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Church Outside the Water

Mike Erre’s latest book, Death by Church, discusses what he identifies as perhaps the biggest problem facing the Church in a chapter entitled “Garage-Sale Jesus.” While some might identify the Church’s major problem as a watering down of truth, the permeation of sin amidst the leadership or even an overall lack of discipleship, Erre believes the problem lies elsewhere—deep down, beneath the surface, operating unseen and poisoning churches from the inside out: consumerism.

Mike Erre’s latest book, Death by Church, discusses what he identifies as perhaps the biggest problem facing the Church in a chapter entitled “Garage-Sale Jesus.” While some might identify the Church’s major problem as a watering down of truth, the permeation of sin amidst the leadership or even an overall lack of discipleship, Erre believes the problem lies elsewhere—deep down, beneath the surface, operating unseen and poisoning churches from the inside out: consumerism.

To use Erre’s analogy, we are like fish in the water. We have been so utterly immersed in the ocean of consumerism that we find it nearly impossible to imagine any sort of alternate reality. In order to maintain a voice or base of membership, the Church is forced to play by the same rules of consumerism, pandering to members through personalized goods and services designed to draw in and/or keep membership. Further complicating the matter is that we’ve mistaken the Church for being the point of God’s work in this world.

Listen to Erre’s prophetic words:

Church was to be the result of people working together in the kingdom, not the focus of the work itself…we have made the church the point of God’s work and not the kingdom.  And in doing so, we have unintentionally substituted the gospel of the kingdom (“Repent, the kingdom is at hand”) for the gospel of the church (“come to church to meet Jesus and grow spiritually”). We have substituted the work of the Spirit (transforming our inward character into the image of Jesus) for the work of the church (attending this class, this program, and this ministry). We have substituted the work of worship (which has always been the primary vocation of God’s people) for the passive consumption of church services (watching our paid professionals do their thing on stage).

Stings a little, doesn’t it? It is always difficult to be told that our way of doing church, regardless of whether it is “working” or not, is fundamentally flawed, based upon a system that is thoroughly “of this world.” But if we were to let it, this could serve as a catalyst to begin thinking of a new way to do church.

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Now, if you’re like me, trying to think of a way to do church that isn’t characterized by these very things is a bit like a fish trying to imagine life outside of the water. My own experience is limited to the extent that I haven’t a framework to begin with. I am convinced, however, that two minds are better than one, that creativity can give birth to a currently unknown reality. I have hope that as the people of God begin to imagine church outside the water, we will see something truly Christ-like, something genuinely not-of-this-world emerge.

So, what can we do?  How can we begin to dream of a Church that does not play by the rules? What churches are getting this right? What are things we can begin putting into practice that aren’t being practiced elsewhere?

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