Monday, December 31, 2007

Willow Creek Repents

This is one of the top ten posts from Out of Ur (see the column at the right). Insightful and accurate. PD

Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."
Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.
So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?
Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”
If you’d like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels’ reactions, recorded at last summer’s Leadership Summit, can be seen here. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few highlights.
In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”
Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”
Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:
Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.
Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult life.
Hybels confesses:
We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.
In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.
Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:
Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gotta Wonder

I really gotta wonder about those "Christians" who tell the evangelical church to back out of politics. I think they missed something in Jesus' lesson on prayer. He told us to pray in order to change ourselves. Of course, that is the 'personal nature' of our faith. It begins as a personal response to affirm the call to convert, to respond with personal repentance, and to begin a life as a Christ-follower. Quickly, however, the personal nature of our faith lands us in church. Church is the corporate expression of faith in Jesus of Nazareth. We have been called out of the world to form a new and radical corporate body-an otherworldly centered colony right here in this world. Amazingly, the priorities of heaven invade the gathering of these followers of Christ; forgiveness, love, compassion, strength, and mercy invade the lives of the individuals and the group of these followers of Jesus. They are purposed to change the world.

Don't believe me? Look at the Masters prayer..."your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven..." This insistence that my faith remain personal is a bit obnoxious and certainly out of step with the passions of Christ. As a Christ follower, I am expected to work to bring heaven to earth (so to speak) in the hearts of others but also in the society that we live in.
Those that perpetrate this benign form of 'silent witness' miss the point entirely. Heaven invades by affecting the society with the values of God!

Years ago a person tried to convince me that we shouldn't legislate morality. But realistically we are always basing our legislation on 'someones' morality. The penchant for legislating inclusiveness rather than saving the lives of the unborn is a moral decision! The desire to fore go the rights of the legal immigrants for the illegal ones is based on someones morality. The desire that the state provide for the indigent is based upon someones morality. On and on it goes! Someones morality is directing every bill put before Congress.

Why simply acquiesce? Jesus asked us to daily pray to influence the earth along the lines of His Kingdom priorities. Daily. Those believers who think they are silently influencing the world might do well to revisit the church's silence over slavery, the silence during the Third Reich, and the white churches silence during the struggle for civil rights in the US. That silence was seen as tacit approval of immorality. And it is vilified by historians and theologians alike. We, the church, cannot simply wish to make a difference...we must be the "new breed" of believers that pray it into being. And that prayer takes the footsteps of the believers.

Tomorrow when you pray the Lord's prayer...consider going public with your faith in Christ. Work to change the values of earth to those of heaven. Do it by opening your mouth and sharing your faith, do it by confronting evil in the culture around us, do it at the voting booth, do it where ever you have an opportunity to influence the earth toward the coming of the Kingdom.

Friday, December 07, 2007

TV Preachers Marginalized?

AP reports that Gov. Mike Huckabee is in second place in the GOP race. Now in the interest of full disclosure, "I like Mike"- I am a supporter of the governors pursuit of presidential office. But I am most encouraged by this news today because it shows that TV preachers and their foolish endorsements of candidates based upon "electability" rather than the candidates moral and ethical stances, are beginning to see their bases erode. Now I am convinced that the people of God have a holy right and obligation to seek to influence their society for good: and that includes the possibility of holding elected office (though it certainly isn't the only way to influence our society). But to sell out our beliefs on the right to life or the sanctity of marriage so that we can imagine ourselves as influential is mere stupidity!

America is a better place if we preachers hold to our ethical standards- first in our own lives, and second, in the lives of those who we endorse for public office. When a clear and powerful moral voice is lifted before America- how can those evangelical leaders justify ignoring it and endorsing candidates that have flip-flopped on the most important issues of our time? How can anyone believe that a corrupt culture that existed under one candidate is likely to be a single event in their lives. Rather, I would celebrate the demise of influence of the celebrity preachers and the loosening of the hypnotic grip held on Christians. People of faith should make their decisions based upon the issues and the moral and ethical stands of the candidates. If that makes us winners- praise to God. If it makes us losers in the elective process- then God help us all. But at least we can live with our conscience.

Who knows though, if the TV preachers lose influence, then our faith might be more about serving the hurting than getting rich; blessing others than being blessed; spiritual power rather than political clout. Hmmm- almost sounds like God might have a vested interest in humbling us...