"Many of them just copy a letter from Rick Warren's book and send it out" was the summary sentence one pastor gave me when asked about church starts in his metropolitan area. Yes, he did mention some exceptions that are thriving.
Those words set me to reflecting. Last Sunday in our Sunday School class (yes, for now we are back in Sunday School) we had some discussion regarding the faith of the global church and what appears to be a lack of faith in the Western church. I'm not so sure it is lack of faith. I rather think we are in a straight jacket of sameness and we dare not risk moving out of that. "Flowers Are Red" is our theme song.
If you are a Star Wars fan you are aware of the Clone Wars. If not, check out the dvd's and watch it. It is filled with great metaphors and you just might enjoy the movie.
My friend Andrew Jones posted this morning on the house church movement in India and lessons Europe could learn. So could we in the USA. He links to an article he wrote, "What Did You Go Out To See". You can read the article here.
In his introduction to the question (taken from Matthew 11:7) Jones says "We seek out sameness. We go to a foreign city to eat noodles, and end up with a hamburger and fries. We know that global church growth is largely happening in the margins, among ordinary people, without big budgets or impressive credentials. But when we go out to worship with the "indigenous" church in Colombia or Malaysia or Italy, we end up sitting on a pew singing expat choruses with a national pastor who has colonized himself for our approval. To be discovered. To be seen by people who do not have eyes to see."
It is a lengthy quote, but necessary in context. You see, my observation is that is true of the church in the USA and is one of the huge reasons we are not experiencing the spiritual awakening for which we pray.
We prefer clones to authentic life. The language is there, but the reality isn't. In the 1990's I was part of an organization that had set as its goal to take the gospel to every person in Texas by 2000. Yes, every Christian organization had similar 2000 goals. It was as if the world would end in 2000. It didn't but many efforts did.
I shall never forget one staff meeting in which a well respected educator looked at the "new" parts of the vision and said "this is what we have been doing." So, the meeting became one of wordsmithing in which we took the old and re-phrased it to appear as the new. Nothing of essence was changed and most walked out of the meeting feeling pretty good about a good day's work. I was saddened.
My wife and I are good little church members. We filled out the Reveal form, attend worship when in town, attend Sunday School (even the party), and even attend a Wednesday night study. Now please understand. This is a good church with wonderful people who love Jesus and are seeking to serve him. No issue with them at all. We are blessed to be with them.
Here is the issue. It hit me driving home last evening. Everything we have attended has been a clone of the larger worship service. The people come, sit at one end of the room and listen to the leaders at the other end of the room. If really spiritual, we take notes. No exception. Discussion is minimal and often reduced to "any questions?". The praying is done by the leaders for everyone else and in many meetings prayer is the signal to begin and end. Poor God. Somebody should buy him a watch for Christmas so he will know when the meeting begin and ends...just in case he shows up.
Those last sentences are no more ridiculous than the spiritual vacuum into which we have fallen. Vacuums are dangerous. Ask any organization about leadership vacuums. Someone or some group will step in to fill the vacuum.
For whatever the reasons, much of my denomination has continued to speak the right words, but somewhere somehow (and the diagnosticians provide more reasons than we have people) we the people of God allowed a spiritual vacuum to exist and we have tried to fill it with spiritual clones.
Clones (at least in the movies) can do many things. But the one thing true of every clone is this: they are absent of life. And it is life which we seek. It is life Jesus came to give. One cannot clone authentic spiritual life. Emotion, cognitive reasoning, choices to make - all of those can be cloned. But life cannot. And ultimately a spiritual entity without spiritual life will become the deadest, most boring piece of activity on the face of the planet. Crowds and activity do not make for life. Anybody visited a prison lately?
"We seek out sameness" was the precept of Andrew Jones. He is right. God seeks to give freshness and creativity.
Is there a people out there willing to risk what is in their buckets to simply take an open Bible, read it, and seek to obey it? Is our God one of creativity? When God created he didn't market. He made something that did not previously exist and filled it with life. Do not err...this is not to say everything old is wrong. Not at all. It is to say that when we are risking all for God, his creativity will fill whatever he uses with His life.
Are you a clone of someone else seeking out sameness, or are you a living being filled with the living God expressing His creativity and life and trusting Him to use you in fresh and new ways?