Thursday, June 16, 2011

*what follows is the final entry of the discussion here at the Diner on my reading "The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church," by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch. Feel free to check out the previous 5 entries--June 7 through June 11--before you dive in to this one. It'll give you some context.

I've said before that I don't buy the myth that "people don't like change." Usually, this phrase is used as an argument as to why a suggested idea should be put on the shelf. The reasoning behind folks saying that is well-intentioned...they just want to make sure that the people affected by suggested changes are thought through and treated with concern. Nothing wrong with that.

But I think people are okay with change...provided two things: First, that the reason for the suggested change is explained satisfactorily. Second, that the suggested change is shown to be somehow more beneficial than the status quo. So, yes, if the change isn't understood or seen as inferior, then sure, people won't like it.

For example: It gets super hot and stays super hot here in Texas. All summer. And this isn't like some places where it gets to 95 during the day but drops to 65 at night. No, it gets to 101 by about 2PM. It'll be 95 at 11PM. It won't get below 85 overnight. It goes like this for weeks...maybe even months.

Now, if you didn't have air-conditioning and were getting by with fans and damp towels on your neck and I tell you that for a one-time payment, and an increase to your monthly electric bill and some small upkeep costs (like filters, yearly maintenance, etc.), it can be 72 degrees in your home all summer.

That's a change.

And sure, you'd have some questions that I'd need to clearly communicate. Like whether or not that one-time payment could be financed to within your budget. Same for the monthly payment. Then you'd have to weigh whether or not the comfort was worth the cost. But as long as your concerns were addressed and feasible, you'd likely be on board with the...

...change. See? It isn't the change their against necessarily. Just practical concerns.

And, Frost and Hirsch are suggesting radical change in the Western Church in this book. They point to decline in denominations (even the vaunted Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing numeric decline) and some other data, but here's the first quote to deal with today:
As we keep saying, what the church needs is deep-seated restructuring in order to make a place for the genuinely missional types of leaders in our churches. There are of course exceptions, but by far the majority of seminaries that we know basically produce pastoral and teacher types of people who are sent to maintain established churches. This is not a time for more maintenance! In the West at least, maintenance is tantamount to decline, and we have effectively been in long-term decline since the Enlightenment...Giving space for those disturbers of the status quo will require massive permission-giving from all levels of established denominations, who currently give little indication that they are really willing to let that happen.

A quick question: Why are they unwilling to "let that happen" if they're in varying degrees of decline?

But I'm okay with change, generally speaking. Maybe it's because of how much change is generated in student ministries. I mean, every single year we get a new group...seniors leave and the new kids come in, and the entire dynamic is different. We have to spend a lot of time being flexible because of flat tires or lost reservations or even drug-cartel violence in your favorite city to do missions in.

And don't even get me started on my personality. I have always admired rabble-rousers (especially punk rock, even if it died due to it's inability to replace what it smashed--which was everything...and grunge. And the American Revolution is one of my favorite historical studies). In fact, my favorite stories of Jesus involve him turning over the tables in the Temple (twice, the first time is my favorite one because he makes a whip out of the curtains)...or the Sermon on the Mount--given the context, it was highly revolutionary, man.

The authors bring up two things that are necessary to get change going: "Encouraging Holy dissatisfaction" and "Embracing subversive questioning."
"One of the great weapons in the revolutionary leader's arsenal is to cultivate a holy dissatisfaction--to provoke a basic discontent with "what is" and so awaken a desire to move toward "what could be."...The real revolutionary, perhaps the only one, is the person who has nothing left to lose. Rub discontent raw and throw salt on it--our times are urgent; Christendom must be brought down and apostolic faith and practice established if we are to be true to our call as followers of the revolutionary Jesus in our day."

Quick questions: Why are these types of people unappreciated in churches? Shouldn't we value their presence? And, in your opinion, are the times truly "urgent" to this degree?

Oh, and anyone else like that difference between "what is" and "what could be?" That's pretty much where I live.

On to the subversive questions:
Another invaluable tool for the reconceptualizing of the ministry and mission of the church is the art of subversive questioning...they force the hearer to a self-awareness and a personal search for answers.

Some of their examples (based on their belief that Christendom's focuses are on buildings, Sundays and clergy) of "subversive questions" would be:

Is a church still a church if it doesn't function like a church anymore?
If we could start all over again, would we do it the same way?
What would our church be like if we:
a) No longer had a building?
b) No longer could meet on Sundays?
c) No longer had your pastor or ministry team?

Good stuff, right? At least you could see why I was drawn to much of this book, right? In fact, I'd encourage you to read it for yourself and have your hair blown back and your thoughts about church challenged...whether or not you agree.

I think I've given you guys enough to think have at it, patrons. And I'll be moving on to a book called The Tangible Kingdom pronto.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"If A Therapist Is Telling You To Pay LESS Attention To Your Kids' Feelings, You Know Something Has Gotten WAY Out Of Whack."

Great article in The Atlantic Monthly's July/August edition. From the blog title today, you know it's about parenting, and the article's title is "How To Land Your Kid in Therapy."


In the last 4 days I've publicly admitted that I subscribe to The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly. #TrueConfessions.

Anyway, parents, read the article...Seems now that common sense is cutting edge, doesn't it.

...and here are a few quotes to whet the appetite:
"Wendy Mogel says that colleges have had so much trouble getting parents off campus after freshman orientation that school administrators have had to come up with strategies to boot them. At the University of Chicago, she said, they’ve now added a second bagpipe processional at the end of opening ceremonies—the first is to lead the students to another event, the second to usher the parents away from their kids. The University of Vermont has hired “parent bouncers,” whose job is to keep hovering parents at bay. She said that many schools are appointing an unofficial “dean of parents” just to wrangle the grown-ups. Despite the spate of articles in recent years exploring why so many people in their 20s seem reluctant to grow up, the problem may be less that kids are refusing to separate and individuate than that their parents are resisting doing so."

“We want our kids to be happy living the life we envision for them—the banker who’s happy, the surgeon who’s happy,” Barry Schwartz, the Swarthmore social scientist, told me, even though those professions “might not actually make them happy.” At least for parents of a certain demographic (and if you’re reading this article, you’re likely among them), “we’re not so happy if our kids work at Walmart but show up each day with a smile on their faces,” Schwartz says. “They’re happy, but we’re not. Even though we say what we want most for our kids is their happiness, and we’ll do everything we can to help them achieve that, it’s unclear where parental happiness ends and our children’s happiness begins.”

"In early adulthood, this becomes a big problem. “People who feel like they’re unusually special end up alienating those around them,” Twenge says. “They don’t know how to work on teams as well or deal with limits. They get into the workplace and expect to be stimulated all the time, because their worlds were so structured with activities. They don’t like being told by a boss that their work might need improvement, and they feel insecure if they don’t get a constant stream of praise. They grew up in a culture where everyone gets a trophy just for participating, which is ludicrous and makes no sense when you apply it to actual sports games or work performance. Who would watch an NBA game with no winners or losers? Should everyone get paid the same amount, or get promoted, when some people have superior performance? They grew up in a bubble, so they get out into the real world and they start to feel lost and helpless. Kids who always have problems solved for them believe that they don’t know how to solve problems. And they’re right—they don’t.”

"The message we send kids with all the choices we give them is that they are entitled to a perfect life—that, as Dan Kindlon, the psychologist from Harvard, puts it, “if they ever feel a twinge of non-euphoria, there should be another option.” Mogel puts it even more bluntly: what parents are creating with all this choice are anxious and entitled kids whom she describes as “handicapped royalty.”

Well, that should get you going today (and yes, tomorrow I'll finish the discussion of the book we began last week). Have at it, patrons!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Medium Is The Message

*what follows is a continuation of the discussion here at the Diner on my reading "The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church," by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch. Feel free to check out the past four entries before you dive in to this one. It'll give you some context.

I fell in love with the Ramones because of an album cover. This album cover:

Now you have to have some context here, kids. This was the mid-70's and the music that was being put out there was over-the-top with stage shows and theatrics and all the bells and whistles. Think Elton John. Think Kiss. Think anything and everything about disco with lights and smoke and lighted floors. You get the idea, right?

Well, for a kid who didn't "get" any of that (although I have to admit being 13 and seeing a Kiss show is pretty incredible, but you outgrew that pretty quickly), the Ramones spoke volumes.

Put on your normal clothes.
Turn the amps up.
Play the best you can.
Play fast.
Let the music BE the message.

And it was. A simple album cover (unlike Molly Hatchet or Iron Maiden or Electric Light Orchestra). A simple stage show. A sheet with the band logo draped behind the band, stacked Marshall amps, drummer & 2 guitarists and lead singer, and GO!

The music was the message.

And that's the theme of the latest chapter I read as the authors are moving into how the church should look differently heading into the new millennium...which naturally means they have to take a look at where the current church is and how effective we're being...and they do so by looking at four general areas, the sermons we give, the buildings we use, the seminaries the train our leaders in and the leaders we have.

First, On "the sermon":
"As a result of this appetite for hyper-reality, the era of the monologue sermon that can have an impact is coming to an abrupt and sad end...We're not signaling the end of the spoken word ot communicate, but preachers will need to have a long hard look at how they speak if they expect to be heard. Except for the preaching of outstanding communicators, sermons have little or no impact."

Side note: Not a lot of encouragement for a guy giving a sermon tomorrow, eh? Their solution is that sermons should be designed to be more interactive with maybe even throwing some Q&A into them. Stuff like that.

On "the building":
"Christianity was at its most effective and most true to its nature as the poeple of God when it did not own any buildings...(our building designs make) the vast majority of people were passive consumers. The few active people were the ones on the stage presented in a highly professional manner. The church looks like it was designed for the presentation of a show of some sort. The building exuded wealth, success, and professionalism. All the needs of the consumer were catered to. But what does the building say to the average not-yet-Christian about the Gospel?"

Their solution is along the lines of using the building to invite the community and making the atmospheres less-"churchy" and welcoming to people not accustomed to our evangelical culture.

On "the seminary":
"It's worth asking about the ways Jesus developed disciples during his ministry and then considering to what degree the theological academy has mirrored this."

Their solution is to make seminary more hands-on and more life-on-life with professors/leaders, etc.

"...we need to recognize that authentic community can only be founded on changed relations between people; and these changed relations can only follow the inner change and preparation of the people who lead, work, and sacrifice for the community. In other words, it must begin with leadership. We must embody our visions and values in such a way that people can 'see' the vision in and through our existence. It will take sacrifice on the part of the leader. It must, especially if he or she is asking for sacrifice! We simply don't believe that people in the 'crap-detector' generation, savvy people who understand what it means to be constantly targeted by hundreds of thousands of clever sales messages, are going to follow other people who don't live out their messages. If leadership fails to embody the message, no one is going to follow. Leaders, you cannot lead where you will not go; you cannot teach what you do not know."

What do the current church leaders as a medium convey to others about our message? Oh, manalive, could you offer a lot of insight here...

So kids, a lot of things to think about today...

How are we doing when it comes to our "mediums" being our "message?"

What messages are we sending by our...
...seminary training?
and our leaders--who they are and how they lead?

Oh, man. This should be good.

*rubs hands together, pours coffee & waits for patrons to come in and offer their two-cents.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hallowing The Ephemeral

*what follows is a continuation of the discussion here at the Diner on my reading "The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church," by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch. Feel free to check out the past three entries before you dive in to this one. It'll give you some context.

My day yesterday:

I drove to work. Frank Turner's new CD was running through it's 3rd listening and I got two songs in before I got there.

I got some paperwork done.

I had a friend spontaneously stop by my office as she was making copies and we chatted about The Diner's topic o' conversation as of late.

I studied/prepped for my sermon coming up on Sunday.

I checked the tires/gassed up my car for my daughter's weekend trip to Austin for a wedding she's attending. She repaid me by letting me buy her lunch.

I studied/prepped some more.

I had a serious conversation with a student who is in crisis.

I picked up dinner for the fam.

I got all sports-intensive watching both the Rangers and Mavs.

I got a late-night phone call from a former student in crisis...and went to bed much later than planned (note later blog entry time...good thing today's my off day and I could sleep in a bit!).

Nothing particularly special, right?

Well, according to the authors, it should all be viewed as incredibly special...first they quote Martin Buber in his 1958 book I and Thou and then expound on it:
One should, and one must, truly live with all people and things, but one must live with all these in holiness, one must hallow all which one does in one's natural life. No renunciation is commanded. When one eats in holiness, when one tastes the flavor of the food in holiness, then the table becomes an altar. When one works in holiness, he raises up the sparks that hide themselves in all tools. When one walks in holiness across the field then the soft songs of all herbs, which they voice to God, enters into the song of our soul. When one drinks in holiness to each other with one's companions, it is as if one read together in the Torah. When once dances the roundelay in holiness, brightness shines over the gathering. When a husband is united with his wife in holiness, then the Shekinah rests over them."

And now the author's commentary:
"A positive post-Jesus Jewish mysticism holiness is active in the world. It is a missional holiness. It moves to change the world, to sanctify it. This is not an ephemeral thing; it is active in every sphere of life and does not shirk back from the redemption of dark things. Holiness partners with God in the redemption of the world, "True holiness is when God's hallowing of the world and our hallowing of the world meet (quoting Buber again)."

First, a little housekeeping to help out:

"Hallow" means to set something apart for holy use.
"Ephemeral" means lasting a short time.


Now the authors have moved into a discussion of what it is we should emulate about Christ that would be attractive to non-believers...and I'm kinda glad they did. Now we can have happier coffee discussions here at The Diner.

So, in effect, they kind of get all Carpe Diem here...but there's something that rings true with me in it. This idea of the proper perspective on life in this world while we're waiting for our King to come back...a "kingdom perspective."

All of a sudden, this fantastic music stirs something in my soul even if I happen to disagree with the singer's point of view (and, sure, there's a lot of it I deeply relate to as well). My life is deeper because of that 10 minutes of music on the drive to work.

The paperwork matters to people I live this life with...because most of it is how we're doing life together.

A drop in at the office and a spontaneous conversation about how we're doing as a church family on doing this life together is both doing life-together and maybe encouraging to each other as we do life together.

My sermon prep involves a lot of talking/listening to God Himself in my little cube-office, and thinking about how God might move in the lives of those that hear it Sunday morning. I'm thinking about people I love and how it might help them love and walk with Christ a little more deeply. I know it's just a sermon...but still. That encounter with God could shape the Kingdom in who knows how many ways, right? My struggles with the text and the editing of what I want to say are indeed "hallow."

Checking the air pressure and saving my little girl a step (and some cash) by putting gas in the tank became "hallow," didn't it? I mean, we got to enjoy some Chipotle outside in nice (well, by Texas standards, nice. Only 85 at the time.) weather and talk about her hopes and dreams and plans and moves of God in her life.

Serious discussions with students and former students are hard, but it's a chance to use my gifts and talents to use hard words, and/or encouraging words, and/or hopeful words and depend on God for those words, even if it's right there in my living room or on the phone with somebody 600 miles away.

Grabbing dinner for my wife (and getting to hear two more Frank Turner songs--I made another copy of the CD since my other one was on the way to Austin) after a hard day at work for her, the opportunity to serve her even if I didn't FEEL like serving...knowing that choice to love/serve honors my King...

The excitement and drama of the sports I was watching made me feel alive, man. My heart was racing and I even appreciated the true art of a Dirk high-arching 3-pointer followed by the "agony of defeat" of the Ranger bullpen...AGAIN. And the home team won, which was exciting, even if I don't have huge emotional investment.

And, finally, after the long phone call, I crawled in bed with the wife asleep, dog at the foot of the bed, and I got to read more of this book with my cool new reading light...and fall asleep kind of prayerfully thinking about even more stuff (I even thought it might be better for my sermon if I just took a few weeks and read this book aloud to the congregation).

So, in retrospect, the day was "ephemeral" but "hallow."

And I think the reason so many Christians get it wrong is because they make a division between their "Christian" life and their "other" life. Somehow, over time, we've let the fact that there are Christian bookstores and Christian radio station and Christian clothes (yes, I've got girls in my group that have their "church swimsuit" and their "regular" one) and Christian music...

...that they yawn at what they should be awed by.
...that they have forgotten to see the hallow in the every day of their life.
...that they expect those that aren't in the Tribe to adhere to the codes of the Tribe, which only frustrates everyone involved.
...that they can experience the movement of the Most High God in the beauty of a marinated steak, or a beautiful arching 3-pointer that hits nothing but net, or studying His words, or a great anthem-arena-rock song, or a movie that moves you that didn't even have Christian themes, or a great novel, or a conversation with friends that didn't even talk about Jesus but had lots of laughter and maybe even a few beers, or stopping on your run to take photos and sharing them with your blog community (I've got a friend that does this), or starting a blog (yes, I'm talking to you), or loving confrontation, or sending out announcements...

..I could go on...

...but if we're going to engage the lost, well, kids, I've said it before and I'll say it again until we're all singing off the same page...

...the days of "presuppositional apologetics" and trying to win those that don't know Christ with rational arguments and reason are long gone. They are important, and can help when it comes to answering questions all people eventually ask once they start walking with God...

...but if we're going to want others to follow our King--the same King that had the nation of Israel spend one night during the festival making sure the music was loud and the drinks flowed and the Temple was well-lit ("I am the light of the World makes a lot more sense when you know Jesus was saying this as they were getting prepared for the necessary fires) for an all-night party so the world would note that the Israelite God knows how to make sure his children Carpe Diem--

(--and we reduce wedding receptions to no alcohol and cheese and fruit?--I digress)

...we're going to have to start out-living them with the abundant life...

...the sensual, redemptive abundant life Christ lived and meant for us...

...before a watching world.

And it all starts with the ephemeral hallowing.

You with me? Or do you disagree?

So, what are you waiting for?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

On Francis Schaeffer And Baby Boomers

*what follows is a continuation of the discussion here at the Diner on my reading "The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church," by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch. Feel free to check out the past two entries before you dive in to this one. It'll give you some context.

In college, I strangely identified with Francis Schaeffer. If you don't know him, he wrote books and was dubbed "the missionary to the intellectuals." Not that I was intellectual, mind you, but the guy discipling me recommended him for a course I was taking where I had to read all the works by a particular author in "religion." Most everyone else picked C.S. Lewis.

Anyway, one of the reasons I identified with him (it certainly wasn't regarding intellect) was from an introduction he wrote to one of his works and why he wrote it. See, he'd been a pastor for like a decade and become disillusioned. He said the book he wrote was the product of him going back and "rethinking his entire position" on what it means to be a Christian.

The reason he did that?

He said he wasn't seeing, in himself or in the congregation members he served, the things that Scripture says should be so clearly the result of someone who walks with Christ.

So, he walked back in forth in a barn in Switzerland or outside if the weather was nicer. He re-thought his whole position. The books he left us made me glad he bothered and wrestled with it all.

I also read a newspaper article written by Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe, and she was talking about the nature of parenting by the Baby Boomers. Basically, she said that their generation "did a lot, regretted little, but wanted their children to have none of it." In other words, the revolution of the 1960's they so desperately wanted to occur was fine for them, but their kids better not kick against their institutions. And, that free love/drug/rock 'n roll thing didn't fit their view of appropriate behavior for their kids.

Interesting, right?

And, let's be honest, patrons. Hypocrisy in any form, whether we do it or whether we see someone else being hypocritical, drives us crazy.

But in both cases, Francis Schaeffer and the general Baby Boomer population, we have elements of what we believe to be right that don't translate into real life-living. And, we get it. We all have our anecdotes, right?

We tell our kids how important their going on the mission trip is but we haven't been on a mission trip in ages. We rail against texting while driving and then we do it. We whine about the guy taking the parking spot we waited for and then do that very thing the next day. We tell our kids that their spiritual growth is our highest priority but everything we do/say lets them know clearly that it's their educational achievement. I could go on.

It doesn't matter if it's about the spiritual life or traffic patterns...inconsistency of message and action makes us all go nuts.

Which is, if we're honest, one of the main things that drives people from the church. The authors put it this way...
"Built into the very fabric of New Testament teaching on the extension of the kingdom is the assumption that when the Christian community embraces a godly, holy lifestyle, it will so tantalize the wider community that they will seek after God. And yet so much of what typifies the so-called holiness movement is the fundamentalist-evangelical churches has had the opposite effect. When the wonders of the life in Christ are boiled down to teetotalling, it's hardly likely to arouse great interest in the community about us. If by holiness we simply mean no drinking, no smoking and no dancing, we have a very limited view of the concept."

Please tell me you read that sentence about the "wonders of Christ" slowly and with much interest.

Then, in a later chapter, as they develop this line of thought, they describe Christ:
"We have already mentioned the kind of holiness He exuded was the kind that didn't repulse normal 'sinners.' Rather, his was a very attractive spirituality. And yet he was not your ordinary evangelical guy. He was notorious (yes, that's the right word) for hanging out with the wrong types. In contrast with today, when so much of our Christianity is being with the right people in the right places at the right times, Jesus was always in the wrong places, with the wrong people, at the wrong times, according to the religious establishment. We want to say that this is the Jesus we must rediscover to balance our excessively sober images of our Lord. We need the model of his holy laughter, of his sheer love of life, of his infectious holiness, of his common people's religion, for our day. We want to say that being Christlike is not only hard work, but it's also a load of fun--you get to do what Jesus did and hang out with the interesting people. This is our eternal destiny, to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29) and this must now become a vital dimension of our messianic mission in the world. Being Christlike gives us a positive model of engagement, and this is why we need to imitate Jesus as our primary model for mission and evangelism."

Now, we'll all read the 2nd quote and go, "Yep. Darn right that's how it should be done." In fact, yesterday, that's where most of you guys went in your discussion.

But we all have a little bit of Francis Schaeffer in us, don't we? We're not seeing much of that in our own life or in the lives of those around us, are we?

But we all have a little bit of Baby Booomer parent in us, don't we? We have our areas of belief that we shed at the first hint of practicality, don't we?

And the questions are a little deeper in my mind as I type this... most evangelicals even associate with the "right" people/places/times so much that they don't know the "wrong" people/places/times anymore? do we "fix" this on a congregational scale? (Assuming, of course, you agree that we aren't doing this, but I'm open to that discussion, too.)

...what would this "look like" in our lives if we decided to "fix" it? Or, what practical steps would we take?

Sorry if the last few days have been a little deep at The Diner lately, patrons. I guess I get this way during sermon prep week!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

They're Not Coming. Really. They're not.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church. Confirmation classes. Stained glass. Kneelers. Pot-luck lunches EVERY Sunday. Communion EVERY Sunday down front from a common cup. Hymns played on an organ. Responding to all the priests phrases. The whole bit.

Oh, and something else: I grew up in the Episcopal Church in Alabama.

That 2nd part is important, so a little latitude, your honor, please?

After the death of my dad when I was 13, church-going became one of my family's lowest priorities. My mom had to go back to school and got a full-time job teaching to support us...and it became difficult for her to make the half-hour drive to our Episcopal church, stick around until 2PM Sunday (the pot-luck lunch isn't going to eat or clean up after itself, now is it?) with weekly fatigue and throw in a little grad-school homework on Sunday afternoon and sleeping in quickly became a habit.

Throw in a little angsty 13-year-old with an inward seething anger about "God's plan" and "dad being in a better place," and, well, let's just say the surviving McKinney's drifted a bit when it came to church attendance.

But I didn't realize until I came back to church about 3 years later that so much of what I thought was normal was, in the words of the E-Trade Baby, "frowned upon in this establishment." It helps if you throw your head back and say that to the ceiling, complete with the pause between "upon" and "in."

Anyway, we Episcopals had been hauling off and having a lot of fun amidst our spiritual conversations. For example, we had a dance at our all-Episcopal summer camp (Wonderful, wonderful, CAMP McDOWELL, beeyutiful queen of Clear Creek, clap clap) in the gym almost every night. Our counselors asked us if we'd kissed a girl behind chapel with a genuine hopeful curiosity because 11-year-old guys looking for that first kiss viewed that as a distinct possibility. Our priest came up to visit and had a beer with the camp leader in plain view of everybody. We played all sorts of Eagles and Steve Miller and some song about Black Betty bam-a-lam during the air guitar talent-show. We didn't give life a second thought.


I came back into Evangelical circles when I was 16.

The local SBC didn't have a dance scheduled at any point during the lock-in. Which lock-in? Any lock-in. If you had any affections at all for the feminine of the species, you were "discipled" to stare at her eyes and look at her brain. Kissing, apparently, was the gateway to pregnancy. You might not want to hold hands with her as a preventative measure as well.

Beer? Forget about it.

And, for a kid who loved music, well, let's just say Keith Green couldn't hold a candle to AC/DC (and don't even get me started on the Ramones or the Clash). I'd never had one of those "want to get away moments"until I asked my youth group if they'd heard the great new Ozzy Osbourne album and that really cool solo during "Crazy Train." This was followed by my youth pastor's diatribe on how Chicago's own Resurrection Band was better than Ozzy or AC/DC. He gave me a cassette for my car. After 30 seconds of listening, I concluded that even Bob didn't believe the speech he just gave...but he was required by parents to give it.

See, growing up in the Bible Belt had some very strange cultural no-no's.

Which, oh by the way, didn't seem to have much basis in Scripture. I was a kid reading my Bible for the first time and coming to small groups to discuss it for the first time and I was really trying to grow in my relationship with Christ and I wasn't scared to ask questions.

Like, "where is that in the Bible?" The Bible-church raised kids in my group couldn't believe the mores were being questioned. I, on the other hand, just wanted to know. Because I was serious, man. If Jesus didn't want me to kiss my girlfriend, then I wouldn't kiss my girlfriend. Or at least I'd keep kissing her but tell my friends we were "trying to honor God so we stopped kissing." Thankfully, all my group leader came up with was verses about "wisdom" so I wisely kept kissing her. Apparently, there was no "Thou shalt not kiss" verse afoot.

That's when I first started to dislike Christians.

And, it turns out, most of my negative experiences with Church have come from legalism or some variant of it. When Christians speak boldly and with some level of God-authority about something that Scripture doesn't. And they did that a lot.

But most everyone who has ever been to church leaves because of SOME REASON. Legalism was mine. But everyone has their reasons--ranging from "we're exhausted" to "my priest molested me" and everything in between.

Which is why the "Mommies and Mimosa/Soccer Sunday" crowd (see yesterday's entry) isn't coming to church...or even care if they ever come back. No matter how great our stuff is...

...the Church has lost their credibility among the non-Christian community.

Sure, they used to have it some 50 years ago. Everyone went to church, right? Or at least they went at Easter and Christmas and the whole bit.

No longer.

Finding a church doesn't have the priority-level it used to (and for my older readers, please don't bother to try to disprove this. The countless hours I've had in discussion with people who grew up with the attractional model--see yesterday--about how if we just had this or that, young people would come back to church...well, the stats are in. You can disagree if you want, but these numbers don't lie).

So, if the Mommies and Mimosa group isn't ever coming to our bigger, better deal (but other Christians shuffle the deck in their own city and we call it "church growth" so we keep doing it)...

...shouldn't we view them as an unreached people group and take the church missionally to them?

I used the phrase yesterday about a "faith community centered around Christ" for a reason.

Some more quotes from the book before I wind up:
"We so easily impose a cultural form on the people and the groups we hope to reach with the love of Jesus. We often make the gospel synonymous with a bland middle-class conformity and thereby alienate countless people from encountering Christ. How often have we seen public opinion polls that reflect the attitude of 'Jesus YES! Church NO!'"

"Jesus moved into the neighborhood; he experienced its life, its rhythms, and its people from the inside and not as an outsider. It is sobering to think that for thirty years Jesus practiced this presence for 30 years before he actually started his ministry. Nazareth had indeed become a living part of him and defined him in so many unaccountable ways. If this was so for Jesus, then, we believe, we, too, need to practice the missinoal discipline of presence ad identification with any of the groups and people we hope to engage with. This is true whether they are local ravers or members of bohemian art cooperatives, sports clubs, common interest groups, or parent groups--we need to identify a whole lot more before we can expect to really share Jesus in a meaningful way with them."

So, as we continue our conversation...

...let's assume that non-Christians ARE NOT looking for a better church or service or whatever and aren't going to come because the local church is having a concert so "bring a friend!" Or they aren't coming because your church is going to have a series on marriage and family so "pack the pews!" They don't. They aren't.

...pick a group. Doesn't matter. Starving artists. Single moms. PTA group. The local university booster club that gets together to watch games. Your literal neighbors. And, if you can't think of people you know that don't know Christ, maybe there's another step you need to be thinking about.

...and how could you reach them for Christ if they never came to your church. What would you do?


That's the question.

Because they aren't coming to your church no matter how comfy and/or flashy. They all have their reasons, too. Just like we did, and WE'RE Christians, for crying out loud! They're not...

So, what do you do?

And, yes, we'll continue the discussion...

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Extreme, But SERIOUS Mind Vitamin...or "Soccer Sunday"

I'll get to the mommies & mimosas in a second, okay?

The deal is that I'm reading The Shaping of Things to Come, by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch. The subtitle is "Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church." If you've ever heard the phrase "missional" regarding churches, this book was on the forefront of that verbage/mindset.

I know.

I know.

Whenever I dive into a "professional" reading discussion, many of you turn around, exit the Diner, and wait for a discussion of almost anything else. Wait. Wait. Wait. I think you'll like this discussion.

But, this book is blowing my tiny mind, man. Granted, I'm late to the party (it's almost 9 years old now) but the stuff the authors were talking about have proven to be dead-on in my experience.

So, thought I'd give you a taste of what's blowing my tiny mind, man (even though I'm only halfway through the book). Early on, the authors describe the current situation in the American church--

--and the word they use is "attractional." The idea is that they describe as "An approach to Christian mission in which the church develops programs, meetings, services or other 'products' in order to attract unbelievers into the influence of the Christian community."

--the suggestion as to what the church should be is "missional." They describe that as "A missional church is one whose primary commitment is to the missionary calling of the people of God. As such, it is one that aligns itself with God's missionary purposes in the world."

Here's the quote for today (oh yes, we will be discussing this more in the days to come):
"Nonetheless, when we say it is a flaw for the church to be attractional, we refer more to the stance the church takes in its community. By anticipating that if they get their internal features right, people will flock to the services, the church betrays its belief in attractionalism. It's like the Kevin Costner character in the film 'Field of Dreams' being told by a disembodied voice, 'If you will build it, they will come.' How much of the traditional church's energy goes into adjusting their programs and their public meetings to cater to an unseen consituency? If we get our seating, our parking, our children's program, our preaching, and our music right, they will come. This assumes we have a place in our society and that people don't join our churches because, though they want to be Christians, they're unhappy with the product. The missional church recognizes that it does not hold a place of honor in its host community and that its missional imperative compels it to move out from itself into that host community as salt and light."

Now, this reality of this quote was highlighted to me on Soccer Sunday.

My higher-order life-liver sister Jilly and barnstorming brother-in-law get together with their friends on Sunday mornings. They set up some soccer goals in a local park and throw some soccer balls out there and their toddlers can kick 'em around or play on the monkey bars or swings at the park. Another parent sets up a table & breaks out the orange juice & champagne.

Then the hanging out commences. There is some minor kid-wrangling going on. But by-and-large, community is taking place.

These people are all intelligent, funny and interesting. They are all professionally successful by whatever stretch of that definition you'd like to use.

And their Sunday morning consists of mimosas and conversation in the park. Having been filled in beforehand that I was a pastor, the obvious conversation-starter was whether or not I was enjoying a "Sunday among the heathens." Their words.

And in very matter-of-fact terms (they certainly were interested in my line of work and asked lots of questions, too) they described their issues with "Church." They'd all tried it in various forms and had varying degrees of positive and negative experiences. They weren't angry or bitter, but to them, the negatives outweighed the positives.


...and I mean NOBODY...

...disliked Soccer Sunday. It was overwhelmingly positive.

And it dawned on me:

It wouldn't matter how good our worship leader is.
It wouldn't matter how much charisma and/or passion our pastor had.
It wouldn't matter how comfy our auditorium was or how good the coffee is.
It wouldn't matter how awesome our children's area was.

These people aren't coming.

Sure, other Christians might come and check us out and see our cool worship leader/preacher/playland/building might be. Some might even stay and become part of our church family.

But, trust me. The Mimosa & Mommies crowd isn't coming.

And the question struck me amidst all the laughs and kid-wrangling and great time I was having...

...what would it take to get these folks to be a part of a faith community centered around Christ?

And I think that's what is at the heart of the quote, and at the heart of the book.

So, this could be fun today, patrons.

Have at it!

*rubs hands together and waits expectantly for you to join the conversation*

Monday, June 06, 2011

A Better Graduation Message

Those of you who know me know that one of my occupational hazards is that I attend a number of graduation ceremonies to celebrate with my students. In light of this, I've been on the lookout for graduation speeches/articles from those that get away from the traditional kind of speech. Believe me, I hear enough generic rah-rah speeches per year to tune out about the first time I hear "follow your dreams" or "change the world" stuff. Anyway, there's a good article from David Brooks on May 30 in the New York Times.

I'd post a link and a few quotes to whet the appetite, but it's short enough to read the whole thing. You won't regret it.

"It's Not About You" by David Brooks

Over the past few weeks, America’s colleges have sent another class of graduates off into the world. These graduates possess something of inestimable value. Nearly every sensible middle-aged person would give away all their money to be able to go back to age 22 and begin adulthood anew.

But, especially this year, one is conscious of the many ways in which this year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt.

More important, their lives have been perversely structured. This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has emerged in modern America. College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.

Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live their quest. But, of course, very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self.

Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.

Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.

The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course, when you read a biography of someone you admire, it’s rarely the things that made them happy that compel your admiration. It’s the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred. It’s excellence, not happiness, that we admire most.

Finally, graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express their inner spirit. But, of course, doing your job well often means suppressing yourself. As Atul Gawande mentioned during his countercultural address last week at Harvard Medical School, being a good doctor often means being part of a team, following the rules of an institution, going down a regimented checklist.

Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself."

Loved the line about them being the most supervised generation in history. Your thoughts, patrons?