Saturday, January 20, 2007

Kan van Wormen (Exiles 2)

The title is Dutch for "can of worms"; this should make Nico-Dirk Van Loo a happy Dutchman. For the record, I'm in favour of wrestling with the wrigglers.
The first Can O' Worms was based on the binary opposition of "being the church" and following "vision". The second kan van wormen, which will only partially answer Jamie's musings (this may become a Series of Worms), is the erasure of the artificial dichotomy of "church" and "para-church".

Church is often defined, in general, as having four main purposes: worship, teaching, fellowship, evangelism (some would call this more generally "outreach", which might include issues of justice and the poor). Most of us with any history in the church, will recognize that in reality, we proclaim four but practice three -- evangelism is left out, with the exception of the occasional conference or "field trip" into "the real world".

Missions groups such as YWAM, of which we are a part, do all four. In this (admittedly broad-brushed) observation, you could easily suggest that the para-church is actually more "the church" than the institutional churches who have all-too-often looked down their noses at para-church organizations. For example, the Vineyard movement, which Wendy & I were a part of for years, often finds itself partnering with YWAM due to mamy shared values and practices, yet John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard) was actually not really in favour of para-church ministries at all, feeling that they sucked away the best leaders from existing churches.

In Exiles, Frost had a couple of interesting observations about liminality and communitas:
"Those who have emerged from a liminal state are able to bring a challenge to normal society about the meandering ordinariness of life... As people undergo liminality and communitas in whatever forms, they should be able to return to normal, structured church society and engage in this important dialectic." (page 112)
As someone who has been involved in youth and young adult ministry since the days of the original Miami Vice, I have lost track of the number of times where returning YWAM'ers were frustrated beyond belief with the church's disinterest and dismissal of their liminal experiences.

This often resulted in these recent YWAM'ers turning around and heading back into YWAM again. And in turn, this has contributed to the continuing perception that para-church organizations are "stealing" people from churches.

The counter argument has usually been something to the effect of, "Well, if the church was doing what it was supposed to be doing, the para-church wouldn't be necessary". I'm not sure I agree with this statement, although in my early pastoral years, I know I said to more than a few people myself.

I think several things are going to have to change in the next few years:
  1. Churches will have to start listening more carefully and strategically to the liminal fringe. While there have been churches that have been affected by groups like YWAM to the extent that they now run their own short-term projects, they are still a minority at this time.

  2. The line between church and para-church needs to be erased. Para-church is not important only if the church is failing at its mission -- para-church (liminal ministries) are part of the church and must be embraced and allowed to impact the rest of the church.

  3. What if, instead of wracking their brains for more programs to "attract" people, churches invested themselves in liminal, short-term communitas, and let the people who are "attracted" be motivated by service, rather than by "felt needs"?
Don't step on the worms.