by Fred Peatross
Ron Martoia migrated from an eighteen-year church plant to help churches rethink the theological formulations that shaped the current church container that many find themselves ministering in today. Ron spends a third of his time in distance staff relationships and consulting, another third of his time doing Velocity Learning Conversations and 3TEXT, a new ministry training alternative to formal education, and a third of his time writing.
In 2007 Tyndale will release two books by Ron. In April, Static: Cutting through the ‘Christian Noise’ to the Real Message of Jesus. This first book is an effort intended to help Christ-followers think freshly about our understanding of the gospel and the need to re-appropriate the full story instead of the inherited abbreviated version we so often proclaim. The second book, to release in October, Yearning: A New Starting Point for a New Conversation about Jesus, is an attempt to capture the implications of the fuller story for spiritual conversations.
In my opinion there is no one more creative and articulate than Ron Martoia. Recently I caught up with Ron and we both sat down to discuss some important issues facing the body of Christ today and in the future.
After sitting in on our conversation you might decide you would like to know more about Ron or maybe you would like to have Ron host a learning conversation for the leaders of your church community. If so you can peruse his site at [www.velocityculture.com]
– Fred Peatross
Fred and Ron Martoia in Conversation
Fred: In your book Morph, you write of the need for spiritual transformation (morphing) within our congregations. You make the point that much of this is dependent on the state of our interior life. Hey, that sounds good, even Quakerish. But how do we find time to develop a quiet center in this online world where cell phones are constantly ringing and schedules are so freaking full?
Ron Martoia: Great question with no great answer. But I will say this, I am renewed in the commitment for a quiet daily centering prayer practice and the immense impact it brings. I have just come off a five-day integral Christianity conference with Father Thomas Keating, eighty-three-year-old Benedictine monk. One of the things we did each day was at least two to four sessions of centering prayer at a minimum of twenty minutes a session. Total silence, total inner silence. Your question is “how do you find time” it is simply a matter of what you deem most important. I know that sounds trite and cliché but there is no way around it. Jesus with regularity walked past immense need to manage well the rhythm of “with” time and “alone” time, or activity and quiet. Most of us in church leadership are pathological in our need to be busy so we can ignore the deeper more important issues of inner space cultivation.
Fred: Ron, you’ve said that church, as currently configured, isn’t working well. People are not flocking to our buildings or beating our doors down to get in. What are your thoughts? Ideas? What could we safely experiment with?
Ron Martoia: I have been speaking at conferences all over the country talking about the semiotic exercise* (see note after interview) of Extreme Home Makeover and Amy Grant’s show last year Three Wishes. In a church world of decreasing volunteerism and decreasing giving, how are they getting thousands of people to give a week of family vacation to help one family? I have some thoughts about that, but my thoughts aren’t nearly as important as the question. We will have to recognize the shelf life on the current church container is getting dangerously short. Less people attend, more are moving into alternative expressions for faith development. We still want to run our mouths from the pulpit and no one cares . . . well that is not true—some people in the church care, primarily those who have confused hearing yet another sermon with Christian growth. It is absolutely crazy. There is obviously a role for teaching in the church, I am just not convinced the current role it plays works any more or was even ideal in the first place. I know, I know, I will be shot at for that one, but those who are suspending judgment long enough to reflect are finding this to be true.
Fred: For the first twenty years of my Christian life Jesus’ commission to “go into the world” was skewed. I thought “go” meant being a good example to the people I work with and the acquaintances I had (I mistakenly called them friends then) week in and week out. At best, there were a few “hello, how are you?”s followed by an invitation to ‘come’ and visit me in my environment (church). I’ve since discovered that “go” means going to them and spending time on their turf (territory comfortable and familiar to them). This means I must become more inclusive of the people I was told years ago not to yoke with. With that said, how do we build on the middle ground between the church and the world, without thinking that somehow the common ground is something under the control of the organized church. And how do we allow the emerging state of a spiritual being to emerge, protected from both the world and the church?
Ron Martoia: You bring up a great point and while it is a question of praxis it is really a deeper question of theology. Man, I have a ton I would love to talk about here. But here is the short version. Jesus was ultra clear, the distinction made between sacred and secular just doesn’t hold. He did it with people, (tax collectors, “sinners,” prostitutes), he did it with good laws, he did with geography (John 4). The upshot of all this is, all space, place location, people are God’s. That is simply a slightly unpacked version of Psalm 24:1. I think the thing I am challenging is the either/or of your questions “either wholeheartedly Christian or ashamedly secular?” We have to have both of those . . . all out full card carrying members of both. When we start to see unity where we have seen distinction, and I mean this in the sacred/secular distinction way, we will see spiritual emergence is happening and arising all around us and it is up to us to clear the obstacles that would impede that emergence. This is really an articulation also of John 16 that lets us see the Holy Spirit is at work in the life of every unbeliever (just like every believer) and it is up to us to help point out that activity.
Fred: Your thoughts on the corporate responsibility of leaders building a culture of Christians who understand and appreciate the difference between “go” and “bring them to church?” And your thoughts on how this would best be accomplished in churches with consumer mentalities?
Ron Martoia: Well, our models of church have been dominated by magnetic attractional models. There is nothing helpful about that model any longer. People aren’t attracted to “our thing” and many, many people that used to be in church aren’t attracted to it any more either. We have to create bands of missional teams that work in our community alongside other people and organizations so we can bring about the reality of (what Scot McKnight calls) the “Jesus Creed”: loving God and loving people. When this begins to happen we will have to have entirely new models of spiritual conversation (the old evangelistic models are simply bankrupt) and new models of spiritual formation that realizes most people will not be attending a Sunday school class in 2009. In fact let’s state the obvious, most people IN the church aren’t attending a Sunday school class or small group . . . MOST. So we will have to think through what these new models look like. This is the very gist of the Velocity Learning Conversations we are hosting all over the country.
*On being Semioticians
It’s imperative that we become semioticians: readers of the signs of the times. As hermeneutics is to the biblical text, semiotics is to the context. What are the issues swirling in our culture? What does advertising, media and politics tell us? What does culture tell us about where people are? Who is setting the stage for the cultural conversation and do we have a voice at that table? Do we know and understand the dominant shaping influences of the changing world of work, globalization, and the pace of change? What does robotics, nanotechnology and reproductive technologies mean for how we think about ethics and philosophy of personhood? All these and many more questions are a part of the cultural container in which we have been invited to bring the news flash of the message of Jesus. Without these understandings, we will have no idea how to translate the first century message. We have to become context aware and, as much as possible, experts.
Release date April 2007
Static: Cutting through the ‘Christian Noise’ to the Real Message of Jesus
Words communicate. Christians often use words to communicate to others. These words, however, aren’t understood by many of those outside the church. We can be so absorbed in our “Christian-ese” that we don’t realize others don’t understand the jargon and cannot figure out what it is we mean by what we are saying. Static readers will become aware of what we are saying so we can re-focus our thinking to communicate clearly to those outside the church.
Fred 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 Christianity, reviewed in New Wineskins]. He blogs at [Abductive Columns].