Four years ago, I worked with some brothers and sisters in Christ to put on a “conference” called “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology.” I put “conference” in quotes because it was different than anything I’ve ever been part of. But, that’s a different story. In the week leading up to that conference, I met a man named Art on Twitter. Art ended up coming to the conference, and we’ve been friends ever since. In fact, we now work together. After the conference, Art wrote me an email response that I published in a post called “The inadequacy of seminars and conferences.” I think Art shares some thoughts that would be good for all of us to consider.
We had a great time at the “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology” seminar last weekend. However, seminars and conferences are inadequate for what the church needs. Why? Because spiritual teaching may include lecture and discussion, but it also must include example. Thus, we learn as much – if not more – from watching someone’s example as we learn from their words.
I “met” Art Mealer online during the week before the seminar. He attended our Saturday sessions and asked some very good questions. Then, he and I emailed back and forth Sunday. In one of his emails, he pointed out exactly why seminars and conferences alone are inadequate. (By the way, his email also explains why a Sunday sermon from someone that we don’t really know if also inadequate.)
I think you’ll enjoy Art’s email below.
I think the time was well used. The first two segments laid biblical groundwork in a non-confrontational way. Personally, I was most touched by your balance and gentleness on these issues. As to the panel time, I doubt most people knew what questions to ask, and just having your panel share from the heart about experiencing community as a family together was a wonderful way of being the epistles we are meant to be for all of us there. A clear and compelling picture emerged.
But this means of shedding light on who we are as the church is a bit like the “evangelist” who wins someone to Christ and then leaves, at least for some of those attending (what was it, 16 assemblies represented?). Perhaps this is the most important thing I’d like someday to talk to you about. You may already be headed in the direction God has burdened my heart, or you may see something altogether different. So, forgive me for what follows if I am out of turn.
There is a formula for change that states C=D x M x P; Change= Dissatisfaction with the present x Model for the future way of being x Process for getting there. I know this isn’t a biblical thing, but observing the world around us carefully–the world designed by God to reflect His truths and principles–can (if not trusted as “gospel”) give us light (in the way we know gravity works from observing it, not from the bible directly). Let me pose the problem in these terms.
Many Christians experience Dissatisfaction with the isolation of “Church” attendance and those suffocating traditions that do void the commands of us being the church together. Yesterday, you folks presented a good chunk of Model, letting the saints get a glimpse of how things could be if we took a more careful, open look at scripture. While you hinted at Process in the language you used (framing the whole matter under “Developing,” learning, walking in some confusion as things are worked out in every day, messier-than-blackboards life). But “Process” for other assemblies regarding the major transition you present, do you think it adequate to produce change?
In your assembly, isn’t it in seeing the modeling day by day, the close interactions with one another, the personal experiences that forge and reinforce a more biblical way of being together that is the Process through which the Spirit works? It isn’t lecture alone that produces obedience and transformation; it isn’t even learning. It is being shown how to by example that births new behaviors and values. It is being held a mirror by the faithful wounds of brothers and sisters so we can see where we are off balance. It is being in a place where we are safe, accepted, for all of our flaws, that we can let go of defenses and face the fear of taking off masks. The place where we can admit sin and find help. Where we can take root in Him. Outside of being present at the birth of new life, nothing is more precious than seeing another man or woman as they learn to humble themselves under the Spirit in this moment and that, and be transformed bit by bit into an image of the Son, pure love beginning to work in and through them.
The panel spoke of this with tears. But most saints know nothing of this.
I think the patterns we see in scripture about how the church developed and grew and was brought back on track when it got tangled in errors presents a function in the church that was designed to provide an up close Model of how we interact/think of/love one another but especially for that Process element of change. How often when you present this material do you hear, “How do we get from here to there?” Sure, a New Testament, the Holy Spirit, and a yellow Highlighter should, in theory, be enough. But God has invited us (more, given us the unimaginable privilege to serve Him, our fellow saints, and our fellow doomed human family) to participate in His work. I think God not only provided for transformation of the saints within an assembly that is healthy, but also to have a sort of “white blood cell” team to provide a way to heal the body that has fallen sick. It seems to me the NT demonstrates that design in the work of itinerants like Paul, Timothy, Titus, etc. Church planters not only plant new churches. Church planters provide a servant leadership team that comes alongside troubled assemblies and quietly “sets in order the things that are wanting” and “ordains elders” (developing biblical leadership).
What if, for example, it would not be out of character for the Spirit to call one or two or three of the families at Messiah (etc.) and make them available to spend two months or eight months (whatever time it turns out to be), living among another assembly as they help them make the transition from a faulty church attendance model to becoming the family of God together?