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This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If You Build It, They Will Come (Part 2)

Hey, but what if it works? A commentator, a dear friend i admire deeply, raises an important point. What if a church does add all manner of bells and whistles, and even just one person comes, converts, and eventually grows to be there for all the right reasons? Isn't it worth it? If a method works, shouldn't we use it?

It's true, some people come up for the show, and end up developing enough substantial commitment to stay for the long-haul. And if it's as simple as that, then maybe we should do it that way. But i'm really not sure it is as simple as that.

i'm by no means qualified to give the exact numerical value of one conversion. God alone knows that number, and He gives us every impression that it's immeasurably huge. So i'm certainly not about to say, 'Nope, it wasn't worth it.'

But i do want to make three points that serve as indirect responses. Here is the first:

In the first post, i questioned whether the "Build-it-and-they-will-come" approach is a means which really will accomplish our ends (or what should be our ends). But consider a related point, what if those means are harmful to our general goals (even though they accomplish a specific one)? Maybe you've heard the question, "Shall we build Christ's kingdom using the devil's tools?" Now, i'm not saying that all build-it-and-they-will-come approaches are necessarily using the devil's tools. But the point of the question is something like this: Even if you get the good, praiseworthy outcome you want, did you give up something of value just to get it? In other words, what if a church's use of certain methods turned out to be spiritually detrimental to the congregation as a whole in the long run?

Suppose we do get a new visitor who converts. Did we get what we want and something that accomplishes one of our important goals?--yes. But what if the church that person was just added to is now worse off for having employed the methods they did? For instance, does it help us or hurt us to employ methods that cater to materialism and consumerism? Does it help us or hurt us to employ methods that will nurture materialism or consumerism in our own members? Does it help us or hurt us to cater to the idea that church life and worship is about whether or not we or our visitors find it fun or exciting or palatable-to-my-personal-tastes?

Here's a scarier possibility: What if the methods we're using reflect bad values we already have? In other words, is it possible that we want to do things a certain way simply because (maybe without realizing it) we're inculcated with materialism and consumerism? If that's true, then we just allowed ourselves to make decisions based on our un-Christian values, and insomuch as we approve of our new methods and projects, we've reinforced those methods and values.

i know those are sharply-toned questions. But i'm not at all pretending like the answers to those questions should be obvious, nor do i mean to assume that all seeker-sensitive outreach methods are necessarily materialistic. We have to determine whether the methods in question even are catering to or nurturing these negative values (maybe they don't), and then to what degree they cater to or nurture bad values (maybe only a little or maybe only from a certain perspective), and then to what degree they would hurt us even if they do cater to or nurture bad values.

So what i'm saying here is this: even if we get a huge, good payoff at the end (a new convert), that still doesn't necessarily imply that the ends justified the means. We still may very well end up hurting ourselves and even the newly-converted person for having used the methods we did.

6 comments:

Terry said...

You have one of the most thought-provoking blogs I have seen in a while. This series is especially good.

On this topic, I remember an old preacher making a comment at one time to this effect: Whatever you use to draw someone to the church is what they are converted to. If you use fun and games, they will leave when the fun stops and things get a little difficult in life. (He was referring to youth ministry at the time, I think.) If you use the message of Christ, they will continue to grow deeper. Of course, as you pointed out, his advice may be generally true, but may not apply to everyone. Some catch on to genuine faith in Christ anyway. And I am certainly not opposed to having fun with my good friends in the church. Still, I have always kept it in mind. It's a good cautionary note. I don't want to lose the message in the methodology.

reborn1995 said...

Terry,

i deeply appreciate your kindness and your participation on my blog!

'Build-it-and-they-will-come' seems to be the easy and popular and painless way to go these days. i wish more churches had the intestinal fortitude to dare to be radically simple and just see if the gospel and discipleship can stand on its own two feet. (i talk big, but i assure you i need just as much help as anyone having the courage to step out like that.)

MrsHonea said...

I agree with Terry in that, if nothing else, your blogs are very thought-provoking!

So, I believe that anything can be somebody's scape goat. I believe there are plenty of "Christians" or maybe a better term is "Sunday worship goers" that are just that. They believe in Christ; they feel better about themselves if they attend church services; and they enjoy the company of their friends at church. period. That's why they're "Christians" and that's why they attend services. Simple or Extravagant- I think it can be said of any congregation.
So, as I had stated before, I believe that if a church implements things that engage people (on many levels, but INCLUDING on a spiritual/relational level) then that's all you can ask for. Sometimes simple works wonders! Sometimes bringing out something new to show us things we've seen before but in a different manner can bring that same sense of wonder about God that maybe we hadn't felt since we were 10 and at Youth camp.

I do understand where your questions come from, but I believe that once you've heard the word of God, in whatever form that takes, you either believe it as truth and live to learn and love or you don't. I grew up in a church that may have been average as far as bells and whistles go. I now attend a church that is more liberal in their use of technology and fun, but do you want to know which church knows more about the gospel and truly is a servant to others? There's no question, it's my church I belong to now. They're not just servants on Sunday sitting in a pew watching a video as a part of the sermon....they are out there any given day of the week serving the community. That's how I know that it doesn't matter what you use inside the churhc, whatever it is, you've got to be showing CHRIST and realizing what we're asked to do: Love God and Love People. It's a simple message, but so many of us don't get it. We like church to be a safe place- none or few changes. We are free in Christ so that we can be in the world getting our hands dirty working for Him. I think this is the message that has to be heard in the church...by whatever means. That's what I meant by the end goal. If it's noticeable that people don't know Christ (and you will know by their actions) then simple or extravagant- doesn't really matter.

My response is all over the place. I'm not gonna reread and try to revise, but I do apologize. LOL :)

reborn1995 said...

Lindsey,

i think we might be closer than it appears.

i honestly don't oppose any "extras" in-and-of-themselves. Mayfair (my congregation) uses video projectors and has a family center already and even a lecture center and frequently does video productions to report about missions and such. i'm honestly not criticizing any of those as intrinsically wrong. Like you, i think by and large those things don't matter.

Firstly, my beef is with a church's intention/aim/goal/purpose/motive for such things. These 'extras' should be nothing more than that--extra. peripheral. Just a bonus at best. They aren't who we really are, and they aren't why we're really here together. We could have them or not have them, and we wouldn't have lost ourselves or our mission or our determination either way. The trouble is, my congregation (and i suspect many others as well) seems to think that a bunch of new 'extras' will save us in the long run. --that by a bunch of new bells and whistles, we'll grow and thrive and become more what we should. If that's our motive and goal, then the 'extras' aren't really extras anymore. they're no longer peripheral. we've made them a foundation upon which to stand and rely. That, i believe, is a tragically mistaken move.

Second, if my church
(or any other) by and large thinks this way, then i do think tossing out the extras is just what we need. Don't even let people have a chance to have the wrong impression about what we really should be about and who we really should be, whether those people be long standing members or first time visitors. i think that sort of 'fasting' and 'roughing it' could do us a bit of good, because eventually the right people would learn that it isn't 'fasting' at all, but rather learning to feast on the right things. (And frankly, i'm not sure anyone needs extras til they catch on to that point.)

i'm by no means saying that churches without extras are automatically doing better than those with extras. no way. the real problem is when either kind of church gets it in their head that adding or keeping the extras is what makes them a better church. All the video projectors and carnivals and youth centers in the world won't make a spiritually shallow church any deeper.

--Guy

Terry said...

I apologize for giving the impression that I was advocating complacency and snobbery. I worship with an urban ministry in Tulsa. We reach out to the poor in a variety of ways...including fun ways. About once or twice a month, we go to low-income apartment complexes and host cookouts for the residents. Often, we also give away clothing and groceries. We always play games with the kids, talk with the adults about whatever concerns them, and have a devotional afterwards. We become friends with people and introduce them to Christ along the way. Sometimes they decide to follow. We try to keep the biblical message and prayer central to who we are.

On the other hand, I know a teenage boy in another state who does not attend his Sunday morning youth group. Instead, he attends adult Bible classes. He became tired of spending the entire time talking about the performance of the local university's football team from the day before. He wanted something more. He wanted to know more of Christ and the Bible. He felt like he was being cheated in his youth group. The youth group had lost its identity and purpose. I am concerned that churches as a whole could follow the same path (or a similar one). Football is fun (I'm a volunteer coach on my son's football team), but it should not eclipse the message of Christ in importance.

This response may seem to contradict my previous comment, but I hope not. I hope it clarifies things. I am not opposed to doing things in a non-traditional way. I'm not exactly traditional in the way I think and act myself. I just don't want to lose sight of the message of Christ in the process of trying to reach people.

If you read my long and rambling comment, thanks! I hope it made some sense.

reborn1995 said...

Terry,

i detected no complacency or snobbery at all. Sounds like you have your priorities clear and are doing great work.

keep the comments coming though!

--Guy

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