Rethinking Church

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Willow Creek Community Church, one of America's biggest and most prominent churches, recently released a short book called Reveal: Where Are You? The book contains the results of a comprehensive study that Willow Creek conducted among their own members and among members of other churches that use their model. Pastor Bill Hybels has said that the results of that study are "earth-shaking," "ground-breaking."

In a nutshell, the survey results showed that heavy involvement in the church programs and activities of Willow Creek did not necessarily translate to spiritual growth and maturity. Findings like these have caused the church leaders to stand up and admit, "We made a mistake."

I have to tell you, that is historic. Can you remember the last time a church leader said anything like that? I can't, and I am very proud of Bill Hybels. He and his leaders deserve a Christian profile in courage award, and I will nominate him.

Bill Hybels understands the problem that the Church is in today. It is into therapy, but it needs to teach doctrine and grow people in the faith. That is why, by the way, I have written a new book to be released in February titled The Faith Given Once, for All, a book Hybels has enthusiastically endorsed.

We have discovered the same thing here at Prison Fellowship—that we cannot just lead inmates to Christ and then not see their lives transformed. So, we have looked hard at what we are doing and whether we are really making disciples—are we transforming people? We, too, have confessed that we could be doing a lot better. And so, we have revised our vision statement and made fundamental changes in the way we work.

I think the lesson that the Willow Creek leaders have learned, and the courage they are showing, constitute a challenge and a warning for all Christians. We cannot let ourselves get caught up in a "just-get-'em-in-the-doors" mentality, no matter how attractive and effective it looks. It can too easily lead to the watering-down of the Gospel, to a "feel-good" faith, and to believers having little impact in society. As the authors of the book, Willow Creek staffers Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, put it in their introduction: "The health of your church is not just about the numbers. It's about the movement of people toward Christ, toward deep love for God and genuine love for others." Amen.

Bill Hybels's example should challenge us all, especially pastors and those in positions of leadership, to take a long, hard look at what we are doing and ask whether it is really changing lives. We all need to improve. Christians today are just like the culture. We need to be transformed and then turn around and transform the world around us.

During the Reformation, the reformers had a phrase for this spirit. It was called semper reformandi, or always reforming. The more we continue to understand that we have not arrived, and the more willing we are to adopt the humble approach that we and our churches are in need of continual reformation, the more our churches and lives will come to reflect the God we preach.

I am cheering Willow Creek on. Think what could happen if, instead of tickling ears, all the churches gave the people real meat. Then there might be hope for America after all, as serious disciples are equipped to defend their faith and take their places in our communities.
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From BreakPoint®, December 5, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship