Monday, December 19, 2011

Christian Community: Theology, not a Pragmatic Structure

I live in two worlds. On the one hand, I read theologians who ask big sweeping questions about God, what God is doing in our world and the call to be God's people. On the other, I'm always wrestling with what it means to be the church in this day and how do we actually do that? I get concerned because it seems that most of the energy in the church is spent on the pragmatic questions of what we do we as church leaders. We talk a lot about How do we get people connected? What is the latest strategy for closing the back door? How do we mobilize people for outreach? These are important questions. Don't get me wrong.

But are we so focused on the pragmatics of ministry that we fail to think much about what we are doing?

The focus on pragmatics seems to be at center stage in small group talk. Yes there are the introductory chapters in the primary small group vision texts that speak to why we should be doing community. But then 75% of the books focus on pragmatics. We all need to here the challenge to think theologically about not just why we do groups but also how we do them. Recently, Bill Search, author of Simple Small Groups told me how we need new conversations about the theology of community. I agree. Community 101 by Gilbert Bilezikian helps, but we need to help our people see a way of thinking about community so that it might penetrate how we live. It's got to move beyond just another strategy for doing church.

In other words, we need to go deeper than the question: What is working? That question reveals that we are basing our ministry on a theology of pragmatism. There are a lot of things that can and do work in the church that have no foundation based in good theology. This is the reason I write. (Click here for a little background on why I wrote each of the books I have.) I am called to ask questions beyond that of what works, while at the same time not ignoring the practical questions either.


Michael C. Mack said...

Great reminder, Scott. I agree 100%.

I heard a very pragmatic Christian author and speaker talk jokingly about churches who try too hard to be New Testament churches. The problem, he said, is that churches in America today don't exist in the culture of that day. So ... what is cultural and what is sound theology? There is a theology of community, but are small group meetings merely cultural? What do you think?

Scott Boren said...

Great question MM. I get troubled by those who say we need to simply return to the first century expression of the church. My response: Which expression? Hard to find people agree with this because we have so little data about this. (I say this as one who used to make this argument myself.) We need to wrestle with what community looks like in a local context driven by social norms that are shaped by individualism. In 60 A.D. the Apostle Paul knew nothing about our modern day experience of individualism, which has been shaped by 300 years of Enlightenment. On top of this we have rampant consumerism, relational isolationism, etc. Throwing people people into small groups and hoping for the best because this is the NT model for church is radically short-sighted. Again, I'm judging my own ministry when I say this.