Friday, May 12

The "prevenience model" of church

The following comes from an email received from John White a house church coach in Denver, CO. You can sign-up to receive these messages by requesting them from DenverWH[at]aol[dot]com.

Dear Church,

I first learned the word "prevenience" from Eugene Peterson in his book "The Contemplative Pastor" (p. 65f). I was struck by what he had to say because it was immediately obvious to me that he was right. However, it was exactly the opposite of what I had been taught.

I knew how to be proactive. I knew how to "run the church" and get things done. I knew how to "make it happen". I had a lot of unlearning to do (I'm a recovering control addict).

Here's what Peterson has to say (with a few of John's comments in italics):

"In running the church (or the house church), I seize the initiative. I take charge. I take responsibility for motivation and recruitment, for showing the way, for getting things started. If I don't, things drift. I am aware of the tendency to apathy, the human susceptibility to indolence, and I use my leadership to counter it. (Isn't that what we have been taught that leadership is? If it isn't this, what is it?)

By contrast, the cure of souls (he means here the true work of a pastor or leader of a church as an organism) is a cultivated awareness that God has already seized the initiative. The traditional doctrine defining this truth is prevenience: God everywhere and always seizing the initiative. He gets thing going. He had and continues to have the first word. Prevenience is the conviction that God has been working diligently, redemptively, and strategically before I appeared on the scene, before I was aware there was something here for me to do.

...there is a disciplined, determined conviction that everything (and I mean, precisely everything) we do is a response to God's first work, his initiating act. We learn to be attentive to the divine action already in process so that the previously unheard word of God is heard, the previously unattended act of God is noticed?

What has God been doing here?
What traces of grace can I discern in this life?
What history of love can I read in this group?
What has God set in motion that I can get in on?"

I call these "the prevenience questions". Learning to ask/answer these questions is the starting place for the church each time she meets. This is the "prevenience model" of church.

With apologies to Steven Covey, we Christians were never called to be "proactive". We are called to be "reactive" to God. (Or, perhaps "responsive" to God is better.)


Ken Sorrell said...

I'm not sure that I know how to put into words my response to this post or even if I'm intelligent enough to respond. So I guess it may be best to begin by just asking a a couple of questions for clarification and understanding. I would agree that if being "proactive" means working outside of the leadership of the Holy Spirit, then being proactive is not a leadership quality that we should desire. However, what does this look like in a real world church setting? How is prevenience expressed in leadership? I understand the concept but I'm having a hard time translating this into practice. Does this mean leaders never prepare but only react or respond to the moment? This is the first time I have heard this doctirne express in these terms. Thanks for the pushing me to think new thoughts.

GuyMuse said...

Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. What I have posted is a multiple part series that John White did on the subject of "prevenience". To read the whole thing is a lot clearer. Most of what he writes goes along the lines of Henry Blackaby's "Experiencing God." What I did was post only one part of the four, and thus probably part of the confusion. It is interesting and I would encourage you to write John at the and ask him for the 4-part series that were originally mailed out to his list.
You can also write me and I can forward you the other parts to the post.

Kiki Cherry said...

The entire 4-part series is worth having mailed to you. I really enjoyed this teaching series, and it has challenged both Doug and I to take a new look at our philosophy of ministry.

Thanks, Guy, for sending those our way.