Wednesday, June 14, 2006

True leadership may mean admitting disunity so lets embrace the opposition!

Kip apologises. Again… His latest apology happens together with some hypothetical points made in this article that just might materialise! That is if Kip keeps on apologising!

Professor Njabulo S. Ndebele, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, published an article in the Sunday Times titled “True leadership may mean admitting disunity” (June 4th 2006). Here Ndebele’s political insight and concerns for South African politicians mirror the current leadership crisis within the fellowship of the International Churches of Christ (ICOC). Kip’s apology revealed that there were “issues troubling” Douglas Arthur’s heart that brought him “face to face” with Kip. Ndebele explores the leadership challenges facing South Africa. He talks of the importance of ‘devolved autonomy’ (transfer to self-rule) and also singles out characteristics and behaviour of leadership in accepting opposition as crucial for the survival of a successful democracy. Perhaps, a “godless environment” like politics may teach us a few lessons on humility and vision.

The African National Congress (ANC), has governed South Africa since the first democratic elections held in 1994. Here 80% of the South African voters completely unite year after year to ensure that the Tripartite Alliance of the ANC remains in power. However, the ANC is thwarted by infighting due to leadership differences over the next president. The media refers to this controversy as the South African succession debate. A journalist made this sober remark. “The term ‘succession debate’ really means ‘What the hell do we do with Jacob Zuma now?” Much controversy surrounds the good standing of Jacob Zuma’s ability as leader since his acquittal at his sinful rape trial and awaiting trail on fraud. President Thabo Mbeki sacked the former president of South Africa and replaced him with a woman. Incredulously, Zuma is still deputy president of the ANC. He has caused shockwaves during his rape trail by stating that a shower can effectively wash away HIV after unprotected sex. Notwithstanding, Zuma backers wanted to use the December 2006 policy conference to pass amendments whereby the ANC deputy president would automatically become the next president and therefore head of the state. President Thabo Mbeki added oil to the fire by implicating that the next president should be a woman. Women comprise of the majority of voters within the ANC. The thorny question of succession will be raised next year. Furthermore, the ANC alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and COSATU accused Mbeki of having a leadership style similar to dictatorship. Now for the first time black South Africans sense political division amongst themselves and within the dominant ruling party. Here Ndebele’s sobering analyses reveal “that the black majority are not facing white compatriots across the negotiating table. Rather, it is facing itself: perhaps really for the first time since 1994.”

South Africa’s succession debate prompted Ndebele to make an opening statement that reflects to some extent what the ICOC have experienced in the past three years. I quote. “Recent events have created a sense that we are undergoing a serious crisis of leadership in our new democracy. An increasing number of highly intelligent, sensitive and committed South Africans, across class, racial and cultural spectrums, confess to feeling uncertain and vulnerable as never before since 1994. When indomitable optimists confess to having a sense of things unhinging, the misery of anxiety spreads. We have the sense that events are spiralling out of control and that no one among the leadership of the country seems to have a definitive handle on things. There can be nothing more debilitating than a generalised and undefined sense of anxiety in the body politic. It breeds conspiracies and fear.”

In the last quarter of 2005, two dominant groups within the ICOC have emerged from the ashes. This was enough to allow the imagination to run wild, thus breeding “conspiracies and fear”. I have commented in my previous article, “A Renovator, not an Innovator” about the hypothetical house of Renovation representing the Portland movement of Kip McKean. Here, McKean, never wavers from the disciple approach. He made some strong statements in his sermons and articles that hurt “church leaderships and disciples”. Undoubtedly, his weak character could not bear up to his strong convictions on former ICOC discipleship principles, which often brought him in trouble with his peers. Perhaps Kip struggles with a typical Peter syndrome. Therefore, with all respect, in future we can anticipate more Galatians Two incidents. It is perfectly normal because leaders bad or good make mistakes!

The intensity to ensure the survival of discipleship from the outset in mid-2003 in my mind made Portland Church a movement. The majority of former ICOC churches were far behind until the Seattle Conference envisioned a plan “to strengthen the bonds between some 500 churches that share a common history and heritage.” It has become clear to me, after some contemplation that the ‘house of Innovation’ now represents the efforts of the Unity Proposal Group. In my mind, Kip was not actively part of this “complete unity” despite them “embracing discipleship”. Therefore, I justified them as a separate entity. By far this group is in the majority. From the start their approach was more humble than McKean’s efforts. Here, they acknowledge “that commitment to our unity and mission may NOT STILL BE shared by every church and that there may be some churches that share our commitment to both but decide not to accept this plan.” Perhaps they’re hoping to draw every one into their fold.

Which brings me to the third group, those who have not joined either group. Possibly never will. In my mind they are the true moderate or neutral crowd. They share “a common history and heritage” but for other reasons cannot continue with plans of either group. They are not faithless or disheartened people. They do have an opinion. Alan Rouse’s thought provoking comments are essentially what the moderate crowd is about. An elder of the Atlanta Church of Christ, Alan Rouse, baptised as a student in 1976 Crossroads movement, cautions against “further damage to God’s kingdom by creating an elite faction within the brotherhood, one that will look down on churches that do not conform to the group’s chosen methods.” Rouse states in his “one man’s view” article, “it would be a mistake to try to limit the Holy Spirit by codifying our methods, and building an organization to constrain congregations around the world to use those methods.” His admonishment is directed towards the Brotherhood Unity and Revival proposal “to bring the former ICOC congregations back together into a worldwide organization with common methods and practices for reaching the world with the gospel and for ministering to the needs of the membership.” In doing so, he forewarns, “the recent proposal creates a new litmus test of uniform methods for deciding who is unified. That is not what the scriptures teach.” [Source: Alan Rouse, ‘Unity or Conformity?’ – Thoughts on the Call to Brotherhood Unity and Revival, August 27, 2005.]

Two opposing houses in the likes of 2 Samuel 3 within the ICOC will lead to a long war. We may think that our current church squabbles over territories in cities of which Kip has apologised will bring a result as in the case of one group growing weaker and weaker like the house of Saul and the other stronger and stronger like the house of David. We may hope that the Holy Spirit will show which house has God’s approval because of the divisions among each other as stated in the First Epistle of Corinthians. “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” These notions are borne out of reality.

However, we need to ask how significant are the differences between the house of Kip and those linking arms with the Unity Group? Percentage wise how much do these proposals differ? Let us compare Scott Green’s statement that reflects the opinion of Unity Proposal Group or the ‘house of Innovation’ with Theresa Broom’s statement supporting the Portland International Church of Christ or the ‘house of Renovation’. The acid test for the Unity Proposal Group is to “see many of those who were misplaced by the drama of the upheaval return or be restored once again to our fellowship.”

Scott Green, an evangelist for the Seattle Church of Christ and Ministry Staff and Deacons conclusion towards McKean’s ‘Portland Story’ was as follows: “In that event, we would welcome them ‘to be on the team’, with the Northwest family of churches and leadership fellowships. If not, then we wish them well, pray for them, but are both sad yet content to part company for the present time and move in a very different direction for our own church’s missions and maturity.” [Source: Seattle Church of Christ website, ‘Response to ‘The Portland Story’ – A letter to the Seattle Church, 2 September 2005.]

Theresa Boom faced up to Green in September 2005 “to understand why his congregation’s leadership had spoken out against Kip’s so called “disparaging writings.” Scott said, “90% of what Kip writes is great but it’s the 10% that myself and other leaders have confronted him with many times.” [Source: Portland International Church of Christ website, ‘Blown into The Windy City – Announcement – Planting of the Chicago International Christian Church, February 26th, 2006.]

Thus, we have effectively established that Scott Green and other leaders agree “90% of what Kip writes is great” and 10% justifies “a very different direction for our own church’s missions and maturity”!

Chris and Theresa Broom’s perspective “at this time” wholly support the Portland International Church of Christ as “the brightest light of discipling churches in America is in Portland under Kip’s leadership.”

No wonder DJ Comisford, campus minister of the Portland ICOC attested that “Many young good-hearted disciples have become disillusioned and confused by the controversy at the top levels of leadership within the [ICOC] churches. Sadly, the campus ministries which were once the driving force behind the dream to evangelise the world, have been decimated.” [Source: Portland ICOC website: ‘Adullam Underground (Adullam “U”) – New Web Portal for College Students’, April 2006.]

Here lies the crux of the matter. The ICOC largely stands divided because of Kip McKean. The majority of ICOC leaders are happy with innovative McKean’s teaching (90%) but they disapprove of the manner in which Kip conducts himself (10%). Their philosophy can be compared with a Kalahari San (Bushmen) hunter slaying a snake. Skilfully the head is lobbed off (Kip) while the wriggling body of the snake (McKeanism) is kept for a meal! On the other hand, in the Portland ministry, intact, Kip renovates former ICOC teaching!

In the light of Kip’s apology the hypothetical house of Renovation and Innovation might merge because leadership indifferences could be a thing of the past. Furthermore, we need to appreciate both groups vision giving their members a chance to stand on something solid. Kip McKean has started this process much earlier within the Portland International Church of Christ since June 2003. Many churches now start to consolidate under the umbrella of the Unity Proposal Group since 2006. This is a good thing. However, after every action there is a reaction.

The old ICOC dispensation never tolerated those who opposed their schemes. Ad homein tactics by leadership – who said it instead of focussing on the issue - have forced thousands of brothers and sisters into “us and them” groups. The stigma seldom leaves those who have left the group with unresolved issues. In a sense it is spiritual rape. This scar on the soul truly heals over many years.

The year 2006 will determine new ground rules for those involved with the ICOC as they have lacking since 2003. Elasticity is needed as various groups within the ICOC gather momentum with their quest to mature and expand. Rules and regulations, creeds and formats, speeches and articles must all be written in sand rather on marble. Here, Kip’s apology promised to “run the bulletin articles by other brothers before publishing them.” Keeping the status quo will not suffice. Elasticity will prove its worth where people become the opposition rather than being forced on the same team. This is “something to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6 NIV). If not. What will remain of the brotherhood? Here, Ndebele’s advice is sound. “Few movements have survived those defining moments when they should have been more elastic, and that because they were not, did not live to see the next day.” Ndebele’s words come forthright: “We may certainly experience the meaning of comradeship differently, where we will now have ‘comrades on the other side.’” Again. “This is not a time for repeating old platitudes. It is the time, once more, for vision.”

A new rhetoric from proverbs is often quoted by ICOC’ers – “Where there is no vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18) that effectively have replaced another familiar one – “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him” (Proverbs 18:17 NIV). The Unity Proposal Group’s document of 11th March 2006 reported amongst many other things that the “recent storm is past”. Nevertheless, “these pendulum-swinging years” have left some stranded on the other side and they refuse to swing back! Now, International Churches of Christ (ICOC) members are horrified that any of them could be seen to have become ‘the opposition’. Ndebele argues that the word “opposition” has been demonised. Think about leaders who were ‘demonised’ because they have become ‘the opposition’; men like Ed Powers (1994-Indianapolis incident), Henry Kriete (2003-Honest to God letter) and even Kip McKean (2005-Portland Story bulletin). Could it be that part of this problem is that ICOC leadership and members are unable to deal with the notion of opposition?

Perhaps the recent storm is past but hurricane Opposition is on her way! In such an event people fortified their homes. Remarkably we see this is precisely the reason DJ Comisford’s offers a form of spiritual shelter for students in the form of ‘Adullam Underground’. The website does not only target a young audience, Generation Y a.k.a. Generation Why, but also advise them to “flee from unrighteous leadership, going ‘underground’ to the safety of Adullam.” I quote. “Many young good-hearted disciples have become disillusioned and confused by the controversy at the top levels of leadership within the churches.” Therefore, Portland Church reason, the young good-hearted students must take shelter like the Young David from King Saul. In other words, students should not engage in debate but run away from the “controversy at the top levels of leadership within the churches” now perceived as “unrighteous leadership”. What purpose does this site hold since Kip’s apology?

In reality, it is time we began to anticipate the arrival of a moment when there is no longer a single, overwhelming dominant leadership group as is currently the case. Even though there is not much to choose from the “biblical principles” (Jesus lordship and discipling) between the houses of Renovation representing the Portland movement and the supporters of the house of Innovation representing the Unity Proposal Group.

Another point raised by Ndebele is that genuine leadership requires going against probability in seeking unexpected outcomes. Think about Bible heroes like Abram and Lot. “Let’s not have any quarrelling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.” (Genesis 13:8) Paul and Barnabas. “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” (Acts 15:39) So Abram and Lot, Paul and Barnabas going against probability all “parted company” (Genesis 13:9, Acts 15:39) in seeking unexpected outcomes. However, if we could ask ‘what ifs’ concerning ICOC leadership strategies of the past three years (2003-2006) would it cure our “hindsight bias”?

What would our lives, our spiritual underpinnings be like if Kip McKean like Bob Mumford (co-founder of the Shepherding movement) would come forward and unceremoniously apologise: “Discipleship was wrong. I repent. I ask forgiveness.”

What would the Unity Proposal Group’s March 11th 2006 document be like if McKean sincerely revoked the one-on-one disciple approach based on the model of Jesus training his apostles? Would Kip be accepted at the September 2005 Seattle Leadership Conference with such an apology?

To this day, Kip McKean more than the other ‘proven church builders’ still holds the key for deep and long-lasting change in the ICOC as my next article “Reject the dangerous rhetoric of false prophets” will illustrate.

Also to follow “Dinosaurs, past and present 2b”.

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