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Tidbits from Renovare

I just got to Renovare’s July 2007 Perspective (thanks for the copy, Dad), and appreciated Richard Foster’s letter on the front, in which he addresses the propensity of churches to preserve the institution rather than get about living the life Jesus brings.

Many of his thoughts and observations are familiar to me, and I welcome Foster’s willingness to bring them to his readers again. In this particular letter, he lists several problematic characteristics of today’s church culture (emphasis on religious consumerism, style over substance, obsession with success and productivity, and “hectic, frenetic, jangling babel”) and observes:
And, sadly, we feel helpless to change these discouraging realities. We have not been given an alternative vision. We are afraid this is the only way of “doing church” in the modern world.
He goes on to list some tell-tales when institutional preservation is rearing its head (ie, energy expended on turf protection, “spirit of protectiveness,” or time and energy and money spent on the ABCs of church success) and I especially appreciated his observation that shifts towards these dangers are often subtle. When I think about my own weariness with how we “do church,” I often come to back to this point. The church bodies that I’ve been apart of (and loved) wouldn’t say we were obsessed with these characteristics, but these things somehow subtly shift and push and pull the institution in those directions.

I also appreciated another article in the newsletter, in which pastor Jan Linn writes about the process of transforming congregations towards spiritual formation and discipleship and away from institutional preservation. One of the very first things that must occur, he says, is what he calls “getting ruined to the old ways,” where our eyes are opened “to the fact that what they are experiencing is not what church life was intended to be.” Another is that we must accept that “transformation is not programmatic:”
There is no magic bullet that can turn a church around, no program that changes every church that tries it, and nothing close to a quick fix for years of being off track.
And third, “change is hard and slow:”
In this quickaholic society in which we live, people want instant results. But transformation works like yeast in bread, a seed growing in the ground. It is too bad we often do not have the patience to wait on it. . . . [T]ransformation is a mysterious work because the Holy Spirit is ultimately the source of it. The Spirit blows where it will, and often catches us off guard. Instant transformation is not the way the Spirit works. But the Spirit does work, which is why transformation does happen. God is always doing a new thing, Isaiah reminds us. The questions whether or not we want to be a part of it.
I am one of those who believes that the Spirit is blowing anew. There’s something happening in the hearts of those that follow Jesus. There is a transformation occurring within us and how we live together in the Kingdom and tangibly represent and be the Kingdom on earth. I’m grateful to Foster and other larger voices in the Kingdom who are helping us rethink what it means to be the church here and now.

(Image: copyrighted; Köln cathedral by a.stafiniak; via Wikipedia)