Sunday, October 5, 2008

95 'wiki' theses for Reform?

Ok guys, here we go with another discussion thread. It seems to me that we have come to agreement, that while holding to the creeds and the whole history of the church, there is a need for ‘wiki’ reformational updating in the Evangelical wing of the church.

I mentioned 5 things I think need a ‘wiki’ updating in the last thread. In this discussion, lets come up with a comprehensive list of things that need reforming in the current U.S. Evangelical church. I’ll start with repeating one area I think that urgently needs to be reformed. Let's look for "change you can believe in." (ok, sorry, just kidding!)

I composed a little ditty for this discussion…

♪♫ 94 theses to post on this thread…
94 theses to post!
Write one down, discuss it all around,
93 theses to post on the blog

(click below for musical accompaniment ... these guys remind me of us talking theology in our blog... or of me and John Meadows on our way to the Kansas City Shepherds conference with Frank Dawson in 1975!)


smokin joe said...

I will repeat my thesis that the number one reformation needed in the Evangelical church(s) is spiritual formation. I believe this is what the covenant movement attempted to bring to the body of Christ in 1975 ... and we had some limited success, although there were some flaws with our methodology.

I know this is an area that Dallas Willard in particular has advocated. In my opinion, every Evangelical spiritual leader should spend a couple of years working with a "spiritual director" or mentor learning to walk in the light, to hold him/herself accountable, to implement scripture in one's life, and to develop a strong marriage and family life, character attitudes and fruit of the spirit, and perhaps most urgently in recent days, to work on sexual wholeness. This, more than any thing else I can think of would revolutionize, not only the Evangelical church, but through the church would have a significant impact on society.

Next wiki reformational thesis!

SarahtheDancer said...

I agree with Joe that spiritual formation is very important. I think many times people are hurried into positions of leadership b/c they have a “charismatic” personality, or great admin skills. This is a huge mistake. And leads to another area that I feel is of GREAT importance. Getting out of the church and into the world.

It seems to me that too often our entire lives revolve around our church family. We see them on Sunday, we fellowship with them throughout the week. We call on them when we need something. And this is all great! But I think too many people are so “in grown” that they are actually VERY uncomfortable with the world. We shy away from neighbors or coworkers of other faiths, or no faith. Or, if we do befriend them, it is with an ulterior motive.

I believe that we need to get out of the church and start actually living the kingdom in our communities and at our jobs. To truly begin to fellowship with and break bread with those around us who are not part of our “church family’. And especially, we need to treat them with respect and dignity – not as “sick, lost” people who need OUR help. But as valuable peers who we can give to, but also learn and receive from.

This attitude of humility and mutual respect could really change the negative reputations of “Christians”, and people would REALLY begin to be interested in who we are. If we care to hear what they have to say, they would probably be much more interested in what we have to say.

Brian Emmet said...

Reformation Sunday is on, I think, October 30 or 31--right up against All Saints Day on November 1, so Joseph's post is a timely one.

My wiki thesis proposal would have something to do with a deeper engagement with Scripture on all our parts: a renewed commitment to, coupled with a revised understanding of, Scripture as God's Word. I want to maintain Reformational "sola Scriptura" because I think it guards us from moving to "sola kultura," but to regain a sense for how God is deeply committed to speaking his word to and within our culture.

My second proposal would be that no church could be larger than 250... churches that become larger would be "required" to plant a second congregation. This one is perhaps a bit more whimsical than my first...

smokin joe said...

actually, have you read 'the tipping point'? I would personally argue for no church larger than 150 ... although, for community purposes, 65 to 80 is almost ideal. I like your proposals! Perhaps in our next discussion thread (after Oct. 31?) we can talk about some ideas for implementation...

92 theses to post on the blog...
92 theses to post!
write one down, pass it around,
91 theses to post on this blog.

Brian Emmet said...

Yes, read the TP... do you mean here that above a certain size, a church "tips" into a new mode of being that is less "faithful"?

My 250 figure was a guess... I remmeber Eugene Peterson said a church should never grwo beyond a size where everybody could know everybody's name, and he said he felt that was around 300, which seemed a bit high to me.

Keeping congregations small(er) might help spare us from some of the pitfalls of power-love that come with a bigger "footprint", encourage us to humility, interdependnece, better spiritual formation... but there are pitfalls and problems with my thesis as well, which probably reminds us that we will always and ever be in need of reforming.

John the Musician said...

Congregations *shutters* No offense to anyone all around, but I've seen only seen a handful of 100ish member churches that effectively work as well in a "congregation" setting as they do in small group settings. I guess from my limited experience I feel that the "Real Church" should be the 10-12 max member small groups, and the gathering or God-Parties should or could be a larger and less frequent event.

I spent some time with the Columbus church under the leadership of Michael Cook and was astounded that they implemented this format exceedingly well having every other Sunday be a small group setting with the in-between times for larger gatherings. I would say Ideally the "good stuff" or getting real on a personal level that can be effective should happen 3 times a month and one big family get together at the end of the month to talk about the goings on.

All this is of course just my personal preference, but it would seem to make sense that a group can get more intimate and thus grow faster in a smaller setting and because of that the smaller setting should be more frequent.

The biggest area that needs reformed in my opinion however, is the need to show those outside the church lifestyle that we aren't going to judge their lifestyles...and of course to do that we're going to have to actually not judge their lifestyles. =OP

I know that most folks here don't make it a habit to do so, but I'm afraid the world views "the church" as a bunch of hypocrites.

smokin joe said...

not less 'faithful' Brian ... but certainly more 'corporate' and impersonal. There is an inevitable transition around the 200 barrier that requires the 'shepherd' to become a CEO and the congregational community to become a more professionalized organization ... which brings us back to our conversation with Bruce in the last thread about 'rational bureaucratic' structures and leadership. Is that what Jesus had in mind when he said they will know we are his disciples by our love? Or that 'he would build HIS church?' maybe, but the drive to 'bigger and better and more expensive' seems to be the culprit for many of Evangelicalisms current ills as you so astutely pointed out ... my point is that even if you limit churches to 250 ... as soon as you cross about 175 or 180 you start to lose the personal touch...

Good comments John ... i have noticed with you and Phil that if I am radical, you guys tend to be super radical .... I guess I had better be careful! I agree with your comments about what Michael Cook is doing, he had developed one of the most healthy congregations that I know of ...

William said...

I have been thinking about the body of Christ...His bridegroom...the past few days. Ill share some of my thoughts and then out of that, you can help me decipher what I think needs to be changed, and then I will put it up on the blog.

I have been reading in Joshua. I am where Israel has just defeated Jericho, has been defeated by Ai and just stoned Achan and his family and burned all the possessions. When Joshua complains to the Lord about Israel's defeat, the Lord tells him that Israel will not have victory until the things under the ban have been removed. Basically, "you're not going forward until you have obeyed my voice". Joshua didnt know there was disobedience among them. The Spirit had to reveal it to him. Then God broke down Israel like this:
Tribes-->Families-->Households--> order for the disobedient one to be brought into the light.

Thats when I saw that Israel was built on Men, who were in Households which were part of families which made up the Tribes. It is relationships structured into one group of People whom God referred to as One. When one man sinned, the chosen people in their entirety suffered and could not advance until it was dealt with. The head of the nation was supposed to be God, but the people rejected Him and demanded a physical king.

I am thinking that it parallels the church. We were never meant to reside in a building and center out of that. Its where the men (women) are who are part of households of believers, who are in turn part of a larger spiritual family, which make up the different "tribes", but who are all supposed to function and move as one body under the headship and authority of Jesus Christ. We can do this through the Holy Spirit. If nothing is happening in a community of believers. Things under the ban, or things that the Holy Spirit says to remove, must go, otherwise not only will that community not be able to move forward, but the entire body of Christ is halted. God does not make allowances and say that it is ok if this group here in such and such a city is not fully following and committed to Him and to walk in His Spirit, which he gave as a pledge of what is too come. No. If the pinky finger hurts, the whole body hurts. We must do our part in making sure each individual in our household is walking in the light, so that there is no darkness among us and we can have fellowship with one the larger spiritual family and body of Christ.

I know that this is what we, the church, have been trying to do the past 2000 years. Also I know, but not understand or fully grasp, the fact that the Church is eternal and God is the God of the living. I think we downplay the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must decrease and He must increase. The more that happens, the more He is able to do His job and sanctify us, making us like Christ, an expectant, ready, blameless, joyful bridegroom.

In Short, I think we need to move from a corporate model to more of a household/family model and focus more on the headship of Christ.

Brian Emmet said...

Great to hear from you, John the M nd William; I'm grateful for your participation and appreciate your perspectives. Joseph, I'm getting nervous that we may start to retread "what the church should be" ground--but you started this round! Should we discuss each proposed "thesis" a bit, or would that take us down too many rabbit trails?

smokin joe said...

yes, I realize we are back on the church. We moved that direction when in the last thread about the 'wiki' nature of the church, reformation, RCC and Orthodoxy. I just didn't want to default back to 'church' stuff when we were on the kingdom ... and there is a lot more we could talk about on the kingdom.

By-the-way, that could be another thesis for evangelical reformation... developing a 'kingdom' focus rather than a 'church' focus; a 'sowing'/scattering mentality rather than a gathering/building mentality. An 'outward' focus rather than inward.

Lets give it a little longer for Patrick, Steve, Stephen, Randy, Don, Bruce, David, and John M. to weigh in...and then perhaps we can compile the list and begin to tackle some discussion of the issues.

John M. said...

First, in case you missed it, post number 19 on the last thread is a brief comment on Scot McKnight's book, "A Comnunity Called Atonement". If you didn't read it, I recommend you go back and check it out.

It has relationship to the previous post regarding "kingdom" and the present post regarding "church".

Welcome back William John the Musician and Sarahthedancer. I like and agree with what you all are saying.

Most of you have heard my comments regarding Church, but I would go for smaller-the-better micro-churches connected relationally into the larger family/community.

Perhaps we should add a thesis that says something like, "The Evangelical Church would do well to make a constructively critical and intentional evaluation of it's understanding and practice of ecclesiology; understanding from the outset that radical reform may be indicated and that the current, popular structure of the church is not sacrosanct or absolute."

Admittedly, the thesis as I've stated it reveals my prejudice that reform of church structure is needed. Perhaps someone migt want to reword it to be more "irenic".

Patrick said...

hello all! these theses sound great! i'm tempted to just go eat my banana bread for the morning and leave the talking to you guys.

The American church has, for the most part, isolated themselves from the dirtiness of the world. (As SarahTheDancer already commented.) I would recommend disbanding Sunday morning congregational meetings, breaking into groups no bigger than the size of your living room and begin building relationships with people "in the world." Since that is highly unlikely, maybe we could start in small steps.

Robert Grant has something he refers to as "3M Christianity" which I see as the foundation of life in a body of believers.
Meeting together in worship
Maturing together in discipleship
Missioning together for the harvest.
Whatever we're about as we're gathered here for these days, if it doesn't result in that, then our compass was off. And I like to question the things that we do and see if they fit in those categories.

So what does that put the theses count at? How many more left to post?

Brian Emmet said...

A couple more proposals--but Jose is free to tell me that I have already bagged my limit:

Eliminate badly composed, theologically vapid or erroneous "worship music."

All "senior leaders" (however defined) will have a grounding in all 2000+ years of church history (Course title: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly).

Congregations (however defined) will creatively and meaningfully celebrate (however defined)Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday (however named)every year, because these events are at the center of our faith.

Patrick said...

here! here! to the worship music

How about not having any "full-time" local pastors that receive their primary monetary income from their church?

smokin joe said...

ouch! now you are meddling... :-)

Patrick said...

yeah I figured as much. hope I don't lose too many friends over that one. It is a question, though. I'm open to correction...

smokin joe said...

I tend to agree with you ... but I think we need to give the caveat that we are thinking primarily about new congregations and missional church planting ... and not necessarily insisting that existing congregations need to change ... although feel free to take issue with me. There is a biblical basis for support for elders who work hard at teaching and pastoral care ...

on the other hand, it is also true that many 'church' and 'missional' issues end up getting driven on the basis of the money trail.

I especially agree with you in terms of apostolic church planters ... I think Paul's example of tentmaking is even more necessary in starting new works.

Sorry Brian, I did what I told you not to do ... moved into commentary. Feel free ...

Brian Emmet said...

Let's save my commentary for later, if ever--let's get some more theses on the table!

Resolved: every "church" (however defined) should have a poet-in-residence, along with one other non-musical artist-in-residence.

Patrick said...

ok, Brian I love that conclusion! I didn't realize we were going for new church plants; I thought we were trying to amend the old. But this changes things, specifically for me. I don't know how many of you guys know this, but here in San Antonio we are on the brink of planting of a house church! I'm so stoked about this, by the way.

I've got a couple questions about this sort of thing:

is a name for a new church necessary? harmful? helpful?
how would you safeguard against politics infiltrating a new plant?
would acquiring a 501(c)(3) in the beginning promote institutionalism, or could it help the church in its fluidity?

smokin joe said...

your right Patrick, we were talking about reforming the existing church. The one you mentioned is a real tough one ... it is easier to reform the future than it is the past and the present.

Brian, it is real tempting to get into discussion about 'how tos' here...

Brian Emmet said...

Don't let me hold anyone back!

steve H said...

Concerning pay -- we do need reform, but how and what. Interestingly, Paul uses the same Old Testament text to call for the financial support of both apostles (translocal ministries?) and supporting local elders. (I Cor 9 and I Tim 5) It seems fairly obvious that we have not done well with the both/and aspect of support.

It is also interesting to note Paul's statement that, just like the Old Testament priests and Levites were to be supported, "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." And yet, even though it was "the Lord's command," Paul did not opt for full support and usually not for support from those among whom he was currently ministering.

I personally have tried more than once to support myself with work outside the church-- both altogether outside and bi-vocationally. It appears to be the Lord who keeps pressing me back to "full time" support. That's not a defensive statement, but simply fact. So I am left with the questions "What kind of reform and how do we do it?"

Here's another "thesis": The "church" should cease being congregations primarily defined by "religious" meetings and "services rendered," and to return to our calling -- to be the people of God who manifest and proclaim the kingdom of God in our way of life together.

smokin joe said...

ok guys, I went through all of the comments, and by my count we have either 14 or 15 theses, depending on if Brian was serious about the 'poet in residence'. Not a bad idea, especially if the poet has prophetic sensitivities.

Here is number 16: The Evangelical church needs to regain a proper, biblical appreciation for the apostolic and move from a primarily 'pastoral' mindset to a primarily 'apostolic' mindset in all that the apostolic entails. This includes appreciaiton for the apostolic foundations of the historic church as well as missional-evangelism across cultural boundaries.

I have one more comment, and then I am going to post the 16 theses in a new discussion thread for simplicity and to move to some discussion.

smokin joe said...

ok guys, I went through all of the comments, and by my count we have either 14 or 15 theses, depending on if Brian was serious about the 'poet in residence'. Not a bad idea, especially if the poet has prophetic sensitivities.

Here is number 16: The Evangelical church needs to regain a proper, biblical appreciation for the apostolic and move from a primarily 'pastoral' mindset to a primarily 'apostolic' mindset in all that the apostolic entails. This includes appreciaiton for the apostolic foundations of the historic church as well as missional-evangelism across cultural boundaries.

I have one more comment, and then I am going to post the 16 theses in a new discussion thread for simplicity and to move to some discussion.

smokin joe said...


no, I don't think that a spiritual community needs a name or a 501c3, although I would not go so far as to say that it should not have either.

I think it depends upon the original goals of the group. There is, in my occasionally humble opinion, a slippery slide towards institutional organization once you start naming and centralizing financial giving. There is nothing wrong with developing a good, solid organizational institution of God calls you to do that... but it is not necessary to do that in order to be the ekklesia.

When we started our 'community', my primary goals were to 1) make disciples, and 2) to empower individuals to take responsability for working out their own salvation. A third goal was probably to work myself out of a job as quickly as possible so that I could continue "going" to new groups. In the past, I have had trouble exiting from church plants because of building them around my gifts and the challenge of replacing myself.

However, if you build 'organically' and simply... you need to be prepared for the group to be as inherently unstable as most relationships are. And you need to not expect longevity ... if the group reproduces once or twice, that is enough ...

I hope this helps.

steve H said...

Here in Winchester we have tried to distinguish between "the community" (led by elders) called Winchester Covenant Church and "the corporation" (led by directors) that represents "the community" in matters of business and civil government. These distinctions are laid out as clearly as we knew how in our articles and bylaws. Whether they would stand up if tested or not, I don't know. The state only requires that we file the papers. The IRS seemed primarily concerned that we have a projected budget and the correct "legalease" regarding what would happen to the money if we close the corporation.

I'm not suggesting this to be a necessary pattern to follow, but I think that it at least demonstrates that we have tried to stay free to be the people of God and to abide as best we can within the civil system where God has placed us. I would suggest that "reform" requires that every local church community and every ministry explicitly grapple with these issues in some way.

smokin joe said...

good comments Steve ... I admire what you are doing in Winchester.

by-the-way, I collected all of the suggestions and posted 17 theses that we came up with in a new discussion as a summary. Lets talk our way down through the list.

SarahtheDancer said...

Following up on Patrick’s comment about “not having any "full-time" local pastors that receive their primary monetary income from their church?”

One of my best friends is an amazingly spiritual Mormon woman. We were talking the other day about the differences between Mormon and Evangelical Churches and she mentioned that in the Mormon church, none of the pastors or administration gets a salary. The leaders work regular jobs and volunteer their time on Sunday.

I did some research on this and it’s actually true. “Among the unique aspects of the Mormon Church is the institution of a lay clergy. With the exception of a few leaders at the very top of the church’s hierarchy, almost all leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are lay clergy, without professional training or salary.”

I find this VERY attractive! It keeps leaders humble and avoids many temptations! I wonder if many churches are holding on so tightly to the “traditional” model b/c it is the main source of income for the leaders, and not b/c it is actually what God is calling us to do.

smokin joe said...

Sarah: good point!

it is a little harder to work out in practice than in theory ... but you are right, ALL of the fastest growing religious movements function with tentmaking, lay or bi-vocational pastoral leadership. This includes the Jehovah's witnesses, and on a more orthodox note, it also includes the cell church movement in China. I saw an article in a Foreign Affairs on-line journal recently that there are more Christians in China now than there are communists. the article speculated that this would bring major political changes to china sooner or later.

Another group that has functioned this way is the explosive groups of churches presented in "The Organic Church." And of course, we must not forget the experience of the first generation of the early church.

Part the reason that it is so hard for an individual pastor to actually implement, is that it requires a total rethinking of the entire church ... and it requires smaller congregations with a high percentage of highly committed people.

The congregational members must release any expectations they have of professional leadership and pastoral care and give themselves to engaging responsibility for 'one-another' care ... and lay leadership for ministries. I tried for 10 years to do this in CARIS, unsuccessfully...and another 4 years with our house churches - again unsuccessfully to a large degree.

In my experience, this shift is almost impossible to accomplish with people who have already experienced what Dow calls "The American Church model" .... thats why I am now experimenting with trying to do this with young people who have NO previous experience with church life.

Do you 'copy' Patrick? What do you think Steve? We are not attacking anyone here.... just reflecting.

Patrick said...

I hear you loud and clear. I agree that it would be impossible to have those currently in the American church to transition to an organic church. They can stay there; that's fine with me, but for pete's sake I hope I'm somewhere else.

I think in new mission plants, no pastor should be full time, with a salary derived from the members. I know this disagrees with the levitical priest methodology. In this case, pastor would be one man, or a group of men, devoted to that local body only. I think we've agreed on this.

should we get into why? pros and cons? alternatives to a full time pastor?

smokin joe said...

Of course, the levitical priests did not plant many churches... in this, I think St. Paul is our best example.

I want to be clear that I do not oppose pastors salaries 'theologically' but missiologically. There is clear scriptural support for senior elders or apostolic workers to receive financial support. But I think is the early New Testament generation, it was often probably more the exception than the rule.

In order to make it work, a new group MUST be taught the high priority of the 'one-another' commands of the NT. Not only taught, but also trained.

I'm sure that Brian, Steve and John will have some good things to say and will bring balance.

Patrick said...

right, I'm not opposing them theologically either. But in the context of a new 21st century American church plant, it won't work. I think it's like old wine in new wineskins. the times are changing, as are the methods. save the baby, toss the bath water.

smokin joe said...

I probably should offer a caveat here and say that most of my income comes from missionary support, although the missionary support has never covered 100% of our expenses. Debbie worked a full-time job and supplied part of our income up through last fall. Now I am depending on academic fellowships and Teaching Assistenceships to make up the balance.

We would never have been able survive and do any kingdom work in Miami without the help of those who have supported us, which include at least two of the 'full-time' pastors in this discussion.

Paul was careful not to receive support from the people he was currently gathering into fellowship ... but 13 years after having started the church in Philippi, he wrote the Philippians and thanked them for their generosity and offerings.

I think the key is to not allow 'dependency' of the congregation on either apostolic workers or pastoral leaders. A good pastoral leader may well deserve financial support, but in accordance with Eph. 4:11 should be functioning more as a coach and trainer than a professional provider of spiritual services. This is harder than one thinks in our current environment.

It is even more problematic for apostolic workers to allow this dependency -- there will be real temptation for such a one to settle in, and to stay in one place for the financial security ... thus limiting the apostolic work. And the members of the congregation may easily become dependent upon the extraordinary spiritual gifts of the apostolic worker rather than each one bringing something to the table (1Cor.14:28), and learn to be passive consumers.

I would love to find about 10 to 15 young 20-somethings with a call to apostolic work and coach them in how to work with the H.S. to gather circles of faith and fellowship around Christ without sliding into 'full-time patoral' ministry. It is a dream I have had for many years ... don't know if it is God's dream for me though.