I am listening, thinking, and taking it all with the grain of salt. The man I'm talking to is a bit of a legend and a huge advocate for the short-cycle church planting movement and the idea of Train the Trainers (As is written about here:)
I don't fully agree with those movements (though I do agree with some things about them), but I want to learn from them and from him and be challenged where needed. Here are a few ideas that have been thrown out:
Both my community group and my high school girls group should move to considering themselves house churches. My response? Why is there a need for groups to consider themselves churches? If you do all the same things, is there any difference in calling yourself a "church" or not? Him: Perhaps not for the leader, but for the members. If you consider yourself a church, you take ownership in what you're doing, you're intentional, and you should also be more intentional about multiplying.
On that note, multiplication is crucial in all of this. If a group is not growing, it is dying or at least is not obedient to God's ideal. There is no point in continuing on with a group year after year - instead you should be growing, and then dividing in order to grow more.
Me: Well, for high school girls, why call their group a house church when there is no family involvement, it's just for high schoolers? Him: American Evangelicals idolize family, and there is no need to have a church be filled with all ages. Believers should reach out to their peers, and if their peers are their age, then the churches they form will reflect their age, and that's fine.
Another idea he's pushed back against is the idea of discipleship, which ironically is what my last post was about. He thinks that often our ideas about discipleship only contribute to the "holy huddle" of Christians hanging out with Christians and all talking about good things and never actually going out and "making disciples", which is more accurately evangelizing rather than doing Bible Studies. Actually, after I described the demographics of kids in these small groups, he told me I should probably not be involved at all, since it just perpetuates a broken system in their lives (of always only being in a passive Christian environment). He pulled away from the vehemence of that statement later, but what's clear is that he would push me to work not with kids that have grown up in the Church but with kids on the edges, on the margins. The only reason to work with kids in the Church is to push THEM to work with kids on the edges.(my thoughts: the NT has evangelizing, but it also very clearly has people working to shepherd/teach/mature)
On that note, one thing he and I absolutely agree on is that it is a massive problem that these kids are told to "avoid bad influences" and so hang out mostly with people that are also sheltered and comfortably Christian. This means that those that should be salt and light are isolated from those that need Jesus most, and these kids themselves never have their faith stretched or grown by doing what they're called to do - take Jesus to those around them. It's true that Evangelicalism has a holy huddle mentality and it sucks.This guy's statement was to send my girls to the teen clubs. Hah - can you imagine what the parents would say??
I talked about how part of my goal with these girls is to expose them to life outside of their safe bubble world. I mentioned that I wanted them to meet the refugee family I work with. My friend said absoultely no way. This would merely set them up to feel pity for their economic state and would not challenge the girls spiritually. Hmm....
One of my thoughts is - what about considering mega churches a sort of denomination and the small groups within them (like mine) as house churches within that denomination. I for one couldn't do the big church without the small group, but I do actually love having the structure and guidance of the larger church body, and honestly the types of outreach and ministry that we do are so much greater because we network within a larger body. I can't see why there's anything wrong with that.
I have no conclusions here, I just wanted to throw out some of what was thrown at me so that I (and you) can muse over it a little. Do you guys have thoughts?
The thing is, I think some of the presuppositions here point back to the same things fueling a lot of the missional and emerging church movement. There's a lot in there that I agree with, but when I heard Michel Frost (author of several missional movement books along with Alan Hirsch) speak at Dallas Theological Seminary last year, I was put off by how anti-institutional church he was.
In this post, David Fitch analyzes some of Frost and Hirsch's mentality in an absolutely fantastic post that you should all read. First - where we all agree:
We still believe we possess power and influence in our culture “to compel them to come to us.” We organize ourselves into hierarchical business like structures that centralize the church’s operations instead of dispersing it into the world. In order to preserve our own culture, we divide what is sacred (the church) from the secular (the world). It is a power play requiring those who believe to come to church to meet God. As a result, the church is self-enclosed trying to defend its own view of the world. It has not only withdrawn from Mission, it has become antagonistic to it.... In response to this state of affairs, Hirsch and Frost preach a dispersed notion of the church where it inhabits its neighborhoods and contexts of everyday life. Recounting some the core themes of missional thinkers, they unfurl how the church is to live missionally as an extension of the Mission of God in the world (not as a church that does missions as a program).In all of this, I completely agree. But as Fitch goes on to say, because Hirsch and Frost believe that Christ drives the individual's mission in the world - Christology directly determines Missiology, after which you figure out your Ecclesiology.
Implicit in this formula is that we (anyone) can know/encounter Christ determinately apart from the ongoing form of the church. The continuous forms of the church...are therefore dispensable for Mission. Jesus forms the church directly in Mission....the church carries no continuous form from context to context....
The danger here is that ...we become a bunch of individuals seeking a personal mystical experience of Christ via our own interpretation of the gospels. We become individual worshipers of a self-described Jesus devoid of the means to be immersed in the work of the Triune God in the world.....
The incarnation is more than a principle to be applied as a missiological method – it is a reality extended in and through the church. These practices should not separate us from the world, they should incarnate us as His body in the world... Through these simple ecclesial practices, we are enabled as individuals to submit to and participate in the full Trinitarian Mission of God of which the church has been sent and is a part. In these ways, missiology does not precede ecclesiology, missiology is ecclesiology and vice versa..
That's my unease. I see flaws in in the institutional church, but I am not anti-institution. In fact, I long for it. I love the history, tradition, liturgy, sacraments, the practices, the form. So, both in mission and in ecclesiology, I am pro-institution. I believe that the institution of the church (which looks different in different places - I an not at all against contextualization and variety) IS the form of the mission of God in the world, and so I want to cultivate it, not minimize it. I think that's a key point where I break with my mentor/friend at work. I am convicted about the need for breaking away from the "huddle" and convicted about the need for multiplication and do want to implement all of this However, I want to know how it can be implemented within my local body of believers.