Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation (Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken)
Copastors Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken tell the story of how God took their thriving, consumer-oriented church and transformed it into a modest congregation of unformed believers committed to the growth of the spirit–even when it meant a decline in numbers.
As Kent and Mike found out, a decade of major change is not easy on a church. Oak Hills Church, from the pastoral staff to the congregation, had to confront addiction to personal ambition, resist consumerism and reorient their lives around the teachings of Jesus. Their renewed focus on spiritual formation over numerical growth triggered major changes in the content of their sermons, the tenor of their worship services, and the reason for their outreach. They lost members. But the health and spiritual depth of their church today is a testimony of God’s transforming work and enduring faithfulness to the people he loves.
Here are some of the passages I highlighted:
Church growth is not just more Christians but bigger Christians, flush with Christ’s character.
We needed to learn how to be with God without an agenda.
Trust is demonstrated by our willingness to act as though what we claim to believe is true.
By the time our children reach elementary school, they are fully formed consumers.
Speaking to North Americans about consumerism is like talking to fish about water. It is an all-encompassing part of our daily existence and usually too close for us to even notice its pervasive presence
The church in North America has, for the most part, embraced this insidious monster of consumerism in the most pragmatic manner and has used it as a principle foundation for church growth. It’s impossible to create authentic Christian community with people whose commitment is dependent on having their perceived needs continually met.
“There is a pervasive value in the American culture that sucks all of us into believing that the world exists to meet our perceived needs. It is a ravenous, insatiable hunger that will permeate every square inch of our lives and drive us further from God and the experience of contentment.”
We are now stuck in this wearisome game of keeping these people (those attending our church) satisfied so they don’t go to another church.
Ambition is often fueled by the insatiable desire to be recognized as important.
Personal ambition is a ravenous monster not easily tamed. And it is time to admit to each other that it runs rampant in the religious subculture of our day.
My observation is that over the last thirty or forty years our pastoral ethic has shifted from one of faithfulness to one of productivity and success.
The church is messy, unfinished and imperfect. But the church is the beloved bride of Christ.
American ideals have profoundly shaped our ecclesiology.
The leaders of the “fastest-growing” churches are invited to speak at conferences. They are the ones we want to hear from. They are the ones who have figured something out the rest of us need to discover. What would happen if the keynote speaker at the next national conference was the associate pastor of a sixty-person church in rural Nebraska who hasn’t had a visitor in five years? It’s just a hunch, but registrations might lag
We grow accustomed to running on fumes.
The Missional Movement seems to derive its identity in deconstructing the established church.
Perhaps our greatest lesson from the past decade is that it is spiritually formative to be dissatisfied and unable to resolve that dissatisfaction. In fact, there is hardly a better catalyst for transformation than to not get what we want. Sitting in the dissatisfaction, without frantically trying to resolve it, can do wonders for a human soul.
We began confronting consumerism, and prioritizing spiritual formation.
Spiritual formation is not about learning more information.
Busyness makes us feel necessary and important.
It is so important for pastors to rediscover their calling as spiritual directors.
We need to keep a rhythm between cultivating the inward life (spiritual formation) and giving ourselves away in outward service (mission and evangelism).
Transformation takes time. It’s impossible to hurry up and become more like Jesus.
Perhaps a hazard of Christian leadership is we don’t learn how to listen. We spend inordinate amounts of time trying to inspire people to do what they may not want to do. We’re always trying to persuade. We’re constantly answering questions. We are doling out counsel.
The church, as awkwardly inefficient as it often can be, is still a stunningly beautiful and powerful thing.
There seems to be a tendency these days to talk and write about the church in a very abstract, theoretical, almost wispy way. Some contemporary theorists tend to picture the church as something almost indistinguishable from a handful of Christians being in the same place at the same time with a vague intention to do good. But as soon as there is any semblance of organization or programming, these theorists label it as bad, as something less than the church, a deviation from the new thing that God is doing in the world. Church programs are increasingly portrayed as the vestigial organs of a long-extinct dinosaur. This seems unfair and irrational.
It is the nature of organizations to forget why they exist, and the church is always going to be an organization
But like all organizations, churches are prone to bureaucracy and often become self-serving.