Off-Road Disciplines - Review

Over the last few years, Earl Creps, director of doctoral studies at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, has been busy interviewing hundreds of innovative church leaders. In this book Creps takes the best of their insights, adds his own reflection, and describes twelve ways – disciplines – that leaders can pursue to keep their ministries relevant and healthy.

The book is divided into two broad sections: Part One is “Personal Disciplines.” Part Two is “Organizational Disciplines.” Since I am not in an organized or traditional setting, I found the first section most relevant personally, with some genuine insight and helpful reflection.

The six chapters that make up part one describe six disciplines:

  • 1. Death: the discipline of personal transformation
  • 2. Truth: the discipline of sacred realism
  • 3. Perspective: the discipline of Point of View
  • 4. Learning: the discipline of reverse mentoring
  • 5. Witness: the discipline of spiritual friendship
  • 6. Humility: the discipline of decreasing

In the first chapter, “Death: The Discipline of Personal Transformation” Creps tells the story of bringing his “ministry paradigm of tidy principles” to a small church in Maine and fully expecting attendance to blossom. He writes that, “our Mainers seemed to have missed a meeting somewhere” (9). The experience was like a “small crucifixion” (4).

But the broader issue is that Creps made a startling discovery about leadership: “We experience more ministry by doing less. In fact, the further I moved from the hub, the healthier things seemed to get.” (10) Creps learned that releasing control is the flip side of empowerment. I’ve seen so many leaders who can’t seem to learn that lesson. On the other hand, the ones who do are both healthier and more effective. Creps also relates the “necessity but insufficiency of experience.” That’s a key lesson also.

Creps describes the different ways pastors are responding to the coming “post-Christian generation” in his chapter “Truth: The Discipline of Sacred Realism.” He uses the classic stages of grief as a framework for describing the process most leaders travel through. In the end the lesson is a solid one: we learn to accept reality.

In chapter 3 “Perspective: The Discipline of POV” (point of view), Creps relates three primary metaphors that describe the way people view the postmodern transition. The first metaphor is stock market crash. The second is the rear view mirror model, which agrees with the impact of the crash view, but frames the shift as having a short shelf life. Even this model is too strong for the Y2K view, which contends that cultural changes do not add up to a postmodern turn; it simply never happened in the USA.(33)

Torino Scale

Trying to make sense of the competing theories, Creps decided to accept limited validity in all three perspectives, which led him to a fourth metaphor: the Torino scale. Late in the last century, some scientists claimed that our world’s orbit around the sun came perilously close to the path of a planet-smashing asteroid. Astronomers gauge an asteroids’ threat to the earth using the Torino scale, with eleven levels ranging from zero chance of impact to certain collision causing global catastrophe. Years of field work have convinced Creps that the arrival of postmodernity resembles a Torino event. Some people and places seem to avoid or mitigate the impact, which others have been profoundly disturbed.

Creps acknowledges that most of us are in the middle range of the scale. Then he describes the scale in “postmodern impact” terms- a helpful exercise (36).

In chapter 4 “Learning: The Discipline of Reverse Mentoring” Creps describes the rich educational experience of humbly asking young people questions about things he “doesn’t get.”

It’s an entertaining chapter, convincing, and in some ways the best of the book. “The Internet has triggered the first industrial revolution in history to be led by the young” (42). Creps resides in www.iDontGetIt.com . “I am from the planet 8-Track and they live on a world called iPod.” He admits that clumsiness pays off among Homo Postmodernus, and the encyclopedic knowledge of the young about this new world is the only way we 8-Track natives will ever survive it. Interesting, “Corporations see the value of accessing tacit knowledge and now routinely require their marketing and sales personnel to engage in reverse mentoring with those young enough to intuit the dynamics of emerging markets” (46).

Creps is careful to note the modus operandi of reverse mentoring. It is not about who has knowledge and authority: it is decidedly egalitarian. “Reverse mentoring involves a specific form of friendship based on trust.” He notes that his best R-mentoring relationships developed out of “sacred accidents.” He gives this advice: “don’t limit yourself to one person or format” and “check your attitude at the door. . . ask questions, then ask more questions.. if it flops, let it go..” (49).

I have several friendships with younger men, and while I am almost an Internet native (my first computer was a Commodore 64), I was born in the modern world. I still need these friendships in order to understand the changing world. They are decidedly mutual and often fun. Creps is on to something with R-mentoring, and hopefully he will gain a solid audience.

See also The Rise and Fall of Starbucks

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• © 2005-2007 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated in April, 2007