Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is Radical Together the catalyst for change in the institutional church?

Many Christians, myself included, have come to the realization that something is, for lack of a better word, drastically wrong in the institutional church. We come to this realization by different paths but generally speaking what unites us is comparing the traditional church with the church as described and commanded in Scripture and recognizing that there is a huge gap. That gap has been around in various forms for over 1500 years and we just don’t seem able or willing to bridge it. In a lot of corners of the church, it is forbidden to even speak of it. The institutional emperor has no clothes but woe unto the Christian who points it out.

Typically the response of those who come to this point of view manifests itself in a gradual disentangling from the institutional church. Often there is an attempt to see change happen within the structure of the institutional church, an attempt that is both frustrating for the person trying to get a message across and viewed as divisive and threatening by those who are committed to the institutional model. In frustration the questioner leaves the institutional church behind and sets out to find organic/simple/home church somewhere else with varying degrees of success. The only interaction many of us have with the traditional church and the vast majority of Christians who are in it are equal parts “beating head against the wall” with our friends and lengthy and impassioned critiques detailing why the institutional church is wrong. While some people are convicted and “join the cause”, many more see us as malcontents that just need to either go away or shut up and sit down in their pew.

As I continue to think about David Platt’s book Radical Together, I wonder if his is the better method when compared to voting with our feet? He seems to “get” a lot of the issues in the church: our overreliance on clergy, our love of self-sustaining programs, our tendency to confuse The Church with “the place I go on Sunday”, our love of money and our relative lack of concern for the lost except as lip-service. This recognition leads to a ministry model that looks in some ways like most traditional churches but operates in a, well, radical way.

Is Platt’s approach a way to enact real, substantive change through the backdoor rather than impacting the church by walking out of the front door?

Ultimately I don’t think that it is the answer for many of us. Just speaking for myself and my family, we have a hard time sitting through a traditional “worship service”. To be blunt, the rigidity, the rows of people sitting mutely while someone else prays or speaks, the whole performance mentality of it all makes the institutional church untenable and change like the ones David Platt is championing must come from the leaders of a given local church. This is problematic because again asking questions and seeking change from a regular layperson is going to be labeled divisive, anti-authoritarian and dangerous.

However, for those who are unwilling to completely abandon the institutional church, David’s “Radical Together” approach has a great deal of merit. It moves the focus away from the church building, church programs, church meetings and church leaders and onto the Body of Christ. Evangelism doesn’t mean inviting someone to church to hear a sermon, it means sharing your faith. Ministry opportunities are not based on the churches schedule of events, they are everywhere and all around you. You can serve others without getting permission from the pastor. It all depends, as everything really does in the institutional church, on the leaders buying into the idea and passing that on. Sadly, a lot of people in a given church are not going to like this. At all. I have no doubt that people have abandoned Brook Hills where David Platt pastors because they don’t like someone shaking up church as they know it. Many clergy leaders are going to see this as a threat to the churches finances and by proxy their own finances. Giving up control is seen as a sure path to heresy and confusion. So following the Radical Together model is not going to work in many (most?) local churches. It is perhaps going to lead to some institutional churches that actually leverage the benefits of large groups of people and full-time leaders to multiply their Kingdom impact way beyond what you normally find in a traditional church.

While I am all for making new disciples and seeing those disciples gather as the church in a simple, “organic” fashion I am not at all interested in knocking the dust off my sandals at the door of the traditional church and abandoning the vast majority of my brothers and sisters. Nor am I interested in gritting my teeth and sitting in a traditional church service. Books like Radical Together and Jim Belcher’s Deep Church are forays into the bastion of institutionalism that might start to bridge the gap between these camps, camps that are increasingly defining the church between “traditional” and “non-traditional” settings at the same time the traditional church is dividing into "For Rob Bell" and "Against Rob Bell" factions. Radical Together is hampered, necessarily, by operating within an institutional framework but it may present the best hope for the vast majority of Christians in that setting to get involved in the work of ministry directly and that can only be beneficial to the mission of the church.

I truly believe that as people are empowered and encouraged to not only minister outside of the walls of the church building but also to study the Word, they will naturally come to the conclusion many of us have reached regarding the church. But even if they don’t, I would much rather see Christians in institutional churches being equipped and empowered to do the work of ministry than I would sullenly keep pointing out the flaws of institutionalism. I think that men like David Platt and Jim Belcher can be a catalyst for that change. It isn’t as much of a change as I would like to see but all real reformations have to start somewhere.


Alan Knox said...


More than any reviews or quotes or praises, this post has made me want to read Radical Together.


Arthur Sido said...

You should, but you should read the first book...first. I can send them to you, you can read them in a day if you push it.

Tim A said...

The list of books is endless, written by Pastors, who see some tragic realities in the institutional form. They want to fix them but not really change any key elements of the form, such as that they take their pay check out of the offering plate, and perhaps a string of other men so he can just "teach" or "vision". They use new lingo to call the same old bad habit by a new name. They use inspirational talk to bolster new fervor without changing any root habits. They have neglected Christ's axiom of where our hearts will be. Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. If 75 - 85% of the giving buys goodies primarily for the givers at one location, then that is where their heart will be - ministry on campus. Merely using different words doesn't accomplish different results if the system is the same.

It doesn't seem like speaking the truth to those in institutionalized faith needs to be done sullenly. It can be done with love.

chad said...

Just now working through some of your older posts. I agree that change of the sort that Platt made at Brook Hills has to come from the top down. In my own church, I've tried to get folks to adopt more of a "family integrated" model...see Voddie Baucham, and it hasn't gotten any traction, mainly because the official leadership hasn't gotten that excited about it and pays no attention to it.

The institutional model is an asset in a case like Brook Hills where you have a pastor willing to lead his flock down a tough road, and he has the platform to get that message across to 10,000 people on one Sunday morning. Yes, as you often state, these people are conditioned to sit quietly and listen while David talks, but in the case where a leader like this is speaking truth, maybe that's not such a bad thing. As much as we may hate the thought of it, his stature and his position lends him a sort of gravitas that any old brother in the fellowship probably would not enjoy.

Contrast that to him giving an impassioned speech to the handful of people in his living room...The scale presents an opportunity.

Of course, Jesus had just 12 guys, so maybe disregard that point.

Arthur Sido said...


Platt is a case where I think there is a better way but given the reality in the church, I think that the way God is using him makes sense in our context. I think that the path they are headed down as a group looks a lot more organic and a lot less institutional but that is going to take time. Wagging my finger at Platt for not going far enough is not going to make a lick of difference and I do appreciate the way he is making changes. I also notice that a lot of church leaders are pretty threatened by this and are starting to lash out at him.