Monday, November 8, 2010

Defining the Problem -- Finding Solutions

Previously I've written* the mission of the church is to make disciples of all people, to lead the unconvinced and unbelieving to become fully devoted followers of Christ. The work of the association is to assist the church in carrying out that mission. (*see "Define the Problem")
If that's our task, we are not doing a very effective job. While we can show that we are starting new churches and our churches are baptizing folks, we are doing it at a rate much slower than the population growth of the city. We are doing good ... just not good enough. (see “Insanity Redefined”)

We can't just keep doing what we've been doing and expect things to get better. We need to do things differently. But we will never do things differently until we begin to think about things differently. (see "Think different(ly).")

The first step to thinking differently, I've said, is to define the problem. I asked what you thought. Now let me share what I think. I think the problem is the way we think about church.
When most folks think about church they think of a building, of people gathered to hear a preacher, of ongoing programs like music, children and youth ministries, Sunday School, missions groups. The model is deeply ingrained in us whether we like it or not.
But is this what Jesus meant when he said "I will build my church?" I don't believe so.

When Jesus gathered his disciples and told them to follow him he didn't take them to the Temple and say "Now guys, we're going to raise shekels and build a building. I'll be the pastor. Peter, you and John can be my associates. Matthew, I want you to be chairman of the stewardship committee. Andrew, you’re in charge of the new members class. Anybody play the organ? We'll grow this thing and start more like it and some of you can be the pastors of the new churches we start. We'll need one in Antioch, Cairo, Ephesus, Rome...."

Not on your life! Jesus gathered his disciples, taught them in the course of daily life and sent them out to make other disciples from among all the peoples of the earth. That's the essence of the Great Commission. That's the essence of church.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the IRS may have a greater influence on how we do church than the Bible because the IRS encourages formal organization and incorporation, asks questions about fundraising, place of worship, clergy training, and familial relationships to governing bodies. These issues are not raised by the Bible and they shouldn't be issues that define or limit how we do church.

Buildings, professionally trained clergy and meeting IRS guidelines are not wrong or bad. That's not the point I'm trying to make. The problem comes when they become the primary ways we define and understand church rather than the biblical instruction to make disciples.

So how would I define the problem? I would say we have substituted an institutional understanding of church for a biblical one that focuses primarily on making disciples of all people.

Does this mean traditional churches aren't making disciples? Not at all! I'm the product of a traditional, institutional church and probably so are most of the folks reading this blog. Traditional churches have programs that teach people to share the gospel, educate believers, even send folks out to far away places to make disciples. My point is not that they don't do it. It's just a comparatively inefficient way of doing it!

Should we do away with traditional churches and change to another format? That's not going to happen and I don't think it needs to happen, but that moves us more toward finding solutions and I'll wait a while before addressing that. Let me go back to the process I referred to in "Define the Problem."

In order to think more creatively, begin by defining the problem. Then, to think creatively learn what others have done to solve the problem.
In his book Borrowing Brilliance David Kord Murray says "All brilliance is borrowed. First copy, then create." It's nature's way. A copy of genetic material from the mother (egg) combines with a copy of genetic material from the father (sperm) to create an entirely new person that is similar to but distinctly different from either father or mother. (It would have been so easy to refer to my grandson so recently born, but I resisted the temptation.)

When did the church do it’s best job of making disciples? How did they do it? Who is doing an outstanding job of making disciples today and how are they doing it? These are not the only questions we need to ask, but they get is started as we continue to rethink the church.
I'll have more to share about finding solutions to problems in the next segment. Hint: it's not just the church we need to learn from.
Learning to Think Different(ly)
Step One: Define the problem
Step Two: Learn how others have solved the problem