Saturday, September 29, 2007

What Kind of Influence?

I’m wondering if it is ever a good thing for a Christian organization to have high visibility or to gain credibility in the eyes of the world - especially just because it is big and powerful? In our post-Christendom, tolerant-of-everything culture, is a good reputation worth anything anymore? I mean what if everybody thought nice thoughts about Christians or mega churches or faith based social work? Would it make any difference at all? I’m wondering if it would have any other impact than just: “Oh, that’s nice!” before they move on to the next thing that happens to capture their attention.

A couple of things got me thinking about this. The first was a brief email newsletter from Fred Peatross (a guy who has made a commitment to hanging out with the people Jesus misses the most – i.e. “unreachable” non-Christians). He suggests that we can become so easily distracted by the world and the stuff it offers that we lose sight of the simplicity of faith. He says it this way:

"In many ways the evolution of the church is mirrored in the evolution of the waltz which made its way into the ballrooms in the late 1700s where it became a respectable business. Professional dance troupes replaced the peasants. Simple rural clothes gave way to flowing gowns and tailored suits. Beer and bratwurst gave way to champagne and caviar. And open meadows gave way to polished ballroom floors.

In a simple way, the church evolved from a simple folk dance into a staged performance where professionals took the stage. Formality replaced spontaneity, precision replaced passion. Relegated to the audience, the peasant sat and watched. And the more they watched the more they expected the professional to entertain them.

The second nudge was from a blog post by David Fitch. Although he questions that mega churches are the best thing Christianity has produced, he suggests that nobody denies good things are happening in mega-churches - but with two caveats.

First, although some good things are happening in a few lives, are they happening in the other thousands that attend that church?
Second, are the good things just getting more press in a big churches that have the resources to tell the story well (e.g. highlight videos)? And he actually adds a third by saying that if the thousands of Christians of a mega church would meet together in smaller missional groups would there not be many more stories and conversions and much more impact on their community? Would it also have been done with much fewer resources and long term investment in buildings and staff? Statistics say yes.

Upon reading Fitch’s blog, one commenter said: “What is Biblically wrong or anti-Kingdom about some forms of decadence (large buildings that cost too much and/or expensive programs) for the influence that the Kingdom can have as a result. Is it wrong to obtain influence for the Kingdom. A large amount of influence allows for an organization to gain credibility, especially on a global scale that gives some the ability to be and do that which most of us will never have access to.

I think he answers his own question but in case he didn’t get it Zechariah gives him an answer. “So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.” (Zech 4:6)

I don’t think the goal of a Christian organization is to gain influence “on a global scale.” That smacks of control. To me it sounds like what Constantine tried to do in 313 in the Edict of Milan – influence and control those who were non-Christians by making Christianity a state religion. Christianity works because the Holy Spirit is at work. Christianity spreads when individuals gain influence in their neighbours and coworkers lives. People respond to Jesus when they are loved not when they discover what a great or powerful or influential organization the church has become.

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