Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Growing churches vs. growing christians

I am so moved by Bill Hybels "mea culpa" in Leadership Journal where he states that the method Willow Creek has been using for years isn't truly helping their members become more like Jesus. We left ministry in this type of church three years ago because we saw the same thing. People, especially those helping the church to function, are so busy and packed with programs they have no time to "be still and know God". We saw that the church itself grew and grew on the backs of these dedicated people, but their own spiritual lives were spent pouring out so much that they had very little time to draw in.

Here's a portion of the post:

Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.
People are so hungry to truly experience God. Programs cannot give people what they really long for. It's bait instead of a banquet.

Hybels confesses:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, 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 loathe the limited description of spiritual disciplines that CT's Leadership Journal confines themselves to "through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships." - why stop there? Those alone don't work either. Spiritual disciplines are far richer and deeper than those worn out, sad, old three - church history is filled with far deeper and richer experiences than just this Protestant trifecta. I know that Bill Hybels was speaking in much broader terms than LJ narrowed them to - thank God.

Diana Butler Bass addresses this beautifully in The Alban Institute article - Intentionality, Practice, Vitality:

“Congregations that intentionally engage Christian practices are congregations that experience new vitality.”

The sentence combines three components: intentionality, practice, and vitality. Further defining them, I point out that intentionality involves choice and taking responsibility for individual and communal spirituality; that practice is not a program, rather it is a meaningful way of life; and that vitality cannot be measured in terms of numbers as it means spiritual health and maturity. A vital congregation is one where all people—including the pastor—are growing members of an organic community of spiritual practice.

Driving people with programs strips them of the time they deeply need to develop individual and community spiritual disciplines that will help them "self-feed" as Hybel's terms it. I don't like the individuality that term brings - as "communal feeding" is truly what will build strength and vitality and Christ-likeness into the soul. Disengaging from the system and shutting down the programs that are facilitating church growth instead of Christian growth is crucial to allow those, especially in leadership, to draw in so that when they are required to pour out they have that wellspring that comes from being still and knowing God. Living a life of being drawn and not driven.

1 comment:

Arthur said...

AMEN! Preach it Sister, Preach it!