In the 1970s and 80s, Willow Creek did something churches hadn’t previously done — they surveyed a community to find out why people were not going to church and then imagined and created a church that met the needs of that demographic. Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell each established a church called “Mars Hill” and both have reached into mostly unreached demographics and have flourished. Then there’s smaller churches that are flourishing, and have flourished, and most people don’t know about them — like Brentwood Baptist outside Nashville or HCBC in Pennsylvania.
What makes a local church “work?” How would you respond to this question? Or, what assures that a church won’t work? Do you think faithfulness and relevance are good categories?
By work I mean take sudden grasp in a local community or flourish or succeed or grow or whatever. I’m not making judgment here about what “success” means but instead wanting to probe into what happens when a church strikes home in a local community.
Graham Buxton, at Tabor Adelaide, in his book Dancing in the Dark, proposes what is now a rather common paradigm for understanding what Christian ministry is, and what it means to participate in the work of God in this world: the combination of theological faithfulness and church/community relevance. He’s not defining “works” as much as he’s articulating the challenge of ministry: to participate in the world in which God is at work. Important: I’m interested in the “works” question; Graham is focusing on what ministry is: the incarnation of the work of God in a local community. But I want to shift this into what you think “works”?
Barth is at one end of the spectrum: the revelation, God, Word spectrum; Tillich is at the other end: the existential and human crisis in this world is where things happen. Ministry will have to endure paradigm shifts in order to comprehend what it is.
Another question: Where do we begin? With the gospel or Bible or Christian claim? Or with culture?
With Vincent Donovan, though, Graham asks what it means to “contextualize.” Is this an either/or a both/and? Is it the symbiosis of humans sensing what God is doing?
This all means this: we need a North American and a South American and an Australian and a New Zealand form of ministry — and it gets altogether local for Graham. Why? Because each is a different context and God is at work in each context, in different ways, and in culturally sensitive and appropriate ways. The Spirit is at work: Do we sense what the Spirit is doing?
Graham Buxton sketches what “world-view” is all about, and how worldview shapes how humans in various contexts comprehend reality or what is going on in this world — and until we grasp the worldview of our audience we are not likely to tap into the central issues of our world, culture and country.
So he sketches a few local churches, and I find it interesting that he chose Mars Hill Seattle (and wrote this book 10 years back). But he focused on local, incarnate expressions of ministry.