GC2016 — Four Ways to Be Church

I was asked an interesting question this morning at GC — one I am probably not qualified to answer, but one which I have an opinion, nonetheless.  “Assess the systemic constraint that is holding the church locked in its current deadlock on issues of scriptural authority, moral values, and institutional racism.”  I am grateful for such a small and simple question.  Seriously, complex questions do not benefit from simple answers, and this is one of the primary constraints in our current global denominational system.  We are taking simplistic approaches to complex perspectives and worldviews.  We are a church driven by four worldviews defined by four distinct value sets.

The value sets are 1) personal benefit, 2) communal definition, 3) individual growth, and 4) corporate impact.  They drive four worldviews: Christianity, and therefore church is about 1) personal salvation, 2) community of faith, 3) spiritual formation and discipleship, and 4) incarnational synergistic servant ministry.

Value set and worldview one is centered in “what’s in it for me?”  My faith is personal and private and the church has a responsibility to serve my individual needs.  I want to be inspired.  I want to be encouraged.  I want to be comforted.  I want my children baptized.  I want the church to perform marriages and funerals.  The church is a service provider, and I want a church that affirms my beliefs and values.  I do not want the church to challenge my thinking.  I don’t want the church to talk politics.  I don’t want the church to talk money.  I don’t want the church getting bogged down in deep questions of theology and philosophy.  I want a church that provides me a satisfactory place to help me feel connected to God and Jesus Christ.  The church exists to help me be the kind of Christian I know I want to be.

Value set and worldview two is centered in “who belongs.”  I want a community that is like family.  I want to feel safe, secure and comfortable.  I want to be with people who think, feel and act as I do.  I want friends with whom I can learn, laugh, and grow in fellowship.  I want to be in a place where I feel I fit in and belong.  I want a place that honors traditions and familiar practices.  I want to know that I can be honest and open and not feel bad about myself.  I don’t want to be in a place where there is tension and anxiety, conflict and contention.  I want to be in a place where I can count on things not changing dramatically.  I am not excited about strangers coming in and imposing foreign values and thinking, and I want people to understand that they are welcome as long as they fit in with us.  The church exists to be my spiritual family and fellowship.

Value set and worldview three is centered in “how can I grow in my faith?”  The church is a place to learn, to explore, to question, and to be challenged.  The church should help me become more Christ-like, even when it makes demands on my time or makes me uncomfortable.  The church should be providing me with new opportunities and experiences that I cannot/do not get in other places.  Worship should be engaging, but challenging.  I should constantly be hearing new ideas and new challenges.  What I believe and how I behave should be tightly connected.  Bible study, prayer, spiritual practices, and service opportunities should stretch and challenge me, and give me opportunities to do things I have never done before.  I want to be a better person, and I look to the church to train and teach me and support me.  I need to be exposed to different ways of thinking and believing, and I need a safe and open environment in which to explore.  The church exists to help me grow in my discipleship and to live my faith in the world.

Value set and worldview four is centered in “how does the life of our community of faith positively transform the world?”  The church is the place where we are equipped to live incarnationally, each of us discovering and using our gifts together that our results may be greater than the sum of our parts.  The church allows us to generate synergy — we can accomplish much more together than any one person can do on his or her own.  The focus of the church is inward in order to be outward — we learn our faith so that we might serve the world.  All we do to grow in our discipleship is for the transformation of the world.  The common good is always more important than the need or desire of the individual.  While we benefit individually, it is through our lived faith in community and beyond.  Salvation is never merely personal, private or individual.  The church exists to transform the world as we live together as the body of Christ.  Christ is incarnate in and through us.

The secondary, and crippling, constraint on our system is that we have the unrealistic and impossible expectation and desire that these four worldviews will agree and that we can talk each other into adopting our value set.  As long as we continue this approach of imposing one normative perspective on the other three worldviews.  Until we learn that “all means all” means space for multiple value sets/worldviews, and that inclusiveness does not mean one perspective getting another perspective to surrender their worldview in favor of one of the others.  Our constraints essentially are proof that we do not understand the meaning of the term “unconditional love.”  Too many of us have no real interest in being the church, because church — at its most basic and by definition — has at least these four worldviews and value sets present, and they learn to live with — and love — one another.

9 replies

  1. How would you place someone like John Wesley on your grid? He certainly preached about personal salvation, but not in the self-absorbed way you describe it. He certainly spoke of spiritual growth. He certainly saw those two things as keys to transformation of communities and the world. He thought it all had to happen in the context of a communal gathering.

    Is it possible that these four are not necessarily at odds?

    • My point exactly — we are at odds by choice, not by nature. Aldersgate Wesley was worldview one and two; mid-life Wesley was deeply worldview three; mature Wesley was worldview three/four. Each of these value sets and worldviews are holonic — each succeeding worldview embraces and transcends its predecessor. You really can’t get to worldview two without first embracing one; three without embracing two; four without embracing three. Each of the value sets progressively engages deeper complexity and broader reach. These sets are essentially developmental — focus begins on self, expands to group, to serving others, to community serving with others. Egocentric, to ethnocentric, to world centric, to cosmos-centric. Me to we to us to all of us. This very much describes the development of Wesley and the Apostle Paul.

      • Thanks for that reply, Dan. I did not catch in the original post the developmental emphasis of your point.

  2. I downplayed the developmental aspect because it is too easy then to ascribe a value structure that four is better than three better than two better than one. However, the reality is that in every community, strength and value comes from people being in very different developmental places, and that we have blending and competing values and worldviews in tension. More complex/more mature doesn’t necessarily mean better, but we all need to be where we are and we all need to become the very best we can be where we are, without pressure to be somewhere else…

  3. Yep, this is one of the major difficulties. Folks need to read D.Beck & C. Cowan or L. Kohlberg or C. Gilligan or K. Wilber to gain a sense of this.

  4. As I read through the value set and worldviews, I could easily see the progression of Christian growth in faith and deepening relationship with/to Christ being better and better defined.

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