few weeks ago, I made a post about the failure of the Willow Creek strategy, in which I pointed out some of the ironies surrounding this videotaped admission from Bill Hybels.
Consider, for example, that various critics of the Willow-Creek model have been saying these things for two decades:
- Polling people to find out what they want and then giving it to them is an unbiblical approach to church growth (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
- The so-called seeker-sensitive strategy actually stints discipleship.
- It engenders worldliness and false conversions.
- In fact, it's filling the church with people who think they are Christians but have no basis for that confidence because they have little or no true understanding of basic gospel truthand no appetite for studying God's Word on their own.
That's the main irony I'm talking about.
Here's another one: Willow Creek's reflexive response was to do some more research by polling, and let that determine how they would respond to the collective failure of their many programs. The result is a slick new website, book, and yet another multi-phased program, which Willow Creek is now exporting to the same churches that followed the originalnow failedstrategy. And, of course, it all starts with a shiny set of new tools to make it easy for those churches to conduct their own opinion polls.
Anyway, I recommend you listen to Todd Friel's first-hour broadcast on Way of the Master Radio from 1 November. He did a much more thorough job than I did analyzing the Hybels's mea culpa video, and Todd had some excellent exhortations for all of us, as always.
Now (in matters only tangentially related to that) last week, right here at PyroManiacs, Mark "Marko" Oestreicher, president of Youth Specialties, paid a visit to our meta to lodge a (very polite and fairly mild) complaint about my insinuation that his company had a major role in derailing youth ministry, starting some three decades ago or so. Many of you will recall that my chief complaint was about the fun 'n' games approach to youth "ministry," where activities just-for-fun replace biblical teaching as The Main Thing. I referred to this as "the 'Youth Specialties' approach to student ministry."
You can read that comment-thread to see my reply to Marko. Just do a search on that page for his name.
But I've been looking for the apology Marko referred to. He might have been speaking of a famous article written by the late Mike Yaconelli: "The Failure of Youth Ministry" (which was later toned down with this apology). I don't think he was speaking of the infamous skit fiasco from earlier this year, in which both Marko and the Skit Guys admitted that one particular bit of fun 'n' games went too far.
Then I found this page of articles about youth ministry, mostly rants by Yaconelli. He had a few good things to say and a lot of really bad ideas. His discomfort with the direction of modern student ministry was evident in several articles. But I couldn't find the place where he specifically acknowledged and repented of the enormous role he and YS had played in bringing the problem about in the first place.
In fact, here's what disturbs me most about both Willow Creek's recent admission and Marko's tacit acknowledgement that YS did indeed have something to repent of: In neither case do we see any of the fruits of real repentance.
Instead of reemphasizing the centrality of Scripture in what we teach our young people, Youth Specialties took a hard turn toward the leftward extreme of the Emergent spectrum. They now publish Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, Spencer Burke, and several other similarly unorthodox authors you probably haven't even heard of yet. And that has been in addition to (not instead of) the fun 'n' games manuals they originally built the company on. Oh, and don't forget their brand-new study guide and "devotional" based on the hit movie, Evan Almighty.
All Willow Creek's rhetoric about their so-called "Wake-up Call" likewise seems only to signal a deliberate, headlong Shift in a self-consciously postmodern direction. It is clearly not going to mean a turn toward a more biblical philosophy of ministry.
I do think Bill Hybels's admission that his strategy has failed needs to be taken at face value. I believe it signals the beginning of the end for the seeker-sensitive approach that has dominated the evangelical movement for more than twenty years. But I'm also convinced that what's coming next will be even worse.
In fact, if you miss nothing else in all the current popular re-imaginings of various ministry styles, please don't fail to notice the absence of any stress on biblical principles of ministry. Coming in the midst of all these confessions of seeker-sensitivity's heedless, reckless failure, that dark silence is noteworthy. It belies the pretense of candor in all these mea culpas. I think it is a harbinger of some truly evil things on the horizon.