Part 2: The Collapse of the Church Culture.

Part 2: The Collapse of the Church Culture. By Maurice Goulet

A person who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ claims to have a relationship with him. This means they know him, not just about him (this was Paul's claim in Philippians 3:10). Yet we have turned our churches into groups of people who are studying God as though they were taking a course at school or attending a business seminar. We aim at the head. We don't deal in relationships. And we wonder why there is no passion for the Lord and his mission? It's because, in our effort to disciple people, we've been barking up the wrong tree.

We have made following Jesus all about being a good church member. We are training people to be good club members, all the while wondering why our influence in the world is waning. The truth is, the North American church culture extracts salt from the world and diminishes the amount of light available to those in darkness who need to find their way.

In the modern world, how would we typically approach the spiritual learning objectives we've just identified? We'd write a curriculum, produce a conference, convene a class, create a study course, recruit a teacher or other expert, sign people up, teach the material to the students, and pass out completion certificates. Then we would wonder what would happen or change as a result of the experience. The truth is that we have very little evidence that academic or conferential learning changes behavior. I submit that there has never been more teaching or Christian education in the history of the world than there is in the US today. And yet, one survey indicates that only 9% of people who say they are 'born again' have a Biblical worldview. The question we should be asking today is how Do We Develop Followers of Jesus Christ?

The academic model for the last several hundred years involved an expert (teacher) who had information and disseminated it to less-informed people (students). This was the basic plot that developed into millions of episodes of death-by-lecture.

Students can now obtain more information over the Internet overnight than a teacher can deliver in lecture form in a month's time. The issue now is learning, how to make sense out of the information that is available. The agenda is more and more being set by the learner. Another way to say this is that we have grown up with a Greek approach to education in the modern world. We are now returning to a Hebraic approach that is much closer to what we see Jesus using. One aspect of this is that the learner/disciple determines the curriculum.

In the modern world, it is believed that spiritual formation is accomplished by taking a student through a prescribed group of texts that addressed topics in a curricular approach. This is so deeply ingrained in us that we approach almost any learning experience in the church this way. In the world that is dawning, the curriculum approach to growing people is increasingly viewed as a supplemental strategy to the primary approach: learning agendas driven by life issues and informed by life experiences. Jesus facilitated spiritual formation in his disciples by introducing them to life situations and then helping them debrief their experiences. He taught them to pray. He did not lead them in a study course on prayer. He took them on mission trips; he didn't read books to them on the subject of missions.

The consistent challenge I run into when discussing small groups is the prevalent notion that small groups should function primarily in a curriculum mode (a bible study, text-driven experience). This is why groups can move from one curriculum piece to another and never experience any real growth. In pre-modern and postmodern cultures the home was and is the center for spiritual formation. Consider this quote from Marvin Wilson: "Foundational to all theory on the biblical concept of family is the Jewish teaching that the home is more important than the synagogue. In Jewish tradition, the center of religious life has always been the home" (Marvin R. Wilson, "Our Father Abraham", p. 214, 216).)

I am amazed at how our best church families have no clue as to how to have conversations at home about spiritual subjects. Churches are so busy getting people involved at the church that they've neglected this fundamental agenda of spiritual formation. The typical church family leaves spiritual stuff to what happens at the church, thereby delegating spiritual formation to the institution. And the institution encourages it!

What if youth ministers spent as much time with the parents as they did with their children? This would be a shift for most church expectations of staff. We typically hire children's and youth ministers to run programs for children and young people. In fact, this approach by the church may do more to decimate the home as a spiritual center than anything coming into the home on television or the Internet.

As a youth, I grew up in the surfing culture. As a surfer, I never planned a single wave, but I did prepare to ride the waves when they came. God is making waves all around the North American church. Some churches are going to get to ride them. These are the churches that are prepared to get in on what God is up to."

Typical approaches to the future involve prediction and planning. The better and biblical approach to the future involves prayer and preparation. The Apostles sitting in the Temple on the day of Pentecost were not engaged in a strategic planning retreat to plan the birth of the church and the early stages of the Christian movement. Not in their wildest dreams would they have scripted three thousand converts on Day One nor would they have predicted the leap of the Spirit to the Samaritans or to the Gentiles? Apparently not, based on their responses to both developments. Would they have recruited the rising star of Judaism to become the ultimate leader of the movement? Hardly. God does the planning; we do the preparing. He does not say,