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stephen shields

a friend with a great mind and great insight into the postmodern movement

founder of 



1)  what do you see as the most important issue facing this generation?
A few years ago, I heard Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline) come close to tears in a business seminar he was facilitating describing how North Americans have virtually lost their capacity to have a meaningful conversation. 


There are many factors that contribute to this; I’ll mention two. 


I’ve lived in the Washington/Baltimore corridor for the last 13 years; people here - and in many parts of the country - are mind-bogglingly busy.  People of accomplishment are striving to accomplish too much or, in the alternative, throwing all of their resources at accomplishing one thing with a monomaniacal focus.  Either too many goals or too much focus on one goal have the same result:  a loss of stability in other areas of life, whether it be family, or work, or your body, or church.  And I’m not talking about seasons of chosen imbalance; everyone has those - whether it’s the purchase of a house, the birth of new baby, or getting a start-up off the ground and into profitability.  I’m talking about something that’s become “routinized.” 


Another time-killer that effects what little discretionary time these folk have left and totally dominates the lives of those who are bored, burned out, or have given up is an overindulgence in the constant stream of entertainment that bombards us from media sources. 


These factors and others rob us of our lives; they also rob us of one another.  And they are perfectly natural to the extent that we believe that what we see is all we have and that everything around us is all there is.  In other words, people of time must live differently because they must accumulate and then horde all the resources they will eventually lose.  Christians are people of time and of eternity.  They are right-now and forever people.   They can afford to live at a more measured pace because they have a different agenda and a treasure elsewhere. 


Unfortunately, forever people increasingly live as if they also are trapped by time.  But not those who understand joy. 


We often hear – as our Lord taught - that our two highest responsibilities are to love God will all that is within and to love those beside us as we love ourselves.  What is not heard as often – but was understoodd by folk like Augustine and CS Lewis -  is that the fulfilling of our highest responsibilities is the path to our highest joy. 


This intoxicating joy in the One at whose right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11) helps us – to modify a Pauline phrase – to cast aside the light and momentary pleasures that would distract us.  And the apostle reveals where else he found joy when we remarked, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”  (1 Thessalonians 3:9, emphasis mine)


So I could superficially answer the question that what  we need is a new sense of time.  But that wouldn’t address the heart of the matter:  What’s the most important issue facing this generation?  a new vision of God.  We need to drink deep drafts of who He is and lose ourselves in His wonder, enraptured by his love and magnificence.  That will then drive our agenda because, like Paul, we’ll be able to say that the love of Christ constrains us.  Our PIMs will submit to his passion. 


2)  what do you think the church can do to help us face this issue?
First of all, those of us who are leaders have to make sure we are enjoying God and others more than anything.  One of the greatest competitors for our passion is the ministry itself.  And I think it’s because it’s more controllable.  God and people are unpredictable, but my three-point sermon with a joke isn’t.  And – truth in advertising here – I struggle with this quite a bit.  When I first began working with small groups at Cedar Ridge Community Church I focused quite a bit on structure and systems.  But toward the end of my time there I had come to the point where I felt that my most important activity was going out to lunch with my core leaders.  We leaders must model a preeminent enjoyment of God and others if we want to see multiplying spiritual friendships in our communities. 

That’s the hardest thing.  Be examples.

Next – and this is easier for us preachers to accomplish – we need to cast a vision.  We have to use the power of our stages to create a new corporate culture, a culture where spiritual friendships are exalted, celebrated, and described.  This is weird for us because perhaps more than at any other time in history we live individual lives. 

And that culture must also include a core value on - now get ready for this one - a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  That vertical relationship empowers the horizontal.  But that phrase typically is collapsed to an initial salvific event.  We have to help people to understand the normality, regularity, and mundane nature of relationship with the Divine.  The great Christian mystic Leanne Payne calls it walking alongside of God instead of walking alongside ourselves.  I can’t tell you how common it is for me to walk alongside myself instead of walking with Jesus.   And when I do that, I’m living a sad superficial life and am usually escaping some fear. 

When I walk with Jesus, on the other hand, I walk in confident power.  “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights” (Psalm 18:33, NIV).  The only thing I do have going for me is that I’m hungry for that and I believe what my Lord said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. 

The classic spiritual disciplines are paths to this.  I like the way that Dallas Willard describes the disciplines:  They are very intentional ways that we put ourselves into places where we can receive the grace and power of God. 

Finally, we have to realize that this Christian community thing isn’t about Sunday morning services.  For all the good that it’s brought and for all the new people that have been reached, one of the weights of the seeker-sensitive model is the enormous effort and time that have to be focused on the Sunday morning service.  Now I’m not sure now we can ever go back, though the house church movement seems to be picking up quite a bit.  But we need something else.  I’m now reading George Stephanopoulos’ All Too Human and I’ve been so mesmerized by Hegedus and Pennebaker’s masterful documentary of the 1992 Clinton campaign – The War Room – that I’ve probably seen it like five times.  One of things that Stephanopoulos reminded me of that I had seen in the documentary was a whiteboard that James Carville (who was in charge of the campaign) had placed in the war room.  I’ll quote Stephanopoulos:


“It said:

Change vs. More of the Same
The economy, stupid
Don’t forget health care

…James drilled it into our heads, and every speech, every event, every attack, and every response had to reflect one of these three commandments”

(p. 88).


Irrespective of what we might think of the Clinton agenda and legacy, that campaign was disciplined with a laser-like focus on these three themes.  Everything they did served these three themes. 


Those of us who led churches need to exercise a similar discipline focused on the fact that every program, every service, every bulletin announcement, every activity must be about helping others love God more perfectly and one another.  We have to keep our eyes on the ball.  That, as they say, is the money.  We have to remember that church doesn’t happen primarily when we deliver a sermon – church happens at 2 AM in the morning when someone picks up the phone and hears, “You said call you anytime?  Listen I’m about to walk out the door to score but I don’t want to.”  That’s church.  We must do everything we can to create an environment where these love actions occur – both those heading up and those heading to the side.  If we create labs where the miracle can happen, God will create the miracle.  Truth is He does it anyway. 



3) what do you see as the value of church multiplication, and apposed to church growth?
Life begets life.  If we are celebrating and nurturing spiritual friendships, spiritual folk will naturally reach out to those who are around them.  And growth will occur, both in terms of deepening roots and numbers.  And so much joy and friendship will be infectious to others who will want to work themselves in.  It’s a false dichotomy to emphasize one or the other.  Is it Senge or Covey who talks about the genius of the “and” versus the tyranny of the “or?”

4) what is "faith mapping?"

I like the way you made the term “faithmap” into a verb!  That captures much of its essence.  “Faithmaps” is a term I started using as a way of making a statement about systematic theology, ecclesiology and praxis.  I, and many others, have been concerned that modernity has had an inordinate effect on evangelical theological reflection.  Many believe that this entered the North American church through the influence of Scottish Common Sense Realism on the Old Princeton guys like BB Warfield, Charles Hodge, etc.  I think that might be simplistic, and I’m not yet prepared to trash Thomas Reid (considered one of the key players in CS Realism), but my own experience has given me a sense that we’ve overemphasized information.  As I’ve expressed elsewhere, one of my seminary profs once said that they did not train us to be pastors but to answer Bible questions.  Then I’ve also shared before about hearing a well-known Christian apologist – a man I genuinely respect and have learned from – tell a college student who had just asked him how Jesus could be God and still die, “Oh that’s an easy question….”  The moment that’s an easy question, I tell my students, is the moment – in my opinion – that they can realize I’m sharing with them my own formulation of truth rather than one that is consonant with divine realities.  There really does sometimes seem to be this communication, or maybe just an ambiance, that “we have this God thing pretty much figured out.”  But I think rather He breaks out of our box. 


So I’ve called into service this metaphor of a map, in that a map does not tell you everything about the terrain to which it refers.


But a map definitely has known reference points.  I’m equally concerned with religious folk who take the legitimate insights from people like Derrida and Foucault that we hold truth in paradigm and that language is a symbol system and then conclude that we can know nothing or very little of God.  Or those who want to throw out the labors of the many theological geniuses who have labored over the course of the last two millennia to describe divinities.  There are matters about which we can have what I’m beginning to call reliable knowledge.  Knowledge that we can put to good use. 


Finally, and most importantly, a map is used for going somewhere.  Systematization of truth and the impartation of information is useless in and of itself.  Jesus said that the Bible is built on the two greatest commandments.  When our knowledge of the Bible does not move us to love God and others more perfectly, it’s a waste of time.  Otherwise James would have written, “The demons believe and then fall down in worship.”  A map is used for movement and for traveling. 


So on we provide writings & links on Christianity in postmodernity, jewels from great theologians of the past and present, and articles and links on Christian praxis.  We also direct faithmappers to variety of online forums for people to explore these resources in community. 

5) what do you see as the model for the emerging church?

I don’t feel that I have a good, comprehensive answer for that.  I can give a couple of hints - My wife who stays home with our three girls wishes that there were more community in our little neighborhood.  Our community was probably about 10 years old when we bought our house in 1996.  But I was having breakfast recently with a good friend of mine who’s in charge of circulation for the Baltimore Sun and he was raving out how communal his neighborhood is.  I asked him if they purchased new construction and if he and his neighbors moved in at the same time.  He said they had and I knew why his community was closer than ours. 


Then today I was calling a co-worker at USA TODAY to get some contact information for a new business partnership we launched this evening and she told me that she had intended to call me.  She works for USA TODAY’s parent company Gannett and though we’ve been acquainted for years, we don’t typically interface..  But she had been told that I was diabetic and had learned to regulate my blood sugar to normal levels by diet and exercise without pills or insulin.  We had a highly charged, energetic conversation for about 15 mins before I had to leave for an appointment.  But I encouraged her to contact me for a lunch meeting.  She was terribly hungry for information, being terrified at her recent diagnosis (diabetes is the 7th biggest killer in the United States) and I was highly motivated to share with another diabetic how they too might achieve normal blood sugars through a change in diet and a commitment to exercise.  Many times I feel that diabetes is one of the best things that’s ever happened to my health because of all the healthy patterns I must follow to regulate it.  And I love giving a fearful person hope. 


As I was reflecting later on how charged and, frankly, exciting our conversation was, I realized that I had become an evangelist for a highly proactive response to diabetes. 


The excitement that new families share when they move into a new development bond them together.  The threat of death and my excitement at finding a path to life thru that threat created an instant bond between my new friend and myself today. 


It seems to me that this is what church should be about.  We gather because of a shared experience of Jesus Christ.  That binds us together in a highly energetic way.  If it doesn’t, then it means that we have yet to see the broad vista of God’s magnificence.  When we catch but a glimpse of Who He is, our excitement will become infectious and others who are hungry will be moved to ask us for the reason for the hope we have.  When that doesn’t happen – quite simply – it means that we aren’t seeing Jesus for all that He is. 


6) what is the most important ingredient in a church mix?

I’ll answer in terms of tangible behavior:  Recurrent spiritual conversations in the context of deepening spiritual friendships working its way out in missional activity. 

7) if you were the lead of a new work what would you see as being important?

the quality of the friendships I have with my co-leaders.  The community that we wish to create will be reflective of the community we experience. 

closing thoughts:

I’m grateful for this opportunity to share.    Let us be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2a, NASB).







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