Conversation: Earl Creps
The road less traveled
Earl Creps stepped down recently from his role as director of Doctoral Studies at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary to prepare to plant a church in Berkeley, Calif., with his wife, Janet, under appointment from U.S. Missions and the Northern California-Nevada District. He is the author of the recently released Off-Road Disciplines (Jossey-Bass). He spoke with Editor Ken Horn.
tpe: What is an "off-road discipline"?
CREPS: "Off-road discipline" describes how I can meet God on a regular basis outside of the classical spiritual disciplines, such as prayer or Bible reading. A lot of the ways in which God has changed me or is trying to change me really happen unexpectedly.
tpe: This is a book for missional leaders. How does it apply to laypeople?
CREPS: The mission of the church — to reach the world with the gospel — applies to everybody, not just to leaders. The point of the disciplines is to give God room in our lives to influence all of us toward co-laboring with Christ in mission. Every single member of the church has a part to play.
tpe: On page 14 you say this: "In the transition to the missional life through off-road disciplines my best practice must be me."
CREPS: No matter what technique I learn or what technology or method I use, unless my heart is in line with God's heart, eventually those other things are going to run out of steam or take me astray. The beginning point of the missional life is always my relationship with God and getting that relationship where it needs to be.
tpe: You mention postmodernism. Traditionalists may be reluctant to reach out to postmoderns, and some are ready to try anything to connect with our culture. How can these groups work together?
CREPS: In one word — Christianity. When we act like Christians towards one another most of these problems simply disappear. As we each take responsibility for our own faults, weaknesses and issues, and our own need for the grace of God, barriers fall.
From that standpoint of extending grace, I can relate to anyone no matter how different they are from me. But if I come to a relationship believing my way is the only way and I must be the teacher and the other person must be the learner, we're not going to get anywhere. We're going to be competitors rather than brothers. I can't think of a problem that living as brothers and sisters probably wouldn't solve.
tpe: That brings up another theme you discuss — reverse mentoring. How does that fit with traditional mentoring?
CREPS: Traditional mentoring is and always will be relevant. It's very biblical and very effective. I'm suggesting we add to it the element of older people learning from younger people as well.
As fast as culture is changing, older people benefit when they make friends with younger people and make a habit of asking them questions. They come out ahead when they are willing to be not only teachers, but also students. Most of those relationships eventually become a very productive two-way street and everyone benefits.
tpe: How do you balance the need to "get with it" to relate to today's culture and technology, and the need to "get away from it" by avoiding overdependence or overinvolvement? What is a healthy balance for ourselves and our ministry?
CREPS: There needs to be a third choice — "get over it." I don't think older leaders should draw on the young to the point we pretend to be young or we try to do the things young people do. The point of the body of Christ is the diversity, and we should treat diversity as an asset.
When I have young people teach me, which I do very regularly, my goal is not to imitate them. My goal is to cooperate with them and empower them to be who they are while I can be who I am as well. We need a third path between those two extremes where everybody can be who they are, but can also be a lifetime learner.
tpe: You quote William Barclay: "In the world and in the church we are constantly in peril of loving systems more than we love God and more than we love men." Could you expand on that?
CREPS: As a pastor of several churches, I've noticed the tendency to substitute business as usual for the Great Commission. This is a powerful temptation for all Christians — to confuse being very active and sometimes even very tired in the pursuit of ministry with actually being on mission with Christ in our community.
I think the William Barclay quote helps to raise a caution that just because I'm exhausted in the service of God doesn't mean that I'm serving God. It just means I'm tired and may need to stop and ask if the things I'm exhausting myself in are really the things I should be committed to.
tpe: You talk in your book about making friends in the coffee shop and the unexpected places ministry takes place. How are those discoveries continuing to influence you?
CREPS: I realized while I was writing the book that Jesus spent 30 years working in His community and among people before publicly teaching for only about three years. I make that to be a ratio of 10 to 1.
There is great virtue in being in places where we connect with people face to face outside the four walls of the church. It's easy to fall into the habit of being confined to the patterns of our life and lose the feel of other people's lives out there on the street. I discovered the more I was with people, the more my work, my life, my thinking, my praying and my heart turned toward people.
It's no wonder to me the common people heard Jesus gladly. Of course they did. When He spoke they heard a little bit of themselves in the way He communicated because He knew them so well.
tpe: You're leaving the oversight of the D.Min. program at AGTS to pioneer a church. Why?
CREPS: We were working with people interested in seeing a congregation started in Berkeley, Calif. After a visit, we came home realizing we sensed God's call to go there. At this juncture, later in life, we are changing the nature of our ministry pretty radically. We want to be involved in a congregational ministry where we can take some of the things I mentioned in the book and put them in concrete form that would take the shape of a church. We plan to be very involved in this community and the campus there in Berkeley as well.
tpe: Final thoughts?
CREPS: Two words: take chances. Put yourself in a position where God can stretch you, change you, and you come into a place of dependence where the Holy Spirit has access to you in especially powerful ways.
TPExtra audio Earl and Ken expand their discussion.
9/16/07 • 4871
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