Posts Tagged ‘Deep and Wide’

“Atheist church” is an opportunity, not a threat

January 10, 2013

I completely understand why Britain’s first “atheist church” feels threatening to many Christians there. (If it didn’t have at least a little shock value, why else would HuffPost pick up the story?) In fact, the pastor of a nearby Catholic church doesn’t like it at all:

“How can you be an atheist and worship in a church? Surely it’s a contradiction of terms. Who will they be singing to?

“It is important to debate and engage with atheists but for them to establish a church like any other religious denomination is going too far. I’m cautious about it.”

Having read Andy Stanley’s Deep & Wide, however, I’m thinking of these things in a new way: Why see the atheist church as a threat? Why not see it as an opportunity? Just think: here are all these unchurched people who obviously feel such an unmet need for love, community, and companionship that they’ve gone to the trouble of gathering here in the first place! What a mission field!

What can nearby churches do to welcome them to the neighborhood? How can they show hospitality? How can they bear witness to Christ’s love?

Maybe, for example, a real church can use its experience and resources to help the atheist church get involved in service projects to the community. I bet they could partner with them in any number of ways. Who knows?

One thing’s for sure: being angry about it—as many members of the atheist church expect Christians to be—won’t help anyone.

Andy Stanley’s “Deep and Wide”

January 1, 2013
My annotated Deep & Wide, not available in any store!

My annotated Deep & Wide, not available in any store!

Try as I might, I can’t resist Andy Stanley’s new book Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. I love his candor and self-deprecation. He’s disarming. Andy says up front that he’s well aware of the advantages he was given in ministry by virtue of his being a PK to one of Atlanta’s most successful pastors. He says he knows he stands on other people’s shoulders, and that Northpoint has often succeeded in spite of him, not because of him.

In case you’re not from around here, my ministry context takes place in the imposing shadow of Northpoint Community Church, which is a few miles from my church. I know I’m not competing with him. As if! But you can’t do a contemporary worship service—or whatever Vinebranch is—in this community and not be compared, favorably or not, with what’s going on at Northpoint. So you’ll understand my slight defensiveness about Andy Stanley and Northpoint—why it is he needs to “disarm” me before I can really hear what he has to say. It’s not as if he doesn’t throw down the gauntlet himself in the pages of his book. If we traditional churches aren’t going to create a church that unchurched people love to attend, he says, don’t worry: a Northpoint satellite church will be opening soon near us.

Message received!

I said in my sermon that the book caused me to do some soul-searching, and I wasn’t kidding. I’m tempted to feel guilty that I haven’t worked harder to reach unchurched people. But in fairness, very little in my seminary education, my training as a pastor, the ordination process of the United Methodist Church, and my pastoral experience has equipped me to create the kind of church that Andy is talking about here—one that is obsessed with reaching the lost.

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