Saving The Church From Itself

This is a post for my class “Theology After Google” on the book “A New Kind of Christianity” by Brian McLaren. I am reviewing the 6th question, “The Church Question: What Do We Do About the Church?”

What does the church need to be saved from?  Well itself of course.  McLaren writes that the church saves lives, but not exactly in a way that we hope for.  McLaren Says, “Simple churches save people from complexity, and complex churches save people from simplicity.  Political churches save people from an overly personal religiosity, and personal churches save people from overly politicized religiosity.  Exciting churches save people from boredom, and quiet churches save people from hoopla and hype.” (162) This is the viscous cycle that churchgoers are faced with.

Earlier in McLaren’s book he describes Orthopraxy to be, “A deep orientation or attitude or feelings of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control blossom and bear fruit” (29) He says it is an inward transformation that requires community and an expanding network.  What better place to find practice than in the church.  Then what is the purpose of the church?  McLaren says it is simple, “the church exists to form Christ like people, and people of Christ like love.  It exists to save them from the great danger of wasting their lives, becoming something less than and other than they were intended to be, gaining the world but losing their souls.” (164)

The issue with the church is that churches are broken, fragmented, messed up, and all over the place.  There are churches to make you feel a certain way, there are churches that have hurt people, and filled with controversy.  What McLaren says is interesting, he doesn’t deny it, but calls for churches to humble themselves and acknowledge the issues of the church.  To acknowledge this brokenness, and not runaway from it, point fingers, or minimize the issues is to come to the realization that the church is a New Testament church. (165) McLaren believes that it starts with rethinking the core mission of the church, and it begins with the leaders of the church. (164)

McLaren uses references from 1 Corinthians interpreting Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth to remind the church that the way is love.  This is where McLaren draws his focus, and mission of where the church should be.  Paul writes to the Corinthians telling them, “let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor 16:13).  This is the same mandate that McLaren writes to the church today, let everything you do be done in love.  McLaren says that the church should be training ground for love.  He uses the reference to a Jesus dojo to represent the training ground for love in our church.  I just Karate Kid and I love the reference.  If pastors could be like Mr. Miyagi in the way they train people in the church by way of love that would be awesome.

So what now?  The church is to become a school of love, how?  What would our churches look like?  McLaren says, “make forming Christlike people, and people who live in the way of love, the way of peacemaking, the way of the Kingdom of God the way of Jesus the goal of the church, everything else is secondary” (170).  I believe McLaren is saying if we are serious about a new kind of church being done in the way of love as Paul writes then we need to be serious in the way we go about it.  It has to be the ethos of the church.  Make it the main goal of the church that everything else is formed around.  The liturgy, lectionaries, music, and programs all of it centered around the goal of being a church that is a school of love forming Christlike people.  McLaren says that this new paradigm for the church recognizes the church for what it is truly meant to be and that is, “a space in which human beings, formed in Christlike love, cooperation with the Spirit and one another to express that love in word and deed, art and action” (171).

My thoughts about the question of the church, and what I’ve read so far on McLaren’s book is simple.  I am hopeful for the future of the church.  It is interesting to me that McLaren is calling for churches to be a training ground for love, a school of love something so simple yet why is that he has to remind the church of such things?  They have read 1 Corinthians; do they not see the same things?  Well, the only reference I can draw is from my own church experiences, and where I see churches at times are in maintenance modes.  Churches have been trying to maintain the congregation, and keep people in the church.

My thoughts about the question of the church, and what I’ve read so far on McLaren’s book is simple.  I am hopeful for the future of the church.  It is interesting to me that McLaren is calling for churches to be a training ground for love, a school of love something so simple yet why is that he has to remind the church of such things?  They have read 1 Corinthians; do they not see the same things?  Well, the only reference I can draw is from my own church experiences, and where I see churches at times are in maintenance modes.  Churches have been trying to maintain the congregation, and keep people in the church.  The church needs to be saved from itself.  I believe it starts with people who are willing to be agents of transformation, to be courageous to make a stand.  Leaders who want to change the patterns of the church, and call for a paradigm shift in our mission, and practices of the church.

I want to be an agent of change, but does the rest of the church want to follow?

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8 Responses to “Saving The Church From Itself”

  1. Great Post!!! Thanks for setting the question so well in the context of the book and making his own way of leaning into the the question emphatic.

    I agree that many churches, leaders and lay people alike, are in maintenance mode. Why do you think that is? Is it simply money or people issues? Lack of spiritual and theological confidence?

    One thing Brian pointed out so well was that the temptation to stay in maintenance mode is often attached to a silent theological commitment, one that isn’t at its core anticipating and participating in the kin-dom of God. Mainline Protestant (MLP) types are happy to say that is true about evangelicals, but if you just look at the numbers they get whooped in hours and dollars given to every ‘progressive’ cause other than advocacy for the homosexual community. If, as many MLP reviewers have said, Brian’s book is really a very creative and engaging presentation of what MLP churches already believe why are they more invested in survival than God’s mission. I have no doubt that Brian’s ideas are less threatening conceptually to MLPs but the idea of leading a church out of a theological commitment is pretty paralyzing for most MLP.

    In your post you said, “I believe McLaren is saying if we are serious about a new kind of church being done in the way of love as Paul writes then we need to be serious in the way we go about it. It has to be the ethos of the church. Make it the main goal of the church that everything else is formed around.” I wonder how many MLP churches have an ethos that its people center around? The two MLP churches I worked at could have only centered around not changing the worship service or grounds and not any theological convictions about God’s mission for the world.

    Any way, I too am excited about the future of the church. I think there is a growing and often quiet migration taking place towards this ‘new’ christianity. Hopefully it will reach critical mass soon and be able to encourage and inspire us beyond the maintenance crew!

    • Tripp puts the spotlight on something that a Methodist like me often overlooks, which is that, while evangelicals (however whack their theologies are) hyper-focuses on “being Christian,” mainline protestants hyper-focuses on “being a mainline protestant.” In other words, there are many non-denominational church-goers who have a self-proclaimed commitment to Jesus Christ, while so many of our Methodists are very intent on being “good Methodists.” I can clearly see this happening right now, especially when it comes to trying to keep afloat via “the Methodist way,” or “Methodism.”

      But, my own claim is that we Methodists have a nuanced view of theology and the human condition which a typical non-denom-gelical does not have. Methodists lay down, up front, any biases or slants or particular lenses by which they see Christianity and the world. We have our “Wesleyan way,” and it affects our resulting Christian life and we admit that without reservations or hesitation. Non-denom-gelicals, on the other hand, incorrectly assumes that their view is a “pure” take on Christianity, because they, for some reason, see their (often times) fundamentalist interpretation of faith and scripture as “God’s way” to believe in God. (This is the “whack” part I was talking about earlier) So, the non-denom-gelicals win with bigger, growing churches because they all have people believing that they’re doing things the “right” way. Again, that’s whack, but good for them since that’s more people for MLP’s to convert once they’re a bit more educated.

      Now, where MLP’s throw people off the boat is with what Minho mentions as, “The liturgy, lectionaries, music, and programs all of it centered around the goal of being a church that is a school of love forming Christlike people.” A typical United Methodist local church today has a worship service, bible studies, and a youth and young adult program that does not have much pull for people under the age of 45 or so. Why? Our Methodist theologians will say that our liturgical theology is solid. So, non-denom-gelical churches grow because theirs is doing a better job of forming loving, Christ-like people? Will somebody please show me a great example of a worship service, bible study, and a program that does a good job of forming loving, Christ-like people.

  2. Nice post man! I would like to take a stab at the last question you posed with two more questions:

    I feel like there’s two fronts that will need to be addressed to change. first, there will be a need to unite pastors, reverends, deacons, bishops, and other religious leaders. Those who lead the church every Sunday should have the most ability to move their sheep into Christ-like love and faith. As you can tell, some people do not feel “motivated” by what McLaren has to say…and I’m being very nice (on a side note, go to Brian’s website, as well as Mike Morrell, who have been bloging about the reactions of other readers). Those who are motivated are doing something good in their church and showing it.

    Second, It may be a grassroots movement that will not change the existing church but to create a new church from the ashes of its predecessors. I think McLaren is saying something that regular church goers not only can relate, but can physically see in their own churches. In the direction where the church is heading, if the pastors do not change something, I believe the people themselves will begin to look for something that is relevant, practical, and meaningful in their own lives.

    • oh yeah, the two questions!

      1) what makes it easy for pastors/religious leaders to point the finger at other churches, but not to understanding their own flaws? Is it based upon numbers? a “better” theology? I love how McLaren uses 1 Corinth. to make his point, which you reiterate.

      2) In a world of knowledge at our fingertips, I feel that this is what will move the congregations of our churches to look for something more purpose-fulfilled. If their pastors will not help them see the world around them…how can we make that happen? 🙂

  3. Wesley Menke Says:

    I feel as though a lot of stereotypes are being thrown around here as well as many false dichotomies. A given congregation will have a huge range of the theological convictions among its members. A denomination will similarly have a huge range of variation among its clergy. I agree that theology is at the root of these variations, which do translate into the political. By political I do not mean partisan politics, but the public expression of faith.

    If change is desired in the church, then changing theology must also be on the table for consideration. What is an appropriate and adequate theology? This is the million dollar question. But unless this question is seriously addressed there will be no such change or movement.

    Young people in America are becoming more secular and non-religious, even across denominational lines (Evangelical, Mainline, etc.). Yet at the same time, every generation is consistently and spectacularly conventional. Young people parrot their parents beliefs generally to a “t.” If we hold together these two truths: that young people generally echo beliefs of their elders, and each generation has a higher rate of being non-religious, then we begin to see the seriousness of the problem. This is a long term problem that theologians need to seriously address. However, I don’t think that the church is tragically flawed. It is not a character in a Shakespearean play. It does not need to be “saved” by a heroic figure. I make this claim because just the fact that we are all here concerned about the church and leading a life of value in service to our Creator is proof that the church is working. We should give thanks to all of the people in our lives who have brought us this far. Now it is our turn to take up the mantle and carry this church – together – into the 21st century. {Cue inspirational music}

    • I am going to be controversial and say that I think both Wes and Tripp are correct. When it comes to the theology of the church, they are both approaching the same difficult topic in somewhat similar ways. The biggest difference here is not whether or not we need to reevaluate theology, but what that reevaluation means for our ecclesiology, how we make church, church.

      Wes says:
      If change is desired in the church, then changing theology must also be on the table for consideration.

      And Tripp says:
      One thing Brian pointed out so well was that the temptation to stay in maintenance mode is often attached to a silent theological commitment, one that isn’t at its core anticipating and participating in the kin-dom of God.

      I agree with both that theologically we need to take a deep look at to what we say about what a church needs. However, to break from Tripp, I think that the mainline churches are more than capable of this task, especially if we look to the church to fundamentally be a place of love. If a church is in love, which for me I understand in a radical, counter-cultural, kin-dom of G-d, kind of love, then there will always be hope for the church. I do not think this requires a phoenix and ashes church-model, but instead a patient education and focusing on the ways in which the world needs our love. McLaren points to where we need to reclaim our prophetic voice as a church, and I think that this is entirely possible.

  4. I agree that most MLP churhes are in maitenance mode…maintenance of the bulidings moreso than the people, but few will admit it openly. Most mainline denominations see and understand the church , like the world , is broken and fragmented, but are so distracted by the “isms” – sexism, racism – and caught up in saving their institutions from “the other”, despertely clinging to some sense of power that becoming training grounds for love and agents for change is simply too simple to grasp.
    Yes, I agree with McLaren and Menho that love is the answer. The theology we need to learn and teach is the great commandment to love one another as we love ourselves and to love God with all our hearts minds, and souls. It won’t be easy and it will take time. Another “Great Awakening” may be coming but the change we all claim to be seeking is not “somewhere out there” but within. Yes, something is wrong, but we don’t need more questions about what is wrong. We already have the answer. When we can accept each other as children of God – made in God’s image – a change will come.

    • Janis hit the nail on the head. “The Great Awakening comes from within. When we look to the divine within, the Christ within, then we find our answers, our guidance, our connections and our love.”

      Programs in Meditation, and Journaling and Creativitiy assist us in finding the amazing power and wisdom we have within.

      When I was a new minister, I tried to follow the church. It did not work for me. Then I tried to follow the guidance of my congregation. That worked less well. Then I tried to turn within and be true to my own inner wisdom. That is leading me to Love and to Community Service and it is drawing new people to this church and to this work.

      James asked, “Will somebody please show me a great example of a worship service, bible study, and a program that does a good job of forming loving, Christ-like people.”

      One Program that I find simple but not eacy, which rewires the brain to love rather then to reactivity is called NonViolent Communication. It can be found at http://www.cnvc.org. It teaches people to listen, truley listen deeply to each other without interrupting and without thinking about what to say next. It teaches how to focus on emotions that the speaker is feeling and to feed back the content of what was shared as well as the possible emotions for clarification. The listener also listens for the needs underneath what is shared and feeds back a guess of that.
      This work is deeply spiritual, can be used across all faiths, and brings the communicators into true communion with each other as waves of love move back and forth.

      Another similar program is Hearth Math which assists people into going into their heart space rather than their head space to interact. It makes a huge difference as love becomes the medium of the transactions and as compassion springs forth as one can put oneself in another’s shoes in the space of Oneness.

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