A Faith Revolution is Redefining "Church" According to New Study
by George Barna
decades the primary way that Americans have experienced and
expressed their faith has been through a local church. That reality
is rapidly changing, according to researcher George Barna, whose new
book on the transitioning nature of America’s spirituality, entitled
Revolution, describes what he believes will be the most massive
reshaping of the nation’s faith community in more than a century.
Growth of A New Church
Relying upon national research conducted over the past several
years, Barna profiles a group of more than 20 million adults
throughout the nation labeled “revolutionaries.” He noted that
although measures of traditional church participation in activities
such as worship attendance, Sunday school, prayer, and Bible reading
have remained relatively unchanged during the past twenty years, the
Revolutionary faith movement is growing rapidly.
“These are people who are less
interested in attending church than in being the church,”
he explained. “We found that there is a significant distinction in
the minds of many people between the local church – with a small ‘c’
– and the universal Church – with a capital ‘C’. Revolutionaries
tend to be more focused on being the Church, capital C, whether they
participate in a congregational church or not.”
New Directions by George Barna
Many of you are
aware of the history of the Barna Research Group. For two decades
our team sought to provide "current, accurate and reliable
information, in bite-sized pieces, at reasonable prices, to
ministries in order to facilitate strategic decision-making.” That
was the vision statement that compelled us to interview nearly a
half million people in the course of hundreds of research studies,
provide seminar-based training to leaders from more than 50,000
churches, produce more than 60 books and syndicated reports, and
develop a website that provides free information to hundreds of
thousands of people every month. While we went through our ups and
downs during those two decades, the Lord was always good to us and
we were able to help many ministries.
My concern has always been whether
or not our assistance really made any difference in people’s lives.
The most discouraging study we ever conducted was one in which we
attempted to identify churches in the U.S. that consistently and
intelligently evaluate life transformation among the people to whom
they minister. We found that very few churches – emphasis on very –
measure anything beyond attendance, donations, square footage,
number of programs and size of staff. None of that necessarily
reflects life transformation. Further, our on-going research
continued to show that churches do not act strategically because of
a paucity of leadership. My objective had always been to get good
information into the hands of leaders so they would convert those
insights into great strategic decisions about how to minister more
obediently and effectively. Not having the leaders in place to
utilize such information was an obstacle I had not foreseen.
To make a long story brief, I hit a
point of crisis at the end of 2003. I did not want to stop
ministering to the Church; I simply wanted to do something that
mattered. Giving information to people whose sole interest seemed to
be searching for facts that confirmed what they had already chosen
to do, or seeking statistical evidence to support their teaching,
was not something that seemed like good stewardship. My passion was
to work with ministries to facilitate genuine life transformation.
Frustrated, upon the completion of our 2003 seminar tour, I told the
Lord I could not continue doing what we had been doing for the past
- CEO—Senior Pastors Passé?
"Why is the approach
to leadership we are suggesting better than other models (CEO/Senior
It happens from within the
community, not above it or "set apart" (negatively understood) from
it. Rather, it is consistent with the words of Jesus in Mathew 23
(see the Message). Thus, it includes every one. Everyone and anyone
can feed, serve and be led by the Spirit; in short, all the basic
stuff Peter and Paul and the others were commissioned to do (Cf.
Gal. 3:26-29. Corporate structures by their vary nature exclude.
They exclude or at best marginalize the young, the disadvantaged,
the handicapped, women, retired people, the inexperienced, the less
gifted, the less intelligent, etc.
It tries to take serious, in
practice (and not just give doctrinal lip service to), the facts
that: 1. The rule and reign of God our Father created the church
(the people of the Kingdom); that 2. Jesus is the head of the
church; and that 3. The Holy Spirit is Jesus' Vicar (substitute or
"continue-er") on the earth today leading the church (Cf. John 13-17
and 1 Cor. 12-14). This does not set aside human, Spirit-led
functionality, but defines it and sets its limits of power and
authority. Working with people in their
journey-of-being-led-by-the-Spirit is not a position of weakness; it
is the strongest, most secure position. "When one chooses order and
control over Spirit-freedom, you end up getting neither."
(Paraphrase of Benjamin Franklin.)
It tries to answer the question:
"What does it mean to lead a group of people who are supposed to be
following someone else-namely God the Holy Spirit". It also suggests
as a hypothetical answer: spiritual leadership, humanly speaking,
serves and coordinates the divinely sponsored activities of the Holy
Spirit among the gathered or scattered community of Christ.
It does not have the corporate
culture of control and "pleasing those above you" that is implicit
in hierarchical systems. No matter how good-hearted people are,
layers of management and bureaucracy scream "CONTROL"! to those who
are "underneath" and "below". This may be appropriate in certain
situations (Crisis? The military?), but it is not normative for the
church. We are called to create environments where people can do
without feeling threatened, restrained, or made to jump through
unnecessary hoops in order to fulfill the dream God has put in their
It is leader-full; a place where
every member of the Body is a potential leader (situationally) as
the Spirit enables them. It creates "places of realized potential"
(Max DePree), giving people the opportunity to learn and grow. The
role of leaders is to unleash "the leader" that is in every
Christian. Other systems, claiming great leadership, with one man or
a few people on "top" doing all the leading, are actually
leader-less in comparison.
It puts the agenda of the Kingdom
first, thereby automatically setting aside, or making secondary the
agenda of "leaders" and "followers" alike. This will likely put most
of us on a journey to confront (with the grace of God, the power of
the Spirit, and the love of supportive community) our issues with
fear, pride, promotion-of-self, lack of faith in the unseen world,
control, power and authority.
It steers us away from the default
position of the singular, white, male leader. (Singular leadership
usually evolves into a hierarchy wherein the "leader" shares "his"
power with others "down line". NOTE: such an idea and such behavior
are antithetical to point 4 above.) New models of leadership help us
to not pour all the new, key ideas we are learning back into that
old container, thereby releasing true, Spirit-led creativity.
It judges leaders not merely or
primarily by the fulfillment of tasks, but by the quality of the
community (the tone of the body) they form in the exercise of
leadership and by the numbers and kinds of followers they obtain for
Jesus, not for themselves.
- Twenty Questions for Steve
In honor of the Vineyard’s 20 year anniversary, we thought it would
be appropriate to ask Steve Sjogren , Vineyard Community Church ’s
Founding Pastor, 20 questions about his life, his work, and his
thoughts about the future.
1. Vineyard pioneer
John Wimber experienced a spiritual awakening—a moment of moving
closer to God—literally in the Sonoran Desert . It took him a few
more years to turn his life over to Jesus. How did you personally
come to believe in Christ and begin a relationship with Him?
I wasn’t raised in
church. We were ethnically Swedish so we went to a Lutheran church 2
or 3 times a year, but it was a very liberal church. I remember that
the pastor lead classes in transcendental meditation on Monday
nights! I had never read the Bible but I intuitively understood that
this church was off the wall... [
read more ]
I recently have been sharing our
vision and dream of being a missional community in the western
suburbs of metro-Detroit with some friends. One friend in particular
sent me an email that summarizes well what God has placed in my
Hi Jim, I
guess the appropriate focus-group term is "processing" with regard
to your vision for this new church work as described last night.
Perhaps it's a reflection of how far I have come in the past few
years that I do not simply dismiss your strategy as backsliding,
which was what I'd associated with this type of endeavor in the
past. Dropping out of "church," leaving "full time ministry" and
getting a "real job" would indicate a step in the wrong direction
for any servant of God, but you make a compelling argument that has
intrigued me like little does, except maybe what to do with my
property in (a US state).
I wonder if I may articulate your argument in my own
words, like the repeating back technique you recommend for
communicating with (wife's name), just so I get it?
First of all, you are redefining terms. "Church" is
not an organizational structure with a payroll, staff, property,
or a yellow pages ad. It is not a distinctive meeting time, place,
or system of corporate rituals and traditions. It is the pure New
Testament description of believers getting together informally in
each others homes. There are no committees, preludes, board
meetings, or nursery schedules. There are no Sabbath days, no Sunday
dresses, polyester suits, or Easter cantatas. Everyone knows pretty
much everyone else, no visitor cards, membership classes, or
pastor's chats. "Full time ministry" is literally full time, not
eight hours a day five days a week, or one morning a weekend. And a
"real job" is just a job, where you are a real person, not a figure
to whom folks impulsively stop swearing around or take off their
Spiritual gifts are not qualifications to fill slots
on an organizational chart, but individual expressions of
compassion, love and empathy being used personally to meet needs as
they arise. Leaders are not nominated, approved, or elected but
simply rise to address occasions as they come up, within the
maturity of the individual.
Training is not done in a classroom, during a
seminar, or over a weekend retreat but while shopping, doing the
yard work, at the ball game, washing the car, or killing time during
a power outage.
It is an environment where there is no image
management, since everyone knows you anyway. A safe place away
from the world, if only for a few minutes of relief.
Kids do not behave one way at school and another at
"church" since their peers are their peers.
Rather than raising the bar, you propose to lay it
on the ground.
It would be easy to say that this is simply a knee-jerk
reaction to a somewhat frustrating ministry. Your Dad seems to have
had a more or less unsatisfying experience as a pastor, Syndie has
chafed under her parents church ideas, you both had the church from
hell in California, and neither one of you get a full measure of
recognition at CCC. However, I know you well enough to know you
relish lessons experienced during those learning times, and see them
as necessary and profitable parts of preparation for a bigger plan,
not a string of disasters. I also realize that pure folly is doing
the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I have
witnessed God moving so many people in different directions, myself
included, that I cannot begin to fathom the complexity of His master
plan. I acknowledge that God is not "traditional," and He
reserves the right to be results-oriented as long as His servants
are willing to be "obedience" oriented. Church as we have known it
is becoming increasing irrelevant in our culture at large, even as
we insist that God is all that is truly relevant.
Pitching the last couple of millennium of church is not
going to be easy for me. When you first asked me to help you with a
church plant, I was not very interested. I can honestly say, this is
the most interesting church I have ever conceived.
If this is truly God's easy yoke design, I marvel at
how complicated we have made it.
Will it work?
Todd Hunter's Web Log
In the April edition of Seven—an
on-line magazine—my British friend Jason Clark wrote
an article assessing what is
loosely called “missional communities” (below). After saying several
positive things, Jason raises a couple questions that we all wrestle
with. I want to interact with his observations about leadership
theory within missional communities.
"In missional communities
leadership by people is often seen as unneeded, and the Holy
Spirit becomes the group’s leader. Perhaps in reaction to the
CEO leadership of the modern church, these communities embrace
the Holy Spirit as their leader. This can lead to powerfully
moving mutual submission to each other, or alternatively to
people [being] unable to make decisions, and lead, as they are
subject to community consensus of what the Spirit is saying.
Aversion to pastoral authority and intervention can also leave
the groups able to be very abusive, with no one able to call the
group or individuals to accountability."
As I said
above Jason is true friend, and I don’t have a beef with him; he is
“in the game” and deserves to be heard. More than putting forward an
argument, (in fact I think I could list more problems than Jason
does) I want to describe a picture that may help us all down the
path of this important—there is hardly anything more
I sincerely want to know how to give more than lip
service to the notions that “Christ is the head of the church” (cf.
Mt. 20:25ff; 23:6ff, etc.) and that the Spirit is his present vicar,
something like the “executive pastor” to the “head of the church”
(John 14 & 16; I John 2:20, etc.). Now I know that the “pastorals”
seem to present a more “human”, less “direct-God” form of
leadership, but lets tease this out a bit further.
I wonder if we have focused almost solely on the
pastorals because they fit our biases about leadership, while
ignoring the Spirit-dimension because it seems too hard, too
otherworldly and too messy for our efficiency, excellence driven
church cultures. I am theorizing that more God-directedness and less
entrepreneurial, CEO-ness could help us a lot. What do you think?
How could we “organize” for such a thing (and I don’t mean to say it
can’t be done)? John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard and my earliest
mentor, mentioned in his work on the gifts of the Holy Spirit that
the Greek word for “manifestations” in I Cor. 12 is “phanerosis”.
Mel Robeck, a professor at Fuller, I believe, says the word can mean
something like “the dancing hand” of God, like a puppeteer (just a
metaphor, I don’t mean to minimize the human element), moving on the
gathered congregation, causing/spurring people to participate in
mutually edifying ways.
What if leadership can be a “touch” from God just like
a “word” or a healing, etc.? This way everyone could legitimately
think of himself or herself as a potential leader. Everyone could
lead from time to time as the Spirit enabled. Now, as Jason
suggests, this does not and cannot work when people are seeking
their own way, their own agenda or seeking to “win”. This will only
work, and even then with some difficulty, when everyone has agreed
to make the agenda of the Kingdom, as led by the Spirit, and the
growth of the community's members preeminent.
Next, what if “a touch” could (and I believe this is
possible) last for years or decades? Then we would still need a way
to keep potential, Spirit-led leadership in the imaginations of
every member of the community. We would also have to provide
resources and create environments of risk taking that do not punish
- "Missional Communities" by
A friend of mine likens visits to western churches
as akin to taking the 'Jurassic Park' ride, in the film by Stephen
Spielberg. They are often full of rare species, demanding detailed
exegetical sermons, gargantuan in structure, voracious in appetite,
consuming so much time energy and money foraging for food, that they
have little left for those around them. And like the dinosaurs they
are out of place, out of touch and in danger of becoming extinct.
This might be a surprise to many of our dinosaur churches, but
increasingly there are many voices from within the church about the
prospective demise of the western church.
Another friend of mine said to me "The last two years
have seen a number of significant books speculating on the future of
Christianity. I suppose the Millennium is a good time to take stock;
to look back over our modest successes (from 12 Christians to over
two billion in two thousand years) and some spectacular failures
(100 Hymns for Today)"
What is the cause of this demise? You have probably
heard the word modernity, and the much overuse word post-modernity,
with all its fashionable derivatives (many of which you may already
object to J).
Well it seems that the change to post-modernity, (if I
can put it in it's crudest terms, how people form beliefs about
belief), is so seismic, that our churches are left standing on the
broken and shaking ground of modernity, which formed their
foundations. Our dinosaur churches are locked in a culture and
belief system, produced by modernity, that our western world, by and
large, no longer inhabits, leaving our churches irrelevant.
The past few years saw many books trying to convince us
of this predicament of the church. Yet recently there have been many
further voices, books, web sites, blogs etc., trying to go further,
and offer suggestions as to a way forward, and avoid this demise.
A review of church history shows us that there is
nothing new in this situation, and offers us some comfort. The
church has faced monumental changes in culture, like the transition
from a pre-modern medieval worldview to a modern worldview, and has
faced our "Jurassic park" quandary repeatedly. Most of the lessons
to learn seem to be how the church has had to rediscover its
purpose, mission and meaning, and has formed new ways, whilst
revitalizing old ways, of doing church. Already the suggestions, and
examples being used are so many that I'll need to point you to some
of the books on it (see end of this essay), as they are beyond this
article. One particular model, response, formation and re-formation
has been 'missional communities', and is the one I have been asked
to comment on.
Sodalities & Modalities
One problem is that new 'missional communities' are
so varied and different, how do we make an assessment of them? I
have found the idea of 'modalities and sodalities' helpful in this
regard. The terms are from anthropology, and were introduced to
church growth by Ralph D. Winter in 1971 (Winter, The Warp and Woof
A modality is a church/group with hierarchy and
vertical structure that has people of all ages, and stages of life,
involved in the life of the church at many levels. Some people are
very committed, whilst others due to life stages, beliefs, and
choice are nominally involved.
Sodalities on the other hand are much more
narrowly focused. They are usually very task and relationally
focused, where belonging to the community means deep, and multiple
commitments. It is almost impossible to be nominal part of a
sodality as they define themselves by high commitment levels. These
high commitment, narrowly focused groups, have enabled the church to
rediscover what Christian faith is, and preserve it in a time of
dilution and ineffectiveness.
Again a review of church history shows us that at times
of large cultural change, the church has often responded by starting
sodalities, when it becomes marginalized. In the Catholic Church,
sodalities were given expression as monastic orders. The protestant
church in rejecting Catholicism, saw sodalities as invalid. It
wasn't until the time of William Carey (Hailed as 'Father of Modern
Missions') a Baptist minister who in 1792 published Enquiry, the
classic delineation of missions, and helped found the Baptist
Missionary Society, that sodalities were accepted by the protestant
Missional communities in post-Christian countries can
be seen as an extension and acceptance of the sodality model of
mission. In church history there have been many marginalized,
sodality groups, and one in particular that is currently in fashion
and vogue, that new missional communities are drawing on, are the
The Anabaptists, were marginalized, and persecuted by
both the Catholic Church, and the Reformers. They mainly saw church
and civil state as evil, and formed sodality communities, with
subversive theology and non-hierarchical structures, where
commitment levels were high. In deed many historians have seen the
Anabaptists as revising and using medieval monastic forms.
That rather crude history lesson is an attempt to place
missional communities in context. So how are they doing, and what
can we learn from them?
In my readings, research, church planting
experience, and involvement with Emergent viewing missional
communities, I have found much about them that is helpful, and some
things that concern me.
First the helpful things. By the way not all these are
exclusive to missional communities but they are key to them.
1. A reminder of mission. In the past mission,
was seen as something churches sent people out of to do. Now
missional communities remind us that we need to be missionaries in
our own, post-Christendom/Christian culture. We are no longer
Christians inhabiting a dominant Christian culture, sending
missionaries to un-churched peoples. We are now all missionaries, in
an un-churched/post-church culture.
2. The Hermeneutic of Community. An authentic
community of people living differently, with Christianity as an
alternative basis for living, and not just a set of propositional
beliefs, becomes a powerful apologetic for our postmodern culture.
In post-modernity, there is no truth except that expressed in
community. To access truth you have to be involved in an authentic
life changing community.
3. Spiritual Formation. Becoming a better person
and more like Christ, practicing Christian disciplines, is
rediscovered, and valued highly in these groups. To belong to the
community is to be an active disciple seeking to grow as a
Christian. Ascribing primarily to intellectual knowledge as the
basis of Christian faith is not highly valued. Being a Christian in
thought, word and deed, is.
4. Holism. A faith that permeates work, home,
and neighborhood, and every area of life is vital to these groups.
It?s about fitting my life into Christianity not Christianity into a
compartment in my life.
5. Social Justice. Care for the poor, and
socially abused is of high value to these groups. Ministry to the
poor, issues of social action and justice are seen as a normal part
of Christian faith and expression.
6. Power from the margins. Probably most
significant is that all of the above combine to remind us that the
church can speak from the margins of society and affect it
profoundly, which is where the church is increasingly finding itself
in the west, today.
1. The death of public space. Many missional
communities pride themselves on being hard to find, having no
advertising, no teaching, minimal programmes, no obvious leaders. To
attend one is to run the risk of being subjected to uncertainty,
food and relationship. Missional communities are in danger of
inviting people into their worst fear, forced intimacy, sharing, and
lack of public space. People want to be able to watch, listen,
observe, without pressure to be involved. Yet missional communities
by their nature make this very hard to do. People who visit and
don't stay, can be seen and labeled as 'consumers', whereas the
group validates people not joining by seeing themselves as committed
and 'real' Christians. In fact missional communities have always
been small, as they have always been hard to join.
My worry is that rather than being open communities,
they can become closed and as culturally exclusive to people around
them as the modern church. The term 'missional community' means
nothing to the average un-churched person, but is a signifier to
other Christians of the nature of the group.
Rather than new communities that are full of new
believers, they often become small communities made up from tired
and burned out Christians, fed up with church, finding the new
community a place of idealism where everyone is practicing hard core
Christianity, compared to the compromising modality of the main
church they have left.
2. Despising the larger church. Missional
communities often despise the larger church. After all if they were
real Christians wouldn't they all be in missional communities!? In
extreme I have seen missional community people describe the main
church as an abusive alcoholic parent that they need to separate
from. Their communities are places of safety from abuse, and where
their children, can grow in faith without the knowledge of the
Built into the history of missional communities, as we
have seen and the drawing on Anabaptists, means that many
communities will find their identity in seeing state and church as
evil. I heard someone in a missional community say that all churches
should be closed, and pastors fired, and people forced into
missional community, and that it would be beautiful! (I know one
over enthusiastic person does not make a movement J)
Maybe mainline churches won't be able to transition,
but are the people in them 2nd class Christians, which is how they
can feel labeled? Missional communities can arouse the resentment of
mainline churches, and thus history repeats itself.
3. Lack of leadership and pasturing. In
missional communities leadership by people is often seen as
unneeded, and the Holy Spirit becomes the groups leader. Perhaps n
reaction to the CEO leadership of the modern church, these
communities embrace the Holy Spirit as their leader. This can lead
to powerfully moving mutual submission to each other, or
alternatively to people unable to make decisions, and lead, as they
are subject to community consensus of what the spirit is saying.
Aversion to pastoral authority and intervention can also leave the
groups able to be very abusive, with no-one able to call the group
or individuals to accountability.
What can we learn in overview? Missional communities
are repeating parts of our church history that should encourage us.
Through their experimentation strong voices will emerge that will
influence the main church and our communities.
History also teaches us that many will fail. We can and
will learn from both. In our church, we have tried to become
missional, learning from these communities by trying to take to
positive lessons and see our selves as missional, with a hard
committed centre of people, working out their faith in life changing
But we don't want to give up the modality, the public
space, the front door, that enables people around us to enter into
our community, and ultimately be challenged to deeper commitment, to
a life given over to following Christ in community.
Someone in a missional community asked me if we were a
missional community. I replied yes, and his next question was did we
have Sunday services, to which I said yes again. He was aghast. How
could we be missional and have Sunday services he asked? I horrified
him further by saying we still had preaching and teaching. Yet 60 %
of our church has grow from un-churched/pre-Christian peoples, and
most of our current growth is from people who previously thought of
themselves as not Christian.
So what makes us missional? Reaching people around us,
to have Christ as their basis for living, or changing our progammes,
for Christians who are tired of services, teaching, pastors?
There is a danger that we unnecessarily re-invent our
churches, to please tired Christians, rather than radically reach
those around us.
13th March 2003
Robert Weber, The Younger Evangelicals and Ancient Future Faith
Stuart Murray, Church Planting
R Allen, Missionary Methods
E Gibbs, Church Next
A McGrath, The Future of Christianity
Pete Ward, Liquid Church
Z. Bauman, Liquid Modernity
D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism
Todd Hunter's Web Log
This morning's "shower" thought: I know
there are millions--literally--millions of acts of generosity,
redemption and God-deeds done everyday by the "church", by average
people who are trying to live in God's Story. So maybe my worry
yesterday has no basis?
OR, it makes my point: God's "Divine Conspiracy" is
NEVER dependent on buildings, programs, staffs, budgets and the like.
Saying, "not dependant" is not the same as saying "they are of the
devil" or something; just that they are periphery. The real action is
PERSONAL, Spirit-led (as opposed to programs, etc.) and ground level.
The article on
postmodernmission regarding Re-imagining the church--turning it
inside, out says what comes to my mind here--no need to repeat it.
Eugene Peterson once put it to me this way: "Todd, why
would anyone WANT to start programs? Programs are what you do when
you have to because God has sent a revival or something that temporarily
overwhelms you. But as soon as possible you would want to stop the
programs and find a way to go back to smaller numbers. This is true
BECAUSE, ministry is, by definition, personal. When it stops being
personal, it is no longer ministry--it is some sort of mutation."
That is almost a direct quote... three years
later it still rings in my ears... and demands that I die a still further
death: death to "success", to the approval of my peers, friends, family
and my sub-culture, etc. Oh well, here goes…the journey calls and I am
going even if I do feel like a fool part of the time…maybe it is “the
spirit of Wimber” (my main mentor…and Hannegraff's BEST friend; Wimber
put lots of H’s kids through college, bought him a nice luxury car,
etc.) rumbling around in me… ”I am a fool for Christ, who’s fool are
I'll be back in this space Friday. Tomorrow and
Thursday I am in San Diego teaching at the Emergent Conference.
Todd Hunter's Web Log
I said when I started blogging that I
was going to be more self-revealing. I’m not sure, other than the first
one, that I’ve done so… but I’m trying. So, here goes…
I had one of those “shower” thoughts this morning
It went like this: I sometimes worry about myself these
days. I feel so “negative” or pessimistic about the church or actually,
“church”, not The Church (God will never let The Church go too far
wrong). I remember worrying the same way about Ralph Neighbor when I
read his book (though I am not a great fan of the “house church
movement” if it merely moves “church as we have known it” into a house,
this is no slam on Ralph, I know from others he is a good guy). He
seemed angry, maybe even bitter or cynical; about he church. So how
could I end up in a place that I didn’t like in others (understanding
that I could be wrong about Ralph)?
I think I am just human, “curious…in the image of God”.
I love to investigate and learn-- especially if it can help others to
shape the church. I have spent my whole adult life (27 years) thinking
about all things church. The scary part is that I have changed a couple
times in 27 years (thus it is fair for you to consider whether I am a
reliable guide!) in my whole-hearted, honest search for
I can’t stop the thoughts in my mind that wonder if
God, his Christ, the Spirit and the apostles really intended church to
be mostly about (despite the protests of its defenders; the ones fully
invested in the system) about programs, the vision of one man, single
issue churches (i.e. anti-this or that, “outreach”, therapy, and on and
on), buildings, professional staff, corporate “alignment” that excludes
the weak, marginalized and least among us—the very ones Jesus and my
heroes Vanier, Nouwen and Teresa included.
I know that some churches or some people in
churches find their way in to something more meaningful than the above.
In fact, the little Methodist church I grew up in had a fantastic
“community” of elderly Christians who, in the Spirit of Christ, really
cared for each other and the larger community of Santa Ana. I know
“community” is a big topic today, but I wonder if it goes far enough. I
wonder if the community-talkers need a good dose of Bonhoeffer to take
the edge of the marketing aspects I now see being associated with
“community” while we ignore the authentic communities all around us.
It is easy and takes little brainpower to rant against
the church (which I do not mean to do) and I know that others are
hundreds of years ahead of us (the whole Anabaptist tradition, among
others) asking similar questions. I hope these mental ramblings, in the
end, help. In fact, let me put forward a possible alternative.
What if we could think more about the Kingdom of God
and less about “church-as-we’ve known-it?” What if instead of trying to
“get a vision” (in the entrepreneurial sense) we tired to get God’ s
vision for the planet and its people? What if we thought of
ourselves as “the sent people of God on a journey together trying to
figure out how to be his people and live into and out of His Story”
instead of people who show up at the same building—on average—2 times
per month? What if we thought of our “natural” life as our communities
(work, school, neighborhood, etc.) instead of driving 30 minutes across
town to “go to kinship/house-group,” etc. What if we spent our lives
conversing about and attempting to embody, announce and demonstrate the
Kingdom? You don’t need fancy meetings to do that, AND, fancy meetings
don’t usually ever get there.
I am gratefully indebted to people like Wright,
Willard, Peterson, Newbigin, etc. Stimulated by them, I hope to think
good and righteous thoughts and do good righteous and deeds that lead to
expressing the Rule and Reign of God. When the journey is over I hope
those authors, the cloud of witnesses and God will be proud of me.
But as for now, I’m a little worried…
Todd Hunter's Web Log
I once asked Eugene Peterson: "Why do
you suppose my generation of pastors messed things up so bad" (with
reference to the way Eugene conceives of being church and doing pastoral
work)? His answer stunned me, but also seemed intuitively right. He
said, "Most of you guys were not willing to be seen as unsuccessful in
the eyes of your peers, which in your era meant a rather mindless
pursuit of numbers, growth and programs ran by professional managerial
So I wonder. Why now? Why the shift in some of us the
past five years?
I can't answer for everyone, but for me (and I suspect
for others as well), it is a matter of "conscience". By conscience, I
mean a combination of prayer, thinking, experiences and intuition that
leads me to "not be able to do anything else". Thanks to people like
Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright I have a different since of what it means
to be a Christian and the church; thanks to Peterson I have a new sense
of what it means to be a "pastor"; thanks to the sociologists of
religion, I now know that the celebrated approaches to "church growth" I
employed my whole life do not work--don't even come close--to making the
kinds of disciples the "idea leaders" of my life, the scriptures, God's
Story and now I, envision.
I do not mean to say that others, using different
approaches and operating from different assumptions, are not trying to
do the same. It is just that I see the outcomes and think "one's systems
are perfectly suited to achieve the results you are now getting". Which
means (and here is the source of my main personal "discomfort") we must
ask big questions--usually a controversial process--and suggest useful
alternatives. I don't like to be controversial--it is totally contrary
to my temperament--but I dislike the state of Jesus-followership even
more--which leads me back to my conscience...
So, no matter what it costs, no matter how much we have to
"deconstruct", no matter how much it takes me out of my comfort zone, I
must pursue being a follower of Jesus and help others become the same,
in way that is as true to our Story as we possibly can.
"People who leave the
church aren't necessarily abandoning God, according to a pastor and
sociologist studying what he calls "post-congregational" Christians.
Rather than being marginal churchgoers, Alan Jamieson found in
research for his book, "A Churchless Faith," that 94 percent had
been leaders -- such as deacons, elders or Sunday school teachers --
and 32 percent had been full-time ministers. To Jamieson's
surprise, he also found that for many the break came not because they
lost their faith, but because they wanted to save it."
- Flocks Stray from US Churches
"The number of churchgoing Americans who have quit
attending has grown to 14 percent of the population in the past decade,
up from 7 percent, and millions of them are baby boomers who were
part of the "Jesus movement" of the 1970s. Church-growth experts
say religious bodies that are losing parishioners either don't want
to hear about the problem or elect to seek new recruits instead of
trying to win back those who have left. The most common reason
people leave church, Mr. Rainer [Thom S. Rainer, dean of the Billy
Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern
Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky.]
says, is that it's too similar to their everyday lives. They are
searching for a spiritual community, radically different from their
workaday environment, that demands a higher commitment."
- Does Your Church Really Need a Big