Bruxy Cavey on The Misunderstood Leadership Traits of Jesus
Bruxy Cavey, author of best selling The End of Religion, is Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House – one of the largest and most innovative churches in Canada. Their tagline is : “A Church for People who Aren’t into Church” – and they’ve tried to build a church for people who have given up on religion. Every week over 5,000 people attend one of their 15 locations scattered across Ontario. In this conversation Bruxy drives deep on the leadership model and approach of Jesus and how that applies to modern leaders. Listen in on this refreshing conversation about what is means to actually lead like Jesus led!
00:38 // Rich welcome Bruxy to the show.
01:10 // Bruxy talks about the background of The Meeting House.
02:18 // Bruxy talks about the growth of The Meeting House.
03:43 // Bruxy tells us about the culture of The Meeting House.
05:12 // Bruxy talks about Jesus’ leadership and how we should interpret his teachings.
09:28 // Bruxy talks about the challenges faced trying to teach with passion and zeal, while at the same time modelling the fruit of the Spirit.
11:56 // Rich tells us he thinks Bruxy is one of the best communicators in North America.
12:33 // Bruxy talks about the importance of understand the difference between acceptance and agreement.
14:41 // Bruxy talks about the feedback received after his series: ISIS, Islam and Jesus.
16:44 // Bruxy talks about how The Meeting House’s approach appeals to people.
17:52 // Bruxy explains the spiritual difference between Canada and the USA.
18:48 // Bruxy offers contact details.
Rich – Alright well happy Thursday everybody, it’s Rich here from the unSeminary podcast. I’m so glad that you’ve decided to spend some time with us. I know there’s a lot of things you could be doing with your time today and so it’s just a privilege, I’m humbled that you’ve put us in your earbuds, to just learn a little bit from another church leader.
Today I’m honored to have a friend, my former boss, Bruxy Cavey on the line from The Meeting House in Toronto, Canada or kind of based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Bruxy welcome to the show.
Bruxy – This is a privilege Rich, it’s lovely to be connecting this way, thank you.
Rich – Yeah it’s so good to see… I love the beard, I was commenting earlier, that’s a great edition, it’s like kind of Duck Dynasty meets Amish World.
Bruxy – That’s right, I’m going with the Amish Santa look.
Rich – That’s great. Well Bruxy, why don’t we start with you telling us a little bit about The Meeting House story, give us an overview of who is The Meeting House?
Bruxy – Sure, in fact even the name, The Meeting House, speaks to our roots. We are an Anabaptist church, so we came out of that Mennonite Amish background and Mennonite churches will still call their buildings where they meet in, Meeting Houses. So we’re kind of pulling out of our roots but we’re a contemporary version of an Anabaptist movement. Anabaptist focuses on the simplicity of Jesus, the Christocentric approach to scripture; just focus on Jesus, read what he said to do and live it out.
Simplicity, when it comes to things like materialism, focus on community, the barn-raising mentality, family. We take those kind of principles and we’re a repentant version of that, because Anabaptists have really, in North America anyway, become legalistic about it. They say, “Live simply,” then they create a rule around that that says, “We want our own cars, we’ll all have the same kind of wardrobe, we’ll all look identical then we won’t compete with our worldly possessions and appearances.”
So we take away the legalism, we repent of the legalism, now we’re just left with Jesus and his teachings and we say, “What does that look like when we live out the principle rather than the precept or rather than the letter of the law? What does the spirit of these principles look like?”
So that’s our background. We’ve been a growing church that has cared a lot about Evangelism, something that Anabaptist traditionally have ceased to do because we’re too busy running from persecution. We hooked down on the farming community and said, “Let’s hope nobody notices us,” so in the history of Anabaptist we forgot about the great commission really. So we’re a repentant version of that as well saying, “What does it look like for us to really care about bringing people into a position where they can be introduced to the gospel of
Jesus?” Through that we’ve grown and now we’ve ended up becoming multi-site on top of that.
So we’ve got 15 different sites and a few thousand people, I guess between 5 and 6 thousand people show up on a Sunday, spread across the sites and it seems like every couple of years we’re reinventing how we do church, just to adjust to changing numbers and changing times. So it’s a fun ride.
Rich – One of the things I love about The Meeting House, about the community, in a lot of ways you seem like you hold a bunch of tensions, a bunch of kind of dichotomies that, a lot of times if you think of an Anabaptist church you’d think maybe Mennonite, but if you were to walk into your services on a Sunday morning there in Oakville, they don’t feel very Mennonite. They’re high energy music, maybe movie clips or something from The Walking Dead. It’s this interesting kind of cultural milieu. Tell me about that.
Bruxy – It’s very true. Jesus talked about new wineskins replacing the old wineskins and one of the things that he doesn’t go into detail in the analogy, but we know it’s embedded in the analogy, is that a new wineskin is soft, it’s supple and it’s open to change, it can expand; old wineskins are brittle. So we really want to be a new wineskin community which says, “What does it mean to change our style, our approach, be open to innovation, be open to technology and at the same time, who we are doesn’t have to compromise with society, with culture. We can speak the language of culture, use the technology of culture and still be on point with what we think is an important message.
So our wineskin should always be changing we think and be open to change and we don’t want to be legalistic about it. So we’ve repented of that and so yeah, when you come and hang out with us, it may… I love being in the ministry busting up people’s expectations, it keeps them kind of unsettled, “What’s going on here?” I think that then prepares us to say, “Let’s take a fresh look at Jesus together.”
Rich – I appreciate that. I wonder if digging a little bit deeper into that, thinking about Jesus and about his approach to leadership, are there things that you see in his leadership that maybe, as people who are trying to reach folks with the message of Jesus, that we maybe sometimes forget or maybe leave behind? What are some of those things that you think, we maybe sometimes ignore when we think about traditional leadership?
Bruxy – I guess first of all, what’s important to note is when we’re talking about Jesus there are things that we are to emulate and things that we are to allow to remain exclusively part of his self-definition. So we don’t just say that whatever Jesus does, we do. Jesus receives worship from people, we shouldn’t do that. Jesus runs away from his parents when he’s 12 and says, “I’m hanging out with my real parent,” we shouldn’t teach our 12 years olds to do that.
So there’s certain things when we look at the life of Christ we say, “He is showing us what God looks like.” Our response is simply to worship, not to say, “I’m going to also do the same thing.” We have to, I think, case by case say, “Is he setting us an example here?” and he’ll usually
teach on it.
If he’s setting us an example, which is really wonderful, he’ll teach clearly on it, then he’ll model it in his life. He will teach forgiveness and love of our enemies and then he watches life and he will model it. So we know that’s what we should be doing. Then other times he sits in the seat of judgment and pulls out the whip and he judges the temple. Those times he never says, “Come on Disciples, let’s go boys, we’re going to do this together. I’m not teaching you what you should go and do.” He’s sitting in the seat of judgment which is the seat of God. So we step back and we watch and we observe and we worship.
So I think that’s the first maneuver of interpretation we need to do when we look at life and the teachings of Jesus and he makes that clear for us, as long as we’re open to taking notice. Is he leading an example or is he showing us God?
Then when he does call us into following, into his example, there is the call to gentleness and to mercy and to ongoing forgiveness and there’s just a beautiful grace, the dying to self, not saying, “These are my rights so this is what I need,” but the picking up of the cross and following him, the love of enemies. Those people who are really jazzed on Jesus, within our culture, should have a reputation on the street of being gentle, graceful, merciful, very embracing and that’s just not often our rep on the street.
“So what do you think about people who are really into Jesus?” They should be able to say, “Well I don’t know if I agree with them or not but I’ll tell you this, whenever more of them move into our community or they start one of these things called a church or they start gathering people around, I’m so excited because they just bless us and they’re so sweet and loving and compassionate.” That’s not our rep but it should be.
Rich – Absolutely.
Bruxy – We just switch that first principle around and we say, “Hey Jesus was tough and he judged,” and then we say, “That’s what we should do.” When you just switch that around, we’re actually sitting ourselves in the seat of God and we become the judges of culture, the judges of society. We think that anger becomes the emotion of holiness, which is the word in Greek. When it’s used of God it’s always used righteously and when it’s used of humans, we’re always cautioned against it. It’s the same word, it gets translated wrath when it’s talking about God and God’s wrath and when it talks about us, in all translations it will still say wrath, that’s why wrath is one of the seven deadly sins back in Old Catholic tradition, but usually that gets translated anger, but it’s the same word.
So why when it’s talking about God is it not a sin and when it talks about it in human terms there’s a lot of caution at the very least surrounding it? That’s because anger is the emotion associated with judgment, that is God’s seat, that is the driver’s seat, that is what Jesus occupies. So yes, he can display his wrath but that’s one of his areas where we don’t come along and say, “Watch us condemn the world, I’m with you Jesus,” and then we’ll prove to
everyone that we’re holy.
I think that’s one of the key lessons that we as Evangelical Christians in the West need to unlearn, is that anger is not the emotion that will help us display our holiness.
Rich – Oh man, there’s a lot to unpack there. One of the things I appreciate about what you said is, my daughter is 14 now and she’s like a big personality and it’s interesting because at school everyone interprets that as she’s a leader, because she can get up and make a big ruckus and gets everybody to follow her. It’s hard to try to push some deeper character values here and I love that you’re calling out gentleness particularly in leadership.
Now when you think about leading in your church, I’m sure there must be times where you frankly do want to be angry, things upset you. So what does that look like for you as you lead? How do you lead out of gentleness with your people?
Bruxy – It’s true, it’s something that we do have model. I think for those of us who are in leadership and those of us who are communicating leaders, that is we’re not only leading behind the scenes but we’re standing up and modelling something, here’s the challenge for us.
The fruit of the Spirit are not suggestions for only certain kinds of people, certain personality types or certain behind the scenes Christians, they are what the Spirit’s trying to do in our lives all the time. You can partner that with the characteristic of love being long suffering etc. in 1 Corinthians 13 and you have a really fully orbed understanding of what the Spirit is, trying to breathe into our lives all the time. But what is conspicuously absent from the list at any time is anger, or even just those generic terms of, I’m passionate, I’m excited, I’m on point, I’m on fire, which we sometimes use as euphemisms for, ‘I’m a bully’.
There’s a lot of people listening who’ll say, “Well I want to be passionate and on fire,” which is great, but be cautious that we’re not hiding behind euphemisms for just allowing a kind of judgmental spirit or anger to arise.
Here’s the challenge for us. For those of us who are in point leadership and are communicating, how can we show an excitement and a zeal for truth while at the same time we are modelling the very same fruit of the Spirit? Can I teach with a conviction that at the same time is modelling peace and patience and kindness and gentleness, one of the fruit of the Spirit? I have to challenge myself and I’ll give myself an easy OTE, I have to say, “I need to speak on Sunday morning in a persuasive, convicting, enlightening and an engaging way that people can also see gentleness in.” If they can’t, I’m not doing my job allowing the fruit of the Spirit to engage every area of my life. Which is really challenging for us because we live in a culture where the tone of the voice that gets people rallied around, “Amen brother, amen!”
As we push toward that, I think we’re just being too easy on ourselves and buying into more of a cultural manifestation of what passion should look like. Passion also needs to look like the fruit of the Spirit. So it’s just worth spending time marinating and as leaders, we are modelling
something to our people. When they go into their conversations with others and they lack gentleness, they lack peace and patience and kindness, in their tone of voice and in their posture and in their approach, they’re getting that from us.
Rich – Absolutely. For people who are listening in, who don’t know Bruxy and his teachings, and he’s probably going to stop me from saying this, but I really do think Bruxy is one of the best communicators in North America. He’s one of those people who just does an incredible job communicating clearly about the message of Jesus.
Give us a bit of coaching now. You just came through a series about Islam and in that series, that’s a topic, that’s an area of discussion where it seems like the best Christians get all angry about it. How did you approach that from a gentle point of view?
Bruxy – Sure, one of the things that helps me, on many of these potentially divisive topics; other religions, violence, same sex marriage, there’s all kind of areas where we can draw our battle lines and become argumentative in a way that is unhealthy. One of the things that helps me approach this is understanding that there is a marked difference between acceptance and agreement. I think when Christians do not understand the difference between acceptance and agreement, they will make many mistakes in how they approach a topic.
Once we see acceptance and agreement as enmeshed, then I cannot even allow myself to be seen as fully accepting you because I’m afraid that as I show a warmth and acceptance that will be misinterpreted as agreement and I don’t want to be seen as agreeing with you. So I have to pull back on any social cues that will suggest I accept you. So the angry tone comes out and the sense of truth and taking the stand, which we feel we need to do in order to be very clear.
Now I don’t want to be unclear in any way, but of course Jesus understood that acceptance and agreement were very different and he was so accepting of people that it did become confusing to who. It became confusing to the religious conservatives of his day. They wanted the clear lines and so he was so accepting of people they would say, “You are a tax collector, you’re a glutton or you’re a friend of these people. You’re a winebibber and a glutton, you’re a friend of tax collectors, you are so accepting that you’re blurring the lines.”
So I think our sense of acceptance should be so extremely defined by the character of Christ that yes, for the religious conservative, they’re made to be uneasy and yet in no way are we compromising truth. When we’re starting to make religious conservatives uneasy, we’re probably starting to live like Jesus.
Rich – Are you giving us a bit of insight? You must have got some interesting feedback from that series. If people haven’t listened to that series, I might have made people uncomfortable, because you’re trying to approach the topic, I think in a thoughtful manner, in a way that honors Jesus, but maybe not necessarily in a typical approach.
Bruxy – Sure yes and then we’re also pacifists. So for some people that also adds a political
dimension. “Are you criticizing our government or telling us..?” Which we’re not, so you have to listen to the series. It’s called ISIS, Islam and Jesus and it’s true, we would get extreme reactions from some people whenever we approach a topic like this, or same sex marriage, or anything else where it’s divisive. People would say, “You weren’t clear enough.” So I will walk through the message and I’ll say, “Look at the scriptures, look at how we call people to Jesus’ Lord. Actually even an outline in print, we headed out, completely clear where we stand and I will say to them, “How did you not hear that, what binders did you have on?”
What it comes down to, if we have the time to have a coffee and talk it through, is, “I didn’t hear the tone. I didn’t actually hear the tone that tells me how wrong you think they are.” So when they hear a happy tone and a gentleness, well we’re also saying, “Here’s where we stand and what we think is wrong.” For religious people who have lived within a tradition of anger equals holiness equals truth, it throws them off, but they need to be thrown off. Fortunately non-Christians then will start to learn how to have disagreements that are amicable and friendly, but then Christians will, because Christians default to anger as holiness quicker than our un-Christian friends and that’s not the way it should be.
Rich – Absolutely. Alright well just one kind of last line of question before we let you go, we know you’re a busy guy. Canada is, for folks that don’t know, Canada is wildly unchurched, more so than down south and south of the border. How much do you think that The Meeting House’s appeal and approach, within that context, which really is bucking the trend, to have five thousand people show up at a church in a country where maybe 5% of the population attends church is radical, is unknown, how much of that do you think is connected to your core teaching and message, the kind of Anabaptist approach? How much of that do you think is resonating with folks, who maybe haven’t been connected to a church in a while?
Bruxy – I would say that even for many of the people who are turned off a religion, many of them still have a soft spot for Jesus. They are open to learning about Jesus and if we can give them a safe place to come and ask questions, so they feel they are not going to be coercive, we embed Q&A into our Sunday teaching, even if we only have time for a couple of questions, its symbolic value is huge. This is a place where you get to come and ask questions, we’re not just going to shout at you but we want to engage you in a conversation way.
So to create that safe space, to come and begin to learn about Jesus, that I think still has great appeal, even to many people who have long since given up church or are not sure if they believe in God. Jesus is a historically significant figure, no matter where you land on the faith spectrum. So to give a place for people to just come and learn about him on an un-coercive way, seems to really mean something to a lot of people.
Basically Canada is just America living 20 years in the future.
Rich – That’s very true.
Bruxy – Sometimes when I go down to the States I feel like a time traveler a little bit. It’s like,
“Oh this is probably what it was like in Canada in the 1950s or something,” in certain pockets. I know that in the States there’s just such wide variety; city and urban and state to state for sure, but Canada is a little more uniform in its secularization. We’re kind of a blend of American and European culture when it comes to where we’re at spiritually. Yet I’m happy to say, as a time traveler from the future, people will still have a soft spot to have a conversation about Jesus, if that’s what (unclear 00:18:20).
If we were non-believers and we were just talking about marketing from a secular point of view, that would be a good tip for us, just from a marketing point of view; you should lead with Jesus. What’s fascinating though, is as Christians, that’s what we should be doing, that’s what we want to do. So we really have no excuse, just keep on point and keep Jesus in the center.
Rich – Thank you so much Bruxy, I really appreciate your time today. If people want to get in touch with you or in touch with The Meeting House, how can they do that?
Bruxy – Well for me it’s easy. At Twitter it’s Bruxy. If you’ve got a name like Bruxy you might as well leverage it, so it’s just Bruxy. My email is . You can look up Bruxy on Facebook. So I’m easy to find and The Meeting House is just themeetinghouse.com, all one word, themeetinghouse.com and our sermons are there on iTunes or you can get in touch with me for more information.
Rich – Great, thanks so much, I appreciate you being on the show today.
Bruxy – Rich it’s a privilege, thanks man.
Rich – Thank you.