Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More Than Words: Meaninglessness in the Busy Church

I'm only about 40 pages into Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, and I haven't really gotten to the meat promised in their subtitle -- "Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples" -- but it's already highly agreeable to me. :-) Gradually and congenially, in the introductory pages they are building the case that "more" doesn't necessarily mean "better," and the implicit indictment of program-driven ministry is well delivered with a conversational tone and lots of illustrations. This is not a scholar's book, but a practitioner's.

One of the pillars of modern ecclesiology Rainer and Geiger start taking shots at early is the indiscriminate borrowing of successful "models" as if church programs are all plug-and-playable. And one reasoning behind their targeting of this practice is just how thoughtless and unreflective it often is. "We must do this because . . . well, this is how everyone does it." I remember getting blank stares when asked what our official mission statement for Element should be. I said I didn't think we needed one and that formulating one was a waste of time. We eventually formulated one, and it has served us well when having to reinforce What It Is We're Doing and Why. But in practice, I have see far too many vision/mission/purpose statements that didn't go any deeper than the church bulletin to think it was all that important to follow suit.

This passage from Simple Church is the best stuff I've read so far, but it speaks to the Statement Glut problem in a highly stylized church system. They are using a fictitious example of a church in an extended illustration:
Most churches have a lot of information to communicate, but First Church also has a lot of statements. There is a mission statement, a purpose statement, a vision statement, and a strategy statement. Each statement is different from the other. And long.

Looking more at the brochures, we notice that each ministry department also has different statements. Each statement is intended to describe the focus or direction of the church. There are more than ten different statements on the materials we are reviewing.
What does it mean?

The mission statement listed in the bulletin is "to lead unsaved people to become fully devoted followers of Christ." Obviously, someone has been influenced by the ministry of Willow Creek. The purpose statement printed on the church brochure features five "M" words: Magnification, Multiplication, Maturity, Ministry, and Mission. Some leader had been impacted by Rick Warren and the purpose-driven movement. The vision statement highlighted on the church stationary is "loving this community to Christ." Or maybe that is the strategic statement.
Nevertheless, it was another statement.

It would be easier to memorize the book of James than to memorize all the statements . . . and much more profitable.
Do the statements have anything to do with one another? Are they reflected in how the church actually does ministry? Or are they just placed on top of an existing paradigm and structure? The confusion with the multiple statements indicates that there may be a multiplicity of ministry philosophies and approaches existing in the same place. It is especially unclear how all these statements fit together.

Rainer and Geiger contrast this example with another imagined example, that of Cross Church, whose mission statement is "Love God, love others, serve the world."
. . . [A] dialogue with the pastor.

"So, that is your purpose, right?"

"I guess you could say that."

"Talk to us about your process. How do you make your purpose happen?"

"Love God, serve others, serve the world is our process."

"I thought you said it was your purpose."

"It is both. Our purpose is a process."


Interesting. Genius. Simple.

And clever. That what and how are merged is great, but obviously there are strategic implementations of programs or whatever to do the how, the same way the Statement Glut church would say their programs were how they do their how.

In any event, the thinking behind this juxtaposition is great. It makes us think; it spurs us toward being deliberate, reflective, thoughtful. It inspires us not to indiscriminately borrow either programs or jargon, but to realize that no amount of sloganeering or busy-work will grow our churches spiritually.

Flashback to my vision statement aversion with Element. The request for a statement was well meant. My reaction was based on a fear of becoming another ministry that indiscriminately adopted. In a day when most churchgoers couldn't tell you what their church's mission statement was (or what it meant, really), my hope is that churches can begin to depend on their congregants' passion for the glory of God, not for their subscription to a well-turned phrase.

“We depend on plans, programs, vision statements—but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning.”
-- D.A. Carson (quoted by Michael Haykin, as seen in a post at DashHouse)

Busy-Work is Not "Going Deeper"
You Can't Program Discipleship

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