Death of a Church; Birth of a Movement

The Harbour … and Faith Harbour in Baytown … both the concert venue and the church have closed. The life they birthed, however, is something that has only just begun to develop. Lives have been shaped by the ministry done there and through the people there. There’s a lot of hope, I think, in the death of a church. That is, a vital and spirit-driven church. The hope is that the movement of the Spirit is free to take the fruits of that church to far greater proportions than any of us could ever imagined.

Think of the many young adults, touched by the Spirit in this place, experiencing a sacrificial and radically generous, and very tangible Grace in this place … now attending college or university in Illinois or Iowa … or in Austin … or in Denton … or in Nacagdoches … or in Baytown. Some of them are taking jobs, getting married, having children. Imagine the relationships that will benefit from that grace .. imagine how it grows and multiplies as stories are told … as community is reproduced in all of those places. That’s how the church started, afterall.

The Harbour was a unique experiment which tried to get at the very essence of being Church … the people called out … and living and following in the likeness of Christ as best as they could in a sinful and broken world. As an experiment it was highly successful … lives changed, messages proclaimed and lessons learned. As an institution is was less successful … bills to pay, short on staff, always struggling. As a movement … well, we won’t be able to measure that one for a while … but I believe the fruit will be abundant. And I’m excited.

Now … a little about the institutionalized church … hmmm …. I, of course, am not speaking about every church or every church-goer, but … well, the church is lost. It has lost its Christ-center. In my experience .. and I think this goes way beyond Presbyterian or Baptist churches … churches have become more like social clubs separating the “good” from the “bad” than communities of Christ-followers offering grace and redemption. They are filled with people more compelled by “right-thinking” than “compassionate-living”. They are more concerned with conserving tradition than being filled by the Spirit.

I’m reading George Barna’s, Revolution. At the same time, I’m reading
an advanced copy of a new book from the Gallup people about “engaging”
church. In both books, the statistics on the spiritual commitment of
church members is apalling. Very few church members worship God
outside of a weekly church service. Of those worshipping in the
church, few report that they actually encounter God in
worship. A majority report that they’ve never felt the presence of God
in worship. They only give about 3% of their annual income to the
church or other charible causes. Most church-goers don’t read the
Bible on a daily basis and we don’t often pray with our families or our
children other than saying grace before meals.

This afternoon I had a conversation with a colleague about the future of the Church … insert your own denomination … he asked if I really thought there wouldn’t be any more denominations or church as we know it in 50 years? If not 50, then 150 for sure. Oh, I suppose there may be a remnant for at least one more generation.

The thing is, though, that I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The system, the institution is terminally ill. A cancer of pharisaical behavior has spread rampant in the organism. Sometimes, when cancer has infected too many systems, the organism dies. But life … well … Life is God’s promise in Christ. That’s the hope of the Gospel, isn’t it?

Even so, Gallup makes a case for renewing the church, Barna says the trends are showing that God is working outside the church. I see value in both, but I think the real future is in a total revolution of the Church … a death and resurrection … and I think that’s exactly what God is up to in the world right now … even in the death of an experiment of Grace … like Faith Harbour.

Randy and Nelda, you are true revolutionaries; you’ve given birth to a movement … even if you’re still feeling the birthpains … one day … you’ll see the full magnitude and value of your obedient and sacrifical work. God bless you.