Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Reflections on Q

It's been a few weeks since I attended the Q Conference here in Austin. If you don't know, the Q Conference is a TED-inspired gathering of thought leaders in the Christian world who come to hear from a variety of voices--both in- and outside the Christian realm--who have something to show or teach us as leaders of those who follow Christ.

My experience of the conference was quite different from most, or so I gather from blog posts and conversations with others who attended. While there were many great moments and some truly fascinating presenters (special kudos to Shane Hipps, Alan Hirsch, and John Burke, for example), the conference left me with a lingering and uneasy dissonance. Over the last two weeks, the dissonance has settled out into two general critiques, not of the event so much as of the state of the American church in general. I'll list them here as general observations:

* We're still far too detached from and scared of the culture we live in. So many of the presentations at Q focused on a wide assortment of techniques and strategies and ideas for ways Christians can "engage the culture." But we fail to see that the problem isn't our strategies; it's where we're standing. We Christians talk about culture as something that is "over there," while we stand "over here" in our self-protective Christian safety zone and poke and prod the "culture" with a stick like some kind of wild animal we strongly suspect to be rabid and a little put off with us besides. You want to follow Jesus? Leave your culture and get into theirs. Simple? Yes. Messy? You bet. Courageous? Is there any other Way?

* We (apparently) aren't yet willing to really step out of our comfort zone and listen to people who have things to say that the church needs to hear. The speakers were great, but in my opinion they were largely pretty safe choices. Ted Haggard and his wife were the one clear exception to this. But I didn't hear anything that I would say was really "out of the box"; that really challenged my paradigm or forced me to ask questions I tend to avoid. Where for example, was the voice of church leaders from the 3rd world, who are in many cases suffering under conditions of extreme poverty, disease and religious persecution? What might they have to say to the church in the West? Where was the voice of the gay community, to tell us how the message of the gospel, as we have presented it to them, has actually impacted them and their capacity to believe in a God who loves them? Where was the voice of the Muslim leader to tell us how the church in the West looks to their eyes? Where even was the voice of our Catholic brothers and sisters in the faith? What amazing learning we are missing out on, it seems to me.

Again, there were some great moments at Q, and many truly brilliant people offering their gifts. But isn't true leadership about inspiring one another to live beyond our sated comfort zones, and the willingness to really listen and learn from those who do not see the world as we do?


Julee and Jonathan said...

I totally get where you are coming from and feel that I understand your perception. It seems like there were no calls/examples to step out of the safety of the boat like Peter and into the stormy waters to meet Jesus. It almost seems like we are waiting for the masses to come into our safe domicile for change rather than us venturing out of the safe zone and bringing/demanding change.

Michael D. Warden said...

Thanks Julee & Jonathan. I love the image of Peter leaving the boat to go to where Jesus actually was. So apt for where we are today.

Anonymous said...

I didn't get the impression that the Q conference was calling people to come into "our safe domicile for change."

Two guys really set the tone for me as far as the conference goes. I've had Hirsch in seminary, so no disrespect to him, it was just hard for me to engage (again). His stuff is pretty amazing though.
Rick McKinley and Andy Crouch..

Rick: the stuff they do to "shape culture" in Portland requires that they (first) be in culture, so I don't think they're poking it with a stick. I don't know whether his 18 minutes exemplified this, but I have friends involved in his church and know that they are culturally saavy and making real change by getting dirty in the midst of that city.

Andy: to "create" culture, from Andy's perspective, means being in the midst of it and making it better. If his first Q talk, "Stepping Into Culture," is any indication, then he's an advocate for getting entangled in culture and coming through it by letting the values of the Kingdom do their job... again, doesn't sound like poking culture with a stick to me.

Is optimism shading my view? Probably. I guess I didn't come in expecting something to change my life and be the ultimate conference, just to glean some good thoughts on what it may look like for church to lead culture rather than follow it.

Petey Crowder (mrcrowder)

Michael D. Warden said...

Great thoughts, Petey. Makes me wonder if what struck me so deeply at the Q conference was really about a larger issue facing the church (i.e. hesitancy to live incarnationally fully immersed with real people who don't share our faith), and that some of what happened at Q pointed me there. I think you're right on to affirm that not all who spoke at Q are hesitant to dive in with their whole heart. I didn't intend to say that, but can certainly see how that could be the impression.

Jerri said...

I am still uneasy from this conference. I guess I went into it thinking I would maybe discover a new perspective. Instead of gaining great insight, I feel almost a nagging void. One of my goals in picking this conference was to get some fresh ideas on engaging people in culture. I want to be "in the world..."

What really left me shaking in my bright white Toms shoes is that rather than being "in" the world, we might all be chasing the next BIG thing.

What church model works? How can we be countercultural? What's my context? None of these thoughts were foreign, but the uneasy feeling had come.

I didn't really get a great ephipany at Q. However unintentional, the totality of Q rocked my world. I saw in some ways the next "movement" of the church. In efforts not to chase culture, it seemed the idea was to create culture. Relevance out, counterculture in.

I want to love people like Jesus did. I want to accept them as they are and love them to a relationship with Christ. I hope this nagging void does not go away. It is a reminder of the great commission.

Michael D. Warden said...

I'm with you, Jerri. May the nagging void provoke us all to be where Jesus actually is do life the way He did (and still does).