Jul 12, 2008

Consume or Be Consumed

I'd been hearing about this apology from Willow Creek Church concerning the way they've not only been evolving the way they do ministry in their own church but also have been heavily influencing almost every evangelical church in America for the past thirty years.  Ravi Zacharias noted it when I heard him speak and my pastor, Spencer Haygood also mentioned it recently.  This prompted me to look up exactly what Willow Creek was apologizing for.

I can't say how much I respect an honestly humble apology, especially from those with enough power to manipulate their way around one.  This confession seems to point to hearts seeking the Lord combined with brains which had only been seeking to market.  And marketing, Ladies and Gents, is exactly what this church model has been hinged on.  According to this blog the words "What is our business?  Who is our customer?  What does the customer consider value?" hung on a poster outside the door of senior Pastor, Bill Hybels.  

Questions about why American Evangelicals are such consumers?  

Anyone?

What they found in this extensive study was that they had made a lot of "Christians" but very few disciples.  According to the same website above, Hybels said

"...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."

I have to wonder then, what were they doing?  How does a church, for thirty years, neglect this aspect of ministry without question?  How do thousands of churches decide it's a great idea to follow this model?  How do millions of Christians not realize that the sand we're sinking in is incredibly shallow, yet somehow we are neck deep and it's all we can do to catch a few more short breaths?

The culture, at every turn, appeals to our most base consumerist instinct.  Likewise, the church asks no more of us but to Take, to Buy Into, to Drink the Kool-Aid.  "Come on and take a free ride," as one church sings.  What a sad, sad state it has left us in.

For a year I worked for a church based on this model.  Huge.  Three campuses around the city.  Giant NASA technology screens.  Light shows.  Parking Decks.  Give-aways at church.  Nice give-aways.  Like i-pods and airplane tickets.  Lots of people with lots of brand name clothing.  Lots of children that needed spanking.  Lots of genuinely nice people.  People with "good hearts".  Still, those I was able to talk to one on one would tell me point blank "there's no where I can go to really study the Bible".  All their programs.  All their technology.  All their terms for the way to really "do" church.  "There are small groups," one woman told me, "but the leaders have had nowhere to learn the Bible themselves, so how can they teach it to us?" 

Hopefully the trickle of the results to this study will not take long to be heard by those influenced severely by the former Willow Creek the-way-to-do-church-model.  Here's what Willow Creek executive pastor Greg Hawkins has to say about the future:

"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."

Let's just hope that this time around, the research is based more on Scripture and influenced by great theologians rather than the marketing techniques of Coca-Cola.

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