Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On seeker churches and self-feeding

Recently the news came out that the folks at Willow Creek have come to the realization that their programs and methods were not feeding the more mature believers in their midst. You can read more about it at Christianity Today here and here.

The mature believers in their congregation say they “are not being fed” and want “more of the meat of the Word of God.” The response of the leadership there has been that they should teach their people to become self-feeders.

I’m of two minds on this issue. I guess you can say my response is “yes, but.”

Some time ago I came the realization that I’m not going to be “fed” at church in the same way some folks are. This isn’t because I’m such a fantastically mature believer but because I grew up in church. Over my 30 plus years I’ve been in Sunday school, VBS, youth group, Bible studies, and of course “big church” countless times. I’ve read and had taught to me just about every passage in the Bible multiple times.

I’m probably not going to hear anything in church I don’t already know. If your life has been like mine, you probably won’t either.

Because of this, I’ve realized that I need to stop looking for a church where I’ll be “fed.” Instead, I need to look for a church where I can serve. In church I will hear lessons and sermons where I will be encouraged, inspired, reminded, and occasionally chastised, but I’m not going to be told something I didn’t already know very often. So from that respect, I somewhat agree with Mark Galli in the second piece.

However, the folks at Willow Creek may have a different situation. Let me say up front that I’ve never been to Willow Creek nor have I ever even spoken to someone who has. But I know what Willow Creek is, and I have attended my share of “seeker” services. If those are typical of what goes on at Willow Creek, the “mature” believers there may have never heard a sermon out of Hebrews or even John 15.

Seeker-friendly churches shy away from deeper theology and the scriptures that take you into it, and they seem to avoid those passages that, as one pastor I had said, makes the preacher hope the second coming will arrive before next Sunday. If that is the state of things there, the more mature believers at Willow Creek (and any other seeker church) will need some real meals before they’re expected to become “self-feeding.”

10 comments:

Jeremy Myers said...

A very wise approach to this subject. I am facing a similar situation, and like how you have put it. If it difficult finding a church that will "feed" me, maybe just look for a church where I can serve, and then take care of the feeding on my own.

ChrisB said...

Thanks for dropping in Jeremy.

I hope I didn't overstate my case. I absolutely want you to look for a place with solid preaching and teaching where you'll be encouraged and exhorted, but I think mature believers definitely need to focus more on finding a place where they can serve. Good luck in your search!

Progression of Faith said...

I'm not a fan of willow creek, but maybe they have a good point. It sounds like possibly your church also falls victim to the idea of teaching adults the same surface level interpretation of scriptures that they teach 6 year olds in VBS and youth groups. That is likely why you don't feel you might hear something "new". I read a few of your posts and it sounds like maybe there is a need for some adult level food. The bible has much more to say than how to get "home". The deeper meanings are about political revolt against the ideals of empire, but you won't get that in VBS or most sermons unfortunately.

There is a deeper level of truth that we as adults can find but most churches don't bother to look for it. Most Christians have made the same mistake you seem to make by settling for the "end" of your education. When we stop digging for truths in scripture we stop growing. I hope you will dig deeper and encourage other adults in your church to do the same. I pray that you will branch out and get some more varied opinions and deeper insights. Of course I'm just a guy that read a few of your posts. The lack of robust adult Christian education is a huge problem in the Church today

Don't give up!

ChrisB said...

Progression of faith,

Interesting coincidence: I was visiting your page via blogrush when you were visiting mine.

Anyway, to your comments:
teaching adults the same... that they teach 6 year olds in VBS
No, not really.

The deeper meanings are about political revolt against the ideals of empire
The Bible definitely addresses more than just getting "home," but that isn't it. (It does, however, give me an idea who you've been reading.)

If I had to turn the message of the Bible into a soundbite, it'd probably go something like this: "How to get to heaven while striving to build heaven here." As with all soundbites, it leaves a lot out, but it'll do for the moment.

When we stop digging for truths in scripture we stop growing.
Agreed. I don't want anyone to do that. However, once you've dug up lots of dots, and once you've connected them, you may get a little more detail, but there's probably not going to be much that's earthshattering.

You will occasionally come across someone who's got a whole new idea of how the dots should be connected. Generally these people are getting too creative (not to mention bringing their own presuppositions into the Bible). They're lucky that we don't burn folks at the stake anymore.

Mike L. said...

Hmmm... burning heretics at the stake. That gives me some idea of who you've been reading. I hope we can get past that and also get past any attempts at bring presuppositions to biblical interpretation. But we do occasionaly find that the interpretations we grew up with were incorrectly based on artifical presuppositions and we need to make corrections. I think we would both agree the idea is to read it in its original context. We should be willing to recognize that Anslem, Luther, Calvin and many others were not always reading it in context.

ChrisB said...

Just to be clear: I do not in any way support burning heretics. But a few hundred years ago Borg et al would probably have been on a stake. I'm not sure about McLaren.

we do occasionaly find that the interpretations we grew up with were incorrectly based on artifical presuppositions
True. And the jury's still out, somewhat, on the "new perspective" on Paul.

But Borg, Crossan, Spong, and the rest are not trying to get back to the original presuppositions. They're imposing their own. One of these days I'm going to get around to writing about the "pillars" of the Jesus Seminar. I've only been saying I was going to do it for 10 years ")

Mike L. said...

"But Borg, Crossan, Spong, and the rest are not trying to get back to the original presuppositions"

That isn't true. They have devoted their lives to getting at the original context of scripture. Their exegesis has been a blessing that has allowed us to see the scripture in light of the first century. It will help us get past fundamentalist fixation on preserving an ancient superstitious worldview as we realize the important political messages of the bible.

Saying "Jesus is Lord", "Jesus is the son of god", "Jesus is savior" are all political statements not spiritual assertions. Those statements clearly meant that Caesar is NOT those things.

Unfortunately many churches refuse to continue learning. They just keep rehashing the bible as if it is a collection of children's stories. No wonder you stopped looking to be fed. Why not start a class that digs into the political implications of understanding the bible without the mistakes of medieval theologists who didn't have access to a good knowledge of 1st century politics and Roman imperial theology?

Are you sure you are not criticizing something you haven't bothered to understand? Go head and get a copy of Crossan's "God and Empire" or Mclaren's "everything must change". I dare you!

ChrisB said...

They have devoted their lives to getting at the original context of scripture.

I believe you believe that. I'm pretty confident they believe that. I, however, am unconvinced.

Go head and get a copy of Crossan's "God and Empire" or Mclaren's "everything must change". I dare you!

I'm sure I'll force myself to read more Crossan eventually, though I don't know if that'll be it. I've read enough about McLaren's latest to know I shouldn't subject myself to that.

And dares stopped working in junior high. OK, maybe high school.

Mike L. said...

What have you read about McLaren's newest that would make you think it is something to be "subjected to"?

I've found it to be great for people in the whole spectrum from liberal to conservative. It is well grounded in scripture and well researched. I consider McLaren to be very much an Evangelical. I can't understand why he gets bad press. I see why people have trouble with Crossan, but McLaren should be right up your alley. The only people who really have a legitimate beef with him are people that refuse to think and do real deep biblical analysis. I would not have put you in that category. But maybe I'm wrong.

ChrisB said...

Mike,

Scot McKnight (someone who's generally very fair and is friendly to most things emerging) has been going through McLaren's latest in a series of posts called Must Everything Change? (The link is to the first post of the series.) I'm not impressed. It seems to be mostly liberal politics dressed up in Christian-ese and supported by some fascinating eisegesis.

He gets bad press because, 1) he seems to be (whether it's true or not) more interested in the social gospel than the spiritual gospel (it doesn't have to be an either/or). 2) When he gets into specifics, he sounds like a garden variety liberal. 3) Most of what he says is just (according to those who are familiar with the history) a rehash of the same stuff the 19th century progressives taught right before they turned the mainline protestants into garden variety liberals.