Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

What I Learned (My Year Away)

I left LA over a year and a half ago. I left the internet for a year to focus on getting a permanent job. I came back to social media after the year was over but have only recently started blogging and posting videos again.

I am in a new city (Portland), in a new denomination (UMC), and in a new position (solo pastor).

Last year, I taught in 2 evangelical seminaries and attended a different church most weekends. I learned a lot through this process and next week I wanted to share some insights for your consideration. I will post 3 topics next week:

  • What I learned about social media.
  • What I learned about education.
  • What I learned about evangelicals.


Social Media:

Things have really changed in the past 3 years.

Twitter is nearly unrecognizable.

Social media volume is at 11 and surges every 3-4 days.



Money is the lead dog – but technology is dominant.

Education is a product and students are customers.

Professors are nervous.



They are really into the Bible.

They use coded language.

LGBTQ issues both terrify and annoy them.

They can smell danger.

They don’t get Critical Theory even a little bit.


I am really looking forward to this mini-series. Let me know if there are any other topics I should reflect on.


Y is for Y2K

Is the way that the world runs today the way that is has to be?
What would it take for the world to work a different way?
Can you imagine something better than democracy or an economic system after capitalism?
Is society in its final form?

[We are nearing the end of the ABCs of Faith in Sunday School . Listen to previous discussions here]  Expanded PDF : Y is for Y2K (preview)


From 1991-2003, I was taught to read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other – I no longer believe that.

In my short lifetime I have seen so many predictions come and go. I have seen layers and layers of moving onto the next thing a passage means without even acknowledging that 6 months ago we were told it was something different.

I just had a talk this weekend with a denomination leader about how end-times expectations have changed in their lifetime. We talked about young leaders and how different their eschatology is from 50 years ago.

My hope for the next 3 decades is that sincere people of faith get fatigued on this unfulfillingway to read the Bible and this next generation is released and empowered with an understanding of genre that does not leave them susceptible and vulnerable to panic over sensations like y2k and franchises like Left Behind.

The world is in too great a need for really great people to be distracted by thinking that apocalyptic is A) predictive and B) about the 21st century.

Here we have 2 crippling problems to confront – and the problem is that they compound the effect of each other intensely.

The more minor problem is the one that we have touched on above: a loss of the prophetic or our Christian imagination.

The major, and more hideous problem, is something called “final forms”. We live in an era where systems have become so solidified, concrete, and assumed that are assumed to be ends in themselves.

  • Capitalism is the pinnacle economic system.
  • Democracy, while flawed, is superior to all others.
  • Nationalism will never be topped or undone.

They are final forms that, once invented or introduced, are here to stay.

And there is an ominous implication:

  • Christianity is purported to be in its final form.

The faith we have today cannot be reexamined, tinkered with, or questioned. It is written in stone and unchanging.

In fact, it gets worse – true Christianity was found in the early church and the answer to our current problems is to get ‘back’ to that kind of a faith – sort of a ‘make religion great again’ mentality.


Come this Sunday at 9 to hear the rest …   Art for the series by Jesse Turri


Measuring Ministry

We know that the way we measure ‘success’ as church leaders is not an accurate way to address actual ministry.

The old line about ‘nickels and noses’ doesn’t tell us if we are actually doing God’s work in the world or meeting our communities’ needs.

It also doesn’t tell the story behind the number … there is no room for narrative.

So I have come up with a different metric that I want to propose.

Moving on from Nickels and Noses to:

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Mouths
  • Eyes
  • Ears

Hands – how many people did we touch?

Feet – how many people came across our property?

Mouths – how many people did we help feed?

Eyes – how many people saw our us? Street fairs, facebook, youtube.

Ears – how many people listened to the podcast?


The advantage to this new approach is 3 fold:

  1. It incorporates a ‘body’ metaphor that is both biblical and ‘incarnational’
  2. It makes space for narrative – the story behind the number
  3. There is a qualitative as well as quantitative element

Here is a short (3 min) video – let me know what you would add or change to this approach.


Guess What I’m Teaching On?

These are the prep books for tomorrow- guess what the topic is


Embodied Wisdom Enacted Knowledge

You have a wisdom deep inside of you that you might not even know how to access.

I want to introduce (or remind) you to an amazing concept: phronesis

Here is a ‘7 min sermon’ on the idea and a short explanation below.

I love this concept so much.

An interesting way to access it is by using the famous formulation of:

  • known knowns (things we know that we know)
  • known unknowns (things we know that we don’t know)
  • unknown unknowns (things we don’t know that we don’t know)

Then Zizek reminds us that the 4th quadrant would be “unknown knowns”!!

There are things that we don’t even know that we know … and this is why we need to know about phronesis.

Another way of approaching the idea is to focus on the kind of knowledge that is produced:

  • phronesis (practical wisdom) in contrast to the modern fascination with
  • theoria (theoretical knowledge and thinking) or
  • techne (technical knowledge and thinking)

A helpful analogy can be found in learning to play a musical instrument:

“Playing the flute, Aristotle observes, has value and fulfills its purpose well before the music stops. This is especially the case with ethical conduct and political activity, an ongoing process of deliberation that requires practical wisdom (phronesis). In contrast, (he) viewed building a house as poiesis— satisfactory only when the construction process is complete.” [1]

Unfortunately, after Aristotle poiesis got subsumed into praxis and was reduced into the binary that we have inherited today in the classic split between theory and practice. The final, and perhaps most popular, of these concepts is habitus.

The habits of faith form a character in you through repetition and spiritual practice.

You have a wisdom down inside of you.
It operates on a lower register than your immediate thoughts.
It is not just head knowledge.
It is deep inside of you – down in your bones.
Learn to trust your gut and follow your heart.

[1] Cahalan and Mikoski, Opening the Field of Practical Theology, 305.


Church Survey Responses

Earlier this month I responded to a survey being done by a grad student about new worship communities and churches in revitalization.

Below are some of my responses to the 3 questions – and here is a 10 min video with some pictures spliced for illustration.

1.What innovative practices set your faith community apart?

Vermont Hills UMC is attempting a hybrid expression that combines two very different ecclesial and liturgical formats. We have been a classic mainline worship format for our 50 years of existence. We never went through the ‘blended worship’ wars in the 1980’s and 90’s. We never had a worship band or song leader. It is just piano, occasionally organ, and a choir. We use singable hymns so that the singing is robust and fills the space with sound.

We have now added a coffee shop/living room feel that splices in conversation and a TedTalk style homily early in the gathering. Also, instead of the sermon, a different person (or persons) comes to a high-top table and has a conversation. Sometimes it is about the homily, or the passage of scripture – other times it is about an outside topic (such a non-profit that we support). This serves to ‘decenter’ the sermon so that our gatherings are centered around conversation.

Another innovation is that each time we do communion on the first Sunday of the month, we try something different. The two most recent communion weeks, for instance, were vastly different than each other.  In January, we set up 6 round tables in the corners of the sanctuary (we have an odd shaped space) and had 8-10 people at each table. They served each other communion with a prepared litany, and commune together for the rest of the service. In February, we set up different stations – a baptismal font, a table full of prayer candles, etc. – and had them wander around the space doing different activities before they went to the communion station. A 6-minute video played on the screen for those who did not want to wander.

2. How does your faith community meet people where they are, literally and figuratively?

I have developed an ecclesiology called Church 2.0 where we provide the space but not all of the content. The conversations during our gatherings are unscripted so that people can bring their concerns and insights.

Another aspect of our service to the community is the many non-profits we participate in and support financially. In January and February, we have had a different ministry or group ‘come to the table’ and tell us about what they do and how we can get involved. This includes our backpack ministry that packs food for kids at the elementary school next door who would not have food on the weekend, and Neighborhood house that helps families get back on their feet. We have 7 or 8 of these ministries that we support and participate in.

3. How does your faith community develop and equip young leaders? eg internships, pastoral residencies for young clergy, intentional communities?

I have only  been here 7 months but we already have a young minister going through the ordination process and several seminarians who help teach and lead. The format of ‘the table’ allows multiple voices to heard. Depending on the topic, they can help teach Sunday school, mid-week Bible study, ‘preach’ the homily, and be the liturgist as well. This gives them lots of opportunities to participate and practice. We will be developing a ministry team in 2018 for formalize this process.

Dialogue across the table is the key though. It is a platform that allows their voice to be elevated and broadcast. It is shared influence instead of one persons talking for 20-30 minutes week after week.


Billy Graham: Case Study

Graham’s life show us so much about the changes in our society and the church: from newspapers, TV, civil rights, evangelicals, politics, media, and so much more.

I was moving into my new office and purging some old files. I found a magazine (Promise Keepers) from 1997 that had Graham on the cover.

Here are some of my thoughts in this short video.

I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, and concerns.


Follow Up to Church 2.0

Yesterday’s visit by seminary students was so encouraging.


It did however bring up some issues that I did not cover in yesterday’s video.

5 issues from yesterday’s seminary visit:
– experience of absence
– small and big church
– rural, urban, and suburban
– diversity
– love the questions
-cynic and fool  [link to the book]

Here then is a followup video to cover those issues:

Let me know if you have any other topics to address.


Church 2.0

The future of the church is not a stage show. The performance oriented, pre-scripted, uni-directional spectacle that creates spectators instead of participants will fade away. It doesn’t fit the interactive, de-centered, and democratized society that we live in.

This 10 min video is for a seminary class that is coming to visit my church today to see how we do Church 2.0 (or interactive, participatory, church in the round, etc.)

The former video that covered this material (Church Present & (near) Future) has been very popular while I was away. I have received several requests to redo it with a better mic.

Topics covered include: emergent thought, church as google, and Web 1.0 – among others

Let me know your thoughts or questions


Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑