and tying the child up for hours on end. Now a Maryland state senator is reviewing state homeschool statutes to see what can be done to make sure that the homeschooled children are not so far out of scrutiny anymore. Except that many, many more public school children are neglected and endangered each year than homeschool children are and they escape the notice of the teachers and administrators that they see every day. This was not a homeschooling issue, it’s a parenting issue.

    In the same manner, it’s not an accountability issue it’s a sin issue. There are not enough rules that you can make to prevent people from abusing each other. Those parents were misguided and foolish. They caused their daughter’s death. God created our brains and gave us doctors … that’s the faith He gave us.

    Okay … I’ve rambled on far too long here and now I’ve got to go to a meeting. Sorry about taking up so much room …

  3. Erin May 1, 2008 at 04:45 #

    I’m curious about something…because I ponder this for myself…what’s the difference between accountability and control? Because it seems to me that control is what house churches and smaller gatherings want to be rid of. But as you pointed out, being completely autonomous isn’t good either. How to find the comfortable medium?

    Sonja – As far as the homeschooling law, the same thing is happening in Cali.

  4. lynhallewell May 1, 2008 at 07:05 #

    Indeed, this stuff does happen in IC and to a degree seems to go “unnoticed”. It certainly happens because of our human failings.

    Jeff, I hope you don’t think I was intimating that these issues only happen outside of the IC walls. I am very much aware, even from our own situation, of the failings of others both on the “inside and “outside”. I’m just curious as to peoples thoughts.

  5. lynhallewell May 1, 2008 at 07:12 #

    Thanks Sonja, I hear you.Don’t apologize for taking up room, I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

    Again both inside or outside of IC the abuse and failings remain.

    Funny, isn’t it, but the homeschooling movement is certainly like the emerging movement! Everyone is a bit wary of you 🙂 and the powers that be are desperately trying to get you back into societies “systems”!

  6. lynhallewell May 1, 2008 at 07:23 #

    Very good question Erin. Controlling leaders are not good. Through my “churched” history I’ve witnessed some very broken people due to manipulation etc that they have received through the controlling leader they have had. It happens time and time again. I was actually going to write a post about control a few days ago, but haven’t got around to it – maybe I will now!

    Where is the medium? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s more through “break away” groups supporting one another somehow?

  7. lynhallewell May 1, 2008 at 07:47 #

    Thanks for your responses so far. I guess I was kind of illusive in my post, but I wanted to get a “feel” for what others thought. Through reading your comments, it is evident that I am not alone in my thoughts!

    I agree that groups that move away from IC to get away from control, however, within some of these smaller settings there are still control and abuse issues. Our own human failings let us down time and time again.

    I think Sonja has hit on a really interesting comparison with homeschooling.Most homeschoolers are normal, safe people, educating their kids in a way they think to be more beneficial to them. However, occasionally you read about an abusive family situation that homeschool, and the authorities get their panties in a twist and say that all homeschoolers have to return to the school system.

    Likewise, there are many great new “forms of church” out there who meet in houses, cinemas, bookstores, Starbucks etc. They are full of great people who have seen that there is more to Christian life that what they have experienced in IC. However, there are still abuse, control and sin issues. When these become apparent that is when we will hear of more churches saying that these groups have to “return to the fold”!

    Accountability can be controlling – but is some accountability a good thing? And is it always controlling? For example, my husband regularly meets with Christian friends outside of his church role and chats with them about how things are going, struggles etc and he sees himself accountable to them, as he knows that they are honest enough to tell him how it is, if he is totally off the wall etc.

    Therefore, as I wrote in reply to Erin’s comment, is the happy medium that breakaway groups support each other somehow?

    Jeff, I know you run a house church, is there someone who you chat with, who you know will be honest with you and tell you if you’ve lost it? If not would you appreciate more of that?

    Mmmmm, I’m pondering again now!

  8. Jon Hallewell May 1, 2008 at 08:16 #

    This whole thing has brought up 2 issues for me. Firstly, if we leave IC because we’re fed up of control etc. we will find similar issues in our organic forms of church, because of ‘people’ as well documented in previous comments. Answer: we need to pursue new forms of church for positive reasons, defined in terms of mission. We also need to be honest with ourselves about this. Lets be proactive, not reactive. Moving forward with grace, if not totally healed of the hurts we have been dealt in any given situation. For me, I am keen to be accountable and have oversight , even for many of our family decisions.

    There are huge abuses in many forms of church. Just look at the reporting of the Popes visit to the states. We all need people (even the pope 😉 ) who can say “are you out of line here friend?”

    Second: the thing that suprised me. When Lyn first told me about this she said “they were christians who weren’t apart of church” alarm bells started ringing in my head. They continued to ring when she said “they met in a coffee house with a few other families.” All this before she got to what had happened, which, it goes without saying was just so very sad. I then thought to myself, when I am so so so for new forms of church, why were the alarm bells ringing? Maybe because she said there was a story on cnn, which meant it probably wasn’t going to be about mission.

    I have a personal issue here – but – there is a wider issue in terms of public perception, that has a negative impact on missional viability. Think about the cult case all over cnn lately. People fear getting trapped! Discuss.

  9. Erin May 1, 2008 at 13:53 #

    What Jon said was so profound: let’s be proactive instead of reactive. That’s so hard, but so much of the people who start smaller gatherings are being reactive…but to start something out of a call or mission is more likely to be successful than something angry or bitter.

  10. lynhallewell May 1, 2008 at 15:40 #

    I agree it is hard, however as you pointed out things are more likely to be successful through calling. Personally I’d have concerns with someone starting something out of bitterness or anger, as that is when people start throwing mud at others and don’t actually get anywhere for the kingdom. Some of this mud throwing (name calling) is already quite apparent within emerging circles!

  11. Erin May 1, 2008 at 16:54 #

    I’d love to say that no church gathering is ever started out of bitterness, but unfortunately some are.

  12. lynhallewell May 1, 2008 at 20:09 #

    I know 😦

  13. Jeff McQ May 1, 2008 at 23:39 #

    Not in the least, Lyn. You asked for our thoughts, and that was my thought. 🙂 It was a great post.

  14. Jeff McQ May 1, 2008 at 23:48 #

    Lyn, to answer your question…yes, I do submit myself willingly to several mature people whom I trust to speak truth to me–and who are not afraid to do so. They do not attempt to control us, and allow us to be who we are. I actually feel safer and more accountable in these relationships than at any time in any hierarchy I’ve been part of.

    It’s actually within the safety of these relationships that I have realized that true accountability is an attitude of the heart, not an issue of control. I’ve known IC pastors who could rattle off their accountability structures while successfully finding ways to subvert them.

    I guess what I’m saying is accountability ultimately starts with me.

  15. lynhallewell May 2, 2008 at 07:25 #

    Jeff, the “accountability” you have is exactly what I mean by accountability, and how my husband seeks it. Safe, honest people who aren’t there to control, but will tell you if they think you’re way off track!

  16. Paul May 3, 2008 at 08:00 #

    Christians have their good moments and crap ones regardless of the institution/space – we can get all idealistic and romantic about it but it’s pretty much been the same across the history of God’s followers…

  17. lynhallewell May 3, 2008 at 08:58 #

    Very true my friend.

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