This has been a longer series than I intended so time to wrap it up with some closing thoughts.
I was once a certified, card carrying rabid (and competitive) pragmatist. If it works then lets do it – and lets do it better than anyone else… in Jesus’ name…
‘All things to all men so that by all possible means’ was a catch cry I held up and I meant it. We should do whatever it took to communicate the gospel to people outside of faith. All that mattered was whether from ‘false motives or true Christ was preached.’ And I know I have had my fair share of ‘false motives’.
To be fair… I think Paul is willing to concede that people could possibly meet Jesus in a Benny Hinn shindig, as an act of God’s grace, but I don’t think for a moment he is endorsing our selfish and corrupt methods. Paul is stating that in spite of our foolishness and sin God is still able to get his work done.
So if we cannot completely ditch the corporate influence on church life then how can we lead and live in a way that prophetically counters the relentless pull to ‘succeed’ and ‘win’.
I would imagine it starts with a brutal and raw assessment of where we are at. Its no use kidding ourselves that we aren’t affected by the culture, when we go home depressed every Sunday because the numbers are a bit low. If we are ‘enterprise driven’ then just acknowledge it and accept that moving forwards is going to require change (if we want to change). If we are ‘family driven’ then we still face the temptations to ‘pursue greatness’ and do great things for God.
I’ll say it again… the church is not a business and it should not be run like one.
Our methods matter because our methods form our identity .
I confess that I am still sometimes hobbled by the enterprise virus. When the numbers are down on Sundays or we see people leave, when the finances run tight, and when the church down the road just seems to have it together so much more than we do, there is a primal part of me that just wants to say ‘Alright… Game on! Let’s really make this thing really fire!…’ And by that I am meaning lets improve our outputs to attract people back, to make ourselves look like we have something to offer compared to the ‘successful’ churches. I move into competitive mode… And I feel it…If not for the people around me who deeply share our family identity I think there are times I could easily slip back into old habits.
Recently at church finances have been tight – in fact we have been running well behind – and we discussed what to do. We can ‘ramp up vision’, have dedicated vision sermons and have longer offering calls or we can make the family aware that for various reasons we are struggling to make ends meet. People are smart – they can join the dots. And if they don’t then there will be consequences to those choices. I just can’t bring myself to selling the ‘wow factor that is Quinns Baptist and if you need me to do that to unlock your wallet then you’re in the wrong church.’ I’m not doing it any more…
So avoiding the black hole of enterprise church is for me primarily about having clarity of identity and knowing what is and isn’t important – knowing my own convictions around the kind of church community I am willing to give my life to. Its church as family – church that operates as a healthy family – because I realise families can be dark places too. I have chosen that line, not because I have lost the urge to do great things for God, but because I believe this is the best biblical expression of what he calls us to do.
My great fear for younger Christian leaders who simply grow up in this current paradigm is that they will be enculturated into it without having heard a different story, or without having been exposed to a critique of this practice. They will not see the church as a family where we learn to love and accept one another just because that’s what we do – whether we are impressive or not. They will just accept that churches need to be big and significant to be valid. They will hop on the treadmill and run till they drop because there is no end to the work when you have to win.
It dawned on me as I was writing these posts that there will be literally thousands of young people who will never know anything other than an enterprise expression of church complete with all the bells and whistles. Which makes me ask ‘what happens when they get their first teaching posting in Cuballing?.. Or a nursing role in Wyndham? Do they find their way into the local expression of church or do they drop out because church is lame?
I’m still fully convinced of both the power and beauty of the church as central to the unfolding of the kingdom of God in our world. But I am deeply concerned that an unrestrained enterprise approach will see us subsume people into a ‘thing’ that calls itself a church but looks a bit more like a rock concert with a Ted talk
I began with a surfing analogy – observing what happened to the simple beauty of riding waves when it became competitive and an industry formed around it. The latest disturbing shift has seen surfing competitions held in man made, land locked wave pools where flawless waves are created and pushed through every few minutes to surfers who now look bored while riding them. Make no mistake these are perfect waves – created with mechanical precision and replicated every few minutes. You’d think it was surfing heaven…
But… that’s not surfing… Surfing is about being in the undomesticated, unpredictable ocean where gnarly windswept waves sweep in from constantly shifting directions challenging your ability to adapt, where a massive sneaker set appears unannounced on the horizon, and catches everyone unawares exploding boards and bodies everywhere…
There are still those out there who surf simply for the joy and exhilaration of being in the ocean with a few mates – of feeling the sheer power of the waves and the majesty of natural creation.
In the same way may we return to the raw beauty of the church as a simple community of people who inspire one another to follow Jesus and who live shared lives in a local community, demonstrating the awesomeness of the kingdom of God and unashamedly calling people to follow Jesus as Lord.
Thanks for engaging and offering your thoughts.