Ohio Trip 8: Xenos’ Summer Institute

I attended two afternoon breakout sessions on the first full day of the Xenos Summer Institute. The talk which one of the session leaders gave confirmed a suspicion of mine: Xenos heavily emphasizes doctrinal education (which is intellectual), personal discipleship, evangelism, and service (those are volitional), but appears to offer little which engages the affective side of the human self. Internally speaking, they resist the more subjective, mystical expressions of devotion which so characterize the fellowship to which I belong. And externally speaking, they don’t make much place for emotional expressions of praise or worship, either in big gatherings or in most small group settings.

I suspect this is due in part to a split which happened about 15 years ago. Those who left represented the more emotionally charged element within the group. In the process, Xenos lost their gifted worship leaders, plus a ton of people who followed them out to the local Vineyard. I don’t think they’ve ever found a comfortable way to re-introduce singing into the gatherings of the church. At this point in time, you will likely attend one of their “central teachings” (large gathering) and your home church (small gathering) without ever joining together in song with your fellow believers. That strikes most folks (including myself) as a pretty lopsided way of going about things.

The breakout session leader encouraged us to develop consistent devotional lives, committing to regular times of prayer, reading, and fellowship with God. He reminded us all how helpful songs can be in engaging our hearts to the Lord’s presence. I heartily agree 😉 His words about involving the affective side of our selves echoed the very same things that I shared with Dennis over lunch. So that was fun to hear.

The other workshop I attended the first day laid out Xenos’ approach to discipleship. It became evident during my stay in Columbus that discipleship is big at Xenos. They do it in pairs or small groups so much that practically everyone is either “discipling” someone or is being discipled by someone (or both at the same time!). One of the college students introduced two guys to me by saying “that guy over there is my disciple, and that other guy over there is my discipler.” That’s a little weird to me. But then many “xenoids” roll their eyes at talking that way about it. Either way, they’re very committed to meeting with each other as mentors, counseling one another on issues of character development, doctrine, and service. To talk to a member of Xenos is to, at some point in the conversation, be counseled and exhorted towards a more committed walk with God. They seem to wear that comfortably.

They’re also very Bible-centered as a people. They talk an awful lot about “getting into the Word” like it’s, well, central in a way that I’m persuaded it’s not supposed to be. I would argue that the Bible itself even warns us against being “bibliocentric.” But there’s not space left for that talk in today’s post.

Perhaps one other talk merits mention here. The main speaker for the plenary sessions was Ajith Fernando, director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. He’s an internationally popular writer and a great speaker. He spoke on “Joy and Pain,” and how these two things go together when you commit your life to investing in the lives of others. It was good stuff, and I think it was very well received.

I also think he may have thrown in a corrective word or two for either the church immediately before him or else American churches in general. He warned against an overemphasis on results. Americans are pragmatists, and he admitted that this brings certain benefits. But he also reminded us all (many of whom are active in ministries of so many kinds) that we must be faithful to our callings without making the output our chief gauge in that regard. Sometimes a person pours his or her life out for decades only to have someone else reap the harvest later on. But the Lord is getting what he wants, how he wants it.

I think we all need that reminder, although I see such a heavy leaning towards pragmatism at Xenos that it turns me off just a little. The leaders invest scads of time and energy studying other groups to see what works and what doesn’t. My host, Jim, told me of how the leaders take a group of young people on church tours around the country in order to see how other groups are doing church. Granted, that’s exactly what I’m doing, too, even as I write. But there’s a focus on results– measurements and percentages–and their findings get thrown around a good bit in conversation. All that makes me suspicious that something’s off, something I encountered in one or two other groups this week (more on that another time).

That covers everything from the first day of the conference. The second day challenged me perhaps more than the first…

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