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.