This post is from the defunct blog “Dying Church”
In Barna's new book Revolution, Barna describes a group of people that are faithfully serving God, often outside of a church structure. "They are not willing to play religious games and aren't interested in being part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God's Kingdom," he writes. Listen to what happened as Barna told a pastor friend about this group over lunch:
The reaction could not have been more cordial – or confrontational. Our scheduled ninety-minute luncheon turned into a three-and-a-half hour marathon in which I spent the last two hours on the receiving end of a lecture decrying the scriptural justification of the Revolution. Harry's closing volley summed up his position. "So you see, God has no Plan B. The local church is God's Plan A, His chosen vehicle, and He does not need any other plan. Anything outside of that means is simply indefensible from a biblical standpoint. Never second-guess God, my friend. Follow Him and accept His paths. No church has ever been perfect, but that's no reason to abandon it. Remaking the Church into the form you desire, rather than the form God ordained, is simply not legitimate. Let God be God. Help the local church become more effective, but don't ever, ever take any steps to replace it."
If Barna is right, and I think he is, we are seeing a rise of large group of people who are committed to follow Christ, but are largely abandoning the institutional structures of church. This is obviously threatening to a lot of people, like this pastor. How should we react? By the way, it's not just church attenders who are doing this. It's pastors too. They are quitting the ice cream store, and many others are wondering if it's time. I'll reflect more on this in coming days, but for now I'll say this: We need to be careful how we define church. Here is a list of what some people are quitting:
- Church buildings
- Sitting in rows
- Worship as an event led from up front
- Preaching as lectures
- Programmatic expressions of church
- Professional clergy
- Internally focused budgets
Whatever you think of these – and not all of them are bad – these are not the church. In other words, it's possible to give all of these up and still be every bit as faithful a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, I'll go further: none of these describe the church that existed in the book of Acts. So when we talk about quitting the ice cream store, from my parable, I think we need to say two things. First, not everyone has to do so. But second, for those that do, we need to understand that they may be quitting something familiar and even desirable to ourselves – but they are not quitting on God, just on one expression of church.