The Prophetic Vision of the New Testament

Many of us can become quickly discouraged and even frustrated when we take an honest assessment of the church, the behavior of some Christians, and even our own lives.  Whether its people like Westboro Baptist playing out their unspeakable misunderstanding of the Christian Faith or just taking assessment of our own lives, perplexed by the yet un-sanctified brokenness with which we still wrestle; we see clearly that Christians, churches and Christianity can disappoint.

My discouragement is the same as yours and at times I’m almost overwhelmed byNew_Testament what I see.  But Good news is as much for the church as it is for the world.  There is yet hope to be had in the midst of what is often legitimate concern for western Christianity.  For me, this hope remains as the prophetic vision that the New Testament offers for how life can be radically and significantly different.

We believe that communities can be real and life giving, that individuals can experience real freedom and that grace can be known in a way that literally transforms everything.  There is a wildness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that stands against the disappointment we experience in this life.

Spearheaded by Jesus himself, the New Testament offers us this vision without hesitation and we must hold fast to this in every facet of our lives.  If our observations of Christianity promote discouragement, then we have even more reason to proclaim what we believe to be the true potential of God’s people.  We must lean into the grace and truth of Jesus with our whole life and seek to experience whatever he has proclaimed for us.  We need to remember, proclaim and seek God’s vision for who and what we can become.

It is probable that our lives, communities, ministries, churches and families will never reach perfection in this regard. Most likely, some of this is left for eternity.  Yet a lack of perfection must not lead us to a lack of progress.  Part of faith is believing that God wants for us what he has already proclaimed and that our submission to his grace will lead us deeper into it.

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What I Love About Discipleship Culture

Studying culture has been a big deal since I bit into the post-modernity conversation way back when.  Ha, post-modernity.  Anyway, I loved sociology in college and even considering getting a Master’s in it; though my current master’s degree is non-existent.  Either way, when the study and observation of culture became important for church leadership, I was instantly intrigued.

2The process of understanding culture and its relevance to ministry is still important; with or without post-modernity (sigh).  This is especially true for youth and young adult ministry leaders.  Every day we live in the trenches of cultural differences; whether its the cultural difference between us and our students, the church and our students, or all three.  Youth ministries is where I learned to see myself as a missionary to a foreign culture and where I was given the foundational training I needed to do cross-cultural ministry.

As is often pointed out by both myself and others; we live in a time when the church remains culturally divided according to generational lines.  We often struggle between these cultures and as youth or young adult pastors, we strive to somehow get them connected.  I recently wrote a piece about this which you can access here.  This is a struggle which every church in the western church must face and/or is facing in some way.

If our churches have even entered the dialogue on this topic, then usually some solutions have been suggested.  Initially, the thought is to force young people into situations where they must simply outright accept the culture of older generations.  This has its cons, but also has some surprising pros.  Another solution is for the church to become more culturally relevant to the younger generations.  This too has its pros and cons.  A third option has also been expressed by taking the younger generation and planting a church that specifically addresses their needs and reflects their culture.  Generally speaking, each of these suggestions have both merit and shortcomings of their own.

Still, the somewhat depressing thought remains that these are our best options.  Either force boomer culture on millennials, force millennial culture on boomers or isolate generations altogether.  And while I’d rather fumble my way through these options than do nothing at all, it seems that many people are only becoming frustrated with the unintended results of these strategies.

However there may yet be a fourth option.  Rather than asking various generations to jump off their respective cultural cliffs, only to catch each other in the air; why can’t we build a bridge between the two? If we can build a third culture that is both shared and positive, the various generations in our congregations can begin to interact over a common middle ground which is understood and accepted by all (This actually serves the needs of multiple cultural groups, not just two seemingly opposite generations).

DiscipleshipTitle-300x224Mike Breen and the people at 3dm have done a tremendous amount of work around building discipleship cultures.  As I have been exposed to their work and ideas I have come to the realization that a shared, discipleship culture is potentially the answer to our generational-culture divide.  Mutually adopting a discipleship culture means sharing language, values, expectations and norms in a way that draws people together into a new vision of community.  This may be one of the few strategies that has genuine potential to give Christ-followers of various generations a way to relate to each other.  Furthermore, we may find ourselves connected around the lifestyle of following Jesus; which is probably the best part yet.

The Church Trap

1362694738On more than one occasion I’ve been traveling westbound on Hwy 80 leaving the Lake Tahoe area and seen an abundance of strange looking cars covered in a peculiar white dust. Turns out that these are the folks returning from their annual Burning Man pilgrimage.   Burning Man is an event which takes place in Nevada’s Black Rock Dessert each year around the end of August/beginning of September.  Their website describes the event as, “…dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.”  I found out about it years ago when I worked with a girl who attended it.  When I asked what it was, my then boss stepped in to inform me that it was, “…a bunch of naked hippies dancing around in the desert.”

I’ve not yet been, but apparently there is some truth to that statement.  However, as one not prone to keep tabs on Burning Man culture, I was surprised in recent years to hear that it is, in addition to being a giant “rager”, also an event which is truly committed to artistic expression.  Below you’ll find a link to a picture from this year’s Burning Man 2013.  The exhibit is called “The Church Trap” and was built by California artist Rebekah Waites.  The original photograph was beautifully captured by a photographer named Jessica Carpenter: http://500px.com/photo/4549250

If art is meant to get you thinking, than I’m willing to call this one a success.  I’m not outright approving of the messages these artists may be trying to convey, but I’m certainly not rejecting them either.  Throughout history, art has been used to speak to establishments and culture.  I’m wondering, what message is being sent to the church through this both by secular culture and emerging generations?  Whether those messages are criticisms, endorsements, prophetically correct, or dramatically wrong, I am curious to hear if there is something in this that we should be paying attention to.

Reactions?  Thoughts?

You can find out more about the The Church Trap and the artist(s) who built it here.

#Scribes #literacy #attentionspans #justice

There are several groups identified in the Gospels as being in regular conflict with Jesus.  One of which, the  “Scribes”, recently became really interesting to me for several reasons.  so I started looking into who they were and where they stood in relationship to the various Jewish sects of first century Jewish life.  As it turns out, the scribes were probably connected and incorporated into all of the sects. There would have been Pharisaic scribes, Sadducaic scribes and the like.  They became experts in both Torah law and the “traditions” which the Pharisees held so dearly to.  They also found themselves at the aid of judges, priests, rabbis and many other power players in political and religious life.  Both their popularity with the powerful and their connections with the various sects are attributed  according to scholars and historians, to one thing: they could read and write.

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Reading is taken for granted in most of the western world; at least that seems to be the case in my small corner.  Thus we tend to forget that literacy has not always been the norm for the general population of a given society.  This is certainly true in the first century:  sure some folks could read, but not everybody.  Many historians believe that we shouldn’t even assume that the pharisees were literate as many of them could have, and probably did, arrive at their place of authority through verbal repetition and memorization.  By the time of the Gospels however, the scribes had apparently wiggled their way into a variety of powerful and important positions because of these simple skills.

This will immediately remind us of the opportunity that is afforded by this basic element of education.  Those who read and write aren’t guaranteed more, but they are more adequately equipped to succeed and to defend themselves against certain forms of injustice whether political, economic, religious or other.  While we must always be wary of the promises that education is akin to some form of salvation, we don’t have to look much farther back in our own history to see its importance.  It wasn’t too long ago that many African slaves were released from the oppression of slavery only to find themselves taken advantage of in the American marketplace; a multifaceted social ill which was in part due to illiteracy.  

The predominantly white suburban world that I live in is remarkably literate.  The majority of people are taught to read and write while also being afforded the opportunity to further these skills.  Yet somehow I find that a lot of young people are able to read; and yet not able to read.   People understand the basic symbols of the alphabet and how those symbols can be put together to make words.  They understand how those alphabetic symbols should form sounds and how the words can be pronounced with our mouths to produce thoughts and meaning.  However, I fear that we are dangerously close to a society in which this is the limit of it all.  If that is reading, then most of America’s Kindergartners should be considered proficient enough.  However that is not reading any more than hammering is carpentry or strumming is musicianship.  

informationliteracyMany want to attribute these problems to the education systems, which may have a role to play, but I’m more inclined to point out other societal factors.  I’m not the first person to point out the role that mass media, the internet, cellular technology and social media networks are having on this.  Though we as a society can read, we generally choose to no longer do so.  We choose Twitter over Twain and Facebook over fiction.  Steinbeck and Tolkien, not to mention the Bible, are really too long and arduous in a world of 140 character posts and #hashtags made up of jumbled words.  Then we have the inundation with audio and video messages to the point that the idea of reading for information becomes both impractical and old fashioned.  Our collective attention spans are shriveling before our eyes and its happening with horrible grammar, spelling and syntax!

This takes me back to the scribes.  This isn’t prophecy and I hope to be proven wrong; but I suspect that the next generation(s) will find themselves afforded and/or denied basic opportunities according to their ability to read, use and understand language.  Imagine having to read any sort of document that matters when all you’ve done is watch youtube videos and read misspelled tweets.  The people that can read, write and articulate their thoughts will have the upper hand in most of life’s most challenging circumstances, especially things pertaining to legal and economic matters.  Those who cannot will at best end up working for them.  

Because of my investment in this generation this concerns me for a couple of reasons.  First, literacy issues pose challenges to discipleship.  It’s difficult to promote Biblical literacy when dealing with people that can read, but can’t pay attention to what’s being read.  Second, it seems almost inevitable that this will prove to be a justice issue.  Those who find themselves on the unfortunate side of literacy will struggle socially, economically and legally.  There will be an even further divide between rich and poor, powerful and weak, with the former being given greater opportunity to take advantage of the latter.

What then should our response be?  Overhaul the education systems?  Abolish media and technology?  I’d actually be fine with both of those, but they each pose their respective problems and neither of which  are probable; certainly not by me.  Somehow we have to encourage people to read.  We have to advocate not just for literacy, but for comprehension and the use of language as a necessary skill for living.  Our discipleship of  young people needs to become contextualized to fit this growing trend while simultaneously be infused with the challenge to actually read the scripture.  Many Christians have gone before us in this same endeavor and have succeeded in both raising literacy rates and growing people in the faith; I trust that we will find ourselves following, almost strangely, in their footsteps.

Relevant Leadership

I have a lot of conversations with people about who is and isn’t relevant enough to lead young adults.  Believe it or not, I’m usually the one advocating that someone is relevant, or at least that they could be.

First- I actually don’t like using the word “relevant” in this discussion.  It’s not that I don’t think that some leaders might be relevant and that others might not be, it’s just that the meaning of “relevance” is not objective.  For some it refers to age.  For some it might refer to the way they dress.  Still others might see it as pertaining to musical interests and other types of media intake.  Once I even heard someone ruled out because of their chosen career.

Many of the conversations I’ve been a part of deal with relevance from an the perspective of age; which of course implicates cultural differences as well.  At this point, even if some folks are still unable to articulate the details of these generational-culture gaps, we all know they exist.  Still, is leadership relevance age based?  

The idea that one person is irrelevant simply because of their age is simply ridiculous.  I won’t even touch that here.  The idea that a person may be irrelevant because of cultural differences is the real issue, but I think too that we’ve made this a larger stumbling block than need be.  For me, the question is no longer about whether or not an older person is culturally different from the younger generations; that generally goes without saying.  The issue at hand is whether or not this person has the capacity to relate to people cross-culturally.

In this light, relevance for young adult leadership has essentially little difference from what gets discussed in terms of missions and youth ministry.  This is interesting food for thought.  I see a lot of people in my church who are totally culturally irrelevant to the generations below them and yet I still believe that they have what it takes to make these connections.  I’m just trying to figure out how to empower, train and encourage them to do it!