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Grand Rapids, MI

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Holistic Christianity... mega-churches

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There are lots of people writing and talking about "getting back" to a more holistic Christianity.  There are a lot of individuals, tired of a dualistic Christianity, who are moving into the city, committing to seeking justice in their own communities, changing the way they handle their finances to help the poor, changing habits of handling waste and the world, and at the same time helping people to turn their lives, hearts, and hopes over to Jesus. (By the way, just as an interesting aside, there seem to be many more "born-agains" or "evangelicals" who are moving towards a more holistic gospel than those on the so-called more "liberal" end adding the evangelical pieces.  Is that true?  Do you see that?)  There are a lot more people in evangelical Christian circles who are learning the sub-culture we've created for ourselves isn't all that satisfying, not to mention that it violates some salt and lightness of our mission.  More are talking again about being transformational in the culture, about being missional, and resurrecting stories from the past of how the church was instrumental in the civil rights movement, the abolition of slavery, the determination of basic human rights in the American constitution, the understanding of freedom, and addressing the poverty among us.  Again, a lot of those writing or speaking about these things lately are labelled emergent, but there are others who are saying it, too.  I already mentioned Hybels and Warren.  I was pleased several years ago to read a transcript of an interview with Warren in front of some of the nations leading journalists called Myths of the Modern Mega-Church, and event hosted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life with Michael Cromartie moderating and David Brooks, columnist at the NY Times responding.  Here is one thing that Warren said, which echoes an earlier post of mine about the 21st centery division between evangelicals and social liberals.

But what happened is Protestantism split into two wings, the fundamentalists and the mainline churches. And the mainline churches tended to take the social action issues of Christianity – caring for the sick, for the poor, the dispossessed, racial justice and things like that. Today there really aren't that many Fundamentalists left; I don't know if you know that or not, but they are such a minority; there aren't that many Fundamentalists left in America.

Anyway, the fundamentalist and evangelical movement said they were just going to care about personal salvation when they split from the mainline churches. What happened is the mainline churches cared about the social morality and the evangelicals cared about personal morality. That's what happened when they split. But they really are all part of the total gospel – social justice, personal morality and salvation. And today a lot more people, evangelicals, are caring about those issues.

Here are some of the trends that Warren shared in his talk which I find encouraging sign-posts, particularly coming from a leader in his position.  Incidentally, it was probably this transcript that helped me to "be ok" with the call into a small-side mega-church after serving in a more emergent environment for 8 years prior.

  1. The return of the evangelical movement to its 19th-century roots, roots characterized by what he called "compassionate activism"
  2. Signs of spiritual awakening in America, particularly through the "small group structure"
  3. A shift in power from parachurches to local churches
  4. Three important questions
    • Will Islam modernize peacefully?
    • Will America return to its religious roots and faith or go the way of secularism and post-Christianity as did Europe?
    • What will fill the vacuum of a dying Marxism in China?
  5. An evolving alliance between Evangelical Christians and Catholics.  (In addition to a trip to Rome and some study of this trend and meeting with some leadership there back in 1999, there were some seminal studies for me that were helpful here that are worth looking at if you haven't:  Evangelicals and Catholics Together and Evangelicals and Catholics Together - a new initiative.

In this transcript, you can see the heart of Rick Warren to do justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly before his God.  You can see that he is trying to seek the Kingdom and lead others to do so.  One of the most influential things in my life from this transcript were two.  First was his explanation of the stewardship of his leadership to harness the influence and the affluence of his culture for the kingdom, not just for personal salvation or conversion.  Second was Rick and his wife's reverse tithing, in which they gave more and more of their income away until they paid back their salary to the church.  So often you see leaders of large movements caught up in their own fame and fortune.  Instead, Rick has committed his life to reaching the lost, and to making a difference in the world.  When he institited the P.E.A.C.E. plan and began to become a critical force in emergencies like the Tsunami and Hurricane disasters of 2005, and is now involved heavily in global poverty and AIDS work, I've been impressed and encouraged. 

Oh, and for good measure and if you don't want to read the transcript (although I highly recommend it), here are the myths of the modern mega-church.  I found these quite insightful and it opened my eyes to some pretty important things.  Remember, these are myths:

  1. The mega-church is a uniquely American phenomenon.
    • Truth:  reality is there are far more mega-churches outside of the United States than there are inside of the United States
  2. Mega-churches are politically active.
  3. Mega-churches attract people because of their size.
  4. Mega-churches have televised services.
  5. Mega-churches require little or no commitment.
  6. Mega-churches grow by marketing.

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