Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Quakers, Church Planting, and Haviland, Kansas

I had the privilege of making a trip to one of Evangelical Friends "holy cities" last week.  I grew up among Evangelical Friends -- though those good Quakers might not be all that excited about it, I am a product of what used to be called Ohio Yearly Meeting -- Evangelical and is now known as Evangelical Friends Church -- Eastern Region.  And that's where I learned of a bastion of Evangelical Bible training located in Haviland, Kansas.  It was then known as Friends Bible College.

Today it's Barclay College and its president, Royce Frazier, is a long-time friend of mine, dating back to our youth ministry days.  Royce and his faculty and staff are doing fine and innovative work at Barclay and are reaching out to equip Friends beyond their student body and local constituency.

One of the ways they are reaching out is the reason I was there (after many years of finding excuses not to visit this very small town in the middle of Kansas!).  Barclay College's Jim LaShana and his staff put together the "National Friends Church Multiplication Conference."  The conference was billed as a a "Church Multiplication Conference for previous and potential church planters, church and denominational leaders, students, and anyone else who has a heart for church planting and fulfilling the Great Commission through the Friends Church. The conference will feature inspirational messages, 'best practice' workshops with speakers who have 'done it' from around the country, and time for fellowship, synergistic networking, sharing, and dreaming."  As the coordinator for FGC's New Meetings Project, I thought I should be there.  I wanted to be other folks who care about spreading the Friendly message as much as I am.

So off I went to Kansas.  And while Haviland is hardly a thriving metropolis (population 701), it was pleasant and filled with friendly Friends and others. And the conference was worth the trip.

I enjoyed seeing this place that I'd heard about for so many years.  And it was fun to look at the photos of graduating seniors through the years -- and recognizing many of  them (well, the names, if not the faces.  But then I look much different than my college picture, too!).

The highlight of the conference was the networking.  It was especially helpful.  It was good to talk with others who had the same passion for healthy, growing, and new congregations that I have.  The meal time and break conversations were especially deep and meaningful.

I found the main speaker, Bruce Redmond, interesting and challenging.  I appreciated his piece on the "varieties of church plants" (including core team plants and house churches).  And the piece he passed out titled "Build Movement, Not Ministries" resonated with my thinking.  I didn't agree with everything he said -- but then, I rarely agree with anybody else but myself.  And sometimes I'm not sure I agree with me.  The workshops that most interested me were "Bi-Vocational Church Planters: A New (Old) Way to Start Churches," "Cross-cultural Church Plants," and "Missional/Incarnational Communities). 

One thought that kept coming to me while I was there was what do Friends have to offer in planting new congregation.  Why should we bother to plant new congregations?  What do we as Quakers have to offer that the Nazarenes, Wesleyans, et al do not that justifies our separate existence as a people of God? 

There was a lot of talk by about our (Friends) Christian faith, but not so much about the value of our Quaker distinctives. 

I do worry that some Evangelical Friends have devalued the peculiar nature of Quaker faith by constantly emphasizing the claim that we are Christian first.  I have no problem saying Quaker faith (especially in certain sectors) is Christian (I am!) -- but we are Christians of a particular persuasion. Just as Lutherans, Wesleyans, or Nazarenes are. But, if we don't retain the Quaker distinctives, what possible reason is there for the Friends church to exist? We may as well lose the name Friends and become community churches or join another denomination.

I don't think that's the answer, though. There is a renewed interest in the things that Quakers stand for.

In a small way, that is evidenced by the number of books of mine that sell -- mostly to non-Friends. Another is growth of unprogrammed Friends (the only group of Quakers that is showing growth instead of loss. It's a modest 4%, but better than the double digit losses that other groups are recording).

Another is the fact that 80-000 to 100,000 people a year visit FGC's Quaker Finder site looking for a Quaker meeting or church.  As an aside, ALL Friends congregations should be listed on it. It's not just for FGC meetings -- a church can note that it's pastoral, FUM, EFI, etc.

Another is that 30,000 people a day take the Belief-O-Matic quiz on Beliefnet.com and many of them (around 6,000 or so) come out liberal or moderate Quaker -- and we have no organized means of reaching.

I understand the Evangelical concern that if we don't emphasize that we're Christian we'll lose something valuable and part of the core.  We need to recapture the vision of Fox, Fell, Woolman, Gurney, Kelly, Trueblood and others and revision it for the 21st century. We have an ancient/modern faith that is available to all and which leads to transformed lives. To not point people to it is to miss a mission field right here at home -- a people who are hungry for an authentic spiritual experience directly rooted in the Love and Grace of God and not bound by tight doctrinal creeds. As Fox himself said, our call is to lead people to the presence of Christ and leave them there. Let the Holy Spirit work and work at the speed that is right for the person -- not to issue theological tests for correct doctrine.

So the questions continue: 
  • Do we trust Christ to teach his people himself? 
  • Or God to defend God's self from unbelievers?
  • Or the Holy Spirit to lead people aright (instead of awrong!)?

I’m glad I had a chance to attend.  It was a good experience for me.  It was great to see old friends and meet new ones.  I, as always, needed my thinking challenged and stretched.  And the questions are ones that I will continue to wrestle with -- both professionally and personally.


Shannon said...

I am so grateful and joyful to hear that your work is engaging across branches.
Brings to mind the end of that meal blessing, Yaaaay God! :-)

And whew, do we trust that Christ has come to teach his people himself? That is a query that has a solidness to it.

Blessings (joyfully!) on your work!

Chuck Fager said...
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Howard Macy said...

Thanks, Brent, for your comments about the conference and for your comments of concern about sharing Friends experience of God among us and of authentic living. Blessings in your work!

Chuck Fager said...
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Chuck Fager said...

Brent, thanks for noting the
"growth of unprogrammed Friends (the only group of Quakers that is showing growth instead of loss. It's a modest 4%, but better than the double digit losses that other groups are recording)."
Even if this growth is only in the US (not sure it's happening in England, for example), it's important.
Meanwhile, the decline of most US pastoral groups is not just ongoing, it's precipitous. (I documented a 40% loss in North Carolina YM-FUM between 1996 and 2006 by looking at two of their yearbooks; Yikes!)
This pattern of decline is not only well-established, it's been marked by the abject failure of one new "church-planting" and "evangelistic" nostrum after another along the way. So while it was clearly fun to visit fabled Haviland Kansas (in my home state, but still a world away), I'm also glad to note the reserved tone of your comments on the programs described there.
I'm all for Friends announcing who we are, and welcoming seekers and beliefnet test-takers; the "Secret Society of Friends" is no friend of mine. Plus, i'm not ashamed of Quakerism's Christian heritage.

But dogma and "distinctives" aside, the record of "evangelism" in the pastoral groups is so clearly dismal I hope unprogrammed Friends will stay away from that whole approach on grounds of non-performance alone. And maybe the more survival-oriented pastoral Friends would be better advised to start re-examining it while there's still time . . .

Dale Graves said...

I am grateful for your blog. I am also grateful that you did not feel it necessary to 'dis' any particular group of Friends. I, too, have come out of the evangelical tradition and am unwilling to dismiss it as 'not real Quaker.'
I'm a little concerned that we seem to still see North America as the epicenter of Friends (maybe including the United Kingdom) when the evangelical Friends church is experiencing growth in Central America and the FUM variety in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Somehow those 400,000 or so Quakers don't really count.
That having been said, I do believe that being able to see across the lines is awfully important. I do not dismiss the evangelical friends any more than I dismiss the non-evangelical, whoever they are. We can all learn from each other and dismissing the other is just plain wrong.
Yikes! Too much yakking on my part. Sorry.

Andy Henry said...

Brent, it was good to meet you in person while in Haviland. I too grew up in Eastern Region and felt that our churches were losing the richness of Quaker heritage because of the emphasis on being evangelical. I had to discover the Quaker heroes and writings on my own, but they renewed my faith. I don't get very excited about church planting but I find myself naturally drawn to sharing my Quaker faith with those seeking an authentic experience of the divine and a community laboring for peace and justice. Thanks for your reflections on the conference and for your ministry!

Brent Bill said...

Hi Dale -- well, as you know (I hope), I don't think we gain anything by dissing another branch of Friends. They may not be "our" kind of Quaker, but they have a legit claim to be Friends, too. Well.... most of them. ;-)

And Andy, it was great to meet you in person in Haviland. Let's stay in touch!

Merry Stanford said...

As usual, I love your grounded way of "listening tenderly and speaking authentically." (I think that has become my new motto.) That old Indian tale about six blind men and an elephant certainly applies here, doesn't it? Not only to our uderstandings of God, but also to our ways of growing communities of faith. I love how the Creator stares us back in the face from every diverse bit of the natural world, and the human one. Many blessings, dear F/friend.

Сергей said...

The shortened Russian translation of this text can be found here - http://quakers.ru/%D1%81%D0%BE%D0%B7%D0%B4%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%8B%D1%85-%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%D1%8B%D1%85-%D0%B3%D1%80%D1%83%D0%BF%D0%BF/