...are the ones that make the biggest difference

10.01.2004

Are we addicted?

Frank Herbert, quite possibly the best sci-fi writer of all time, usually repeats certain themes or ideas in his books. One of the reasons his works are so enduring is because of the depth with which he writes - his stories aren't just about characters; they explore ideas, the way societies & culture work, and he does it with an uncanny nack for seeing beyond the surface. I recently re-read The White Plague, which is about a scientist who basically goes insane with rage after his wife & children are killed by an IRA bomb. He creates a super virus that kills only women and unleashes it on Ireland, England and Libya - the former 2 because of their ongoing conflict and the latter because of its role in training the bomber. I think its out of print now, but its a very interesting read. I have read the Dune books several times and highly recommend them above all others since they are a bit less esoteric than some of his other works.

But one of the ideas he consistently brings up is adrenaline addiction. He normally associates AA with people in the military or in other positions of power who thrive off of the adrenaline boost their very authority gives them. He theorizes that a great deal of human conflict is due to people in power trying to get their adrenaline fix by excercising their authority. I'll leave a decision on the accuracy of this assessment up to the reader, but I think there is some degree of truth to this in society at large, the "extreme sports" phenomenon as case in point. Then I read this from Pontifications:

Most importantly, evangelicalism thrives on mission and the creation of new congregations. It has long been noted that Protestantism breeds division and sectarianism. What perhaps has been overlooked in all of this is the evangelical thrill of starting new congregations. There’s nothing quite like experiencing the new life of a new church... As one evangelical bishop recently told me, “It’s easier to give birth than to raise the dead.” The problem, though, is that first-generation churches eventually become humdrum, culturally-accomodated third-generation churches–and we end up right back where we are now. Ultimately, evangelicalism lives by the revolution that initially created it and which it must ever seek to replicate.

What struck me immediately is the similarity with Herbert's adrenaline addiction - a (unconscious) drive to continually re-create the situation that brought about euphoria, regardless of whether or not it is the wise or even God-centered course of action. The reason that this seems abundantly clear to me is because my church is in the process of planting a church. I won't go into detail again, but suffice it to say, I'm not sure that a church plant - especially one intended to be nearly identical to what we're already doing - is the right thing to do since we aren't really growing that much. In fact, our growth is barely a trickle, a clear indication to me (and the church planter) that what we're doing isn't working as we intend it to, so why should we copy it? What exactly are we hoping to achieve? And this is my epiphany - we're hoping to replicate the excitement of a new, growing congregation instead of doing the hard work of revitalizing a numerically stagnant church. We're taking the somewhat easy way out instead of making the hard decisions about what we need to change. And I dare say there is more than a fair amount of insecurity motivating this decision. Another church in our denomination only 30 miles away in the next town over is only a few years older but is about 5 times our size and growing in leaps & bounds.

In a way, its a bit like dating. We try a relationship on and see how it works out. If it doesn't fit, we move on to the next one. Sometimes we get jealous because our friends have found someone and we're still playing the field. But eventually, you have to decide on one (even if the decision is not to get into a relationship) and settle down. You have to get hitched and start the life-long process of dying to self, relinquishing control and putting the other person & the relationship ahead of self-centered motivations. And that's not an easy process and its frequently quite painful, but its the only way to real depth & love. We can't view church plants as the only or the best way to reach people with the Gospel, and we definitely can't plant churches merely for the sake of planting them. In a way, we have to marry ourselves to our churches and stop looking for the next relationship that might come along. We have to go in for the long haul and start listening for God's voice in where we're at, and obeying him even when the place he's taking us is not the place we had initially envisioned.

2 comments:

Karl Thienes said...

Nathan,

Great post! I remember, when I was an evangelical, reading an article on how to tell if a church is a cult.

One of the distinguishing features is that the group spends more time on "recruiting" than on building up current congregations.

Not that all of Protestantism is "cultic" (in the pejorative sense), but it was then that a seed was planted in my heart about my situation. It always seemed somewhat off to be constantly doing "activities to reach the lost" when our own members were fading away or not being discipled.

Holiness, purity of heart, real discipleship are not mutually exclusive with church planting, of course.

But it wasn't until Orthodoxy that I realized that the later comes from the success in the former....

alana said...

"...marry ourselves to our churches..." I like! I like!