what makes somebody a disciple?
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Willow Creek. On one hand, they challenged us to consider the things about our worship services which might feel a bit exclusive to outsiders (something that the Army still hasn’t really taken on board), but they also suggested that worship wasn’t seeker friendly. They brought cell groups to the forefront, something that I believe in very much, but they also gave us the four laws of cell (something that my church is obsessed with) and suggested that, if we didn’t follow them, we would never truly succeed with cell groups. They encouraged us to reach out to our communities, and even gave us many great tools for doing it, but they were also very happy to stamp their name on churches across the U.S. by developing the Willow Creek Association. I have to admit that the franchising of church has left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes it felt a little too much like church was a business for Willow Creek.
I guess it’s easy to take shots at those at the top. Madonna was criticized for adopting a child who was living in poverty. Oprah was criticized for starting a school for girls in South Africa. Bono is constantly being criticized for his mission to free third world dept. And Willow Creek will have their detractors too. But I have to applaud Willow Creek for having the courage to do the research, and then the courage to actually admit that the research had proven them wrong.
In a nut shell, Willow Creek is now admitting that regular attendance at a church programme does not necessarily affect long term commitment to Christ. Again, I haven’t read the book, but apparently they are now promoting personal prayer and Bible study as the way forward. I’m sure that that’s a bit of a simplistic description of their new direction, but I believe it is the basic idea. With that in mind, their new direction will include giving their members the tools they need to own their faith, rather than trusting the faith of a leader who is simply herding people from one programme to another.
All churches should take note of this, but I speak to mine own denomination now when I reiterate my concern that we are not discipling our people. Even our most traditional leaders are concerned with the fact that our Corps are depleted of leadership, yet we do not seem to be connecting the dots. Again, I am impressed with the fact that Willow Creek was willing to put their own necks on the line by funding the research, and then were further willing to admit that they got it wrong. A few years ago our now general was the territorial commander for the Salvation Army in the UK. Upon realizing that we had very few people entering our “seminary” anymore, he demanded that divisional leaders start pushing more people in that direction. He never bothered to ask why there were fewer people, mind you, and to this day, our “seminary” classes remain alarmingly small.
Why don’t we have more local leaders? That is the question that we should be asking. I believe that there are lots of reasons behind this, but one of them is certainly the fact that we’re simply not discipling people and helping them to take ownership of their faith. We usher them from one programme to another and then send them home. We wouldn’t expect somebody to learn how to dance by attending several ballet performances a week, and we shouldn’t expect somebody to take ownership of their walk with God when there are people who have been willing to do it for them for the last fifty years.
I look forward, only somewhat cynically, to hearing what Willow Creek’s plan of action will be.