Why the 7 Mountain Mandate is Toxic Theology

Why the 7 Mountain Mandate is Toxic Theology

If you have followed my journey this last decade at all, you likely know conflict and controversy is something I try and avoid.  I try to stay in my lane, be faithful with what’s in front of me and let God take care of the rest.

I am not out to point fingers at people.  But I am out to candidly share my story and speak out about things that are significant culturally, spiritually and theologically.

This post is a long one, friends.  I want to go into detail about a topic I have touched on here and there in days past.  I’ve tiptoed around it, but today I’m just going to say it.  Deep breath.  Here we go:

The Seven Mountain Mandate is not synonymous with the great the commission.  Rather, it is inherently and deeply flawed theology.

For those of you who are not familiar with what I’m talking about, let me fill you in.

What is the Seven Mountain Mandate?

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In this teaching, the kingdom of God and Great Commission are tied to taking certain mountains of culture.  There are 7 mountains of cultural influence (pictured above) and the goal is scale to the top of the mountain so you can as a Christian be in charge at the top.  Because leaders at the top have the power to set agendas and enforce values that will bring God’s Kingdom in that area of cultural influence.  On earth as it is in heaven.

I once heard the most prominent teacher of this theology state the following {and yes this is a direct quote}: “Those 7 mountains of influence are so powerful that he who occupies the top of those mountains can literally shape the agenda that forms nations.”

I replayed the segment a few times to make sure I had heard correctly.  I did.  This type of thinking is an insidious, sneaky, tangential teaching that can easily mimic the heart and nature of true missions.

But what’s so wrong with wanting to see transformation come to people?  And doesn’t God care about these areas too?  Absolutely He cares.  Yes, He calls us to be involved in loving our communities.  But God sets people in high places of leadership not because they were trying to climb a mountain and become king of the cultural hill.

Isn’t calling this toxic a bit strong Michele?  Some of you are asking that.  It is strong.  Because it NEEDS to be strong. And here’s why.

A toxin is a poisonous substance produced by living cells capable of causing disease when introduced into the body tissues.  Toxic theology produced by living cells (people, many times leaders) in the Body of Christ causes sickness in those that ingest it.

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Let’s look at the culture that the 7 mountain worldview propagates.

The 7 mountain mandate often assumes that leadership is about “rulership” and exerting control from the top down to affect change.  It is a power-over model of leading that celebrates taking dominion from the high place to “set the agenda that forms nations.” 

In a very real sense, it is colonialism dressed up in different clothes.  The goal for many who adhere to this teaching often becomes to the seize the seat of power and enforce what they think the Kingdom of God SHOULD look like in their mountain of culture.

You don’t get much farther from the great commission than this.  That is not discipling nations, it is dominating nations.  And I don’t know about you friend, but I’m not a fan of having someone force their views on me. Conformity to a system of rules doesn’t mean a genuine change of heart.

True transformation never comes from the top down.  It always comes from the inside out.

Mountains & God’s Upside Down Kingdom

As I became more aware of the prevalent application of this teaching and saw the culture it gave rise to, the whole analogy began to bug me more and more.  Finally one day I was like, “Jesus I’m bothered.  Why am I bothered?  I love working and serving people in the community.  But I’m bothered.  Why?”

I had a picture of the mountain of God coming up underneath the cultural mountains and flipping them upside down, where low place became the high place and the high place the low place. In God’s upside down kingdom, that made way more sense to me.

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So in this model, instead of fighting to be rulers, we influence by becoming servants.   We “scale” the mountain by serving and intentionally building relationships in a power-under stance of service.  The high place becomes the low place and the low place the high place of influence because of love-based servant leadership.

This upside-down mandate is way closer to the heart of Jesus.  As a metaphor, it is something I have held onto and shared.

A few years went by and this topic settled on one of my mental shelves.  I honestly did not give much thought to it until 2016, watching how many in the church aligned themselves politically.  This last year has been a deep year of heart searching and eye opening for me.  But that is for another post soon to come.

The Way We Think Matters

One of the topics that has captured my interest in my grad school research is the topic of generative metaphors.  Say what?  The basic idea is that the way we think about a subject and the metaphors we use to frame our understanding give rise to or generate the culture around that subject matter.

Is conflict a prize fight where we take our gloves off, risk injury and go after winning?  Or is conflict a dance where each party has a valuable part to play and the goal is to move together beautifully, powerfully in relationship?

Because of my research into organizational storytelling, I was prompted to go back and read the vision Loren Cunningham (founder of YWAM) had about impacting culture as missionaries.  It is often quoted as the foundation of the 7 mountain mandate.

I served with YWAM off and on for almost 7 years.   And in my YWAM training, I heard Loren teach multiple times (by video) on the mind-molders or the spheres of society that shape the way people think . But the vision I heard Loren share had nothing to do with mountains.  It was about being salt and light influencing these seven cultural spheres as missionaries.  His teaching was 180º from the 7 mountain mandate.

Wait, wait Michele…  It’s the same thing. Mountains, spheres, pillars.  It’s just semantics and imagery.  Why are you splitting hairs over this?

Let me show you.

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You don’t scale a sphere and influence from the top down.  You infiltrate a sphere, build relationships, and influence from the inside out.  You aren’t a mountaineer, you’re a missionary.  Let’s line these two worldviews up so we can see the differences.7M-07

Do you see how powerful and important how we choose to think and communicate is?   Our words literally frame our worlds.

The Example of Jesus

One of the greatest challenges to the 7 mountain mandate is the life of Jesus Himself.  He was born into a world desperately looking for a political leader.

If the understanding of cultural mountaineering was foundational to God’s Kingdom coming, Jesus would have given us a different example.  Instead we read, the only mountain Jesus scaled was to pray and remove Himself from those trying to force Him into a political leadership role.

Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.  – John 6:15

If we look at the metaphors Jesus used to talk about change and transformation, they were about inside out transformation not power over domination.

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Yeast causes changes from the inside the mix.  Light changes things by showing up in the middle of darkness.  Salt affects transformation by simply being present in the situation.

And finally, at the end of Jesus’ life when He stood before Pilate, He could not have been more clear about the nature of His Kingdom.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom (sovereignty & royal power) is not derived from this world (or it’s inhabitants). If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not sourced from this realm.” – John 18:36

Policy doesn’t change people’s hearts.  Only a love encounter with Jesus can do that. Trying to manipulate, “influence” and even legislate what we believe to be God’s will on the earth, squeezing fatally flawed man-made structures into a religious mold comes perilously close to witchcraft (spiritual manipulation even in Jesus name that is rooted in our own strength and understanding rather than what God is actually doing).

God’s Kingdom is not a subculture. We are a counter culture where low is high and the highest place of all is the lowest place of service.  If kingdom influence is determined by cultural power and esteem, Jesus was an epic failure.  His own culture crucified Him.  His greatest platform was realized in a death sentence on the cross.

Jesus Himself said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation {careful scrutiny and visual evidence}; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within, among and inside you.”

His Kingdom come.  His will be done.  On earth, in us, as it is in heaven.  Selah.

Love you friends.

 

 

 

Love in the Time of $&*t

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“Mama, if you stay here (in South Sudan) long enough your skin will become nice and black like ours.  You might have pale skin now, but you have Sudanese blood.”

I honestly don’t know I have ever been or could ever be given a higher honor than that statement.  To love a people so deeply you become in some sense part of them, even if for a short while.  My skin did darken, but it was more due to not mastering the art of the one-legged bucket bath than anything else.

When I heard what our current POTUS proclaimed over people I would have gladly given my life for, I just haven’t found words until now.  I’m hurt.  I’m saddened. I’m repulsed.  I’m angry.  But unfortunately I’m not surprised.

{Yes, I have heard the argument that his statement was misreported but from eye-witness accounts I have heard and read, he did actually call Africa the more profane version of a cesspool.  And yes I have heard the arguments that, oh he’s just being himself and using profanity to make a point.  Well, words matter.  And he has repeatedly tried to enact policy to mirror his words.  So isn’t just rhetoric. It is action too.}

I have stood on burning trash mounds with people who have been thrown away by almost everybody, including their own culture.  I lived right in the center of what Pres. Trump called an African $&*%hole for 7 years. 

And it isn’t.  It just isn’t.  I lived there.  It isn’t.

It is a place filled with stunningly strong people who have endured suffering most of us in the West can’t even imagine.  There is a perseverance and an understanding of community and family that have forever changed me.

I was the foreigner.  I was the one who barely spoke their language.  And they took me in.  They shared their words and their hearts and sometimes the last bit of food they had because THAT is who they are.

That Mr. President is not a $&*%hole.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is profoundly mistaken.

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This family had just lost everything except each other in a bombing run.  And they were concerned that I know God would always care for me.

Was it hard?  Absolutely.  Did it stretch me beyond my own limits?  Almost every day.  Did it cost me my health?  It did, for a season at least.  But those 7 years watching a nation be born, living right in the middle of it all, those years hold some of my dearest memories and people who will forever be held in my heart as the heroes they are.

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Even the littlest one gets her own greeting.  Culturally, greetings are very important.  Every single person in the room gets recognized with a handshake.

I’ve spent most of my adult life overseas in the color minority.  And every place I’ve been all I can do is marvel at how incredibly beautiful people are.  So as an artist I’m a bit perturbed by the paint color “flesh tint”.

“Flesh Tint” only applies to a small subsection of Caucasian-complected people with a peachy glow.  In a world of incredible skin colors, that moniker is myopic and ethnocentric in the worst sense.

About a year ago, I broke out my paints and laid a spectrum of flesh tints into my journal.  The One who I follow, His flesh does not match a pink-toned hue.   He is not an Italian supermodel or a paltry, pale-faced, miserable waif.

Jesus was Jewish.  He looks Middle Eastern.  He is life and joy and strength.  And He too was a refugee.  The nail-pierced One I follow was a refugee. 

He was born in a place that might qualify for Pres. Trump’s recent sentiments.  The King of Kings was born in a dirty, messy, dare I say $&*++y stable.

No matter what our flesh tint, we all bleed the same color.  Red.  And Jesus bled for all of us.

The only thing to me more disturbing than Donald Trump’s remarks, are those in certain corners of the church that seem to support his perspective outright, or acquiesce by excusing it.

Apologies can be received.  Repentance is absolutely possible.  And there can be forgiveness.   But beloved, there must not be excuses.

We who follow a Love-scarred Refugee Savior must do better than that.

How to Embrace the Sacred Now

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I’ve been wanting write this piece for some time.  I don’t usually write about my ongoing health issues because, well, truthfully the less mental real estate they take up, the better.  But sometimes the hardest won silent battles are the things that shape us the most.

Let me be really clear.  I do not EVER believe God sends sickness or tragedy to teach us a lesson.  That’s like saying it would be OK for parent to hold their five year’s hand down on a hot burner to teach them a lesson about obedience.  That’s not love.  It’s abuse.  But I do believe God never wastes our pain, the challenges of a broken world, the tragedies that split lives and families open wide. 

Four and a half years ago I came back to the USA from Africa with my health unraveling in almost every direction.  I was looking to hopefully find some answers that would put me back together.  While here, I had a routine dental check up from a former dentist who was substituting for my then regular dentist.  I had one questionable iffy spot so he suggested filling it as a precaution.

He did an old-school silver amalgam filling, right next to a molar with a gold crown.  That began a descent into hellish amounts of pain.  He unwittingly created a battery in my mouth and refused to fix it.  For three weeks, I had current running between those teeth.  I called and called in agony as the galvanic response was frying my trigeminal nerve.  First they told me to eat boiled eggs.  Then they stopped taking my calls at all.  Finally I found a new dentist who knew exactly what was happening and immediately switched out the filling for a non-conductive porcelain alternative.

But the damage had been done.

The second branch of my trigeminal nerve was fried.  A few weeks later I was in the ER after almost collapsing with the pain in a department store.  And this monster got a name.  Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia. a.k.a. the worst chronic pain disorder known to medical science.

Almost five years later, my mouth still feels like it has been scalded with burning hot coffee, some of my upper teeth still feel like they are abscessing and often it feels like I have an electric cattle prod jabbing my cheek.  Sometimes all at one time.  My face has fits and flares and there are days all I can do is take one moment at a time because that is all I can handle, and that barely.

And yes there are days I am angry.  Angry at the injustice and the arrogance that left me with yet another thing to deal with.  Frustrated that there was no legal recourse because our state laws seem to protect doctors more than patients.  There are days I want to pound my fist on the ground and rail against the pain and the fallen, broken cosmos that let it happen and trite platitudes thinly-veiled in spiritual veneer.

But fortunately that’s not most days.  I have to make a decision every moment to trust in God’s absolute goodness in between the now and not yet.  To focus on the beautiful unfolding around me. To stake my very existence on a radical stance of gratitude.

To choose to let that pain for as long as it is there drive me deeper into what I’ve started calling the sacred now.  Tomorrow has no grace.  Next week and month and year suck the grace and joy and strength out of today.

But by His strength, I choose to stay grounded in the sacred now.  Because present in this moment, in Him is an eternity of grace.  And I am learning that is enough.

Do you know the present is?  It’s a gift.

Staying present to the gift unfolding around me is one of the most profound journeys Jesus and I have ever taken.

“Now” sparks, burns brightly and then is gone. It is fleeting, frail and fierce all at the same time.  It is the gift of the sacred, infinite and yet so very fragile.

For me, it is no longer a question of what will I do with my one and precious life.  It is a question of what will I do with the only moment any of us ever truly have?  This one precious moment. This sacred now.

What will we do with the present we are given?

I want to unwrap it, savor its marrow, explore its depth, capture it in pixels and letters and learn every lesson it can teach.  To live boldly with no space for regrets.  To live fully, not frantically.

So that my friend is my prayer for you.  That in the middle of this moment you find the ocean of love and grace found in His eyes.

You who walk with chronic pain of any kind.  I’m still standing for healing for both of us.  You are not alone or weak or in any way less than.  You wage a silent war every day and all of heaven cheers you on.  And so do I.

Always remember. No matter what.  You.  Are.  Loved.

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