Thursday, June 07, 2007

Conversation with Sid Rice of Literacy and Evangelism: American Churches

this post continues our ongoing conversation with Sid Rice of Literacy and Evangelism. See the prior posts on:
World Missions
Technology Drivers.

Russ: That topic segues very nicely to the last topic I want to pick your brain on. You travel all over the country. You get to see a lot of what’s happening in the US. – from little places like Covenant-First with 160 members to 20,000 member Saddleback and everything in between. What do you see happening on the American church scene that are encouraging, what are some areas where we can learn from our brothers and sisters in Africa. What do you see going on that’s intriguing to you.

Sid: It’s easy to get jazzed by some of the mega-churches. At the risk of being tantalized by something that’s … well anyway, I went to Saddleback. As I was going to talk with them about etching an agreement for cooperative participation in the PEACE plan, I said ‘let me talk to your mission committee’ They go “well, we don’t have a mission committee”. “really?” Here’s this 25,000 member church that doesn’t have a mission committee. It blows my mind. "I know you’re hugely into missions, you support missionaries and mission agencies. How does that work?"

The comment was ‘Everything is pushed down through small groups’. In larger churches, small group is church. I remember sharing this with a pastor at a church I spoke in. He said “Ah, that’s not a biblical model. The biblical model is that the congregation brings the tithes and offerings into the storehouse and the church redistributes it.” I said "Very good. The Old Testament Model. Absolutely."

When I was back up at Saddleback sharing this, the person I was talking to had a big grin on his face. He said “Sid, put it this way – do you want control or do you want exponential growth for the sake of the kingdom.” “I think I’ll go with exponential growth for the sake of the kingdom.” I replied. He said “that’s the mentalitiy. You lose control in a lot of areas for the sake of growing the kingdom.”

To me, when I look at the Presbyterian church and the battle over property, and we’re getting very political here, it grieves me hugely because I see a structure seeking to grab control, and in that grabbing of control they will never ever, ever, ever experience exponential growth for the kingdom. And to see that happening within my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA where I’m a minister of word and sacrament. It grieves me hugely to see us flounder while other bodies of Christ let go of that control and afford the Spirit of God to grow exponentially.

What else is going on within the church. I know that a lot of people resonate with small groups – they’re key. We're glad to be a part of that experiment within the context of mission with the Peace Plan. Not really sure what God’s going to do there, but we’re excited to be affirmed to be a part of that.

As far as what else is going on. I see lots of servant hearts, pastors like yourself, revitalizing downtown churches. I think that’s pretty significant.

Russ: You see that happening in many places?

Sid: Yeah, It’s all about servant leadership. And not only that, it’s about preaching the word. I was in Western Pennsylvania at a downtown church, if you will. My friend, the pastor there, said “It’s been a couple of decades since anybody has been in the pulpit preaching God’s word. And the folks here are just hungry for that.” Expository preaching – explaining it, applying it, illustrating it -- is so foundational to what people want in the pews these days. I see pastors realizing that and really coming back to the heart of what our pastoral call is all about as preachers. And that’s an inspiriation

Russ: That raises an interesting point. You bring up the grand issue of control – some might say “everything done decently and in order” – verses freedom, following the winds of the spirit as it were. That plays itself out not just in a polity sense of who owns the property and who controls the land, but also theologically. So how does that balance work? Where you are under the control of the Word of God and yet freed by the Holy Spirit to go forth and do the mission to which you in particular are called. There’s this tension between liberty and submission. How does that work out?

Sid: That sounds like a rhetorical question to me. You just answered it. There is the tension or a balance between the two.

Russ: So, when we err too far on one side or the other, we get into sticky water, to create a new phrase. I know that some of the Eagle and Child readers will sit there aghast, not just that you’d have something good to say about Saddleback, but the whole chuckle of amusement over ‘do you want exponential growth or do you want control.’ The immediate question might well become one of expediency or faithfulness.

For instance. Martin Lloyd jones at Westminster Chapel in London was at an elders meeting and they were sorting through how to grow the church. They talked about all these things they could do to grow the church. Finally Dr. Lloyd-Jones said “Gentelmen, if you want to grow this church, I can do it overnight.” “Really, how” “simple, we put out an advertisement in the Times that says This Sunday Dr. Lloyd-Jones will be preaching a series in his underwear, and people will come from miles around just to see a man preach in his underwear. So there’s this tension between expediency and what is truly helpful. That’s what I hear a lot of the critics, particularly of the Purpose driven model, trying to get at – sometimes expediency works in the short term, but not necessarily in the long term.

I’m a supporter of the whole Purpose Driven thing – kept in context. The best wisdom I’ve received was from a colleage of mine who said “Russell, if you’re going to do Purpose Driven Church, make sure the being Purpose Driven doesn’t become the purpose.” The whole point behind purpose driven is to point us back to Christ. The whole point of Missional Church is to point us back to Christ. What I see happening so often is that the missional conversation becomes about being missional rather than about serving Christ. It becomes about “what is missional, can we truly claim to be missional. Are we thinking about missional. Suddenly, being missional is the mission. I think that’s part of the critique and I’m sensitive to the critique. But I’m also sensitive to what the folks at Saddleback say ‘We’re on a mission here.” How do you tap dance through all that?

Sid: It’s really getting outside of ourselves. Whether it’s purpose driven or the next step, the PEACE plan, it’s a vision to attack – a huge vision to globally attack the balance of those who have not heard so we can bring our leader Jesus back to earth. That’s the driving force – if somebody’s got a better plan, praise God. Get after it go do it. Don’t sit idly by.

One of the things that In my travels abroud is my sense of how aggressively other faiths, in particular the muslim faith, is aggressively going after new converts. They are aggressively spreading their word. I’m disturbed that we’re sitting around and critiquing each other as opposed to affirming each others experiments, and getting after the work that God has called us to do. It’s easy to be a critic, and I love Moody’s comment about the guy who came up to him and said “I don’t like the way you do evangelism.” “really I don’t either – how do you do evangelism.” “well, I don’t” “Well I like the way I do it better than the way you don’t.”

So if somebody’s getting after it, Praise God, how can we affirm them. How can we augment what’s happening. Presbyterian Global fellowship – what a breath of fresh air – we’re looking outside ourselves and getting after the great commission.

This interview will be concluded in tomorrows post (probably late night)

Soli Deo Gloria