It’s no secret that the stats say the Church in the West isn’t doing well.
Oooh! Great blog post! I didn’t know that! Thanks.
There’s an easy fix to it, though. Well, it’s simple, actually I’m damn pretty damn sure that it isn’t easy. In fact, I’ll probably get death threats as a result of this post. But, it will do the trick. I promise.
Let me state the problem this way:
What if the biggest problem in the American Church isn’t that people don’t know enough about the faith, but that they know too much? What if sitting in a classroom learning is keeping the Church out of the world and causing decline? What if Sunday School is actually the enemy of discipleship? What if “meaty sermons” are making us too spiritually chubby to run the race set out for us?
If I hear the phrase, “I just want a church that will feed me” one more time I’m going to puke unicorns! The Church is at a tipping point where we are going to have to choose between learning the faith and living it.
Knowledge Isn’t What You ‘Think’
You know the saying, “a little knowledge goes a long way”? Well, it would seem that the church has declared that heretical and thrown it into the same book burn as Huckleberry Finn and the Harry Potter movies. If you look into churches today, you see the exact opposite: A ton of knowledge going nowhere. Let’s break this down like a steaming hot cup of James Brown funk.
Do you remember that time in Acts where the Christians hunkered down in a classroom in the basement and talked about Christianity for an hour? Do remember that time that Paul sat everyone down and walked them through the history of salvation on the felt board? What about when Peter was teaching that Bible Study in Asia Minor and said, “Hey, you know in the Greek this actually says…”? Good times. Oh, what about when Aquila was like, “So that’s what the passage says, what do you think it means?”
Of course you don’t. Because it never happened. Ever.
We may fight to preserve the sanctity of our classrooms and pulpits (where we feel safe) but we have abandoned the New Testament mission field (where we don’t) without a whisper. Today, the church often looks like a gathering of Christians that have abandoned Knowing Christ for Knowing about him.
Too Much Information
Since 1979, I have been an idiotically enthusiastic Police/Sting fan. There was a time in my life where I listened to the Police and Sting pretty much exclusively. It was only a few years. Don’t judge. I read every interview, tracked down every bootleg, watched every video, memorized every lyric, learned every song on bass and guitar, sought out every guest appearance, went to two shows per tour. Überfan comes to mind. There was a time where I knew pretty much everything you could know about Sting without actually knowing him.
And that was the thing.
I didn’t know him. I had no experience with him. I’d never been in his presence.
I knew all about him to the extent that I could. I knew as much you could about his stats and stories, but I didn’t know the man. I was a fan, not a friend. All information, no relation.
Are you with me? Don’t press play on that Andy Stanley podcast just yet.
Let me illustrate it this way.
The Webster’s Definition of Baseball looks like this:
Is that baseball?
Of course not! You can’t learn baseball from the dictionary much the same as you can’t learn to play it in a classroom. You can learn about baseball, but don’t expect to play in the majors if you’ve only watched highlights on Youtube.
Experience Is The New Knowledge
When we go to a baseball game, we experience so much more than we can learn from Webster’s. Unless it’s a Blue Jays game, maybe. Just kidding. Shout out, Toronto.
There’s the roar of the crowd, the organ, the “Take me out to the ballgame,” the announcer, the scoreboard, the beer, the hot dogs, the vendors, the quiet for the pitch and the applause of the base run, the speed of the wind up and the electricity of the strike out.
You can experience things at a baseball game that you can’t even watching on TV: the sheer discomfort of the wooden seats, the excited fan behind you that drops warm beer down your back trying to dance about a home run, the every shade of person you pass on the way to bathroom. It doesn’t end.
Point is: Webster’s can’t help you know baseball. You have to go to a game.
But if you really want to know baseball, really want to know the grit and the grime of all 9 innings, you have to close the dictionary, set down the beer and the stats and step onto the field and PLAY.
To play baseball is the best way to know baseball.
A player knows baseball. Everybody else knows about it.
It’s Not About What You Know, It’s About Where You Grow
Christian education is genetically programmed to create fans in the stands: Christian statisticians and consumers of facts about Jesus.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! The Christian faith is about experiencing the Father through the Son. It’s about knowing the man, not about him. Faith in Christ is experiential not intelligential – and we need teachers who guide us into experiences rather than a classroom.
See? Easy fix!
You can learn all about Jesus in a classroom, but the way you experience him, know him, is on mission with other Christ followers: walking worshipfully. You can know more about the Bible if you go to a book study, but you will know the Bible when you start living it in the world where God is on mission.
I’m not saying that Christian education is bad, simply that it’s not enough. Christians are educated by doing the faith more than talking about it. Mission is the classroom where life in Christ is learned. Adult Education is Mission. Sunday school is supplemental.
Teachers, we need you! We need you to help shape Christian faith, but we need you to lead Christians out of the classroom an into the world where God is making all things new!
In the next post, I will take a quick look at the concept of “knowing” in the Bible. Am I making stuff up? Doesn’t the Bible teach us to sit in a classroom and take notes on handouts? Aren’t we supposed to choose a church based on the quality of the preaching? We’ll see next time.
In the meantime, comments are open.
Let the Revolution begin.
Has your girlfriend become your God? Human beings crave love. We love to be loved. We seek out relationships that fill that need. Songs like this one makes it get trippy, though. What happens when your relationship becomes your religion?
Things that turn relationships into religion, like this Florida Georgia Line song, “H.O.L.Y.” make me laugh and cry at the same time. The truth is that we do it, though. Love. That cute, crazed, Oompa-Loompemotion. The desire to be desired is such strong primordial cave-man hysteria that what starts out as “ooh la la” become an “I cooked your rabbit” in less time than Han Solo finished the Kessel Run. Let’s look at a couple of reasons why it’s such a terrible idea for your Girlfriend to Become your God -or- your boyfriend to go from your sexy beast to sacred blessing…just…Oooh.
You shouldn’t want to have sex with your God
I’m thinking that as a general rule, this one is pretty self explanatory. I don’t know what’s coming down the pike with the new Ghostbusters, but if it’s anything like the old one, I bet at the end of the day, if you get it on like that, you are not going to feel like the Key Master.
Common Misconception: Sex with a god is a 4th of July event. Never mind the STDs (Sexually Transubstantiated Diseases) you can catch! You have to sacrifice stuff to get rid of it. Stuff can melt, like, in the process. It’s just bad. If you need more proof check out this link on “8 Weirdest Sex Things That Went Down In Greek Mythology“. This mythical chick, Leda, got down with Zeus and laid two actual eggs for her trouble. No one knows what happened to the eggs. She didn’t even get an omelet. Bad form, Z!
Do you want a God who can break up with you?
Ever since Heathers Evans dumped me in the fifth grade, I have a “break-up-phobia.” Call me (air-quotes) overly sensitive (/air-quotes, but exaggerated tongue articulation when you say it). No one likes to get dumped. Heather dumped me like dark, rank dish water out a second story window in the Bronx. This is how she did it:
Me: So, are you going to Adam’s birthday party?
Her: Yes, I don’t want you to go?
Me: With you?
Her: To the party. I want to go stag.
Stag??? She wants to go stag? In the Fifth grade? I didn’t even know what that was. I thought maybe she was going to wear an antler hat.
People break up with you. God doesn’t. You never pray the Lord’s prayer and then catch God interrupting the daily bread part with, ‘Ahem…I’m really sorry, but this isn’t working anymore. It’s not you, it’s ME. I thought I loved everybody. And I do…I just…don’t love you. Anymore. And that’s like eternally.
H.O.L.Y. Is a H.E.L.L.A. Ton Of Pressure
Have you ever looked longingly in someone’s eyes and said to them, “You are so…H.O.L.Y.”? Probably not, because you know that they would be outta there faster than Harry Potter can floo up a chute. Holy is a lot of pressure.
It’s kind of like saying to someone, “When I look at you, in my mind I dress you up like the Pope.”
Or, “Every time you call me on the phone, I’m like ‘ooh, preach it!’”
Oh. And, question…Does someone stay H.O.L.Y. after they divorce you and take half your stuff?
I know, I know. I’m a muderer of love.*
The thing is, we start singing a song like “H.O.L.Y.”, we get “High on Loving You,” and then the person we are high on becomes a obsession, our possession. We start to want to shrink them to pocket sized, and pet their stubby little heads and maniacally murmur creepy things like, “My Precious,” and eat tuna straight of the fish. Your heart gets all Achy Breaky, then out pops a Myley Cyrus, she comes in like a Wrecking Ball then goes all Bangerz. Dang! I’m all over the place on this. But, baby you love my way.
The point is: “H.O.L.Y.” would make a great worship song. IF it worshipped God-ward. God has a place in your heart. But it’s not sexy.
Singing this song to a girl is like singing, “When I look at you, my mind dresses you up like the Pope.” Then you’re life becomes another country song, like this one by Chris Stapleton:
I know right where I went wrong
I know just what got her gone
Turned my life into this country song
And I got nobody to blame but me
I got nobody to blame but me
“Nobody To Blame,” Chris Stapleton
She ain’t H.O.L.Y. Doesn’t want to be.
Have I left anything out? Ruined your favorite song? Made you think about Myley Cyrus when you weren’t ready? How fast is a parsec? Leave a comment!
*bomb movie reference, “Dan In Real Life”
My hat is off to Carey Nieuwhof. When it comes to blog posts that equip leader like never beofre, he is knocking them out of the park.
In a recent post titled, Basic Mistakes Churches Make Over And Over Again (which if you haven’t read yet, then click the link…we’ll wait here), Nieuwhof comments on the church’s obsessive commitment to mediocrity:
God didn’t decide his work was good enough, so why should the church? He gave his best. His all. He threw the full force of his majesty not just into creation, but into redemption. Strangely, many people will give 100% to the marketplace, a hobby or their family, and then give 60% when they serve God. Makes no sense. At all.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had this dream. Part of me still goes to concerts thinking this might happen. I probably need to buy better seats, now that I think about it.
I want to address this last point.
It does make sense. Sometimes.
The Art Of Heaven
In the beginning of Genesis, we get to see God as the penultimate artist, working through matter and time, shaping the very nature of all things. It’s breathtaking and inspiring, isn’t it? It’s art.
We see that art come alive in the Creation: From nothing, everything, everything from dust.
We see that art come alive in Redemption: Beautiful Things out of rust
In glimpses, that Divine artistry is mirrored in millions of ways. Things like: Picasso painting, or Caruso singing, or Michelangelo chiseling, or Emma Stone acting, or my accountant crunching my taxes, or your lawn guy turning that shrub into a dolphin smoking a cigar, or this guy shredding Keith Urban’s guitar.
Jesus was a passionate dude. You can see the art of heaven in everything he did.
As we reflect Christ in our lives, our skills become our art and our art is our gift.
We spend so much of our lives building our skills: creative skills, administrative skills, accounting skills, driving skills, listening skills, teaching skills, musical skills, waitering skills, communicating skills, programming skills, managing skills, or…absolutely worthless skills like grand theft auto or wet burping the Star Spangled Banner.
What we can do is so important. For many of us, what we can do is how we earn a living. No matter what it might be, our art is tied to our livelihood. It’s also intimately tied to our spiritual life. Sure we want to be noticed in the work place, in the classroom, but we want what we have to offer to make a difference in the places that matter most. And the Church is one of places.
It’s not often that a superstar let’s someone come up from the front row and steal the show. But it happens. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had this dream. Part of me still goes to concerts thinking this might happen…I probably need to buy better seats, now that I think about it.
Church leadership needs to make a shift and adopt the Keith Urban approach: Let people do the cool stuff. The problem with volunteerism in the church might have less to do with numbers and more to do with lack of art. Our Spirits long for who we are to make where we are better through what we can do, what we love to do.
If you had Rob, the Keith Urban guitar shredding birthday boy, in your church would you want him playing guitar or folding bulletins? It’s obvious, right? And yet, the bulletins have to get folded. How many passionate people do we snuff out because we aren’t making room for them to shine? For them to do what they are great at doing? What they were created to do?
Why do we invest in jobs and find people to do them instead of investing in people then finding a job that makes sense for them?
I think that when you have a guy that can play like that and we ask him to hand out paper cups on a hot day with an attitude of gratitude…well, we get gratitude fatigue. That’s why we give 60%. It’s not about God. God has given his best to me, to you, to all of us. We want to give our best back. But our best. The thing that we do best. Our art. The thing that makes us feel alive, even if it’s for just on hour a week.
If Rob were a church going person, and he well may be, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect his to say in response, “I would volunteer all the time, if I could play guitar.”
True Confession: The Replacements bring me joy!
Yeah! He’s going to connect The Replacements to Pastoral Ministry. GenX for everyone. I’m handing it out.
Song number 3 on Side one of Pleased To Meet Me is called “I Don’t Know.” I’ve sung that song in my head a million times. Well, on the million and first time two things happend.
1. I thought of Galatians 5, which I’ll get to below.
2. It reminded me of what it is to be a Pastor/Shepherd.
Check out this lyric:
“One foot in the door, the other foot in the gutter.“
Is that the posture of a pastor or what? Two feet in different worlds at the same time. The pastor has the unique calling and ability to exist where no one else can: between the door and gutter, between porch and alter, between flesh and spirit.
The Pastor is not a judge, a referee, a counselor or a scape goat. Lived to their full potential, the Pastor is the coolest, most relatable person on the planet (like Whoopi Goldberg on Star Trek).
Pastor is a Rock Star of a gifting.
BUT! And that’s a Big But. Hey, I like Big Buts and I cannot lie. But, the way we weight pastor in the western church today is sick, sad and wrong, but that’s another post. However, in short, When you take a person called to compassion and wholeness, saddle them with “CEO”, “Janitor”, “Shock Absorber,” “Content Producer”, “Dart Board”, “Bake Sale Manager”, “Protector Of All That Is Right And Good”, “Faultless Listener”, “The Best Preacher Ever” oh, and don’t forget “Good Parent and Spouse”, the last thing you get is a Pastor.
Can I have an Amen?
Pastors need the space and freedom to take up residence in the slight real estate between Galatians 5:21 and Galatians 5:22; The Alsace-Lorraine of the Life of the Spirit and the Life of the Flesh. And it’s completely possible if the Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist and Teacher are allowed, invited and equipped to share the burdens of the Church, the toil of the ministry and the joy of the Mission of God.
If you’ll recall, Gal 5:16-21 is all about the sins of the flesh. You don’t want to do the things on this list. Well, you may want to do them, actually, but it’s not God’s best for your life. In contrast, Gal 5:22-24 lists the fruit of the Spirit. You definitely want to do the things on this list. The problem is…life is complex. It’s not binary. It doesn’t move in a straight line. It circles, staggers, backslides and sprints. Sometimes we drink from the chalice of victory and other times we sip from the cup of life like the Drinking Bird. Real people are flesh brained and spirit brained (Ro 8:6). At the same time.
At times we make spiritual progress and explode toward Jesus like Usain Bolt off the starting line, only to go to a party in the same breath, drink too much and practice…um…jealousy?
In order to be where real people actually are, the Pastor lives in the land between Paul’s lists of vices and virtues. They don’t revel and remind the flesh brained person how evil their ways are. That’s called abuse and we’ve all experienced too much of that. Instead, they are called to the consistent work of pointing to the far country where the Spirit thrives and walk a long obedience in that direction.
Pastors are pasture people, Shepherds, shepherding the people around them toward green meadows and still water. Pastors are OK with “I Don’t Know.” They are genuine when they ask, “What do you think?” because they care more about you than a right, churchy or seminary answer. Pastors ask, “How are you?” ready to find one foot in the door and the other one in the gutter.
The Shepherd/Pastor has nothing else on their calendar but a journey together further up and further in a life in Christ. They are as at home with your struggles as they are with successes, your hurts as your healing, your camp high and club crash.
They are professionally in between, reaching back and looking forward; beginning, not experting; one foot in the door the other one in the gutter; turning down guilt and turning up the Replacements.
For a Deeper Look @ the position of Pastor in in-between places, check out the 5FB post “The Book of Jonah“