What Happened to Wonder?

It’s a bit like playing a game of snap. Just as I was posting about how I crave a different church service, Tim Schraeder asks “What happened to wonder?“. Here he grapples with the same kinds of ideas. Just goes to show maybe I’m not crazy! He says:

There’s a tension that many churches are dealing with these days when it comes to their services and it’s the battle between right and left brained thinking, or emotion over intellect.

Churches, well the progressive, innovative, edgy ones, get production. Some churches feel like a rock show or Broadway, and while I’m a bit indifferent to their methods, I feel that in looking, sounding and feeling like the world we’ve lost a true sense of wonder.

Today our churches look and feel more like conference centers or coffee shops and instead of creating reverent, reflective space, they are cozy and casual. Gizmodo did an article about the STORY Conference which we hosted at Park a few months ago and said, “The Park Community Church in Chicago is a multi-story Christian center that more closely resembles a Starbucks than any cathedral—and in fact houses its own coffee shop.”

I’m not saying those things are bad, people obviously need to be in space that’s warm an inviting… but I guess I’m wrestling with if that’s the right way.

While I completely agree that the message is what matters most, the tension we live in is the fact that people hear messages on different wavelengths. Some can sit and listen to a 45 minute sermon and get it. Other people need to see a picture or hear a story, some need to hear a song. Some people need to be inspired by beauty while others simply need sacred space to reflect and remember. There’s multiple ways to hear the same message.

Today, flickering pixels are our stained glass and God has given us so many new ways to communicate His unchanging message… to do things that evoke our emotions and touch both our mind and our heart. To bring words to life through an image, a story, or a song.

I’m not saying we need to reproduce a jonsi concert, add more lights or more music, get bigger screens and better projectors… I just wholeheartedly believe we need to first be captured with the awe and wonder of who God is and let Him use the gifts He’s uniquely given to all of us to share the what we have seen …

When was the last time you left church in awe… not of the production, music, lights, or anything else… but truly left in awe of who God is and what He’s done?

Schraeder believes that the artist can help save the church. I agree that the arts should figure more prominently (their demise is a consequence of modernism) but disagree that they can (alone) save the church. I do however totally and wholeheartedly agree on where he’s going with it all. If I could go to a church service that I could dream up, it would be one which made me wonder – about God, life, relationships, heaven, earth, people, glory, mystery, faith, miracles, pain, suffering and redemption. I would have a space to reflect, pray, listen to Him and worship. I would not experience a show, a production, a lecture trying to explain or teach anything, desperate fundraising, coercion, pressure, alienation for not volunteering or humiliation.

Schraeder asks pointed questions, that really deserve answers from today’s contemporary modern church:

When was the last time you sat in wonder of God’s love and grace? When was the last time your heart was truly moved? Where is the sense of wonder?

Luckly I didn’t go to church last week

Every Sunday morning I wait for my wife’s creativity to emerge – usually about 90 minutes before church starts. It’s really funny and I actually look forward to what she’ll come up with each week.

Last week it was “Hey, do you want to come to church because after that we can visit your mate John who broke his back a few weeks ago and he’s home now?”

No, I didn’t want to go to church and visit John afterwards. If I wanted to visit John, I’d just visit!

There’s no pressure though and it’s all very amiable. I know she’d like me to go with her and the kids. She knows I don’t really want to, but that I probably would if there was a half decent church nearby (I enjoyed Father’s Day at a mates church three hours away). The church I used to pastor is now run by someone who studiously ignored me, never mentions anything about the past and refused to come over for dinner with us when they first arrived despite us inviting them twice. Me attending there was never going to work – for him, and I guess now for me – even though when I resigned due to depression I had wanted to stay involved.

But I have changed so much in the almost three years I’ve been gone. I see things so differently – I probably wouldn’t fit in anyway.

Last week, I’m so glad I didn’t go. My wife came home and in the afternoon was reading in bed. “How was church this morning” I asked genuinely interested. She was mad. It all came tumbling out. The pastor had said God had been speaking to him this week and asked everyone who desperately needed healing to stand. Then he asked anyone desperately needing forgiveness to stand. And the third category was anyone desperately needing a breakthrough to stand. Then he pulled his swifty; he asked all those standing, to pray for all those still seated. The premise was that if you’re desperate for God, you’re in the right place. And if you’re not desperate, you’re in need of prayer – from the desperate

I would have been one of those seated ones. I would have been prayed for by the standing, along with anyone visiting, or possibly new, or maybe those who are not yet identifying as believers… All of us together would have collectively been made to feel like there was something not quite right in our lives. I would have been fuming. What a dick!

My wife is right. Everyone has a season. There are seasons where we feel desperate. There are seasons of contentment. Who is to judge what season we’re in? My favorite paradigm is one of a journey. On a journey there are times of trouble and good times, there are twists and turns and it doesn’t matter where you are on your journey as long as you keep journeying and don’t get stuck in any one place for too long. No-one can judge where you’re at, nor should they.

Today, we had our babysitter stay overnight, so the car is full. There was no creative “Hey I was wondering….” But after last week, I think all her creative juices all but dried up.

Wanna write a Christian bestseller?

#106 The Side HugMy cousin is a real thinker. He graduated an engineer, then became a patent attorney and never married, so not only can he think, he’s got the time and energy to do it. He’s basically a self-taught theologian. I really applaud thinkers. They get a bad trot in Christendom – written off as all talk, no action. But I think generating ideas is action and can certainly be a catalyst for action.

Anyway, cuz really has a message about the Father heart of God – which he says is the apostolic message that’s getting drowned out across modern western Christendom by speakers and authors talking about principles for the successful christian life – e.g. seven steps to a powerful prayer life, three easy stages to holiness, five ways to a horny God-honoring marriage. He wants us to come back to the Father heart of God but to do it, he needs to do some pretty solid and heavy exposition of Ephesians 1-3 and Romans 6-8 and everything else in the bible.

When I asked him who his audience is, he says the man on the street – average Joe Believer. But when he tells me what it’s going to take to support his position it sounds like the only people who would be able to digest this high-fibre, zero fat, low carb, extreme protein power bar of thought will be  scholars. I explained to him that there are a couple of issues with the rest of the audience.

Firstly, there is the dumbed-down audience that love reading the latest from TD Jakes and John Bevere on a certain topic usually outlining how to master a certain aspect of the Christian life (western christian mindset). Today’s Christians are saved by grace and then bust their boilers and give themselves nose bleeds working out their salvation by mastery i.e. applying “proven” principles to get results to be a successful, God-honoring believer (never mind that following Christ and the idea of “mystery” has fallen by the wayside). We might be saved by faith, but we definitely live by trying to figure it all out in individually wrapped bite-sized portions.

The dumbed-down audience want to read “safe” authors who are recommended by their pastor or someone else “safe”. Author’s must be able to demonstrate their personal success (i.e. mastery) by leading a large church, loving a happy family (all smiles), speaking at big conferences, owning two large houses, traveling to over 40 countries, writing best seller books translated into 93 languages, having 80,000 twitter followers, with a ministry on TV broadcast to the said 40 countries and soon into outer space (don’t laugh about the outer space, I personally know a pastor who is trying to broadcast their worship and music into outer space).

Cuz, I said sagely, we all know you write to this audience to make money – a necessary evil, but then you pour this money into your “vision” so the ends justify the means.

The other audience he could try is the non-churched Christians, post moderns and emergents. The issue with these guys is that they don’t want to look at the bible as a text to be sliced and diced and analysed. The bible isn’t seen as a constitution or wiki on the Christian life. It’s seen as a true, earthy, primal story made up of many stories about many people, the central character being Christ. The overarching story is about God and people. So if the bible is a narrative, your writing might want to be…. a narrative! And it better be released for Kindle as well.

I explain that modernism takes a technical, analytical, systematic view of the bible producing works like “systematic theology” but emergents don’t want to analyse, they want to synthesise. They don’t want technical, they want organic. They don’t want more information, they want relationship. They don’t necessarily want more knowledge of good and evil, they want life, community, worship and they want this in a social justice, eco-friendly, sustainable and all-inclusive package…. don’t even think of using the word “exposition”.

If you write to these guys, you might want to invest in some pop culture (Erwin McManus has his own clothing line and Rob Bell should definitely have his own line of spectacle frames) or maybe you could practice writing stories. Christian fiction is the new non-fiction! Just look at the success of The Shack. After all, everyone loves a good story don’t they?

It’s Easter. I’m grateful.

I’m sitting in church and the pastor is praying for the offering. I joked earlier that I might become a C & E Christian – not church of England, but a Christmas and Easter Christian to find out why it’s so popular. I think they might be called chreastians?

Anyway I’m good for my word, so here I am on Easter Sunday. And as I sit here blogging an hour into the service, I’m grateful. The worship is over, the multimedia vignette has played, the worship came back, then the offering was taken and now the pastor is asking for $250k for missions.

I’m grateful that I don’t have to preach today and come up with something that will motivate listeners. I’m grateful that no-one will tell me the music was too loud. That no-one will complain that it was too dark in the auditorium during worship and that worship should be “in the light”.

I’m glad that I won’t be part of the post mortem of the service to try and figure out if the service was effective. What numbers did we get? What was the offering? Was the media impacting? Were people happy? What was the “atmosphere” like? Why didn’t we get any salvations? Why did we go 15 minutes overtime? Did we achieve our goals?

This Easter He has risen. But I’m grateful that this year the buck didn’t stop with me and that I didn’t have to make the event happen.

Church communications specialist Tim Schraeder spends his first Easter in ten years not on church staff this year, and he sounds pretty grateful too.

He says “The sad thing is that for most church staff members the joy of Sunday isn’t the hope of the resurrection, the joy of knowing we have new life because we serve a Risen Savior… the joy is the relief that it’s all finally over.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing.” Full article here.

I went to church today and my brain went to work…..

I always find it good brain fodder when I go to church these days. First up, they’re an indicator for how well I’m improving. I can tell by how I feel while deciding. If I feel dread, anxiety, or sadness, I know I’m still recovering. Today it didn’t feel too bad lying in bed at 07:30 wondering if I should get up and take the kids to church. In the end, it was either that, or I was going to have to find something else to do with them or they’d climb the walls.

Secondly, I can monitor my feelings while I’m there. Today didn’t feel too bad. Ideally, I would have loved to have crept out during the last song, but it’s too hard with three kids, because I have to go find them first, rather than have them find me afterwards. Besides, I do like to say hi to friends although probably not all at once after the service.

I felt ok today. I wasn’t anxious enough to consider having a beer before going, and I didn’t take my friendly weed either (see last post). I just took everything slowly and deliberately – mindfully I think is the correct buzz word going around.

The highlight was the multimedia church news for me. Strange I know, but this was an area I loved because media was an outlet for creativity. The low point was the sermon. My replacement is doing a series on grace and using a chair to demonstrate that we have to balance all aspects of grace or we become unbalanced. But I thought grace was totally unbalanced!

Anyway, he explained that the first leg of the chair, was grace toward us (saving grace), the second leg was grace in us (changing grace), and the third leg was grace through us (God wants us to do stuff) which is where the sermon majored. He explained that 22,000 kids will die in the next 24 hours from preventable disease but then said we can’t do a whole lot about that, but we can all do something in a 25 mile radius of this church.

For me, the message got pretty heavy. The atmosphere by the end was really gloomy and quiet. I think the pastor realized that because he asked the band to come up and “play something nice”, and tacked on at the end after the closing prayer something to the effect that it would still be OK to enjoy lunch today. Phew!

The take home was that we should all do something, because God’s grace is in us. But your honor, I object. First, the people know all this already (as my wife said “you used to preach this stuff” – gotta love pastor’s wife’s) . The reason they’re not doing stuff, isn’t because they lack information. Secondly, if people had been transformed by grace, you wouldn’t need to tell them to do something, they’d be unstoppable.

My key thought out of all of this, is that pastor’s believe that they need to teach and rightly so (Paul charged Timothy to do it). Unfortunately we live in a culture with a modern Greek teaching style which consists largely of disseminating analytical information in the form of a lecture. This is a really important thought. Analysis focuses on breaking stuff down to understand it, and then the modern style is to just announce the findings to a group of people, who should listen, understand, learn and remember it. The problem with all of this, is that it is totally antithetical to what Christianity is all about. Teaching today, simply wasn’t anything like the teaching that the New Testament was suggesting.

My experience of Christianity is that it is first and foremost a faith. We are called to walk by faith, not by understanding, yet all our teaching is in an effort to understand! Secondly, I have found God to shroud himself more than he reveals himself, and there is more mystery than mastery going on everywhere I’ve looked. Paul says we look through a glass darkly and I concur. Yet everything pastors do in their sermons is to try and clarify stuff, inform the masses, make it easier to understand and do, and God just doesn’t seem to play the game.

OK, enough bashing. Want to know my thoughts on an alternative? It’s a bit post-modern, so if you have a modern brain, it’s not going to make much sense. If I had my time over again (relax, I’m not living in the past), I would ask more questions. I would help people ask good questions. I would ignite people’s wonderment. I would be a trail guide and rather than try and sit them in a room and lecture them about the trail, I’d take them out there and point at all the amazing sights and sounds and smells. I would appeal to their ability to dream. I would try my very best to involve them in a three way conversation between me, and them and the One who knows everything.

In this scenario, I don’t need to be the font of all knowledge. I don’t need to lecture. I don’t need to analyze, theologize, sermonize, or criticize. I just need to be a catalyst for a relationship, a guide for the adventure, your friend and a friend of The Friend.

Jesus Manifesto

Check out the Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola who state “We believe that the major disease of the church today is JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder. The person of Jesus is increasingly politically incorrect, and is being replaced by the language of “justice,” “the kingdom of God,” “values,” and “leadership principles.”

I guess the one that relates most to The Scrapheap is number 6, which says:

It’s possible to confuse “the cause” of Christ with the person of Christ. When the early church said “Jesus is Lord,” they did not mean “Jesus is my core value.” Jesus isn’t a cause; he is a real and living person who can be known, loved, experienced, enthroned and embodied. Focusing on his cause or mission doesn’t equate focusing on or following him. It’s all too possible to serve “the god” of serving Jesus as opposed to serving him out of an enraptured heart that’s been captivated by his irresistible beauty and unfathomable love.

http://ajesusmanifesto.wordpress.com/

One step forward, two back

I’ve been feeling really despondent lately. I’ve lost motivation, I feel a heavy heart. I really don’t want to do anything but hibernate. I didn’t want to go pick tomatoes this morning but went anyway. I don’t really want to force myself to do much, because I’ve found that forcing myself to do things costs me in terms of energy and authenticity… how do I know if what I’m forcing myself to do something is best for me?

I think turning 40 – something I haven’t been looking forward to – has made me think about how useless I feel again. I’m really struggling to deal with this usefulness issue. Maybe that’s just it… it needs to be dealt with. I can’t seem to decouple the issue of being and doing. I can’t seem to discover significance in who I am in Christ and the fact that I’m valuable to God regardless of what I do for Him. So, here I am, doing nothing with my life and struggling to feel like my life matters.

Interesting news out in the last few days from British scientists…

PEOPLE who spend a lot of time surfing the internet are more likely to show signs of depression, British scientists said today. But it is not clear whether the internet causes depression or whether depressed people are drawn to it.

Full article here

Hmmm maybe I should log off! No seriously, I’m pretty sure that depressed people are drawn to the internet, rather than the opposite. I recall the worse I was, the more I wanted to be distracted, to escape and to relate to people on my terms hence surfing the net, and using social networking sites was a place that meant I had no responsibility. My wife thought I was addicted to facebook. The irony is that now with her workload and recovery from depression, the kids did a little acronym for their mother and the letter “A” stood for “Always on Facebook”. The other thing she does is watch mandarin speaking soapies on YouTube. Once she did it for a whole weekend while I was away and the kids met me at the door distraught that mum had locked them out of her bedroom and watched clips all weekend.

I’m 40 today. Very Sad.

I woke up today 40 years old so I think I can speak with some authority on turning 40.

I guess if I was doing something with my life, I’d say it makes no difference, but all those people who say life begins at 40 are comforting themselves with benign platitudes I think.

I’m not happy about it. I’m a bit despondent really. I reckon if one is 40 and going nowhere it is a pathetic thing. Lets face it, how many 40 yr-olds do you know that aren’t doing anything with their lives? I don’t know many, and the ones that I do, I think are bums. So I’m pretty sure that makes me a bum….

Rick Warren says “The teacher is always silent when the test is given. When God is silent in your life, you are being tested” and that sums up what is going on in my life right now. But what to do when God is silent? My answer – nothing. But it’s not a lazy, good for nothing “nothing”. It’s more like a quietly hopeful nothing… that something will arise from nothing like it did in the beginning.

Getting Paid for Ministry has Whiskers II

So, I explained to my former staffer that he was better off not being on staff at the Church and that being paid for ministry has whiskers on it. Being on salaried staff definitely has whiskers. I figured he needed to be liberated just as I had. Not liberated from ministry, or calling, or serving God, but just liberated from what goes with being paid to do it.

Being paid to serve God and minister to others is somewhat of an anathema. The motive is good, in that it seeks to support those who feel called to full-time work in the church, but the whole construct is askew. Firstly we’re all called to serve God with our whole lives anyway, whether we work for a church or not. We’ve all said from the pulpit that all of us are called to be ministers of the gospel haven’t we?

But that’s not really the issue. The issue is what being paid to do ministry does to us.

For those of us who are in debt and being paid to do ministry, it can really compromise us. As much as we’d like to say we’re totally objective (spiritual) and trusting God for our finances, if you have a $250k mortgage on your house and a $1m loan on your church and one of your highest tithing church members is demanding this or that, or worse, is causing problems in the church and is influential, it’s hard to be impartial. I’ve know one pastor who had problems with multilevel marketers in his church who were extremely influential and when he addressed the issues that they were causing, he lost one-third of his congregation. If you’re in significant debt, that could be enough to shut the doors and you’re out of a job.

Another difficulty is the expectation that the church has of you. We spend almost all of our time trying to get more people involved to build our “vision” but the people expect us to do it because they’re paying us to do it! Whether we acknowledge it or not, we have a contract. They come and tithe, so we can be paid to do the ministry. Yes, we know it’s not biblical, but it’s just where we’ve arrived and we have to deal with it. When we’re urging people to give up their time and volunteer freely, we haven’t really a leg to stand on because we’re not….

Being paid, also means being accountable for the money you recieve. This is obviously toward some sort of oversight body and ultimately to the incorporation that employ’s you. This means satisfying their idea of what it means to be doing the right things given the remuneration you receive. Whether their ideas of what the right things to do are the best ideas is subjective, but that doesn’t matter, at the end of the day, you need to be doing enough to satisfy them. Again you end up compromised. Not that accountability is a bad thing, but the best for of accountability is to be accountable for your character and who you are becoming, not necessarily what you are doing.

Here’s another thought to finish up on. We all agree that the best pastors are one’s who are obedient to God, and lead by virtue of who they are and what God is doing in their life, than by leadership maxims, strategies, or worse karaoke church (pretending to be a leader or church you admire and doing what they do). But lets say hypothetically, that God wasn’t leading you to do anything at all. Sounds odd at first, but when you look at Jesus’ life, God lead him to do nothing for 33 years. Imagine how hard that would have been for Jesus. But he did it. But when you’re paid to do something, you’ll do something, even if God isn’t leading you to do anything.

I’m not sure what Paul was doing for the first three years after his conversion. The bible and historical writings are totally silent. He was probably doing not much at all, certainly not much that you would want to pay him for, except for following Christ. Productivity was not high on the agenda, until he was lead to visit Jerusalem and then kicked off the most powerful ministry the world has ever seen.

Being on the payroll means you’re in a bad position and you’re no longer free to do what God wants you to do, when He wants you to do it and where.

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