Simple Words About Simple Church

I promised a good friend of mine several weeks ago that I would blog about my family's search for a new faith family. But, alas, you all have been stuck looking at a (rare) political post for the last two weeks or so, every time you load my blog. Please don't get the wrong impression--I'm not that into politics! :-) Here's some relief... back to the Gospel stuff.

Most of you are unaware of the fact that (a) my wife, daughter, and I have been attending a mega church in the NW burbs of Chicago for the past 10 months, and (b) we are exploring other options at present. I have to admit up front that, as I'm sure many of you can relate to, this process has been fairly bittersweet thus far. OK... mostly bitter, to be honest...

Probably the hardest part is that my wife and I have different criteria when looking for a church family to plug into. One church we visited, Life on the Vine Christian Community in Lake Zurich (?), IL, was right up my alley, but much too liturgical for her. So liturgical's out.

Another new church we visited was much too small (like, no more than 20 people), and basically consisted of a few songs and a sermon. Next...

A good friend of ours is the Director of Adult Ministries at a satellite campus of the big church at which we're currently members, but we can't manage to get passed the fact that the preaching pastor lives over an hour away and his sermons are beamed in on the big screen. Missional? Incarnational? Not quite. Doing great things, no doubt... but just nowhere near a format in which we envision God using us in the near future.

Most recently, we've been looking southeast, toward the city. One church, meeting in a downtown Evanston movie theater, is a decent possibility, if I can crucify my musical worship inclinations (ouch). Still an open option, though, mostly because of the potential of involvement.

Next week, we plan on visiting a Vineyard church--a first for us. From the material on their website, they sound like they avoid some of the--shall we say--excesses of some strands of the Vineyard movement.

Aside from these, I haven't been made aware of any innovative churches in the north burbs of Chicago. For the most part, it's various flavors of old-school traditional/liturgical and mega church "empires", as my advisor likes to say. I was looking for local coffee shops in the yellow pages yesterday, and--I kid you not--90% of them were Starbucks, 8% were Caribou, and the other 2% were the various donut shops that managed to make the list. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the empire of McDonaldization. Mass-produced, homogenous coffee--and church--to go, on our light-speed route to more worthwhile things than community and creativity. Just put your brain on the shelf and consume... ahhh yes... consume... feed it to me, baby.

So, about simple church... I checked out a new (?) resource this afternoon called Shapevine, which aims to facilitate the missional, simple church conversation via interaction with missional experts. Haven't yet experienced any of these interactions, but hope to at some point. They have some video clips that explain what they're about--interviews with various missional/simple church leaders, decrying the institutional church and calling for a lay-instituted, scaled-down church. Some of the ideas I was toying with a couple years ago. But I can't help but think that much of this talk has much more bark than bite.

I followed a link to the house2house website to see what "simple churches" existed in my area. Wanna take a guess? Zero... within at least 30, densely-packed miles of us. Oh yeah, simple church is the next big thing. Booonk, I honestly don't think so. I think people are trying it, even perhaps in statistically significant numbers. But they're going back... to "big church", that is. Because eventually, the experience of simple church exposes the inescapable complexity of the human spiritual journey. Theology (people's ubiquitously inherent quest for understanding and relating to a higher power or being) debunks simple church. While every church absolutely needs to facilitate an environment where spiritual inquiry is encouraged, asking the right questions is only the first step, after which some answers must be forthcoming. Not perfect answers, and not all answers. But more answers than untrained laity can provide. Simple church is a short-term bandaid for an interconnected myriad of ecclesial problems. It may work for a few people in particular phases of life, but it is not the be all, end all.

I've said it before, but I'll reaffirm it vigorously: the 'institutional' church cannot survive without becoming more missional, more centered around community, more holistic in focus; and simple church cannot survive without the leadership of biblically, theologically, and ministerially trained "professional clergy", as well as larger, corporate experiences of the Gospel. It's not either/or, folks. It's both/and. So cliche, but unavoidably true. Only time will tell... just wait and see.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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