The Dysfunctional Status-Quo

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A good friend in his late 20s emailed me about his frustrating dilemma:

“Our ‘community/organic church’ has been working to define ourselves, our mission, and overall purpose. In the meantime, we are trying to work through some tough issues with one of the local churches that all of us have been previously associated with to one degree or another.

They approached us about a month ago requesting us to consider taking on the responsibility of starting a ‘postmodern’ church service, under their umbrella. Basically, they’re stuck and realize that they aren’t effectively reaching people under 35.

All us have close relationships with various people in the leadership of the church. However, all of us in our ‘community’ are very reluctant to fall under the umbrella of such a local church and we’ve been fairly vocal about that.

Just last night my wife and I had one of the couples in our community over and they informed us that they were given the boot from participating in one of the ministries of this church because they are no longer formally attending “CHURCH” on Sunday morning, which I interpret of as the institutional church, and what we are doing as community doesn’t count.

Earlier today I talked with one of the leaders of the church, whom I respect and admire, and tried to communicate about our attitude, paradigm, perspective, for what needs to emerge. As you might well imagine, it got pretty heated and intense. I am frustrated, pissed-off and confused about what approach to take and how to handle the situation.

I am frustrated about the refusal to accept any different expression of the church if it doesn’t fall under their umbrella or institutional definition of what “church” is. And yet I feel a certain sense of responsibility to love and serve the institutional church even though we may not fit into their box. Basically, aren’t we all on the same team? I’m not quite sure how to approach the situation.”


In my response, I hardly knew where to begin. Do I cry, get mad, gnash my teeth, be sad, or do all these at the disappointing and even tragic way this new missional expression of the church is being treated by the old guard.

What is so incredibly frustrating is that such an incident is not isolated or unique. It is far too common in the ecclesiological landscape of North America today. Part of my response included:

“So sorry you are facing this type of ecclesiological narrowness. It is this type of stuff that bruises and wounds people from authentically walking with Jesus. Any wonder why people want to follow him but are fed up with “church” as we see it around us. You and the folks whom you are journeying with are in good company. There was a guy we know who got hung on a cross for not being able to conform to the status-quo.

How sad. If the leader from the existing church was worthy of your respect, he should be supportive and ask “How can we help you succeed, expand, and reach others like you?” and not feel that they have to coral you into their thing or control you by what is.

Loving those in the institutional church is not the same as getting squeezed into their mold and doing things their way and under their control. It’s like relating to dysfunctional parents and going through detox.

They don’t own the body of Christ …Jesus does. You are free, like every other new church expression throughout history, to see new wineskins develop. Such expressions will almost always be a threat to a status-quo that has stagnated. If the status-quo was healthy, they would be doing everything possible to help you and yours succeed and bless you in the process.

Being a new expression of the church that may take on creative forms relevant for the participants has always been threatening to those whose definition of “church” is not biblical but cultural. So they called you a cult? Virtually every new movement in the history of Christianity has been labeled aberrant at one time or another. Again, you’re in good company. Press on!”

8 Responses to “The Dysfunctional Status-Quo”

  1. Makeesha Says:

    wow, that was creepy – if I didn’t know better I’d think you were talking about us….I’m not sure whether to be encouraged or sad hehe

  2. David Says:

    Preach it! I’m glad we have found good company to come along side of. :-)

  3. Sam Says:

    Makeesha, it wasn’t about you guys …someone else, although from what I’ve heard about your situation, it is eerily similar. The tragedy is that there are way too many people who will read this story and identify with such abuse. But those same folks can be encouraged because they are definitely not alone.

  4. makeesha Says:

    yeah, I know it wasn’t us, but you’re right, there are far too many people like us who will read that and say “man, that sounds just like our experience”

  5. Gad Fly Says:

    Sam,
    Though your blog claims that “reality may not be as it appears on the surface”, you seem to have an infatuation with emergent ecclesiastical expressions without critically analyzing what’s below the surface of its theology. Perhaps you have done so already, in which case I invite you to point me in that direction. In particular, I would appreciate hearing your response to thoughtful critics of the emergent church such as DA Carson, David Wells, Ravi Zacharias, Al Mohler, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll (who used to hang with McLaren in the emergent scene). Thank you.

  6. Sam Says:

    Gadfly:

    Thanks for weighing into this discussion. Let me offer some observations in response:

    The “emerging church” movement is not monolithic. There is really no “it.” What lies below the surface of “it” is a variety of theological perspectives, some which I would personally wholeheartedly agree with and some that give me pause. But overall, it is a movement of God which stands squarely in the flow of the great, historical renewal movements of the past 2000 years.

    As in almost all renewal movements throughout the history of the Christian movement, it’s messy. That’s to be expected. There are always excesses, muddy thinking, and some level of deconstructionism that takes place. That was even true of the Protestant Reformation. I saw it myself in the Jesus Movement of the sixties and seventies in the U.S. While there are some distinct differences, astute observers see many interesting similarities to today.

    As to the increasing chorus of “critics,” not all are “thoughtful” in my estimation. I am fearful that way to many of these critics may be throwing the baby out with the proverbial bathwater. While attacking one aspect or another of the emerging church, they may be missing the bigger missiological picture.

    What God is undoubtedly doing is raising up, on the cultural fringes, a new generation of people who are faithfully and wholeheartedly followers of Jesus and true to historic, biblical orthodoxy but committed to living that out in an increasingly secular, postmodern world. From my experience, what is most unsettling to the traditional establishment is not primarily the theological nuances but forms and ecclesiological expressions that are outside the acceptable box. While some would attack the emerging church on theological grounds, my suspicion is the real backlash is primarily cultural.

    Unfortunately, too much of the response from the established evangelical world to what God is doing in the “emerging church movement” is akin to a mother eating its young. I cannot help but believe that this grieves God.

  7. Gad Fly Says:

    Sam,
    Thank you for responding. I agree with a fair amount of latitude in cultural expressions of church life. I also recognize that God is sovereign over religious movements today as He was throughout history, and that none of us is absolutely pure in our understanding of God. Yet are you not concerned about theological trends such as open theism, universalism and other humanistic expressions that are cropping up among some of the emergent thinkers? How can McLaren be a “calvinist arminian orthodox…”? Doesn’t that reek of postmodern deconstruction of language? Is it not similar to how Machen described the liberal church movement of the 30s? I am curious if you have viewed the discussions of Piper’s conference on postmodernism. You can watch them for free (http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByConference/36/) ). I would still appreciate hearing your perspective of these guys – I believe they are thoughtful critics; would you disagree?

  8. martin scott Says:

    Thanks for the original post and the subsequent discussions. It is so important to get these things out in the open. The ‘authoritative umbrella’ scene is sadly so common. And orthodoxy being the test (whose orthdoxy?) with no real appreciation of the importance of orthpraxy seems also to be problematic.

    Having had two other generations live with me I soon came to realise the emotional desire to have them live with me on the basis that they brought life but did not disturb the furniture nor the decoration. Is this not how it ends up church-wise many times? We want the youth, but….

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