The business model has killed the church today and resulted in a muddled ecclesiology. That and the American post-“Bowling Alone” pathology of community/small group obsession that resembles group therapy more than actual salt-in-the-world fellowship. More on that later. Suffice it to say that I’m not a fan of using business models as an example to the church-planter. Continue reading
Yes, the local church is too often like a village with elders. And each village has its dynamic, culture, traditions, and power structure. All the villages have their political dynamic and the unspoken-but-felt vibe of whether one is in or out. Unfortunately, too many villages feel that they are safe from the abuses of a single chief because they have a council of elders and that is enough. But a council of elders is no guarantee against the abuses of a council of elders.
In the space of six months we have seen several high profile churches deal with the public consequences of their elders’ decisions and, in all cases one way or another, retracting previous unanimous elder-decisions.
- The 14,000 member Mars Hill Church closed its doors. Elders who were unanimous several years ago in their disciplinary actions toward two other elders recanted their decision.
- The elders of Harvest Bible Church in Elgin, Illinois issued an apology for their unanimously-decided rebuke of dissenting elders.
- The elders of The Village Church issued an apology for the way they dealt with a particular church discipline issue.
How could a group of elders be so confident that they would actually engage in actions that would hurt a brother and yet a mere few years later be no longer unanimous or confident in their elder action?
These churches have (had) this in common:
- A high view of church discipline and pastoral authority.
- A strong leader of “celebrity” status.
- A plurality of elders.
- Autonomy as a local church.
- Strong emphasis on the life of the local church and membership obligations to the local church as the central place for their spiritual growth.
This is a recipe for plurality groupthink and the consequences are dangerous, particularly when it comes to the very delicate business of spiritual discipline, rebuke, or issuing some kind of sanctioning action, whether that is advising the congregation to not fellowship with the person charged or by exercising a group policy in relations to any individual (as in “anything that is said to one of us elders about the church will be shared with the whole body of elders”). But this problem is not just a problem in the big churches, but it is prevalent in many small churches where there is plurality of elders.
In the Providence of God, I have been on both sides of the actions of this kind of plurality groupthink that was either disciplinary or sanctioning.
Robes freak out most evangelicals. I get that. I don’t want to wear one. But most miss out on the reason why some non-Catholics wear robes because it is not just a Catholic thing. The reason for non-Catholic robe-wearing clergy is different and more nuanced than the setting apart of the clergy as a separate class of men. It is, in fact, to hide them. Continue reading
It is amazing to me how much Americans are like the good Germans (98% to be exact) who rush in the reign of Adolph Hitler. German Christians were also swept up in the hysteria. I cannot help but see how the masses of American evangelicals are just as easily impressed by success “as the measure and justification of all things.” Thus, the larger a man’s church gets the more credible he becomes whether his ideas or opinions are worthy or not. Here’s how Bonhoeffer put it:
In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. The world will allow itself to be subdued only by success. It is not ideas or opinions which decide, but deeds. Success alone justifies wrongs done. . . . With a frankness and off-handedness which no other earthly power could permit itself, history appeals in its own cause to the dictum and the end justifies the means. . . . The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.
After 22 years of interaction with this group, I should get used to it. The “Bitter Card” has trump power. Pop that baby out and you can dismiss the criticism. It’s played this way: person A has a grievance that he/she does not feel is being understood. Eventually Person A vents too often, too emotionally, or even sinfully, or gets too close to unsettling the happy delusion of the establishment and consequently in danger of getting too much influence. At this point, play the “Bitter Card.” This puts them on the defensive and in the minds of the clueless guts their argument, plus it has the added benefit in that you can say that their defensiveness is proof of the truth of your claim. Often people who play the “Bitter Card” employ Hebrews 12:15 and warn that the bitterness could result in the defilement of many.
So, let me explain. Biblically. Continue reading