Friday, June 04, 2004

A few responses to what Andy had to say. I think that your reminder of the story of Pathway is helpful and I think some of the experiences of Pathway can be used to look at how a church deals with 'getting big'. I know a lot of the early time there was spent trying to figure out how to keep from growing before realizing that they needed to instead find ways to keep ministering to whoever showed up. There were two comments you made, however, that I think may lead to some dangerous thinking and while they may apply to the setting your speaking of, they are problematic when considered as a general maxim.

"The question is what makes a church go from 5 families in a living room to 1500 people in a middle school in 2.5 years? I think a lot of the blame/credit's got to go towards God."

This may be the case with Pathway. I'm not going to argue either way on that one because I don't know how. But I think the way this sentance reads reminds me too much of what Dusty was talking about earlier where material wealth, building size, but most of all size of congregation is how we measure the success of a church. I think that most of the time I've seen it go something like this: God will bring to church x the people who can be ministered to by church x. God will not bring people to church x if church x is ineffective at ministry. Therefore, if church x is full of people, it is because God believes that church x is the best place for them to be. The more people at church x, the more people God has brought there, the more God likes what that church is doing.

This sort of thinking, however, is exactly the democratic/market mindset that we've been talking about. In our culture everything is measured quantatively; whoever gets the most votes wins, whoever has the most points win, whoever has the most money wins. The more the better, especially when it comes to people. Church attendance gets viewed as a sort of vote on the behalf of the people which, in turn, as seen as a vote by God because God is bringing the people there, according to the theology. And, as Jonny pointed out, once everyone bought into the market/democratic mainstream mindset, everyone else has to follow course. Even if you're not marketing, you're a failure if no one is there and must be outside God's blessing. Asking how do I find God's favor becomes the same as asking how do I get more people here, and many churches begin strategically pursuing more people and we're back to where we've been. Not all big churches, though, gained their size in this way, pathway being an example, as well as most mainline protestant and catholic churches. The problem with evaluating the church based on the size of anything is that this is not the standard Christ gave for the church. He did not tell the church to be huge but rather to be committed to the Kingdom of God. This brings me to the final point.

"Now there's always room to grow and change and understand the Gospel more fully, but my question is how in churches of all sizes in america is there truly amazing things happening, that can only be credited to God if we're missing the mark so severly? Why would God not withhold his favor from us?"

I think that we're looking at two different issues here Andy. We've talked about this before, but i think the task is a mutual affirmation and enrichment of the good and a reproach and reform of the bad. We've got a lot of good things going on at churches, based on a qualitative evaluation instead of numbers. In many churches peoples lives are changing and through this some communities are affected. Your quote brings up an interesting, timeless question that is present througout scripture. Why would God not without his favor from us if we're doing such a rotten job of being the church? It's simple. God is insanely gracious. The biblical story is all about this. God is always overcoming the shortcomings of his people to bring about his will on earth. Do we have a role to play in this? yes. It is clear that when we are functioning under God's designs for the universe, the world is a better place. Is God going to wait around for us to get things right before he starts using his people? Thank God, the answer is no. In the bible, God is often found working in the situations where people miss the mark most severely. This is the awesome work of an awesome God. This does not, however, justify us to continue to miss the mark. Instead, God always acts graciously while providing again the expectations for his people. In the case of the church today, God is working within the broken community that is present but he is also reminding us of what he calls his people to do. This, (insert broken record) is the furthering of the Kingdom of God where the least become first and vice versa. So, we have to be looking out for where God is at work and praising him for these instances while at the same time offering a critical statement to wherever the church is apathetic or pursuing any values or goals that are apart from the Kingdom of God.


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