Why Do We Make It So Difficult (02)? Missional Living And The Plague Of Passive Christians

cemetery-church-416587-mOver the past ew months, I’ve thought a lot about various aspects of the way we “do church” in America. Though there are certainly variations on a theme, many if not most American Evangelicalism churches look pretty much the same. Though one may have “young adult contemporary with a hint of edginess to attract the Millennials” style worship while the church down the road maintains “traditional values”, chances are, the basic structure of what they do, (order of worship, ministry structure, classes offered, etc.) is probably pretty similar. You can repaint the barn all you want but it’s still a barn.

The other day I considered whether the American approach to “church” tends to exclude otherwise qualified men or whether I’m just a curmudgeon. By the way, I did get one vote for curmudgeon from a friend on FB, so that is still a real possibility. Just like I have come to wonder whether or current models of ministry tend to favor certain personality types over others, I wonder whether the current model of church has actually hindered rather than fostered discipleship. The primary thing Christians have been called to do may actually be stunted by our approach to try and fulfill the commands of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

While I love that there are exceptions, the general rule seems to be that the American church produces passive Christians. I have been part of the missional conversation since I was encouraged by my Acts 29 Assessment team to attend Soma School in 2008. Since then, I have been challenged to actively live out my faith and I have given my life to equip others to do the same. We tried to plant a church that would require people to participate. We have participation in our sermons. We are structured around Missional Communities, we limit our church programs, etc. After all, Paul is very clear that it is the people of the church who are to be responsible for the majority of its ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13).

And we have seen God change people’s lives! We have seen people not only learn their neighbors’ names but build relationships with them. We have seen families open up their homes for foster care and adoption. We have seen people learn to identify and de-throne the idols they worship. We have seen people increase in love for God and others.

But it has been a slow and sometimes discouraging process. It has meant that we have to be sensitive to the fact that many people are simply not accustomed to their local church expecting a lot (other than maybe money and volunteer time) from them. Jesus certainly gave people pause before following Him, reminding them to count the cost. Following Jesus will often cost us in life because Jesus expects our entire lives to be devoted to Him. The local church is the avenue in which and through which we live out this life-encompassing call. If you are never challenged or made uncomfortable by your church, you might have reason for concern.

God’s people have been blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2). God calls us to bless the cities in which we live, even if we feel captive (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Jesus  calls His people “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16). But I often meet Christians and pastors who feel like they just don’t know how to tangibly live out their faith.

Why have we made it so difficult for Christians to actively live out their faith in natural, unforced ways in everyday life? Why have we made it so difficult for so many Christians to talk openly and welcomingly about their faith? Why have we made it so difficult that throwing parties and serving others seems so unnatural? Why have we made it so difficult for people own their own spiritual growth?

I have come to believe that many of the challenges American Christianity faces are a direct result of the methods we have adopted in living out our faith. These methods have actually created a culture of passive Christians who need to be awoken, energized and equipped to put feet to their faith.

Though there are certainly other factors, I think that at least a few reasons we seem to pump out passivity, such as:

Theology (or lack thereof) of Place: American Evangelicalism generally seems to have a poor theology of place. Instead of challenging commuter culture, we have adopted it wholesale. We have removed most churches from their local context. Sure their property sits in a particular geographical area but it is increasingly rare for those surrounding communities to feel that the church is a blessing.

We need to regain and live out the notion that faith is put in to practice in everyday life. Local churches should be involved in their local communities. If we have been blessed to be a blessing, our communities should have tangible blessings to point out. Instead, they complain that our mega-services cram up the traffic and we take tax breaks from our communities rather than pouring in to the city.

The issue here is probably bigger than just a theology of place.

A n0n-holistic Gospel Leads to Christian Isolationism: Though the Evangelists and Revivalists of recent ages past certainly meant well, American Evangelicalism seems to have learned from them that the salvation of souls is the most important thing. But if all of creation has been affected by sin, surely the Gospel impacts and will someday redeem all of creation. The Gospel is not about getting in to heaven when we die, it is about living out the Kingdom here and now.

One practical result of this disconnect is directly tied to our poor theology of place. Not only have we disconnected the local church from its neighborhood, the separation of salvation from everyday life has only led to the fact that Christians like to clump together, removing ourselves from the “secular” world. We create our own sports leagues, reading clubs, etc. It is entirely possible for a Christian to have no contact whatsoever with those who believe and live differently. We can eat Christian toast, listen to Christian radio on our way to our Christian job, having lunch at the Christian coffeeshop, and then go to Bible study before going to bed.

As Francis Chan says in Crazy Love  (a book itself devoted to shaking Christians from passivity):

“Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly.”

Christians were never meant to separate themselves from the rest of the world (John 17). Not only does isolationism separate us from those who don’t yet believe, it increases passivity. Though I may be challenged on the certain nuances of particular ideas, when I’m surrounded by those I generally agree with, stagnation is usually close by.

The Professionalization of the Pastorate Has Led to Poor Equipping: Though Paul clearly say the five-fold ministry as given to the church to equip Believers for the work of the ministry, we have relegated this “work of the ministry” to those paid to do it. Instead of viewing themselves primarily as equippers, many pastors are forced to live as doers. Part of this is related to the fact that seminary is probably not the best way to train equippers and we primarily seem to have seminaries in general because we wanted legitimacy from the academic world, but I am digressing and hope to address some of those issues later.

The very fact that John Piper (regardless of your thoughts on him and his ministry) felt the need to write a book called Brothers, We Are Not Professionals reminds us that this is indeed a real issue amidst American Evangelicalism. Many Christians have adopted passivity because they have come to believe that that’s what they pay others to do. And, instead of encouraging people to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth, we have turned spiritual growth over to the professionals.

Consumerism and An Entertainment Culture: Very few would argue that American culture has not willingly gift-wrapped itself in consumerism and the desire to be entertained. But, as Neil Postman has pointed  out, the medium is the message. Our news shows are more scripted drama than simple reporting of events. And our worship gatherings are often more about entertainment than they are equipping Believers.

As Hirsch and Frost and others have pointed out, the very fact that our congregations are lined up in rows facing a stage means that the gathering will typically mean a passive audience. Top this off with the unhelpful aspects of “seeker sensitive churches” and we have many churches that will adopt the “USA Today” model of preaching, never challenging above a seventh-grade level. The music is led by slick emotionalists and the message is delivered by a professional public speaker.

Another side of this is the self-righteously Reformed folk who have adopted the notion that the sermon is the time for lessons in doctrine and the transfer of information. I was heard a famous preacher say, more than once, that if a pastor wasn’t spending 40 hours a week in their study, they had no business stepping behind a pulpit. While not necessarily entertainment driven, this approach certainly promotes passivity rather than engagement.

As I said the other day, I am not bitter towards the church. But I am in a personal place where I feel the need for public dialogue. Over the years, I have asked hundreds of people if they thought the American church was rocking it at actually making, maturing and multiplying disciples. I have not had a single person say that they think we’re doing a great job. That should prompt some deep self-reflection and some really big discussions.

As Einstein reminded us, insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Even though we have painted the barn lots of different colors over the years, it is still a barn. If our current system does not excel at the one main task to which we have been called and, in fact may have not only discouraged some men from serving but encouraged passivity, (and I am open to the fact that you may have had a different experience and that I may actually be wrong) we need the humility to talk openly about our shortcomings.

Make A Difference By Building Community

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 6.34.12 AMI know you want to make an impact with your life. I know you want to make a difference by creating community. You’re just wondering where such an opportunity like this might fit in your crazy life, right? Right.

If you’re in the Phoenix area, please join me tonight to find out how you can make a difference and get discounted rent by simply being there for people. This is an amazing opportunity to make a difference in apartment communities throughout the Valley.

We place teams of two (called CARES Teams) in apartment communities. CARES Teams live onsite, with significantly reduced rent, and help the apartment owner create community by welcoming new residents, hosting monthly events, and CARE-ing for neighbors in need. This helps apartment owners with retention, marketability, and overall satisfaction, making it a wise business move.

Here’s a quick video with more information about Apartment Life. If you want to apply to become a CARES Team, please take a minute to fill out our Information Form online.

Find out more and RSVP for tonights event on Facebook.

I am also available to do informational meetings at your church for others who are ready to make a difference.

Let’s Pause For A Concern About Concerns

CONCERNI am a verbal processor. I know that sounds like I’m saying I’m a computer, but I glean a lot by throwing ideas out and working through the feedback they generate. I like to present ideas as questions, often holding back my own personal opinion until I’ve had a chance to look at it from several different angles after gathering some feedback.

This is fine in and of itself, but but it can sometimes lead to some confusion and misperception. Lately, I have been “thinking out loud” about a number of ministry-related issues, from my resignation, to the call to ministry, my own personal experience, and whether or not the current model of American church actually hinders some otherwise qualified men from the ministry.

Taken as a whole, I realize that it might seem like I am having some struggles, doubts or jaded feelings. In fact, last night I received an e-mail from someone I respect very much expressing concern that it seems like I am wrestling with some pretty dark thoughts towards the church in a pretty public forum. I appreciated this e-mail because I sometimes don’t stop and consider how my verbal processing approach might mean that it sounds like I’m just unloading a bunch of complaints. Nothing could be further from the truth (at least in intent) so if I have come across as negative or biting, please forgive me and please don’t hesitate to point it out.

So, with that being said, I want to take a moment and just throw a few things out there for consideration:

  • The views expressed here are entirely my own. I do not speak here for the people/leaders of Church of the Cross. I hope that’s a given but let’s state it clearly anyways. This is my personal website containing personal views and opinions. I love my Church of the Cross family dearly but as with any family, there are often very different perspectives. We find beauty when we find ways to express those opinions in exchange for thoughtful dialogue and we all grow in the process. But your crazy uncle does not speak for you. And, on this website, I do not speak for Church of the Cross.  When I have written something that does speak for the Church of the Cross family, it has appeared on the Church of the Cross website.
  • Church of the Cross is healthy and has not been the impetus for the questions and concerns raised so far. Please do not read into my ramblings that I am frustrated with Church of the Cross in any way. Due to God’s leading through life’s circumstances, it is just time for me to step aside. I am not upset. In fact, I believe that CotC is an extremely healthy church and I don’t just say that because I planted it. My family and I plan on staying. They are family and most of my philosophizing is not about them, our structure, our leadership, etc. My comments from life in the American church as a whole and from relationships. In fact, just so you know, yesterday’s piece questioning whether the American model of church is geared more towards certain personalities was prompted by the experience of several friends rather than my own experience. If the piece had a heavy tone it was because I hurt for these friends.
  • I can only speak from my experience. I realize that many people have had terrific experiences with the mainstream American church. God uses all kinds of churches for His glory and our good. Voicing concerns about mainstream practices is not the same thing as discounted your experience or the people behind it. But God often uses broken things and through years of personal experience in various churches and church culture, I have come to believe that we need to start talking openly about what may be broken. If your experience has led you to different conclusions, let’s compare them and learn together. Part of the reason I put stuff in the public sphere is because I need to hear from people with different experiences.
  • Humble dialogue is necessary for the church to grow. That will certainly mean that we must own “our” collective shortcomings  and strive to correct them. But that means that we must openly discuss whether the typical American church succeeds at making, maturing and multiplying disciples. If so, great, let’s just perfect the status quo. But if not, then we’ve got some BIG discussions to have. That means that concerns will be raised but egos should not. We should believe the best of all and our speech, even when raising concerns, should convey a heart of unity. Concerns and corrections must be filtered through love. That is a difficult task, and one that I often fail at.
  • I too often speak from cynicism rather than optimism. Please forgive me.

I hope this helps set a healthy tone for open dialogue about real concerns. I am wrestling with some pretty big questions about the way we, the “American church as a whole” do things. I could certainly be asking the wrong questions and coming to wrong conclusions so that’s where I’d love for you to chime in. Let’s help each other grow.

Why Do We Make It So Difficult (01)? Why Many Good Men Are Discouraged From Ministry

abandoned-church-1382330-mThe decision to resign from ministry has not been an easy or quick one. It has led me down more than several rabbit-holes in my thinking. I have written about some of those things so far: I have thought a lot about “the” call to ministry as well as my own call to vocational ministry and I plan to write about more soon.

As you might imagine, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “ministry” and the way we (I speak as a native North American raised in the “American/Evangelical Church” because that is my context) practice church.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of guys who have been discouraged from “the ministry” for all the wrong reasons. They meet the characteristics laid out in Titus and 1 Timothy 3, including the key “ability to teach”. They genuinely care for people, they invest in others, they know the Bible, can explain and apply it well. They have healthy relationships , good finances, blah, blah, blah. You get the picture, these are good, qualified guys. But then, why, you ask, do they feel discouraged from the ministry?! Good question. I’m glad you asked. They simply don’t fit the mold, especially if we’re considering church planting in addition to eldering.

The American Church has created a fairly peculiar model for doing church. Not only is it peculiar, I wonder how much it has directly led to many otherwise qualified men from serving.

From what I can tell, the New Testament model of “church planting” seems to have primarily been something like this: God’s people lived as a blessing to those around them. As they were faithful in the task of “making, maturing and multiplying disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20) in a particular geographical area, the need for structure arose. The “practical” ministries of the local church were handled by the deacons and the public vision/instruction/shepherding/equipping was handled by the elders.

It seems to me that the American model puts the cart before the horse when we think of pastoring and church planting. We plant churches by beginning with the structure and then recruiting people to it. When we think of church planters, we tend to think of very entrepreneurial people because, in the American context, “planting a church” also means starting a legally recognized business. You have to incorporate, navigate tax codes, you have to present a clear vision to people of what will make your church different, and in most cases, you have to raise money. Lots and lots of money. And all the while, you need to motivate others to join in the creating of this new institution.

Of course this mindset marinates ministry beyond church planting. The model pastors are often those with a very particular skill set; someone who can excite a crowd and get stuff done (using a “tri=perspectival” model, we’re talking Kingly Prophet). There’s troops to rally and new series to build excitement for and vision to cast. And there’s pre-natal classes and nursery ministry and toddler ministry and kids programs and pre-teens programs and Jr. High ministry and High School ministry and college ministry and young adults/and/ormarrieds ministry and new parents ministry and mid-life crisis ministry and retiree ministry and “golden years” ministry. Not to mention Teen Bible Study, Men’s Bible Study, Women’s Bible Study. Men’s Breakfast and Women’s Tea. The Father/Daughter dance and Father/Son fishing trip. And youth camp. And family camp. And VBS. And backyard bible clubs. And budget meetings. And committee meetings. And children’s worker’s meetings. And youth worker’s meetings. And deacon’s meetings. And elders meetings.

American pastors/church planters are expected to be inspiring public speakers, effective strategists, and motivational managers. In other words, the American model of church planting and ministry is geared towards certain personality/leadership styles more than others. And otherwise qualified men who might not be a good office manager or a strong fundraiser or even the most charismatic public speaker are discouraged because they see the guys who have those traits as somehow more spiritual. When spirituality often is not the issue.

Our current model of church almost necessitates that we consider certain extra-biblical characteristics as much as we consider the biblical ones. We highlight the church planters who can initially recruit the most people or raise the most money. While God seems to delight in using those the world would least expect, American Evangelicalism seems to delight in pretty predictable leaders. Until the American church lets go of our fixation with performance and our correlation between pastors and executives, we will continue to teach many qualified men that there is more to “successful ministry” than the Bible tells us. Until we honor those who can make, mature and multiply disciples more than we value those who draw a crowd, we will continue to see many qualified men left to believe they don’t measure up.

As long as we view Sunday worship as a performance, we will idealize performing pastors. As long as we view the local church as a business, we will value those men searching for “CEO Leadership Lessons From Jesus”. As long as we allow church to be an institution, we will value pastors who could just as easily manage a business. While some of these traits may not be inherently bad, I’m pretty sure that we often find ourselves holding pastors up to standards the Bible doesn’t. And I’m pretty sure a lot of qualified men have been discouraged from ministry for the wrong reasons.

Aside from another wholesale reformation of the American Church, or perhaps the increased persecution of the American church, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of answers on the table. While Scripture certainly permits pastors to make a living from the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14, etc.), it seems to me that once we develop an institutional budget, we have also changed the role of the pastor. Perhaps it’s time to break free of the way we’ve always done it? Perhaps it’s time we unleashed the Gospel from the shackles of institutionalism. Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon.