Thursday, January 18, 2007

What Kind of Church Are You?

A few days ago I heard part of a message by Dr. Tim Keller where he mentioned a familiar quote that I have been thinking about quite a bit the last few days. The quote goes something like this; “Presbyterians are good at their theology, Baptists at their evangelism, charismatics at their worship, and Methodists at their social programs.” We could probably all name churches that would modernize the quote a bit. Bethlehem Baptist (Piper) and Grace Community (McCarthur) are known for their theology, Willow (Hybels) and Mosaic (McManus) are known for their evangelism, charismatic churches are known for their worship and worship leaders (Tomlin, Baloche, Brewster, Walker) and emerging and mainline churches are known for their social influence.

In the talk Keller promotes the idea that a healthy church should actually strive to excel in all of the aforementioned areas. But is it really possible? Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City believes it is possible and may be doing a pretty good job at accomplishing this goal (though I can’t verify this by personal experience). So what do you think? Can a church excel in all these areas? Is a theologically faithful, evangelistically driven, energetically worshiping, and socially impacting church possible?


John Carlson said...

What a church is "known for" on the outside and the essence of what the church actually is on the "inside" can be two very different things. Case in point, yes, Willow is known for it's Evangelism, or better put, ministry and outreach to seekers, but it's often not realized on the outside of the church the magnitude of the rest of the ministries. Worship is huge there, local and global missions are huge there, children's ministries, good stewardship (giving) small groups etc. etc. I'm just not sure "what a church is known for" is a good measuring stick for all that. One must get on the inside and really find out what's going on.

Setting all that aside, I've seen Willow do a pretty good job of all of that (some would say they are weak on the theology side but I would argue in my opinion that's beside the point - to me that's like saying that everyone in the congregation must understand all the complex rules of musical theory, chordal movement and voicing, analysis, and solfege before they can sing a worship song!) The way I've seen Willow truly excel at being well rounded is to identify in certain years/eras where they are weak in any certain area and, as Hybels would say, "Push the pedal down hard" in that one area for a year or season where teaching is centered around it, leadership is exerted around it, the entire church staff and volunteers rally around it and understands what is trying to be understood, learned and accomplished and excelled in. Often this also involved finding that ONE person who would champion the cause/area as the central leadership figure for that area and his sole purpose in life and leadership for that time was that one goal to be accomplished and built up - nothing else. Some of this leadership strategy came out of Bill reading one of the famous books on the Vietnam war that detailed the failures in leadership around that time - one of them being that it was discovered that there was never one sole person who's central mission was overseeing the Vietnam war - no one was assigned that that was there central and only mission to oversee. They labeled that as a huge blunder in the scope of things. So that became a very central leadership strategy at Willow. If you have an initiative, find that person perfectly cut out and passionate about it - and assign them JUST that for a season to build up. I know PV has stated for example that it's been deduced that our people are weak in the area of local/personal evangelism. What ONE person do we have on staff that is the sole champion for evangelism? That champions seekers and unbelievers and who eats for breakfast lunch and dinner the idea of people from PV going out into the local world - their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and making it a part of their every day mission in life to build relationships with these people and be a witness for Christ? I don't see that person here right now. I think I've heard that giving could be better here. What one person champions good stewardship in all areas of our financial life? Our worship is probably a stronger area of the church - that's obvious as we have several people championing that one cause. Our global missions outreach is very strong - look at Andy. We need those same type of leaders in these other areas in order for them to grow and round out the picture.

scooterpastor said...

John, you really like Willow don’t you?!?! ☺ No question Willow has been a pace-setting church in so many regards. I am not sure how Keller would define what it means to be “good” at theology, evangelism, social program, and worship. Again, this is so objective based upon one’s own frame of reference and biblical convictions. I suppose my “church” comparison within the illustration was more from the perspective of what will these churches go down in the history books for accomplishing. No question Willow would be seeker ministry (evangelism), Piper would be theological influence, etc….

I guess my primary interest is to discover what it takes to be an effective biblically sound church within our culture. How does one do it? Does it come from a mission statement? A staff position? Cultural awareness? Prayer? All of the above?

scooterpastor said...

BTW John, I really do like the picture you gave of identifying the weak points and then strategically attacking that weak-point in messages, leadership, focus, etc...

jim c said...

One thing I've noticed is that for some reason in our culture churches seem to think they can only focus on one area. Say a certain church thinks sound Bible-based preaching is their purpose... then they tend to ignore the other areas.

We've all talked about this before, that there needs to be a balance - an attempt to work all "walks" within the church into a purposeful relationship within the church.

I do believe its possible, but I've seen too many churches make excuses for "we don't want to be perceived as" or "we don't want to look like such and such a church"... its all somewhat ridiculous if you ask me because it almost hints at us being more concerned about how we "look" to men than it does how we look before God.

Men are going to judge churches by what they see... not by what our intent is... so while we are trying to be or not be certain things, we very well might wind up coming across as lacking in the minds of men. Ultimately pointing to the fact that we can't please every man, woman and child... but how about pleasing God?

All this to say that for the most part (excuse the broad generalization here), if something is good and necessary in our personal daily walks, why would we as a church not try to pay adequate attention to those areas corporately?

Our daily walks aren't all study... they aren't all praise... they aren't all emotion... etc. So why do churches go out of their way to focus on the incomplete picture of our walk with God?

Just streaming thoughts of the top of my head... sorry :)

scooterpastor said...

Your right Jim. Churches tend to gravitate toward one or two ideas and then they rest there. Often what started out as a very good shift and motivating target becomes stale and limiting.

I think Rick Warren once wrote about the fact that a church or ministry tends to be defined by their pastoral leader. So, if the leader is an evangelists, the church will excel in evangelism, etc... No question this tends to be true. On a side note, this could be a symptom of the American expression of church which tends to have a CEO mentality for the "Senior Pastor" rather than a church that is defined by a plurality of leadership (another discussion for another time).

Anyway, it seems churches could break this mold if they were more committed to setting a vision that is holistically molded by the bible. Also, leaders in the church need to surround themselves with other leaders who balance/compliment their gifts and abilities. Of course there are many other things that could be said....

All this to say you have some very perceptive thoughts Jim.