Comments and thoughts on ecclesiology

Ok, I’m making my response and thoughts on comments to Thoughts on “Pastoring Thoughts” an entry in itself!
I think Willow Creek is great – for being a megachurch and being committed to the discipleship of every member. It is a “success story” of sorts, to be applauded. I think I was unclear here: the problem is that the leadership of many (other) churches are awed at Willow Creek, think, “Wow, that’s the way to do church,” and then try to copy it wholesale for their church (which is most likely congregational in form, and more on that later). Then they wonder why their “plan” isn’t working.
I think there is a larger issue at hand: much of our churches’ leadership lean towards “doing church growth” because we’re uncritical of the underlying consumeristic values in our culture – that “bigger is better”, for example.
It’s pretty safe to say that Christ values quality (the heart) and not necessarily numbers (the parable of the woman giving her 2 coins is just one example, God spitting out the lukewarm is another extension, and Israel being punished after David orders a census in 2 Sa 24). Matt, I’m not sure if you’re saying that the cause of Willow Creek reaching out to the poor is from the effect of having many people (and an organizational structure)? I’d say for Willow Creek it is just one factor. Congregation numbers of a given church should not be decisive factor in whether or not they are involved in Christ’s call to the “poor, widowed, etc.” Aren’t we all called to that ministry (it’s all over the OT and NT)? As Brian (and many others) note, smaller churches – especially house churches – are freer to minister in such a fashion because of their structure. Well, check out New Heights Church – especially their pastor Scott William‘s blog (link in my blog entry above), reflecting on their mission to the poor (most of the church is involved, and I’m pretty sure they’re not that large.) Of course Willow Creek and several other megachurches are doing well in this regard, despite their size. I believe many models can coexist (and be truly united) in the larger Body of Christ – I agree with Alan: the right model, given the circumstances. The question perhaps should be: “what’s the right model for us?”
I believe Acts 2:41 was descriptive, not prescriptive (just that narrow passage/verse, though). I’d love to see this happening now, of course! But I recall that this number was added to the fellowship of believers, not a congregation. An aside: the early church didn’t resemble a church with congregations as we know now. Many members of the house churches in a given city would meet about once a week at a larger house to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. When we read Paul’s scathing words about the abuse of the supper with a fuller exegesis, the context provides a clearer picture (the poorer believers were being left out – because they had to finish their chores, and it was extra humiliating to come late and hungry to an empty table).
A deeper ecclesiology is necessary. Unknowingly we’ve been caught up in the models and assumptions of our society: upscaling, consumeristic, instant gratification, number-oriented bottom lines vs. people and relationships, etc. (My course on “Mustard Seed vs. McWorld” at MCBC spent some time on how our churches have been seduced by these underlying assumptions and worldviews, and the kinds of problems that have emerged from that.) Much of the critique comming from the emerging culture/church/theologians/etc. is against these modern-age assumptions and institutions (and also against the failings of extreme post-modern thought), but reaching towards something like an ancient-future faith (Robert Webber among many others talk about this).
I was never really exposed to house-based churches (I thought they were an anomaly), but my China trip training, subsequent ethnographic research, and post-report-writing processing gave me much food for thought for these “alternative” church models (the Perspectives course covers much of this, too). Actually last Urbana (2000) I went to a seminar about experimental, missional church which really inspired me and blew me away. Of course the numbers in attendance (5!) were an indication of the lack of interest the North American church has in stuff like this – and this was at the missions conference.
Tracking society, culture and business trends, the CEO and leadership issues were hugely popular in the 80’s and 90’s – something that fit the business environment in North America (and west, to an extent) at that time. Business trends and issues today are leaning towards “softer” approaches, moving from shareholder-orientation to stakeholder awareness, from downsizing as a primary burn-and-slash cost cutting method to valuing employees as #1 asset, etc. I sense a greater yearning towards Kingdom values slowly seeping into the landscape: we have talk about (and small progress in) sustainable growth, replacement vs. growth economies, corporate governance vs. corporate greed, fair trade vs. unfettered capitalism, bridging the poor-rich and digital gaps, etc. It’s still very much a slow transformation, of course.
And I hear you about accountability being so low and the failings of many initiatives. But, I wonder if that’s mainly due to our shaky foundations? We’ve traded apprentice-discipleship for churchianity, no? And we’re trying to fix it up patch-wise. Do we have too much invested in our current systems to break out of our molds and start fresh? Why are we so tied down to our current forms of church? Over years of conversation and sharing, I know that that many of us Chinese-Canadian-Christians are starting to feel there’s something wrong with “church as usual” and about leading what has become “lives of quiet desperation”.
Now I dunno why I can’t be as concise as all of you, but, those are my (hopefully humble) thoughts. I reserve the right to be rebuked (for being unhumble, nastily critical, or just plain wrong), of course. It’s just from my own processing, reading, and conversations – hopefully Spirit lead!

5 Responses to “Comments and thoughts on ecclesiology”

  1. dr rumble says:

    I think what you were addressing in the first paragraph is leadership, or lack of leadership (ie copying church models wholesale, etc).. this is my biggest personal and church concern today.. maybe that’s why i’m pretty gungho in terms of Christian leadership.
    i definitely agree that it’s not about #s, but #s show fruit, don’t they? i’m definitely not saying because willow is bigger, that there is involvement. good teaching, putting ppl in a place of decision and knowing what to do with them if they decide to get involved, etc is a large part of it. all stemming from the Holy Spirit.
    i’m still figuring out this church model stuff.. i still don’t see how a housechurch is actually “freer to minister in such a fashion”.. please explain 🙂
    i’ve been to house churches in china as well.. i have nothing but good things to say…
    i guess the bottom line that i’m trying to get across is: are the models that important? i agree wholeheartly with congregations coming together and praying for their unique vision and path… each has it’s place and i don’t expect every church/fellowship gathering to be massive.
    cpc (where i go) is at a struggle-point.. we need development in our top leadership and they need to experience true fellowship with one another. it seems like the gen Ys have it more together. we’re supporting the old ppl 😛 that’s where i’m coming from.
    and to quote a website that i visit: “The printed word often sounds harsher than the spoken word”. i’m trying to understand where we’re all coming from, and i get a feeling we all believe in similar concepts. i pray that God will give us the wisdom to understand this stuff and each other =) exciting time brothers!

  2. ray says:

    you can never get away from the human factor in all this church stuff. and a pastor has to pay the bills and mortgage like every other citizen. they have kids that need to go to university and a retirement to save up for. and yet how different is a pastor from an accountant or dentist or receptionist? at the core, there is still this drive for security – in more harsh words, financial security.
    who is the customer? what service/good are you selling? how are you marketing? what is your budget? any investments?
    a large, loyal and committed customer base (congregation) provides security. in order to get there, you have to market your good/service effectively and manage your assests efficiently. the investment is found in youth ministry/nursery.
    i believe there does exist ministry leaders who are below the poverty line for the sake of calling. those are few as more simply have a dream deep down inside of retiring at a church that was built through a few tough years. who in their right mind wouldn’t frantically search for a model that will provide success? and if it has scripture behind it, then it is a guarantee for prosperity!
    to be completely honest, something within me says that large churches are more closely anti-Christ than we think. sure, they may have cells to justify running a multi-mill budget… but in a huge, blatant way i think they’re missing the point. I bet you in the Acts church, there was some serious socialism going on that actually worked. imagine each person at Willow driving a Geo as a demonstration of income sharing within a church community – not going to happen!
    BTW – great book by Campolo and McLaren – Adventures in Missing The Point – although most of it we’ve probably already heard.

  3. dr rumble says:

    while most of your ‘pastoring thoughts’ makes sense to me ray…
    “justify running a multi-mill budget… but in a huge, blatant way i think they’re missing the point….serious socialism” please share the history of willow creek and how it got to where it was and clarify to me their and other churches’ “anti-Christ” ways.. how socialism isn’t working.. u’d better back up what you’re saying… not that i’m saying they’re perfect, nor will any church be. i’m just not into these broad generalizations..
    “imagine each person at Willow driving a Geo”
    please. what would be the point in that? more willow molding? their church was built on sacrificial giving and a heart for the “irreligious”.. do you honestly think that they don’t give to “those in need”?
    i agree that pastors/leaders are at a crossroads these days.. getting the paycheck and building the service. community can’t be created or forced, nor is it a spectator sport to be consumed… this is why, if you’re passionate about this type of thing.. are you leading your leaders.. are your mentoring? are you being mentored? is your pastor discipling and being discipled? are those relationships in place? are you helping to build an environment where ppl “aren’t at a distance” (your blog on spec.).. your observations are to be affirmed, but are you putting your money where your mouth is? (cuz i don’t even know you :P)
    let’s not get into the dating/relationship parallel you’re drawing 😛
    btw, i’ve never used iBlog, but i assume you can use Haloscan to plug commenting into your blog. email me if you need any help 🙂
    even i’m tired of watching myself type,
    learning eph 4:15,

  4. Alan says:

    Ah yes, ran into Matt today (at my own house, funny enough) and he mentioned there was more going on this topic. It’s amazing, and it’s endemic to Christians (broad, generalized statement), how we love to question, fight and focus over the 10% we don’t like…
    “something within me says that large churches…”
    Something within me says the same thing… My prayer is that they can be redeemed. I like Willowcreek. I like the rich. I like the poor. It is easier to like the rich, and it is easier to plead the cause of the poor. But God, I think he’s got the same idea – he loves the rich and the poor.
    The large churches must be redeemed. House churches must be redeemed. We must be redeemed.
    Dan’s buddy Scott has it right, when are we going to see the rich and the poor in the same church? Willowcreek could get it done. Imagine: A bus driving downtown picking up a bus of worshippers who happen to be broke, and being able to share and worship and commune with those driving Bentleys. When is that going to be acceptable?
    Jesus said it best, “You will always have the poor among you…” (John 12:8 NIV) Deut 15:11 agrees, “There will always be poor people in the land”.
    The discussion here isn’t solving social injustice. That, in itself, is a modern, science-y approach. We already know that Jesus Christ isn’t bounded by what colour you are or if you’re male or female – Jesus is supra-cultural. He’s supra-economical, too. The principle is redemption. Ray, you’ve got a good dream with the Geo’s – but be encouraged. There are millionaires that are part of MCBC, who you’d never know because they live well below their means.
    Guys, we’re getting there. We’re getting there because God is changing our lives. He’s reading us in his word, and breathing us through his spirit. This world definitely needs a deeper ecclesiology. A good primer is The Essense of the Church by Craig Van Gelder. He talks about a missiological ecclesiology. Simply, that the church does what it is.
    We’re getting there, and it starts with an orientation of obedience and humility. God doesn’t expect us to solve all the problems. He does expect us to follow him. Following him solves all the right problems.
    Let’s stop pointing fingers (at megachurches or broad, generalizations), and talk about getting our hands dirty. And getting our hards dirty! Build God’s church where you’re at. We will endure the waste that our North American influence has given us, and won’t settle for it. If your neighbour is suffering (economically, mentally, or otherwise), this too is a moment, you’re in a place where you can be light and salt. If the suffering is mental, lament when you need to, and remember: God will sort out the sheep from the goats. Our job is to make sure we’re not goats. And, like sheep, follow the shepherd.
    As a pastor-to-be, I’m never going to be rich, but you might. And if so, look around. Take care of the poor.

  5. Dan says:

    Yeah, I’m in a missions conference in Chiang Mai right now… I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it is. We’ve got the academics giving papers, practitioners telling us how it is, all sorts of people discussing real and practical issues with ecclesiology and missiology.
    Man, I’m encouraged to hear what’s coming out – we’re addressing so many of these things we’re just commenting and posting and reading about. The focus is on church planting movements (ask Alan for a good, concise definition). We’re seeing much emphasis (theologically and practically) in house type church. There’s a paper I’d love to share with you (in small excerpts if I get permission – from Steve Spaulding).
    BUT, Alan’s point is quite urgent. Let’s contextualize properly. We’re placed where we are. Some will be prophetic agents in changing structures, and some will be working from withing existing “vessels”, but we’re all called into God’s story.
    Go forth!

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