Monday, March 08, 2004

A Letter to Rich Melheim

A Letter to Rich Melheim

The following is a letter to Rich in response to his question, "What about the Fifth Church model inspires you in your ministry?" For those interested in such things, visit his web site!

Dear Rich,

I could begin an answer to this question at a # of different points, but I'll start with high school youth ministry. I appreciated the outline of high school ministry you're trying experimentally with a church in Colorado. Currently our high school youth program has continued the program model- Sunday night "events", usually social in nature. Bowling, etc. Nothing wrong with getting together socially, but this functions as the "center " of the high school ministry rather than something extra. We've been in conversation with the local Roman Catholic church about doing joint vespers services, and our high schoolers already respond more wholeheartedly to service and worship opportunities in any event.

We are also introducing this coming fall an adult mentor program for those transitioning from 8th grade confirmation to 9th grade ministry as high schoolers.

The high school thing taps into my interests at another level, because I don't want to implement a staff-centered and driven high school youth program. I want to see it centered in the family, in devotional life, and hopefully in small groups of high schoolers supporting each other in the faith. The old "lone-ranger" model seems too tiring.

From another angle, I believe our church is burned out on the programmatic stuff, bu they're equally fearful of a transition that doesn't look like another big (read: successful) program. So simply using the fifth church materials as a teaching tool is itself helpful. I've done a good deal of reading in ecclesiology, as well as some of the stuff in the Emergent church on more organic forms of small group ministry; I've been reading on cell groups, the catechumenate program, etc., and rather than introducing one of these programs (cell group, catechumenate, small groups, etc. all of which contain excellent ideas) as the solution to our supposed malaise, I believe simply helping us all think about the multiple levels at which the church exists would itself be restful and renewing. Then we pray, give thanks for the breadth of the church that God has given us (we cannot have God as our Father if we do not have the church as our Mother- Cyprian), and listen for the vision given to us.

Finally, beginning with the first church reminds us all that renewal begins at home (renewal actually begins when the Spirit brings life to this cruciform body of Christ that we call the church), but in terms of the life of the church, the fifth church models encourages people to look for change at home at the same time that they expect change (but seldom volunteer to help out) in the fifth church.

Guess that's a mix of cynicism and optimism, but it's where I'm at. I especially want to continue my reflections on your model of the seven churches as a method for development of an ecclesiology. When I think about it in that way, I can think of one way to challenge you on your current model. It goes something like this:

You've got all the aspects of congregationalism and low church piety influencing your model- small groups, cell groups, home devotions, etc. And at the top level you've got some good Lutheran vocational stuff (sixth church) as well as the church in the eschatological sense (seventh church). But what about a church of churches, the church that exists in many places. We need to call ourselves and our people to think not only in terms of the church lived out in their daily lives, but also the church that gathers in many ways and places throughout the world. So your model needs to include a more adequate ecclesiology, including the ministry, the relation between churches, bishops, denominations, etc., and how this relates to the laity.

Hope it's not too presumptuous to suggest these things.

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