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.

Bored: Part 2

I recently gathered in my home with a few young adults to discuss this question: Why are we so bored at church?  This is part 2 in a 3 part series that reflects on that discussion.  You can access part 1 here.

bored_in_church

Here’s the reason that I don’t consider “Why are we so bored at church?” to be a good question.

Almost every Christian I know, myself included, suffers from the regular usage of a theological misconception.  We use the word “Church” to talk about a particular building, a particular type of 501c3 or a particular event, rather than as the community of God’s people.  We know without question that the Greek word ecclesia does not refer to a building or a geographic location; though we can understand why that usage has developed over time.  We also know that the word, though it connotes the assembly or gathering of believers, is not limited to the once a week event that is often being referred to.  The Ecclesia, as we are, can gather anytime, anywhere and for a variety of purposes.

When we say that we’re “bored at church”, what we might really be saying is that we’re bored with the particular corporate worship service put on by a particular ecclesia.  It’s the public space gathering of a local church body.  You can access why we’d get bored with those gatherings in part 1 of this series.  It may in fact be true that the worship service you attend (or that you put on), is boring; but I think that this is still different than being bored with the ecclesia.

Ecclesia is relationships and if relationships are healthy, life giving and valuable, how do we get bored with that?  We all get bored in worship services from time to time; that’s inevitable. It seems though, that if people are finding value in these relationships they’ll be willing to put up with boring worship services from time to time.

When we hear, “bored at church”, we may also be hearing “bored with my faith”.  This of course is a discipleship issue.  Following Jesus certainly has high points and low points, but I don’t know that any true follower of Christ would describe this life as boring.  When we examine the book of Acts, the last thing we’d suggest is that they were bored.  Challenged, uncomfortable, successful, confused, empowered, missional; these might be some words I’d use to describe the infant church, but I certainly wouldn’t call them bored.

So when we ask, “Why are we so bored at church”, we may actually be dealing with multiple issues that go far beyond just a worship service.  Being bored in faith and/or not experiencing the value of relationships in Ecclesia both point to at least one common issue: that our churches need to be more dynamic than the one event, once a week, in one location.  According to Acts, the vision of what it means to participate in Ecclesia is much larger than just a worship service on Sunday.  When we make church small enough to fit into that box, it will, I think, always inevitably get boring.  

Bored: Part 1

Last night I gathered in my home with a few young adults to discuss this question: Why are we so bored at church?  It’s a weird question, and honestly not a good one in my opinion; but it did lead to some great conversations.  We discussed all kinds of things like why we might be bored, who might be to blame and what we might do to address these issues.  I think my friends found some encouragement and sharpening from the our time together, but if not, at least it served to produce some good blogging material!  Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to attempt to distill our conversation.

bored_in_churchWe started with the proposed question: Why?  Immediately we brainstormed a list of possibilities: things like repetition, attitude of heart, length of service, “song fatigue” (to which one girl responded: “I love singing!”), life distractions and more.  It definitely stimulated some honest, critical thinking and what I appreciated the most; they didn’t just outright lambaste the pastors and church leadership.

In response I proposed four categorical reasons why we might get bored with a particular Christian community.  This morning, as I reflected on our conversation, I decided to add one more which I think I missed the night before.

Culture-  We harp a lot about the differences of culture between the generations.  When one generational culture dominates leadership, other generations (especially younger) will feel left out.

Consumerism- Let’s face it, we love to consume and that mentality has infiltrated the western church in an ugly way.  Furthermore it’s no secret that we have raised our kids in a consumer culture and so they speak this language fluently.  When people of any age show up to a church with the expectation to only consume, they will eventually grow bored.  After all, the nature of consumerism is to consume one thing until you get enough and move on to something else!

Contribution- The question is whether or not people have a chance to contribute to the needs of the community.  If not, it only makes sense that they will get bored.  This is really connected to the ideas of consumerism, but slightly different in my opinion.  A young person may not be coming with the expectations of a consumer, but is your church prepared to give them a place at the table where they can contribute regularly and feel like a member of the body?  simpsonschurchwide

Connectedness- This is about people’s connections to God and to each other.  If people aren’t interacting with God, hearing him and experiencing him, then I don’t know how they would stay encouraged.  Of course we can’t control this, but it doesn’t cease to be true.  What we can have a greater influence on however is whether or not people are connected to others.  Relationships have and will always stand out as primary reasons that people connect with a church.

Commission- Without blowing the “missional” horn too loud, we do have to remember that to be a church is to be a community of Christ followers with a mission in the world.  In my opinion, church will inevitably become uninteresting without this being held up as a constant priority in some way.

The Leadership Mirror

Nothing has caused me or allowed me to see my own shortcomings like trying to lead others.  The longer I do it, the more I see the pitfalls of my personality, my history and my brokenness.

Note- this is not meant to be self-deprecating.

man-looking-in-mirrorI’d guess, and guess that I’m right, that this is true for most leaders.  Leadership is like a giant mirror that constantly reflects back on us.  Interestingly enough, when things go well, we (I), in our (my) abhorrent self-absorption, are (am) often tempted to believe that it is simply a reflection of our (my) gifts and talents.  When we look good, we want to see that in ourselves.  What also happens however, is that we also have the opportunity, if we’re willing to look long enough, to see our own stupidity.  We might see ourselves how others have seen us.  We might even see things that make us uncomfortable, the side of our fallenness that we’d tried to cover up with the gifts and talents God has given us.

This sucks, to say the least, but it is also a good thing.  I recognize that God has gifted me in certain ways and that the Spirit is empowering me for ministry.  However I have also observed, with a great, unfortunate clarity, on how terribly short I can fall.  I wonder if this too, isn’t a working of the Spirit.  I have recently had a couple of conversations in a somewhat short period of time; each with people that I have had the privilege of working with in ministry.  Both are gifted leaders and are able to challenge me in ways that I need to be challenged.  Both conversations left me with the reminder of my own shortcomings.

Again this isn’t self-deprecation.  These conversations didn’t drive me into depression or cause me any real emotional harm.  They simply served as a reminder; a good reminder.  Later on as I prayed the Lord brought this passage of scripture to mind:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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!