Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Grow Spiritually = Active in Small Group and Still in Church

As I began to wake up from my years of Churchianity I began to really struggle with the rhetoric we hear week in and week out (or day in and day out if you are a really mature Christian -tongue in cheek-) about spiritual growth. In a recent article on his blog, David Landrith, pastor of the church I used to attend for quite some time and by all the standard measures of church success a highly successful place, kicked off an emphasis on getting everyone involved in a small group (amazing this is a whole article and they finally decided not to call it Sunday School... something they said would never change while I was there). In the article he makes note of the following (my excerpts with surrounding stuff removed)...
to grow spiritually...

the value of being in a small group...

...five times more likely to be active in church than those who attended worship service alone.  They also found that more than eight out of ten of the members who were active in a small group were still in church 5 years later.  However, only two of ten were still active in the church five years later if they attended worship services only.

The reality is that most life change occurs in a small group!

Note the beginning of the excerpts set up the premise that he's going to talk about spiritual growth. Then he quotes the president of LifeWay about the value of small groups and how going ensures you'll still be going five years down the road whereas those who only take a small dose each week were so much less likely to be as active.

So, what's wrong with this? Where's the growth, other than the number of folks filing through the doors each week of course? We are talking about growing spiritually, right?

So, here's the unquestioned assumption here not being challenged is "are those who are still involved five years later actually walking more like Christ (not do they go to church more often, tithe more, walk and talk like 'us')?" While I would submit there are a handful who truly live more like Jesus I would also submit it's not the small groups, or the worship services that changed those lives. In fact, I would submit that those lives would have been changed even apart from the millions of dollars it took to "make it happen" through weekly experiences at the church. Those individuals, given a genuine one on one relationship with another believer would have grown and saved "the kingdom" millions of dollars.

David, I don't know if you will read this or not. And I hope that, if you do, you won't be offended that I chose to blog about this rather than write a personal email. I sat and listened to your preaching for about a year and a half as I had begun to awake from my Churchianity. I heard the inner struggle you too were going through coming through in your own preaching. I heard you lament that you stayed awake at nights knowing the lack of impact all the weekly efforts were really making in the multitude surrounding you. Of all the churches I had been a part of and visited, Long Hollow seemed to have the most potential for turning the tide and throwing out the business-focused church growth questions and evaluators and trying to truly find a way to measure and evaluate personal spiritual growth. I hope God will continue to allow you to be tormented with those questions rather than, as it appears in this article, settling for the numbers=growth model which has paralyzed those who call themselves believers for decades. It was through torment like that I was awakened and realized God was doing something brand new and I wanted to be a part of it.

Let me challenge you to read the book Plan A. And There Is No Plan B. by Dwight Robertson. Specifically looking for the illustration about the man who invented the game of checkers. I believe churches, like the emperor of China in that illustration, would be offended that any believer would "ask for so little" as to invest themselves into two others, who would in turn invest themselves into two, who would eventually, the pattern continued, change the world. Why do we always have to find more productive ways of doing it ourselves when Jesus gave to us The Way and showed us how to do it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Projecting the familiar on to that we've not experienced

So as I cruise the Internet reading various blogs I continue to astounded and marvel at the pervasive habit of projecting the tenants of something with which we are familiar on to something we've never experienced.

Okay, guilty as charged. I too did this for a couple of decades. From the time I began to make my way into "full time ministry" I interpreted everything I read in the Bible through the filters of stuff I saw and understood around me. In other words, when I read "church" in the New Testament I projected what I saw a church to be in my culture and time onto what I read. Almost as if the Ephesian "church" looked and functioned just like First Church Anytown I was familiar with. They had Sunday School in the morning on Sundays right? Well, that's a little too simplistic but you get the idea. When I read "pastor" I projected what I had always known as a "pastor" back on to what I was reading. When I read Paul's letter to the church at Galatia I read it envisioning a group of people gathered on a certain day seated in orderly fashion where a designated person read the letter as part of the "service" being conducted. I envisioned a "pastor" speaking

That's a dangerous flaw in the way we read and study. I know, I know, that's why we do all that deep Bible study and ferret out the meanings and culture and history. But the fact remains, my impression of what the New Testament Christ Followers were like was tainted by my own experience. I knew nothing else.

Last year I began to escape the decades of filters that had for so long kept me from understanding the life and ministry of Jesus and what He left to his disciples. The mission He left them. Not the mission I was taught being projected back on to what He said at the end of Matthew, but more of what He was truly saying to them. Since then, my eyes have been opened to understand things from my reading that had before never quite connected. Now, the rationalizations I had made as to why something I read in the Bible didn't seem to fit with other stuff I read in the Bible began to no longer be necessary.

I'm anxious at some point to try once again to learn to read Greek and may attempt (yeah right) Hebrew. I'm wondering how much of what we read in a translation could be skewed by that which the translator is familiar with and takes on today's meaning rather than the meaning for which it was written. I know. I know. This is a Pandora's box. But nonetheless, one worth considering.