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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."
There are a couple of cautions at this point. Lueken warns, "If we're not careful, we could just exchange one kind of consumers for another. Now we're getting the people who want a deeper life, and those who are into spiritual formation."
And there's the question of navel-gazing. Spiritual formation, with its inward focus, can become as self-centered as the felt-needs approach Oak Hills rejected. Their response: service. Carlson cites the example of a football coach who attends Oak Hills, "a get-it-done kind of guy." He is leading a sports ministry for inner city kids and getting the men of the church involved. "Not a lot of navel-gazing there," Carlson says. "They just get it done, and they're formed in the process."
And there's the temptation to compete with churches that have taken up the consumer-driven model. "In suburbia it's all about things for the kids," Carlson says. But rather than compete for consumers by selling ministry to members, Oak Hills is emphasizing ministry by the members, including youth. "We're building on service. Our kids are serving." And the ministry is growing.
That kind of ministry, Carlson emphasizes, is what sets Oak Hills apart. "The non-churched will be impressed when the church finally starts doing what they think the churches should be doing—not creating a big club where people come because you have the best music, and the best youth program, and the best children's ministry, and the best women's ministry—but serving the poor, seeking to deal with social issues that are of great importance, working with other churches.
"In that, there is a recognition that Christians not only say we're different, but we really are different."
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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