The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: The Christian Standard’s June 13, 2010 Issue, Part 2.5 (The Idea Simply Stated)

I’ve been trying to think of a simple way of explaining the idea. Let’s try —

* The churches in each community should feel closer to and work more closely with each other than churches of their own denomination elsewhere.

And

* We have to see God’s redemptive mission and our participation in it as central to our Christianity.

We just need to decide that the mission matters most and that we need to fulfill that mission by cooperating with other Christians in town, even if we disagree with them about apostolic succession. That’s about it. Get that right, and the rest will follow.

Let me explain.

My church should work more closely with other churches in my community than other Churches of Christ — even progressive Churches of Christ — because this is what God’s redemptive mission requires.

You see, if the teens go to Memphis to paint houses, then they have a great experience, but they don’t serve their friends and neighbors. They aren’t breaking down racial barriers here in Tuscaloosa. They aren’t really being driven by love, because there is no reason they should love strangers in Memphis more than the people they know here. Indeed, real love is serving people you know so well that you know just how unlovable they really are.

Just so, when the adults start a home schooling organization, that organization should serve all families in the community, not just our members. And it’s a success even if it doesn’t produce new members here, so long as it serves God’s redemptive mission in our community.

Our Celebrate Recovery effort has to be seen as a service to Christ’s church in Tuscaloosa, and well worth doing for the lives that are changed, even if the clients choose to attend somewhere else.

You see, when we see mission in denominational terms, we turn churches of other denominations into competitors and, for some reason I don’t understand, we abandon our communities and instead pursue denominational busyness.

Here in Tuscaloosa, if every Christian in the county were to meet in a single building on Sunday morning, we could fill Bryant-Denny Stadium — recently expanded to seat over 100,000 — twice. That’s right. We’d need two services.

Now, imagine that we actually did that. How would we feel about the banker or car salesman or plumber we sat next to on Sunday morning and took communion with? How differently would we act if our commitment to Jesus was on display in Bryant-Denny Stadium every Sunday before a crowd of 100,000 of our neighbors? I think we’d act better at the mall and the ballpark. I think being seen as Christ-followers by nearly our entire town would change us for the better.

I also think that it would change our churches for the better. If my congregation was represented at regular meetings of the leadership of churches from across the county, and if our success or failure in honoring God’s mission in Tuscaloosa were on display for the entire county to see, well, we might actually find some motivation to get out to do mission. (Actually, my congregation does more for God than I’m willing to demand — if that makes any sense. I mean, I’d be embarrassed to ask for the sacrifices they routinely offer up to God. But you get my point.)

And churches that are a bit unorthodox and don’t fit in so well, like most conservative Churches of Christ, which take pride in their independence, would feel the isolation if there were a larger community of faith to be isolated from.

It’s not that we have to meet in the football stadium every Sunday, but that we should feel like we’re meeting with every Christian in town as part of a common community of faith, celebrating one another’s victories, praying for each other’s efforts. If First Baptist decides to plant a new church in town — in coordination with all the other churches in town — then we should be praying for their success at church. And First Baptist shouldn’t consider a church plant without discussing it with the other churches. After all, St. Mark’s Methodist might be planning their own plant in the same place.

If we were to feel closer to and work more closely with each other, the larger community of Christians would hold their own local lectureships, they’d coordinate their care for the poor, they’d plan joint evangelistic efforts, and they’d share victories. In fact, just as the Christian Chronicle shares denominational news within the Church of Christ denomination, there’d be a website or publication that shares victories and plans and stories among the Tuscaloosa area churches. (Why doesn’t such a site already exist? Because we see ourselves as competitors, not co-heirs of the kingdom.)

And just as in the Churches of Christ we study and learn from the best practices of sister congregations, even going to visit them, that would happen here. Churches with great volunteer efforts, with great evangelism, with great small groups would be asked to share their ideas and methods. We’d learn at the feet of the best small group leader in the county — and it wouldn’t be hard to go visit his church and meet with his small group leaders and learn how it really operates on the ground.

The leadership would meet regularly for joint training. They’d study God’s mission and faithful presence together. They’d consider how the churches could work together to be the body of Christ in Tuscaloosa. And that would change us all, because not all churches think in missional terms now.

For a while, the cultural differences among the denominations would be a barrier. Some practices of some denominations would come across as very odd. But over time, we’d actually become more like each other. Love, acceptance, and shared joy does that. Hang around enough with someone, and you become like them.

Now, those are scary words to someone who grew up in the conservative Churches of Christ. The last thing we want is to become like them! But, you know, if we are really on the right path, and if we really are more effective in God’s mission, surely some of the churches will want to study us. I mean, it’s kind of crazy to be arrogant and to have an inferiority complex all at once. Are we so pleased with God’s work among us that we want to invite others in to see? Or are we so ashamed of who we are that we dread the prospect of being found out? It can’t be both!

I don’t see priests and pastors and preachers getting together to discuss consubstantiation. I see them discussing the mission of God and how we fit in it. I see them considering how to overcome racial division without being condescending or patronizing. I see them agonizing over broken families and failed marriages. And see them working on ways for the many congregations in town to work together to relieve hunger and addiction. And I see them coordinating a series of church plants in the county targeted to sub-communities that aren’t well served by any of the hundreds of existing churches.

Ultimately, working side by side with fellow Christians from all over the county will change us all in a very good way. We won’t give up our autonomy, but we’ll give up our independence and our belief that we can do this all by ourselves. Rather, we’ll learn dependence and the joys of being part of a larger faith community that has the size and numbers to make a real difference in the community. Indeed, not only will we change, the county will change in ways I can’t even imagine. But that’s how God’s redemptive mission works.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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19 Responses to The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: The Christian Standard’s June 13, 2010 Issue, Part 2.5 (The Idea Simply Stated)

  1. JMF says:

    You know, maybe this is the problem with our churches. We wait until we have money left in the budget, then we do something really good. Maybe we should just start doing the good stuff and let the money work itself out. We go broke? So what. It's God's money anyway.

    Am I suggesting we be irresponsible? Actually, yes, I am. Let's put Spirit thinking ahead of man thinking and let's see what happens.

  2. "The cool thing about reckless abandon is that there is always time to be sensible later." – Seth Godin

  3. As a 20-year volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, where I live, I can attest that collaborating with Christians of virtually every denomination to do something good for others, is a great experience. Productive, inspiring, and more.

  4. Anne says:

    But are we not changing the church into a big social program?

  5. Israel already had a whopping amount of income and laws dedicated to social programs when Jesus taught about service. His version of service was (and is) a from-the-heart, looking-out-for-my-neighbor, be-Jesus-in-the-moment service. Washing feet had nothing to do with the social good, but the good of the Kingdom.

    Picking up a hammer an building a house because someone needs it is one expression of that. Baking fresh bread for a neighbor is another. Sitting and listening to the stories of a ninety-year-old is another.

    Social programs are usually about handling a "problem" – the poor. Service is about relationships with people. The result might look the same, but the impact is radically different.

  6. Anne says:

    I have no problems with doing good any and everywhere, but my point is I wonder if sometimes we do not lose sight of that "one thing" and that is our first and foremost priority of a church is to seek and save the lost. Food for the stomach is temporal, but food for the soul is eternal.
    Sometimes it seems we become so busy in our churches of the latest "social program" that we are involved in, but very lacking in actually teaching people about salvation in Jesus.

  7. To paraphrase James, I would say show me salvation without relationships, and I'll show you salvation through relationships.

    Possible Scenarios:
    1. We talk to people solely for evangelism: "Do you know Jesus?"

    2. We build relationships solely for evangelism: "I really enjoyed seeing that movie with you. Did you see any spiritual truths about Jesus in it? I know I did!"

    3. We build relationships because, like Jesus, you have a calling to serve people on the earth and show them the Father, through the leading of the Holy Spirit:

    Friend: "Why have you helped me so much over the past 5 years?"
    Me: "Because Jesus did it for me."
    Friend: "You mean your church helped you?"
    Spirit: "Drop everything you're doing, and bring this friend to Jesus."
    Me: "Sortof, but more than that. Do you have time for a story? Let's grab some coffee."

    Jesus said that the world will know who we are by our love (service), rather than our words or our relationships with thinly-veiled evangelism goals.

    He also said to go and make disciples, not converts. Can anyone put a time frame on how long that takes? When God brings someone to us, it might be a decade before they respond. The ability to stick with someone that long to make sure they see Jesus is called love. It gets noticed, and the story retold for several generations.

    Each time we help, encourage, edify, pay for someone's groceries when their card gets rejected, or when we are simply present at a funeral, the gospel is being preached. While pulpit preaching is not in short supply, this type of living teaching is.

    Our job is to tune into the Spirit so that we know the role we're supposed to play in each scenario, minute to minute. Planter? Waterer? Harvester? If God brings a person into our lives, our first response should be, "Is this person in my field? Do I make a disciple out of this person? What do you want with me in this situation, Lord?"

    Indeed, teaching people about Jesus is our top priority. That means looking like Him and acting like Him, since our actions speak louder than our words.

  8. Darin says:

    Challenging thoughts.

  9. Jay Guin says:

    JMF,

    I agree in this sense. We should no more give God our leftovers in our church budget than in our home budgets. If the leaders want their contribution "off the top" then the evangelism, missions, and benevolence budgets at church should come "off the top" too — because it has to be about more than taking care of ourselves.

    Selflessness is at the heart of Christianity because it's at the heart of the nature of Jesus. If we can't demonstrate selflessness in our budgets, well, we aren't very selfless.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    Anne,

    Yes and no. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus' ministry begins —

    (Mat 4:23 ESV) 23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

    — and ends —

    (Mat 25:1 NIV) 34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

    There's a very noticeable lesson here that's just as prominently displayed as the Great Commission: love means helping people in need. But that doesn't mean we turn our benevolence over to some governmental or even a distant church-affiliated social agency. Neither do we limit our concern to the beggars we happen to run across. Rather, we should be driven by compassion to help those we can help because that's how Jesus was — and is. And I can think of nothing more exciting and wonderful than to be more like Jesus.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Brad,

    I entirely agree. Jesus' form of "social service" was hands on and personal. He touched the lepers he healed. He taught. He formed personal relations — and these allowed him to have a much bigger and better impact than a welfare check.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Brad,

    Amen, amen, and amen.

  13. JMF says:

    [Restored from earlier comment by JMF and lost in the computer abyss for reasons unknown]

    Jay–

    Well, props for trying to eat an elephant. I'm sitting here trying to wrap my head around the challenge, and I can't help but to be reminded of the question, "What do we need to do to fix the economy?"

    To fix the economy, people need to start spending money. So that they have money to spend, we need more jobs. Jobs are created by having more work — the result of people spending more money. And so the circular argument goes.

    Okay. Well, at least we have a place to start now (I think). Prior to this post, I had understood that you wanted to erase all denominations. Obviously, a great goal…but my point was that I just don't see how that is workable right now.

    I like this thinking way better. You seem to be saying, leave everything as it is (don't fix the denominations, us included), let's start BEING one body here on Earth, and the necessary bi-product of that is the Spirit will start doing His thing, and who knows what walls will start falling!

    I'm in. This makes sense, and this is workable.

    Coming from a business perspective, my immediate response would be: "Sounds good. Okay, let's write up a plan. Next, let's get everyone on board so we can start getting organized. Once we have a bulletproof biz plan and systems down, let's attack."

    And I think that will take us back to the 20th Century. I say we put man's wisdom behind us, and simply start doing the work, and let the Spirit sort it out.

    Rather than spending the next year with the leaders from 10 Tuscaloosa churches and hammering out exactly how this will look, I say take the reigns, come up with a huge idea, and start moving forward. Get people motivated, and create a buzz. Move so hard and so fast that anyone that would even think of professing to be a Christian would have no choice but to join in.

    The idea: No homeless people in Tuscaloosa by Christmas time (tell me that idea isn't marketable….okay, slipping back into biz mode). It is doable; the town I live in is about the same size as Tusc, and we don't have homeless people (at least, all can have a place to stay if they choose to). Churches are extremely strong in my town, and I have no doubt that this lack-of-a problem is due to the strength of the Spirit here (low/no murders, crime, etc.).

    Break down the numbers: There are 196 homeless people in Tuscaloosa. If you got 20 churches involved, that is 10 people that each church would need to be responsible for.

    (Off subject…but if anyone's church on here doesn't have any homeless people attending…you need some. To me, church is finally becoming what it needs to be when you've got a homeless guy sitting next to a doctor and they are perfectly equal, and the homeless guy is offering emotional support/edification to the doctor. That is church.)

    Back to the idea. How ever many reasons that anyone can come up with that this would not work is all-the-more reason I think it is doable. Because maybe it isn't doable. By us. So let's do something really really loving and good, and see what the Spirit does in our stead!

  14. Jay Guin says:

    JMF wrote,

    You seem to be saying, leave everything as it is (don’t fix the denominations, us included), let’s start BEING one body here on Earth, and the necessary bi-product of that is the Spirit will start doing His thing, and who knows what walls will start falling!

    I wish I had said it that well!

  15. This does not have to be done by "churches". In fact, if we wait for organizations to get on board, we may get quite old in the interim. It can be, and in my experience MUST be, kicked off by individuals. People cross the lines– "walk through the walls" if you will– and simply involve themselves where something is happening. One powerful result is a groundswell of resentment against institutional division. When you spent all day Saturday painting a Habitat house with three Pentecostals and a Presbyterian, it does not go down well when the preacher sends those folks to hell on a shutter in the Sunday sermon. On a less strident note, it also generates resistance to reinventing the wheel so our congregation gets credit. "The Catholics already have a food pantry, why don't we just help them?"

    Congregations are not very effective at engendering relationships outside the walls. People, on the other hand, do it pretty well.

    Let the leaders come along after the sheep have gone through the fence, if that's what it takes to get us all to water.

  16. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    Do you know you sound like you are trying to re-invent Friedrich Schleiermacher's approach? Not all negative. We do need to care for others. But Schleiermacher's Romanticism also produced confusion. People floundered — even when they knew others cared.

    Mission work by churches of Christ in South Korea after the Korean War experienced EXACTLY the same scenario. We helped feed; we rarely taught (according to one missionary I know who is still there… and trying to undo the mistakes of a half-century ago). We needed to do BOTH.

    Do we not see in Jesus' ministry a weaving together of teaching and caring? Do we not need to care for physical/social/emotional needs and teach?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  17. This is the largest difficulty for the institutionalized church: having to unthink the old before connecting with the reality of the teachings of Jesus. And this is also why the emergent church is growing: there's nothing to unthink when listening to God.

    Instead of comparing anyone to Schleiermacher (or any other irrelevant human), why not compare to what Jesus says? Isn't that the ruler by which we are to measure?

    Jesus' ministry was not a weaving together of two things. It was one thing – following the Father – exhibited in multiple ways.

    Jesus' ministry also happened every day, on an individual level. But this is not what happens in program or missionary-minded churches (as opposed to mission-minded churches).

    Making disciples is the key concept we need to be discussing here. What does that look like?

    First and foremost, it is not making converts.
    Door knocking is not looking for disciples.
    Seminars and revival meetings can't make disciples.
    Service projects don't make disciples.

    Making a disciple looks like:
    Thousands of hours
    Inconvenient and interruptive phone calls
    Delivering a meal
    Shared sorrows
    Genuine concern for someone else above our evangelism agendas
    Sharing the drive to work
    Fixing a leaky roof
    Late night discussions about life

    Let's do the one thing that Jesus did, exhibiting it through the gifts each one has been given, through the power of the Holy Spirit, with grace for all who call on His name.

    The only mistake any Jesus follower (or group of followers) can make is not doing that.

  18. Jay Guin says:

    Bruce,

    Are you accusing me of opposing the teaching of the Christian faith? If not, I'm really not following you. If so, you are, of course, wrong in the extreme.

    All I've said is that Paul in Eph 4 counsels leaders in church to equip the members to do works of service, which would lead to unity, knowledge of Jesus, and overcoming the storms of doctrinal disagreement. Paul places holding out the word of truth — the gospel — after works of service in his presentation. And I've had the audacity to agree.

    I have no idea whether I agree or disagree with Schleiermacher and don't really care. I've not studied his work.

  19. Anne says:

    Jay, yes I wholeheartedly agree that compassion and love for all is exactly what is taught throughout the gospels and in I John. You can't know the love of Chirst fully without having that love and compassion for others.

    My only point was it seems the modern model is to create all kinds of programs to help people in the hopes that they see our love and come to Christ and then teach them the gospel. And sometimes it seems that we spend so much time doing that, and for all of those who are content to take the temporal things from us, never hear the gospel as a result. I've also seen that we run our people ragged taking care of these temporal things that other important work like evangelism seems to fall by the wayside.

    I just wonder sometimes if we shouldn't be out in front teaching and preaching and taking care of their souls first and then take care of other things later. I think you can make a case from the Bible for both models. Jesus took care of both. He fed them, took care of their hurts and diseases at the same time as he was trying to heal their souls. Deacons were appointed so that others could go about preaching and teaching. But also on the other hand when he sends the 12 I don't see him setting Peter and the other fisherman over the hunger committee and Andrew over marriage enrichment and other things, Jesus sends them out to bring those lost souls back to him.

    I'm not trying to just be an old stick in the mud, but being in the ministry for 20 years I've seen things come and go and am just trying to figure out how best to "seek and save the lost."

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