Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I don't get it...

I went to a conference for the past three days, listening to leaders from church, politics, and industry speak of principles regarding leadership: vision casting, conflict resolution, decision making, the vital role of honesty, character, and integrity, and much more. The conference offered inspiring music, creative drama, and video vignettes.

We learned about churches that are mobilizing their congregations to address the AIDS crisis in Africa, contribute the UN's Millenium Development goals, meet local needs in urban settings, and cast vision so that local churches such as the one I pastor become, in a real and vital way, the hope of the future. We were encouraged, refreshed, challenged, and inspired.

What mystifies me is that the conference was sponsored and developed by the Willow Creek Association. The mystery is that there are a host of people out there who view the Willow Creek Community as this vast departure from the true gospel. This sample article represents some of their arguments. The criticism seems to come from both the emergent movement (big churches are too institutional and thus impersonal) and the theologically conservative (mega churches are theologically weak, reducing the gospel to a redemption centered message). Other just don't like them because their church is too big.

It's true that "Seeker" churches are often weak in matters of discipleship and spiritual formation. But it seems that such criticisms often result in a dismissive posture towards all that could be learned. Thus is it possible to sit in our high towers and with clean hands, critique a movement that is at the forefront of bringing health care, clean water, AIDS intervention, salvation, dignity, hope, and all the rest that Christ brings, to millions around the world.

The criticisms are, to be blunt, quite irritating. Yes, I'll go elsewhere to study ethics, and gain my theological nuances from other sources and mentors. I read Barth, Bonhoeffer, NT Wright - it's all good. But of course there's a danger there too... does all the reading eventuate in the mobilization of people who are actually embodying Christ? ... or is it just reading? I'm so grateful for the example of Willow Creek because there out there, on the front lines, doing the deed and equipping others to do the same. I'll stick with Paul, stop judging the motives of others and say this: if a work results in the increase of Christ, I'll both learn from it and rejoice in it.


At 14/8/07 05:14, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with you Richard. In some quarters, bringing Christ to the world in a demonstrative way is received as overbearing or simple-minded, when alleviating pain and suffering should be one of our highest callings. Those who sit in their leather-bound book lined temples are galvanized to what?.... deliver a stinging rebuke for actions they would never consider...where's the love in that.

At 14/8/07 17:14, Blogger BenMc said...

Turns out the website of the sample article is also against Harry Potter and hate crime legislation. Not sure I'd listen to that site on anything, and I hope that's not taken as an example of normal scholarship. It's "grump-ism" pure and simple.

Isn't there a counter-current that it's often assumed that because "Plan A" was successful at Willow Creek it would be successful here? Or because "music A" sells a lot of CDs it's reaching a lot of people? That's a danger too. I'm a contrarian by nature who gravitates to the "underdog" side of the argument. Sometimes I'm right, sometimes I'm wrong.

Obviously Willow Creek does some things right. (I recall their children's curriculum was recently ranked very highly by Bethany's committee; it was a good one.) We need to listen to the success stories.

Nonetheless, I don't think we should be choosing 40 days with Rick Warren's book rather than 40 days in scripture and prayer as a church. We need both deep and wide. And I'd say we need both "hands and feet" in the church, as well as "eyes and ears." Most of all we need to hang on to the "Head" himself, on the cross, who brings us together, whatever other books we read.

And Barth and Bonhoeffer stood up to the Nazis; NT Wright is holding his church together while other forces are trying to rip it apart. I'd say they're the exact opposite of ivory-tower academics. So I'll read all them, and maybe I'll pick up some Rick Warren too.


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