Posts Tagged ‘Landon Whitsitt’

The second chapter of Open Source Church is WIKI-WONDERFUL.    Just a brilliant chapter on the way that Wikipedia is set up to receive editors with very broad parameters and we as a church should be so structured.  Whitsitt rightly warns that people are not arriving to church to be plugged into a preexisting mechanism.

However, I have found in Osawatomie that even if that is not what people want it is what they expect.  It seems that what exists just before the open source church is a sort of Gordian Knot.   Somehow for one to even entertain visiting a church they are anticipating a structure and wanting a road map to determine if this church is the right place or not.   In this way even a church that is open source “ready” for visitors (like an untied rope)  can get tempted to over structure and provide…..the beginning of the knot.   What The Open Source Church requires is really a dual track of attention.  Open source must be a concept understood by church members AND by approaching people themselves.

In order to imagine how open source might be imagined by those who are approaching us I would appeal to the work of J. Rufus Fears and his Teaching Company  lectures on “the Wisdom of History”.   In those lectures he  makes the argument freedom is not something that most people want for themselves.  One cannot simply cut through what has the church in a knot and expect greater interest.  This is because, Fears says, freedom requires a tremendous amount of  commitment if one is to live well with it.   He argues that what the majority of our world population might prefer is to put themselves under the care of a powerful person with whom they can imagine the greatest possibility.  We see that in this country as people align themselves with political parties and vote a straight party ticket.    The open source church is founded on freedom.  And yet, if Whitsitt’s concept will receive the caution of Fears, it will have to address the question, “Do people really want more freedom?”  If they might, the next question belongs to the existing congregation.  “How much one-on-one time is the church willing to give to each visitor?”

They say that for children to become participating and discerning adult, they need a great deal of one on one time with a parent in the first years of life.  We have found this to be true of people who are in their infancy in the church.   This personal time getting to know individuals must be done appropriately and with integrity and if it is done well, it allows people to feel known and supported enough to begin making suggestions and editing the church.   In Osawatomie we would say that one-on-one time inspires people to love freedom and editing ownership of the church.  Open congregation + interested visitor ≠open source church.  Open congregation + deep discovery of interested visitor = open source church of editors.


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A little dexterity is helpful in working with ...

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At First Presbyterian of Osawatomie we have begun a small group program.  I am a part of one small group that is learning to knit.  Knitting is not easy because it involves just one strand of yarn and a complex series of wraps, tugs and dips to move that yarn into a weave that is plush and warm.   Knitting is not only a discipline of crafters, it is the discipline of theology itself.  For if a certain theological suggestion is to be valid, it must ultimately be practical and a tool for God’s people.

Whitsitt’s last chapter of The Open Source Church,  knits in the concept of the open source church back into the practical tasks of  congregational leadership.  I appreciated the chapters specificity suggesting that leaders should at least and essentially be proclaimers, facilitators and mentors for the congregations they serve.  While it is not my privilege to add a category or even a chapter to the book, I do believe any open source church will also need to be  a place where leaders model a multi-disciplinary approach to scripture and theology.   In a way,  modeling the multi-disciplinary could be easily subsumed into any of Landon’s three fundamental leadership tasks.   But in other ways, it needs to be considered a more fundamental knitting exercise for the leader that will affect proclamation, mentoring and facilitating.

By multi-disciplinary I mean a consistent integration (in pulpit,  classroom and idle conversation) of all the major disciplines of hard and soft sciences, local and global politics, literature and the arts into conversation with scripture.  If our people are really to arrive at church and appropriately use the church to realize God‘s call upon their lives, then that surely begins by allowing the world from which they come to be fully present in the classrooms and sanctuaries of our churches.   There has been, for too long, a battle in our sanctuaries and Sunday School rooms.  It is  a battle that we seemingly wage alone, arguing that the church is the ultimate authority.  Though the world is full of discoveries that rival focused attention to our authority, we pretend that we just need to talk louder about our ancient authority and that will be sufficient.

I think about it a bit differently.   Using the knitting metaphor, all the various disciplines of the world are like the individual fibers within the strand of yarn itself.  And it is the job of congregational leaders to allow the god-given yarn its full integrity.  We must refrain from pretending that our fiber is the only important one.   Folks we are not being invited to a battle as much as we are being invited to knit a bundle of fibers into a warmth that can move our people fully into their present moment.  This means that our task is to be constant learners outside of our own field of discipline in order to pay homage to our God that is fully in the present and is the source of all that is creative and novel. So we don’t try to discount or strip the fibers or disciplines of psychology, sociology, algebra, physics, astronomy, literature etc. from the congregational conversation.   Such integrated attention assures our people at the deepest level that God is present here and now and not lingering in just the past or future.

Lest you think that I am demoting the fiber of religion let me say that what I am suggesting is intended to be most respectful of Jesus’ life and ministry as well. Jesus, after all, made significant responses to the various disciplines of his day.  Politics, family structure, morality, laws of tradition, economics, ethics, religion etc.   I worry that our Christian community is becoming increasingly rigid and focusing more on the record of Jesus in scripture rather than the knitting method of Jesus’ living and loving, part of which is recorded for us and, thus, we hold sacred.  In order to cultivate an open source church leaders must model how it is that one takes the various disciplines of thought as examples of a living and revelatory God.    Examples of a living God then allow us to live non-anxiously into the method of Jesus in new and creative ways in the world.

It is surely a rich part of our Christian tradition that much of how we move forward comes from overt and focused instruction.  Whitsitt recommends just that encouraging open source leaders to be intentional  proclaimers, facilitators and mentors.   However, overt instruction can be exhausting.  I want to suggest that for the sake of the system, the instruction can continue in some gentler ways as well.  Fred Craddock,  in his timeless work as one without authority, reminds us that because communication has grown increasingly complex, overt instruction (like preaching)  must be co-mingled with method in order to communicate fully.  There must be subtle but no less intentional opportunities to “observe” or “overhear” what it means to be an open source congregation. In my experience, an open source church must partly exemplify its values by being open to the world as a source.  

By taking in the current events, trends and discoveries of its world as conversation partners with the gospel,   the open source church practices  relevant meaning from various professional disciplines.  We allow the world to observe us doing this.  This communicates subtly, but powerfully,  the truth, that each individual Christian per their personal relationship with God is also an expert knitter who has a contribution to make to the Kingdom.   The stakes are high!  After yarn that does not get knit….begins to unravel.

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Personal Jesus

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I have a confession.  When I am feeling my best….Norman Greenbaum’s one hit wonder, Spirit in the Sky  and Depeche Mode’s song Personal Jesus  really do it for me.   It’s not that I don’t love the hymns on Sunday morning, it’s just that I am the product of a certain time and place and these rhythms and words make sense for me as I spend my life striving to understand the personality and ministry of Jesus.   But I might not want you to know this….because I won’t know what you think.  Perhaps the lyrics or beat are not respectful enough….perhaps I don’t know enough about where these songs have been or what they have inspired and my love of them is thus uninformed.    I care about what you think….partly because there are so many thoughts about Jesus.

We live in a highly competitive Christian environment.  This is ironic because by any town’s count, there are more than enough good folks for any church.  However, increasingly in the Christian community, we spend time trying to determine who has the accurate, most biblically based understanding of Jesus and thus the church.  Jesus is morphed from an open armed saint to a suspicious vice grip.

In his book, Open Source Church, Landon Whitsitt makes a strong case that Jesus’ fundamental agenda was one of freedom for each human being.  The way that I understand Whitsitt’s suggestion is that Jesus’ call upon individual lives moves each of us forward to our greatest potential and possibility.  It follows that if individuals are called to their best selves….society is emboldened with love, compassion and courage for the individuals within it.  Individuals of all sorts.  So, society becomes a refined place, practiced at living beyond itself into the will of the Creator.

In the current competitive environment, we are all tempted to keep our own personal Jesus to ourselves, lest someone put that personal meaning down.   We read our bible, pray and sometimes talk about God only in the boundaries of our home or safest company.  Sometimes the situation is even more private.  That means we only ever think about and imagine God for ourselves….God never makes it into conversation.

The open source church is a place where your own personal Jesus is not a competitor with mine.  Rather your own personal jesus informs my own personal jesus.   They live alongside each other and work together.  In the open source church, you are not afraid to talk about and ask questions of and to your jesus.  You are not afraid to inquire and challenge mine.  In fact, you come to an open source church because you can’t wait to come and talk out loud.  There is a freedom and an interest in doing so. My personal jesus grows as does yours.  They grow like our children in the care of a community.  They grow toward the Jesus of scripture.

First Presbyterian of Osawatomie respects the original source code of scripture from which the story of Jesus emerges.  But it also respects the unique way that Jesus’ rhythm has hit your life and perhaps even rocks your life out!    I have heard that Personal Jesus  was inspired by Priscilla Presley.  It was recorded a number of different ways by Depeche Mode themselves.   Then it was picked up by at least a few others…. Johnny Cash, Marilyn Manson, Jamelia, Hillary Duff.   Quite a variety!   ……But then the Personal Jesus has been picked up by so many more!    The open source church is not afraid of the way individuals receive God’s source code and make it their own with an intent to share it.

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I have heard it more than once!  “Why don’t people dress up to come to church anymore?”  “Where are the suits, dresses….”….some even ask where the hats have gone!    I have said it more than once, “The dressing for church is not so much in clothes as it is in the way a person dresses their mind with an  interest and need for the church.”  The church is morphing from an institution of proper respect to an institution of curiosity and adventure.

Landon Whitsitt asserts in Open Source Church that people “don’t just want to be part of a machine”. Rather people, when they come to church, they want an open source experience.  An open source church experience draws upon the foundation of the  open source software industry.  This industry is committed that the instructions for software are open for anyone to see and edit.   There are licensing regulations for what makes a software open source (Whitsitt, with wit,  sites 10 and calls them the 10 commandments of open source).  But after the 10 point criterion is met, the source code really is received, changed and enhanced by individuals who are using the initial source code for more specific purposes.

Like software consumers, good church folks want do be able to use the foundations of a church home to do the things that  “…they need to do in order to make the church work for them”.   In First Presbyterian Church of Osawatomie Kansas, we know what that means.  There has been an important shift in mindset of leaders and congregants in Osawatomie over the years.  Gently but surely the people and leadership of Osawatomie have come to understand that First Presbyterian church does not belong to them.    While we have responsibility for the church, fundamentally the church belongs to God.  What this means is that we listen very carefully to what our congregants (not just our formal members say).     As we attune our listening, we are intent to pick up their clues.  The understanding is this…. that their clues tell us something about how God might be calling us forward as individuals and then as a community.    The purpose of visitors is not to fill our pews or pay our bills but to propel us a little further than we can imagine in our adventurous pursuit of God and the gospel.

Our visitors and newbies are our informants and in that way they become essential to us long before they decide to formally join the church.    You don’t have to prove yourself to participate or lead at First Presbyterian Osawatomie….you just have to be ready to be a part of a church that is ready to be available to anyone.  There is no inside group of privilege or power.  There are no unnecessary hoops that are not related to how we will share space.   Those of us that might be imagined to hold power are scrambling all the time to pull clues together like stepping-stones into the future.

Our prayer is that not that we would be right or proper.  Our prayer is that we would be interesting enough for a Hovering Holy Spirit who might allow us the opportunity to feel like we are God’s open source code and church to the world.   The recognition that people are dressed with an interest in the gospel, a hope to be decision makers in activity, and the providers of clues for the kingdom is the perfect outfit for church!


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