Confessions of a Recovering Ecclesiastical Hipster
“Hipster” – (def) “A person who follows the latest trends and fashions”
Ok – my name is Robin and I am a recovering ecclesiastical hipster.
For years when I was younger and naïve and, frankly, more egocentric and narcissistic than I am today (yes, leaders DO struggle with these issues – if you are a leader and you say, “that’s not me” you are a liar or delusional or in denial), I confess that I was attracted to that which was the “latest and greatest.” For a period of time in my life, I became an ecclesiastical hipster. I admit that I tried the “latest and greatest”…I went to the conferences…I bought the books…I had the discussions…I changed many things in the spheres of life and ministry of which I was a part. And, I also have to admit, I enjoyed it. Hey, it’s fun being a hipster. It’s cool to think you are cool too! I was in my 30’s…I thought I was at the top of my “game”…and so I jumped on the bandwagon in order to see if success as it was being defined by the “lead hipsters” was going to come my way. Sidebar here – the issue is not whether you ARE a person who embraces change and innovation…that is God’s wiring pattern for many of us…the issue is the embracing of change and innovation for their sake alone in order to merit or achieve or even predict specific outcomes. Then innovation borders on that which is manipulative, prescriptive, manufactured or formulaic and not authentic. I must again admit, I bought all that hipster stuff for a while and you know what? It worked! Even so, over time, I realized it wasn’t me…it wasn’t my heart or my gift or what God was asking and calling and equipping me to do in my context. More on that below…
Now before I move on, one more comment: I’ve spent considerable time reflecting, conversing with pals and praying through my hipster days and I have to ALSO admit, all that I went through in my younger years as a Jesus following leader wasn’t JUST BECAUSE I was an ecclesiastical hipster…there were some “righteous” reasons. You see, I was also doing what I was doing because I was watching and listening to what God was doing not only around me but also in the world at large. I could see the “waves” of the Spirit breaking over the landscape and many people taking HUGE spiritual risks to ride those waves. In addition, due to some of the encouragement and challenge of some close friends and mentors, I decided it was time to take some risks and to allow the Spirit to do what it wanted to do in and through me in a variety of contexts.
Maybe you “were there”…maybe you were not…so let me tell you, growing as a leader and Christ follower in the 70s and 80s were exciting times. The boundaries and constraints that had been shackling expressions of faith through redemptive community were coming off…people were attempting to listen to the Spirit and try new things. I learned HUGE lessons in creative relational ministry through Youth for Christ and along with my friend, Kevin, in Lutheran Youth Alive. I discovered the power of biblical teaching and effective communication in working side by side with some powerful people who shared the truth of God’s Word with accuracy and vitality (thanks Bob, Tony and Bill). I discovered more about how God could work in a faith community’s life as I was exposed to some in depth teaching and encouragement about God’s Spirit through the ministry of John Wimber, the Vineyard Movement, and Lutheran Lay Renewal. I was challenged as a musician to offer the best of my gifts in and through worship music through the encouragement of Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Andre Crouch, John Fischer (someone I actually can call, “friend”), Tommy Walker, Hillsong music, and the artists of Maranatha Music as well as some close friends who started to “get it” that music could be more than a “lecture” or doctrinal statement but something that could touch the head AND heart. Then there was the “Seeker Driven/Targeted” movements…the Willows and Saddlebacks and Community Church of Joys that started to ask questions about congregational ministry that I had never heard posed before. I even deeply investigated contemplative and historical spiritual practices by becoming a regular at monasteries and conferences dealing with spiritual disciplines. Of course, in those days as now, I wanted to do great things for God…my thinking at the time was if it benefited me, that was extra icing on the cake. I wasn’t doing it for me but doing it for God, asking God’s blessing upon it and then waiting for blessings to come my way.
But now, my hipster days are over. Coolness is something that young pups strive for…us “older dogs” come to some new realizations and start to embrace new dreams and visions where the issue of “us” is fortuitously sidelined. I’ve spent considerable time reading Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, regarding “first and second half of life” issues…and I couldn’t agree with him more. Over the years, achievement and making a name for ourselves drives the soul…whether we want to admit it or not (I would have NEVER admitted that when I was younger because it wasn’t in my consciousness to admit), that was something we all have lived. Now? Now I simply want to live my life as a follower of Jesus – doing what He wants me to do – living out the giftedness and loving the people that He has moved within my sphere. If something “good” or culturally defined “successful” comes out of it…so be it. That’s God’s business. I used to think that I could help God out with a definition of “successful ministry”…I was wrong. God’s perspective is higher than mine…His view of success different than what I can imagine. One smile on a child’s face…one elderly person sensing His love…one person prayed for…one Kingdom moment experienced is enough for the angels of heaven to celebrate. Big churches, big programs, fancy buildings, and cool programs…they will all pass away. They will. If that is something that God wants here and now, that’s His business. To tell you the truth, I’ve studied large churches and small churches…why God decides to bring MORE fruit out of one ministry and not another is completely baffling to me. Essentially, every faith community I’ve seen is attempting to love and follow Jesus as they have been taught and mentored over the years as faithfully as they can…they want to do “right” with the Lord. Every faith community is “founded” with joy and anticipation of all the blessings of the Spirit over time. I know that there are those who think if you do “x” or “y” or “z”, you can get predictable outcomes…but that hasn’t been my experience and, trust me, I’ve looked for how a “hipster” can pull off a fast one on the Lord and come up with a strategy to insure “success” and I’m still confounded. No one has ever been able to conclusively prove to me that there is a one-to-one correlation between our strategies and God’s blessings. And if there was such a thing, then we would need to redefine our theology…because then it wouldn’t be us serving the Lord but vice versa and that is blasphemy.
So my days as a hipster or over…and you know what? I’m happy and at peace. I must admit though…I still battle that tendency. I still have to pray daily to “put to death” that CEO type of leader within me that thinks that I can come up with THE way to do what I THINK God wants to have happen here in my backyard…but then I get to the point where I just have to let God by God…and leave it at that. My job is to have “eyes to see and ears to hear” and a life lived as a living sacrifice to the Lord…the results? Those are HIS business!