KB put together a great post on the evolution of the church, tracking it from the fellowship it was in the 1st century to the enterprise it is now. His take is fascinating, and as usual I cannot comment on it due to technical bugaboos. I cannot even go back and reread it before I pen this knock-on post. Ah the joy of technological limitations.
Way back when I was able to read KB's post that once through bloglines, I agreed and disagreed with it. I agreed that an ideal 21st century church would look different from an ideal 1st century church, and that the differences would be gains for the church overall. I disagreed that the paradigm of an enterprise could ever be a profitable one for any church, ever. I was tongue-tied, though, because I am not sure exactly what KB meant by "enterprise." I know what enterprise means to me, and I don't support that. I just don't know what it means to KB, and I'm sure if I did I would support whatever he means.
I think maybe the biggest problem facing the church today is our obsession with finding and fixing the biggest problem in the church today.
Along those lines, KB's post brought to mind an email I wrote a month or so ago (while I was busy not blogging.) It was about a book review I'm currently not writing while I'm not blogging. In the book, the author relates a life-changing experience he had doing a particular spiritual discipline, and proceeds to sell that discipline as the "one thing" missing in the lives of all Christians and the one thing that, if it were present, would change everything.
Here's what I wrote in that email:
The answer to fixing Christianity has to lie somewhere else than finding 99% of it's best and brightest certifiably insane.
The author tells persuasively of his experience learning how to do this method on a 6 week retreat. He gives ample evidence of changed lives in everyone learning it and of the lasting, beneficial effect the experience had on people from very different walks of life.
But is that proof of the method? I doubt it.
As I was reading his story, it occurred to me that the Navigators, the Promise Keepers, the Holiness Movements, the Charismatics, the Legalists, the Missionaries, and Everyone Else can produce equally stirring anecdotal evidence.
Maybe that's proof that all anecdotal evidence should be rejected? It probably should, but I doubt that's the lesson here too.
Instead, I think this is proof of overly narrow root cause analysis.
Each of these groups was doing a different thing, but they were all doing it "together" with other believers. The common factor in each of these widely varied stories is that a group of Christians was wholly committed to really connecting with each other to do something profitable.
Given any silly excuse, if Christians get together with love in our hearts, we will touch each other and the Lord in life-changing ways. It takes a little excitement, a little leadership, a little hope, and a little focus to start that flow of love between brothers and sisters that bonds us together.
It's those bonds that change our lives.
It's like being in a family. Which is most important? Financial security? Emotional security? Passion? Purpose?
Just try living without any one of those things.
The church needs doctrine. She needs connection. She needs worship. She needs purpose.
I think I still believe a little bit in the house church movement. It's hard to say, though, because there are other needs that are more important. When a man is out of oxygen, he doesn't care so much that he's sleep-deprived. I wish I might see the church organized differently, but before I spend energy there it seems there are other things that might be more important.
The need to find and fix the most important crisis facing the church today seems universal, and it seems to be driving us further and further apart. I'm tempted to name this tendency to obsess over the church's biggest fault, "The tree-trunk of division springing from the taproot of Laodicean Pride." We proclaim that we see when really we're blinded by the lumber in our own eyes. I know I blew 10 years of my life chasing that wild goose.
I think I know what to do about the tree-trunk.
Quit trying to fix the church.
Our worst problem is trying to fix every problem. Maybe it's because we imagine we're wise enough to know every problem. Or maybe it's that we like fixing big things instead of doing little things. Or maybe everything's pretty much OK and we need to get on with the business of doing that which God's been preparing us to do for all these centuries.
Whatever it is, we need to put 80% of our energies into loving the Christians to whom we are closest. Maybe with whatever's left over we can tinker with trying to revolutionize the church in our generation. I don't know, but I know I really need to pour my life out for brothers and sisters whom I can touch. I need to form bonds with my brothers and sisters that can survive the fires of disagreement, repentance, and boredom. I need to commit to people with all their messy needs, rather than ideas or disciplines or quests with all their manageable sterility.
And if that means learning to bond with emergent Christians, then show me the way to Starbucks. I can always buy a lemonade smoothie. :-)