Control Alt Delete:
Rebooting the Purpose-driven church
By David Hopkins. Visit his site: Monkhouse


    As my laptop gently weeps...

    Since I use the Windows 98 operating system, I am not too surprised when my computer freezes. (Yes, I acknowledge better operating systems exist. I caved in to peer pressure.) The frozen computer is a universal shared experience. Nothing can take place. No programs will run. Sitting at my swivel chair, I have few options. I press control, alt, and delete. Ah sweet salvation! The computer starts over. All is well. Nothing ruined.

    As I watch my computer go through its start-up ritual, I ponder the relationship I have with this laptop—the circuitry and chips tucked away, like life sustaining organs for this silicone-based organism. My computer is a purpose-driven instrument. The value of the object exists solely in the various programs it can perform. I have no specific affinity to any other aspect of my laptop. When the computer ceases to work, I reboot. No grieving. No separation anxiety. (Of course, I cannot speak on behalf of every computer operator.)

   The American Church has a similar appeal. Her value is only seen in the programs she can perform. Our lady, the American Church, attracts consumers. She provides religious goods and services in exchange for the permission to occasionally influence the culture around her.

A mighty fortress is our mall..

    In this day, the American Church has a similar appeal. Her value is only seen in the programs she can perform. Our lady, the American Church, attracts consumers. She provides religious goods and services in exchange for the permission to occasionally influence the culture around her.

    Many church growth specialists have written books and hosted seminars on the subject of creating this purpose-driven / program-driven / consumer-driven church. As I read their words, much of me grieves the sad and pathetic place we have reserved for Yahweh’s most blessed community.

    Purpose-driven churches create programs and a worship service that appeals to the "seeker." This seeker fits a specific demographic for people who would be interested in religious good and services. This demographic shows a greater likelihood of being active and involved in church. Once the seeker has been hooked, the Church offers several programs and social alternatives to meet their needs. The purpose-driven institution presents an image of God as self-help therapy.

   We have made God into the ultimate commodity. Something to be downloaded from Napster, loaded onto our computer, and then tucked away in a file. Yet God is infinite. He is one large download. What happens when the purpose-driven church freezes during the transfer?

    The often-quoted passage from Douglas Coupland’s Life After God describes the condition well:

    "It seemed to be this crazy orgy of projection, with everyone projecting onto Jesus the antidotes to the things that had gone wrong in their own lives. He is Love. He is Forgiveness. He is Compassion. He is a Wise Career Decision. He is a Child Who Loves Me."

    The head pastor is a CEO who manages the business of distributing religious goods and services to the seeker/consumer. While I do not deny lives have been changed for the better in many of these institutions, I do feel a hollow emptiness in my stomach as I think about what this agenda has done to the Church and to God.

    We have made God into the ultimate commodity. Something to be downloaded from Napster, loaded onto our computer, and then tucked away in a file. Yet God is infinite. He is one large download. What happens when the purpose-driven church freezes during the transfer?

    We reboot the consumer driven church.

A lovely piece of plastic

    A purpose-driven church depends too much on the quality of its product, the marketing it creates, and demand within the religion/spirituality industry. What happens when all the purposes are achieved? What happens when we’ve done all the programs and participated in all the conferences and seminars? This church loses a reason to co-exist, except to grow bigger and uglier. How many buildings can you put on one piece of property? How "mega" can your mega-church become? How much money should you spend on a sound system for the main building?

    I firmly believe the bottom will fall out for the purpose-driven church. I believe it’s happening right now. And this entropy will continue until the purpose-driven church is nothing but a shell of religious sentiment, held up under a strained budget and burned out professionals.

   The purpose-driven church places high value on relationships (in theory). But the small groups are temporal; the relationships are strained—because even the relationships are purpose-driven. Friends and family function as tools to help the Christian become self-actualized pieces of plastic.

    As an emerging expression of the Church, we should not simply stand back and look at the hurting program-driven church, mocking: "See? I told you so!" This mentality would be cruel and unfortunate. While I will not promote the consumerist self-help gospel, I will also not let the people involved fall into obscurity. Our heart is one of compassion. We are to catch them when they fall. We will provide some of the answers that the program-driven church fails to articulate.

    The purpose-driven church places high value on relationships (in theory). But the small groups are temporal; the relationships are strained—because even the relationships are purpose-driven. Friends and family function as tools to help the Christian become self-actualized pieces of plastic.

    So, what can we offer the purpose-driven church? We have the opportunity to restore the Church back to its relational foundation.

I'll be there for you

    Once as I was driving on the highway, I saw a billboard for a local mega-church. The advertisement offered "authentic relationships." Oddly enough, the people on the sign were hired models! They did not attend this church. They were young, hip and multicultural. Each guy wore slacks and a polo shirt. The two-dimensional ladies were caught in mid-laughter. They were drinking coffee. It was like the TV show Friends and a GAP commercial wrapped in one church marketing scheme. The "authentic relationships" were as real as the "church members" on their sign.

    Obviously, "authentic relationships" has become the new buzz slogan for mega-churches. But a truly relational church is diametrically opposed to the purpose-driven model. The purpose-driven church is like a well-run country club. The relational church is a family. And no, by "family" I do not mean that idolatry, which purpose-driven churches fall into when they worship the "family institution." I also do not mean they simply have a nice children’s and youth ministry. By "family," I am actually suggesting the community itself is literally a family. And this family cannot be managed through the purpose-driven model.

    The relational church stands its ground on the issue of unity. They will live and die by these words: "We will stay together NO MATTER WHAT." We do not separate because we have different theologies. We will not leave each other because we each have different preferences on worship style. We will not separate from controversy, tribulation, or indifference. We will not change cell groups after six months.

    The relational church fights against the Protestant curse, which urges its victims: "If you don’t like it, you can just leave." But in the relational church, such divorce is not an option.

    But if people must leave our community, we send them with a blessing or not at all. If a family is moving to another part of the country, we pray for them and joyfully support their transition. A consumer mindset does not allow the shoppers to ever really leave, nor do they ever really stay. A relational church allows movement, but not estrangement.

All the rest is hoopla

   Once as I was driving on the highway, I saw a billboard for a local mega-church. The advertisement offered "authentic relationships." Oddly enough, the people on the sign were hired models! They did not attend this church.

    Instead of mega-churches, the relational church is a web of networked micro-churches. These micro-churches meet in people’s homes and in other church’s buildings. The micro-churches keep their budget simple, but they are relentless in their hospitality. Each micro-church pastor serves as a father, not a CEO or coach or general. He cares for and loves his parish. Each pastor maintains connection with all the surrounding pastors. They meet regularly to encourage one another, work through problems, and share vision. The networked churches worship together and work together. As with synergy, the sum of its parts is larger than the whole.

    Our lady, the American church, is not a computer you can re-boot anytime it freezes up. We have to work through the glitches. The purpose-driven church is not prepared for deregulation and down sizing. I hope something more profound will take place in the years ahead. A church based on the experience of Christ within intimate community, not a slick program geared towards a target market.

    As Kurt Vonnegut said, "Communities are all that is substantial about what we create or defend or maintain in this world. All the rest is hoopla."

Written for Brad Cecil—
Thank you for allowing me to share in your hope for the Church.

"Soli Deo Gloria," - David

    David Hopkins, age 23 [http://monkhouse.org/david] is a contributing editor for Next-Wave. He recently graduated from Texas A&M University at Commerce with a degree in English and Philosophy. David has enrolled to Fuller Theological Seminary's distance learning program. David was raised in the Methodist tradition. Although currently, he is a community pastor at Axxess, an emerging congregation within Pantego Bible Church. In his "spare time," David is a high school English teacher. E-mail him at david@next-wave.org.


Main Navigation

Home
Articles

Postmodernity
About Len

Circles

ALLELON

Emerging Women / Renovare / Christians for Biblical Equality / Soul Horizon / OpenSource Theology / Jesus Radicals / Regeneration / New Phuture / The Off Ramp / Society for Kingdom Living / Cutting Edge / Relevant Magazine / Shoot the Messenger / Vine and Branches / Sacred Future / Tribal Generation / Reality / Waves Church / Matthew's House / Praxis / Post Boomer / FutureChurch / MethodX / TheOOZE / ginkworld / ::seven:: / emergent village / Highway Video / emerging church / Sojourners / Ship of Fools / Beyond / Next-Wave / Small Fire / ThePowerSurge / dtour



• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on July 17, 2002