Listening

Listening Header

I’m preaching in church this weekend.  I always love this opportunity.  To paraphrase Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, ‘when I preach I feel His pleasure. ‘

As often is the case, I have little advance warning of this opportunity.  Officially, I have 7 days to put it all together, which is certainly less than I’d like.  I’m not really complaining, but at this point my brain is a jumble of thoughts.  I’m going to use my little blog this week to highlight the process that goes on inside of me as I prepare.

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I’ve had a growing frustration over the last few years as to what exactly is happening in the Western Church.  Over this time I’ve had the constant allegory of The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, in my head as an example of what I think most people feel about Church.  Books like Simple Church, The Essential Church, and a host of others talk about the mass exodus going on in this segment of the church, particularly among young people.

What these books highlight is that growing amounts of young people are seeing the Church as being superfluous  to their lives, good but not all that important.  There is also a constant secular assault saying, “You are deluded, worshipping an imaginary God.”  Much of this is happening while we parade around regally in our nakedness.

I have recently been reading a book called The Naked Gospel.  The thesis of the book (so far) is that the Church is failing because we are not really teaching proper doctrine.  I had to put the book down.  I could not disagree more.

I have no desire to abandon the Church, any more than I desire to disown my own mom, but what I have experienced in the Church in the past few years is a dedication to doctrine, and a disconnect between living out that doctrine in a powerful spiritual life.  God has become ceremony, even in our low-church commonness.  Christianity is what happens on Sunday and midweek services.  What happens on Sunday morning doesn’t seem to affect much outside of the Church.  But even worse than this, there doesn’t seem to be any sense that it is designed to.  In short and in the words of many teens, “it’s boring.”

I know I sound negative, and in a real sense I am.  But all of this comes from love, because I don’t believe that God is boring, and I don’t denigrate the Church, it is the freaking Bride of Christ, after all.

Now that doesn’t mean that plenty of people don’t take their faith seriously.  I would say that majority of them do.  But we sing songs about victory and we speak of miracles, we pray for them, but we don’t really believe they’ll happen, do we?  Well, at least not every day.  We believe in miraculous healing, but we don’t pray for the guy in the wheelchair at Starbucks.  I say that evangelism is good, but I walk by throngs of people everyday who don’t believe, and yet I have no intention of embarrassing myself in front of them.

This gets communicated in every part of our popular thinking.  In the media we speak about “religious extremism.”  The real problem is not Islam, but people who take the Koran really seriously.  Christianity is not seen any differently.  Believe all you want, just don’t let it affect any visible part of your life.  Read the Bible, just don’t ever quote it in public.  Talking about Jesus is OK, only if it is a vulgar interjection.

How antithetical to all of Christianity is that?  The message of Jesus is supposed to permeate every pore.  Christ wants to be lord of your life, not just our Sunday mornings.  The problem in Church as I see it, is not that there is no proper doctrine.  The problem is that we don’t believe that doctrine should do anything.

What if this Holy Spirit actually could give us gifts to do wonderful things?  What if we could actually tell people about Jesus and they’d believe?  What if that guy in Starbucks actually got up and walked?  I wonder if Christianity would be boring then.

This is some of what God has been working inside of me.  I don’t know how much of this will make it into my message.  We’ll see.  -Ryan

One Reply to “Listening”

  1. I think I have been hearing this for a long time now – that the problem is not that there is no proper doctrine being taught, but that we don’t believe that doctrine should do anything. That just didn’t seem to ring true with me when I first heard it, so I started checking around. Every single person I met believed that it should do something. They do believe in daily miracles. They do believe in praying for the guy in the wheelchair at Starbucks. They do believe in embarrassing themselves in front of the throngs of people everyday who don’t believe. Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, you name it – every single Christian I talked to about it believed in it, even if they didn’t attend church or consider themselves to be “dedicated” or not. Why didn’t they do it? The answer was always the same: no one has ever shown them how. Sure, the Bible tells the basics, but how to do apply that to your life now? How do you approach the guy in the wheelchair? They tried “just do it and see what happens” once and ended up fumbling for words and walking away in embarrassment. I know that is some bad doctrine in itself, but there was no one to show that to them or encourage them to keep on. People that fail in isolation rarely want to get back up and try again.

    The problem I see is not that we don’t teach doctrine, or that we don’t believe it. The problem is that we don’t disciple one another. No one does it because no one has shown us how to, and then stuck around to walk us through the bumps and pitfalls.

    The interesting thing is that the one church that I was a part of that did do all of this stuff – preaching boldly at McDonalds, believing for miracles daily, doing everything we are supposed to – had a great system for discipleship. They based it on small groups. They took small groups seriously. It wasn’t just another optional program thrown in to the mix that you could try if you wanted like at our church. You weren’t a member of the church if you weren’t a member of a small group. And you weren’t a member of a small group until you were in a discipleship/accountability relationship with some one in that group.

    I also worry that we are still too Westernized in our approach to Church. Are we really called to care about the rise and decline of the church, or how much impact the Church is having on culture? That isn’t really in the Bible, as much as many modern authors would like us to believe that it is. In fact, Jesus promised that we would be hated, persecuted, and rejected. We were told to go and make disciples. Not to write books on how irrelevant the church is. Relevance should come naturally from churches expressing the culture around them. If you have to try to be relevant, you have already missed the point. Sometimes I fell like writing a book called “The Relevancy Trap.” But it would probably sell like crazy to the wrong audience and the people that need to hear it would never touch it.

    Okay. Enough ranting.

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