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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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.

Why church is irrelevant, and what to do about it

Yesterday and the day before I attended training by Partners in Depression, a new initiative which is setting up support groups in every state of our country to educate and equip carers of depression sufferers. The course was absolutely tremendous and I’ll tell you more in the days to come.

Today I wanted to tell you that I subscribe to communications guru Tim Schraeder’s updates and I just can’t say it any better!

“I’m sorry to say it so harshly but it’s true… no one cares about your church. Look at recent polls, church attendance, or even watch the news and it’s fairly obvious… people don’t care about the church or what we have to say anymore. Here’s what he had to say recently:

We’ve lost credibility for some legitimate reasons. And don’t chalk me up to being a church basher, I passionately care about the church, I’m just saying what’s true and what some of us might not want to admit.

The Church has moved from the center of our Western culture and while some fight to keep it in the public square others of us are realizing the greatest way we can impact culture is by being on the periphery.

Christianity at its core has always been about counter-cultural, so why in the world do we try to be perceived as being relevant by looking just like the culture around us?

We’ve cheapened the Gospel by trying to be accepted at a great cost. The emerging generation can see right through the charade. We’ve created a machine out of what was always meant to be a movement.

We’ve organized something that was meant to be organic. We’ve franchised something that was meant to be localized. We’ve put CEOs in the seats of what was meant to be a spiritual office and treated salvation like a commodity. We made an idol out of our methods.

And to try and fix everything we’ve thought marketing it to look like a cheap version of everything else in culture was a good idea. Here’s two truths: people don’t like the church and people don’t trust advertising. Why use a mechanism people don’t trust to promote something they don’t care about?

I’m not trying to paint a picture of gloom and doom, I am just saying it how it is. I have great hope for the Church and believe that it does matter and believe the church has a great future ahead of it… we’ve just got to make some adjustments.

I think we have a great new opportunity to reintroduce Jesus, the Gospel and the Church to a world and culture that has been weary of what they’ve seen and heard. The next generation is tired of gimmicks they want something real and authentic. They want to be known. They want community. They want a sense of belonging. They want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They want to be significant.

They want to be a part of the Church they read about in Acts but have only seen poor reflections of in today’s world. More than anything they want to give themselves to cause that is greater than they are.

Why do you think movements like TOMS Shoes, To Write Love on Her Arms, LIVESTRONG, charity: water, the one campaign or any of the big social movements that are out there today exist and have so much popularity? They are all doing great work and doing tremendous good, yes. But they are telling a compelling story. They are giving people the opportunity to make a difference. They give people the chance to do something that matters. They are sadly, doing the work the church has been neglecting.

When you really care about what people care about things happen. When churches rally around the needs of their communities and are actually outward focused, truly living for something outside of themselves, that’s when change happens and that is when the church matters in culture.

To truly care about the things that matter to people is to truly live out the Gospel. God is all about people. And what matters to people matters to God. We’ve been too focused on ourselves, our numbers, our growth, our success, and at the expense of a generation that’s looking for a cause to believe in and give themselves to.

I can’t think of a better cause to give my life to than the cause of the local church and I think while we live in a culture that doesn’t care about church we have an amazing opportunity to redefine what church means and what it means to be a follower of Christ.

When we sing or pray the words break my heart for what breaks Yours, we are really asking God to allow us the opportunity to see the world through His eyes. We’ll never earn the right to be heard in culture by screaming on street corners or by having a slick ad campaign. We earn the right to be heard by caring about the things that people care about and ultimately the things the move the heart of God.

Stop trying to promote and market your church. It hasn’t been working and it won’t. Stop trying to make people care about something they’ve already decided isn’t worth their time or attention. Start listening. Start looking around you. Listen to the cries of people in your community and start responding with the love of Christ. See through His eyes. Earn the right to be heard. Be Jesus hands and feet. Do good. Care about what people care about. Be Jesus and the Church to your community.

The Church isn’t an organization or a building, it’s people. When you truly care about what people care about and prove it, people will care about you and what you have to say.”

Thanks for saying it so well Tim!

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How Churches Stop Christians Being Christian

Michael Frost, professor of Evangelism and Missions at Morling College and the pastor of a radical church Small Boat Big Sea in Sydney was interviewed by ABC Radio National. Here’s what he said about how traditional churches tie up believers with doing church stuff which actually prevents them from living an authentic christian life:

“I think that churches are made up of people who mean well, and who are genuinely seeking to live out their faith…. But I’d much rather fashion something which is more organic, more relational which frees people to be able to live their faith out loud, and large, and in a dynamic fashion, rather than kind of squeezing into a mould where six days a week they’re one thing and then on Sundays they’re another thing. ….some churches can simply, by their structure, fashion this separation between the sacred Sunday meetings and then the rest of life, I’m pretty critical of that. I’d love to see us start to unleash hundreds and thousands of followers of Jesus who are able to follow Jesus in all of life, not just say in a worship meeting.

I’ve been going on this journey for a long time. I’ve been the pastor of some traditional-style churches in the past, but I guess it was just a growing dis-ease that I found that it was as though the structure of church, as I just mentioned before, was operating against all the best intentions in the world. I mean, I would speak to people in my churches about the need for us to be generous, and hospitable, and to live our lives in close relationship with those who don’t necessarily attend church, to be committed to the poor and to the environment, to practice hospitality, I never get anybody say to me, “Oh, Michael, I don’t think we should do that.”

I mean everyone will agree with you, but the requirements of sustaining a lot of the institutional style Christianity actually draws people out of their world. It makes them too busy to be able to then practice genuine hospitality, and to partner with their neighborhoods and their communities. So I would much rather disassemble some of that, free people up, give them more time to be able to actually do what I think they’re intended to do, rather than just to be on committees and to set meetings up and to run from one kind of small group meeting to the next.”

What do you think? What’s your experience been? Do you agree with the prof?

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/