Getting from Here to There Part 2

church

Now about the corporate expression of our faith— within the church: it is not enough to live your Christian life in isolation— the Lone Ranger Christian, going it alone in the evil world. Christ called us to be a body of believers…, His Body. We stand or fall together. But if individual Christians re-gear their faith and the church does not, then we will have what sociologists call a paradigm conundrum. Individual Christians will be expressing their faith in one mode while the church still expresses its beliefs in another, older format— one that was appropriate when developed (1654 or 1945, take your pick) but has since lost its significance to the postChristian heart.

What follows are suggestions that the church-at-large needs to consider if it is to make sense—  both to twenty-first century Christians and to the rising tide of millennials/mosaics.

  1. The church will have to Rethink the Nature of Theology itself. Please do not take this as a rejection of any or all theological constructions of the past 500 – 1,600 years. It is not. But the last major rubric of theology was constructed during the Protestant Reformation in 1517, when priest Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses, a critique of many of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In similar ways we will need to construct a theology based on a new examination of Scripture, in the context of specific cultures, rather than simply another polishing of a theology based on a previous structure. Polishing American Colonial furniture doesn’t make it Danish modern.

The life of Christ and His redemptive work on the cross are our model for living the Christian life, today, throughout history, and across cultural variances. My guess is that this new Biblical Theology will arise in a people-group-specific, image-based format, and somewhat generationally-considerate. What will that look like in reality? Who knows?!? I’ll leave that to my successors.

  1. Redesigned corporate spirituality— The church will need to try on a new suit of clothes, spiritually speaking. It will need to try to express the Christian faith in multiple formats. What has been accepted as traditional will have to make room for newer forms of expression, previously foreign to our Christian traditions. And it will have to embrace these new expressions even if it feels terribly risky to do so. Remember, though, that we are in transition (versus a phase), in a time of paradigm shift; things are in flux. The Truth will remain constant while its expressions can vary with generation, region of the world, and culture.

            But please take note— we will have to allow for multiple forms of expression within the same local church as well, even within the same congregation. Decide to learn from those who express their faith in manners different from your own. Extend your comfort level to embrace expressions that call you to God in new ways. Our society isn’t what it used to be. Church shouldn’t be what it used to be either. New wine; new wine-skins… .

  1. Immersion vs. isolation…, not an option— One aspect of being a church is that we will no longer have a choice of opting out of our culture or its societal issues. The church of Jesus Christ must take a lead in healing our society’s sicknesses, from media to medical treatments, to definitions of life, death, and what it means to be a healthy human being. We have too long held back for fear of rejection or recrimination; it is time we took a stand. One thing we must not do is supplant our Savior’s role as Judge. That is not our place. Our place is to come along side of our fellow sinners and serve as their guide to freedom and life! The church in the first century understood this; so also must we. Jesus immersed himself in the lives of those around him, making little distinction between his followers and those who needed him. He served both: He loved both: He saved both.

Will the church be accepted readily upon first re-entry back into the society?  Not likely. Trust in any relationship is something that must be first gained, then if lost, regained with great commitment and agony. The church has a lot of negative history to overcome that our world remembers with a vengeance. But we can no longer afford the luxury of isolation, of feeling good about ourselves as long as we don’t have anything to do with the world outside. That, if anything, is true blasphemy. Jesus did not go to the cross so we could go to church.

  1. Cooperative— Remember that classic movie, Miracle on 34th Street? Kris Kringle was encouraging people at Macy’s to look for what they needed that Christmas at Gimbals’, across the street. Management, as first, was enraged; then they saw the light: customers were surprised and delighted to see this new cooperation-over-competition between the two stores. Since the Reformation the church in the West has been more about separation than about cooperation. The modern era saw western denominations first forming and then defining themselves injuxtaposition to one another. But we must learn to cooperate across denominational lines, despite different worship styles and theological preferences. Labels need to go away.  They must move aside for a new nomenclature— genuinely Biblical, Christ centered, locally missional, accepting, and alive to life.
  2. Sacrificial Servants— For the church in North America to truly have an impact on its culture it must shift its mentality and present itself as a sacrificial servant of the society, not as a judge of its illnesses. When people are sick, they need a doctor, not a critic. We must learn to give graciously to our world— much more graciously than we give to build our modern cathedrals of comfort. We must learn to give up rather than to calculate next year’s pledge units. We must also provide places where the normal people of our society can find solace and safety, and see Jesus Christ embodied in those who go by His name.  Another Gordian knot to be cut.
  3. One Lord, one Faith, one Language…— In the same way that individual Christians need to learn to express their faith in common everyday language, so also does the church need to learn to use the metaphors, idioms, and common expressions of the day to express Biblical Truths. Oddly, the stories of the Bible can stand on their own with little amplification about their context. We must learn to be culture sensitive. The only place most of us use Christianeze is in church or when trying to explain our faith to someone else (a.k.a. evangelism).

            Many years ago comedians Lou Abbot and Budd Costello performed a baseball Vaudeville dialog titled Who’s on First?[i] It was a classic example of miscommunication due to a misunderstanding of the use and definition of words. “Who’s on First? What’s on Second. I-don’t-know’s on Third.” Their dialogue was funny: the Christian miscommunication block to a confused world is not funny. We dare not have an in-house language which only Christians can understand, vs. a normal language that we use to talk with the world around us. How much easier would it be if we had one language pattern that everybody could understand? Think of it, you could talk about your faith in church the way you would naturally talk about it in the rest of your life; no stomach knots, no translating, no shifting language/emotional gears. Just breathe.

  1.  We need Leaders who will go out on a limb. One of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain— “Why not go out on a limb!? That’s where the fruit is.” The last shift that the church in postChristian society will have to make is one of leadership. Our leaders will actually need toLEAD! Too many Christian leaders have become conciliatory politicians, mediating their way to church peace or to a better position with more prestige and/or money. Others have become theological authoritarians, sweeping their will and interpretation of Scripture over their congregations. Why? Because theology is safe…, you can nail-down just about everything.

Genuine leadership, not merely positional leadership, is a risk. It goes with the territory. Just get used to it. There was an ad from a brokerage firm in NYC that used to read—  The only real risk in life is not taking one. May Christian leaders in North America become a risky bunch!

*   *   *   *

            So, where do we go from here? To the trenches of life, to the committee meetings and shopping malls, to the days and family gatherings with ol’ lip-sticked Aunt Maude who always kisses her grandchildren on the cheek? We go back to living. I cannot convince you of the exuberance that comes when you start to morph your life, your church, or your family to a postChristian faith. It’s quite a ride! Risky…, with the outcome yet to be written. Honor God, honor people…, make a difference.

Hopefully, making a difference.

Gary

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Getting from Here to There: what to do, what to do? #1

 wandiligong_mazeIn many ways this EMPulse is what you’re really looking for in this series.  For those interested in the shift from a Modern worldview to a postModern/postChristian worldview you are well aware that we have analyzed this shift to death. Between George Barna and George Gallup we have compiled enough statistics to fill a barn. But understanding is not the issue. It’s what to DO about the shift that is the real issue. That is what this section will address. What follows are some simple things you can do to change, adjust, adapt, cope, whatever— first, on an individual level, and then, [Part 2] corporately as a Body of Christ. On the one hand, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and on the other hand, we have entered into a new phase in history. An entire generation has been born in the West with no Christian history, no Christian memory or experience whatsoever. Any semblance of “Western Christian culture” is fading into oblivion as a forgotten archeological relic. Let’s begin… .

 Paradigm Pioneers Get Shot First: ~don’t be too quick to sign up!

            First, a warning! You need to understand that as someone who is concerned, frustrated, or even angry at Christianity’s seeming inabilities to adjust to a new set of cultural rules, you will not be a popular person, especially with the powers that be. True Christian leadership within this postModern mentality is what is desperately needed. We’ve all seen those SUCCESS sections in Flight magazines—  you know, the ones with motivational posters to put up in your office. [You can find another series at the website www.despair.com that offers a truly different slant on motivational posters.] The one I find most germane to being a paradigm pioneer depicts an eye-level bright green lawn, with one blade of grass standing taller than all the rest. The caption reads— Remember…, it’s the tallest blade of grass that gets cut first. Get the picture? Ask yourself— “Are you more interested in a position of authority, where you are respected within the Christian matrix, or are you convinced that you want to lead the way in reshaping our faith in this emerging postmodern/postChristian world?”

If you find yourself in the latter position, then you must adjust your self-perception to a new reality— YOU are a target. To be sure, ALL Christians are targets…, it’s just that some are more selected targets than others; they are the tallest blades of grass. If you are sure, then rest assured you will take the first shots. The sad thing is that the shot is more likely to come from the back— not from enemy lines. Christians across North America have long valued their own comfort and safety over frontline battle. If you do find any comrades-in-arms you will probably find them on the fringes of faith. Outfielders, without whom the ball game would be lost.

            But every new wave of the Spirit of God always starts with committed, called, set-apart men and women of vision, courage, and risk. In short, any changes or ideas to be implemented in the Christian community must be initiated by people like you. It’s up to you. Are you up for it? If so, you will not find yourself alone, but you will find yourself scarce. Such are the postmodern/postchristian prophets—  you, a Christian paradigm-pioneer. You will be the first to take the shot. If this sounds like fun to you, keep reading.

            Another preemptive move must be addressed before we tackle the practical stuff. Your spiritual health and your spiritual perception are the primary armor you will need to do battle in a postChristian context. Do not even attempt to pioneer anything without a firm grounding in personal cleanness and righteousness before the Lord God. Leadership in postChristian times is always a matter of sticking your neck out. This has been true throughout the history of the church. So…, let’s go.

  1. Express your faith through life experiences. Realign your faith to balance experiencing God with understanding God. Western Christianity in the Modern era has swung the pendulum of understanding to the extreme. Faith is about belief and theology more than it was about life. But faith is really more akin to trust and risk than it is related to understanding. Remember, TRUTH is first personal, in the person of Jesus Christ; then propositional, explaining the life of faith. Like Jesus, we need to learn to think of our faith as stories, metaphors, and experiences ofah-ha! Faith is a journey, not an outline. Make sure your beliefs are in line with the teachings of Scripture; then spend more time in solitude, in prayer, and immersed in a world that doesn’t have a clue.
  2. Learn to speak the language of YOUR culture. Every subculture has its own language pattern. Football has its nickel defense, fullbacks and wishbones; computer geeks talk about Clouds, TCPIPs, i9s, i10s, and now interdependent devices. We Christians have our pre-mills, post-tribs, and supralapsarians. Notwithstanding, we need to learn the nuances and innuendos in the language of our surrounding culture. We need to learn to express our faith in a language pattern that they can understand.  They may not agree with it, but we need to express it so they can comprehend it. Remember too, that Christian expressions of faith are generationally delimited with little crossover to younger generations. Ask your Christian teen to translate “the Lordship of Christ” into their generational mindset. You’ll see.
  3. Let go of your sin. The greatest roadblock to Christians living out our faith is our own sinfulness. Until Christ comes back our sin will be ever with us. On one hand we are forgiven through the work of Christ; on the other hand, we still find ourselves wallowing in the guilt of confessed, even forgiven sin. This is in no way a healthy dilemma. We need a genuine trust in Christ, sins forgiven, new beginning in progress, a done deal! Then we need to get on with life as if our sins are actually forgiven. The reality is they actually ARE!
  4. Learn to love. If letting go of sin frees the Christian for living in a postChristian era as if those sins were actually forgiven, then learning to love makes that life come alive. This may sound quite simple for virtually any Christian, but it is not. All of us have become more cautious and guarded in our love lives; so much so, that we generally withhold love because it’s simply safer that way. And so the greatest of Christian virtues becomes our greatest matter of concern and risk. But isn’t that what the Christian life is about anyway? Risk! I cannot imagine any other model for Christ’s love for the world than for it to be exhibited through us. Because love is a definitive corollary of safety. More than anything else, postChristians crave safety— safe places, safe people, safe activities.
  5. Lose the intensity [you don’t need to win]. A lot of western Christianity in the modern era has become pretty intense. Intense about theology, intense about denominationalism, intense about appearances, intense about proper relationships, etc. People who aren’t Christians see it and conclude that Christianity isn’t for them— too intense, too judgmental, and too narrow. We Christians seem to feel safest when we have as much as possible nailed down, quantifiable and definable. I wonder if God intended us to spend more effort defining our faith than in living it out among those who truly need to see Him in us? We don’t need to win. He has.
  6. Don’t do everything, give God some room to work. If any attribute characterizes everybody in these early years of the twenty-first century it is busyness. Most of us are over-worked, over-booked, over-committed, out-of-time, frantic fanatics about squeezing as much into life each. You are probably reading this EMPulse as you fall asleep. And, you are t-i-r-e-d! One foot in front of the other… .

   Or, is there another way? Try not doing so much. Breathe more. Slow down, cut some commitments (even for your kids), and take a hike. Throughout all life there are growth-plateaus where our bodies and minds must come to rest.  Are you moving so fast that you must slow down to even hear God? Please, for Jesus’ sake, STOP! Let your spirit catch up to your body. Pressurized postmoderns need to see that kind of tranquility, that kind of s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s, and that kind of trust in our God.

  1. Open a conduit to Christ—  keep it open. This sounds so simple, yet, in a compartmentalized society we tend to pigeonhole even our relationship with God. We go to church, rather than being the church. We have times of prayer, but then manage our life as if God has little to do with it.  Instead, let me propose to you that we learn to pray without ceasing, in a sense. Our Lord is always ON, always THERE. Why not merely shift the direction of your conversation from horizontal, with whomever, to triangular, with whomever, and with God? This pre-positioning of God in our midst makes much more sense than getting ready to come into His presence. I admit that coming into His presence is nothing to be taken lightly. Nonetheless, we are, in actuality, never out of His presence. Ever!

I actually wonder if God didn’t create prayer solely for our benefit, for our sense of connection, communication, and closeness to Him?

NEXT TIME~ Reinventing Church:  

 Gary

BEYOND WORDS: Take 9— a Love-Leveled Faith

heart hands love take 9After all is said and done, one thing remains. Unless our faith and witness are cloaked and immersed in the love of Christ all our efforts to express our faith in a postChristian manner, and to communicate it to people who are totally clueless about this salvation-thing, will be no more than a sounding brass and clanging cymbal. (I Corinthians 13:1)

Too much of our Christian expression of faith has become rote, perfunctory, and lifeless. We go through the motions. We’re nice Christians and the world is tired of the sham. This mechanistic approach to our faith has also seeped into our evangelism, with simple gospel presentations, to forcing conversions, to erecting an invisible barrier between us and anyone trying to find their way in life.

But we were not called to be nice. We were called to be loving…, and Truthful; not in a judgmental way, but more like fellow sojourners whose lives have intersected for a time for mutual comradery and benefit. The God of the Universe has chosen us to be His voice, His feet, and His hands on this planet to explain to everyone what it is He wants to give us. We bear a wonderful responsibility— the privilege of being Christ’s loving emissaries to a world of broken, successful, hurting, and wonderful people who have no idea of the Grandeur of Christ.

Just think of who they could be if they connected with the God who made them!

There are many facets to the Gospel of our Lord, but love must permeate them all.

So, a question—Do you love people? Or maybe, Do you feel your love for them? Do you sense Christ’s love flowing through you as a vessel of His grace, mercy, and forgiveness? You know what it feels like to love your parents, children, even your relatives (well, most of them). Do you know what it feels like to genuinely love people who have had it with Christianity? Who are sick of nice Christians? Who don’t care anymore? Or who are so angry at God and His church that they wish we would just go to hell?

If your heart is broken by these people then you are beginning to sense the kind of love our Lord has for them. We are NOT called to convert them; that is the Father’s job. We are not called to cajole them into the Kingdom. We are called to love them; to walk with them on their journey— in their sorrows, to enjoy them in their celebrations, to help them in their efforts to make this world a better place; even, to suffer with them and die for them. The Truth of the gospel takes on life in the way we love people. We must give them the Words of the Truth, to be sure; but we must also go Beyond Words.

‘Nough said.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

Beyond Words Take 7 – A Community Networked Faith

In this edition of Beyond Words we will think about our place in a community. Well, actually, two communities: one, Christian; the other, our surrounding society.

First, if we are to flourish in our present postChristian culture we must be deeply networked within our churchour Christian community. We need her safety, her training, her friendships and definitely her worship together. We need to tell our stories to one another, share our lives together, and, always, eat chicken & pizza together. Maybe not at the same time.

The relationships we build within the Body of Christ are critically important for those who might attend church with us. They need to see hugging and laughter and prayer and forgiveness of one another. They need to join in on the fun. They need to see what life in Christ might be like.

Secondly, before you can ever get them to darken the doors of a church you first have to get to know them in the midst of their safe-places, among their friends and within their interests. No Christian should dwell in a void, surrounded exclusively by other Christians. We need to embed ourselves inside our office parties, Saturday baseball leagues, our children’s sports teams, even the PTA & library reading club. God never intended us to hibernate away from our surrounding culture except for times of prayer & fasting.

What He expects us to do is to become beacons of light, enjoying the celebrations of this world with the friends we make in it. If all we have are Christian friends we have somehow lost the intent of the Great Commission to “GO!” We are not given the leisure to WAIT for people to come to us. We are called to enter their world; very much, I think, like Jesus did.

WARNING: If you do this you will get your hands dirty. You will have your faith challenged…, and strengthened. Some well-meaning believers will criticize you for spending so much time among “the heathen.” That, too, is what Jesus experienced. It’s where He was meant to be.  It’s where we are meant to be too.

 

For what it’s worth,

Gary

__________

Why?

Gary, Davis, College, church, northampton, lament, prayer, why, depression, anxietyA few weeks ago I heard a sermon in our local church that really resonated with me. The series is taking prayer and our relationship with God and bringing it down to an almost childlike level. This sermon was especially poignant, as it spoke to the questions: Is it ok to be mad at God? Why do I feel so miserable? When will it get better? What do I say to my friend who is really struggling right now? I encourage you to click on the link below and listen, then ask yourself if you know how to truly lament.

Why?

Bench Players

GuillaumeG

There are a lot of bench players out there. You know the ones; they are on the team, but they are never quite in the game. Oh, they will cheer the players on the field with great gusto, but they never seem ready to enter the game as much as others.

We find them in all walks of life— sports teams, churches, business departments, etc. Some “players” would rather sit/stand on the sidelines and cheer rather than getting into the game. They never quite measure up.

In my line of work I find many bench players who cheer the team on; they just don’t want to play. What they settle into is a critical spirit that rains down on their fellow team members who are giving it all they’ve got. These bench players know how to get things done, of course, even better than those embroiled in the game, even better. They just never do it. And if they do have a better solution, we’ll never know it. Ah, if only they would play.

So, what kind of player are you? It’s easy to tell. If you are in the game, you are battered, bruised, dirty; discouraged one minute, elated the next. If you sit on the side and merely criticize those in the game, your uniform is spankin’ clean; you may have a great perspective on the overall game, but you are just not invested in it enough to get roughed up by the other team.

Real life needs players who play. Churches need players who play; and who are not afraid of getting beaten down every now & then. We need genuine Christians who are invested in the game. They are invested in their church and its goals. We already have too many bench players as it is.

Which kind of player do you think you are? Hint— look for wounds, cuts & abrasions.

Bleeding a little here,

  Gary

Mindless Christianity

 Mindless Christianity                 Imagine if you will a recent Study released by the Pew Research Center that showed Christianity to be the one religion that people are fleeing from, more than any other religion in the world.

http://holykaw.alltop.com/christians-fleeing-faith-faster-than-any-other-religion

Now imagine that you are a part of that religion and see no evidence of this in your churches. Worship services are great, the pastor’s sermons hit the nail on the head every week, the average age of the congregants is 35-45, the building is paid off, and you enjoy your Christian life in the midst of friends & family.

What you don’t see are the people who are not there. They are long-gone— playing golf, enjoying a relaxing Sunday morning at Starbucks, at home, boating, or simply sleeping in. The thought of going to church on a Sunday morning never enters their minds.

Too many of us have become mindless about those whom we never see. They are just “them,” or “non-Christians,” “the unsaved.” They are non-entities. We organize commando raids, evangelistic thrusts, into their midst and then regroup to “debrief.” Really!?! Whatever happened to being part of our society, our community, having neighbors we actually know and enjoy?

Actually, whatever happened to meaningful engagement? It feels as if the majority of our Christian community has ceased functioning, at least when it comes to clear, mindful thought. We find it so much easier to simply sit there and have someone who is an authority tell us what to think, believe, and DO. Then it slips out of our brains by that afternoon or evening.

With all the great minds of our past who launched the amazing movements of our faith past— the Cistercians, Augustine, Anselm, Francis of Assisi, Benedict, the Moravians, the Sacred Heard of Jesus, even those pesky Protesters, Calvinists & Huguenots, Pilgrims & Puritans— All made deep intellectual, yea academic, contributions to the history of Christian thought.

Today, not much thought is taking place in our churches. It has been replaced by a casual intellectualism and glancing references that support our personal perspectives. Even books are written for those with no more than an 8th grade reading level. Really?!? That’s it!?!

Ergo, please try to learn to think more deeply about your faith. Read some richer books than simple personal testimonies, or “sweet-Jesus” stories. Read books you cannot understand. Learn the differences between Christianity & Islam, between Catholics, Presbyterians, and Pentecostals. Learn the issues surrounding the emerging/emergent church. Think through possible loving responses to Bruce Jenner, One Direction, and the challenges put forth in the music of U2.

None of us were born brainless, mindless automatons; but there is ample evidence that we have striven doggedly to move in that direction.

For what it’s worth,

  Gary