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Reveal: Part Two

In my last post, I outlined my understanding of Reveal according to what Willow Creek’s Bill Hybels and Greg Hawkins say in the two videos they’ve released about the agenda they’ve taken on.

So, what’s my take? To be honest, I don’t think Reveal is saying anything new to many folks out there. I’m only one of many (some of whom you’ll discover if you hop through my sidebar links) who’s been ruminating over how the way we do church today isn’t working all that well. The bottom line is that, as a whole, lives aren’t transforming and the Kingdom-living Jesus and the New Testament writers describe and lived isn’t the norm among us. (For more on my journey and how I arrived here, go here.)

That said, it’s encouraging to me to hear one of the most influential megachurches in the evangelical world come out with data that supports some of that. And I truly believe Hybels and Hawkins have a heart for Jesus and for those who don’t yet know him. That they are willing to even take on a survey like this—and its results—is commendable. And personally, I owe Willow Creek. Some of the material that’s come out of that church over the years proved very helpful to me in my walk with God. And it was through their web site that I found the church we attended in Alabama where I met and got to know some wonderful brother and sisters. And there’s the fact that the likes of John Ortberg and Scot McKnight—two voices I’ve really come to enjoy—are or have been affiliated with them.

But as I watched the videos, I caught myself thinking, They’re not asking the right questions. When I chewed on why I felt that way, I realized it stemmed from the language they were using to describe church: a place to help people become better discipless of Christ, a place to teach people, a place to help people become self-feeders, a place to help people learn to love God and people more. These are all (very) laudable activities and goals, but I can't help but ask, Is that what church is? A place you go to learn how to do these things? An organization or institution that teaches these things? And that’s when I realized why I thought the questions they were asking weren’t the right ones. I don’t think they go deep enough.

If we’re talking about fundamentally rethinking how we “do” church today, why not start with a much more basic question: What is church?

This is a question I’ve been chewing on for over a year. And, while I don’t even pretend to have a firm grasp on it, I have learned at least one thing: In our current church culture, our understanding of “church” is too narrow. It is too often limited in our minds and conversations to a place or an organization, but “church” is much bigger than a building, program, system, institution, structure, organization, set of doctrines or even a way of life: The church is the people of God. We don’t "go" to church; we don’t “do” church; we are the church, the “called out ones.” (I love how Wayne Jacobsen says he can no more go to or leave church than he could go to or leave “Wayne.”)

If I’m reading the Bible right, we people of God are intended to live together in such a way that his Kingdom is naturally manifested here-and-now. It breaks through and becomes visible wherever we go. Church then is the physical and local expression of the Kingdom of God, something that’s always existed to which Jesus gave us entrance (as Dallas Willard puts it). It is the physical and local expression of those wide open spaces of God’s rule of Life, Love and Rule that puts on skins and sheds them as the Kingdom grows. It’s expressed as we live together out of the life that comes as we live in and with Jesus, bearing characteristics such as fellowship, revolutionary mission (towards healing, right-ness, justice, life and reconciliation), always inviting others, deep community—but most of all love. As Jacobsen recently put it, “The best expressions of church life rise out of friends and friends of friends that Jesus connects together. In other words the church is not something we build by our efforts, but rises naturally out of people learning to live in his love and sharing that love with others around them.”

So, church is not a place to go but something we are—something that I'm coming to think of as more like family, combustible reactions and even "slugging" (a form of organic car-pooling here in the D.C. area) than a building or organization. How do we facilitate that kind of living-together and missional living? Now that’s a very, very good question—one I’ve been pondering for some time, and one that I think should be on that clean, white sheet of paper.

I’d add other questions to that paper, too, like: What is the Kingdom? How did Jesus describe it? The early church? What did it look like in the lives of those who’ve lived before us? Where do we see it now? And I’d look again at the purpose of spiritual disciples and spiritual formation—not as programs but ways to help us learn to live our relationship with Jesus. As Dallas Willard puts it, there’s always a danger "that spiritual formation will simply become a new label for old activities--for what we are already doing: worship, hearing the word, community, quiet time, plus a new twist or two such as spiritual direction and so on. Now all of these things are very important. But if spiritual formation merely becomes a new label for things we are already doing, it will leave us right where we are. And the issues of deep inner transformation will remain untouched. And I say with trepidation that there is a real danger of spirituality becoming a field of mere 'expertise,' of academic competence, focused upon 'religious activities.'"

What would happen, I wonder, if we let our concept of "church" develop out of questions like these, out of a serious (re)reading of Scripture, and hearts seeking God and what he is doing in the world here-and-now? Wow. I think it would be beyond our wildest dreams and imagination—just like everything else that has to do with God.


Mirtika said…
I was saved in a church where "church" meant the people. the building was where the church met, not the church itself. So, my definition of ekklesia came right early.

And that little church was like family--we met outside of church activities to mentor each other, to knock on doors for witnessing, to sing in someone 's house, etc.

It was, I think, the best time I had spiritually because there was so much camaraderie and joy.

Then that little church became cultish--by that time, I had left--and everyone tried to follow the New tEstament model of community--living in proximity, sharing all things. Eventually the stress of financial strains (everyone no longer owned anyhting, it was all in common) became destructive.

So, even when it starts out right--right doctrine, right mindset, many missionaries going out in to the world because the zeal was burning in the hearts, joy--it can easily take a turn into something excessive, even out of CORRECT motivation.

As someone who eschews all meetings for health reasons (I catch germies and have a hard time fighting them of), I've had to be a self-feeder. I hve no choice. I get some teaching online, on the radio, on cds, and I read the Bible and pray. But I miss fellowship and will return to it and test the immunity waters as I do periodically, to see if I'm more able to return to the fold, as it were.

I think the key point is our affluence. In poor nations, the church must band together and be family to help the faithful survive. Here, we are affluent and don't need to be fed, clothed, nursed the way the poor do. So, we look for higher levels of "actualization" in church, and it becomes bout ME MEMEMEME. We're a consumer culture, and even the church is tainted by it. I am. And the culture is so imposing--due to various assaults by constant media--that to counteract that with Bible and fellowship is a huge task. Hours of advertisers all over, technology, hedonistic temptations. No previous church had to deal with the constant lures to lust, self-gratification, etc.

In the N.T., believers had problems. Paul makes that clear enough. No perfection then, as now. But now, the devil has a bigger, stronger, louder soapbox, and the culture is listening to him.

Carmen Andres said…
mir, as always, i love your voice - it adds much to my thoughts and process :)

i read something recently, in a book on stewardship, that we often misinterpret how the NT believers lived - it wasn't a commune type system but rather a mindset that everything they owned was God's and to be used for his Kingdom; therefore whenever one of them was in need, others readily sold off or contributed what they had because it was God's resources to begin with. that kind of blows traditional tithing out the window, heh. but that's another subject.

i'm so with you on the affluence thing! 'nuff said.

again, it's a pleasure to have you in the world, mir!