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A Few Assumptions We Seem to Make

6 October 2006

1. “Inviting” is fundamentally equivalent to “going.”

2. A Christian community must have a physical headquarters.

3. Bigger is necessarily better, numerically speaking.

4. Efficiency and standardization are paramount virtues for the Church.

5. We need one leader to conceive and articulate vision and ideas.

6. Dissent is inherently divisive and dangerous.

7. Marketing – segmenting, and then catering to those segments’ whims – is essential to reach the modern world with the Gospel.

8. Prophetic and apostolic roles (even if not viewed as identical with or equivalent to the Apostles per se) are relics of another time and place.

9. The focal point of Christian life, and therefore the arena of outreach in which we ought to invest most of our resources, is the Sunday assembly.

10. We need more hirelings, not fewer.

11. The tithe’s proper “storehouse” is the church tiller.

12. Institutional orthodoxy is of comparable rank to doctrinal orthodoxy.

13. If our building, our staff and our programming were taken away from us, our congregation as we have always known it would cease to exist.

14. Experimentation is as dangerous as dissent.

In a moment of raw candor a couple of months ago, a close friend challenged me to describe what “my” church would look like if I were to start from scratch. At the time, out of false humility, I demurred. I have since come to understand that it is possible (essential?) to re-imagine the church according to my current understanding and still exhibit the humility to know that my concepts are subject to error, correction and outright contradiction by God or His people. So I’m walking down that road my brother challenged me to walk…not with the intent of actually starting “my” own church (which is terrible language to use in reference to Christ’s church), but as a means of coming to a coherent sense of what I understand the mission of Christ’s people to be so that I can act on that understanding, in faith and in cooperation with God’s people.

Michael Frost (Exiles, Chapter 1) says that the church has lost something vital through the centuries as it got comfortable with its respectability and cultural status as the focal point of social life: the dynamic, shared, multifaceted leadership of apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic dimensions (see Eph. 4:1ff), preferring the safe predictability of the pastoral and teaching gifts. I do not for a moment believe that returning the apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic (A-P-E) dimensions to church leadership must diminish the pastoral and teaching (P-T) gifts; if anything, the rise of A-P-E amplifies the need for strong P-T dimensions as a corrective. We take new ground with A-P-E, and we settle it with P-T. But we expend all of our energies these days on P-T, except for those hollow “programs” of the church that are designed for “outreach,” by which we mean ultimately “inviting the unchurched to get churched at our church.” No wonder, then, that the culture sees us as self-indulgent posers. What does that religious mall out on in affluent, fast-growing suburbia say to Amarillo? “If we build it, they will come.” And they laugh at us. They won’t come, for the most part (except for the members we borrow temporarily from other fellowships!), because they suspect rightly that we’re all hat and no cowboy. If we really believed what Jesus said and taught, we’d be unafraid to jettison the distinct trappings of middle-upper-class, white, cultural religion and go engage the very ones to whom Jesus went to proclaim the kingdom of heaven’s presence among us: the poor, the downtrodden, the outcasts, the lepers.

We have lost the “go” from the Great Commission with an undue focus on the “as you go” aspect of the Greek/Aramaic used there. We seem to assume that “as you go” implies a sort of benign, passive, trickle-down, side effect of so-called “discipleship.” Our local preacher is right to call us to intentionality; he has the right wine, in other words, he just has the wrong wineskins to put it in. McManus and Eldredge both have important things to say about this, but we’ve got to go further and more wisely with it.

I know I’m a little slow on the up-take, but I’m finally getting to where many of you already are and have been for some time. I’m asking you to help me (a) figure out how to get this message out there for discussion, and then (b) get this message out there for discussion. Or perhaps I should say that I want to help you get this message out there where we can evaluate it soberly and open-mindedly. Our contest is not with our local preachers per se; it really is with the entrenched spirits of myopia, stasis, comfort and cultural respectability that have us paralyzed and imprisoned in Christendom’s world view, from the grassroots all the way up (ugh!) to our leaders. Time for a breakout. Now, how to go about it?

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