Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Visit with Brian McLaren

What an awesome experience to spend a little time with Brian McLaren today. We are in Baltimore, where Sara is participating in The Lewis Fellows, a fellowship of young clergy from around the country which meets several times a year at a conference center in Baltimore, sponsored by The Lewis Center for Church Leadership. I’m using the time away to work on a bunch of new church stuff – while Rachel (15 months old) is napping or entertaining herself, that is!

So today I joined the group on a field trip to Cedar Ridge Community Church, the church Brian McLaren founded. It was really interesting to be there. The church facility is smaller than I expected. In stark contrast to churches like Saddleback or Willow Creek or the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection - all enormous mega-churches with high profile pastors - Cedar Ridge is kind of an average facility: a large gathering space/ lobby with a big, multi-purpose worship space in the center; rows of classrooms lining both sides. There was nothing flashy or particularly innovative about the space - just very functional, not unlike hundreds of thousands of other churches in rural communities, suburbs, and cities around the country.

Brian met with us in the back of the sanctuary in a circle of chairs while some other staff people were meeting in another section of the sanctuary. He was very relaxed - just kicked back on a couch, sharing conversation like it was his living room. I only sat in on part of the conversation, because Rachel woke up from her nap in the stroller and was getting a little distracting, so I took her out to find some toys in the infant room.

The first person to pose a question asked Brian what he thought about the emerging church conversation as it relates to mainline denominations - can the two co-exist? Brian's response was really interesting: he said he's more hopeful, actually, for mainline denominations than for evangelical non-denominational churches, for two reasons: (1) mainline churches know they're in trouble, while evangelical churches do not; and (2) within mainline churches there's more room for theological disagreement and discourse, which makes them more pliable. On the flip side, though, he notes that mainline churches have a "fundamentalism" about structure - a fundamentalism that is as rigid as the theological fundamentalism on the other side. Both are deadly, he says.

Brian talked for a bit about the recently released research conducted by Willow Creek that has determined that there is no correlation between increased activity and increased spiritual growth. Prior to this research, everyone sort of assumed that the more active a person became in the programs of the church, the deeper that person grew spiritually. In fact, that is not true - which shouldn't be a huge surprise, it seems to me... Being "busy" with church activities doesn't necessarily make one more spiritually centered - in fact, doesn't church busy-ness often keep us distracted from the inner work of the Spirit? Willow Creek is learning, as Diana Butler Bass and others have been saying, that spiritual practices, and not increased activity, lead to deeper spiritual lives, and so the church needs to focus on teaching and encouraging spiritual practices. This will be important as we develop a discipleship program for new light.

We're staying through the weekend, and we're hoping to visit Cedar Ridge for worship on Sunday, as well as National Community Church which meets at the movie theater at Union Station in D.C., to experience their worship and learn what others are doing. We feel so blessed to have this opportunity!


DogBlogger said...

Sounds like it was a wonderful experience. I also like knowing that McLaren's church isn't mega-style.

David Abbott said...

Very interesting find about activity and spiritual growth. It helps a great deal as smaller churches struggle to offer everything that "big" churches offer. The reality is that it's all about relationships - with God and with each other. Sounds like you are having a great time. The Lewis Center is pretty amazing for helping churches of all sizes.