Jesus, not the Church III

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Perception No. 5: ‘All Other Religions Are Wrong!’

we have to build relationships and understand other faiths well enough to talk about them intelligently and compassionately.

It seems to me that we don’t necessarily need to understand other faiths well enough to talk about them, as much as we need to understand our own faith well enough to talk about them while listening to others talk about their faiths. Here we run into a major sign of a modern thinker — thinking they possess total knowledge on all subjects. Have you ever run into an atheist who really knows the Christian faith? I have. I’ve run into a few that know more about the Christian faith than most Christians I know. Do you know what? I didn’t become an atheist. Weird! Freaky!

Why not? Because while they knew about the Christian faith they didn’t know about my Christian faith. Stop at the first part of that phrase above and you’ll do well. We do have to learn how to build relationships. And we do not need to tell someone else what they think. We have to learn how to have a relationship of give and take. But to do that, to be able to have a conversation we have to know our own contribution.

So to be effective missionaries in our emerging culture, what do we need to understand about where people are coming from?

Note. It’s not the culture that is emerging. That’s a bad blend of hip concepts. The culture is the culture. Emerging as a word is only useful, really, in regards to the Church. Though I appreciate the fact postmodern is overused, and generally vague. But, I’m thinking ’emerging’ is too now. I’d prefer “to be effective missionaries in our culture, what do we need to understand…”.

• Our culture is post-Christian. About a year ago, I watched an episode of a popular TV sitcom in which the family was arguing over which religion a new baby would be dedicated in. The father wanted the baby baptized, the mother wanted a Hindu ceremony and the grandparents wanted a Jewish bris. In the end, they compromised and did all three.

I wrestle with this one. Our culture is post-Church to be sure. But is it really post-Christian? Do all the world faiths have an equal chance in the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific? I really don’t think so. I’d much rather be a Christian missionary than a Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or B’Hai missionary. The tendency now is to be secular or vague, but most of the country retains a Christian flavor to it. Which makes me think this country is a lot more Christian-weary than post-Christian. Europe is in a different place with this. But, I’m not sure I’d give America that label yet.

Indeed, about four days ago I watched an episode of a popular TV sitcom in which one character had an argument with another character about whether things happen for a reason. One character, Dr. Cox, said, “no sir, not a chance, there.” The other character, Nurse Roberts, replied otherwise. Her specific dialogue was especially interesting. “Romans 8:28,” she said to Dr. Cox, “says ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.'”

Yeah, on Scrubs last week a major subplot was based on a verse from the book of Romans. And you know what? Things kept happening for a reason in that episode, proving Dr. Cox wrong (though with a very big cliffhanger at the end).

Interesting. And I really would like to learn what show Dan Kimball was watching. I can’t think of any that would fit that description. I’m just sayin…

To be sure there is a huge openness to listen to what other faiths are saying, but a big, big part of that has to do with the fact most people think Christianity has said all it needs to say during an hour of Christian television preaching, so they are open to other faiths who don’t feel a need to popularize their depths.

• We need to develop a basic understanding of world faiths. While we don’t have to become experts, as leaders we should acquire at least a basic understanding, so that when we teach in our churches and meet people of other faiths or those who hold a pluralistic view, we can talk intelligently about other religions. A basic knowledge shows people of other faiths that we respect and are interested in their beliefs enough to do some homework. It also helps counter the impression that all Christians are dogmatic and close-minded.

I’m not sure a basic knowledge shows people of other faiths we’re interested, at least interested in much more than evangelizing them. Am I really blown back when a Mormon comes to my door and talks about the work of Jesus in the Gospels? Does it convince me when a Jehovah’s Witness discusses the doctrine of the Trinity? No. I see through them. They know enough to tell me what not to believe. Again, it’s not our prior knowledge that changes opinions about Christians or perceived close-mindedness. It’s how we listen and react in any given conversation. If we are trying to win the conversation, if we show that we have really studied the apologetics, then people will see us as used car salesmen, trying to exploit the moment.

Being willing to really talk, ask questions, listen and dialogue shows we’re interested. Basically, being genuinely interested in their beliefs shows that we are interested. How many evangelists, however, are really interested in what someone else believes?

One emerging church leader put it well when he said he was willing to be evangelized. That’s it really.

• Train your church to understand world faiths. I know of one church that devoted five weeks in its main worship gathering to learning about world religions, even inviting individuals from various faiths to come and be interviewed.

How much time did this church spend teaching in the main service about the doctrine of the Trinity? Or Church history? Or the nuances of Christology and pneumatology? How many of the Christians in that church could delve the depths of Christian theology? That’s really the biggest problem in the Church. We’ve our few points of essential, evangelism useful, doctrine, but most folks have little or no idea about some of the deeper aspects. They don’t realize how mystical or how thoughtful or how amazingly deep Christian theology is. In dealing with other religions Christians have to be able to contribute to the dialogue, and this doesn’t mean becoming broadly knowledgable, this means becoming very informed about what Christians offer. I have no interest in talking to a Muslim who knows Christianity really, really well. I’d love to talk to a Muslim who really knows Islam. I can talk my faith, he can talk his faith. What if I can’t my faith. It’s a pretty poor conversation and Christianity comes off as shallow.

• Can your congregation explain why not all paths lead to God? People in emerging generations are open to discussing this truth. But they’re looking for conversation, not a lecture, and facts, not rhetoric. Simply quoting a Bible verse and smugly saying, “Case closed,” will only alienate them. Despite what you read and hear about our relativistic world, when you logically and gently lay out the facts before someone who’s interested in your opinion, there is actually great response. Most people have never really thought about the implications of what it means when they say, “All paths lead to God.”

This is very true. But it shows a really modern insight into postmodernity. The problem with this point is not what Dan Kimball is saying. The problem is that it’s not really enough. You can logically and gently lay out the facts and get complete agreement. But it won’t change anything. A person won’t necessarily change their opinion in the face of the facts. Or rather the ‘facts’. Those are nice ‘facts’ they will say, but I have my own ‘facts’. And the modern will then get really angry and try to convert the postmodern to become a modern so that all the logic and syllogisms will work as they should.

Because really, it’s what Christ said. We need to do, not just say. We need to act, not just preach. We need to build relationships, not identify targets.

And we need to know who we are. What are Christians without Christ? What is Christianity without Christian theology? Post-Christian. We need to become fully Christian ourselves again so as to try to address this Christian-weary culture before it goes truly post-Christian. Fortunately, I really see the Spirit moving in a lot of ways, and where the Spirit is, however the Spirit is, there is Christ.

Which gives me a whole lot of hope. And makes me think I need to get closer to the Spirit more than take a class on Hinduism.

Next up, the aspects of our current society Dan Kimball didn’t address.

Jesus, not the Church II

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This one will be pretty easy. I think he’s right on target.

Perception No. 2: Judgmental and Negative

• Teach how and when to talk about sin. I’m convinced that people in emerging generations actually want to be informed about Jesus and His teachings, even the ones that require repentance and change. But our approach makes all the difference. If we go around pointing out people’s sins, the reaction will usually be negative. But if we share how we can become more loving and more like Jesus by changing in certain ways, then it’s often accepted as a positive thing.

This is one of the bigger confusions about new conceptions of church. People think there’s a dismissal of these important topics. There’s not. Rather there needs to be a balance. Jesus did talk about sin. Paul did talk about sin. But this wasn’t their primary emphasis. Sin was always the beginning of the conversation and we’ve made it the whole of our conversation. Why do we talk about sin? Because there is more. The Holy Spirit who offers us hope also leads us towards light. What is most troubling is that the church expects people to work out their own sin issues, and judges them for not doing so, even when they have no relationship with Christ. That’s the big thing. Romans 8 says we can only overcome sin through the power of the Holy Spirit who leads us to life. Without the Holy Spirit there is no power to overcome. So why do we start with that? We are stuck in Christendom where everyone was expected to already be in the church. Thus the topic of sin was always assumed to be a discussion among other Christians. Guilt could be used because people were not living up to the standards they assumed.

I do disagree with him on his last sentence. We don’t share how we can become more loving or more like Jesus. Why? Because we can’t. We share the power that can. We speak of the Spirit who works in us to become the people Christ has called us to become. If we speak of our own changes, and our own efforts, and our own work, then there’s no real hope.

• Focus more on what we stand for. Those who like Jesus but not the Church see Him as one who stood up for the poor and oppressed. Scripture mandates that His churches follow Christ’s instruction to care for “the least of these.” By doing so, we also earn the respect of those outside the Church. They are also looking for a church that expresses love and “does not judge” as Jesus taught.

Yes. More importantly, we actually do what Christ called us to do, and in doing that help create a context in which the Spirit can move most freely. By doing what we are called to do we ourselves change and take on Christ’s perspective. We begin to listen to the Spirit and are empowered to do even more. The Church becomes a dance, rather than a lecture.

• Teach your church to break out of the Christian Bubble. As leaders, we can use preaching and the example of our own lives to teach people in our churches that their attitudes impact those outside the Church. Unless we’re creating cultures in our church in which people see themselves as missionaries in their day-to-day worlds, unless we’re challenging Christians to break out of the Christian Bubble and start listening to the hearts and cries of people around them, only the loudest, often-negative voices in the Church will be heard.

I agree with this in part. I think it’s a noble challenge. However, there is still the problem that the Church is inherently closed off. We still emphasize work in churches, and service in churches, and church services. More than just leading with preaching and examples, a pastor needs to understand his role of empowering. And a church needs to exist with fluid boundaries, erasing the line between the sacred and the secular. Jesus, for instance, made most of his points in his day to day life. The idea of missionaries implies a going out, and a bringing back. Instead there is a bringing out, a sharing, and openness of existence in which Christ is reflected in all sorts of circumstances, not to bring a person back to church, but to be church with all people.

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digesting

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.

coalesce

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coalesce

okay

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Fred Thompson, he of Law & Order and Die Hard 2 fame, is thinking about running for President.

Alright. He has my vote. I think it’s bout time for a President with gravitas.

St. Paddys Day

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Yesterday I spent the day at a Celtic Spirituality Retreat. It was a fine day of Celtic prayers, and whatnot, at a retreat center in what may be one of the more particularly nice sections of the LA area, Rancho Palos Verdes.

The setting was really beautiful. The day was really renewing and peaceful.

Though, the presence of this sign suggests it may not have been the most appropriate place for a St. Patrick’s day gathering.

Beware of Snakes

Though as I didn’t see one, maybe we drove them off.

The pic, by the by, was taken by my new cell phone, in case you are wondering.

form

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For about a year I have occasionally approached my state of mind not through words but through pictures. When I don’t want to journal but feel curious about where my mind is I instead pull out my painting tools and have at it. This has generally gone on over at Morning and Evening, my one time personal journal blog. I say one time because it’s been a long time since it was really a journal and even longer since it was a consistent blog. So, in the spirit of simplicity I’m going to be doing some merging around these parts, and move to a single blog. I’m not sure if Present Matters will end up being this blog or if I’ll start something new, but either way, I’m going to start by posting my wee picture here this evening.

workspace

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This past week I had a lot of work to do, and it kept me pretty busy. Fortunately, the weather turned nice and I was able to do a good bit of work in my office.

My office

new home

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Well, for a long time I have been having problems with my previous host ipowerweb. Nothing too major, just a lot of bumps and errors and hassles. Seems like once a week I was getting in contact with them about something. On their front page they have a noticing saying they were one of the 500 fastest growing companies of 2006. It shows. They couldn’t keep up their service, and their servers had no end of problems. My databases, my email, all sorts of stuff were getting affected.

Anyway, this month I’m now in a new website home: www.siteground.com

They transferred my whole site and even have helped me fix a whole lot of problems that were going on in the blog database. I couldn’t have switched on my own because of the errors that occurred at ipowerweb. But, they put in the time, as part of their regular service, and now everything seems perfectly back on track, in a new place where I’ll have a lot, lot more reliability. The only issue I can see is my categories have disappeared, which is a bit of a bother but not too bad of one I suppose, given I was worried about losing 3 years worth of posts there for a little while.

So, if’n you’re looking for a host, wander over to siteground.com