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"We kinda felt we had a mandate to create a church around this new vision to invite people to experience life in the reality of the kingdom of God," Carlson says. "We don't often say, 'God told us …' but in this, he did. This transformation is something that God was doing, and we kept coming back to that."
Good thing. They needed something to hold on to while weathering searing criticism and plummeting offerings. Somehow they had to meet payroll and make the mortgage payment. Somehow they did.
And without a blueprint, this team had to rebuild the church they had unceremoniously dismantled. The spiritual formation model doesn't have much of a blueprint.
No simple reconstruction
Spiritual formation is a highly individualized and extremely inefficient process. "Everyone has their own story, and it doesn't lend itself to mass movements, or one-size-fits-all strategies, or second-third base. It's a lengthy process, and sometimes people are interested in attending to that," Carlson summarizes. For Oak Hills that meant constructing many ministries from scratch.
"We began to ask more from people, in terms of participating and not just being spectators," Rothenburg says. "We began to explore what it means to live in the kingdom of God, and not only for our own sakes but for the sake of the world."
Finding few resources available for church-wide use, and frankly finding little tried-and-true practical advice from the gurus, Lueken as lead architect, Rothenburg, and the ministry staff developed their own. They first examined the Gospels to see what spiritual formation is. They asked three questions: What did Jesus do? What did Jesus say? How did the people respond?
From this, Oak Hills developed an explanation of spiritual formation. A booklet called "Pursuing Spiritual Formation" offers a "picture" of someone who is being transformed. This concrete example was important for people new to the concept. It explains trusting more in God and finding one's identity more in Christ. Then the booklet describes the process of formation: What happens as you cooperate with the Holy Spirit and allow him to shape you over a lifetime? Then the practical: How can we create space for God to do these things in our lives?
From this foundation, the team created a new series of classes, retreats, and small groups with a formation emphasis, while in worship services Carlson and Lueken, as primary teaching pastors, raised personal formation rather than consumer satisfaction as motivation for church participation.
Rothenburg says it's working: have become a different kind of church. There is this undercurrent of excitement about what God is doing. We're seeing a whole new level of community, even among people who have been in small groups with each other for years."
Two years into their rebuilding, the team attended a conference at which Willard, Eugene Peterson, and Marva Dawn spoke. "They all talked about the need for churches in America to push back against consumer Christianity. We were smiling," Rothenburg says, "because it was so affirming of what we had been doing for several years and felt like we were alone in the church community. But we also had a sense of, 'Ughh. Do you understand the cost of what you're saying?' You're going to be a bit bloodied, because you're not going to be popular with people who aren't willing to commit, who just want to show up for their Sunday dose, who want their Christianity by osmosis."