Thursday, 29 May 2008

Reality Church?: Dan Kimball

I like this article by Dan Kimball he is one of the progressive young leaders within the so called emerging Church. Dan is biblically conservative but cultural aggressive in reaching the lost within the post-modern generation.Apart from his love for Jesus I like him particularly because he realises the problem that is noticeable in many emerging church people who often arrogantly reject all that has gone before and end up throwing the baby out with the bath water - to their cost. This has been done time after time with revival/renewal movements. Pride surely comes before a fall. Here in this little treatise he traces the life and times of Mr Keen Christian.There is much wisdom here. It also begs the question, which stage are you at?AK

The First Stage: We begin going to a church, exciting, thrilling, love Jesus, the church is exciting, all things new.

Second Stage: We begin getting involved, learn behind the scenes things, feel privileged to know the church staff and leaders more personally, we are totally excited.

Third Stage: We see things you start to question, the thrill of the big church meetings wanes, as it seems more and more predictable, the leaders seem more human now and not as special as first.

Fourth Stage: We start to get tired of serving in ministry. It seems routine now and we only see it as fueling the big meeting that we don't really like anymore. The leaders we once were in awe of now seem not only normal, but there is a suspicion of self-serving vs. serving the church in their motives. We lose excitement and wonder if church is even something we should be part of. We grow more disillusioned by the day.

Fifth Stage: Total disillusionment, begin feeling bitter towards church leaders, and wonder why people don’t question things more. We sit in the big meeting and feel very alone. We look at the crowds around us and don't feel like we belong anymore. Is church just a produced big meeting? We are tired and it even angers us to see excited new people joining the church as we now know how it really works and how they too will eventually become tired like we are and see church is a program and organized religion.

Sixth Stage: We silently drop out of church. We read the Bible and early church history and see that they didn't have bigger weekly meetings in the early church. We read "house church" literature and begin thinking this is the real New Testament church. We get excited about really doing church the right way and not the big organized way. We find a few other disillusioned Christians and either form or join some sort of small house church gathering. We want it to be simple and not "organized" or programmed or big, but pure like the early church. Everyone all sharing together, true community will happen here, unlike the bigger programmed meetings.

Seventh Stage: Fairly quickly, we realize it isn't too easy leading people. Even in a small house church. People don't show up, or you have people dominating conversations. There is the same bickering, some gossip, people whispering to others that they are not happy with how the meeting went etc. We sometimes try to sing worship songs with ten people and it feels very odd. So you don't try to sing anymore, but do secretly miss the corporate singing that happens in a larger group. Eventually we find the same disappointments in the smaller house church that we did in the bigger programmed church, but at a different level. We get even more disillusioned, as we realize that even the key leaders (including ourselves) and the people of the house church are just as messed up as the big church leaders and people in those churches.

We also feel subtly uncomfortable that the house church feels a bit inward focused. It would be weird to have non-Christians break up the intimate dialog and prayer we have taken such a long time to establish together. But we know something has to be done, as we keep thinking about those who don't know Jesus and that our house church might not be the best place to invite them. Plus dealing with little kids running around every week during your meeting certainly limits your full engagement into the Bible discussion. We get more disheartened as our 4 year old knocks the entire strawberry shortcake dessert onto the kitchen floor as he was trying to get at it early before it is served at the house church.

Eighth Stage: We stop going to any church of any kind. We forget it all. Watch a lot of TV. Play video games. We go see the Dukes of Hazzard movie.

Ninth Stage: We begin missing other Christians, and regular fellowship. We do some introspection and eventually deal with the disappointments and high expectations that we had. We begin a new level of maturity and thinking about the church and church leaders.

We start thinking about our options. We don't want to go to a preaching-driven church that just has everything revolve around the senior pastor or the preacher, as that subtly creates passive spectators who depend on the preacher to "feed" them weekly - rather than maturing as Christians whom should primarily be "feeding" ourselves (since we aren't infants anymore). We don't want to go to a hyper-Reformed church where we feel guilty all the time and get caught up in the everybody else is worldy and wrong but us mentality. We don't feel good about the seeker-type of churches where everyone is so happy, the music is hyper-cheery and we fill in the blanks in the notes they give out. That excites us for a little while, when we fill in the blanks, because it feels like you are really learning. But after a while we see the stack thickening in our Bibles that we stuff them in and realize that we have never even looked at them since we filled them in. We look at our notes that we filled the blanks in on, and can't remember a single thing from these sermons, even the one from two weeks ago.

Tenth Stage: So, we slowly go back to our original church that we at first felt good in because of the overall vision and mission that drew us to it in the first place. We find that the leaders do admit freely to you there are weaknesses and flaws and mess ups and ego issues, but still try their best to blend both the bigger meetings and smaller home meetings for the purpose of the mission. They try to be organized, without being "Organized".

It's not perfect, but we begin to enjoy and even more appreciate the benefits and momentum of the church. But now we get involved with more realistic expectations of what church is and understand the leaders are just like us, trying their best to serve Jesus. We become happy again with a balanced life and imperfect church family all serving on a mission together.


Anonymous said...

i can really relate to this. all except the eighth stage. i didn't watch dukes of hazzard. i watch better films.

Andrew Kenny said...

Thanks rachel for being so honest!

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

I have seen this in action all around me, and it has brought me to many of the conclusions I have come to about "church." I think this experiential path is an explanation of why our era has been called post-Christian on the social level: More Christians get stuck at Stage 8 than continue evolving to Step 10.

That being said, I also think that this pattern does not apply to denominations that have as their basis what I call a "temple worship" mentality and focus. That would be, of course, Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism. I would also include Orthodox and Conservative Judaism in this group, even though they are pre-Christian.

Something like this can happen to us as well. There definitely are Orthodox Christians stuck at Stage 8, but the steps leading up to it are quite different. I'd have to think very hard to come up with them, but I think the steps would be fewer. Two of my sons are stuck at Stage 8, and for different reasons. My other two sons are stuck somewhere earlier in the pattern, or else they've hopped over Stage 8 and are maybe at Stage 10. That would be Jacob the seminary graduate and Andrew the cantor. They are both regularly involved in church functions, but not the way I would be.

As for myself, I'm at Stage 10 and have been there most of my Christian life. I haved spent time at Stage 8, though not with TV, video, or PC games, simultaneously with being at Stage 10. In other words, though I've never missed a Sunday meeting since I was converted, except for good cause (travel away from home, and rarely, sickness), there have been periods when I have dis-engaged myself from lay ministry participation under the church leaders.

I'm in one of those periods right now. The current leadership of my local church has been reformatted by the imposition of a possibly heretical or even non-Christian (according to many perople's estimation) priest, and this has driven many of the committed Christians either out of participation or out of the local church. Their places in the structure have been taken by neophytes and social or cultural Christian types who know a few Bible verses and follow the unbelieving priest around like groupies, fawning on him and doing whatever he says, mindlessly.

But when this happens, we just wait until the blockage is cleared away, and when it is, we all pull together and rebuild the congregation from scratch. This is the way of Eastern Orthodoxy. We don't fight, we fast, pray, keep the faith, and do our own ministry among us, undisturbed. We witness and wait. Eventually things are restored. It can still be a very painful time, because all the while we know that souls are being lost, opportunities being wasted.

Coming out of this ethic, that's the reason why my views on the Church are non-denominational, and why I regard the institutional churches as human constructs, even the Orthodox Church. To me, there's a great deal of value in the fact that this institutional form of Christianity exists and should continue to exist, because it is a sign to the world that such a thing as the Church does in fact exist. The fact that it has imperfections in its earthly heads and members (priestly hierarchies and believers) is the safeguard and sign that we should not regard it with too much awe, that we should worship only Christ alone (in the divine and holy Trinity) and not His Bride (though we venerate her).

Thanks for posting this. I hope many people read it. It may help some understand what they're going through right now, and maybe show them a way out of it, if they're stuck or getting stuck at a bad stage. It's too bad that most people can't just jump through the pattern and get to Stage 10 instantly. But when they get there, it is a relief. They've gotten home.

Anonymous said...

I like it.

Charlie Boyd said...

Sounds like our journey Andrew to a large extent.
Not sure about stage 10 though - I think I've skipped out on that and gone to stage 11 - don't ask me what that is - I think its the disappearance of duality in all forms including being 'in church' or 'out of church'.Everything is one ultimately.Sounds a bit Eastern but I think they are right!

Andrew Kenny said...

Thanks Charlie for your comments and honesty.You were as many of were 'Mr Keen Christian'.