October 9, 2005
Erwin McManus at Catalyst: Formulas Don't Work
The following is from Jennifer Oxford, one of our Leadership team in Atlanta for the Catalyst Conference.
Erwin McManus took stage and continued to expound upon the very clear message of the entire Catalyst event...that it's not about formulas...the church, I mean. That there are no formulas that will enable a church to structurally meet every person's needs. Currently, when a new believer joins a church they are plugged into the structure where the church needs them most. They are discipled and led in ways that make them all look the same. For people outside of the church, who inherently know (and cling to the fact that) we are all unique, the sameness of the church, and the structure that they are potentially being asked to fit into doesn't work.
God made us each with our own passions, desires, visions and gifts. As with any Erwin message I've heard before (which sums a total of three including this one--all of which I have cherished by listening to and sharing the CDs long after the live version) he hits many different topics all in the same vein, and addresses them all singly to culminate in a full circle message.
Erwin underlined the idea that in order for a church to meet the needs of such a diverse group it needs to give up being so structured around what a church "needs" to look like, or the programs it "ought" to have or the formulas that it "should" use. He shared stories of his daughter and son to demonstrate on a small scale how different people in the same family (i.e., body of Christ) have been made. Mia is kind-hearted and filled with mercy; she feels badly if she doesn't kiss and hug every stuffed animal in her bedroom good night, for she might hurt one of their feelings. His son demonstrates a gift of maturity and wisdom beyond his years, in some senses, and has the gift of great foresight, offering his dad reasons why certain actions in his hockey game might not be the best because they "won't matter in 20 years." Erwin also presented some pretty cool film-like videos from the Mosaic team hitting home the message that we need to look outside our safe structures and limit what a Christian looks like (just like ourselves, of course!) in order to be Christ to a hurting world.
Another thing he said really resonated with me. It concerns a world the church has been using quite often lately. It sounds like a good word (probably in the same way the world uses the word "peace" to mean different things that Jesus would mean) but ultimately implies things that we don't really mean to mean. The word is revelant. Erwin said that the church tries too hard to be relevant. He expounded that the word in itself implies that someone else has already arrived or done something; that anyone thereafter must link or join to. Anyone after the first has to also find ways to add on some value to the foundation already built. He said that the church (who has all of the power of Christ, and inherently the ability to do anything in God's will) should never try to be relevant. Instead the church should be setting the curve for the culture to follow. Wouldn't it be great if the church was doing so many great things that the culture took notice and was in hot pursuit to add on to what we were doing? I agree: Jesus was not relevant, he was real, he was revolutionary. He was not connected to anything else, except the Father, and that is what made him so much more than anything that was, or is, relevant.
Next he moved on to the thought that we only have churches that look like ourselves. Whomever we are, we only invite people to join in our lives that look, talk, act like us. One church sought Erwin out saying of their 5,000 all-white members, they didn't know how they could start seeing diversity. He asked them if they had any friends who were of different races. From the blank stares he apparently got, I guessed the answer was no. He offered them the idea that if they only wanted to do church, and not LIFE with peole of other races, then the church they were trying to build was a fake. If they weren't willing to allow diversity into their lives, why would their church be any different?
A final video summed up all of these ideas so well. In fact, I heard people talking about its impact while lunching at Blimpie's afterward. The video featured a rock star who was all consumed with himself and couldn't see others as anything but a way to get things done for himself. (Note: He symbolized the church). He was not truly interested in others except for when he could see their talents as useful to him.
Enter a little girl who told him that he should be nice to others. Without giving away too much of the story (in case you see it), the pop star sees in the little girl a way to become truly selfless and provide for her in a way that only he can (and we know this by the way the video plays out). He is able to serve her with gifts from his heart that he didn't even know he had. Seekers and others who observe the church are not the only ones who will benefit from a church that seeks to use gifts from the heart, rather than formulaic systems as ways to attract and plug people in.
One final note: this conference has been great. I've been very, very pleased with the respect that I see from the attendees for the evangelistic forefathers, while also not being afraid to cast their own visions and chart new waters, and return us to thoughts of simply serving others as a way of doing church, and loving others into Jesus' arms. I love it! And I suspect that Jesus does too.