Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Practical Ecclesiology 7 - What is Church For?

There is an assumption in certain circles of the Evangelical Sub-Culture that a church as only one purpose and mission – to create new Christians. I will allow as they might be right about that. I will also allow as how they might not. The real answer to the question of what is a church for is likely more complex and subtle. I alluded to this in a previous post when I asked a series of questions about “What’s the difference…”

This assumption is also stated a different way. I have often heard it said, especially lately, that if a church is not growing there is something wrong. I understand the principle, and there is likely something of value in that assertion. Yet it still leaves me with a powerful sense that there is more to the life of a church than growth. In fact, I believe I could make a strong case that the mega-church structure is at root a dysfunctional structure in terms of both making disciples and raising them to a state of true spiritual strength and health. Excessively large churches impress me more like kudzu. It’s fine if it would just stay where it’s planted, but when it gets so huge that it starts swallowing houses, something’s clearly out of whack.

At some level, I actually resent the implication that anything less than explosive growth in size makes a church less than useful to God, or that it is a sign that God is not blessing a ministry. This resentment can create challenges of it’s own, as I tend to want to use that as a smokescreen to avoid dealing the problems in front of me.

Of course, the challenge facing our church is of a different genre. We are small. So small that it creates problems of it’s own. We have limited financial resources to engage in ministries that we think are important. We have limited resources in people to actually conduct the daily and weekly business of the church. We have very limited resources in time and energy as a result. Our size means that we are pretty good at looking after one another. And I think that we are generally welcoming to the stranger among us – although in truth we don’t get that many. This is no small thing. One of my favorite parts about our little group is that we are NOT  political. I have observed so many church groups that are torn apart and stunted by political undercurrents as one person or faction pushes an agenda that may or may not be about Jesus at all, but may be some thinly veiled idolatry. I have looked for that in my church, and I just don’t see it. The tenor of our conversations, the give and take is always vigorous, yet still generous and forbearing, mindful of the presence of Jesus that dwells within each of us. We truly enjoy each other, and seek to both challenge and encourage each other whenever we meet. It’s good good stuff.

Yet there is a sense of threat overhanging it all. Without some kind of increase in the size of the group, we remain at the mercy of the winds of change. If someone leaves the church, it can make a major dent in our money, manpower, and energy. We aren’t seeking to become mega, but we are facing the fact that we really need to get serious if we want to move from micro to mini or even middling size.

If we decide to go that route, to really dig in and get to work on creating more disciples, that will take a serious commitment of time and effort on the part of virtually everyone in the church. We know that the Holy Spirit is not limited by our weakness, and it is all fine to pray for a revival, but it seems that in most cases, the Holy Spirit prefers to work through hearts already on fire to light the fires in others nearby. Technique alone (marketing, location, programs, etc) will not cause healthy growth in our church, but it’s not necessarily a bad place to start.

I’m not totally convinced that this is a necessary step. We have the option of simply continuing to do what we do. There is much good in continuing as we are. That’s not in question. The challenge is that it just FEELS as if it’s only a matter of time, before something tips over our finely balanced cart and the whole thing could come tumbling down. This accidental and unplanned crisis is a hard way to go. Now this may or may not be true. Who can predict what the future holds. Yet this sense of uncertainty is there for anyone who really looks at what is going on.

So we weigh the options. More details on how we are doing that at a later time.

1 comment:

nuddpenney said...

Our church is also small and good and taking care of each other, and I understand what you mean about a sense of threat. One family moving away, loosing a job, or expecting a baby would have a huge impact on our people resources. But we have already learned about flexibility and what you /think/ you need to run a church that you can actually do without. Since all of our people are as involved and committed as they can be right now, I think our next step will be figuring out what (else) we can do without--to allow us to put more time and energy into the making disciples thing. I'll be interested to hear more of your thoughts on this topic...