Jesus, not the Church I

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Dan Kimball wrote an interesting article recently in which he came to terms with the spirituality of postmodern generations. He concluded there were six common perceptions about the Church:

1) The Church is an organized religion with a political agenda.

2) The Church is judgmental and negative.

3) The Church is dominated by males and oppresses females.

4) The Church is homophobic.

5) The Church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.

6) The Church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

He continues by saying:

While it’s essential that we as church leaders thoroughly explore all six of these perceptions and listen to what these emerging voices identify as barriers to putting faith in Jesus and becoming part of a church community, I want to focus on three that seem to be especially prevalent in our current culture—and in my conversations with non-Christians.

I can’t help but think these are not the ones which are especially prevalent as much as the three that Evangelicals have more agreeable and developed responses towards. Basically, while Kimball is trying to respond to the next generation he is doing so in the style of a modern. Categorizing the responses and responding to only parts in a way that makes it seems these are the only parts really worth responding to. I’m very much intrigued by these categories, however, I thought his responses and the lack of response he has to the other three need some discussion.

Here’s my interaction with Dan Kimball:
Perception No. 1: The ‘Organized Religion’ Barrier
He breaks down this perception some more:

I can relate to God without the structure. I rarely talk to anyone who’s not seeking “God.” But emerging generations don’t see “church” as the place to explore who He is. Instead, they understand and strongly believe that they can pray to a caring and personal God without being in a church. They also fear the church will try to control how they dress and act, and organize their faith the way the leaders think it should be patterned.

This is a fair argument, in my mind. Do Churches give a person a chance to explore who God is? Or are they places where a small group of people tell others who God is? Churches are a place to listen, not to discuss. Which is fine for many, not so fine for those who don’t quite know what to think yet.

The Church is about hierarchy, power and control with a political agenda. Emerging generations have a strong sense that most churches are all right-winged fundamentalist and everyone in the church is expected to vote a certain way. While we may know that most churches don’t have political agendas, the impression on the outside is that most do.

The Church is about hierarchy, power, and control. Read Church history. For the most part almost every major event is about hierarchy and power and control. If these were not issues there would be a unified Church. I cannot think of a single church in which hierarchy was not clearly defined and defended. Kimball focuses here a lot on the political side of it, but doesn’t note that even in non-staff there are massive battles of power and control in a church, which has resulted in innumerable church splits over many centuries. When people think they are the representatives of Jesus to others they defend their roles. And others support them in their power because those others also see them as the primary representative of Jesus. Many people just see the hierarchy, power, and control as inherent to the Church.

The Church is filled with leaders who function like CEOs and desire power and control. Think about the titles of your staff—senior pastor, associate pastor, executive pastor, executive assistant—all throwbacks to the ’80s when churches began applying business principles to their infrastructure and using some of the business world’s language and metaphors. To baby boomers, this made sense. But in our emerging culture, language like this can come across as very unlike Jesus.

Listen to me. IT’S NOT ABOUT LANGUAGE. That’s a major mistake made by those who are trying to come to terms with what’s going on. They think it’s about the words used. Words were really important to Baby Boomers and earlier. Change a title and people think it’s great. That why in one church I attended they must have changed the names of small groups five or six times. Titles change. Names change. But it’s not about the words. It’s about the structure.

Now to his response:

So those are three main reasons why “organized religion” is often a barrier to this group. And while you may be inclined to dismiss their reasons because they aren’t actually accurate, remember this is how we are being perceived to those on the outside. It’s important to listen to and address their perceptions. I believe there are several things we can do to dispel the “organized religion” stereotype.

“Dismiss because they aren’t accurate.” Which is followed by point #1-

• Communicate how your church is organized and why you practice your faith in this way, its basis in Scripture, etc. Explain that a church is like a family and all healthy families do need “organization.” Communicating this and not letting the “organization” strangle the life out of your church is key.

The way to address organized religion is to explain how it is organized? I’ve never seen a church organized like a family anyhow, though maybe Catholics have something with calling priests Father. I think the organization is the problem, not the explanation. Again, he thinks that it is a matter of words, and if you just use the right words then folks will change their opinion. No. It’s about the organization itself, which is seen in meetings, and offices, and hierarchy, and power and control.

• Be aware of your biases. I’m convinced that emerging generations are open to hearing hard things that go against today’s culture. We shouldn’t be afraid to share how Jesus said some strong things about what sin is and the need for repentance. However, be careful how much your personal biases and opinions slip into your preaching. Avoid saying, “Jesus thinks this … ” when you really don’t know what He thinks, subtly using God and Jesus to back your opinions about various social or political issues that aren’t clear in Scripture.

This one is very good. Spot on.

• Evaluate your titles for church leaders and the number of hoops people have to jump through to meet with them. If you’re using titles such as senior or executive pastor, have you ever paused to ask why and what that communicates?

Don’t just pause with evaluation. Make changes. Evaluate titles and hoops and what it communicates then really change so that it matches a more theologically appropriate model. Oh, and figure out what that model is. “That’s the way it’s always been done” is not good theology.

• Listen to the younger voices. We need to not only make it easier for young people to be involved in our churches, we also need to show them that they’re needed in all areas—not just isolated in youth and young adult ministries. They need to know that we respect their opinions on the direction of the entire church. Make sure your board has one or two younger elders, and set up a leadership training structure to include people of all ages.

Bribe ’em and they’ll shut up. Give the rebels a title and some land, that’ll keep him fat and happy. Didn’t work with William Wallace. Won’t work with those who are yearning for deeper changes in organizational patterns. The Church is about hierarchy, power and control with a political agenda and including some of the upward mobile ones, with their strong leadership potential and flashy smiles, will not placate the broader group. It doesn’t matter if the power is in a 60 year old or a 30 year old. It’s the same system. Even if the included 30 year old is now happy as punch.

I’m doing this in stages, so this’ll be part one.

2 Responses to “Jesus, not the Church I”

  1. sonja Says:

    Wow … having just gone through a battle royale (and left our church) with the “leadership,” it doesn’t really seem to matter what the titles are … if you try to mess with someone’s perceived turf you need to beware. This can even happen in a warm and fuzzy emerging church.

  2. Patrick Says:

    How totally sad. What is interesting is that I was just asked about how leadership issues in emerging churches. What’s extra sad to me is that what you’re saying doesn’t surprise me. One of my persistent, and still unresolved, issues with emerging churches has to do with leadership. Every one I’ve encountered personally runs into this same wall. I’d think it was an ’emerging’ thing if it wasn’t for the fact that most churches do as well, along with most denominations.

    Perceived turf is exactly it, and that requires a humility across the board. I have hope there are answers though. I have a lot of hope that this isn’t just the way things have to be.