The following are thoughts provoked by an email reply by Brett Oliver, friend and elder of Harmony Christian Church.
His reply was “It all boils down to the individual relationship with Jesus. That individual must seek the risen Christ – in fact, Scripture says that if someone is not seeking Jesus, he will hide his truths. We’ll never develop a plan or curriculum that will be successful in that – because it focuses on someone else telling us what Jesus wants and the emphasis is on the external transforming the internal. I’m convinced that the transformation you all are talking about, and should be our goal, comes from that individual seeking God and being transformed by the Holy Spirit. We can provide that environment and opportunities – but, I would caution too much structure and too much planning ahead…been there, done that – been rebukedJ!! I would simply look for that next step that God is calling you all to and be obedient to that – my prayer for you all.
My 2 cents-
I think the article in Christianity Today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/june/5.13.html) and the Reveal study does not encourage adopting a particular plan. Instead it reveals that Willow Creek thought that once they started people on their journey with Christ that growth would be perpetual, but in reality I think the study reveals that by removing barriers to following Christ people fail to count cost or realize responsibility.
Our culture is not only addicted to consumption, but it is equally addicted to entitlement. This, in my mind, is symptomatic of the fact that we hate to be in want. So, when we see something we want we either find a way to get it, or if we are unable to obtain it, then we complain that somehow it’s somebody else’s fault that I can’t have it. We see barriers as unjust, when in reality maybe they are intended to protect. We want a promotion. We go to our boss. We don’t get it when we think we should have it, and we automatically begin to blame those we see as responsible, namely our boss. We want a new TV. We go to Best Buy, but can’t afford to buy it so we either go into debt in order to get it, or we complain that we can’t get it because we haven’t got the promotion we deserve. The barriers to the promotion or TV seem unjust when we feel like we deserve them, but in reality the promotion may come with additional costs that we haven’t considered: more responsibility, more time at work, more weekends at work, or more travel. In failing to count those costs, because of our love of progress, we may find ourselves “wanting” things like they used to be.
Let’s transition this philosophy to church. We want to feel closer to Christ. We want to feel like we’re moving forward, becoming more like Christ. So, we go to the Jesus Gettin’ Place, aka church. We recognize our want for spiritual things as being good, but we fail to recognize that it’s a want that should never be fulfilled. So, when the preacher doesn’t deliver the goods in a way that fulfills my want, a want that I deserve to have met, then the preacher is at fault and so is the church for not giving me what I want. So, I become dissatisfied and I will either look for another church, stay and complain about the one I’m in, or drop out altogether.
Although plans and systems can change with time I do believe that God ordains plans and systems for a time to build His Kingdom. Just look at Old Testament worship and law. What an incredible and intricate plan for Israel to follow. LifeTeams is a plan for building community. We need a plan to help people become more reliant upon the Holy Spirit who through study and practice of the Scripture will eventually bring the comfort. There is nothing inherently wrong with desiring to learn from a teacher, but we can’t continue to blame a teacher unless they are a false teacher and even then you don’t blame them but rebuke them.
So, I agree that people need to recognize their need, their want for Jesus. They must desire to seek Him and serve Him. However, we as the leaders of the church must devise a process and renew a focus on how we train people to overcome their uncomfortableness with want, and to realize that how they pursue Jesus is paramount in determining their comfort.
Case in point on wanting and consumerism Engadget reports that a line formed at the Apple Store in downtown New York for no apparent reason. Rumors of a new 3G iPhone have been leaked recently with a late June timetable.
This is a journaling in order to answer the question, “What constitutes church?” Aside from purposes, targets, and programs how would I explain to an alien what the church is and how God designed it to exist both in corporate gatherings and dispersed?
Most of what I post today are questions, and I hope to be disciplined enough to return and elaborate as I study and evaluate.
What sparks this essay is a lunch conversation that I had recently that included some evaluation of where our local congregation is headed, and although it wasn’t said directly I believe I can say that there was an uneasy dissatisfaction with how things are going and with where we are heading. Most of it seemed to hinge on the big gatherings on the weekends, but I have begun to wonder if we place too much stock in that and it has caused me to ask, “Why is the weekend worship service the focal point?” The success of a church is largely measured by the numbers of people who come on a weekend. The majority of the energy of a staff is primarily focused on the weekend. We define whether or not a church is right for us based upon the weekend service. A majority of our personal satisfaction is bound up in our experience on the weekend in corporate gatherings. Is our condemnation of how consumer driven weekend gatherings have become really a condemnation on how consumer driven we are?
Can we honor God in corporate worship by providing some sacred space, some Holy Ground, and still be relevant or at least communicate the truth with relevance? Have we erred on the side of removing barriers to the point that we also keep people from counting costs when it comes to following Jesus? In essence by ignoring or minimizing the sacred have we just made a person’s decision to follow Christ much like a risk free trial of a new Nabisco cracker?
We need to battle, on one hand, with the balance of being the church who relates a message of hope, love, compassion, justice, mercy, and righteousness to people in such a way that they understand, and on the other hand being the church that looks so completely different from the rest of the world that it sticks out like a sore thumb. I think we quit asking hard questions about why we do what we do because we’ve become entertainment. Instead we should be trying to find a way to cut through the entertainment expectation with life changing words.
Where is the tension between helping people feel at home, and yet also helping them feel like being with Christ is nothing like home on earth? Where is the tension between having reverence for the King of Kings and feeling the love of Abba, our heavenly Daddy? Where is the tension that, in my mind, has been sacrificed on the alter of experience?
Have we lost sight of the fact that we are not supposed to save the world, but just tell the world. I wonder what church might look like if we began to measure progress by how many people to whom we clearly presented the truth.