“The Others”

I’m not really sure where to begin this blog, or where it be in the middle, or how it will end. So, I may as well just dive in with how I got here.

It all started with this post on Boundless.org’s blog site: Seeker Sensitive Equals Stunted Growth. In it, we learn that Willow Creek Community Church, unofficial granddaddy of the modern mega-church movement, has released a book that summarizes three years of research they did among the people of their own congregation and those of 30 others. The take on the book is that Willow Creek more or less “repents” of pioneering unfertile frontier–meaning they aren’t seeing the spiritual growth they had hoped to see occur in the lives of those who attend.

Willow founder Bill Hybels confesses:

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.

It’s with an honest and a repentant spirit that I confess that as part of a rather non-seeker sensitive ¹ congregation, I caved to a spirit of competition and found myself being a bit self-righteous. For a moment, I picked up an entirely demonic “us vs. them” mentality, thinking Willow Creek had somehow just confessed to being a wolf in sheep’s clothing–that they were somehow “the Others”.

After being convicted of the error of my ways, I got excited. I got excited not that Willow Creek was admitting to making a mistake (though, I do hail the courage and transparency of Hybels and their leadership in doing so), but that in this moment lies opportunity… opportunity for the Spirit of God to reorient the giant that Willow Creek is and get her on track to advance the Spirit’s preparation of the Bride. Certainly any “mistakes” they’ve made over the years are not beyond God’s redemptive hand.

Interested in learning more about this book and the blogosphere’s take on it, I read a few more articles on Townhall.com and Christianity Today’s Web site (and part 2 of CT’s). Most interesting of all were reader comments to the articles, which ranged from mirroring my initial “I knew it!” mentality to the more Christ-like “Let’s not relish in another’s failure.”

Willow Creek isn’t among “the Others.” We wrestle against principalities and powers, not flesh and blood–and most certainly not against others in the body of Christ. Willow Creek is full of God-loving people who genuinely want to win the lost for Christ. And they genuinely want to see those people move from “saved” to disciples. Now, in getting so (self-labeled) “seeker-obsessed”, have they drifted in their understanding of what it means to be a true die-to-self disciple of Christ? Possibly. But I’m in no position to judge. I’ve never been there. And I’m not terribly familiar with Hybels’ theology.

But do any of us fully know what it really looks like to suffer as Christ did? Hardly. We all need to grow in revelation of God and His Word.

I really appreciated a comment in particular, from one Dan Bergstrom. It reflects fairly well some of my thoughts on this whole thing:

I know that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, but he did that on the streets, on their turf, in the world (but not of it.) Search the scriptures. God’s people gather to be GOD-OBSESSED, not man-obsessed. There is nothing wrong with doing body-evangelism (programs to present the gospel) but that is not worship… that is evangelism. Jesus told us to make disciples “as we are going” into the world, not to try and attract the world to a religious service. We can do all the “trunk or treats” and “Men’s Golf Tournaments” we want to, but we MUST gather together to declare God’s praises and to delight in his presence through the word, worship, sacraments, prayer and fellowship.

And yet, I remain thankful for Willow and Saddleback for reawakening the church to the lost world around us, and for caring about the lost. Jesus wept over the lost. Do we?

I love Rick and Bill’s heart for the lost. I want a heart like that. I love John Piper’s heart for God. I want a heart like that. I love John McArthur’s love for the Word. I want a heart like that. I love Chuck Swindoll’s heart to feed the sheep. I want that. I love Chris Tomlin’s passion for worship. I want that.

Let’s learn from the strengths and weaknesses of these “model churches” so that our congregations can become the beautiful spotless bride that Jesus is soon coming for.

I’m convinced there is no one “perfect church.” But there is going to be a perfect Church. Just as small, local congregations/bodies are made up of many parts and all members need each other to be whole, the Church itself is made up of many parts (local congregations) and needs each one to be whole. It will be a great day when we’re more united in our mission to fulfill His.

So, I’m now seizing this opportunity and putting to practice what I’ve been learning in Frangipane’s In Christ’s Image Training. I’m praying about it and asking you to do the same. Petition the Lord to move mightily as Willow Creek carries out more self-assessment and searches the Scriptures for discipleship solutions. Pray that they would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, revelation and conviction. Ask the Lord to redeem any lost time and resources devoted to programs that were good ideas but not God ideas. Request that His Kingdom come and His will be done through Willow Creek–and the thousands upon thousands of local congregations that look to them for leadership on how to communicate Christ’s gospel in the 21st Century.

And pray that for my congregation and yours while you’re at it. We all need the support and strength to handle what lies ahead.

Footnote:¹ I could go off on that term for a bit, because it assumes that what seekers want is a “relevant God” when I tend to think people really want a God who’s a whole lot bigger than a pop-culture-savvy savior

By Joel Maust

Joel Maust is a marketer, blogger and photographer living in the beautiful Flathead Valley of northwest Montana.

2 replies on ““The Others””

Very interesting to hear. You have a pretty good idea what I think, and I just love his list of people he wants to have a heart like, AMEN to that list. I just hope and pray that people that are pursuing the seeker sensitive model with sit up and take notice… It is about God, no us.

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