Friday, November 02, 2007

They Like Jesus But Not the Church Part 2

Last week, I started talking about Dan Kimball's new book They Like Jesus But Not the Church. It's a very good read, but I talked about all that last week.

I wanted to touch on two areas this week. Firstly, a comment from last week. I don't typically respond to anonymous comments, but this one I think asks a question that many might have: "Since the church is the body of Christ, Eph. 1:23, how can one like Jesus but not the church?"

Here's how. When the church doesn't actually embody Jesus. It's one thing to recognize the spiritual reality that the church is the body of Christ. Unfortunately, the temporal reality can appear quite different. Yes, some congregations are acting in powerful ways to engage our culture and to care for those in need. But far too often, congregations can slip into country club mindset, where we go to be served and make sure that no one gets in that doesn't "belong," or at least no one that will rock the boat by how they appear, act, and/or think. And if I'm not a Christian why would I possibly want to be involved in that? And this is something that Kimball addresses in the book. Why would someone want to become a Christian when it appears to make you a worse person, not a better one?

Which leads me into the other point I brought up last week. I'm really afraid church leaders will use this book the wrong way. I'm afraid that church leaders who are recognizing that 20 somethings and 30 somethings are not in their church might look at this book and think that it's trying to give a checklist on how to get 20 and 30 somethings into the church building.

That's not what this book is about. This book is about recognizing the barriers that keep people from going to churches, but not solving them to get people into the building. Getting people into our church buildings shouldn't be the goal of a church. What a church should be about is creating disciples of Jesus. Churches shouldn't be worship centers. Can and should worship happen in a church building? Yes, but that's not the primary focus. The primary focus of a congregation should be forming disciples of Jesus Christ. If we're not about that, then we're an exclusive country club, rather than an inclusive family. The focus of a congregation should not be bringing people in; it should be about sending them out.

That's why I loved the Halloween posts that Brandon and Thomas did. That's what we should be about. If we focus on being Christ's disciples, the rest should fall into place. Maybe not always neatly and maybe not smoothly, but that shouldn't be our concern. We should work on being disciples.


allison said...

i suppose the 20 and 30 somethings are the judge of whether a church embodies Jesus or not.

What do you do, besides manning the audio booth, to engage the culture?

The church grew faster in the 1950's than it has ever since. I don't know how that happened when the present day 20's and 30's weren't even born.

I get a little weary of the criticism by the 20's and 30's.

Brandon Scott said...

It is pretty obvious that the world of the 1950s and our culture today are light years apart. What worked in the 50s is probably...I mean...OBVIOUSLY not working today.

If you'd like a list of the things that I have witnessed Phil doing to engage culture, I'd be happy to send them to you by email. It's extensive. And...I probably only know the half of it.

Scott said...

In addition to that the growth claims in the post-war years are somewhat spurious. All records we had of church growth were "preacher counts." And we know how reliable they are.
And obviously if the church was "growing" so fast in the 50's then the question must be asked why that slowed as these "20s and 30s" came of age? Could it be that the growth was simply numerical and the older generation was not equipped to teach and instill discipleship? Could it be that the 20s and 30s are to be valued and listened to so that we might grow and learn from what they have seen and witnessed?

Adam said...

I suppose the thing to remember is that culture is constantly in flux...or it is dead. The fact of the matter is that you are quite correct in pointing out that the church grew like crazy in the 1950's. This is precisely because the church did quite a good job of engaging the culture of its day in the '50's (though they certainly didn't use that language). To be faithful to that tradition (and I would argue to be faithful to God) we must engage the culture of our day as they did in theirs. To simply replicate the methodology of their day would be profoundly unsuccessful and, in my view, unfaithful.

Further, I can see this touched a nerve with you. Your perspective certainly needs to be heard, (and I know that Phil actually wants dialogue on this stuff from differing perspectives), but I think you hurt your argument when you question his personal integrity (I want to believe this wasn't your intention, but that's how it comes across in print...without voice inflection, facial expressions, etc.)

Phil said...


I think Adam, Brandon, and Scott have covered the differences between now and 50 years ago extremely well, so I won't rehash that part of it.

To the rest of your comment, I would heartily suggest that you read the book. One of Kimball's main points is that people have misperceptions of the church (not just the Church of Christ) because Christians aren't out and involved, and that's why I pointed to Brandon and Thomas' posts from this week.

Besides, manning the sound booth? Well for one, I'm not sure of your perspective. Are you belittling the work of tech people in a worship setting? I consider manning the tech booth a part of the incarnational ministry I tried to live out. I'm not always good at it and I let my emotions and frustrations get the better of me, but to belittle that doesn't just belittle the work I try to do, it belittles the work of all the other people who partner with me in that. If you're not belittling that, I apologize for misconstruing your perspective.

What else do I do? You seem to know me, either in person or through my blog? Feel free to scan back through some of the posts over the last 4 years and you can see me talk about some of the ways I try to engage the people and culture around me. Or feel free to email me and we can talk about things that way.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Thomas+ said...

Hey Phil and friends,

To Phil's: "Churches shouldn't be worship centers. Can and should worship happen in a church building? Yes, but that's not the primary focus. The primary focus of a congregation should be forming disciples of Jesus Christ."

Yeah, actually, the most important thing my congregation does is gather for worship. The Eucharistic feast is the center of our collective discipleship. The hearing of the Word, the responding to the Word, and the engaging of the Triune God in prayer and praise drives us to become a prophetic community.

Discipleship, which I think of as an individual's continued growth into Christ, is centered in the love life of the community of Jesus.

The purpose of our church building is to provide a place to worship. It is also a place for discipleship, a staging ground for outreach. But, as a whole, it is a big tent that covers a Table, a Pulpit, and a Font.

Phil said...

I can understand where you're coming from, T+. Especially from the liturgical sense. From my perspective though, I can't recall the last time I had a true worship experience at church (perhaps 2 or 3 months ago?) because of the aforementioned time in the tech booth. For me, some of the moments of closeness to God have been in my home with my small group: gathering around a table to eat and then in our basement to share our lives and stories.

Thomas+ said...

I think you and I need to have a conversation about "what is worship." Because, from what you just said, we are probably not talking about the same thing.

I mean that in a very sincere way. I think it would be an interesting conversation. We could have an inter-blog dialog. When you are up for it.


DB Carden said...

I would greatly appreciate seeing such a conversation.

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