Yesterday, I subscribed to the podcast for The Village Church. I had noticed their statement of faith was adopted from that of Sovereign Grace Ministries, the network of Charismatic Calvinist churches founded by C. J. Mahaney, author of Living the Cross-Centered Life, (a book I highly recommend) among other titles. The Village Church is not listed among the Texas Sovereign Grace churches at the network’s website, so I suppose it’s safe to say that to look at one is not necessarily to look at the other, if you know what I mean. But, then again, that may not necessarily be so, either.
After I subscribed to the podcast, I took a long walk and listened to a “talk” explaining the philosophy of ministry at The Village Church. Before Josh delved into the “philosophy” he attempted to lay a theological foundation for it. I’ll give you the passages in the theological foundation:
- The Incarnation of the Word John 1:1-2, 14
- The Mission:
- It’s Authority Matthew 28:19-20
- It’s Scope Acts 1:8
- How The Gospel Spreads “. . . and in chapter 7, a man named Stephen comes before the courts and they are trying him and he preaches a fantastic sermon as they pelt him with rockds. And Stephen is killed; he’s the first martyr of the church. But by God’s plan, He uses the suffering and the fear and the martyrdom that transpired after that to spread the church. . . Acts ends in chapter 28, and chapter 29 is for you and me to write. You see, the reality is those guys told some guys, who told some guys, who told somebody, who told somebody, who told somebody, who told somebody, who told Tom Bailey, who told me in 1996. That’s how it happens. . . This is how the gospel has spread. It’s viral. It joust goes and it inundates people, it infiltrates culture, it gets in the hears of humanity and it changes us. This is the church. The church is a group of redeemed people who sit under the proclamation of the word in fellowship as they share life with one another.”
Attraction Versus Incarnation (translation: traditional architecture vs. personal evangelism)
Next, Josh attempts to unpack the role of The Village Church in this viral spread of the gospel. First he describes a few approaches to church ministry: 1) “an attraction based approach to ministry . . . In the Old Testament, it was more of a ‘come and see’ type of religion. They built the temple. They made pilgrimages to the temple. That’s where sacrifices were made. It was a central type of religion. And so the temple was ornate, it was lavished with gold and all the jewels and all of these things because the people would come. And it was through that that you would see the beauty and majesty of God. but when Christ came, it was no longer a ‘come and see.’ Christ says, ‘Go and tell.'” This is what Josh calls an “incarnational approach to ministry.”
“You see, when Chrsit incarnates, He gives something not just to celebrate but to imitate. He is showing us how life is to be done, how ministry is to be done. Christ comes here, he dwells among us. So in one word, our philosophy of ministry is incarnational.” By this he intends that the way people are drawn to the church is not by the impressive church architecture, but in response to being told about the place by a friend, co-worker, family member, etc.
Now I’ll pause for a moment and make a comment. This dichotomy is drawn between church architecture and personal evangelism as if architecture were the primary draw in traditional churches. This is a misrepresentation. And I humbly submit that it is an excuse, in classic charismatic style, to promote their lack of worship enriching externals by putting down traditional “religion” (this word is to be pronounced with a shudder). Again, in classic charismatic style, the Village Church is not going after those who believe in retaining some sense of communion with the saints of all ages, but they are instilling the same old contemporary, “au nauturaul”, organic, reductionistic form of worship.
The next aspect of the “incarnational” philosophy is a little more encouraging. To quote Josh, “And so our hope is that we would fight against [American-style competition among churches] and what we would bring to center stage would be the gospel. But the reality is, what you win them with, you keep them with. So if we win you with some glitz and glamor and high technology and an unbelieveable building, then we’ve got to keep that up. But if we win you with the gospel, then you won’t be surprised when you realize that’s what we try to keep you with.” This I’m all for. But I still object to pitting personal evangelism against architecture alone. Some have grown up in non-traditional churches and it’s what they expect. What if God called the Village Church to build a traditional style building in the future? They’d lose some folks the same way they assume traditional churches lose traditional worshipers when they start singing praise choruses, or installing a smaller pulpit, or getting rid of it altogether. The problem works both ways, if you ask me.
Width vs. Depth
Another encouraging aspect of Village’s philosophy is that they state a desire for deep preaching and deep believers over a desire for buildings full of shallow believers with deep pockets. “. . . He clearly gave us the commission which was to make disciples . . . not even converts, not to put skins up on the wall and say, ‘Look how many converts we have.’ He says, ‘I want disciples, and discipleship is a lifelong, difficult, painful, suffering process, then you die. That’s it.’ And if you and I are not willing to be transformed and beaten and molded and shaped into the image of Christ, then we have no idea what His will is for His church. He wants to take us deep, and if we get wide during the process, hallelujah. But if we take width over depth, we have sold out the gospel.”
The final aspect of the Village’s stated philosophy of ministry is that believers are to shun a “spirit of entitlement” for a “spirit of humility and sacrifice.” This should probably be a subset of the previous paragraph. Part of going deep as a believer is learning to love others more than oneself. Josh says, “I need you to help me slay me, and you need me to help you slay you. Because it’s not about us. And when we get that, that’s the most freeing reality, because we will exhaust ourselves on ourselves.”
A Question Raised
One thing that would be instructive to note in this regard is how much width has come to the church in so few years. I can tell that it is probably due in part to megachurch contemporary trimmings with actual Word-based preaching (or “talk”-ing). For this I rejoice. But, when will the church get deep enough to not need solely contemporary disregard for the regulative principle of worship? I’m sure the Villagers think they’re abiding by the Word by reducing Christianity to the interpersonal part of it. But there has been not one single word about a Reformed concept of the “ordinary means of grace” approach to ministry. They seem to have divorced, or as usual, put on the back burner the importance of the sacraments in worship. They’ve got prayer, they’ve got praise and they’ve got proclamation. But nobody seems to know how to work the sacraments into their “approach to ministry.” For those who claim to be Reformed, and if these guys are organizing around the Sovereign Grace Ministries statement of faith, then they must be claiming to be Reformed, this contemporary, organic, “Spirit-filled” kind of worship makes you forget about “rituals” like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Oh, sure, they’ll get around to them, but only because they know they’d be in hot water without them. But, when it comes to the Village’s philosophy of ministry, you’d think there were no such things as sacraments. At least not the Lord’s Supper. Fortunately, Jesus managed to wedge baptism into the commission so it wouldn’t be neglected, too–except, of course, for neglecting to baptize the households of believers and not individuals alone. . .