Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Leadership Network - you be the judge

A friend asked me last night what I knew about Leadership Network, and if they were good or bad. I knew the name sounded familiar, but to be honest, there are so many networks, organizations, movements, denominations and associations, that it's just not possible for me to keep track of them all - nor do I have any desire to keep track of most of them. Obviously though, I knew more about LN than I even remembered knowing, and it all sort of came bubbling back to the surface of my memory banks, the more I looked into LN's resources at their site.

The reason I knew about them, was because of their launching what became known as the Emerging church Movement, or ECM. In 2004/05 when I did most of my research in all this, that was made clear from the beginning. Directly from Emergent Village:
"Emergent Village began as a group of friends who gathered under the auspices and generosity of Leadership Network in the late 1990s. We began meeting because many of us were disillusioned and disenfranchised by the conventional ecclesial institutions of the late 20th century. The more we met, the more we discovered that we held many of the same dreams for our lives, and for how our lives intersected with our growing understandings of the Kingdom of God." - source
Dan Kimball goes into a bit more detail on how LN was pivotal in the beginning of the ECM:

"For the term "emergent" as we use it today about church was first used formally on June 21, 2001 when Tony Jones, Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt met and had a conference call with some others to come up with a name for a new network they were starting. The reason they were starting "Emergent" was because Leadership Network had orginally formed a theological working group as part of their Young Leaders Network. In this original group with Leadership Network, some key people were Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Chris Seay, Mark Driscoll and Doug Pagitt (and several others). I wasn't in this group, but I was involved in some of the practitioner events and ministry focused events with the Young Leaders Network." - source
In my brief refresher course last night on LN, one of the links that caught my eye was the "New Church Conference". Their speaker line up for this year, here is one that I would strongly encourage you to note, and to read the bios of each of these speakers, in case you're not familiar with them. Some names I'm sure you'll recognize right away (such as Tim Keller, Darrin Patrick, Sally Morgenthaler, Andy Stanley and Rick Warren), where others may be unfamiliar to you, so please do read their bios - what their visions are, what they specialize in, and what their goals are. It will be enlightening, to say the least. Most of these names are familiar to me, only because of the prior research I've done on the ECM.

I have said many times and I believe it bears repeating, that you'll get a much better overview of a person's or an organization's position by reading who they're affiliated with, than whatever it is they say about themselves. Anyone can put up a nicely packaged statement of faith or mission statement to make them sound reasonable and orthodox - but it's who folks affiliate with, associate with, promote and endorse, that really speaks for where they are, and where they're going.

To get an even better idea of what Leadership Network is promoting, take a look here, at the books they're promoting and want you to buy. Along with Brian McLaren, they're promoting many of the same authors that will come up anytime you'd do any amount of research into the who's who of the emerging/missional/transformational/incarnational/culturally relevant church movement. They may not use the word "emerging" as much these days as they did a few years ago, but the agenda has not changed with LN.

I debated with myself a bit on whether to include this, but the fact of the matter is, there is another aspect of LN than you wont be able to avoid if you do any amount of research - and I've already mentioned his name above, in the quote from Dan Kimball.

Mark Driscoll's name is mentioned in Kimball's 2006 post that details a bit of the history of the ECM and it's connection to LN. I already knew this, it's actually old news to me and probably old news to many others as well that know of his connections in the early days of the ECM. What I do find interesting however, is the fact that Driscoll has tried to position himself as "distanced" himself from the more "liberal" theological positions held among many in the ECM. He had this to say in 2007:
"I became a part of a speaking team that included some men I continue to love like Chris Seay, Doug Paggitt, Tony Jones and Brian McLaren. This movement grew even though we were diverse theologically. I bailed out when they started the Emergent Village because I didn't want to be a fly in their ointment due to our strong theological disagreements. I still have a foot in that world because I started in the early stream." source

Again and again folks will come to the defense of Mark Driscoll by saying "but he's distanced himself from the ECM and all that liberal, wacked out theology!" (or words to that affect). Well, here's where it might get a little interesting. The above quote from Driscoll was from an interview he did with Ed Stetzer, for a pre-conference podcast of the "National New Church" (the same New Church Conference I mentioned above) conference, last year. You can access that audio interview here.

What I find interesting, is that LN (the same organization that launched the ECM, and is still promoting McLaren and his ilk, via their books and conferences) is also behind the one Mars Hill Church (pastored by Mark Driscoll) just hosted for 2 days. LN is also pleased to feature Mars Hill Church in Seattle as one of their "success stories" noted here.

Curious then, is how many people will jump to Driscoll's defense and claim he's distanced himself from the more "emerging", liberal theology with this trend in evangelicalism, and yet the connections to LN are right there in black and white, as current as yesterday's conference. If you've listened to the podcast noted above, you'll know that Driscoll admits that he's still very good friends with the Leadership Network folks. How that's being distanced from this, is a major disconnect for me. I don't want to use the guilt by association application here, this simply is what it is.

So then, back to the question my friend asked me about Leadership Network - are they good, or bad? You be the judge on that one as it pertains to you, but I will unapologetically say I would certainly never recommend them, for any reason other than to find out who at least one of the organizations is that is so radically and actively still promoting the emerging/missional/contemplative/transformational/incarnational/relational/culturally relevant brand of mega-church growth/planting movement, just as they were in the earlier days of the ECM. The labels seem to shift around from here to there, but the agenda clearly has not changed one bit, and oddly enough, many of the same names connected to all this are still there as well.

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