Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The Revolution Conference

What can I say about the Revolution Conference I attended last week? Really, what can I say about the whole trip? It was an amazing time. By far, the best thing was connecting with so many cool people. I got to spend a lot of time with my church planting coach, Rich Swetman, and finally meet his brilliant & feisty wife, Rose. I got to hang out at their church, Vineyard Community Church in Shoreline, WA, a very missional congregation full of very cool people. I love the stuff they're doing in their community, especially through their Turning Point ministries. They also have a really cool facility! I'm jealous! :)

I also met and hung out with a ton of great people at the conference. These included (but were not limited to, and not in any particular order):
  1. "Famous" people (in emerging church circles) like Spencer Burke, Joe Myers and Brian McLaren. (Spencer and I had a great conversation at the hotel bar one night about his new book and everything I did and didn't like about it.)
  2. Fellow church planters from around the country that are in very similar circumstances as myself. (I was especially blessed to get to converse with Pat Loughery and Bruce Logue from Seattle, WA and Merced, CA respectively; as well as Scott and Laura Frazier from Portland, and Lisa Domke from Seattle,.)
  3. Pastors of existing churches or house church networks that are imagining and discovering new ways of doing and being the church. (Folks like Dave Coplin, Chris Marshall, Kevin Raines, Ken & Deborah Loyd of The Bridge in Portland, among others.)
  4. Fun Off the Map people like Jim Henderson, Dave Richards, Kelly Bean, etc. (I got to tag along for the OtM after party on Saturday night, and it was a blast. At one point they called all the Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians and Brits up front and made them sing "God Save the Queen" for us.)
  5. Friends from the e-Bay Atheist websites and OtM blogs and especially Pam Hogeweide, who occasionally writes articles for Off the Map, and Helen Mildenhall, who moderates the Conversation at the Edge blog and was interviewed at the conference as an "almost atheist".
  6. Other Emergent Cohort leaders like Sarah Notton (Indianapolis) and Randy Buist (west Michigan). (One of the more exciting fruits of this conference may be that a few of us cohort leaders from the Midwest were inspired to put on our own conference in our neck of the woods. I've already started talking with a few folks about having a Midwest Emergent Cohorts Round-up sometime next year here in Chicago.)
The conference itself was unlike any I've attended before. The main difference was that it was so fast-paced. Even the main talks didn't last more than 20-30 minutes. And they would follow the talks with Q&A from the audience (with questions sent in via text message or IM - it was a very wired conference) or with panel discussions or interviews, or music, or... lots of stuff. It was like a conference for ADD pastors. You couldn't get bored.

The keynote speakers were George Barna and Brian McLaren. Barna spoke on his new book Revolution, which was about how more and more people are finding their primary spiritual nourishment outside the institutional church. He contended that a revolution was occuring in which people who are serious about living their faith are by-passing the traditional church when it fails to meet their desire for radical spiritual growth and discipleship.

While he is essentially right, personally I think Barna went a little too far in his statements about the ineffectiveness of local churches. In fact, at several points he emphatically stated: "My research has proven that virtually no spiritual transformation is occuring through the local church." That's a pretty harsh indictment, and one that I can prove false through just a few of the stories I can tell of friends and acquaintences whose lives I have seen transformed through their involvement in a local church community. I would question what exactly he means by spiritual transformation and how you measure it through surveys anyway. (Actually, after reading his book, it turns out that by "transformation" Barna basically means agreeing with conservative evangelical doctrines and living a conservative Christian lifestyle. That being the case, I'd probably argue that what Barna is seeing is not so much the failure of the local church, but the decline of that particular ideology as the driving purpose of most local churches. What if the kind of transformation churches these days are accomplishing just isn't the kind that Barna is measuring for?) At any rate, a lot of other people at the conference seemed to have the same critiques about Barna that I have.

McLaren's talks were far more interesting and balanced IMHO. He spoke about the kind of Revolution that Jesus would lead, and basically described it as a revolution of kindness. Jim Henderson kicked off the conference by asking the question "What if it's more important to be kind than to be right? And what if the problem with the church these days is that we've focused too much on being right to the exclusion of being kind?"

Brian moderated that comment a bit by saying that "Perhaps it's not more important to be kind than right; but it's certainly at least just as important to be kind as to be right. And perhaps we can also say that if you aren't kind, you aren't right." He went on to talk about "flipping the script" where the people we assume are the good guys start to become proud in their goodness, while the bad guys become humble in their badness, leading the former to unkind self-righteousness, and the latter to repentance and compassion. Suddenly we find that they have changed places, the script is flipped and the world has become a little more complicated.

Brian went on the rest of the weekend to talk about the gospel of the kingdom, about how the revolution of Jesus comes with kindness, reconciliation and sacrifice, not violence or domination. He talked about how often our systematic theologies often fail to match up with the picture of this kingdom we find in scripture. (He compared this to trying to put together a puzzle where the picture on the top of the box (our theologies) doesn't match the picture on the actual pieces (the biblical "data"), and suggested that we should have greater loyalty to the puzzle pieces than to the picture on the box.

Besides the keynotes, I also got to hear from a lot of other interesting people, both from the mainstage, and in the workshops. I went to sessions on microfinance as a way to fight poverty, on planting house church networks, and on creation care activism. I also heard a powerful message on domestic violence from Nancy Murphy, and some interesting stuff about a few progressive evangelical graduate schools out in the Pacific Northwest (including Mars Hill Graduate School, George Fox Seminary, and Bakke Graduate University). I also heard from (and later got to hang out with) a truly amazing man from India named Sunil Sardar who leads a group called Truth Seekers that works for justice on behalf of the Dalits ("Untouchables" caste) in the name of Jesus Christ, but in friendship with other religions (e.g. Buddhism, Sikhism) that share their concern for justice.

After the conference was over I got to hear McLaren speak again at the Swetman's church Sunday morning. He spoke on 1 Corinthians 13 - about the command to love others. After church I went down to downtown Seattle to sight-see around the Fish Market and to meet up with my friend Josh who just recently moved out to Tacoma, WA from around here. Seattle was everything I expected it to be - that is to say, rainy, artsy, progressive, and fun.

The Monday after the conference I rented a car and drove through that huge rainstorm that just hit the Northwest to Salem, Oregon, to visit my old college friends, Christina Zeeb and Jessica (Zeeb) Steffaly. It had been almost five years since I had seen either of them, but we were all amazed at how much we all still looked the same as we did back then. (When do we start looking old? I mean, I just turned 28 today, but I don't look significantly different than I did in college... I guess that's a good thing.) We chatted for a while, and I got to play with Jess' little girl, Brielle. Then Christina took me over to the church in Salem that she works at and gave me the grand tour (it's a megachurch). Afterwards we went out to lunch with her pastor who was really interested to hear my perspectives on the emerging church. I was really impressed at how genuinely concerned he was to find a place for emerging leaders within the existing church.

So yeah, it was a busy trip, but well worth the time and energy involved. I came away encouraged and inspired, and happy about meeting so many old and new friends.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 11:11 PM | Permalink |


At 11/17/2006 12:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


At 11/17/2006 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Speaking of obliterating things from my blog... once again you've been deleted. May I remind you that anonymous comments are cowardly and unwelcome.


At 11/21/2006 06:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Mike, Isn't George Barna a Fundamentalist? What is he doing at the Revolution Conference?


At 11/21/2006 09:29:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson


I wouldn't label George a fundamentalist, though he does skew to the more conservative side of evangelicalism. But his talks at this conference showed that he is personally going through a transformation in his faith. He has become disillusioned with the institutional church and seeks to call Christians to a revolutionary new way of being the church in the world. I didn't agree with everything he said, but overall I thought he had some good points.

And really, the point of these Off the Map conferences is to bring together diverse and often divergent voices. Jim Henderson (the organizer) doesn't want everyone to just agree. He wants to create dialogue and tension so that we can learn from each other.

BTW Joseph, please tell us a little more about yourself or post a link to your own blog. I'd love to read some of your own thoughts.



At 11/22/2006 12:15:00 AM, Blogger Pam Hogeweide

great round-up of the Rev conf, Mike. Wonderful to hear that it inspired connecting and discussion for a midwest conference. keep us posted!

so hey, i hear rumors that your wife is coming to our neck of the woods for the convergence womens gathering. i'm registered, and i live in portland. if there is anything i can do to help her out, rides, anything, give me a holler.

it was great to meet you mike. i'm sure i'll be seeing you, and hopefully meeting that wife of yours, sometime. where does she hang out in the blogosphere?


At 11/22/2006 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Pam, thanks for dropping in. It was great meeting you too.

Julie is planning to come to Convergence. She hasn't made any travel arrangements yet, but if she ends up needing a ride from the airport or something I'll have her let you know.

Julie's blog is: Onehandclapping
and she also coordinates the Emerging Women blog.


At 11/28/2006 02:56:00 PM, Blogger Pat

Mike, it was great to sped a bit of time with you also. Let's chat soon!


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