Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Consuming our way to disicpleship?

Started reading Alan Hirsch The Forgotten ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. He's the co-author (with Michael Frost) of the Shaping of Things to Come. As expected it's good stuff so far.

Following my previous post, Hirsch says this about church, based on a couple of diagrams of the way churches are laid out, 'we plainly cannot consume our way into discipleship.' (p45)

I think that's pretty prescient. He's arguing that our basic mode of operating in church is consumerist. And this applies to traditional, seeker-friendly or off the wall experimental gatherings. Each is seeking to meet a need in an audience member.

'They come to "get fed". But is this a faithful image of the church? Is the church really meant to be a "feeding trough"for otherwise capable middle-class people who are getting their careers on track? And to be honest, it is very easy for ministers to cater right into this: the prevailing understanding of leadership is that of the pastor-teacher. people gifted in this way love to
teach and care for people, and the congregation in turn loves to outsource learning and to be cared for.' (p43).

His argument - that I'm really forward to seeing him unpack - is that churches have to get smaller (and more numerous) so that everyone participates rather than comes along for the ride; and they have to get a whole lot more serious about relationships: 'a church is formed not by people just hanging out together, but by ones bound together in a distinctive bond. There is a certain obligation to one another formed around a covenant.' (p40). Such a covenant community is serious about worship, discipleship and mission.

I guess where this fits with the previous post is in the area of how our gathering help to make disciples. Part of the church's weakness in the UK is that we're not very good at making disciples. We have attenders, friends, even members; but how many disciples do we have and how do we measure growth in their discipleship?

I think my disquiet about our teaching programmes is that I'm not convinced that the learning outcome is discipleship - and anything less than that is a waste of everyone's time, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

It's a bit like the Alpha Course - getting people to join the zeitgeist and feel great. But I'd love to know the long term effect. What's the drop out rate?

A lot of what you've said about "joining in" and becoming members, says more about peer pressure and lack of thought, than it does a single minded determination to know God better and get off a flabby behind and serve him.

Many religions, and many great leaders, put service above success. Perhaps discipleship is about being selfless?

Is it about getting out of a comfort zone and into a messy, hurting, shallow world, where an aching heart is dismissed with a Prozac, a sad and lonely soul is comforted with a Facebook status update and a shattered and grieving mind is ignored and sidelined.

Simon, I really admire your admission in your previous post. I am personally amazed to know that someone is brave enough to admit that Christian teaching might not be all it's cracked up to be. I have been long disillusioned with church. Not because of what it offered in terms of comfort and feeling better, but what it didn't offer to others like me who were unwilling to get involved without questioning.

I'm glad you're asking "What's the point?" It would probably do your congregation good if they wondered that too.

You're a good man, in a tough job. I say you're probably ready to shake things up a bit.

Craig Gardiner said...

Absolutely right, so often in my "professional life" as pastor I feel like the guy giving directions to the tourist but tells him 'If I were you I wouldn't start from here'

I asked the questions of my congregation recently (and as you know I blogged about it) and i intend to keep pushing at the question of why we allow ourselves to get educated beyond obedience.

Still haven't had the guts to stop preaching but have had some interaction and am planning on more creative service which is no sermon and more dialogue.

Simeon said...

Resonates with me Simon, thanks for the post. Been doing this for almost as long as you have and after a while you start to question 'is this really the best way?'.

Interesting that I'd read Craig's post and then yours on a similar theme. All of us working out new teaching series I suspect!

I'm interested in how the size of the group (congregation) affects the learning process. Big churches gather around so called 'effective' communicators and turn into preaching centres, but are they really just an escape from gritty discipleship?

Interaction as a path towards learning works better in smaller groups. When Hirsch says churches have to get smaller - is not surprising but how many churches are brave enough to set 'getting smaller' as their objective?

Anonymous said...

Anon has a good point on the Alpha course. Hirst, on the other hand, has his idea of community shaped not by consumerism but by the people who God scooped from Melbourne's netherworld: "gays, lesbians, Goths, drug addicts, prostitutes and ..., all rabid party animals". That "untamed group" simply followed their "latent spiritual instincts" and clustered to form a common life together.

For me one of the challenging sections is on p35 where Hirst speaks of the very small numbers of people who are within the church's cultural reach (middle-class decent people).

I heard Graham Cray on the same subject at New Wine where he suggested that just 6% of the population would be reached through attractional evangelising such as "Back to Church Sunday".