‘Renovation of the Church’ Event Notes

I spent yesterday at the Downing House as a guest of the Spiritual Formation Alliance for a one-day event with pastors Mike Lueken and Kent Carlson from Oak Hills Church in Folsom, CA. Mike and Kent co-authored the book Renovation of the Church. The book is an excellent account of their journey growing a large seeker-oriented church and then concluding that they had misunderstood the full meaning of the gospel and Christ’s call to make disciples. This conclusion led them to make radical changes at their church which had radical outcomes. The book is an excellent account of their journey, and they state that the book marks the end of a decade of transition at their church. The book is full of humility, honest confessions, and helpful insights from their story. It doesn’t offer easy solutions or step-by-step solutions, just the wisdom gained through the journey. The event was a presentation of their story but also meant to be a dialogue between Kent and Mike and pastors in Denver also seeking an emphasis on spiritual formation in their churches.

Below are (most of) my notes from today. Unfortunately Evernote let me down for the first time and I lost some notes from the afternoon session. As with my previous posts where I share notes from a conference or class, hopefully these will make some sense. If anything in the notes intrigues you, check out their book. It’s a worthy read.


Introduction (their story)
* Oak Hills followed Willow’s seeker-driven model of church. They grew quickly and saw tremendous external results. Looking back they realize that this approach was driven by the paradigm of seeing the Christian life as a two-stage process. The first stage is about getting them to make a decision about what they believe about Christ. This decision secures their eternal salvation and “gets them into heaven.” The second stage is the process of Christian growth and discipleship. While it is not presented this way, this is more of an optional step. The decision is what is most important.
* Oak Hills’s approach to their Sunday service was summed up in the slogan, “You’ll be surprised.” The goal was to surprise people and cause them to reconsider their perception about church. The problem is that when you surprise them one week you’ve got to figure out how to do it again the next. The expectations get higher and higher. This forms people spiritually. It creates a paradigm of church that is based on entertainment.
* They realized that by using the tools of consumerism, it wasn’t just a bait and switch – it was working against people rejecting the values of the world and embracing the values of the kingdom.
* How has your weekend service changed? Focusing on God’s story of redemption (Robert Webber model influential), engaging with the church calendar.

What is the Gospel?
* Mark 1:15 – Jesus announces the good news that the kingdom of God is here and available. We are invited to live in “the Way” (Acts 19) of Jesus. Jesus announces the kingdom and invites people to follow. This was his understanding of the gospel. This is not the understanding in the broader evangelical subculture. The understanding of the gospel in that context is that Jesus came offering forgiveness of sins, and the response is to believe that and receive forgiveness.
What is Discipleship?
* In the first chapter of Oak Hills discipleship was equated with attending church, getting in a small group, and serving in the church.
* As time went on, they began to try and break down people’s preconceived ideas. Often as they tried to explain discipleship they would often bump into preconceived ideas (e.g. “walking in the Spirit”, discipleship programs with a focus on completing a course of study).
* One tool they used were “one thing” groups. These groups helped people to identify the one thing in their life they felt God wanted them to change. The group then focused on helping people take steps to address their “one thing.”

* Our current understanding is based on the church (organization) is the end game. Our goal is to get people engaged in the activities and programs of the church. The end game is the great commission. The goal is to establish beach heads (church planting, Willard’s analogy) that will provide encouragement and resources to people to live as part of the kingdom of God in their lives.
* Judgmentalism can arise as your understanding of discipleship and the role of the church changes. There is a danger to see yourself as a part of an enlightened few who really “get it.” “One of the problems of the missional movement and the spiritual formation movement is that they often badmouth the church.” We need to see ourselves as a small part of a bigger movement. Just as monastic orders found their place to exist and influence the Catholic church, and the Methodist movement started within the larger Anglican church.

Afternoon Session
* “Does the church (the organization) matter?” There was tension between formation and the organization. After wrestling they concluded that it does. Not just the organic church but it’s local organized expression.
* The nature of the church is such that there is going to be a diversity of devotion within.

* “It is easier to talk & teach about formation than it is to do it. Yet it is impossible to teach it unless you’ve lived it.” -Mike Lueken
* “I believe God is more honored by formative work done in the shared process of decision-making than by an expedient decision.” -Mike Lueken

What Now?
* There is a tendency in all of us to want to know “the path.” We all want answers. The hard answer is that we all have to find our own path in our own context.
* Willard’s Vision – Intention – Means is a helpful path forward. Vision – imagine what your life would be like if you stopped trying to live up to an expectation you know you can’t reach and began trying to live in step with Jesus, learning to become who he intends you to be. Life can be substantially different.
* Take a subversive approach. Don’t try to go top down, come from the bottom up.

Books/Authors Mentioned:

* Mulholland – “Invitation to a Journey”
* Robert Webber
* Willard (vision/intention/means)
* Chris Heurtz’s book about life w/people on the margins.

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