A Conversation With Jim Henderson (Sep-Dec 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Fred Peatross
September – December, 2007

Jim Henderson is an innovative thinker who is passionately committed to normalizing evangelism for ordinary Christians. In the year 2000 Jim and Dave Richards founded Off the Map to help advance the ideas around practical spirituality.
Jim’s pre-Off The Map years was filled with church planting and leadership development in India and Hong Kong as he and his wife Barbara coached young leaders and matured new church plants. Jim formerly worked at the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio as the Director of Outreach.

Off The Map puts on several national events each year and publishes a monthly ezine called The Idealab.

This November 1-3 Off The Map will have its annual Off The Map Live in Seattle. Speakers will be Brian McLaren, Jim Henderson, and a number of others. New Wineskins’ Fred Peatross has been invited to come and share his ideas on the missional church. We’re excited about what will happen when spiritual practitioners hear, listen and connect with each other. Don’t miss out – come join us Nov 1-3 in Seattle.

Recently, Fred and Jim sat down and talked.


Fred:
Jim, could you give us a little history and then describe the purpose and vision of Off-The-Map?

Jim:
· What if it was normal to talk to missing people about Jesus and to have them in our lives?
· What if evangelism was a spiritual practice that was doable for ordinary Christians?
· What if the real reason we don’t evangelize is less about us, and more about the models we’ve inherited?

Around 1997 we started asking ourselves these kinds of questions and began developing new language and approaches in order to get closer to the people Jesus misses most- the people formerly known as lost.

Actually, when you compare Off The Map (OTM)Live with conferences organized by Christians you’ll find our event has:

More tattoos

More diverse voices

More conversation

More opportunities to serve

More people who aren’t Christians

More like a music festival

Some people thought it was cool when Jim Henderson sang the blues. Or so Jim would have us believe. Join us this year and decide for yourself.

Our featured speakers include Brian McLaren and Diana Butler-Bass; go to our Off The Map Live website to see all of them. We’ll be adding a list of our workshop presenters soon.

YOU will be the guest.

Fred:
Could you describe an Off-The-Map Live?

Jim:
Off The Map specializes in producing highly acclaimed events called the Off The Map Live. Events are produced by the Off the Map team, guest speakers and feature the provocative Live Interview with 3 “Lost” People. The event is targeted at Christians, both lay and pastors/ministers and is most effective if attended by a group of people from a particular church/ministry/friendship group. During the events we get people talking to each other about their real experiences and frustrations. In this highly compacted event format (usually 1 – 1.5 days), participants will learn about their fears, hopes and aspirations to reach out to missing people all around them. We create an experience that will motivate participants to change how they think about and act toward missing people.

The Off The Map (OTM) Conference is more like a live TV talk show. It is fast moving (no one talks longer than 20 minutes) and highly interactive (it isn’t unusual for someone form the audience to end up talking on stage (if they have a great idea or story). We say it’s more like a concert than a conference. We use lots of video and interviews to move people to take action when they leave. What action? Have coffee with a missing person this week, ask them how they’re doing and really listen. We think that this behavior (or it’s cultural equivalent ought to be a normal part of our week. We think that if these kinds of encounters were normalized and “counted as evangelism (count conversations not conversions) more missing people would “accidentally” began to follow Jesus.

Fred:
One of the things you seem to emphasize is the idea of “practical spirituality.” Could you tell us what you mean by the phrase?

Jim:
When our culture goes shopping for spirituality they go to Oprah, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williams and maybe Bill Moyer. They don’t associate us (Evangelical Christians) with spirituality. They associate us with religion, morality and beliefs. If someone wants to “clean up their act” (and they have even a vague church background) they “go to church” – They aren’t looking for meaning as much as someone to help them “get a grip”.

However, the cultural conversation about spirituality is largely philosophical, impractical and somewhat esoteric (i.e. – the answer is -try yoga, breathing, natural foods and lots of Buddhism) Consequently, we think we see an opportunity to establish a different kind of conversation about spirituality. One that is not centered on what you’re believing but more on what you’re doing. In other words “What gets you through the day spiritually” or “What are you doing to maintain your personal peace and lovingly serve others.” What is it about your “spiritual practice” that makes you and those around you “better human beings” Off The Map thinks that Christians ought to be leading (not controlling) the conversation that inspires Christians to be more practical in their spirituality while also providing non Christians a place at the table of spirituality of equal opportunity.

I like to tell people who think they have a cool idea about spirituality to give it the “6 o’clock Supermarket Test” – Go to your local supermarket at 6 PM – Watch the faces of the people coming in after work- The single moms, the single dads, the older people the self absorbed kids. Now imagine approaching any one of these people with your idea and trying to communicate it to them. Get the picture- those are the people you are trying to make spiritual. They are distracted, tired and jaded. If you can’t “sell” your spiritual idea to that kind of person then you need to go back to the drawing board- It has to be practical- simple- doable and human. That’s why they liked Jesus.

Fred:
Common phrases and words you hear Christians use these days are words like lost, born-again, etc. What’s you perspective on the usage of these words?

Jim:
Giving those who came before us the same benefit of the doubt we will want extended to us, I would say that I’m sure that these words emerged out of a genuine desire to reach people in their culture. It simply goes without saying that whatever that culture looked like – it has come and gone or is at least in the bargaining stage of the Kubler Ross death march. We need new language (which will also be obsolete in probably ten years). Off The Map experiments and plays with words like missing not because we think that it is the final word or best language but because it provokes people to come up with new or better words. We like slogans because they are memorable.

Some of ours are:

· Do what’s doable – it’s all you’re really going to do anyway
· If ordinary people can’t get it done using ordinary means- ordinarily it won’t get done
· Don’t shovem- pushem or pullem – nudgem

We prefer to talk about “attempts” rather than more dramatic/over the top (and non ordinary) phrases like “victory” or “pressing in.”

We will continue to create new words in our laboratory because we think that the mission to connect with the people Jesus misses most deserves the best and most creative thinking available.

Fred:
Could you tell the reader a little about the interviews you do with “lost” people.

Jim:
I always wondered why we talked so much about lost people but rarely talked with them. I started doing what we call Ordinary Attempts (OAs) in restaurants and made some friends with lost servers. I asked them how they felt about Christians, Church, and if anyone had ever tried to “save” them? They eventually asked me why I was asking them these questions as if it wasn’t normal (which it isn’t, but why isn’t it?) I asked three of them if they would be willing to get on a stage in front of 400 pastors and have this same conversation (and I paid them $25 if that helped). It turned out to be the most provocative part of our events. People think at first that this is a role play (ala Willow creek) which again tells me a lot about how church had drifted from it’s primary mission of connecting with missing people. You can watch a Live Interview with 3 “Lost” People here and see what you think. I always have fun with these and have continued some friendships with my missing friends. My main question is why aren’t more churches doing this on Sunday morning? It is pretty simple – just go finde three lost people that you like – pay them if necessary and do a live interview in front of your church. You can watch several of these interviews in our Media Center or you could download our The Church Survey if you need a way to lead up to the live thing.

Fred:
Does the word “creativity” evoke a positive or negative response in the people around you? Why? If creativity evokes a positive response; was it that way when you first arrived or did you help them develop it?

Jim:
A business consultant whom I was reading said something like this- there is no shortage of ideas. There is a shortage of permission to try. We need an environment that encourages trying, creating, and strategic thinking. We need business people to stop checking their brains at the door of the church and give them a more compelling picture of how God wants them to participate than they ever find at work (hasn’t been done yet). We need fewer “judges” and more “artists.”

Fred:
What’s the difference between creativity and weird?

Jim:
Keeping it real. Testing your ideas on real human beings (see the 6 O’clock Super market test above #3) and caring about people and God more that your creativity. Think about it. Jesus had lots more he could have expressed when he walked the earth (if all the things he did were written down – not enough books…) It wasn’t about him expressing himself. It was about him; loving people, connecting with them and getting them to realize that he actually “liked them” All things are made for him – not us. He holds all things together- we don’t. Fulfillment isn’t about me “doing my unrestrained creative thing” The best musicians practice silence in their music. The best speakers use fewer words.

Fred:
When the epitaph is written on your ministry, what do you want it to read?

Jim:
I tried or my most recent favorite- ” We expected too much” (my last message to the 3 people who will care)
New Wineskins

Fred PeatrossFred Peatross lives, works, romances his wife and exudes deep feelings of love, awe, and admiration for his Creator while living in the heart of Appalachia. For over two decades Fred has resided in Huntington, West Virginia where he has been a leader in the traditional church. He has been a deacon, a shepherd, and a pulpit minister. But his greatest love is Missio Dei.

Long before thousands of missionaries poured into the former Soviet Union Fred, in a combined effort with a Christ follower from Alabama planted a church in Dneprodzerhinsk, Ukraine. Today Fred lives as a missionary to America daily praying behind the back of his friends as he journeys and explores life alongside them. [Fred Peatross’ book Missio Dei - In the Crisis of ChristianityMissio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity, reviewed in New Wineskins]

 

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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