I’ve been able to spend some time with Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian on a few occasions and several years back we had him speak at Community Christian Church. He was Bill Hybels mentor and was an influential leader in the founding of Willow Creek Community Church. I always find Dr. B interesting and I recommend two of his books, Community 101 and Beyond Sex Roles. Thanks to Todd Rhoades I found a an interview with Bilezikian while he was speaking in New Zealand. He says some interesting stuff about the future of the church, Willow Creek and his favorite topic – the church as the eternal community of God. Take a read and tell me what you think.
Bilezikian says, “Christ did not die just to save us from our sins, but to bring us together into community. After coming to Christ, our next step is to be involved in community. A church that does not experience community is a parody, a sham. But the church in the West is being overtaken by individualism, which entails increased material pursuits, so you can afford to be self-sufficient. Strong anti-community forces are at work. Family life is practically non-existent as we are pulled away in different directions.”
Mr. Bilezikian fears the church has become irrelevant to both the purposes of God and to the needs of the world. “The bane of the church is that it becomes worldly. Instead of imparting the Word and becoming an agent of change, it adopts the values of the world and integrates them into its structures and life. “The biggest problem is the definition of its leadership structures. There are very clear directives in the New Testament for how the church is to be constituted, on the basis of community, which implies congregational participation, consensual decision-making, accountability of leaders to the congregation. Leadership should not be directive but developmental.”
However, Mr. Bilezikian says the church has discarded these directives and replaced them with worldly models of leadership, such as those found in corporate business. So we find the pastor as CEO. “We even adopt the language, for example, calling them senior pastors. Where does that come from?” He says today’s highly hierarchical models of leadership smack of Government, military or political administrations and they result in the Church becoming institutionalized. “Instead of being a movement, it becomes an establishment. This is not new, of course – it started when the Roman Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the state religion.”
Mr. Bilezikian chooses his words carefully, but he is not without criticism of Willow Creek itself. “Willow Creek was on target originally,” he says, “but there’s always the temptation to seek success, as defined by the world, meaning preoccupation with numbers, with business, with facilities, and as a result there is always a danger for a church to become bureaucratic and hierarchical.” He says this temptation is the same, though, for a small church as for a large church. “The church becomes dominated by little bosses and instead of developing leadership they hog it for themselves and run the congregation like tyrants.”
While Mr. Bilezikian raises the warning flags, he is not without hope. He points to a community movement which, he says, appeared at the end of the 20th century and has taken hold. These are churches in which lay people and clergy are raising basic questions about the identity of the Church, and about the definition of its workings. “It seems the Holy Spirit is operating a kind of quiet revival which is primarily aimed at recovering the dynamics of the Church of the Book of Acts, which results in renewed incentives for outreach in a pagan world.” Mr. Bilezikian has come in for strong criticism for his promotion of women in ministry. “There are some people who hate me for this,” he says. But he makes no apology for his stand.
“I don’t think there can be genuine community where there’s differentiation of rank, or class, or ethnicity and gender. This is not a case of bringing in any feminist agenda, but a case of concern for community. In fact, the feminist agenda is the opposite of what I am saying – it is a struggle for equal rights and equal power. I am convinced from scripture that relationships have nothing to do with rights and power. They have to do with mutual submission and reciprocal servanthood at all levels of church life, and every role in the church,” Mr. Bilezikian says.