Love Wins!

Recently I started reading a book called “Reveal: Where are You?” which is a collection of results from a survey that the good folk at Willow Creek Community Church did of their congregation.  Willow Creek, in Chicago, is one of the great churches of the USA.  Under the leadership of Bill Hybels has had a big impact not just on its own city but across the Western world as well.

They found that a lot of their programs were well run, well attended, and operating smoothly.  But were producing no fruit.  They actually were not helping people grow closer to God at all.  The book goes on to describe what they did to address this, and how they got back into the main game of making disciples.

The book describes how they realised that they had what they call the “Church Activity Model of Spiritual Growth”.  That sounds dry and technical, and you were possibly more bored at the end of that sentence than you were at the start.  But this is the concept – they thought that the more people attended church programs, the more would become like Jesus.  And when I read that I instinctively recognised that that is what I have believed all my life.

When I think back to my first involvement in leadership in my early 20’s that is completely what I was committed to.  The only thing that mattered was getting people to attend church programs.  If they did that I assumed that spiritual growth would follow as certain as night follows day.

It has taken years for the realisation to dawn that it’s not like that.  And I owe a great deal to Catherine in this regard.  Catherine loves people – really loves people.  And I have seen her over the years meet with people, pray with people, catch up with people, and speak into people’s lives.  The result is that they have been transformed.  And all of it has happened without anyone participating in a formal church program.

Relationships of love, truth and commitment are what changes people.  There is no doubt that church programs can help, and that plenty of good things result from them.  But the bottom line is that they are overrated.  Certainly I have overrated them.  They are not the solution that we often think they are.

Fruit requires love.  When there is no love there is no fruit, regardless of how smooth the program is.  Love is what a church needs, not more resources for slick programs.

Programs are of course a neutral thing – they are not a problem that needs to be removed from church life.  It just has to be understood that for them to have any positive impact at all there has to be love oozing from those running them.  Love is what is paramount.


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