Calvin’s definition of “church” is where the Word is preached, the sacraments are received, and church discipline practiced. That’s a good summary of the defining characteristics of the New Testament ecclesia and a good summary of the main problems with internet church.
Is the word preached “at” an internet campus? Absolutely. In fact, the Word preached becomes the centerpiece. Church is boiled down to singing a few songs and hearing a message.
And while internet campuses provide a great sermon delivery vehicle, and even allow you to virtually raise your hand in response, what they don’t do is allow you to be known and missed. You can’t stand at the end of the gathering and ask for help moving. You can’t help tear things down and clean up afterwards. You can’t look after someone’s kids while they pray with someone else. You can’t take a visitor out to lunch. How can our community be a sign and foretaste of the kingdom when our method of gathering keeps us from ever physically serving, loving, or being present to one another? I know how participating in a congregation begins to make me more like Jesus. I’m unsure how that happens with an internet campus.
How modernity and postmodernity have conspired to warp the current generation.
by Scot McKnight
Leszek Kolakowski, a Polish philosopher who weakened Marxism’s grip on Eastern Europe, recently died. Few, I suspect, knew who he was. I consider myself fortunate to have read some of Kolakowski, one book being his scintillating sketch of the history of ideas by probing the central idea of twenty-three thinkers. That book is called Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? My own reading of it impressed me again with the connection of philosophers with their world. From Socrates to Kierkegaard, philosophers are products of their day.
So are we. Which raises the profound problem of blinders when it comes to perceiving what is influencing us, and which raises the other profound problem of needing to understand our cultural blinders in order to break through them with the light of the gospel. Kolakowski’s chapters are short, and everything short when it comes to the history of ideas risks simplicities that mask nuance. I risk the same in what I am about to suggest: the current generation emerges out of a toxic combination of modernity and postmodernity.
In another context (the summer issue of Leadership Journal) I called the toxicity of the current generation a “self in a castle.” Modernity’s singular contribution to the history of ideas is individualism. David Bentley Hart gets this exactly right in his new rant against the flimsy ideas in new atheism when he writes:
“We live in an age whose chief value has been determined, by overwhelming consensus, to be the inviolable liberty of personal volition, the right to decide for ourselves what we shall believe, want, need, own, or serve” (Atheist Delusions, 21-22).
This year's Catalyst Conference (October 7-9) will include a lab track hosted by Skye Jethani, Leadership's managing editor, featuring Nancy Ortberg, Mark Batterson, Reggie McNeal, and Scott Belsky. He will also host the evening “unplugged” lab session with Matt Chandler on Wednesday night.
Some of Out of Ur's other favorite voices will be there as well:
and many more...
Learn more at CatalystConference.com, and sign-up soon. Today is the deadline for early registration and your last chance to get the best rates.
Online church is close enough to the real thing to be dangerous.
by Bob Hyatt
In the early 1950s when Robert Schuller and others across the nation combined a growing car culture with “Church,” they believed they were reaching a segment of the population traditional church wouldn’t or couldn’t. “Drive-In Church” allowed parishioners to hear a sermon, sing some songs, even receive communion and give—all without the fuss and muss of face-to-face interaction. Except for a through-the-window handshake from the pastor as they rolled away.
And while they may have been able to point to a number of folks who “attended” that otherwise might not have, the question of what was being formed in these car congregations through limited interaction, a completely passive experience, and a consumer-oriented “Come as you want/Have it your way” message, meant that (thankfully) after a brief period of vogue, “Drive-In Church” has remained a niche curiosity.
The problem with the drive-in church model isn’t that it isn’t church—it’s that it is just “church” enough to be dangerous. What this almost-church does is park people in a cul-de-sac where they have access to the easiest and most instantly satisfying parts of church while exempting them from the harder and more demanding parts of community.
And while I’m glad such an absurdity has remained on the fringe, as I watch the discussion about “internet campuses” I can’t shake a certain feeling of deja vu.
What we've learned from the rise, fall, and renewal of "Gen-X" ministries.
by Collin Hansen
This article is from the Summer 2009 issue of Leadership Journal. You can read the entire article at Leadership's website.
When the willows sway in South Barrington, the evangelical world notices. So Willow Creek Community Church provoked headlines in 2006 when leaders said they would end Axis as everyone knew it. As recently as 2001, about 2,000 young adults had gathered on Saturday nights for alternative music and relevant teaching. But before temporarily closing in 2006, Axis attracted fewer than 400 twenty-somethings. How could a trend-setting ministry decline so severely in just five years?
Due in no small part to Willow's example, ministry leaders across the country once viewed separate, age-targeted services as the key to reaching a generation largely absent from the churches built by their Boomer parents. Little more than 10 years after Willow launched Axis in 1996, many of these once-prosperous twenty-something ministries have folded, spun off, or morphed. Leaders from these ministries have learned differing lessons from the experiment. Some are now advocating new messages for reaching the emerging generation. Others have changed their ministry's structure. Still more want better biblical preaching and radical discipleship. All have been provoked to think deeply about the nature and implications of the gospel and have seen their ministries leave lasting effects on the larger church.
Only one thing surprised Dan Kimball about the Axis reorganization: it took 10 years. Kimball, who teaches and oversees the Sunday gatherings for Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, has tracked many young adult ministries over the years. He estimates that 90 percent of worship services targeting a younger generation run into serious trouble after three years. One factor is the way these age-specific ministries isolate young people from the rest of the church.
Is the church fixing or fueling the toxic cynicism of our culture?
by Skye Jethani
A poll conducted by Time has revealed that The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart is the most trusted news anchor in America. He beat Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson, and Katie Couric. Walter Cronkite, having just entered his grave, must already be turning over in it. Stewart won with 44 percent of the vote. Brian Williams came in a distant second with 29 percent. See the results here.
Like many others of my generation, I enjoy The Daily Show. I find Jon Stewart to be intelligent and his irreverence is often refreshing, if occasionally too snarky or foul for my palate. Still, I wonder what it says about my generation when we vote someone like Stewart to be the most trusted voice in American news—especially when The Daily Show makes no claim of being a reputable journalistic enterprise.
When Stewart appeared on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004, an argument ensued with Tucker Carlson about The Daily Show’s lack of journalistic rigor. Stewart responded, “I didn’t realize that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their queues on integrity…. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls. What is wrong with you?”
Troy Gramling vs. Mark Driscoll on the legitimacy of internet congregations.
Earlier this month Frank Viola confronted the growing trend of “post-church Christianity,” with a biblically-rooted argument that a gathering of two or three close friends is not “church” and therefore cannot be a substitute. We’re eager to continue the debate about what constitutes a legitimate church, and we found a worthy follow-up in the new book, A Multi-Site Road Trip by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird.
In a chapter titled, "Internet Campuses—Virtual or Real Reality?," the authors profile the web congregation started by Troy Gramling of Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City, Florida. The follow excerpt is intended to answer the critics of internet churches. It also includes an extended rebuttal by Mark Driscoll who does not believe in the legitimacy of web-based church. (On a side note, Driscoll’s church issued a press release today announcing the release of a Mars Hill iPhone app which allows users to listen to sermons, watch sermon videos, receive church news updates, and even give donations toward the church’s mission.)
In a bricks-and-mortar church, leaders can limit distractions and use a variety of tools to create experiences to connect people emotionally to the music and message. With an online church, that is much harder to do. The people attending your church online might be doing a million different things in the background while the service is in progress. Or they might be in an environment filled with distractions. The growth edge for internet campuses is their need to move their attenders to full engagement. Perhaps the most challenging part of the internet campus idea is the reality that when people aren’t physically in the room, as they are in a church sanctuary, you can’t control the environment.
Is it time to welcome kids and youth back into the center of church life?
From "Is the Era of Age Segregation Over?" an interview with Kara Powell in the current issue ofLeadership.
"[The church] realized in the 1940s that we were not offering teens enough focused attention. So what did we do? We started offering them too much. All of a sudden churches had adult pastors and youth pastors, adult worship teams and youth worship teams, adult mission trips and youth mission trips. And there's a place for that. But we've ended up segregating--and I use that word intentionally--our kids from the rest of the church. Now we tend to think that we can outsource the care of our kids to designated experts, the youth and children's workers.... I think the future of youth ministry is intergenerational."
Kara Powell is the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary and a former youth pastor. To read the rest of her interview in context, pick up the Summer 09 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.
"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them … Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep." Romans 12
There was a point in my life when I hated weddings. I'd do anything I could to get out of going. I'd leave early. But now, when I think about all the celebrating I missed …
I think the main problem was that I wasn't married myself—and I hated just about any and every reminder of that fact.
Ditto things like dealing with hard issues in people's lives, confrontation, or even other people's sickness. Nothing in my life had ever exposed me to—much less equipped me for—much of that at all. So, of course, it was good to go into a vocation like ministry where I would deal with all of those things on a regular basis.
While I always hated going to weddings, I've found doing weddings another thing entirely. As I drove home from a wedding the other day, I realized just how much I enjoy this role I get to play in people's lives.
In fact, I think I've always enjoyed doing weddings—well, except maybe that first one. The "pressure to enjoyment" ratio was way out of whack on that one. Good thing it only lasted about 10 minutes. On this last one, I think I finally crossed the 90 percent ratio in terms of pressure to enjoyment. Now it's almost pure pleasure. I know what I'm doing. I feel like I have something to offer. And most of all, I can relax and enjoy my front row seat.
Live (sort of) from Willow Creek's Leadership Summit
by Kevin Miller
Opening illustration: Ship captains will sail if waves are 3 feet, 6 feet, or even 9 feet high; but what they fear are rogue waves--the unexpected high wave.
All of us in organizational leadership this past 8 months have been hit by economic turmoil and difficulty and ferocious conditions. Yet for seasoned leaders, such conditions are perfect for leadership to emerge. They force new levels of courage and creativity. The Holy Spirit whispers, "This is why I gave you a leadership gift. You were born for this." These times create great memories and strongest bonds with our team members. A "rogue wave" draws something out of us.
1. Philosophical Lessons. In one week last fall, the stock market lost almost 20% of its value--the single biggest drop in one week since the Great Depression. Many church members at Willow Creek lost their jobs. Calls began coming to the church, asking for help with groceries. A business guy called, who normally gives $200,000 to $300,000 to the church each year. He said, "Bill, I'm not going to be able to give anything. I not only lost my job and my investments, I think I'm going to lose my house."
The postchurch perspective fails six tests of legitimacy.
by Frank Viola
In my first post, I argued that the primary text used to support the postchurch viewpoint is not about the nature of the church at all. Instead, it's about the process of excommunication. Now I have more evidence against the postchurch viewpoint. In my mind, it fails to pass six important tests.
The Original Language Test
New Testament scholarship agrees that the word ekklesia (translated "church") meant a local community of people who assemble together regularly. The word was used for the Greek assembly whereby those in a city were "called forth" from their homes to meet (assemble) in the town forum to make decisions for the city. The Christian ekklesia is a community of people who gather together and possess a shared life in Christ.
As such, the ekklesia as used in New Testament literature is visible, touchable, locatable, and tangible. You can visit it. You can observe it. And you can live in it. Biblically speaking, you could not call anything an ekklesia unless it assembled regularly together.
There is a growing phenomenon in the body of Christ today. Alongside of the missional church movement, the emerging church movement, and the house church movement, there is a mode of thinking that I call "postchurch Christianity."
The postchurch brand of Christianity is built on the premise that institutional forms of church are ineffective, unbiblical, unworkable, and in some cases, dangerous. Institutionalization is not compatible with ekklesia. So say postchurch advocates.
But the postchurch view goes further saying, "any semblance of organization whatsoever . . . any semblance of leadership...is wrong and oppressive. Church is simply when two or three believers gather together in any format. Whenever this happens, church occurs."
Here are some examples of what you might hear a postchurch advocate say: