02 January 2012

The Inorganic Church

I have to be honest, I’m totally late and groggy when it comes to organic food. My wife’s is adamantly organic in our food choices and for the most part I haven’t really cared. Often times when it comes to food for me, ignorance is bliss. The other night we cuddled up and watched a short documentary on PBS called the “Botany of Desire.” The show highlighted the practices of genetically engineered potatoes that are created to meet the demands of french fry suppliers in America. It attempted to explain the unintended consequences of speeding up the process of growing potatoes. After thinking about the documentary a bit I realized I’m adamantly organic but in a very different arena. When it comes to the building and growing of a church community I get a bit bothered by the “genetic engineering” taking place on a large scale.

1.To launch a church “Big” many try to engineer numerical growth by appealing to immediate gratification. This is done using overstatements about what God’s doing. I just received marketing material for a church plant that hasn’t even launched yet and their marketing already says a “significant movement of God” is happening. I find this inauthentic and an attempt to engineer excitement. This kind of speech really turns off the post-christian who is looking for transparent, no cliche, around-the-table, earthy community. The pursuit of doing things in culturally "big" ways has had unintended consequences on the DNA of average Christians. What most see as "big" really isn't what God sees as big; new building campaigns vs invasive home hospitality, thousands of dollars raised for big missional impact vs spending your hard earned time with real live needy people, preaching that produces altar call decisions for Christ vs living missionally amongst your neighbors while realizing evangelism takes a long, long time.

2. To make people feel God is blessing "our" church leaders, lean on the engineering of dynamic musical worship. From one of the fastest growing evangelical churches their website touts “come experience worship that will leave you speechless,” “God show’s up and leaves us in awe.” This kind of engineering declares what God feels like when he shows up. But this American interpretation of how God shows up unintentionally creates addicts for visible blessing they can see on a Sunday. But Post-Christians are aching and longing for a God who shows up without fanfare and promotional slogans. Funny thing, that’s exactly how God showed up when He finally came to earth in Jesus; vulnerable, humble and relational. Why not stick with this approach?

3. To grow people spiritually, churches attempt to engineer discipleship through expert run programs. Efficiency has replaced effectiveness. We’ve created a corporate Wall Street like church. In businesses, it’s about moving people from A to B as fast as possible, but has nothing to do with making people. Typically we have one charismatic guy with the vision and a culture of volunteerism to help that one guy get his vision accomplished. It’s the genius with a 1000 helpers. So while churches may claim to have “leadership or discipleship development programs,” what they really have are “volunteer pipelines” that are run by managers. Many churches are organizationally efficient, but aren’t affecting the lives of people the way in which Jesus imagined an organic family would. Living breathing people are formed in the context of shared life. The more we share life, counsel, time, truth and trust together in close proximity the more our Jesus-way rubs off on each other. Maybe in the engineered discipleship mode we run the campus well but don't create apprentices of Jesus. We’re keeping the machine of the church running but doing practically nothing to move the Kingdom into the cracks and crevices of our neighborhoods.

For me, staying disciplined to organic church practices is tough. Everything and everyone seems to be screaming for a quick return, a loud impact and an emotionally unbelievable experience you can brag about. I do not want the demand to drive how Axiom Church farms. I am convinced the engineering techniques the church unquestionably applies has created pew sitters that live their spiritual life through vicarious means. We’ve created producers instead of gardeners.

1 comment:

  1. Great analogy, Dan! Any wonder that Paul mostly uses organic metaphors to speak of the growth and cultivation of church communities!?