Monday, December 3, 2012

Not to change is to change

I'm sure you would agree that in almost every area of life, one-size-fits-all just isn't true and doesn't work. In fact to push this as fact is a complete no-brainer. The truth for Christians is, "You hear it (the wind) rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it's headed next. That's the way it is....with the wind of God, the Spirit of God." (John 3:8, Message Bible). When it comes to creative, new (ancient) ways of doing church, the 'Wind' is certainly blowing around the world and the message is, CHANGE!
But change can be a painful process, especially when it comes to doing church differently. Some wag said that you get more reaction - and misunderstanding - from challenging church structures that you would if you challenged the doctrine of the Trinity. But change is not an option, it's a necessity unless we're content with the status quo. "What's the status quo?" asked the school teacher. A small boy's answer, "It's Latin for the mess we's in." And, if we look critically at the state and diminishing influence of the Western Church we's in a mess!
Here are some reasons why we must be open to, and take steps toward change.
1) Because the traditional way of doing church is so anti Kiwi (Western) culture.
This includes things like;
  • Singing new and strange songs. (How many Kiwis sing - especially men - during a normal week?) Once upon a time men would sing as they work, but today, at most work sites, it's the radio that provides the music.
  • Passively sitting in rows listening to one person, usually a male, preach, shout, use a strange language and an ancient book.
  • Being treated like school children expected to remain quiet spectators of the action that is taking place at the front of the building.
A change in my thinking was when I began to ask myself what my neighbour's reaction would be to being invited to church versus coming over with a beer for a BBQ. At the Barby he/she would be relaxed, feel at home and although wouldn't hear a sermon, would, hopefully, have the opportunity to see one among the Christians present. Then, if interested they could talk about their questions and struggles.
2) Because our Church Growth Seminars haven't delivered what they promised, but God has proven principles that do.
Alan Hirsch in his missional church book, "The Forgotten Ways," states, "In AD 100 there were as few as 25,000 Christians. In AD 310 (before Emperor Constantine) there were up to 20,000,000. He then makes the following observations regarding the early church.
  • They were an illegal religion throughout this period.
  • They didn't have any church buildings as we know them
  • They didn't have the scriptures as we know them
  • They didn't have an institution or professional form of leadership
  • They didn't have seeker-sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, commentaries, etc.
  • They actually made it hard to join the church. (pages 18, 19).
3) Because 'big' doesn't necessarily mean better.
("Rabbits multiply much quicker than elephants." Wolfgang Simson. "There are very few whales in the ocean compared to the millions of minnows." David Gibbons).
An Anglican vicar recently told me of a survey that showed 85% of ministers in the survey wanted to have a church like Hillsong (Australian mega church), while only 5% of their congregations wanted the same. Another survey quoted by Hirsch and Frost indicated that only approximately 12% of Australian non-church people were impressed with today's contemporary mega church. Selah!
While attending a church growth seminar I listened to a speaker championing the complicated systems of hierarchical church leadership. He then threw in this throw away comment. "Of course you can have church with half a dozen people and Jesus." That remark stung me. "Is Jesus that boring?" I asked myself, "that we have to have a crowd of two or three thousand when Jesus himself was happy with 12 or even with two or three." Matt. 18:19, 20.
In these Simple Church Letters I'm not knocking large churches, I'm simply arguing for creativity, breaking out of confining boxes, asking the hard questions, taking calculated risks - like killing off some of those one-foot-in-the-grave sacred cows. And that we take time to listen sensitively to and respond obediently to what the Holy Spirit has to say about our traditional church beliefs and activities, as we are commanded to in Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29, etc.
The rock climber’s climbing gear slipped out of his hands and clattered hundreds of metres to the bottom of the mountain. Desperately he grabbed the trunk of a small tree that was growing from the side of the mountain. Panting with fear and looking wildly to the top of the mount, he screamed, “Is anybody up there?” “Yes,” came a welcoming response, “It’s Jesus!” The climber then yelled, “Can you help me?” “I can,” Jesus replied, “But if you want my help you must first let go of the tree.” After a few moments silence the climber called again. “Is there anyone else up there!”
"A great deal more failure is the result of an excess of caution than of bold experimentation with new ideas. The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution." J. Oswald Sanders.

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