Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lowering the Bar for Church; Raising the Bar for Discipleship

Ah, the power of a good slogan! The title is a slogan coined by our hero, Neil Cole, icon of the Organic Church movement. We seldom swipe an article whole, nor seldom devote an article to "how church is done." Today we do both. The following article was published on Neil's blog, Cole Slaw. It's long by unChurch standards, but excellent.

Here it is...enjoy!

We need to upgrade the operating system for the church. A good upgrade does a few things. It makes the operation simpler and more intuitive. It also is more powerful in accomplishing all its important tasks. Finally, a good upgrade opens up the software to whole new markets that would never have tried to use the product in the past.

There have been two major upgrades in Church formation since Acts that have changed the entire system. The first occurred dramatically during the rule of the Emperor Constantine. The church shifted from an underground, grassroots, organic movement to a more institutionalized organization. I believe that the second is occurring now.

Church 1.0

The first century church was church 1.0 in its various minor differences. The Jerusalem church would have been the original church 1.0. Antioch would be church 1.1. The Galatian churches started in the first journey of Paul and Barnabas would represent church 1.2. Corinth would represent a change to 1.3 as Paul added some patches to the way he approached church. The Ephesian church would be church 1.4. And so the changes went on through two centuries of church life kept simple and organic by the oppression and persecution of ten different Roman emperors. Heresies emerged and were purged. There was the establishment of regional bishops and the institutionalization of some of the forms of Christianity during this period, but over all the church remained a grassroots, marginalized movement under the heat of intense persecution.

Everything changed in 313 AD when Constantine declared that the empire would not only tolerate Christianity but restore to the church all lost property. He was the first “Christian” emperor and Christianity went instantly from the margins to the mainstream and everything changed. Christianity became the state religion and the church did not change much from that point on. This was the shift to Church 2.0 and all its eventual variants.

Church 2.0

Over the centuries, after Constantine, the Western church has evolved in many ways, but none have been a significant systemic change. There was the establishment of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church and for hundreds of years there were very little changes. The Reformation split the Western church into the Roman Church and the volatile protestant church—or church 2.1. But as an institution, in spite of the differences, the institutional system remained mostly unchanged. The Anabaptists were set lose by the reformation (and persecuted by it) but it was just a change from church 2.1 to 2.2. Whether the church adapts to reach coal miners in the 18th century England or postmodern pilgrims in the 21st century, most of the changes have been patches and plug-ins to the Church 2.0 system. Whether you are talking about high church or low, Pentecostal or Reformed the church has remained in the 2.0 range of upgrades. From Baptist to Brethren, from Mennonite to Methodist, the changes in the system are relatively untouched over the centuries. Music or no music? Pipe organ or electric guitar? Tall ceilings with stained-glass widows or meeting in a box building without windows, the actual system of church has gone relatively unchanged.

You have the priests or pastors, the Sunday service with singing and a sermon, the weekly offering, the pulpit with pews and the church building. These have been constants since the forth century. Even if you move the whole show into a house instead of a church building, if the system hasn’t changed you have only shrunk the church, not transformed it. Changing the style of music does not upgrade the system. Turning down the lights and turning up the volume is a simple patch to the same old system. Choirs and hymns or praise bands and fog machines, kneeling or standing the system is changed very little. Sermonizing with topical messages or expositional ones is not changing the system just making minor adjustments. Sunday Schools or small groups as secondary learning environments are not a systemic change at all, just a variation on the same old operational system.

While most of the advances to Church 2.0 over the centuries have been plug-ins and patches to the same old system, there have been anomalies along the way. Usually, these anomalies are the result of rampant persecution that drives the church back to the old default system. One could say that these are examples of going back to the Church 1.0 system, because their 2.0 system crashed in the face of extreme heat. The radical Anabaptist churches are like that. The Chinese house church phenomenon is also a departure from the expression of the Church 2.0 system. But these experiments are really not the norm and have not, to date, influenced the church as a whole in any permanent fashion, except perhaps to say that they are part of the learning that has led to this new operating system—Church 3.0

Church 3.0

I believe that the second major shift is occurring now in our lifetime. Many people want to go back to the beginning again. As much as I am enamored of what I learned about the church of the first century we simply cannot go back; we can only go forward. Granted, if we did go back it would be a vast improvement on where we have been more recently. But I have to ask, could we do even better than Church 1.0? Some may find that even such a question is heretical. It is only a question, but it bears consideration.

Can it be that we can actually improve upon the first century church? A careful study of Acts reveals that even in the first decades of the church there was profound improvement as people learned from experience, so why not more so today, building upon the foundation of two thousand years of mistakes? I believe it is possible. I think we can see the awesome impact and rapid spread that the first century saw, but we also can benefit from two thousand years of learning as well and utilize the technological advances we have available today.

Imagine if the apostle Paul could buy an airline ticket and be across the world in twelve hours instead of twelve years. Imagine what he would do with the internet and the ability to see events unfold globally and instantaneously. Our ability to understand culture and translate languages today is built upon two thousand years of mistakes and the successes they produce. Perhaps more than any other benefit we have is that we can look in hindsight at how easily the church was overcome by institutionalization—where the church is no longer people in relationship to one another, but an organized system—and move forward armed with that knowledge. The early church flew blindly into a trap of a religious hierarchical system that kept her in the dark ages for hundreds of years. History can train us for the future if we listen to it. No, church 3.0 is not a shift downward in church life or quality. It is an upgrade in every sense of the word, perhaps even above the early church. Why would we suspect that God would be content with us going backwards? Why wouldn’t he want us to grow and develop in better ways?

The best upgrades do a few things. First they allow for greater power in what you want to accomplish, and church 3.0 is a huge boost in raw spiritual power. Every part of the body of Christ can function at a much higher level. A second thing you may look for in an upgrade is to move to a simpler and more intuitive ways of using the system. This upgrade to the church 3.0 is certainly that in so many ways. It is built upon simplicity and potency bound together in a way that increases speed and power in the influence that the church can and should have. Thirdly, upgrades take advantage of the latest discoveries in technology and help you interact better with all the other electronics you may use. Church 3.0 is far and away better at being fluid and mixing with multiple expressions of church structure and overcoming the world’s obstacles. Fourthly, an upgrade should have greater capacity to accommodate much more information, functionality and storage. Finally, some cool new features in an upgrade should significantly improve the system’s performance and make it much more fun to use. Church 3.0 is so enjoyable it is quite common for those who have made the switch to comment that they could never go back to the old system.

Do not be deceived into thinking that this is just another patch to the same old system; it is a radical change from the core of what church is. Church 3.0 has rebuilt the function of the church in every sense from the smallest to the largest capacity.

Stolen and posted by Joe B


Joe B said...

The obvious question remains...what IS church 3.0?

scott said...

This article deserves some readership and discussion, so I'm glad you put it here rather than on ye olde Java Jesus blog.

Sadly, most of the changes that church leaders want to make these days are about as big as going from version 2.2001 to 2.2002. And they always seem to fret about "what a big change it is," and whether people might leave.

Music style, lights, topical sermons or expository, big building or small house... Cole is right. These are minor adjustments to "church." They are plug-ins and patches. (Excellent wording.)

He really didn't get very specific about what 3.0 might be. My problem is that it's SO hard to get out of that 2.0 mindset -- nearly impossible, in fact. 90% of what we think of are those minor variations.

That being said, I think some of the keys will be:

Organic rather than functional -- including a variation on what we consider church "leadership."
Communal-driven rather than Sunday morning-driven.
Utilizing the vast improvements we've seen in technology and communication in the past 20 years.

RMW said...

I'm going to say this badly, not out of desire to do so but rather it is one of those squishy non-metric observations.

I've often wondered what would happen if "Church Leadership" rather than taking the posotion of responsibility for the Church, took responsibility for God. By that I mean stop focusing on the materialistic issues and focused on what God commanded them to do.

This may sound silly and I know that vitually every leasdership group will make the assertion that they are in fact doing what I've suggested, but I think not.

We tend, when discussing the early church or primative church to focus on the structural rather than what was really powerful about it. Namely people who cared deeply for one another, looked out for one another and took care of one another.

Can such a system be scaled up and maintain the vision? I don't know but I tend to doubt it.

Church 3.0 despite the claims to the contrary sounds to me like XP to Vista. Lots of promise but not satisfying to anyone. Somehow we will use technology to change the world for the better. I suppose just as the Web was a boon to porn.

Another problem, back to leadership is Christianity by proxy. Perhaps that is more the root of the problem than any version of "Church." We proxy caring for people because we have "professionals" to do it for us.

If we follow the example of proxy in today's church, only paid, qualified staff pray, speak the word, interpret God's words. We don't in "The Church" sit and discuss, we are fed rather than feed and therfore we can nicely allocate 75 minutes per week to God and feel perfectly satisfied and safe in our own rightousness.

I think the real revolution will come when we spend less attention to Church and more attention to God and what He is saying. Once the little people realize they are ministers, they are the church, that they are directly and personally responsible to God; well let the revolution begin again.

Joe B said...

You did some great boiling down there Scott, you have a gift for it.

Here's how boil it down: Church 2.0 = Professional Church. And 2.0 is all we've ever known, all we can conceive without some radical unLearning.

RMW, you offered up some wondrous insights there.

You're exactly right, if we are to avoid another "Vista upgrade", then 3.0, whatever it is, cannot be built on the 2.0 assumptions of institutionalism, professionalism, and commercialism.

And you are dead right, most every church leader would deny that they are entangled in those -isms. But they are profoundly mistaken.

In my humble opinion.

Joe B said...

Scott: Read Cole's incredible book "Organic Leadership".

RMW: Read Cole's blog article, "Planting Jesus Instead of Planting Church".

Everybody else: Read Cole's mind-bending book "Organic Church".

Yes, it's Neil Cole week, everything 25% off.

Eutychus said...

2.0 is proprietary, 3.0 is open architecture. Problem solved.

Craig said...

Mr. Cole paints with some pretty broad brush strokes here. I'm not sure the history is quite as simple, nor quite as cut-and-dried, as what's presented here.

The Persecuted Church of the first three centuries has taken on a kind of 'romantic patina' in the modern imagination, but the truth of things is more complex. A lot of persecutions were local, and of fairly short duration. The first 'comprehensive' persecutions of Christians weren't until the second half of the 3rd century, and by then, Christians were already a large social presence in the Roman Empire. Check out Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity for a fascinating socio-historical account of what is here being called 'Church 1.0'

It also stikes me as a pretty gross oversimplification to draw such a bright line at Constantine. As if, before that, the whole church was meeting in catacombs and caves, living a life of simple love and faith in God, and then one day, Constantine signed a law, and BOOM! - you've got the papacy, and the Inquisition, and all that went wrong with the Church, at least until the Reformation, and maybe even right up to the present day. Again, I doubt that it was quite as 'abrupt' as all that.

The 'institutional' church of the 'Christendom' era was largely already in place before Constantine (and by his day, Christians were a clear majority of the Roman population, so his Edict of Toleration had about it a certain degree of political expediency); he only enabled it to proceed without further hindrance from the government. And the 'establishment' of Christianity as the 'state religion' didn't happen until Theodosius, two generations after Constantine. And again, by then, the large majority of Romans were Christian, anyway.

Now, I'm inclined to agree that Christianity didn't receive any favors from being 'established'. That tended to bring with it nominalism, where people became Christians less out of conviction than expediency. Which is a problem that has plagued the Church to this day.

But again, I tend to wince a little at the broad brush stroke of 'institutional = bad'. Partly because I grew up on that in the 60s, and I came to see how shallow it was, at least in that context.

I also object the least bit to the idea that somehow, modern technology is gonna revolutionize the way the Church does business. Christianity has always been, and always will be, relational, both between us creatures and God, and us with each other. Technology might give us some new, fancy ways to get our message out, but the essence of the Christian life isn't substantially changed by technology. . .

The socio-cultural situation may be doing some of our work for us, anyway. The Church has never really had to deal with a cultural situation that was trying to get out from under its Christian heritage, the way the larger culture is nowadays. And maybe that's what drives us to 'Church 3.0', whatever that may be.

Joe B said...

Craig's comment is full of great big thoughts. I can't resist skipping some stones over them:

Yep, if you sum up the history of Christendom in 450 words, you're gonna leave some real broad strokes! :-D

As a big fan of Rodney Stark's "Rise of Christianity" I agree that the carnalization of the faith didn't magically begin one fine day in 313AD. I also agree that there is no historical "bright line" at Constantine. But neither is there any doubt that in the 4th century the church became incontrovertably "Roman", both in thought (the Augustinian ascendancy) and in polity (whenceforth church offices were brokered from Rome in imperial fashion.) The "Dark Ages" may be a myth created by cynics, but the "Holy Roman Empire" was a reality, crafted by an imperial church. It's not as though nothing much happened!

"Christianity has always been, and always will be, relational, both between us creatures and God, and us with each other." I agree wholeheartedly. That's why I agree with your thoughts on technology, but may disagree with your sentiments on "institutions." Christianity is essentially relational, and whatever is not essentially relational is essentially not Christian.

Are institutions bad? Well, institutions are useful, but they are not good. Institutions do not love, believe, give, worship, preach, or pray. They are merely elaborate sets of rules. But when their function supplants the holy spirit's work of defining and shaping the Body of Christ, they are always bad. The spirit of God does not dwell in institutions, but in the hearts and communion of men.

What is Church 3.0? Whatever it is, it will be crusting over with institutional barnacles even as it is born. It will probably crusted over with digital technology.

Craig said...

Sure, I understand that 'The History of the Church In 450 Words' is gonna require some pretty broad strokes. But the 'romantic' idea of 'The Early Church' tends to stick in people's minds as a kind of 'pristine' age, and thus makes it an attractive contrast to the 'institutionalized' Church of the Middle Ages. And I don't think that's always as helpful as it might be.

Also, I'm not really defending 'institutions' as such, so much as I'm questioning the knee-jerk instinct that 'institutional = bad'. As I said, I sort of instinctively associate that idea with the 60s, from which were spawned so many other bad ideas that plague us still. . .

Duey Finn said...

The unChurch: Stickin' it to The Man since 2007.

Rock on!

RMW said...

I just finished reading Neil Cole's “Planting Jesus, Not Church” and on that one he got it exactly right.

A number of years ago I spent some time on the Chuuk Islands in the South Pacific. A certain denominational group had come to the islands to spread “The Word” by planting churches. Now the islands have a 95% unemployment rate and this church group imported the labor to build a church on the island.

After they built the church they brought in Bibles, which no one could read. So they brought in a linguist to learn the language and translate the Bible into Chuukese. Problem is the language is verbal, not written and no one could read.

Among these islands is one that has a rather nasty reputation among the main islanders. Personally I visited the island and found the folks delightful, they just in most circumstances would rather be left alone. But after hiring the chief's son to act as tour guide I was invited to stay for a meal.

While there I was told the story of some visitors they had that wanted to share a great story with them. They listened politely, thought the story was interesting except for the part where some people nailed a guy to some wood and he died. I bit gory for their taste. They thanked the visitors for the story and escorted them back to their boat and bid them farewell.

The visitors not satisfied with the results called in the big guns from Guam. The big guns from Guam arrived back on the island and the chief out of politeness reassembled his people to listen to another story which was the same story told only with more vigor and pictures this time.

During the polite chit chat following the story the big guns told the chieftain that it would be best if the ladies in the village wore clothes because it was indecent. The chief in retelling the story became a bit agitated because when he asked what it meant to be indecent, he was told it meant bad.

It is probably worth remembering that it is not a good idea to infer that an absolute monarchs wife and daughters are “bad” people.

The chief though maintained his composure, out of politeness and asked the big gun just exactly where he was supposed to get these clothes?
The big gun replied, “why buy them.”

“How,” the chief asked.

“With money,” said the big gun.

“And just how do I get money,” asked the chief.

“Well by working,” said the big gun,

“The story was not that good,” said the chief.

The chief patiently explained that the island and waters were warm, the fish plentiful, fruits grew on the trees and his people wanted for nothing. If someone became ill the village cared for them and if they were really sick they could always go to the main island for doctors. They desired nothing more and least of all needed advice even less.

With that the chief thanked the guest, wished them a safe trip and suggested they needn't come again. At that the big gun stated that instead he thought he would stay until they really understood the story.

Now this is how it came about that a white man took a trip across the lagoon on his stomach in a boat with a three prong fishing spear stuck in his fanny and became part of legend. As a post script it should be noted that had the chief wanted to have killed the man he certainly would not have had his son use a fishing spear but rather would have used a war spear. But since no one had made a war spear on the island for many many generations, a fishing spear would suffice. Plus it was a more polite way of getting the point across.

scott said...

Like Craig, I was also thinking that the article was painting church history with extremely broad strokes. Sure, that's necessity in a short article, but I agree with him that it is perhaps misleading to say that there have been only two major changes ("upgrades"?) in 2000 years of church history, and we are on the cusp of the third. Kind of says "our generation is gonna make the difference that 1700 years couldn't."

I think I can agree that change is needed, it is coming, and it is very good. But I also think to be a popular writer or speaker, you often gotta exaggerate things to the point of getting people riled up or pissed off. :-)

Also, to clear up the technology thing: Don't misunderstand what people say when they mention technology. I don't mean people will never have face-to-face relationships because they are all gonna "do church" by sitting in front of a PC or plugging a wire into their frontal lobe. I just mean the changes in technology and communications in the last 50 years (last 20, really) have had a more drastic change on our society than any 500 year period before that. It's huge, and it impacts every area of our life. Anyone here not own a cell phone?

Joe B said...

Craig identified a mega-factor in "what will happen next", the pressure of a society actively distancing itself from Christian heritage. Scott identifies another mega-factor, the mind-bending leap in communication technology.

Think of the magnitude of these two things!

I'd like to bend Craig's idea around until it meet's up with Scott's. I think the repudiation of Christianoid-ity is not so much about Jesus, but rather part of a broader repudiation of orthodoxy and arbitrary authority in general. The connection is that in our information rich environment, people have an expectation that they can do their own thinking. Cultural Christianity gets sloughed off along with all the other authoritarian systems.

What's that have to do with a 3.0 Church?

Well, picture a church with WAY less institutional authority, and consequently WAY less overhead.

To quote the wise and mysterious Eutychus. "Church 2.0 is proprietary; Church 3.0 is open architecture. Problem solved."

But is he right when he says "Problem solved?" Or are the institutional assumptions and authorities what are actually holding everything together?