By Mark A. Taylor
It happened again, this time on the campus of Lincoln Christian University on a cold Friday night a couple of weeks ago. Mark Mittelberg, a best-selling author, widely traveled speaker, and well-known Christian apologist, was speaking to leaders about LCU’s initiative “Room for Doubt.” But before he talked about the materials he’s helping to develop for this ministry, he paused to speak about the movement of churches that will promote and use them.
Mittelberg is something of a celebrity in general Evangelical churches; his résumé includes stints on staff at Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago and Mariners Church in California; his books include collaborations with Bill Hybels and Lee Strobel. His experience has not been as a member of our fellowship of nondenominational Christian churches and churches of Christ. So it’s interesting and valuable to hear the assessment of this “outsider,” a verdict far more positive than some of us would render on ourselves.
Mittelberg said he’s “amazed at what’s happening in the Christian Church movement.” It’s “something special,” he said. “Somebody should do a doctoral dissertation,” he said, to figure out how and why Christian churches are growing, serving, and reaching as they are.
I say “again,” because Mittelberg’s comments echo statements Strobel made at the North American Christian Convention last summer. “This movement of churches is nothing short of miraculous,” he said when I interviewed him there. “God is doing amazing things,” he added. “What’s really cool to me is that the leaders of these larger churches are all friends.” He spoke of their concern for evangelism and their willingness to share ideas with each other.
These two fellows have analyzed our movement in pragmatic terms: what we’re doing is working, a fact we highlight here at CHRISTIAN STANDARD as often as we can. But it’s also important and valuable to pause and propose the “why” behind the vitality among us.
Here’s my take: our commitment to nondenominational independence has left us free of the bureaucracy and hierarchy that eats up resources and stymies innovation. But the wisest among us have understood that independence without fraternal ties puts one in a lonely, dangerous place. Instead, we’ve chosen the encouraging cross-fertilization that comes from voluntary association and the strength that comes from mutual support.
And with Mark Mittelberg, we can agree that what we have in the Christian churches and churches of Christ is, indeed something special.