Friday, January 14, 2005

Kill The Messenger!

"Such maneuvers appear to be the last gasps of a dying church body. How can any church body be united in mission if it can't be united in theology, practice and biblical interpretation? How can an authentic expression of the Christian church allow for open departures from basic Christian teaching?” Rev. Christopher Hershman, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Confessing Fellowship, in response to the ELCA's mixed statement on sexuality.

While this is true in many denominations, I will comment only on the one in which I am a member. We are in the midst of another attempt to renew and revitalize the Reformed Church in America called simply "Our Call," which follows in the footsteps of "Putting People in Mission," and "98 by 98" as programs that will bear little fruit. Why is this? It is not because the people putting together these programs don't want to see growth or desire that we become a church of influence. I am sure that most of them are quite sincere. However sincerity and desire are not enough, what is needed is leadership who is not enamored of outdated and flawed processes and approaches to ministry.

Our latest model of ministry and growth is: let's add a few praise choruses, a live band, and powerpoint and the people will come. (We are discovering seeker-sensitive worship, just as that style is declining in influence.) Or lets close down the church building and rent a theater or school gym. Or let's do endless surveys of ourselves with the hope that we can understand the culture around us. Or let us use tired gimmicks, flashy multi-media, and even plagiarism to attract the masses.

We are no longer the People of the Book, we have become the people of the books. Our guides are no longer the prophets, the gospels or the epistles; no, we emulate and imitate: Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Ed Young Jr., Andy Stanley or a myriad of other ministerial gurus. Now don't misunderstand me, I think that these individuals have a lot to say to the church. But we must not merely parrot their programs, copy their models and dare I say it, preach their sermons. I am saddened as I look at some of the websites of churches and pastors held up as success stories in the RCA and find that they are preaching sermons they have downloaded from the internet or read in the latest books. If our ministers wouldn't do the hard work, how can we expect our members to do so?

What has happened to us? Let me offer one thought. Consider this statement from "Our Call."

"Our Call in the Reformed Church in America is to build on the foundations of discipleship, leadership, and mission and to renew existing congregations and start new churches. "

We are building in the wrong place! Or should I say places? Discipleship, leadership and missions are not foundations, they are destinations. They are the result of getting our story straight. As the opening quote says, we can't have a common mission until we can agree on some common truth. We are to build upon the foundation of Christ and his Word. Upon that foundation alone, we build strong disciples, influential leaders and a powerful mission. But, like plagarizing preachers, we want to get the blessing without the hard work.

Until we have a clear message, we can adopt all the mediums we want, but no one will listen. Style has replaced substance. We have sold centuries of rich biblical heritage for a mess of modern pottage. It time for us to return to the first things.

The following column by Doug Giles says it better than I can.


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