The Start of a New Journey – A Band in the Missionary Position

Tags

If this is the first post you are reading, feel free to start at the beginning here

If you had asked me, as a young man living in a large city attending a large church with a wealthy missions budget, if I knew what missions was I would say yes.  It’s taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  It’s making disciples.  Duh, read the Bible.

I knew what the Bible said.  I was on board.  But in retrospect, I missed out on my application because of a misunderstanding of my context.  I was soon going to have my perspective enlarged. 

So I found myself sitting listening to a Seminary grad turned musician talking about his experiences sharing the gospel with his fans after music shows.  I’m on board with that.  But here is where the story gets interesting.  He described the challenges of sharing the gospel with his audience – not because they didn’t know about the Gospel – but rather because many of them had.  They had church exposure and church experiences but for various reasons had left. 

Now before we write these people off – and argue that ‘no one should get the chance to reject the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once’, what do you tell a guy who recounts his experience going to a church youth group and getting physically thrown up against the bus by the youth pastor?  Think of how impressionable you were in high school.  Were you ever thrown against a wall?  I wasn’t but I can imagine that if I were I would have a hard time trusting that guy.. or his friends… or his god.  Can you blame that guy for leaving the church (especially given his non-Christian home life)?  If you have had a similar negative experience and stuck with the church then feel free to disagree.  Otherwise, without a similar experience, I think you lack the authority to say that this kid just should have stuck it out.  Face it: the church failed him.  And he deserves a second chance.

What this musician realized is that there are many in the American culture who recognize Christian words and organizations but for whom these words and organizations represent legitimate pain and fear.  The church for them is not a safe place.  Not because of an attack on their sin but because of a violation of their personhood.  “It’s the kindness of the Lord that brings us to repentance” but many of these haven’t seen any kindness.

I began to see, as this musician was describing, a huge subculture – or cultural drift of those who were geographically close but spiritually far.  Who were familiar with the words but interpreted them very differently.  Who, like my painful roadtrip to a girlfriend’s house made painful but fanatical teaching,  had painful experiences needing resolution and new positive experiences for formation.

In college, a Navigator staff guy showed me a line representing people’s journey to Jesus.  Along this line were several obstacles.. a lack of hearing, family baggage, etc.  One of the obstacles was a stained glass representing church issues, perceptions and experiences that kept people from coming closer to Jesus.  Do we recognize that often times its not just a matter of verbal communication but that there is more going on?  Are we lowing those barriers for people or raising them?

Far too often, these obstructing stain glass issues are the same things which are considered sacred cows by the church.  This is often the complex reality, but this is another discussion for a later post.

For our musician, communicating healing truth required a whole new vocabulary.  Certain buzzwords carried a lot of painful associations for people so once they heard them they would put up walls and end the dialogue.  This pressed him to think through what the buzz words actually meant and forced him to clarify his understanding so he could communicate spiritual truth with real words.  This is hard work but I believe it is the task of the missional: to share the gospel in the local language of the people.

It may also mean caring enough to listen to others until they trust you… until they are ready to share their story.  It means having the self-control and concern to not push a blanket answer on their real concerns.  But now I’m jumping ahead to my next post about a poetry café.

Live it Out:

Here is an exercise for you with a condition attached.

Talk to someone who you know well who is not a believer.  Ask them what they think when they hear the term Christian.  Level with them.  Tell them you are reading this online Christian writer (who wants to help Christians be less stupid – that’s actually one of my goals) and he gave you homework. 

This is a good way to find out how good of friends you are.  If they really trust you and if you are genuine friends, they may be painfully honest and express some surprisingly negative views – of the term Christianity.  If they are, thank them for their honesty. 

You may be tempted to defend Christianity but don’t.  There will come a time for that.  But the whole point of this exercise is for you to listen and to understand and to regain lost trust.  I repeat, don’t defend.  If you respond and try to change their view, you may feel like you are accomplishing something but you are likely shutting down the conversation, negating their painful experience, and actually adding to it. 

Don’t feel guilty about not responding.  Those are old voices from old ways.  And honestly, those old voices have been around a long time but those old voices haven’t open the conversation with them. but this new voice – my voice – or rather this exercise – is that one that opened this door so please respect this process.  It won’t be wasted.  Listen to their frustrations with the church.   Feel free to ask clarifying questions.  Try to see it from there perspective.  But don’t assess.  Don’t correct.  If you can validate their frustration – and affirm a correct error on the part of the church, do it!  Bonus points.  You are learning how to listen.


Next we start to look at what to speak.

Advertisements

Every new beginning is from some other beginnings end

Tags

If this is the first post you are reading, feel free to start at the beginning here

Sometimes I think we lack a really good picture for Christian maturity which is integrate and sustainable. I think this issue is especially present when thinking about spiritual formation for young people. My fear is that the version of the Christian life we uphold is radical and extreme bordering on legalistic and isolationist. The only reason we don’t recognize a problem with this is because few live close enough to the communicated ideal to be burned by its flaws. Often times the damage of extremism burns others (who are non-believers), but any objection from their part reinforces our isolationism. Sometimes, however, the damage hits ourselves. I remember when it hit me.

I was driving to a girlfriend’s cottage. She was the most amazing woman I had ever met. Beautiful. Spiritual. Prettiest handwriting ever. And she liked me. And I liked her. I was on the way to her cottage to spend time with her and her family when I heard a message on “giving everything to God”. “Think of the money that instead of spending on a boat, you could give to God which could translate into saving souls!” On this long drive I started to get overwhelmed with the confusion of how to resolve my love for this woman with my love for God – which was to be all consuming – in one heart. The answer was clear. I needed to “give her up for God.” That sort of black and white all or nothing thinking is hard to argue with. It’s youthful and radical. But it is not sustainable.

No one was there to challenge the errant notion in this message that dollars automatically translate into souls. No one raised the point that getting guilted into giving something up for God is not what God has in mind. No one was there to show me the way of integrating my life and faith – to love this woman with the love of Christ realizing it could bear fruit to a watching world. (By the way, our relationship was very honorable and pure). No one was there to call into account the motives of this speaker who was there to raise money and perhaps prove his own ego and abilities. (Actually, my father was there to question this errant notion, but no one listens to their dad when they are in college).

Certain extreme sermons sound good. They preserve the ideal and make us feel secure – even if we can’t hold the standard. They can make us feel guilty. In a weird and twisted way we may even want to feel bad. You see, if we feel bad then it feels as though we’ve done some penance for our sins or inadequacies. So then, we feel better (for feeling guilty) even though the message provides no livable way forward.

If a sermon requires an approach to life which isn’t attainable, what good is it? I’m not talking about challenging believers to strive to be godly. Sure we want to support godly development, spiritual growth, and a nearness to and likeness of Christ. I’m talking about an idealized and extreme version of Christianity especially in how we relate to the world which can easily become a false god of defense from the dirt of the world. I’m talking about some weird cocktail of isolationism and legalism.

The black and white version is hard to argue with. It is so motivating, and clear, so obvious and yet often so… wrong. Remember, the point of our faith isn’t to reach the extreme ideal! The Pharisees had the black and white version. They had scripture to back it up. Yes, it was Biblical. They had loads for people to carry. They were eager to get things right but Jesus clearly communicated that they missed the point.

In contrast, Jesus shows us a radical difference that we still miss today. It’s “both” – “and”. It’s integrated. It’s hard. It’s fun. It’s unnerving. It is with Jesus. It includes fasting and self-depravation and drinking and extreme feasting. It includes calling and affirming people to take challenges and calling people on their crap in a way that looks to life change. To quote Wes King, a Christian songwriter of that time, “It’s living and dying and trying.”

Perhaps the memorable and sad ride back from a girlfriend’s house was what would later set me on a path to find a more integrated and sustainable faith – individually and communally.

Welcome to my world. The problems are real… but resolvable. They are challenging… but the success is enjoyable… and joinable. Welcome.

Live it Out: To join this journey with me, consider trying out the application sections. This one is the easy one for you introverts but important for all. Take some time (an hour) and journal about where God has failed you, or where the church has failed you. Seriously, let it rip. Were there assumptions that you had on God or the church that haven’t materialized? I’m guessing yes. Journal. Please be honest about these. The purpose here isn’t to have you doubt your faith, but instead to spark your thinking that perhaps your Christian education is incomplete and immature. Not necessarily untrue. Just incomplete. Therefore it is hard to reconcile or integrate certain experiences with your faith. Your faith is not yet comprehensive enough to integrate and absorb them. Were you given assumptions about how life would work as you followed God that ended up not materializing? When was the last time you heard a sermon on failure or the silence of God or the dark night of the soul? They exist. They’ve been around a long time. But they are forgotten. Again, my point isn’t to disrespect or challenge your Pastor. (He (or she) is a good person that has a difficult role – please be supportive). At this point, my goal is to help you see that while your pastor may know pretty much everything, the role he has of challenging and motivating the masses often misses the nuances and specificities we occasionally need.

If you are a new believer, stop reading this blog and go read the bible.

Otherwise… on to the next post…

Forming a Missional Perspective – Introduction

I remember when I knew what missions meant… and what reaching the lost meant.  Then I started having these experiences – not flashbacks or flash forwards or flashes to an alternate universe.  Just experiences… experiences which started to change the way I thought about things.  These experiences were with people who saw things differently, responded differently and somehow escaped the status quo for very good reasons.  This is my journal of how I began to see things differently.  It’s a photo album really.  It includes 16 snapshots (I may add a couple) – glimpses which radically changed my thinking.  The shift happened slowly and over time, but this important shift is something which I believe Christians in North American really need to think about.

Why is it important for believers in North America?  Let me ask you a question posed to me by someone you will meet in my photo album.  “How long does it take to erase Christianity?” He let the question linger before responding, “One generation!”  That’s all it takes.  The children forget and their children are never told the story.  Europe has seen and experienced this erosion.  We really need to look at them and learn how they lost their way and how they are finding their way back.  Perhaps that is why much of my photo album includes pictures of theologians and missionaries from Europe, or their friends and followers.

It’s not how to do church cooler or how to have sexy evangelism.  It’s not gimmick driven nor based on methodology… but it is about faith – about what you believe – and I mean that in a more specific way then believing in Jesus.  I hope to snap us out of our juvenile faith so we can think in a mature way.  But this takes some work – to see the world, and our place in this world, in a new way.

When I was a college pastor I remember having the realization that I didn’t know how to lead this ministry from a missional perspective!  I could write a good sermon (some will disagree), I knew enough about setting up a worship team, starting small groups and developing leaders but I didn’t have a roadmap.  I didn’t have a clear way forward.  I needed to know what to do!

We do need a way forward.  Candles on tables do not give us a way forward as nice as they may be.  At the end of the day we are travelers with great hopes and only when the end is in site do we realize how short the journey was.  Without a roadmap – even if it just includes a general list of places we want to see – we risk missing out on a trip that proves itself to be much shorter in retrospect.  I offer you a roadmap – my list of must see places should you desire to visit the land of missional thinking.  I offer you a way forward.

I hope you enjoy the show… and I hope you come along.

… to the next post.