Innovating the Church

I went to a seminar this week led by James Emery White,
Senior Pastor of Mecklenburg Community  Church, Charlotte, North Carolina (here); put on by the Willow Creek Association in the UK.
I’ve not been to any of the Willow Creek seminars before but it was a
worthwhile day and touched on many of the questions we need to reflect on in my
own church.

I was particularly impressed by James understanding of contemporary
culture. I share much of his analysis and it was good to listen to a senior
church leader who was well read, a clear communicator and who obviously
reflects seriously on what he and the church are doing. If we were out for a
meal together I would want to press him on the way his theology appears to
subsume ecclesiology into missiology to the extent that strains the nature of
the church as the body of Christ but in fairness to him there is a limit to
what can be said in the course of a few hours.

A couple of things have stuck with me about what was said
during the day:

  • The
    need for us to be clear about why we do what we do in church. For example,
    being community is at the heart of being church but small groups are
    simply a way we seek to build community; therefore we shouldn’t be afraid
    of changing small groups or even stopping them if there are better ways of
    building community in our context.
  • The
    need to recognise the tendency in the contemporary church towards
    spiritual narcissism, the consumer mindset that makes us the focus of
    attention. As leaders we ought not to be impressed by talent but by character
    and discipleship.
  • Every
    church needs an open entrance where people can question, explore and
    dialogue with us. We need to create opportunities for ‘Mars Hill’ moments
    where we can explain our faith in culturally relevant ways.

In a breakout session for ministers he said two things that
resonated with me. First, that being a minister is an impossibly difficult job
which takes a high toll on our spiritual and emotional wellbeing. Personally I
consistently underestimate the emotional toll. Second, he mentioned that he
takes about six weeks study leave each year to read, reflect and take time to
prepare for some of the main preaching themes in the year ahead.  Apart from a moment of envy (another toll on
my spiritual wellbeing!) this commitment by him and the church he leads may go
someway to explaining how he has the time to read and reflect as he does.
Perhaps I and many other ministers would be more effective if we took more time
to study.

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