Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What are we coming to?

It is in preparation for the cross that in John 17 we read the passionate prayer of our Lord Jesus. This prayer is very revealing concerning the expectations and desires which our Lord possesses for His redeemed people. Without quoting the entire chapter (you can and should read this chapter with regularity), these words of Christ inextricably display the truth that, of all the things, Jesus' desire for His believer was and is UNITY. Several times He asked the Father to "make them one as we are one." Yet today it appears that unity in the church or the body is almost a joke.

Don't believe me? Just stand in most pulpits in the USA and talk about being unified and the guarded response (for the honest congregation) is muted snickers. How sad. The one thing Jesus desired for those who receive His offer of forgiveness and eternal life is seemingly the one thing which many see as a joke or at a minimum "optional."

This morning, once again in a State Baptist paper (admitted this state paper didn't 'create' the article but made the decision that this is newsworthy), I read another attack on the Comtemporary Church and like so many before, this Contemporary Church has a name. That name is Willow Creek. Again, how sad. What amazes me is that "this time" the church itself, in an attempt to be transparent, released a book (actually a multi-year study) admiting they have missed their goal. Candidly, I have ordered this book, will read it, and like so many others, learn from their admitted mistakes.

In the complete article the 'award-winning' writer finally did give credit to the leadership of Willow Creek for their "confession" stating their model in its present structure is not successful (like they had hoped it would be) in developing "mature followers" of Christ. Having not read the entire text, I will reserved comment about this work and their response until becoming more informed.

However it does seem to me that the noted "columist" might have missed a couple of truths. For your perspective, I have heard and met Bill Hybels, read several of his books, have and will continue to use "some, carefully selected" materials from the Willow Creek resource offering (I.E. Contagious Christian, Just Walk Across the Room, etc), but in several ways I do differ in philosophy and theology with the leadership at Willow Creek.

That being said, why not look at the "good" which has come through the contemporary church movement, then evaluate, and keep the good while discarding the not so good. Let's see if we can discover something good which churches like Willow Creek and Saddleback have and continue to teach us;

What first comes to my mind is this; how long has it been since we have heard of "any" church performing an honest evaluation into the effectiveness of the ongoing ministries and programs of their congregation? If you can actually name a church who has done this, then that evokes two more questions; did they publish the findings for the whole world to see? If they did release some kind of report, did they attempt to "play down" their failures (actually called "weaknesses") and did they "play up" their successes (these may have been called "strengths").

Candidly for me, the fact that Willow Creek actually has a "standard" by which an evaluation can be done is impressive. At the risk of being offensive, most churches of which I'm aware have no real standard and honestly desire no standard for evaluation. I fear the only evaluation ever done by many of us is "what did we do last year", "did it reach our people", and "can we afford to repeat it?" Or maybe these churches (though on a much smaller scale) operate on the same standard Willow Creek has used for all this time. That is, Budgets, Building, and yes, Baptisms. While these are important, Jesus did commission us to "make disciples," this should be our mandate. The only reason Willow Creek has been the target is because everyone like a "big target." Ten years ago a good friend and godly pastor, Dr. Dean Register, said to me, "If you carry the ball, everyone will try to tackle you." How simple and prophetic.

Were I to give a list of good things which, in my opinion, the leaders of the contemporary church have given to us, it would truly be a laundry list. Conversely, were I to offer a list of not-so-good things, this would be a laundry list also.

However, the same can be said about the "Traditional Church (whatever that is)."

My honest prayer is that we can somehow end the "critical spirit" which today seems to pervade the Christian Church. If honest, most congregations are struggling in this Biblical illiterate and secularistic culture to make disciples. One of the positive things which was stated in the aforementioned article is that we must take personal responsibility for our personal growth in the Lord. While it is true the church must be diligent in making disciple (which begins by "reaching the lost"), it is equally true that the individual believer must be willing to be taught. The secret is to live the authentic life of faith so we may be "called" Christian because, like those in Antioch, Jesus can be seen in us.

There is no easy or quick fix. The gospel of our Lord must be presented in terms that this culture can understand and respond to. What must follow is a systematic and intentional training which leads to discipleship (I.E mentoring, training, etc). It is my belief that if this means we constantly evaluate and change our philosophy, then so be it. God will be pleased. To use an old cliche' "we must give the unchanging gospel to the ever changing world."

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