"Beware of worshipping Jesus as the Son of God, and professing your faith in Him as the Savior of the world, while you blaspheme Him by the complete evidence in your daily life that He is powerless to do anything in and through you."
This morning I've been getting ready for a big trip to Pittsburgh scheduled for next week. I'm working with a couple of churches who have put together a very aggressive schedule of events, most of which are designed to engage the culture-at-large that exists outside the "walls" of our congregations. The folks in Pittsburgh have been diligent in the task of framing, wording, and preparing in ways that are truthful without the "noise" of turnoff. . . . which, by the way. . . tends to typify many of our shameful efforts to engage a watching world in compelling ways.
In an email to one of the event's organizers earlier this morning, I suggested some wording changes in something I was putting my name to so that the message we want to share doesn't get lost in translation.This all got me thinking about a couple of conversations I had last weekend at the Youth Specialties National Youthworkers Convention in Sacramento. The first was about some of the infamous stuff done by the brothers and sisters over the years. Or perhaps I should say, the infamous stuff made by the brothers and sisters in an effort to bring more folks into the fold. A couple of us got to talking about Christian "witnessing tools," you know, that Jesus Junk that we think is more effective than an embodied apologetic for the faith. One of those things that we talked about has been sitting on top of my desk since the day I picked it up - almost 10 years ago - in the exhibit hall at one of the conventions. Actually, and I'm ashamed to admit this, I paid for it. It's a can of root beer. . . Holy Cross Root Beer to be exact.
Never heard of it? Neither had I. I think it's Christian root beer. . . . or at least that's what the guy manning the booth told me. What makes root beer Christian? I still haven't figured that one out. Is it Christian because the can features a cross, a "Jesus Saves," and references to Acts 16:31, John 3:16, and Revelation 20:4-6? Does drinking it draw one closer to God? I can't answer that because I've never popped the top to take a swig. Does that mean that 10 years later what's in my can is actually better than what was in there when I first laid eyes on it? Who knows? All I do know is that if this is the best we can do. . . or even if we think this is an effective tool in our witnessing arsenal. . . . well, then we're nuttier than we think. And I don't mean "nutty" in a nice way.Another weekend conversation was had with some of my favorite new friends who are ministering to kids through First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, Colorado. Kim is one of the female interns who used to be a waitress at Appleby's. She told us how waitressing at the chain on Sunday afternoons was always an embarassment. Why? Because the restaurant would fill up with the brothers and sisters from the after-church crowd who would eat a normal amount of food, then leave an embarrassingly abnormal tip. . . . like a gospel tract sans cash. Do we seriously think that we're leaving a good impression when we share the Gospel of being cheap, cheesy, and uncaring with a piece of paper that winds up provoking anger before flying into the trash? Are we really caring for people when we demand that they wait on us for $2.01 an hour plus tips. . . . and we don't leave anything? Shame on us.
It made me think about this funny little video that's been floating around on YouTube. I watched it and laughed. I watched it and was embarassed. I watched it and thanked God that I'm not like that. . . . or am I (we)?
The comments and emails from the last post a great and thought provoking. In keeping with the “how to” or “want to” theme is a quote from an now departed youth worker.
"I am beginning to understand that faith is not the way around pain, it is the way through pain. Faith doesn't get rid of the opposition it invites it over for dinner. Faith doesn't give you the winning point at the last second, it ties the games and sends you into overtime. Faith does't give you the solution, it forces you to find it."
Had an interesting conversation with my staff today…we talked about the “HOW TO’s” of a Sunday Life Lesson. The “How To’s!” Now, don’t get me wrong, our staff is great but I love the fact that they are very candid and I must say we had a great talk. Unannounced to them, one of the criticisms that has been directed at me as a pastor is that “I tell people that they can CHOOSE to believe want they want.” REALLY. I did not know that! I just may have to go and sacrifice a cat now! (sarcasm)
Our conversation went further to the point that someone said that “people are so busy that they want leaders to do all the thinking for them.” So, as a pastor, my job is to do all the thinking for you and tell you what to think and do? WOW, is that cultish to the tenth degree or what? I am of the mind that effective, biblical preaching taps into an innate longing by helping people envision what God created us to be in Christ. Some scholars have called this visionary preaching. Visionary preaching is not content merely to instruct people in the ways of God, or to confront the sin in their lives and the world, or to exhort believers to do better and try harder. Visionary preaching empowers people to pursue God's better future by painting a vivid and compelling picture of that future with words, images, and stories and encouraging people to become more like Christ, the how’s are written between the lines.
Now, if I were to preach on tithing…wow…some of you just shuddered with that word, I could explain all the Old Testament foundations and commands of tithing and I could also draw from a more all encompassing giving approach based on New Testament examples… So, after I have finished preaching, I could assume that people would simply understand GOD’s expectations and they would make the effort to give MORE than 10% based on the great biblical exposition that I would be able to draw out (Simply an egotistical statement here used for emphasis). The other side is that I can try to guilt people into thinking that they are robbing God. In either case both of these approaches fail to understand how people grow.
I love what happened at Willow Creek a while back when they did a survey regarding the spiritual growth of their community. Those who described himself as “spiritually stalled” said that the reason was their failure to make spiritual growth a priority in their lives. WOW~ is this a reflection of our culture or what!?
I am of the mind that is it not that people so not know the HOW, simply put they do not want to grow. Spiritual growth is not necessarily a priority. How many of us know what to clean up in our lives, but we don’t. Let me rephrase that; WE SIMPLY DON’T! It is not a priority. You can say AMEN OR OUCH!!!!
The question is not the HOW TO the question is the WANT TO! I am of the mind that many know the HOW TO’s really we do! The question becomes do we really want to? I am of the mindset that people today have a renewed hunger for theology and an interest in the discussion of the mysteries of God. They are starving for depth in teaching and preaching and will not settle for shallow answers. I am of the opinion that pastors can no longer give simple messages on “3 Easy Steps to…” or “10 Rules for…” If one were to add up 52 sermons a year that the average church goer would hear; and presume that they have a minimum of “3 Principles” per message to apply to their life they would have to remember at least 156 different “rules” in order to be a good Christian every year. Dallas Willard calls this "sin management"—teaching people how to grow, exhorting people to grow more, and warning people what will happen if they don't grow and the problem with such preaching is that it causes listeners to fixate on their fallenness and failures, establishing a self-fulfilling prophecy that often leads to more and deeper failure.
Many pastors remind people of motivational speakers giving a lecture add to that the fact that the established church has tried to systematize God in order to understand Him and explain Him. Many times we have taken away the mystery as we have tried to rationalize God.
The seeker sensitive movement has made great strives to introduce topical messages that address the specific needs of the Baby Boomers; however, in this transition we have mistakenly taken the focus off God the provider and placed it on humans with themes such as “How to have a happy life,” or “How to be financially successful,” or “How to have a better marriage.” When we speak to people's intrinsic motivation and God-given longings, we don't need to "should" and "ought" them into obedience. I've found it's a lot more fun, and a lot more effective, to invite people to become the men and women they were created to be—and deep in their hearts, have always wanted to be.
I do not want to insult people’s intelligence or desire to have spiritual depth because people are hunger for a deep experience of God’s wisdom, and we must respect them enough to give it to them. I am of the mind that the church must constantly be retelling the whole story of God and his love for mankind from Genesis to Revelation by painting the big picture of the Bible story and telling it in as many ways as possible though preaching.
People want to learn about the God they seek to encounter. Dan Kimball in a lecture at Youth Specialties mentioned that he uses “theotopical” preaching. Kimball defined it as a mixture of both expository and topical preaching. It is expository in terms of doing the right exegetical work for biblically rooted messages, but at the same time it becomes an opportunity to shape a theological worldview for the hearers by telling the story. Every time one preaches they must clearly know what the concept is that they are trying to teach and how it fits into the grand story of scripture.
When Jesus wanted to describe the mysteries of the kingdom of God to the people who were following him he often used stories. He would communicate complex and potentially confusing ideas about the nature of God and his relationship with humankind in the most basic and simple stories. Today many churches have lost the ability to tell stories and instead have moved to tire their listeners with sermons full of lists, points and practical propositions (HOW TO’S).
Today the church must be able to have its listeners see that their story is part of a bigger story, God’s Story. Once we understand God’s story, then the listeners are in a better position to understand their own personal story and how they can personally experience change. Unfortunately, most sermons, like the tithing examples above, fail to address the want-to factor in people's lives. Yes, our fallen nature and sinful tendencies need to be exposed and addressed. The harsh realities and inevitable disappointments of life should not be glossed over by eternal optimistic preaching. But when people are presented a compelling vision of what their lives can look like under the rule of God, they will be inspired to pursue that better future. It is not so much about the how to, it is all about…do we really want to!
The glasses we all wear are the filters through which we view our world. Each one of us views the world different from the other, everything that is viewed or heard is seen through our own filters. We may share some common characteristics but the way we view the world is shaped by our upbringing, education, ethnicity, life experiences both joyful and painful and the list goes on. Most of the time we are not even aware of our own filters and we rarely think about other people’s filters.
For example: You can attend a church gathering with two other friends and you will have three very different reactions to the shared common experience. This is what baffles me all the time. One will say that the experience changed their life, while the other friend would fell that it was the worst day in church history on all accounts, and then there is your opinion. Did you all go to the same gathering? Of course, but what happened? They are looking through different filters. So, what are the major filters that you look at life through? Is it a family filter, a parenting filter, a consumer filter, a relational filter even a church filter, just to name a few? Are you even aware of your filters? Or the filters of others?