But while what I and others are calling for has implications and applications for style and how we do worship and ministry, the call to reformation is deeper, more philosophical. It operates from theological convictions, not from aesthetic ones.
When my church's former pastor got the boot last year, at his first rally in a nearby park, I recall him immediately employing the scare tactic of warning us that our elders kicked him out because they wanted to turn the church into an inward-focused, traditional, "for churchy people only" institution. (The irony of course is that under his leadership, our church could not have been more inward focused than to exist pretty much entirely to put on a "spectacular" weekend service.) He knew how to play the programming card, to invoke the boogeyman of boredom.
And of course we all know there's no fate worse that can befall a Christian than to have to endure a worship service that is anything less than "exciting." Right? :-)
What we are dealing with, however, is not a crisis of programming or style, but a crisis of culture. This is why I say I am passionate about the reform of the discipleship culture of the Church. Because everything we do in our local churches, from the service to small groups to missions work to whatever, flows from the collective values of the community's identity.
Because of the state of the modern Church's collective values and community identity, the call to reform cannot be met merely by offering alternative programming or adding an "emerging" service or what have you. We're messing with DNA here.
And so the going is slow; the work requires patience and investment. It requires commitment, faithfulness, obedience. As Eugene Peterson would say, "A long obedience in the same direction."
This is not easy. Particularly when you are trying to do this stuff within a community that doesn't value it yet. People want results, numbers, success. Explaining that values that took (charitably) 20 years to form may take 20 years to reform is likely to receive blank looks, if not panicked ones.
I see elements of our "troubling" vision for Element in this bit from Out of Ur's interview with Dan Kimball:
Because they’re not addressing the deeper, philosophical, theological issues, they’re just changing their style?
Some churches only change the style or add an alternative Sunday night worship gathering to see younger people come to the church and consider that to be missional or emerging. That’s a wonderful hope and worthy motivation, but usually that isn’t addressing the deeper issues. Adding an alternative worship gathering to an existing church is very difficult because the philosophical DNA not going to be different. Being missional requires an ecclesiological change.
That’s why I never recommend starting an alternative gathering with a different pastor in an existing church. Being missional must impact the whole of the church, not just a department within the church. That’s why most churches-within-a-church don’t work and why we are seeing so many church planters. It’s hard to change an existing church at this deep a level. It’s not impossible, but it is a lot harder than just changing the style of an alternative worship gathering.
Being missional requires an ecclesiological change.
Reformation is messy business. (At least nobody's killing each other this time around. One hopes.)
I am finding myself having to explain the vision and values of Element every week, and re-explain them. A mere six months in, and the fear that "it's not working" is in constant need of addressing.
It is wearying trying to sell our churches on the notion that what they've been selling for so long doesn't work. It is difficult suggesting that the service-centered approach to reaching the lost has failed. It is a delicate thing to suggest that we have not exalted Christ and we have not glorified God and therefore we haven't really served the people we've claimed to.
And yet for some of us inside this culture, slogging away at discipling the culture into a more vital discipleship, it is incumbent upon us to, in our hearts and minds, say "Here we stand. We can do no other."