i’ve just begun reading david fitch’s book, ‘the great giveaway: reclaiming the mission of the church from big business, parachurch organizations, psychotherapy, consumer capitalism and other modern maladies’. how’s that for a title? anyways, i met david back in march 2007 at a conference in the GTA and after having the opportunity to chat with him a little i decided that i very much need to read his book. i’ve only made it through the first 50 or so pages but let me tell you, i’m already loving what i’m reading. so borrow it from a friend and read it! i’ll be writing about some of my thoughts as i read.
the first chapter is titled ‘our definition of success: when going from ten to a thousand members in five years is the sign of a sick church’. essentially, the thesis for this chapter is stated on page 29: “numbers, on their own, say nothing qualitative about what is going on in the church when viewed as the body of Christ.” to this i would say, bang on (that’s what she said…zing!).
let’s get something straight here. the Church is not an organization in need of CEO’s to run it. the Church is not a business. in this sense, the bigger the church does not equal the more successful a church. you can draw in thousands upon thousands of people at a given sunday morning gathering and still not actually be “successful” (i don’t quite like this word when speaking of the Church). take the pastors of the prayer palace in toronto, ON, for example, and i don’t mean to pick them out, they just so happen to be an easy target. the prayer palace is one of the largest churches in toronto. however, the pastors (a father and two sons) preach a bullshit message to their congregation having to do with living “your best life now” and reaping God’s material blessing. it seems obvious to me that if you tell poor people (the prayer palace is located a weston/finch and a large number of the members come from the jane/finch area and, therfore, live in poverty) that God wants to make them wealthy, then you can quite easily fill your church with poor people. my point is this, just because there are lots of people at a given church does not mean that the church is successful when it comes to actually being the church in a watching world.
if it’s true that numbers don’t necessarily equal success as the church, then i think there is a problem when we, as the Church, aggressively seek out “decisions for Christ”. that is to say, when we seek out “decisions for Christ” in and of themselves. Fitch argues, and i would agree, that the concept of “decisions for Christ” is rooted and grounded in individualism, a modern malady that the Church as the Body of Christ ought to deny.
there is no denying the effect of individualism on western evangelicalism (that’s a lot of ism’s). as Fitch puts it, “all of this works to center salvation in the individual and private experience. as a result, church becomes a place where saved private individuals come to be ‘fed’ intellectually, to serve out of their personal duty to Christ, to get in touch with an individual experience of worship, and to pool their resources as individuals to further the mission of getting the gospel out to more individuals.” one of the many problems with this is that, “once the internal working of the Body of Christ is not a legitimate goal in itself, the central focus becomes, how can we best organize to produce the largest amount of decisions and the best quality of services for Christian growth most economically and efficiently to the largest number in this geographical location?” then, “there is no need to organize for any other goal when the salvation of each person is not dependent upon any inner organic dynamic going on in the church itself.”
most of us would agree that the Church is essentially, the people of God in the world, working with God to bring about his future kingdom now. Paul talks much about the Church as the Body of Christ. in Paul’s own words (my translation) it makes no sense for the foot to say, “i don’t need the rest of the body” and go off on it’s own. for the foot makes no sense, and is of no use, in and of itself. the foot only makes sense and can only fully be the foot in the context of the body. likewise, the Body of Christ is not merely a load of individuals coming together, rather, it is people dying to themselves and immersing themselves into the Body to be made whole and fully human. more on this to come later.
with this in mind, it is obvious to see that modern individualism is a cancer when imposed on the Church.
the answer, Fitch argues (as does Scripture) is that, “at the end of modernity, evangelicals can no longer oversimplify and just pursue personal decisions of faith from people. we must seek ways to successfully immerse lives into the life of Christ and his kingdom.”
i shall post a wee bit more tomorrow on decisions and then later we can talk about some better ways to measure success that don’t involve sunday morning head counts.