Yesterday I listened to an interview with Frank Viola and George Barna about their book Pagan Christianity?. I keep thinking of the former pitcher for the Red Sox. You have to really have your head in the sand to not notice all the books critical of the “institutional church”. This is a phrase that was used ad infintinum during the 70-minute interview. Never defined.
Here’s my beef with the beef against the institutional church. Actually I have a few beefs.
1. Overgeneralization. Yes, many of the criticisms are true of many churches. But none of the criticisms is true of all churches. So you end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, for instance, many churches are all about buildings (I could tell you stories, baby). But not all are. And that includes some big, famous congregations. For instance, Redeemer PCA in NYC does not have a building. They continue to rent facilities.
But sometimes owning your facility is a good thing. Rent was one of the problems we ran into in our restart. If we had put our money into a new facility on a visible piece of land we might have done better. I don’t know, and never will. But buildings alone are not the issue- but the attitude about buildings.
2. Lack of Personal Responsibility. They blame the church, not themselves. Yes, there are some dysfunctional churches, and churches that enable spiritual slackers. But most churches I’ve been associated with want people to grow and be involved. Most people who are not engaged are not engaged because they don’t want to be engaged. Those people fail to take personal initiative to build relationships with others, allow others into their lives, go to small groups and the list goes on. It is easy to make the “institutional church” the scapegoat.
The larger the church the more effort you may have to put into getting to know people. But I’ve been in churches of over 1,000 and been able to make friends and build relationships that lasted longer than my time there. Am I special? No! I recognized my personal responsibility instead of expecting everyone to initiate contact with me. Most churches nearly beg people to be involved, they aren’t wanting to have a congregation of spectators.