Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Review: "Off-Road Disciplines"

" have never heard of Earl Creps? He is amazing!," one of my mentors gushed in astonishment.

"Tell me more, o Master.."

"Well, for one, he speaks on all the same issues you know, church and culture stuff. I think he even uses U2 clips like you do. Secondly, dude, he is YOUR AGE and a cool guy. I mean how many guys your age are cool?," he winked.

It turns out my mentor was right.

On all counts.


The catch is: this mentor of mine is younger (!) than me (and even younger than Earl Creps..turns out Earl is 53; I am a mere 47!). Mentor Kevin-- young, passionate church planter --is all of..34! What can I..seasoned and reasoned old man with a seminary master's degree; pastoring my third church (especially after becoming a bit famous and infamous in my second church), learn from such a young buck?

I have lost count of the ways.

But I didn't know what to call it (this process of learning from "the younger") until Earl Creps' new book, "Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders" hit. Of course, a title like that would've enticed did the glowing blurbs by Leonard Sweet, Todd Hunter and Ed Stetzer (more cool guys "my age,") on the back cover...

...but my mentor's recommendation; that sold it.

It's "reverse mentoring."

One of the things I love about this book is, that in a non-cheesy way; eschewing the seduction of reduction(ism), Creps coins phrases that capture a category of reality that missional leaders must wrestle with: "sacred accidents," "situational geography," "tiempos mixtos" "orthodoxy creep" (no, it's not me!) . A key category throughout the book is "the sought,"
as alternative to what we have called "the lost." And the whole book is a huge and holy help in aiding old modern farts like me jack up their "get-it" factor regarding this "new species" of humanity that is the younger crowd: "homo postmodernus." (43)

Divided (united, actually) into six "personal disciplines" (personal transformation, sacred realism, "POV," reverse mentoring, and decreasing) and six "organizational disciplines (missional efficiency, blending differences, discernment, making room, surrendering and passing the baton), this book focuses on cultivating our being and identity; as opposed to knocking out "Twelve and a Half Easy Steps to a Porpoise-Driven, Seeker-Sensitive, Power-Point (I love Creps' three rules for his use of Power Point..but I beg you to buy the book to find them..on page 45) Sermon through Prayer and Bible Study.": Creps is not one to knock prayer and Bible fact, this books builds on those foundational "on-road-disciplines," and suggests that only through complentary "off-road" disciplines will they be "bolstered" in a way that is (as our church calls it ) "engaged to Jeus and engaging culture".

Indeed, "The only answer is found off-road." (53)

My friend, who is head of a vital ministry that counsels those wanting out of sex addiction, often says that any given time, the client's chair in his office is occupied by a tired saint who has been told by well-meaning pastors and leaders, "Just pray and read the Bible....and if that doesn't work...try harder." Earl Creps understands that "trying harder" is just trying...and harder. Especially in these changing days, only off-road disciplines; worked creatively into our on-road "prayer and Bible study" adventure as missional leaders will bolster us.

So I will center this review around one of those disciplines; highlighted in
Chapter Four: "reverse mentoring; " as it is arguably central to the book; but definitely to my learning curve on the off-road adventure.

"Reverse mentoring," then, is---and nearly every word here is loaded and leaded---:

"A very specific form of friendship in which the junior instructs the senior, not as a replacement for other forms of mentoring but as an essential complement to them." (42)

To the painful point:

"Do I possess the humility to accept instruction from a nine-year old?" (51)

Wait, a 34-year old is one thing, Earl, but continue...

"Jesus said that things hidden from the wise have been revealed to 'little children' and that entering the Kingdom requires becoimg like them. How many times have I missed the Kingdom because I insisted on being the adult in the relationship?"

Uh, Ouch.

And oh, thanks.

It could be that our church is perhaps a bit ahead of the curve on this one. In a mode that
is hopefully more "postmodern-sensitive" and interactive than the old wineskin "children's sermon, we
desire to give prophetic place...even preference.. to children. They sometimes lead the way, as we "interview them" about their Godlife; or have them walk through a picture they have drawn during the worship service. (But then we are often offroad enough to occasionally have "adults" lose their adulthood and construct collages in a church meeting..Yes, I mean in "the" Sunday morning service ; and not "in place of" the sermon; but as the sermon. Go figure. Pictures, and story of that zaniness here).
So at this point, I felt encouraged that we have been doing something right. But on a related point, Creps nailed me. I repent. And tell this story:
Recently, a single dad in our fellowship; a new attender, brought a teenage daughter...maybe a "sought one," as Creps would have it. After the gathering, someone told me how glad they were that she ...a real live "homo postmodernus had come, but asked if I had noticed that throughout the service..even during the preached messsage, she was apparently text-messaging someone on her cell phone.
That's odd, I thought. I congratulated myself and this other saint that we had not fallen into an "old whineskin" response of judging her for "not paying attention (passively, as Jesus of course wants it) during the (holy)sermon/lecture" ...we just though it odd; but a sign of the times. And yes, a bit disrepectful.
I repent.
I just learned from my (elder) mentor, Earl Crepps, that I might just literally post in the back of the church for me to remember:
"If they are not texting, they are not listening."
That line was worth the price of the book; though it almost lost/cost me.
"As a result, when speaking to millenial audiences, I now request that they text at least one time during my presentaton, asking only that the message pertain to our subject in some way." (48)
Now, it may well be wishful /wistful thinking to assume that this young gal's text message was "Hey julie, i m visiting this kool chrch..its gr8..the pastor is way cool..4 his"( or ideally, "jules..i am listening to a kool sermon on 4givness, & i realized i may have not 4given u...")and not: "hi dad made me come 2 church..this sux.."
Creps elsewhere notes that in the seminary classes he teaches:
"I encourage every class particpant to be online at all times" (148)
The author backs up that hardwon thesis with a moving and must-read story(183) , including transcript of an email that a student of his received from his son...during class..yes, related to the topic.
This sheds new light on the old-school teacher's sarcastic and shaming line upon "catching" someone passing a note in class: "Can that be shared with the whole class?"
Perhaps nowadays, the question is inflected with on-tiptoe hopefulness; and the expected answer is "Of course!"
How many of us--in a public place-- have been annoyed by overhearing someone's cell phone conversation; or having a stranger overhear..even comment on..our "private" cell phone conversation? Instead of griping about the evil postmodern shift that allows at celebratiung and expoliting the good news of that irreversible shift.
Crepps gives account of learning this, from "reverse mentors," and, in a memorable vignette, in an airport.
I realized as I read, that though I have not made official what I recently did by default: allowing (even requiring?) text-messaging "in church. And I have already (even pre-Creps) made the leap to allowing (bordering on requiring) that cell phones be left ON during worship...because as I sometimes announce with a smile : "We might get a phone call from God; and we don't want to miss that!" (Ironically this paradigm shift happened in me after reading the exact same book (Doug Pagitt's challenging "Preaching Reimnagined") thjat Eral Creps was reading in the airport the day he received his wake-up/shake-up call regarding cell phone culture).
In God'subiquitous humor and eccentric economy, one Sunday, as I was "leading in prayer"; my cell phone rang. Actually, it vibrated (it was in my pre-enlightened days as a pre-postmodernie)..I only later played the message; it was my bank letting me know my account was in danger of being overdwawn! Glad I didn't take that call in church(:
Or perhaps it would have been a huge God-moment for the whole flock!
But more recently a first time attender apologized when his cell phone rang during announcement time. We were able to laugh and say "Well, actually that is not against the rules here..we actually encourage it.. Go ahead and get it; it might be a call from God. "
It was.

Shocked but relieved at our unorthodox but technology-freindly church ettiquette, he excused hismelf and took the call. As a result we were able to a group.. for this "sought one"'s father, as he was rushed into emergency surgery.
These lessons about technology shift all trace back to reverse mentoring. Crepps gives numerous accolades to younger folk from the emrging trible who have explained the culture (even "language") of newer technology. I guess my only regret about Crep's book is I would love to hear more on this. Im particular, because he is from a Pentecostal stream with openness to prophesy among the Body, what would he say about what I have called "open-source Wiki-church"? What would he say about our common mentor Bono, who has moved into pomo text-messaging?
I guess the other place I wanted more was to hear him say clearly what he has implied: ideally we shouldn't call it "reverse mentoring," as that still implies the "other way" (Top-down) is "forward" and thus the correct way. When I teach my class on cross-cultural communication for leaders, I love to start with: "Fill in the blank with the first thing that comes to your mind regrading these two questions: 'In England, they drive on the ____ side of the road.' and 'The direction of the Hebrew language script, compared to our English left-to-right flow, is ____."
You may have guessed that "wrong" is the wrong first answer; and "backwards" is the wrong second answer. Those choices still assume an ethnocentric, starting with-and compared to-me ethnocentrism/imperialism. In England, the left side is the right side. Hebrew language is forwards as it flows right to left.
These cultures do not see themselves as wrong and backwards.
I know Creps would agree..he speaks of "reciprocity" (51) and longs for the day when so-called reverse-mentoring will become normative and formative for Chrisleaders. Once, I stopped myself from introducing my young friend as "someone I am mentoring,"...or more appropriately, "someone who is mentoring me." I instead, with a quick grasp at the right words said "We have a symbiotic, mutual-mentoring thing going on."
Needless to say, I love the book. No weaknesses to name so far; only the aforementioned places I wanted to hear more. Hey, I would love to know if he has taught on "bounded, centered and fuzzy sets,"( read more about them, and see some at this link) and I will do my best to talking him into including such in his next book.
A professor once taught me that a book...and thus a book woefully incomplete and basically useless unless the reader can grab a baton and cite an "action point; " a lesson learned from the book that one is at least experimenting with; and at best incarnating and making pratical by taking it to heart, and to the streets...
Here's mine. Since our congregation is now meeting in a room next to the Babylon Nightclub (literally!), I might as well get real about touching the offroad real world!
Keep me accountable.
This is my action point. It's way off the beaten road for me; but a discipline I dare to believe is God-ordained for me.
And in the league and lineage of Ole Anthony's "Truths I Never Learned in Church, " it's something I never learned in seminary..
I vow to move towards doing some...most...okay, all??!! "sermon preparation" in a "secular arena."

Did I just lose my seminary degree? Or at least my salvation?
Actually, I went to a really cool seminary that might even amen this...especially certain professors.
Being an older, modernity-groomed Boomer; but one who passes much of the hilarious " You may be emerging if ..." test here; but still a 47 year old white guy with a wannabe goatee..making me an emerging church wannabe....
I have tended to view "sermon preparation" as something to be "done" in the prayer closet, ivory tower, pastor's study. I have baptized this idolatry with my Myers-Briggs introversion preference; and spiritualized it with sanction by all the right mentors (but not of the "reverse" tribe)..
In recent years, as an increasing number of my younger...or even "my age"... pastor friends have made the coffee shop a sermon-prep place; I have been befuddled. How do they do it? Are they just extroverts? Caffeine addicts? Multitaskers? And what about all thse interruptions..
..that are not interruptions at all!
When I grow up, I want

to be more like Earl Crepps:
"Over time, drinking coffee and writing sermons in the presence of the sought cultivated changes in my approach without ever involving a conscious decision....I blame Bob and Ran (his reverse mentors). Under the influence of their friendship, drinking coffee with the sought became almost sacramental., convincing me that (emphasis mine) sermons sbould be composed only among them. (69)

Earth to Earl!
Pastors study? Seminary library?
Dang, he's right. He's on Earth.
Excuse me, I think I am now on the way there; to St. Arbucks.
And on the way to an off-road way.
I will likely run into way of 'sacred accident, " my trusted "reverse" mentor (the one who introduced me to Earl Creps material, thnk God..I think!).....and more importantly; the sought...
..who can and must mentor me as well.
I have recently been calling myself a "goatherder," that is, a pastor-type for non-Christians (pre-Christians? seekers? No, the beloved "sought". But so far the only sign this is my calling is to goats is my goatee (Earl's is cooler). The true sign is where I spend my time..and my preparation.
I need help and healing to be found "arranging my life so God gets the chance to take the initiative. This means spending time in places where God is very active,..'
How would you finish that quote; where is God particularly"very active"? I hope just as St. Earl does:
",,,in other words, among the sought whom God loves so much." (186)
So, here I go: goatee trimmed; computer in tow, and on my way to a latte..
To paraphrase Willie Nelson, "Off the road again..."
There I'll be able to tell my (reverse) mentor (who actually reverse-mentored me into getting a myspace...even before Earl Creps got one!)
"Dude, you were right...again.. this time about Earl Creps."
Who I trust would be glad if, though we gleaned from his book, forgot his name and fame; and got to the adventure of seeking the sought...
...which means I can end this review, with the same words and spirit that "Off Road Disciplines" (nearly! last paragraph) ends with; an evidence that I am finally as an old dude, getting missional; getting to the mission of the Great Commission:
"I'm outta here."


  1. Thanks for the great review, Dave. Just interviewed 50 twentysomethings this week about communicating with young people. Once again, I found out how little I know. If my knowledge continues to decrease at this rate, I think I'll be OK.

  2. you bet, Earl.. Now if i can just say...and mean it..maybe I need to repeat it three times:
    "If my knowledge continues to decrease at this rate, I think I'll be OK"

    "If my knowledge continues to decrease at this rate, I think I'll be OK"

    "If my knowledge continues to decrease at this rate, I think I'll be OK"


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!