Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mature Christians and Willow Creek

I have had - at best - an ambivalent relationship with Willow Creek and what they're about. Of course, evangelism is crucial, and they've tried doing it in a focused and specific way, and so should be praised for that. But I have far more questions and hesitations than I have endorsements for them.

They've come out with a self-study entitled Reveal*, which Christianity Today writes about here. They have discovered that, on the basis of a survey, people who are not yet Christians or who are new Christians find that Willow Creek (and churches like it) is wonderfully helpful. Growing and mature Christians however find it unhelpful and are moving to leave the church. The CT essay is right on in a number of ways. First, it questions the - at least potential - spiritual narcissism of someone who is 'mature' and is looking to be 'fed'. Bill Hybels said that they need to learn to be 'self-feeders', with the church giving them the tools to continue growing on their own. There is something basically right about this, and I've always been concerned about Christians using this phrase 'being fed' when it comes to teaching or preaching in a church: presumably when we are adults we can feed ourselves - and feed others as well. But I'm also concerned about this idea of being a 'self-feeder' to the degree that it is pretty isolated, something one does alone and apart from the church.

The essay expands on this helpfully:
Should we be encouraging this apparent spiritual narcissism by helping people become "self-feeders"? This does not strike me as a healthy way to describe the mature disciple of Jesus Christ. While there is great wisdom in developing for individuals a "customized personal spiritual growth plan"—which looks very much like the venerable practice of spiritual direction—I wonder if we want to make "my spiritual growth" the focus for the mature believer.

The more mature we become in Jesus, the less we try to measure or chart or describe "my spiritual growth." Instead, we are called to think less about ourselves and more about God. We're less interested in what the self is experiencing and more interested in the Jesus we're serving. The self, including the spiritual self, is increasingly crucified. The key question of the mature disciple is not "Am I growing?" but "Am I serving?"

'Not being fed' might also be about depth, too. (In fact, the phrased isn't parsed out.) If the only idiom in which the church can speak is an introductory one, then perhaps there just isn't much there to encourage depth of growth or engagement. Maybe instead of using the image of eating or being fed we might talk about a massive multi-generational conversation, which incorporates people at all levels: it isn't dumbed down for children, but neither are they excluded (indeed, the conversation is what they are brought into, even they don't understand it all).

Through all this, there is also a pretty anemic ecclesiology; there is no sense of the church actually being a body, and of the relationships among the various constituent parts being a crucial aspect of that body's identity. Indeed, one gets the idea that the church is primarily for getting people over the threshold, rather than being a differentiated body engaging the mission of God in the world; in Willow's model, it seems that the primary locus of discipleship is the individual, someone who is mature enough to be responsible for himself. But that's pretty limited; it seems instead that we are called as the church and as people to a kind of interdependence.

* Disclaimer: I have not yet read the survey and - like so many other commentators, no doubt - am relying on second-hand reportage.

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Blogger Pamela said...

reportage: to portage again ;]

Sunday, November 11, 2007 4:54:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Not only that but second-hand reportage - I'm making someone else portage it again for me!

Thanks for a laugh!

Sunday, November 11, 2007 10:57:00 PM  

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