Repenting in the good

In the wake of Jeremiah’s ministry and the sad downfall of the southern kingdom of Judah; Ezekiel calls out to the exiled Israelite community that they should, “repent and live”!  His prophetic appeal is that they can still turn from their evil ways and choose the right path of God’s promises.

This is of course and good thing, and part of what it means to repent.  The emphasis place on repentance in western Christian communities is usually around this theme: Turn from your worldly ways.  However, there is another part to repentance that is at least overlooked and at most, under-appreciated.  Israel is challenged to repent in tumultuous times, ultimately because of poor behavior and sinful attitudes of the heart.  However, repentance also has a role to play in the good parts of our lives; the joyous and victorious parts as well as the bad.

The greek word for repent literally means to change one’s mind.  Change your mind.  See things differently; but not just differently, see things the way God sees them.  Allow your thinking to be transformed in a manner that is so profound that your are literally changed on the inside so that the outside follows.  As Paul so eloquently states it in Romans, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  In this light it isn’t so hard to see why this leads us to the confirmation of God’s will.

A new job.  A new church plant.  That well deserved vacation.  The wedding of a loved one.  Christmas.  Even a simple weekend BBQ.  These are just some examples of the good moments that life may offer us.  It does seem unusual to suggest that we might repent in these times.  Or does it?

When life throws us a curve ball or when we’ve done something stupid, the drama itself is enough to send us reeling and seeking God’s face.  Yet when things are going well; when we’ve experienced any one example of life’s favorable moments, we tend to go on autopilot.  This could prove to be the missing link in our personal journey of sanctification.  What if, when we went through good times, we continued to ask God how it was that he wanted to change our minds and lives?

It may be yet another peril of our consumer culture that we assume our joys have no grander purpose than our consumption.  While we can safely conclude that God does in fact want us to enjoy these moments, it is even safer to conclude that he is always at work.  If he speaks in our pain, why wouldn’t he also speak in our victories?  The life that constantly seeks God is one which constantly takes the position of learner (aka disciple).  To humble ourselves in all seasons of life is to delve that much deeper into the fullness that God has promised us.

We’ll always emphasize the need to repent of/from the bad; but it may be time to also explore what it means to repent in/during the good!

 

Disillusionment

Noun: A feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be.  

-Oxford Dictionaries (oxforddictionaries.com)

I didn’t discover the saving grace of Christ until late in high school.  Though I’d been to church, I wasn’t a church goer and certainly didn’t grow up in the Christian faith.  For me, coming to Christ was exciting.  I loved church and was almost recklessly drawn to all things Christian.  If there was a Bible study or youth meeting, I was there.

In my new faith, I was actually surprised to find out that so many “church kids” were bored, if not altogether disillusioned with the Church.  In some cases this sense of disappointment went beyond the particular faith community and was applied to either the larger church universal, or even the whole Christian faith.  While this was once news to me, it isn’t news to us now, especially for those of you that have fought this battle in your own life.  Though I was once easily frustrated by Church kids who seemed to so easily overlook the good things of their Christian faith, I have now become much more sensitive to their journey.

sad_man1One of the callings of college/young adult ministry is dealing with disillusioned youth.  If you’re going love these kids, this is an inevitable factor in the stages of late adolescence.  Some are still reeling from the consequences of their parents’ divorce.  Some have seen moral failures of Christian leadership.  Some have sat under the leadership of an older generation that makes no effort to cross the generational-culture gap.  

Obviously this list could be longer, and is made up of things which are unfortunate realities in our churches.  We could talk about how to solve those things, which would be a worth while conversation.  However, I’d like to just remind us that the church will always be made up of people, and though we must strive to deal with our issues, there will never be perfection.  We simply can’t solve all of the causes of disillusionment in young people.

A better strategy is to simply not give up on them.  Our job is to remain available for relationship and conversation.  Though their disillusionment will at times be growing into bitterness, we need to remain patient and loving.  It seems that for many students the anger must run its course.  This is especially true when their criticisms are legitimate and well founded (admittedly, some are not).  Yet these criticisms are often unable to cast out all sensitivity to Christ and the Good News.  Thus we need to help them process their disillusionment and once again reveal to them the love of Christ in the midst of human brokenness.  In fact, maturity will hopefully reveal that the reality of Christ’s redeeming Grace amidst the foolishness of human institutions becomes is not only viable, but necessary.

Suddenly, disillusionment may become a path to maturity.  It may just be that for many students the inherent processing of disappointment and anger are a necessary byproduct of the world we live in.  Furthermore, if they must go through it, we can trust that the Holy Spirit can use it for long term transformation and maturity.  However, if that is the faith that we proclaim, we must accept our (the Church’s) role in sanctification.  Trusting that they’ll be better on the other side doesn’t mean waiting passively for it to happen; in fact, it may just prove to be the impetus for our diligent involvement in their lives.

We’re Not Called to Have a Youth Ministry

Our churches are not called to have a youth ministry, but to be a youth ministry.

While I’m not one of those folks who’s ready to abolish youth ministry across the board, I do share some of their basic premises.  In many cases Youth Ministries have become disconnected from the Body of Christ in a way that has fostered, at least in my estimation, some unhealthy circumstances in western evangelical circles.  

YM Button

The reaction to this however, usually includes an amalgamation of youth into the larger church in a way that overlooks the fundamental cultural differences which exist between generations; said differences being why youth ministry exists in the first place.  I am in favor of rethinking our ministries to students and how we can connect them to other generations.  I’m totally in favor of rediscovering what it means for the church to be family, rather than just subsets.  What I am not in favor of though, is moving forward in any of these endeavors without addressing the original problem; the generational cultural gap.

To suggest that our churches should be a youth ministry rather than just have one, is merely to suggest that the discipleship and maturation of young people must be owned corporately by the larger church.  Youth ministry should still be a “thing” in our culture, though it will inevitably look different if we take this seriously.  For many churches this probably means different things as different people have varying levels of cross-cultural and/or cross-generational competencies.   

Here are three things that I’m willing to offer as guiding truths in this discussion:

  1. We must be guided by a genuine concern for their discipleship and spiritual well being, rather than just a concern for our institution(s). Ask yourself this question- do you want your students either failing spiritually or thriving spiritually apart from the Body?  How we answer that question could be very telling.  
  2. However, we are also naturally and correctly concerned for the institution.  So we need to remember and communicate that when students are maturing, this adds to the maturity of the Body.  If our young people are not growing as an integrated part of the church, there are natural consequences for the overall spiritual vitality of our communities.  
  3. No matter what level our competencies, the church (we) must learn to engage across these generational and cultural lines.  At some point we need to not only put in effort, but we must do so with the intention of creating something that will meet the needs of all generations.  

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.