Monday, March 10, 2008

Going to Church?

In his blog today, Fuller President Richard Mouw commented on the role of the church, reflecting on some comments made by and about Willow Creek in Illinois, one of the largest churches in North America. Willow Creek has recently done an assessment of their "effectiveness in ministry" (Mouw's words), and has come away declaring a focus on what is and what is not within their purview as the local church, and what should instead be up to the individual believer to achieve in terms of spiritual growth.

Like Mouw, I have concerns about how much they "seem willing to concede regarding the limited role of the local church in nurturing spiritual growth." He cites some background for his reasoning that I have little difficulty agreeing with, but find my own thoughts take on a far more instinctual reaction. Since I'm nowhere near as versed on Kuyperian thought as Mouw, this is probably only natural. But in declaring that some aspects of spiritual growth should be not found within the church, I wonder if perhaps Willow Creek is falling victim to a common misunderstanding of what a church is.

Perhaps they would disagree with me, and I certainly don't wish to malign Willow Creek, which has been home to some very good friends, and which I believe has done (and continues to do) a great deal of good work for the Kingdom of Christ. But as I read Mouw's article (and such fragments of other people's comments about Willow Creek's recent assessment), I get the feeling that Willow Creek is thinking of the church (and, thus, the responsibilities Willow Creek holds) in terms of their worship services, their programs, and such services as provided by Willow Creek's staff. And there is a real and valid sense in which it is appropriate for Willow Creek to say (in essence) "this is what we can do, and this is what we can't do." Willow Creek cannot, and should not, try to be all things to all people.

But I'm reminded of the words of a song I used to listen to while I was in college:
From "U Can't Go 2 Church" by AVB (Acappella Vocal Band):

You can't go to church as some people say
The common terminology we use everyday
You can go to a building, that is something you can do
But you can't go to church 'cause the church is you
'Cause the church is you
Spiritual growth has an individual component, to be sure, but it happens in the context of the people of God. That is what the church is, first and foremost: the people. To the extent that some of the people of Willow Creek are having difficulty in this area, it is the responsibility of other people in that community to help try to discover what can be done. We "bear one another's burdens," to use the biblical cliché (Galatians 6:2). Some of this will be (and is) done through the official agencies of the local church, but some will, and must be done by friends simply looking after one another. If people are failing to work toward their own spiritual growth, the church does bear responsibility here, because the church is the people of God.

I don't want to get into the business of suggesting what a large church such as Willow Creek should be doing, in terms of programs and specific answers to the question of how to promote spiritual growth among its members. But I simply cannot shake the idea that they may be giving up this battle too quickly. I pray that God will show them ways that they can help the people within their community with their spiritual growth while they continue to focus on those areas of ministry in which they can be most effective.

1 comment:

  1. B-W
    I have been a volunteer Service Director for Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) for several years and have been involved with many of the ministries there. I have also been attending for 17 years and am tied closely with many of the leaders and staff at the church. I do want to make it clear that I am not speaking for Bill Hybels or the Sr leadership of the church but simply as a member and active participant and volunteer leader within the church.
    I appreciate your kindness in your blog regarding Willow Creek. It seems so many are quick to fire off accusations without really understanding what is going on inside this body of believers.
    Yes, the leadership of WCCC has realized that the desired course of the church has deviated a bit from the intended course. Bill Hybles himself has apologized to the congregation. For a long time, as you may already know, Bill has dedicated himself to helping the church around the world by traveling to mostly those countries where the church is struggling to grow and where the church leaders are discouraged. His goal was to help, engourage, and reignite their fire and to provide them with some innovative ideas and support for growing their influence and impact to their communities and countries. God has used him greatly to help in this effort around the world. During this time Bill had to take his hands off from the direct leadership of WCC during this time. Recently, it has become clear to him that a correction must be made and new focus must be provided to the home church to bring it back in line as it should be. Now understand that the corrections are not doctronal corrections. Willow has been and is still doctornially solid. The corrections are more toward the ways in which the church supports each individual believer as they mature in the faith. Also, there will be a renewed emphesis on encouraging community as a whole church in addition to small groups. Be assured that WCCC has not given up on working with the believers on spiritual growth, just the contrary. They are working to become more effective at providing the nutrition, instruction, and basic building blocks for each seeker and believer to progress forward to toward a relationship with Christ and into a deep and mature faith that is ever growing. The idea is to teach the people to feed themselves using the tools God has provided us such as basic Bible study, memorization, prayer, accountability, service to God, and Christian community.
    As a husband and father of 3 boys, I know it is difficult to keep everything on track and moving in the right direction with my family. I can't imagine the challenges of leading a ministry the size of WCCC. My prayer is that God will continue to lead our pastor and his staff, that they will continue to be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and that God will give them endurance, wisdom, and encouragement as they work to do His will the best way they are able.
    I would also

    Earl Casas



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