Note: If you are new to this blog or feel behind because this is a #5, don't worry. It is not necessary to catch up by reading all of the previous posts, although it would help with getting a context for what this conversation is all about.
Measure your success by how you bless your community and the world over how you bless your members.
Many Churches of Christ (along with many evangelical church fellowships) have evolved into a fellowship, with their target and mission being self-focused, into a group who is more interested in serving themselves rather than blessing the world. Their idea of blessing the world is frequently limited to making them into one of us, and none too much more â€“ with the exception of supporting mission work so far away that they do not have to be uncomfortable with the radical differences in culture, practice, worship and so forth.
I went to a conference and heard Brian McLaren quote Dallas Willard say that success in the church of the past was measured by what it did for its members while the success of the church of the future will be measured by how it blesses the world (or something like that). This comment alone was worth the price of admission (it was the Zoe Worship Conference, so it was cheap anyway).
Churches who are concerned with blessing their own do things like this: spend lots of money and resources on their building, staff their church for every life-stage segment of their congregation, purchase expensive curriculum, promote knowledge accumulation through Sunday AM/Sunday PM/Wednesday PM/Mens/Womens/ and other categories of Bible study. They become what Leadership Journal calls, â€śfat churches.â€ť The majority of their efforts are geared toward making life better for themselves. Church growth expert Peter Wagner called this, "Koinonitis."
Now understand, these are good people who do have love in their heart, usually a lot of love. The problem is that they are embedded in a system that saturates their time with things to do, things to know, and things to feel, leaving no time for the world. If there was going to be any connection to the world through ministry it was going to be in extra time. But who has extra time when the church is absorbing it all? What they are doing is good, but it is insufficient. It is like they spend all of their time lifting weights with their right arm and not their left arm.
This kind of behavior makes sense in a fellowship that is more interested in being right than any other thing. However, when the obsession with rightness comes into balance (as in, no longer is the prime directive) with other spiritual responsibilities, this behavior no longer makes sense.
But, if we eliminate so much of the Bible knowledge accumulation time and all of the money, resources and staff that drive to that end, what do we replace it with? Here are a few ideas:
Equipping For Ministry: Some of the time and energy that was once used for knowledge accumulation should be used in training people to actually do something. Leadership, service, ministry, teaching, missions, art, music, and so forth.
Service Onramps: Equipping is only going to be more knowledge accumulation without a venue for ministry. The church needs to make connections with existing local ministries that serve the community or initiate their own. (And unless your idea meets a need or population that is currently not being met, then join someone who is already doing it).
Reimagine Spiritual Formation: The fear that most churches will have with eliminating some (of course not all) of the time and resources used for knowledge accumulation is that their members will become Bible illiterates, (or will no longer know why we are more right than they are - oh yeah, that does not matter anymore). Certainly this is a possibility, but what does Biblical literacy matter if all it produces is religious conversation among religious people? The church, in order to form spiritually, needs to act. In other words, what we risk in less attention to accumulation of Bible knowledge is not nearly as threatening to our memberâ€™s spiritual formation as what we risk in an absence of loving action toward the world.
These shifts are radical in nature. It would take reprogramming a church, renewing a church, revitalizing a church, re-educating a church â€“ or planting a church. These kinds of changes cannot be ram-rodded or force-fed to an existing church. It will take loving and patient, yet, bold and committed shepherding. I have seen churches split and disintegrate by forcing good change too fast.
At the same time, not pursuing these kinds of changes is tantamount to giving up. The bottom line is that God loved the world so much that he gave His son. It begs the question: How much do we love the world?