Thinking Out Loud

April 7, 2022

Lessons (Hopefully) Learned from Willow Creek and Harvest Bible Chapel

Living in what the people of Chicagoland call “the northwest suburbs” theologian Scot McKnight and his daughter, teacher Laura Barringer had a front row seat when things began unraveling at Harvest Bible Chapel and Willow Creek Community Church, and furthermore were acquainted with many of the people who became a part of our daily Twitter and blog feeds about both stories.

For this writer, the allegations about James MacDonald were hardly surprising, but I was more deeply invested in Bill Hybels, so there I found the greatest shock and disappointment. That the actions of these leaders were both shielded from the parishioners and the general public, and/or softened for public consumption meant that other leaders were culpable as the accusations intensified.

As I pointed out in this article, by the end of 2020, the damage done to the lives and legacies of various church leaders — not just pastors — was devastating and in no way limited to Harvest and Willow. So in writing A Church Called TOV: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing (Tyndale House, 2020) McKnight and Barringer were not afraid to name names.

This serves as an example of the truth and transparency that they see as just one of the seven marks of what they call “the circle of TOV,” which ought to be a mantra for every church wishing to have a healthy internal governance culture. Before getting there however, the first 80-or-so pages define the problem, and only then do they embark on what I consider the redemptive properties of the book, though they do not, by any means leave the naming of names behind, but continue to address situations that are relevant to each of the seven healthy characteristics they are defining.

It is at that point that some more positive anecdotal content is presented, including some very moving accounts from the late Calvin Miller. And the scriptures. In some chapters, especially the scriptures. (I ran a very brief excerpt from the book at Christianity 201 a few days ago as an example.)

If you get a copy, you need to copy and print an enlargement of their “circle of TOV” and hang it in whatever room your church board/elders meets. It should guide every aspect of the decision-making processes.

So why review a 2020 book now? In publishing marketing and publicity, this isn’t done, but reading Jesus and John Wayne (reviewed here) and The Making of Biblical Womanhood (briefly reviewed here), I simply had to include this one in my personal reading, especially knowing how much it has impacted many church leaders since its release.

(Unfortunately, Tyndale House doesn’t have representation in Canada, so I had to use a borrowed copy, but by mentioning the book here and now for my U.S. readers, I am trying to practice in this situation my own culture of grace and goodness.)

The book also begs the question, ‘Should megachurches even exist?’ Or to say it differently, ‘Was the modern megachurch ever part of God’s plan?” If you’re reading this, and in the middle of a search for a church home (a new church, or you’re looking for the first time) I would strongly suggest looking at churches with 200-500 in attendance (or 100-300 in Canada) as your best options.

With the passage of time since the book’s release, our emphasis now, rather than focusing on what went wrong, should be to look to the future with a vision of local church communities which promote the good, just as God, when he saw all that he had made, said that it was very good.

 

February 25, 2019

“Harvest Could Never Happen At Our Church”

 

Harvest Bible Chapel Elgin Campus

It’s easy to sit back and self-righteously congratulate ourselves on not attending a megachurch with a megalomaniacal pastor. If your weekly attendance runs 200, or 400 weekly and your pastor is a grandfatherly type trying to build God’s Kingdom and not a personal empire, it’s somewhat comforting to be able to relax and say, ‘That could never happen here.’

Harvest Bible Chapel – Elgin campus

But I would argue that on closer observation it can, and possibly does.

In the last six months, we’ve seen people at various levels of leadership at Harvest defend the institution and its pastor or both. While at least one former Harvest elder has stepped forward and apologized, there are no doubt others who will want to defend its decision-making processes, past and present.

I would suggest that this practice of putting spin on things is alive and well in many of our congregations. People get hurt because leaders have some agenda probably contrary to God’s, but are able to make it seem somehow correct and appropriate for the situation at hand.

A few days ago I re-ran something that Ruth wrote in which a church which is always telling people to know and employ their spiritual gifts pulled her aside and told her that this somehow didn’t apply to her and gave her a cease-and-desist order because she dared to demonstrate pastoral compassion in the face of a situation facing a particular family that a new pastor could not have articulated.

Years later, she asked if she could have a reprise of her former worship leadership role, not regularly, but just for a single Sunday; as an opportunity for healing all round. The elder she met with concocted the most foolish of all reasons for saying no, simply because otherwise he had no grounds for so doing. “We don’t have guest worship leaders.” Again, I gave opportunity for her to explain how this was both insulting to her and the congregation.

In my mind, it was a case of spiritual abuse; an example of an elder putting spin on a situation.

And guess what? Not three weeks later, they had a guest worship leader; a recording artist whose commercial success gave him a pass on their unofficial rule. In a postscript to her article, I wrote,

“At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight what he did at that meeting at night constituted spiritual abuse, not to mention certain aspects where we now know he was lying through his teeth. He continues in a leadership role that leaves me totally mystified.”

In her case, the woundedness was overshadowed by ministry opportunities elsewhere. The Bible states that a person’s gift will make a way for them. Just this weekend, I saw those gifts affirmed in her life on a level which is unprecedented. But the Harvest situation reminded me of the lengths that some in leadership will go to in order to fulfill a role they believe God gave them to keep things orderly. That reminded me of another article I wrote where I asked the questions below.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for a short time truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back several decades?

4. Are the elders in your church really Biblically qualified to be called “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

6. Is the elders’ board of a church even truly where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

9. Why do we keep coming back?

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

Remember, I wrote this in a small-town context and long before we had the colossal present-day failures involving churches pastored by Perry Noble, Tullian Tchividijan, Mark Driscoll or James MacDonald. But the presence of spin is identical in both, until you reach the point where you just can’t keep pretending.

Unfortunately my wife never got to see such vindication in terms of that church, but was able to find it elsewhere.

 

August 15, 2012

13 Measures of a Healthy Church

Found this at the blog of Paul Clark, Vision Meets Reality. While this may seem basic to some of you, IMHO you can never emphasize these essentials enough.  The temptation is to read this too quickly. Slow down and ask yourself how your church ranks according to these criteria.  For those who want to read at source, click this link.

Along with sound theology, we also believe that there are other elements that make up a healthy church: At Fairhaven Church, where I’ve served for 10 years, we have identified 13 measures that we believe define a healthy church. We’ve created a dashboard report around these measures which our leadership and Board review each month.

  1. People are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
  2. Our missions program is expanding locally, nationally and globally.
  3. People are making public professions of faith through baptism.
  4. Attendance in worship services is increasing.
  5. The worship experience is vibrant, enthusiastic and intergenerational.
  6. There is broad participation in serving throughout the ministries.
  7. New ministries are beginning as God imparts vision.
  8. Guests are being connected to church life.
  9. Covenant membership is increasing.
  10. Our budgetary needs are being met.
  11. Leaders are being developed and placed in ministry roles.
  12. Scripture is central to our message.
  13. Staff relationships are healthy.

Wednesday Link List returns next week.

February 22, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Church life:

  • Hal West, author of  The Pickled Priest and the Perishing Parish : “No one will argue against the fact that since the beginning of Christian history there has existed a tension between two distinct groups in the church – the clergy and the laity. ”  Read what pastors don’t get and what people don’t get.
  • A. J. Swoboda: “I think not having our children worship with us in worship can be dangerous. Who else is to teach them why and how we sing? How else are children to learn the ways of worship? …I wonder if something was lost when we split the family up in church?”  Read more at A. J.’s blog.
  • Carter Moss: ” I desperately want to hear from God through every avenue possible. That why I love leading at a church that uses movie clips…, TV show clips…, and secular music… every chance we get.” This link has been in my files since August; read Why My Faith (And Yours) Needs Pop Culture.
  • He said, she said:  “…[S]he continues to nominate women for the board of elders, something their denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, allows. [Pastor] Willson has said that only qualified men can be elders at Second Presbyterian.”  A longtime member faces church discipline in Memphis.
  • So if you jump through all the hoops and actually get to sing a solo at Thompson Road Baptist Church, you can’t sing a Contemporary Christian Music song or “a song that was made popular by CCM.” In other words, if Casting Crowns covers “Dwelling in Beulah Land” it’s goes off the approved list. (Click the image to isolate the text, and then a 2nd time to enlarge it.)
  • Yours truly borrows a list of 13 signs of a healthy church, and then adds a description of a very healthy church you may have heard before; all at Christianity 201.

Christian blogosphere:

  • Mrs. Beamish isn’t too happy with the worship style changes in her local C. of E. (Church of England). Especially the ‘friendlier’ passing of the piece and up-tempo music. A hilarious song posted to YouTube back in ’08.
  • Lifeway Christian Bookstores are going to continue selling the revised NIV Bible after all. Yawn.
  • Prodigal Magazine re-launches on March 1st with Allison and Darrell Westerfelt taking the reins.
  • Paul Helm, who teaches at Regent College on the phrase, ‘asking Jesus into your heart : “They are using words and phrases that bear a positive relation to the language in which the faith has been officially as preached and confessed by the church through the centuries, but a rather loose relation..” Pray the prayer, read the post.
  • This is a new product that not even XXX.Church.Com had heard of when I wrote them this week. Check out My Porn Blocker, currently available at a ridiculously low price.
  • Steve McCoy reveals where the treasure is buried: A stash of online articles by Redeemer Presbyterian’s Timothy Keller.   It was derived from a larger list featuring various authors.
  • CNN’s Belief Blog offers an excellent profile of Ed Dobson along with a look at his latest video My Garden.
  • I love the tagline for this blog: Was 1611 the last word for the English Bible? The KJV Only Debate Blog is a blog but it looks like the real action is in the forum. “This blog aims to confront the King James controversy head on, and evaluate the claims of KJV-onlyism from a Biblical perspective.The authors are all former proponents of KJV-onlyism. …[W]e acknowledge that there are multiple varieties of the KJV-only position.”
  • In a first for Canada, a Teen Challenge center in Brandon, Manitoba will launch as a women-only facility.
  • Want to understand the basics of Christianity?  The Australian website YDYC — Your Destiny, Your Choice — has a number of basic videos explaining salvation.
  • Here’s a fun video by The Left filmed in a theater in Western Canada, enjoy Cellophane. At GodTube, they cite various faith influences, though their bio doesn’t.
  • Today is the first day of Lent.  If you have absolutely no idea what that means, you might want to start with this introduction to the church calendar.
  • All good lists must come to an end; if you’re an otter, don’t forget to say your prayers.

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