Monday, May 14, 2007

Thoughts on "The Jesus Enterprise"

I'm concerned about a book about the church that uses the word enterprise in the title, a word borrowed from business. But I sure want to reach the unchurched. Thus I read The Jesus Enterprise: Engaging Culture to Reach the Unchurched (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004), by Kent R. Hunter. Here are some quotes from the book that caught my attention:

Landa Cope, in her excellent book Clearly Communicating Christ, says it this way:

[A] dynamic aspect of [Jesus'] communication was His servant
approach.

At some point in history the Church forgot this. We became focused on
our message rather than on serving our audience. The burning question wasn't,
"Where are people hurting? How can we apply the Gospel to meet those needs?"
Instead it became, "Are we being faithful to Scripture? Is that the exact
meaning of those words? Are we communicating in balance with the whole of the
Bible?"

...Jesus didn't come to defend the message. The message of God's
eternal truth is just fine, thank you. It stood before the creation of the
earth, and it will stand when all heaven and earth have passed away (Matthew
24:35). It's people who are in danger! God so loved the world.
pp. 30-31

[The gospel is not simply about meeting my felt needs. Sometimes Jesus
gives me needs I never had until Jesus met me!]

...When asked why they return to a church they visited, most people respond that they did so because it was a friendly church and the worship services seemed relevant.

...On the front end, they are more interested in knowing if Christianity
works. In other words, they want to know if God makes a difference in your life.
p. 32

[Friendliness? A faith that works? Is this all that Jesus
Christ is Lord means?]

An enterprise ministry can be
defined as: identifying and meeting felt needs in the culture, genuinely caring
for others, building relationship bridges, and communicating the gospel in a
relevant way.
p. 33

[Sometimes the gospel sounds as if it is 'irrelevant' when it is simply
true. We live in a culture of deceit so sometimes we don't know what's
'relevant' until the gospel tells us. We are not the ones to judge what our real
needs are or what's truly 'relevant' to our lives. That's God's business.]

Is it just me? I find all of these statements extremely problematic in the light of the biblical witness. True, I've taken these out of context but they seem to me to be dangerously, exasperatingly out of touch with the Christian faith. We are to reach people, not just in order to sign the up for our volunteer organization, but we reach people in the name of Christ, reaching them to be part of a countercultural, divinely initiated community called church. The purpose of the church is not friendliness, or meeting my needs, the church is not a means of getting what I want but Gods appointed, created means of getting what God wants.

The church is God's enterprise, if you must use that language. It is not the result of our savvy communicative technique but a work of a triune God who is determined to have a people.

William H. Willimon

8 comments:

John Meunier said...

Bishop Willimon,

I normally don't presume to comment on your blog. But since you asked, I don't think it is just you.

Being aware of the audience is a staple of communication pedagogy. But, being clear about your purpose and message comes first. We only communicate because we are trying to change the world in some way.

If we lose sight of our purpose, then we lose everything.

Anonymous said...

reading your blog in haste w/o my glasses I thought I saw, "counter-cultural, divinely IRRITATED" instead of "initiated" -- I think I have room to work with the idea of divine irritation...:-)

Rick Shott said...

Yes, I too have great difficulties with these quotes. Moreover, I feel that the term felt needs should not be associated with sermons. We have our felt needs and what we really need. Like a child crying for attention wanting to be awake yet you know what they need is sleep, such is humanity with her felt needs.

Beyond Words said...

IT ISN'T JUST YOU.....IMHO, the reason the church is so pitifully ineffective is because that's all we hear--God is here to meet my needs. The Bible speaks to all of my needs. We have to go out and rescue people from their "immorality" so God can meet their needs. But whose needs? The whiny, white middle class's self-indulged needs of people who want to die and go to heaven and keep a form of godliness to maintain the "in group.

We ignore the poor, the disenfranchised, the least of these and we ignore creation.

I laid awake last night praying and weeping over this very thing. Lord have mercy on me a sinner and help me deal with this in my faith community in a way that builds up the body of Christ

Milton Stanley said...

It's not just you. The whole felt needs/relevance paradigm is flawed.

Gallagher said...

Interesting quotes and thoughts.

I believe a key aspect of Jesus' communication is found in Acts 1.1: "..of all that Jesus began to do and teach."

Jesus did what he asked others to do. He did it then taught it. His life was manifest in the glory of God and he taught (communicated) others to live it as well.

Just my thoughts...

The Shadetree Theologian said...

Bishop Willimon,
I think that you're spot on. I don't want to be overly harsh but it seems that most folks attend worship and are distressed if the event doesn't resemble the Oprah Show. I enjoyed your recent visit to The White Horse Inn. The paralytic lowered through the roof for Christ to heal didn't have a clue what he really needed, his heart of stone turned to flesh. The Church isn't peddling Amway or timeshares, we're beggars telling other beggars where we've found bread. Grace and Peace to you Sir.

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