Pagan Christianity I

So a friend who dropped out of church (while I was leading it by the way) but remained a good friend (I lead him to Christ some 5 or 6 years ago) handed me Barna’s Pagan Christianity yesterday. By this morning I’d finished it.

I read it with interest. The authors cover basically how the traditional church has ended up in it’s present forms, but with a skewed focus on what happens in the building and the building itself.

They do a reasonable job of debunking the “traditions” we hold so dear in our institutional churches, but I think they get confused with scriptures that relate to the “house to house” meetings with the city-wide church, with the large “temple” style church meetings and that leads them to some extremes and some large holes.

So how does this relate to we of the scrapheap? They spend one chapter on the pastor, and I was drawn to a few statements (without going into the origin of the role as we know it today).

“The contemporary pastor…does damage to himself. The pastoral office has a way of chewing up many who come within its parameters. Depression, burnout, stress, and emotional breakdown occur at abnormally high rates among pastors. At the time of this writing, there are reportedly more than 500,000 paid pastors serving churches in the United States. Among this massive number of religious professionals, consider the following statistics that testify to the lethal danger of the pastoral office:

94% feel pressured to have an ideal family
90% work more than 46 hours per week
81% say they have insufficient time with their spouses
80% believe the pastoral ministry affects their family negatively
70% do not have someone they consider a close friend
70% have lower self-esteem than when they entered the ministry
50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job
80% are discouraged or deal with depression
More than 40% report they are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and unrealistic expectations
33% consider pastoral ministry an outright hazard to the family
33% have seriously considered leaving their position in the past year
40% of pastoral resignations are due to burnout
1400 ministers in all denominations across US are fired or forced to resign each month

I’m still not functioning at my best

Over the last few days i’ve been thinking about a few things relating to wellness if you like. Kinda a collection of random thoughts…

One thought related to something another senior pastor and I dialogued recently about on Facebook regarding depression. He asked what the difference is between feeling down and depression and also suggested that God takes us through suffering so it is natural for a Christian to have “down moments”. My reply to that was to point out that although he’s right (suffering does build our character and our emotions track accordingly), depression is actually a medical, diagnosable condition with key indicators. I cut and pasted these

I haven’t been great emotionally lately either. I’ve discovered that I really am an introvert – I mean really introverted, from an energy perspective. I really need a significant quantity of time alone. If I don’t get it, I simply get depleted and my emotions fray. Since my wife has been overseas for the last two weeks, I’ve had two small kids talking to me and incessantly asking “why”. I haven’t handled that well. I just don’t want to be around them… and that’s not great for a dad to be feeling.

I’ve also been struggling to find motivation for anything. Struggling to initiate anything… don’t want to go out, don’t want to do anything but mindless things like TV and facebook. Just can’t seem to face the things that I actually want to do. Then all the things I want/need to do seems to pile up and I get frustrated and a sense of overload because they’re not getting done….

Today I remembered what anxiety was like. Not sure if I described it on this site…. my memory is a bit shot and the mind is not as sharp as it used to be (please tell me if I keep repeating myself). It was a sense of foreboding, a feeling of impending disaster. It’s the feeling you have right before an exam, a job or performance interview, an important presentation. It’s a nervous dread. It seems to make adrenaline surge all the time even though there’s no danger. I wonder what that does to one’s body over a long period…

Adventures in Missing the Point.

I’m just rocking the boat I know, but I really liked this book title. I’ve read one of Brian McLaren’s books (A new kind of Christian) and am ordering the rest of that trilogy. This looks a great read.

Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel

There is a stirring among churchgoers. Many are looking at how the Christian faith is being played out, wondering if somehow we’re missing the point. What if there is more to our faith than just getting our souls into heaven? What if there is a power in the gospel that’s been kept under lock and key because of our culture-controlled church? If we placed our beliefs and their origins under the microscope, what would we see?

If you’re brave enough to take an honest look at the issues facing the culture–controlled church—and the issues in your own life—read on. Do you ever look at how the Christian faith is being lived out in the new millennium and wonder if we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing? That we still haven’t quite “gotten it”? That we’ve missed the point regarding many important issues?

Join Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo on an adventure—one that’s about uncovering and naming faulty conclusions and assumptions about the Christian faith. The authors take turns addressing how we’ve missed the point on crucial topics such as: salvation, the Bible, being postmodern, worship, homosexuality, truth, and many more.

We’ve gotten really positive response on this book, especially from people in “the Christian subculture” who feel it kicks some doors down and opens some windows for needed fresh air.

Get a pdf of one of the chapters on salvation here: Missing the Point: Salvation

Stepping Stones to Intimacy

I mentioned in a previous post that the traditional christian idea of becoming “one” has created all kinds of conflicts and problems for us, in that we lost our identities and began to focus on changing one another in order to have a better relationship. I knew what a christian wife should be and she knew what a christian husband should be so we hammered away at each other for fourteen years to the point that bitterness and resentment seeped through creating hostility and estrangement.

Our psychologist has helped us understand a model for marriage that has been insightful and invaluable.

A diagrammatic of the model is found here and as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Check it out… the tradition christian interpretation of “the two shall become one” is termed Symbiosis – denoting exclusive bonding. While important, this bonding minimises differences and individuality and unless couples move to the next stage, their relationship will become ingrown and fester like a toe nail.

The next stage is called Differentiation and is all about managing anxieties caused by differences in the individuals. The authors note “The desire to spend more time alone or with other friends as well as the ongoing expression of different values, desires, and behaviors can become quite disturbing. This can be truly a difficult and stressful time.”

Stage 3 gets worse (or at least seems that way). Exploration – moving from “we” back to “I”. Again from the authors “This vital and important stage can present a real crisis for each of you. It may well seem as if love and caring have all but disappeared. To make matters worse, the timing may be different for each of you. The more one distances, the more the other may cling. If both of you distance simultaneously, you may feel more like roommates than lovers. You may feel isolated and emotionally disconnected.”

Stage 4 is Re-Connection: Back And Forth Patterns of Intimacy. “In this stage you have strengthened your identity and learned to maintain your own point of view without hostility. You think more productively about your differences and disagreements instead of having automatic negative reactions. A return to a deeper, more sustainable level of intimacy is occurring.”

Finally Stage 5 is Synergy: Independance and Interdependance. “Intimacy deepens as you increase your abilities to manage your emotional reactions when differences cause tension. You are capable of, and committed to relating in ways that are true to your most deeply held values and beliefs. You can actively support your partner’s right to do the same – even if this becomes inconvenient. The flow between the individual and the “we” is becoming easier… almost automatic.

The relationship is now more vital than either partner separately. Each benefits from the synergy and the “we” has an energy all its own. Partners desire to create and give back to the world. Deep intimacy, vulnerability and emotional sustenance abound.”

And stage 5 sounds to me like a great picture of Christian marriage.

We fairly quickly diagnoses me at stage three and my wife somewhere between stages one and two. I’m off exploring my individuality, likes, dislikes, values, ideals and learning about what makes me tick and “come alive”. She in the meantime is torn between wanting to be symbiotic (because of some really deep-rooted childhood issues) but being forced to differentiate because our differences are so vast and in-your-face. My responsibility to her is to help wherever I can to support her efforts to differentiate and explore.

The authors state that “One of trickiest challenges in a relationship is to successfully find a balance between the need to be close and connected as a “we”, while at the same time respecting each person’s desire to be a separate and independent, self, or “i”.”

I’m confident that if we can both move through this model that good things will come as we re-connect and experience the synergy of two fully functioning and healthy “I’s” becoming one “We” without losing our individuality.

A text version of a summary of the model is here.