Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Groeschelian 'It'

There was that whole Willow Creek Leadership Summit thing a while back. I offered some opinions on the event here. And here. Now there's this.

Emphasizing the teachings he provided at the Summit, Craig Groeschel is placarding the nation with his theory of 'It'. That is, some non-descript, essential quality that leaders should posses if they want to forge ahead in their efforts to wow their congregations into a more fulfilling church life, and life under God. And why? Because after Groeschel's paucious two-car garage gatherings exploded into an online 'community' of believers,, it was a logical next step to write a book encapsulating just how that happened.

“After seeing his church grow from a two-car garage worship experience to services at 13 different campuses across six states in the US, a TV ministry, and international book sales, Groeschel talks about a transformational agent he calls 'It' in his new book It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It.

"We didn't have a nice building. We didn't have our own office. We didn't have a church phone number ... What did we have? We had a few people ... We had enough Bibles to go around. And we had 'It'," Groeschel writes in the first chapter of his book, on the humble beginnings of his church 12 years ago.”

But when asked the very insightful question, “what is 'It'?” Groeschel responded,

"'The answer is 'don't know', Groeschel said as he addressed thousands of leaders at Willow Creek Community Church. 'Honestly, I'm not totally sure.'

“'It' has a lot to do with the Holy Spirit, Groeschel believes, but that is not everything.”

Oh. Well, that's helpful. I mean, thanks for your honesty and all, but is it entirely honest of you to write a book about a topic, or reality you admit you 'don't know', and that you cannot define? Are you relying, Mr. Groeschel, on the gullibility of Christians to just follow you about as you try and figure out what you're trying to say and teach? Did you think about how your not knowing this thing you're talking about is paying your bills and taking money out of other peoples' pockets? And might it have been a waste of peoples' time to listen to your section of the Leadership Summit? I mean, you don't really know what you're talking about, afterall. Is that honest?

No doubt the anecdotal references in Groeschel's book will reninforce his speculations that 'It' must have something to do with God. That said,

"What he does know is that organisations that do have 'It' possess seven qualities. They include a 'laser focus', the ability to see opportunity where others see obstacles, having a willingness to fail, being led by people who have 'It', and having unmistakable camaraderie."

Let's see here... First, Groeschel doesn't know what 'It' is (honestly, of course) but that 'It' has a lot to do with the Holy Spirit. Second, even though Groeschel is a self-admitted 'It' agnostic, he's managed to delineate seven qualities that 'It' possesses. For example, when 'It' is present people seem to have good concentrative abilities, optimism, realistic self-appraisals, and leaders in their midst full of the enigmatic 'It'. Oh, yeah! And the people themselves get on well with each other.

Well, that's nice and all, but doesn't it sound a little like Groeschel is stirring the ingredients for common decency into a nice batch of Churchiness? What has Groeschel identified that church-goers haven't experienced in various times and places over the past 2000+ years? Or how 'bout any group of people that have ever purposed to get along well, and not bash each other with, say, garden shovels? Given Groeschel's admission, he probably doesn't know. But he's written a book about it. And he's spoken to 50,000+ people about it commissioning leaders to get 'It' and make sure they keep 'It'.

So we should listen to Groeschel tell us about this thing he doesn't know, and then do what he says so we can have 'It'. 'Cause if we don't, we're not good enough leaders. Which is why we need to dedicate a portion of a multi-million dollar Summit to have Groeschel tell us how we can ply God's favour a little more, get those leadership 'skills' all good and sharpened up, and take part in the ethereal 'It'. We'll be better leaders if we do what Groeschel does to get and keep 'It', so let's put the plan in place and go for 'It'! But wait!

"Moreover, 'It' is not a system or model, nor is 'It' something that can be created, copied or manufactured, he says. God makes 'It' happen.

And when churches have 'It', they see transformed lives but at the same time, those churches with 'It' attract critics, many of whom misunderstand what they are all about."

Now I'm confused. So, Groeschel doesn't know what 'It' is, but he can delineate 'It', write a book about 'It', speak at major public venues about 'It', and all for the hope that people will get 'It' and keep 'It'. Even though – and this is the clincher – 'It' cannot “be created, copied or manufactured”. So why write a how-to manual about 'It' then?

In any case, if there's no way for me to make 'It' come into being, and I have to wait on God to make 'It' happen, then until He does, I must be a poor leader, a sub-standard Christian, less fulfilled due to my It-lessness. But then again, I may just have 'It' because 'It' has something to do with the Holy Spirit.

Whatever the situation, I'm one of those critics Groeschel has mentioned misunderstands what 'It' churches are all about. But that's as it should be since even Groeschel, the It man himself, doesn't understand what 'It' is all about, much less the people who have 'It'. He does know though, that even in uniform settings 'It' remains elusive, and unmanageable. Says Groeschel,

"'All of our campuses were under the same leadership. The buildings were similar. The worship pastors were unique but had consistent styles. The kids’ curriculum never varied from campus to campus. All were experiencing exactly the same weekend teaching. But some campuses had it. And some didn’t,' writes Groeschel, although 'It' is still a growing idea, he adds.”

Sound a little creepy to you? A little cultish? A little like a compound: singular leadership, similar buildings, unvarrying curriculums, etc? It's creepy to me. In any case, there were those who had 'It' and those that didn't. The haves and the have-nots. Too bad. Maybe they should've been chasing after God, and not 'It'. Might've saved them some time and integrity. Might have resulted in people not placing their faith in the off-chance of experiencing the Groeschelian 'It' and, instead, situating their faith in Christ alone. I suppose that's as it should be. I mean, really: the Catholics have Mary, so naturally, the hyper-evangelicals should have 'It'. But somehow, even if you disagree with Catholics, Mary does seem a little more sensible than a vague 'It'.

As it is, masses of people, under the 'leadership' of Groeschel, have thrown their lot in with a “growing idea” concerning something no-one really understands, or can adequately define. Doesn't sound that promising to me. But it's just the sort of thing these neo-evangelicals, and their so-called 'innovative leaders' are wont to do: pitch an idea at a crowd and hope for a grand-$lam as their return. The emphasis isn't so much on the rightness or wrongness of what's being taught but on what works. Thus Groeschel can't figure out what he's talking about but can sell-out to an all-too-eager crowd. Now enter the repetition of the pre-Reformation emphasis on works-righteousness. And hence the overlap from secular morality: if it works and no-one's being hurt then what's the problem? Indeed, if what you lead people to is some malformed meme, and not Christ, if it works and no-one is overtly hurt in the process, then what exactly is the problem? Well, the answer's in the question: 'It' is a malformed meme, and not Christ.

And that's probably why Groeschel, while he may be a well-meaning (well-meme-ing?) guy, can displace the central message of Scripture for the Gospel According to 'It', and pray that whatever it takes, God will sprinkle your life with a touch of insomnia until you get 'It' and keep 'It'.

"Some of you, it’s time to let God break your heart again," Groeschel told leaders. "I pray you don’t sleep until you get 'It' and fall in love with Jesus again."
Scripture has a lot to say about messages like 'It', and their resultant emotional fuzzies. Most emphatically:
"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions... (2 Timothy 4:3, ESV)"
Enough said.


suneal said...

Hey Chris, I'll share a secret with you. Groeschelian has finally figured out and revealed to the world the great secret of that grandiose world power which dominated world history from the 16th-20th centuries, the British Empire. "By jove, I've got IT!"

Looks like they had IT too. So if you're feeling blue, you know it's true, you just might get IT too.

Gregory said...

"Pre-Reformation emphasis on works-righteousness"? Documentation? You should know better than to think I'd let you get away with that.

As for Groeschel's neo-gnostic New Age "It", I just don't get it...Is it a Secret, like Oprah was hawking recently?

Christopher said...


Of course you don't get it. You're not a Groeschelite. But you do have Mary going for you, so you're okay! ;)

Don't hurt me.

Gregory said...

At least Mary's defineable, if not any more predictable!

suneal said...

And Jesus can be quite unpredictable, hence the reason Psalm 2:11 says, "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him."

More definable...humm, not last time I remembered;)

Craig said...

So, correct me if I've taken too large of a jump anywhere here.

What we are saying is that God has chosen some churches to turn into massive conglomerates while other churches suffer in their puniness, but we don't want to come out and say that because it would offend people. God has chosen to deliver this blessing through his chosen means, which we really only want to vaguely allude to because a clear explanation of "it" would also risk the chance of either offending someone of creating a position which we may later have to defend of find to be inaccurate. But it's happening folks, and you better be ready. Get with "it".

Is that right?

Gregory said...

Craig, sounds about right--except, perhaps, with more pretention in "it".

Suneal, LOL, don't worry, I'm getting to it...uh, her... ;)

suneal said...

I'm glad its all working out for ya!

Craig, I'm already offended, can't you turn it down a bit?

Christopher said...

Come on, guys. Give it up... uhh, give that thing up? Whatever.

The lyrics of Faith No More come to mind:

So, it, what is it?
It is it.

And that's that. Or it. Or something.