Saturday, May 31, 2014

Q&A With FBC's new pastor

On the Friday before the vote (which is Sunday) we had a Q&A time. These are my notes for some of the questions, it's not exhaustive, but I think it accurately captures the response. I've chosen things that I feel are relevant, because I didn't want to transcribe the 8 pages and it's going to be posted online eventually anyway. For the record I've also underlined things that struck me personally.

Executive Pastor: We don't care if you like him or not, if God is moving him here, then too bad for you. But I think you'll like him, and so far 36 people, our search committee, the elder board, and the staff are in full agreement.

Q: What version of the Bible do you preach from and why?
A: I use the NIV, and after learning Italian and seeing how clunky English can come across in a translation I find a dynamic style is warranted. I like the dynamic crossover, and find the NIV to be faithful to the text; it does a nice job.

Q: What is your perspective on being seeker sensitive? Some churches take the cross out of the sanctuary, don't do love offerings, change the names etc. What should we expect?
A: While a church is for believers it does need to create a place where unbelievers can come and be comfortable. We don't change the message, but we do jettison the useless package that it can come in. We don't, for example, use the culture of the 1950s like some churches do. It's called contextualization and I'm bringing that here, and it works--fifteen people came to Christ this last Sunday from the sermon. As a pastor I'm very sensitive to getting to a place where we have new people streaming in the door, looking for God, and I've found that if you speak their love language they will come. Now practically if you have a believer who has been faithful for 50 years and a millennial together and you want to craft a message that speaks to both of them, well, that's like a 7-10 split in bowling, it's hard to do. Frankly you can't do it without the Spirit. So to answer your question, I plan on updating the trappings. We will separate the message from the methodology. Not that we will water down the message, but we will make changes.

[He did a nice job answering my question about the Charismata, said that the problem was the people aren't being loving about the use of their gifts. He dodged it a little bit but hinted clearly enough that he was not Pentecostal.]

Q: Can you speak to the difficulties of evangelism here in America?
A: ...As evangelicals we are clearly losing our advantage now, since culturally we are trending away from evangelicalism, but Jesus doesn't care if it's hard, He says 'do it anyway.' And when you do it, you need to expect God to break through to them because I believe He has other people working on them already. We saw big growth at The Bridge in Fresno because we set out to scale the language barrier of culture and not back away from the challenge.
I do believe that things are going to get harder still as the harvest gets bigger, as we approach the rapture, and even so, I really want to be a part of that work, the work that leads people to Christ. Today people are surrounded by huckesterism, and we must overcome that by engaging them on a personal level by being winsome. We're going to do it by finding common ground between the believer and the non-believer.

Q: [Paraphrased: if Evangelism is job 1, how do you go about job 2--discipleship?]
A: [At Fresno] we took a blackboard and asked, what do we want when we say that? If we got what we wanted? A Jesus follower, or an apprentice person is someone who is like Jesus. They need to be converted, baptized, establish membership in the local church, connect with others in fellowship, learn how to self feed, and lastly give their faith away. God put faith in us so that we could reproduce. He has the seed of faith in us so we would see it grow in others. We're born again so that others can be born again.
In Fresno we used the connect/grow/serve/reach model. We call it joining the mission not placing membership. Then comes healthy habits which is what we called self feeding, plus teaching people conversational prayer. The life groups are sermon based so everyone is on the same page, then we do a spiritual gifts inventory and train them to tell their faith story in a way that anyone can understand. We'll do that here, not identically, but similarly.

Q: I invited my friend and he didn't want to stick around because we didn't have an iphone ap at FBC. You're my dad's age, chosen by a group of people my dad's age, approved by staff and elders who are my dad's age. You said you were going to use contextualization to reach us millennials, but how?
A: Through technology, people on platform. As a church we want every generation and age range, and we know that yours wants nothing to do with church. The staff at The Bridge has a lot of millennials on it, and we have a church app there. Part of reaching your age, language, culture, and decor aside, is technological presentation. We must get out and up to speed with technology. I also think it's critical to get more young staff in the church as the older ones retire, which is what we did in Fresno, until I was surrounded by millennials. As for training them we started project Joshua which took 12 guys, met one Sunday a month for six months [I think he said 6 here, otherwise it's 12] to create a leadership form and content. We have 21 this year, 80% of which are millennials, which creates a key layer of leadership as they come up and help.

Q: In your package you said that men are born spiritually dead. Did you mean the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity, or something else?
A: I've studied Calvinism, Arminianism, and a lot of other 'isms' carefully, and I'm really not one of any of them. The phrase comes from Genesis when God said that they would surely die and they didn't die right then physically, which means they must have died spiritually. As for Total depravity, well, a lot of stuff has been attributed to Calvin that he didn't actually say. And he over-defines it. Yes we are fallen, but we are created in God's image and He refreshes it in us. We must respond to God, no question, and we are guilty if we don't, but how exactly the magic and mystical dance works between God and man I don't know for sure.

Monday, May 26, 2014

What is a Willow Creek Church?

A Willow Creek church (often simply shortened to a ‘mega-church’) is a modern American evangelical body of Christ followers. They are part of a loosely collected seeker sensitive group that exists to bring in as many unchurched people as possible and turn them into fully devoted followers of Christ. They speak to people’s problems and felt needs, whether it be financial, moral, or relational, as the work out the idea that the world is a hurt place, and the church needs to be its hospital. Large size aside, most Willow Creek churches have a few distinctive traits that are easily recognizable:

    Skewed demographics. Big (and increasing) attendance for 40-50 year olds, small and decreasing attendance for other adult ages. Big numbers of baby Christians, small and shrinking numbers for mature believers. 

Particularly low level of commitment from people. The children’s programs have a lot of polish and class, and they do teach the kiddos the Bible stories, but quite often they have a lack of volunteers to run them. Most kid programs exist so the parents can attend worship without distraction.

Preaching aided by modern communication methods. Videos, dramas, musicals, testimonials, are frequent sightings on Sunday mornings.

Increasing emphasis on “doing something” for the community. I mean this in a social justice sense. “Preach the gospel, use words if you have to.” Show the light of Christ by getting out with a rake and cleaning up the park for the neighborhood kids.

Partnerships with “para-church” organizations like World Vision or Financial Peace, or adherence to things like Advent Conspiracy.

Decreasing congregational participation during service. The worship leader using the word “audience”, a smoke machine, or laser lights is typical of the next generation of Willow Creek model (the emergents) who display this trait much more strongly, but the principle is the same. They key indicator is if the primary thing heard is the voices of the congregation or not.

Orthodox words are updated. Sanctification is retooled to “Spiritual Formation.” Christian becomes “Jesus follower.”
Baptism becomes “Conversion story.” Pastor becomes “vision caster.” Church goers become increasingly illiterate of the historic terms and cut off from the saints who labored to preserve these doctrines.
Surveys. The most telling sign is when the church leaders give a survey to find out what people want. While the idea is put forward as a good way to find out what people need so we can give them what they’ve asked for, in practice the survey seems to be complete irrelevant. I say that because Willow Creek recently recanted of doing church in this way, and followed up by ignoring the implications of their admission and doubled down on social justice, in effect continuing to do what they repudiated.