I’m not used to having people actually read my blog. Youth Guy Evan apparently stumbled across it a little while ago and actually came back to see what I wrote in response to his comment. While I appreciate his interest, he is actually forcing me to keep on my toes and explain what I am writing! Who would have thought?
In all honesty, I appreciate the questions. I’ve just gotten lazy and assumed I am speaking with clarity when in actuality I’m not. So, I need to clarilfy my claim that “we have a weak ecclesiology.” Just what the heck does that mean?
Now, as Evan pointed out, ecclesiology is pretty much how the church works. But there is also another component: what we believe about the nature of the church. Of course, how we “do” church is born out of what we believe about the church. Or vice versa. So when I say ecclesiology, I am talking about what we believe about the church as well as the actual function of the church.
What goes into shaping my own personal ecclesiology?
The Bible. Duh. But, as I have found out, sometimes we read into the text a lot more than most of us are willing to admit.
Experience. In college, I learned there is more than one way to “do” church. Amazing. This of course forced me to re-think the actual beliefs I had about the nature and function of the church.
The medium is the message. I have learned this in the last few years. I believe that how we practice “church” affects our understanding of the church more than anything else. Yes, even more than sermons about the church. Additionally, it affects what we believe about salvation, creation, non-Christians, money, etc.
Ecclesiology as hermeneutic. There I go, using them big words again. Hermenutics is basically the study and method of interpretation. When I say that ecclesiology is my current hermeneutic, I mean that it is the “lens” through which I see the world and the scriptures. By this I mean that I try to ask the question, “How does our practice of church help or hinder whatever message it is we are trying to communicate?” When people complain about America’s moral decay, I try and figure out what went wrong in the church to allow this. When Ted Haggard is forced to resign, I ask how our church structures allowed an enviornment for that kind of behavior to flourish. When teenagers are leaving the church as they enter into college, I ask how the church is encouraging this. What is key here is that I am not asking “how can we change our teaching to address these needs” or any other “content” type questions. I am trying to figure out how our embodiment and practices of church can answer the above questions.
As a result of this reflection, I have come to the conviction that the church in America now has a “weak ecclesiology.” Why choose the word “weak” as a descriptor? Well, I guess I could have just used the word “unbiblical,” but I am afraid when people hear that they might instantly get defensive and not listen to anything I have to say. But, I do think we could learn a lot about how to do church by reading the Bible with fresh eyes.
When I say “weak,” what I mean is that our current practices and embodiments of church are in conflict and tension with our goals (discipleship) and theology. Thus, while we may have an acceptable doctrine of salvation and sanctification, the way we practice church hinders the actual conversion and sanctification process. Our ecclesiology “weakens” our witness. Likewise, while all of our churches are committed to discipleship, our ecclesiology has relegated discipleship (for the most part) to lectures (sermons) and educational methods. We say we are in youth ministry to disciple teenagers, but we seperate teens from their families and other adults, and when they graduate we expect them to continue their life of faith in an enviornment 180 degrees away from youth group (i.e. “adult” church).
So, when I say weak, I’m saying they way we do church weakens other areas of our theology and hinders us from achieving our goals.
What we need is a robust (and biblical) ecclesiology that will strengthen and reinforce our theology and our goals.
What does that look like? Heck, I don’t know. Yet. I’m a young, rookie youth minster. But my (limited) theological education, reading, and reflection has brought me to this conclusion. So, I’ve identified what I think may be the number one problem for youth ministry and even the church in general. I know that may be a little presumptuous considering I’ve been in full-time ministry for only about a year and I have no graduate-level theological training. So be it. I’m pretty much convinced this is the right path to be taking right now. As I experiment in ministry and come up with any answers, I’ll be sure to let people know. Until then, I will wrestle with how to change the way we currently do things in order to provide a more robust ecclesiology.