imageI’ve been in an increasing number of conversations with leaders who are saying, “Ok, I think I get it.. but how do I help our elders to get there?” (And the reverse, elders asking “how do I help our pastor?”)

I wish there were a 1,2,3 .. but frankly it is relational, process based, and usually requires a degree of pain and discomfort. And for most leadership teams, it won’t be quick. Moving from an inward and “come” structure to outward and kingdom-missional takes a level of commitment we don’t usually ask of one another in our individualistic society; a commitment to go on a journey together as apprentices of Jesus. It takes humility, courage, effort, some vulnerability, and that most previous item — time.

It also comes with a certain NT conviction about the nature of the body of Christ. Clearly, according to Scripture, a pastor is an elder. A team of elders lead a local assembly. (The sola pastora model can’t be justified from the New Testament: though I personally like the Order of Mission model with oversight of community life and mission designated to senior leaders). We expect our pastors to be theologically, and culturally fluent. Elders are pastoral leaders. For a local assembly to be healthy, elders must also be on a journey of cultural and biblical fluency. (As Tim Keller put it, we need a triple intelligence: IQ, EQ and CQ – cultural awareness). Maybe it’s MORE important for elders to be growing in discernment: elders are in place for the long term, where in our culture hired staff come and go.

Having said that, what is the curriculum for elders? There are books and papers that can found a learning conversation. I’ve gone back through my reading and study of the past five or six years with a view to recommend particular books and articles to friends who are in leadership at various levels in a variety of churches and contexts. What I have come away with is a growing short list of “must reads” for theological reflection for those in Canadian contexts. Mostly these are books and papers written for the American, Australian, or UK context, but there is a strong resonance at some level. In many cases there are equivalents – one book can be traded for another not listed here.

The resources I have in mind address the key issues in this double transition: from Modernity to Post-Modernity, and from Christendom to Post-Christendom. I make the assumption that the first step is to build a framework.. an alternate lens.. for understanding culture and change. In this step we need to both “see our seeing” and then see what is out there. After this, there are three large questions to ask.

As Phyllis Tickle points out, the three large questions that unravel in each Reformation are always the same: what does it mean to be human (anthropology, Imago); who is God (Trinity, Creator, Redeemer); where is the authority? (truth and how we know it) and closely related to this last one, how do other faiths fit in the picture? That is, how is the Spirit at work in the world outside the Body of Christ? (Moving toward a theology of religious pluralism here, Newbigin is a good resource as is Miroslaw Volf).

I’m offering two lists… the VERY short list and the short list. :) First, the VS list. This can be worked thru with a dedicated group in two-three months.

Steve Addison, Movements that Change the World
Dave Kinnaman, You Lost Me
Joseph Myers, The Search to Belong
Stuart Murray, The End of Christendom
Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways
Reg McNeal, Missional Renaissance
Earl Crepps,Off-Road Disciplines
Reg Bibby, A New Day: Religion in Canada

And then the standard version short list: a two year process.

Steve Addison, Movements that Change the World
Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism
– Alternatively, Smith’s “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?”
Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways
Dave Kinnaman, You Lost Me
Joseph Myers, The Search to Belong
Stuart Murray, The End of Christendom
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
Alan Roxburgh, The Sky is Falling
Alan Roxburgh, The Missional leader
Jean Vanier, Becoming Human
William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire
Stackhouse et al, No Other Gods Before Me
Cloud & Townsend, How People Grow

and chapters from,

Brueggemann, Cadences of Home
Pascale et al, Surfing the Edge of Chaos
Holt, God Next Door
Gibbs, Leadership Next
McNeal, The Present Future and Missional Communities
Guder et al, Missional Church
Snyder, Models of the Kingdom
NT Wright, The Last Word and How God Became King
Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness
Penner, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn

and Articles
Brueggemann, “Covenant as a Subversive Paradigm
Crepps, “Disciple Making in a Postmodern World
Frost, “Evangelism as Risky Negotiation
Hiestand, “The Gospel and the God-Forsaken
Cavanaugh, “The Church as God’s Body Language
Walsh, “From Shock and Awe to Shock and Grace

I know.. I have nothing from Brian McLaren here. For some “A New Kind of Christian” will be really helpful. His recent book “Naked Spirituality” would be helpful for others (Willard reaches more deeply, but Brian’s framework, based on Fowler, is helpful). Are there any other short articles I could add to the VERY short list? Anything critical I have omitted from the longer list? Share your thoughts, I think this may be helpful to quite a number out there.

it goes without saying — which must be why I am saying it? — that all the reading in the world won’t lead to change unless we also come up with action steps that lead to new experiences, which are then debriefed and explored as a team together.

Related: Maps for transition and change..

6 Comments on A (short) curriculum for elders

  1. Mennoknight says:

    So I see you have a whole lot of reading from what would be considered the left of evangelicalism, if not the far left (and it’s no secret that guys like McLaren and Brueggemann are hesitant to refer to themselves as “Protestant”).

    I can understand that you possibly travel in different circles than I do, but Phyllis Tickle? I mean, I’ve given “The Great Emergence” a thorough and careful read and, well, she spends time in that book attempting to build a logical argument against the reliability of logical arguments. I don’t know exactly what you might call someone attempting to make a logical argument against logic, but none of the words would be flattering.

    I am assuming that if you’ve read her work, you were in a hurry and being distracted from the task at hand.

    I’m wondering if you’re familiar with some of the leadership/eldership books that approach the Bible from a position of divine inspiration and objective/accessible truth?

    I’m thinking of books like:

    1. Biblical Eldership – Alexander Strauch
    2. Leading with Love – Alexander Strauch
    3. The Trellis and the Vine – Colin Marshall
    4. Elders and Leaders – Gene Getz
    5. Why Elders? – Benjamin Merkle
    6. The Master’s Plan for the Church – John MacArthur
    7. The Shepherd Leader – Timothy Z. Witmer

    Just some thoughts to possibly help bring some balance.

  2. Dan J says:

    Hi Len,
    I really appreciate this list of books. I have read a few of them and others are on my list to read. You mention “chapters from” and list several books. Which chapters would you include in the list or are these books good enough that any chapters would do? Was there a method to the order you listed them or was it random?
    Thanks again.

  3. len says:

    Dan, Unfortunately my books are in Ontario and I am in BC, so its tough for me to go back and select chapters except in the odd few cases. The order of listing was random :)
    MennoK, many believers recognize the limits of rationalism, as do many logicians (CS Lewis for example), so an argument for those limits is just a way to say that the Enlightenment didn’t bring ONLY good things to the table, that categories like “objective truth” did not exist prior to Modernity, and that when Paul says that knowledge comes from the Spirit he is not being merely a Hebrew judging a Greek world view but actually being wise in the face of the “foolishness” of the world. As for the rest, best we agree to differ this is not a great platform for debate.

  4. Len,

    I really appreciate your blog and really resonate with your book list here. I’ve read most but not all of them.

    One thing that I would mention is, that Grenz’s book on postmodernism may not be the best (and I say this as a Grenzian even). He seems to have progressed to me in his understanding from his earlier ‘Primer’. You might consider including his ‘Beyond Foundationalism’ or his ‘Renewing the Center’. I would also say his ‘The Social God and the Relational Self’ would be great, but may be too dense for your purposes here.

    But, as a supplement to Grenz’s ‘Primer’, or even as a replacement, you might consider James K.A. Smith’s ‘Whose Afraid of Postmodernism? (where, BTW, he gives a good critique of Grenz’s understanding of metanarratives represented in his ‘Primer’) or even the chapters Penner (Intro), Vanhoozer (chap 3), Franke (chap 4), Jamie Smith (chap 5), and Westphal (chap 6) in ‘Christianity and the Postmodern Turn’.

    Thanks for your work here. Peace.

  5. len says:

    Great suggestions! I haven’t read “Renewing the Center” but I’ll look it up. I like SMITH very much – but I fear it may be complex for those with no background in philosophy. Chapters in CPT esp Penner and Vanhoozer – another great suggestion. Fairly accessible, these are good writers.