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?

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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.

Preach it Brother, or … maybe not.

So I’ve been thinking a fair bit about possibly the central thing we do as pastors – at least in terms of time spent on any single thing (research, preparation and delivery). We would take a half-day as a preaching team to work through a message, then I would take a day to write it and then about another half day spent marinating on it before delivery. So all up we’re looking at about fifteen hours of preparation and delivery for one message. Which I think is probably about average.

Recently I read Pagan Christianity by Viola and Barna, which was a really good read and instrumental in helping the church move beyond its institutionalization. They claim that preaching was never central to the church until a couple hundred years after Christ and really came into primacy with Luther who claimed it was the central part of the sunday service. He changed the term “priest” to “preacher”. Understandably preaching the word for Luther, who was putting reformed theology into the hands of hungry hordes of protesting catholics departing the catholic church in utter ignorance, was of utmost importance.

Viola claims that preaching in the NT was only done by apostles – church planters/workers in the process of establishing churches and on special occasions (Solomon’s temple etc.). They also claim that the office of Pastor is not an office, but a function and pastors didn’t preach.

I kinda disagree. I think pastors did preach because I believe Timothy was a pastor (Viola suggests he was “apostolic” because he obviously wasn’t an apostle, but his theory about pastors would fall over) and Timothy was urged by Paul to preach. Furthermore in Acts where it says the early disciples met from house to house and in the temple, would suggest it was a weekly occurrence.

Here’s where I get really creative now. Try and keep up.

Public teaching was done in the synagogue for centuries, so was embedded in Jewish culture. Furthermore, rhetoric was one of the most popular of entertainment of the day among the Greeks. Rhetoricians were public speakers who became famous and well paid for speaking eloquently (subject matter was inconsequential). So culturally in Judea, public speaking was the best form of communication and entertainment – infotainment would be a good word to describe it in today’s parlance. So it seems Jesus and his followers were using the best and most modern forms of communication that was most effective for their culture and the people of the day – preaching and teaching.

Translate that into today’s culture which is neither Greek nor Jewish. Preaching like we live in 100 A.D. in Judea simply isn’t cutting it. I even had trouble remembering what I preached the week before let alone thinking anyone else remembered (and I’m a good preacher). Which is why I resorted to The Big Idea which is simply one singular idea that I wanted people to leave the building with (there were other reasons to adopt it, primarily to use a preaching team and being able to keep a multi-site church moving in the same direction). I mean, how many sermons have you heard and actually implemented? It’s a completely modernist idea to think that simply giving people information will change their lives. We all know it doesn’t work like that, yet we continue doing it because it’s part of the consumer contract we have with our congregants (search this blog for consumerism).

Researchers on adult eduction have found that while teaching children “by rote” – in other words, I tell-you listen-you learn works, it doesn’t work with adults. And because preachers have all been to school and know nothing about educating adults, we use the only model we’ve known. Adult education doesn’t work like that. In fact when it comes down to it, experts concede that adult educators can only “facilitate” another adults learning. I won’t go into all the reasons for that. But bottom line, you can’t teach someone anything until they are ready to learn it. Kinda sounds like that old chinese saying “when the student is ready, the master will appear” – except we’re not masters… but you get the point.

The other thing that complicates the issue is that we live in the information age. No-one knows how vast the internet is. It’s not measurable. That’s how much information is out there. I can download the best preachers in the world hours after they deliver the sermon. And they’re way better communicators that you or I. I can download theology, christian books, magazines and blogs. I can even check the lexicons and commentaries while you’re preaching to see if your exegesis and hermeneutics are up to scratch. So that’s what we’re up against. So if we’re going to trade in information, I guarantee you, your congregation can get better information any day of the week.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us reaching for the best communication forms available to us for today’s culture and not simply dishing out information because adults don’t learn like that (and neither do you by the way so don’t be surprised that no-one else does either), but rather facilitating an experience. How’s that for radical? I’ll let you think about that for a bit, and I’ll unpack my conclusions later.

Worked over by John Maxwell

One of our co-contributers, a fellow Scraphead Pastor recently posted a comment about “hating” John Maxwell. Thanks for the candid comment! The postulations of Maxwell, far from being helpful became a rod for his back.

I went and saw Maxwell speak at a hugely popular conference a couple years back and he was riveting. Far better in person than in print, so our blog doesn’t seek to defame him whatsoever. But I know what our contributer is talking about.

Interestingly I am halfway through a Masters of Arts degree with a leadership major at a national bible college. Maxwell is never mentioned at all.

See the problem with Maxwell and other similar pseudo-christian leadership guru’s is that what they spouse, are truisms. A truism is a statement which is so obviously true that it is almost not worth saying, like “when it comes to health, prevention is better than cure”. Truisms are a bit like platitudes or cliche’s, but if it’s the first time you heard it you think “wow, that’s so true!”

So Maxwell kicks off with a riveting true story and then comes out with stuff like “if you’re a true leader, you must be far enough out front to lead, but not too far out to stay connected”. It makes sense. It’s truistic. The masses will get it. Makes for good reading and to be honest some of the stuff he comes up with can be useful particularly for secular management.

But there are big problems. Most of what Maxwell serves up is stuff like “true leaders do ABC or XYZ.” So you end up wondering “am I a true leader? I’m not sure I’m doing ABC like he says”. And if you’re sure you’re a leader (like me), then you end up pondering over the above truism and wondering “exactly how far in front am I?” “Am I in front?” Am I too far in front?”

Unfortunately that’s about as deep as Maxwell takes things. There is no diagnostic tools, reflection tools it’s just truism after truism and great story after great story. It’s easy reading. Basically Leadership for Dummies. If you get into any serious leadership research, you’ll find it nothing like the stuff that Maxwell churns out for the popular masses of wannabe leaders who want to grab something they can read quickly and head out to the coal face and do something.

To be fair to Maxwell, he is committed to taking biblical ideas and packaging them for the secular management market (which is massive) and I’m sure he has his place there. I’m also sure he is a genuine committed christian doing what he does best.

Here’s the kicker. Forget about what Maxwell says. Figure out how Maxwell learns the stuff he learns. I’m not suggesting you figure out some new truisms (or dress up old ones as is sometimes the case), I’m suggesting that the power of ideas comes from where those ideas are coming from. And if good ideas are coming from God, then it’s the connection TO God that gives our life momentum and abundance, not the information FROM God alone (which is what Maxwell is doing). Simple… sort of.