I had the opportunity a few months ago to attend the Catalyst one-day conference here in Denver with Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel. A lot of good things were said, especially Andy Stanley’s ruminations on autonomy and why it’s a bad idea. I can think of a couple whole movements of pastors and activists who need to hear that talk, and will refuse to listen to it. There were also some deeply stupid things said — CEO-think getting the better of following Jesus. I don’t intend to write a review of the whole thing, but here are some thoughts I wrote down just after the event.
By any biblically recognizable definition, these guys are not pastors. The organizations they lead are not churches — again, by any biblically recognizable standard. In some circles, that would be the whole critique. There was a time when that would have been my whole critique.
But these guys and their organizations are doing significant work for the Kingdom of God. They’re not pastors and not churches, but they’re not nothing either–so what are they? They are parachurch organizations that provide a variety of religious goods and services. For the purposes of the Internal Revenue Code, they happen to be organized as an entity called “church,” but let’s face it, the IRS doesn’t have the best possible grasp on spiritual reality.
Church happens within these organizations — in small groups, student ministries, other smaller cadres where there is real accountability, shared mission, and life together. And it doesn’t just happen by accident — quite often, those things are what they’re aiming for.
The organization itself, however, is not a church. It is a monastic order. Craig Groeschel is not a pastor, he’s the next Ignatius of Loyola, leading a militant, dedicated cadre of broadly Protestant monks and nuns in a rigorous program of spiritual discipline and leadership development to serve the Church and the world. It is impressive, admirable work.
There is an argument to be made, perhaps, that doing the work of a monastic order under the guise of being a local church muddies the water and causes trouble. I’ll let someone else make that argument if they can. For me, the issue is simpler than that: this is good work that ought to be done, and someone is doing it. The Lord of the Harvest has heard our prayer and sent laborers into His harvest, and we should thank Him and ask for more.