Monday, April 30, 2012

Church Wars

Recently there was a debate on Facebook that I (Adria) decided to dip my toes into.  Normally I don't engage in debates on Facebook.  People are not at their most cooperative when sitting safely and confidently behind the glow of their computer screen.  A glow I think sometimes feels like an angelic spotlight, in which we bask self-indulgently.  However, this debate was about church--a topic that's heavily on my mind these days. 

Now that I have taken a role as a church planting coordinator, I think it's important I have something to say about church.  So, I commented on the thread which said, "I think satellite churches are lame." I agreed on the grounds that I feel satellite churches are a little too reliant on ONE individual rather than discipling leaders who could lead each church location themselves, and tend to have a very speaker-focused culture which doesn't reflect certain Biblical standards I think are important.  Within hours there were 67 comments; after two of my own I decided it was time to sit out the rest of the debate.  Obviously this topic had struck a nerve.  Not surprisingly the ones arguing for satellite churches attended them and the ones that argued against didn't. 

Assertions that the "Spirit is at work" at particular satellite churches were vehemently made.  It was wondered allowed why people had to "dog on" a certain style of church.  I felt the cyberspace tension rise as people were obviously taking things personally.  The author of the original post assured people she had not meant disrespect but had made the comment out of a place of frustration.  I, and others, assured the Pro-ers that we had no intention of limiting the places and ways that the Spirit works, but that, perhaps, there are ways we can create a culture that is more or less conducive to allowing Him to work. 

In the end there was no middle ground found.  I imagine people clicked away feeling as dissatisfied as I did.  And, yet, I think this is such an important discussion to have.

As someone who is thinking a lot about what Biblical churches look like and how they can be structured to best let the Spirit move I found this conversation frustrating and a little depressing.  There seemed to be a lot of justifying and very little critical evaluation.  I mean, I'm not saying that satellite churches are satanic or anything, I'm just looking at literature and testimonies of church planting movements around the world, where hundreds of thousands of people are coming to know the Lord, and I can't help but wonder if satellite churches are just one manifestation of some things we've gotten twisted as the American church.  Sure, the Spirit is present in the midst of God's people and, sure, there are some wonderful churches doing the Lord's work all over America, but what our churches look like is a little like the established, wealthy church has looked like historically.  Stale.  Unempowered. Sluggish.

The church of the New Testament (which by no means was perfect) harnessed the power of the Gospel in people's lives.  You didn't have to have four years at a seminary to lead God's people, heck, you didn't even have to be anyone who had ever been anything, if you were then a child of God. The early church (and current church planting movements) rushed through people groups, winning people to Christ and incorporating them into the Church. Granted, we cannot have churches that look just like the New Testament church because we are in a different time and culture, and I don't mean to idealize a season of the church that was also filled with flawed people, but Biblically and historically (and currently) the most dynamic and effective church bodies don't look like the American church.

I don't want to sit back and self-indulgently critique ideas from behind the glow of my computer screen like I have all the answers...I feel I have very few.  I don't want to cast stones at people, many of whom are doing their utmost to follow the Lord's call and live a life for Him.  I CERTAiNLY don't want to believe that I know what work God is doing in the world.

I do, however, think it's time for some difficult discussions.  I think "Is God moving in our church?" is not the only question that should measure our success.  God is always at work.  We might want to ask ourselves, "How much more could God be working if we allowed Him too?"  If that's the standard, then none of us have "arrived."  Because there's the truth: the strange, awful, beautiful truth.  God has chosen us to be His agents in the world, and for some strange reason he has placed a lot of weight and responsibility on our very flawed shoulders.  It's both terrifying and exhilarating. We can be on mission with God!  Don't think I'm saying it's us doing the work.  It's not.  It's only God!  But, He chooses to use us as His vessels.  Are we open and malleable and ready to adapt when needed?

What do you think?  I'd challenge you to take a little time and read this Church Planting Movements booklet.  It rather blew my mind when I first read it, but even the things my very American mind felt resistant to pale in the light of the Gospel burning through entire people groups.  We, the American church, could stand to ask ourselves if we're getting it right.

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