Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Against the machine

I hate being sick. For more than a week now I've been fighting off a stupid sinus infection. I seem to get them relatively frequently compared to friends. Some think it's because I wasn't breast-fed as a baby, but I don't know anything about that...

I usually think that Christianity Today does a pretty balanced job of presenting, well, Christianity today. A recent post on their blog "Out of Ur" is another good example. I wish I had written it myself, but it definitely reflects some of my thinking. We've talked before here about the machine that is the local evangelical church in the US. And my own way of describing it often sounds to those who know me well that I don't like the church. But the writer of this blog describes my dilemma. I love the church, but the church is not the institution, not the machine.

What I don’t love is the 501c3 tax-exempt institution we incorrectly refer to as “the church.” For decades we’ve heard the old adage, “the church isn’t a building, it’s the people.” We’ve come to recognize that the brick and mortar structure isn’t the church, but somehow we haven’t had the same epiphany about the intangible structures of the institution. In many peoples’ imaginations the church remains a bundle of programs, committees, policies, teams, ministries, initiatives, budgets, and events. Most people speak of “the church” the same way they refer to “the government”—it’s a hierarchy of leaders managing an organization that they engage but remain apart from.

That's it, that's what I've been trying to say. But the question then becomes, how do I serve the church, love her the way Jesus intends, without becoming a part of the institution?

In the second part of the post it gets even better. Here's another quote:

Without doubt there are numerous factors behind our exaltation of the church institution above the community of saints that created it, but one critical component may be cultural. In our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that institutions are the vessels of God’s Spirit and power. (The reason for this is a subject I explore in more depth in my book due out next year.) The assumption is that with the right curriculum, the right principles, and the right programs, values, and goals, the Spirit will act to produce the ministry outcomes we envision. This plug-and-play approach to ministry makes God a predictable, mechanical device and it assumes his Spirit resides within organizations and systems rather than people

Now that's a great metaphor for this generation, the "plug n play" approach to ministry. He later goes on to talk about Dallas Willard's description of what often happens when a great leader starts a spirit-filled ministry that God blesses, then at some point retires, dies, or otherwise moves on. The followers assume that God wants the ministry to continue, and they work to copy the power of the former leader through the institution. But the spirit-fuel that fed that ministry was in the heart of the leader, and as Dallas says, those people would be much better off trying to reproduce that personal fire within them instead of within the institution. But that is not easy to do. The fire--although coming from the same Spirit--burns differently within each of us.

The articles are worth reading.

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