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May '05

Genesis of Something New

Why are all but 2% of churches in America on the decline or plateaued?  If you believe what the church growth movement tells you it is because we don’t know and communicate our purposes, work in teams, have small groups, and of course serve Starbucks coffee.  Now it may be too soon for me to sit here and talk about how the church growth movement is all wrong, but we held our first service this past Saturday and a few of things really stand out to me.

1.    Pulling off a weekend gathering is so much easier than people make it out to be.  What I mean by this is that we in the church spend so much time worrying about the weekend gathering that we miss out on what church is really about…PEOPLE.  Our very first gathering (referred to in church circles as a “service”) came off without a hitch.  We even had the fortune of finding our the janitor who was assigned to us is a Christian and goes to a church on the East Side of Seattle.  I wonder what would happen if more pastors spent less time focusing on our weekend gatherings and more on people and their development?  I mean come on, even in a situation like ours where we have rented facilities, borrowed, sound equipment, and minimal “services” it does not take a rocket scientist to put up some tables, light some candles, plug in some speakers and talk to people honestly about what the Bible says!

2.    People are really starved to interact with the religious process.  For far too long we have made Christianity about being a spectator, receiver, consumer, etc.  We give our congregations their “Marching Orders” and then expect them to be (in the words of Derrik Zoolander) “Good little automatons” and “go change the world.”  I have even thought this way myself in the past.  The problem is that if people are not given the chance to engage with the “process” of Christianity they will NEVER do the “work of the Kingdom.”  I have a case in point but must get permission from the “case” before I publish his story.  Sorry.  The minute we started telling people that Etumos is not just about listening but participating there was a collective sigh of relief.  When people started sharing their stories, there was a bond that took place.  When they read the verse in 1 Corinthians that talks about coming to church prepared to give something not just receive, you could see them light up.  It was like someone was giving them permission to BE THE CHURCH and not just “go to church.”

3.    People are Isolated, lonely, and tired of “putting on a show at church.”  Now, I have been in church my entire life and if I have learned one thing it is this:  People are not he same at church as they are at home.  I remember a man I grew up with who we all thought of as the model dad, church leader, and all around good Christian and it turns out that he abused his daughters both physically and verbally.  This is totally not all that uncommon.  We have created an environment where we come to a weekend “service” and people must put their best foot forward…smile and tell everyone that they are doing great when most of them are coming to church literally praying to be encouraged, loved and connect with SOMEONE who cares about them!  ENOUGH! I am starting to feel preachy, but really I am so sick of people coming to church and LYING about who they are, what they struggle with, and what they really like.  For example…the number one show on television for the past 3 months was Desperate Housewives.  If evangelical Christians make up such a huge number of people in the US it stands to reason that many of them are watching Desperate Housewives but we would never admit that at church because there is this unwritten rule out there that it is a “dirty” show.  “Real Christians” would never watch TV, and if they do it would be TBN or PAX at best.  What a load of crap.  We really need churches where people can be loved and accepted WHERE THEY ARE and not only “when they arrive.”

4.    Too much has been made of the need for structure and organization in the church.  Now, understand I am totally familiar with the “Biblical Model for Leadership in the Church,” if there really is such a thing….but what I am talking about is running a church like a business.  Can a business model successfully be superimposed over a group of people seeking God in the context of community and relationship?  I really don’t think so.  Even the new testament church screwed itself when it tried to get too structured.  Structure became a necessary evil really.  Things were going great for the Church until things became state run, formalized, centralized in power structure and hierarchal in nature.  I think we have taken the New Testament church and bastardized it to fit the context of modern leadership structures.  If you notice things like the counsel at Jerusalem and many of Paul’s writings, there was not a formal “Pastor” of the Church there was Christ, the Head of the church.  Then there were people who were teachers, shepherds and “overseers” of the individual churches. But I am talking about what the Outchurched.com guys call “The big ‘C’ Church.”  Individual churches HAVE to have some sort of leadership structure the question that I keep coming back to is what does that structure look like?   Does it look like the Pastor as CEO model?  Does it look like the Pastor as Shepherd model?  I am coming to think maybe it looks like something completely different.  Something that cannot be easily defined because first, no two churches are exactly alike so they would have different contexts.  Second because not two leaders are identical so style and structure must be unique.  Lastly because people in our society are changing and we may not have all the answers to what they will be like on the other side of transition.  I think what the church needs is a structure that empowers the end-user; a leadership style that gives away power; and leaders who’s main job is to equip not mobilize it’s people.  Equipped people with the appropriate motivations do not need to be mobilized they are self-mobilized.  It just makes it harder to package this kind of model, give it a name, publish it, and mass produce it.

Let me say emphatically that I by no means think I know everything (although you may not be able to tell that from my writing here).  These are just some of my observations about church.  I will probably look back in 10 years and recognize my own stupidity…Then again, maybe not.

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