Ambles through Willow Creek’s Reveal Part 3-Where Are You?


Okay, so now we’re getting into the questions …

The authors – like so many of us in church-related work anytime in the past few decades – had become accustomed to questions of “How many _____?” as the sole measurement of “success.” They state,

That question is a good start, but it measures only what we see. When it comes to spiritual growth, we need to be able to measure the unseen. We need a glimpse of people’s attitudes, thoughts and feelings. We need words that reveal the heart of each person. We want to know what moves them at the deepest levels” (Reveal: Where are You?, page 7).

I agree with that notion – quantitative does not cover everything that’s critical in Kingdom life; we need to examine the qualitative … oozey-squishy though it may be. I sense it’s important to assess the heart in order to become Christlike. How many Scripture passages command us to do just that, or commend us for so doing? In fact, as I think of it, much of my research and development work over the past 15 years relates to unseen issues of the heart, as demonstrated in overt cultural activities and personal lifestyles.

Anyway, here are notes I wrote in the margin after reading their quote on questions:

Growth implies a transformed paradigm, in all five parts [information processing mode, critical values, guiding theological principles, operational systems, and lifestyles/practices]. Many of these are invisible, but some are on the surface, and become visible to all. However, just because something is on the surface doesn’t guarantee good fruit under the peel.

Good fruit … hmmm … as I typed that, I was reminded of an essay I wrote in 2003, on “Qualitative Measurements of Organic Apostolic Paradigms.” Whoa! That’s a mouthful! (I suppose in today’s terminology, I’d retitle “organic apostolic” as “missional” or “mission-shaped.”) The point of the article was that if traditional methodologies are apples, and emerging culture methodologies are oranges, either we have to ask “orangey questions” of oranges (because appley questions won’t work), or we have to figure our “fruit questions” that apply to both.

Basically, the situation was that friends of mine were trying to help their supervisor understand that the organization was trying to manage ministries to non-traditional people in emerging cultures with traditional concepts of success – in other words, through quantities of activities instead of qualitative changes in perspective on following Jesus.

  • How many conversations?
  • How many conversions?
  • How many baptisms?
  • How many dollars?
  • How many,
  • howmany,
  • hmny …
  • hm

We just cannot condense God’s work down to a bunch of numbers, especially not in post-Christendom cultures where there may be an intrigue or enamorment with Jesus on the part of people, but a distinct disdain for Christians and churches. If we’re truly in this for the long haul, we can’t afford to make the wrong call on how we define and evaluate “success.” Many emerging cultures don’t appreciate the old quantitative emphasis. To them, it reduces humanity to mechanical, and substitutes shallow activities for authentic relationships.

Okay, so I see I just went on a rant …

… back to the text.

Where are you? That is their new question. In fact, the authors say that “It’s the central question between God and us.” Hmm … the word “the,” as in “THE central question” makes me queasy. That’s usually my LitmusMan barometer indicator of something amiss – at least, not acceptable in my paradigm – and in this case, it’s probably about a highly either/or processing mode. If that’s so, it means I’ll find that all kinds of things will be segmented, reduced, atomized – those are inherent challenge points in the analytic processing mode. Will need to watch for further indicators …

Meanwhile, certainly, yes, “where are you?” is at the very least “A central question” between God and us. In fact, it’s the first question ever posed by God in the Bible. According to Genesis 3:9, that’s what God asked when He sought out Adam and Eve after they’d eaten the forbidden fruit and tried to hide. (The very first question comes from the serpent, attempting to implant doubts about God’s goodness by asking, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” NIV, Genesis 3:1.)

And yes, “where are you?” is a crucial question in transformation, both for individuals and groups. As I’ve suggested before, designing and following a dynamic trajectory of transformation requires answers to three questions to determine: a starting point (where are you?), plus a destination point (where are you going?), in order to develop a flight path in between (how will you get there?). We need all three of these questions in order to add the static snapshot of “where we are” to the prior snapshot series of “where we’ve been” in order to get the equivalent of a “flip book” or video that charts our past path on the way to where we’re going.

Well, that seems to be all the musings in me at the moment. But I wonder if some readers might be interested in taking a look at the article I mentioned. Perhaps I should pull that out of the archives …