It’s fascinating to read about those young guys in the Silicon Valley syndrome, who have initiated those incredibly successful companies that have altered the whole landscape of our lives. I read about Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Steve Jobs of Apple, among others. They each had some vision of something that could be done that had never been done before. They knew that there was a huge potential out there with the public, and with hardly any training in doing start-ups, or in business, they were consumed with making their vision into a reality. They broke a lot of rules, and rankled a lot of folk in the process.

What is interesting is that they were not driven by any need to be making money. They were driven by the vision of what they could do to make the world a better place, and to meet a need. They spent creative time trying to find the best way to make their vision into a reality, and with a focus on the persons who made up their target users. Some of them proposed that any such start-up company, such as theirs, should reinvent itself every ten years lest it become ossified with existing patterns that had already become obsolete. But the very intentional focus on the needs of the consumer is what is interesting. Nothing was taken for granted.

The church actually started out with an unambiguous mandate by Jesus to his disciples to go and make disciples, i.e., to do with others exactly what he had done with them. Invite them. Spend time with them. Patiently teach them, and mentor them, and coach them—it was a one-on-one mandate. The ultimate goal was that Christ be formed in every one of those whom they discipled. Paul could say with complete candor: “Be imitators of me, even as I am also of Christ.” He would write to his young disciple Timothy that he should pass on to believing men and women the same gospel that had formed him, and so that they in turn could do the same to others. The community of believers was to be self-multiplying, and the goal was for each person who professed faith in Christ be able to himself, or herself, make disciples—to so equip them that they would be contagious and reproductive—not to build large prestigious impersonal congregations, but so that every believer and every community of believers would be continually engaged in the same mission as that of their Savior.

Yet somehow, and all too often, in the intervening generations, and millennia, that church has  been subverted from that vision, and has focused on an institutional form that so very easily takes its eye off of those individuals, those persons, whom Christ sent the church to reach, and instead puts the focus on the impersonal church institution: its organization, its professionals, its buildings, its status and prosperity—but not on making disciples of individuals who will be salt and light in the neighborhoods of need, . . . and of continually planting new church communities.

True disciples move into the areas of greatest need, and to those persons who are looking for answers. They spend time with those responsive persons until those persons also become equipped to be the communicators of the new life of Christ. Christian communities would do well to stop frequently and ask themselves what is their vision and how does it relate to what they are called to be and do, . . . and then be willing to make the radical shifts necessary to fulfill that calling. When the church becomes ‘church-centered’ or ecclesio-centric, then that church has already been subverted and is essentially useless in the mission of God.

What the Silicon Valley guys have demonstrated was actually the plan of Jesus for his church two millennia ago. And where it is practiced today, the church is emerging in new forms in with new vitality. But it takes courage for church leaders to confront their own subversion. Alas! And all to few have either the faith or the courage to engage in dismantling such subverted churches.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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