I was flipping through channels today being my day off and I came across a preacher who was upset about something in the church. I should have kept on flipping to ESPN, but I just had to see where he was going with the rant. He was in the process of attacking churches who use entertainment and “worldly” methods to bring people into the church. He did not call out any names, but it was clearly directed toward the Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks of the world. Since I serve in one of those wicked churches, I felt a little attacked —- like I was part of a movement which did not care about God’s Word and only wanted to “tickle the ears” of the attenders. To the preacher’s credit he did have a brief caveat that he was not saying all innovation was wrong — after all he was on TV and thought that Spurgeon would cringe at his use of the evil organ!!!
I eventually turned the channel saddened that this pastor felt like he had to take shots at churches that actually have the same Lord as the Head of their church. But I also realized that I am guilty too of being critical of different philosophies of ministries. I do this because I appreciate where I serve and have seen God work there in a huge way. And if I am honest, I also can take shots to make myself look and feel better. Pretty selfish. Pretty wrong but we all do it just maybe not on a national televised program.
So, as I was removing the log out of my eye I read a blog post that put this all in perspective. It was from Tim Keller and his reflections after speaking at Willow’s Leadership Summit. Here is what he said:
This summer I spoke at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. It was an honor to be invited. No one pulls off a conference like Willow Creek. Who else could bring their content to 120,000 people? And the three other talks or sessions that I saw were extremely high quality.
The time at Willow led me to reflect on how much criticism this church has taken over the years. On the one hand, my own ‘camp’ — the non-mainline Reformed world — has been critical of its pragmatism, its lack of emphasis on sound doctrine. On the other hand, the emerging and post-modern ministries and leaders have disdained Willow’s individualism, its program-centered, ‘corporate’ ethos. These critiques, I think, are partly right, but when you are actually there you realize many of the most negative evaluations are caricatures.
John Frame’s ‘tri-perspectivalism’ helps me understand Willow. The Willow Creek style churches have a ‘kingly’ emphasis on leadership, strategic thinking, and wise administration. The danger there is that the mechanical obscures how organic and spontaneous church life can be. The Reformed churches have a ‘prophetic’ emphasis on preaching, teaching, and doctrine. The danger there is that we can have a naïve and unBiblical view that, if we just expound the Word faithfully, everything else in the church — leader development, community building, stewardship of resources, unified vision — will just happen by themselves. The emerging churches have a ‘priestly’ emphasis on community, liturgy and sacraments, service and justice. The danger there is to view ‘community’ as the magic bullet in the same way Reformed people view preaching.
By thinking in this way, it makes it possible for me to love and appreciate the best representatives of each of these contemporary evangelical ‘traditions.’ Nobody provides more practical help for organizing and leading ministry than Willow Creek. I also am humbled that Redeemer is well-regarded in each of these ‘streams’ of evangelicalism, though we have our feet firmly set in our own Reformed tradition. That is quite unusual, and it makes it possible for us to both teach and learn across the spectrum of church life today.
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