In a previous post, we discussed the subtle appeal of church as corporation, especially given the uniquely American value system driven by capitalism and an obsession with growth, progress, and accomplishment. You don't have to dig deep to understand the cultural sanction of approval we automatically give to individuals and entities that grow at a rapid rate. In fact - in our capitalistic society we naturally assume that growth is the best indication of success that there is, an indication that is a reflection of the fundamental integrity and competence of the members and leaders of an organization. It is no surprise then that church leadership at Dwell Community Church necessarily views the growth of the group as evidence of divine approval, as well as a corresponding indicator of the spiritual success of its members and leaders. Not only is this automatic assumption incredibly dangerous, but it is more a reflection of a worldly value system than a biblical value system.
In the twenty-first century we worship exponential growth, whether through compounding interest in a savings account, technological progress, or individual effort and talent. We marvel at Olympic gymnastics or the latest musical virtuoso. We idolize individuals like Steve Jobs, with the ability to turn tinkering in a California garage into a revolution in computing in a matter of decades. We reward the CEO for growth of a company, praise the employees, and purchase the stock. We laud the story of J.K. Rowling who scribbled bits of stories on diner napkins, giving birth to the most successful book series in history. Malala Yousafzai becomes the world's youngest Nobel laureate for her courage manifested in relentless forward progress despite persecution from every angle. In each of these instances, growth is evidence that something good or special or unique has occurred; growth is synonymous with success. Contraction, recession, going nowhere - these words spell condemnation and death in our culture.
Should we be surprised then that the core tenet in Dwell Community Church is found in its moral view towards growth through evangelism? The ideology of members and church leadership can be stated succinctly: evangelism is a divine moral mandate and growth of the church is evidence of divine success more than any other metric. This is also why Xenos-Dwell despises and fears the spiritually stagnant or regressive. The system demands new growth through additional members or increasingly submissive growth of existing members as individuals climb the spiritual ladder set up by the church. You cannot go backward at Xenos-Dwell, only forward into increasingly more demanding submission. Each rung on the spiritual ladder has its own requirements, and you cannot go back down to a previous rung or remain on the current rung too long without attempts at growth. If you fail to make progress, you will be rebuked, shamed, and eventually asked to leave. It is no wonder that the most senior and "spiritually mature" members of the church are also paid church employees. The extraordinary level of commitment required at the highest rungs of the ladder leaves little alternative.
Under this ideological framework, accusations of abuse brought by former members are easily excused within Xenos-Dwell and blame is placed on the victims. Those who have failed, questioned, or rejected this obsessive and relentless model of growth are accused of being spiritually weak, wayward, or lacking in the necessary commitment to God, whereas those who remain within the church are bolstered by their own spiritual success. The failure of others is proof of the commitment of the remnant - certainly not unlike career success in climbing the corporate ladder. The key difference - and indeed danger - in treating church as corporation in this manner, is the potential for deep psychological harm in an arena typically reserved for spiritual empowerment. When a church becomes as demanding and cutthroat as a law firm, the consequences to the majority of the congregation seem fairly obvious. Though the system may reward the spiritually elite at the very top, the dangers to the regular member are immense - and indeed, well documented in the allegations of emotional and spiritual abuse against Xenos-Dwell over the years. You need look no further than Willow Creek or the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church to see that strength in numbers does not equate to moral rightness or divine sanction.
Forget wandering in the desert of Sinai for 40 years, Xenos-Dwell co-founders Gary Delashmutt and Dennis McCallum, would have marched their adherents on a straight line over mountains and through rivers, readily sacrificing the weak along the way, if only to arrive in Canaan via the most direct route possible. No looping back, no debating with God or his appointed leaders, no room for failure or questioning. This mentality is obviously a product of our modern society rather than one biblically derived. The Bible describes God as the shepherd who will leave the flock to go in search of the individual lost sheep - but the lost sheep of Xenos-Dwell number in the hundreds, or perhaps even the thousands. And these sheep are not just lost, they are injured - not by the prowling wolf - but by the shepherd himself, beaten as they wander away from the flock. If we are to believe that Xenos-Dwell comprises some 6,000 followers today, what does that make our ratio of lost sheep to the current flock? 1,000 lost sheep to 6,000 remaining? 1:6 as compared to 1:99 in the parable of Christ. This is what the modern corporate world would recognize as a key performance indicator demonstrating an immense failure of the organization.
Xenos-Dwell has made an entirely secular blunder to fall in love with the prevailing cultural wisdom that growth and progress are the most critical values to honor - and that growth is the key indicator of divine success. Rather than view the statistics as an indication of the enormous number of sheep they have lost from the flock (or slaughtered themselves), they choose to view it as confirmation of their unique and superior spirituality. Indeed - because they are able to maintain significant current membership, church leadership feels confident that they have answered God's call and enjoy divine congratulations. One might ask instead what rate of turnover is required within the church to keep its reported congregation size in the thousands. Is the mark of a good shepherd in maintenance of his flock or in his ready ability to purchase new sheep at the town marketplace?