Just read Brian McLaren’s article from June 2004, “Bless This House?” In my own experience of trying to introduce any measure of significant change to church life, I’ve surmised that one cannot try to do a new thing the old way, or you’ll end up with the old results. The very familiar quote which applies (attributed to both Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin) is “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Or as Frederick Winslow Taylor put it, “Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it produces.” Note: the answer to improving results is foundational to the method.
The title of McLaren’s article reminded me of a sermon by Mike Bickle that I heard quite some years ago. Bickle said that when the Holy Spirit visits, whatever he visits will be reproduced in kind. His followup statement was that he therefore didn’t mind that the Holy Spirit hadn’t visited their church in a major (think renewal / revival event) way yet, since there was still immaturity present that he wasn’t keen to reproduce. Interesting… I wonder then if there’s a manner in which we can build the church so as to invite the reproducing presence of the Holy Spirit. (Hey, I’m just thinking aloud here.)
A question for me concerns how the church (structure) needs reinventing, rebuilding. We used to talk of renewal, but it seems that “renewal” doesn’t imply a deep enough change… what we’re really considering is total reconstruction. It wouldn’t be the first time that God allowed a destruction of the old with a promise that a remnant would return and rebuild. Now, I’m not suggesting the end of the church as we know it wait, maybe I am recommending that. A reinvention of church. I would not however suggest that God is leaving the church (though maybe he’s getting bored there like the rest of us) or that the only true followers of Jesus are confined to a small remnant to the exclusion of those in the traditional church (no derision intended if I refer to that structure as the “old wineskin”). What I am suggesting is that a much more fundamental change is required in order to move forward. A “new wineskin” means just that a new patch on the old skin won’t cut the mustard… this logic is something Jesus apparently viewed as self-evident.
An old message by John Piper talks about the phrase “rebuilding the ruins” from Acts 15, indicating a continuity from Amos to Acts to the church today. One item of note, however, is that before rebuilding, there’s a deconstruction phase. Demolition… it seems that renovations often start with a sledgehammer, not a finishing hammer. In order to embrace rebuilding, one may have to first accept the dust of demolition. We are talking fundamental change here.
As McLaren observes, “This is what’s really going on beneath all the superficial talk of ’emerging church.’ Far more than cosmetics are under consideration: the very purpose of the church, the gospel, and the pastorate are being re-thought. If that doesn’t disturb, surprise, or excite you, you don’t understand what is being said.” Bring it on.