Thursday, July 23, 2009

Unlearning Church

I have preached and written about the need for the church--ECOB in particular, but all churches in general--to move away from being program based to relationally based. Another way to say this, is to move from seeing church ministry as running a bunch of programs to seeing the church's ministry as building intentional relationships with people. Lying at the root of this transition is the belief that our mission as a church is to make disciples, and discipleship happens most effectively through intentional relationships of spiritual accountability.

This shift has significant ramifications for the church. Of course the church will always run programs, but the goal of such programs in this new paradigm shifts. Instead of asking questions like "how many people were involved in this program?" or "was it done professionally?" or "did it run smoothly?" we need to ask "did people grow spiritually?" or "did the program provide opportunity to build relationships with people that allow us to walk with them on their spiritual journey?" or "were people better equipped in one of the tree "R's" of discipleship?" (Relationship with Jesus, Responsibility for themselves, Reaching out to others).

I recently came across an article entitled "Unlearning Church" by Pastor Mike Slaughter. (See the link on the side bar under "Some Other Good Stuff.) Mike pastors Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church which was one of the early mega-churches in our nation. Ginghamsburg has been on the cutting edge of using technology in worship and basically set the stage for much of what happens in many mega-churches today. I have been there for worship several times and have a friend who is very active there. It is a great church. Mike's article looks deep into present day church culture and challenges us to move toward a focus on discipleship. I encourage you to read the article.

My vision for ECOB is that we become much more of an intentional disciplemaking community. We are in the process. God is shaping us for increased effectiveness in the coming age. While on Sabbatical--especially during the last third of it--I will be working on some specifics related to what it means for ECOB to move forward into this vision. The ramifications of this on how we currently perceive of church, measure our success, deploy our people, focus our staff, run our programs, and just about everything else, will be significant. But then, can you dream with me of what it would be like to be a church that is very present in our community, where regularly new people are connecting who have never been in church before, and they are invited into meaningful relationships with believers who are committed to walking with them on their Christian journey, where every one of us assumes our responsibility to be the people of God in mission to each other and our world? Wow! That is the church Jesus envisioned and died for, and that is the church we are becoming.