Thursday, September 08, 2005

"Restless Churches"

I have been reading this book, by Reginald Bibby, a sociologist/pastor from Alberta (click on the post title to see book info on It is a very detailed investigation into what I call Canada's "State of the Religious Nation". I will be pulling more from this book to share with readers as I finish it, but I wanted to share this passage, which I think is highly valid in today's increasingly insular and skeptical age:

It may well be that churches have to be healthy in order to look outward-much like a person has to be personally healthy, physically and emotionally, before he or she can turn outward to help others. Clerly, healthy churches have positive things to offer to the people with whom they come into contact.

However, I think that caution needs to be used in assuming that congregational health measured by five or eight or twelve criteria will inevitably result in focused ministry to outsiders. Programs like NCD (National Church Development), if they help to build healthy congregations, are to be commended and used.

But, on the surface, the frequent claims that healthy churches will become growing churches comes precariously close to another "magic potion". Jeff Berrie points out that the survey is grounded in Mark 4:28-29, where Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a partnership between man, who scatters the seed, and God, who somehow causes it to grow to maturity. He adds, "We have a responsibility in growing the church, and so does God". What makes me nervous is when he adds, "Our responsibility is to make sure the church is healthy. God's responsibility is to then grow the church".

Does church health all by itself produce growth in the form of outreach to people requiring ministry? Is it solely up to God? Or does God call healthy churches to go out and "grow the church"? I'm inclined to think the latter. In fact, I have no doubt about it.

This is all a preamble to the payoff:

If so, what's needed in Canada today is not merely healthy churches. That takes us back to the parable about drill bits and holes and to means-end inversion. So what if churches are healthy and people still aren't receiving the ministry they require? The drill bits might be great but the companies will still be floundering?

What's needed so badly today is a commitment on the part of churches - which, perhaps like the rest of us, are experiencing varying degrees of health - to do what they can by moving beyond ministries that are turned inward, and reaching out to Canadians who need ministry. Preoccupation with church health per se can result in narcissistic mirror-gazing at a time when God seems to be calling churches to get out of the dressing room and get on the stage.

This resonated so strongly with me on so many levels. I have recently felt a strong calling to reach out to the community around my church, and I am a great admirer of the ability of small church communities like the FRWY to coordinate fairly large-scale efforts on a shoestring with the goal of meeting their community. This is something I think churches need to be doing. It is critical, however, and Bibby mentions this too, that there be an end goal of evangelization always in mind. However, in today's overly defensive society, the effort must be made to reach out in a non-confrontational fashion. This starts with, I believe, formulating relationships and addressing physical and emotional needs, leading to deeper spiritual discussions.

It is also important that churches continue to look after themselves internally, maintaining spiritual health, but I think a better balance needs to be struck. This is why I am so thrilled with some of the great things happening at Philpott. I really feel a sense that we are getting ready to really step out into the downtown core and begin building relationships with some of the folks in the community. This is also an effort that we are starting in conjunction with other downtown churches and that makes it doubly exciting.

Thank you, God, for all that you have done and will do in not only my heart and spirit, but within my church and our city.



At Thursday, September 08, 2005 3:22:00 PM, Blogger Al said...

Amen indeed.


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