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Entrepreneurial church…

October 22, 2007


Willow Creek Community Church (Bill Hybels), recently conducted an internal qualitative study to evaluate the effectiveness of their ministry over the years.  Check out this link–Willow Creek repents.  It seems that after 30 years of working at church from an entrepreneurial paradigm–business model approach that views the parishoner (seeker) as the customer and the church as the big box program provider–the results hoped for were not achieved.  The out-take of this study (admirable in it’s apparently honest and critical self-assessment), seems to be that the leaders are re-evaluating their core vision of the church. 

I am not throwing stones at Willow Creek.  For who among us has attained the fullness of expressing the way of Jesus in our gathered communities known as church?  I think it is commendable that they would be willing to ask the kind of questions asked in this study.  The question is–as it is for all of us who ask these types of questions–what are we willing to do with the data?

Call me cynical, but more and more I am skeptical of a version of Christianity that majors on expansive visions, promoted and hyped under the auspices of zeal for bigger numbers and more “results.”  Is that how the Kingdom of God breaks in?  Or is it like a mustard seed?

I am more impressed by the approach of Mother Teresa, or a contemporary expression in that mold such as Shane Claiborne and The Simple Way Community.  A form of Christianity that is more concerned about a way of living and loving and serving, than with growing organizations, structures, or programs.  One is a human, lived reality that I can relate to–it has a face (Matthew 25), the other smacks of the Gospel reduced to a commodity and distributed in sleek, flashy packaging. 

When I think about church in its congregational expression–I am somewhat disillusioned.  I wonder how deeply transformative this way that Christians gather in North America is.  Some may shrug this off as a ridiculous question.  Others consider this question worth asking.  My colleague in the Lancaster district, Ron Adams, was asking this question as a part of his D. Min. thesis.  Ron Sider was asking this question in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.  The way to health is not to live in denial, but rather to be open to the possibility that our current approach is not rendering the desired results.  The crisis of North American Christianity cannot be averted through positive confession, or naive denial. 

In our individualistic culture mixed with the entrepreneurial pragmaticism–church has come to be expressed more as program and service provider to consumers than any kind of sacred communion.  So I have misgivings about building bigger boxes so we can hire more staff, so that we can provide more programs, that will appeal to more customers. 

For several years, I find myself being drawn to a different current–an alternative expression of Christian community–call it church, but it doesn’t look anything like it’s traditional predecessor.  I am talking about ecclesial expression like missio dei, vineyard central, and inner metro green.  Hopefully, this admission will not be perceived as a betrayal to the congregational expression of church (of which I am currently a part and very much vested in as associate pastor of SMC).  Rather, I would hope that we could be willing to see the ways in which our forms and expressions of church have prevented us from participating in God’s mission.  We are not now, all that God is calling us to be.

So I think about what it means to be a Christian, to be part of a community of followers who have the audacity to believe that our lives matter–that our lifestyle choices, our words, our actions–have something to do with God’s Kingdom coming here on earth as it is in heaven.  And the scope of that is not so much the grandiose–“as the waters cover the earth”–but right under our noses in the unrealized opportunities of this moment, the person living on my street, doing the menial task, the mundane assignment…. 

What would happen if the Church would become invested in the communities, the structures…the sin issues of our context?  What would it look like for a people to not be the loaf of bread, but be the yeast in the dough.  What kind of structures would emerge?  Might the current structures need to be dismantled?  Yesterday at SMC, Conrad Kanagy raised the possibility that that (the dismantling of current structures that preserve the middle) might be what the Spirit is up to.  This is the type of question that was being asked at the Conference on Missional Orders (see the October 19 post of Andrew Jones). 

Essential Questions:

Can we read the signs? 

Are we willing to live as exiles, as opposed to those in the middle who have no vested interest in changing anything?

Or in the words of Jesus from our Gospel reading yesterday, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  (Luke 18:8)

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2007 2:12 am

    Brian – Well said, my friend. In fact, that was one the most inspirational reads I have run across in some time. I hear you, brother.

    We need to have that drink one of these days …

  2. October 24, 2007 11:56 am

    Brian. Have you been reading my mail? These thoughts and struggles of yours are the same over here as well. We are trying to ask these same questions. I just hope more of us start asking these questions.

  3. November 8, 2007 5:36 pm

    I am instigating a missional community called ‘via vita’ (way of life) in central PA. The basic tenet being that following Jesus is not about making religious institutions that withstand the changing times. The in-breaking of the Kingdom is subtle, hidden, and deelpy incarnational. We express it in the ways we embody Jesus’ sacrificial way of the cross. This way is not popular, tends to be countercultural, and requires faith borne of the Holy Spirit. Its been hard to get a core group connected to via vita. We gather to eat a meal, to pray simply, to listen to the Bible, and to encourage one another in the missio dei. That’s it. My prayer is to develop a core group of growing disciples/apostles willing to take some risks together in order to embody the message of the gospel publically. Right now, we’re still dreaming…

  4. just an apprentice permalink
    November 8, 2007 9:09 pm

    Hey Matt,
    I resonate deeply with the impulse you are attempting to express. I checked out your blog. Really appreciated your post on Joel Osteen.
    I think you know Rodney Martin. We met for coffee the other day and he mentioned connecting with a Lutheran pastor from Akron.

  5. just an apprentice permalink
    November 8, 2007 9:11 pm

    Hey Matt,
    I resonate deeply with the impulse you are attempting to express. I checked out your blog. Really appreciated your post on Joel Osteen.
    I think you know Rodney Martin. We met for coffee the other day and he mentioned connecting with a Lutheran pastor from Akron.


  1. God’s Kingdom Coming Here on Earth | Lo-Fi Tribe
  2. Exclusion and embrace… « just an apprentice

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