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?

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Christians of the future will be mystics or will not exist at all

I just read a fantastic article by Carl McColman called The Hidden Tradition of Christian Mysticism
where he says;

Karl Rahner, one of the most renowned Christian theologians of the twentieth century, once famously remarked that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” For people whose experience of Christianity is, often, little more than a religion invested in obedience and in patriarchal morality, this seems to be a bold statement. After all, mysticism implies not legalistic religion, but living spirituality — heart-felt experience of the Divine, centered on a miraculous and joyful appreciation of the Spirit’s ability to heal and transform lives. Can Christianity and mysticism really co-exist?

It fascinates me that a consistent theme among burned out pastors and christians, is that they push back to Christianity’s ancient roots and themes. Even while I was burning out, I knew I was craving something deeper, more authentic and less structured and pedantic than the ABC’s of prayer and reading three chapters of the bible.

I started reading Henri Nouwen and was googling the practices of the Benedictines and chewing over the ideas of the desert fathers. I had begun to mediate and look for God within. For twenty years of my christian life, I thought that God was “out there”, but the contemplatives believed he dwelt inside of us, and that to commune with Him, we had to look within.

It all sounds a little “out there” to someone with a traditional western contemporary version of Christianity, but a quick flick through church history shows it has “always existed on the margins of the church” as McColman puts it. I mean, when you think about it, Christianity is more an eastern faith than a western one, and once the lens of western modernity is lifted, it does allow you “see” the possibilities much like seeing the 3D magic eye pictures.

He goes on to say

So mysticism is, in a very real way, Christianity’s best-kept secret. And even though some Christians of the third millennium remain suspicious of mysticism, many other Christians have begun to embrace the transforming power of such core spiritual practices as meditation, lectio divina (“sacred reading,” a meditative approach to the Bible and other wisdom texts), and contemplative prayer — the powerful form of prayer in which meditative silence is offered directly to God for the purpose of seeking and fostering deeper intimacy and communion with the Divine.

In all honesty, I think we’re all craving a deeper experience of the divine but the journey of discovery has been hijacked by an institutional, modern, western, attractional, business model of doing church, that hands us Christianity in a neat bubble-wrapped glossy package with the words on the back saying “This is guaranteed to work if you follow the following three steps to the successful Christian life”. Maybe the life of the contemplative is just what we need.

Simple is Good

I think for some reason (maybe being the outdoorsy type) tribal life has always held an allure for me. I loved the documentary “Tribal Wedding” where filmmakers Larry Gray and Mary O’Malley a western couple from Sydney, traveled to Tanna in Vanuatu and married in “kastom” style – the native way.  There were so many great quotes and ideas raised during the documentary. There is a simplicity to which these villagers live that don’t involved the stress and busyness and utilitarian lives we live in the west. I call it the simple life.

To me the simple life revolves around simple tasks. For villagers it’s things like procuring firewood, building or maintaining shelters, fetching water, tending their gardens, hunting for food, raising children and maintaining relationships. The men have secret men’s business where they deal with issues in the village, but it’s evident that reinforcing relationships between the elders is significant to village harmony. So too, the women gather around the fire and preparation of food, which goes way beyond simply feeding the family. It’s building community.

One of the things my wife has found working with ‘at risk’ youth who are in trouble with the law, bombing out of school and getting into general mischief is that it takes a village to raise a child…. but that way of life is long gone from our “cultured” societies.

I think as a result of my burnout and slow recovery, I’ve come to long for the simple life. I’m actually trying to build a modern-tribal lifestyle. I am my own guinea pig.

I’m not about to take my clothes off and go live in the backyard, but I think there are certainly elements we can learn from tribal people. I try and take time over food preparation. Instead of seeing it as a necessary evil, I see it as part of the daily ritual that helps anchor us to the simple life. It takes time to prepare good food. I involve the kids with our cooking so it also helps us work together and they enjoy the food a lot more if they’ve been involved in making it.

Our home has electric heating and a wood fire. I have decided to buy a chainsaw and cut up logs, haul them home, split them, stack the wood and burn it. It’s a lot of hard work, but again, there is a certain earthiness and reality involved when you don’t just flick a switch, but actually take the time to light a fire and burn it to heat the home – not to mention the atmosphere and toasted marshmallows.

I’d like to be slower with the children too. I’d like to take time to talk to them without feeling hurried. I’d like to waste time with them – play with them – enter their world. I took my son interstate on the weekend for a funeral. We had lots of time to talk. Last thursday I bailed him out of school and took him fishing. On the way to the lake (where he hauled in a 4lb brown trout in fine fighting condition) I asked him what he’d like to do when he grew up. He said he’d like to perhaps be an artist, or a musician, or a ninja. Ahhh to be seven again.

I try and drive slower. I accelerate to the speed limit more slowly. I try and achieve less each day than I would otherwise. If I get one or two things done, I’m happy. I’m not the kind of person to just waste time. I’ve found if I build in lots of buffer and space into my time, that I tend to fill it with more meaningful things – like talking to people I love, or reflection. Or maybe reading a book. Or as it turns out, it may be conserving energy so  i can read to my kids when I put them to bed.

In the documentary, Mary (safely back in Sydney) wrestles with the great gulf between the modern and tribal life. She says ”I do believe we need to slow down and wind back our lives and consider some of the things that traditional cultures do… But how far back can we go? And how to go back? I’m still not sure. I think there’s a whole lot of us who are trying to figure that out.”

Yep. Simple is good. Do you have similar yearnings? Do you have any ideas for modern tribal warriors that I can experiment with?

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

About Jack!

I’m writing under a pseudonym from somewhere in the western world. I don’t want anyone to get hurt by what we say, because we’re not targeting anyone, so for now, like The Stig, we’ll remain anonymous.

I’ve been a christian 20 years, and 19 of those I have been in leadership. For the last 8 years I have been full-time as a pastor/leader of a large church (ten times large than the average western church). This year however, due to burnout and depression and almost failed marriage I resigned. Now i’m on the scrapheap.

I have three kids, still attend the church I resigned from, and now I’m working in a factory and on dairy farms.

This is my attempt to explore the scrapheap. How did we get here? Why are we here? What can we learn?

I say we, because other scrapheap pastors will be contributing so we get various perspectives. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, about ministry and leadership, about church, christianity, religion and God. We want to share our journeys to the scrapheap and beyond to help other pastors who are heading down this road, and because we love God and His church and know deep down in our hearts that something’s gotta change.

We want to say the stuff that other pastors know, but won’t admit, because we haven’t anything to lose. We also hope you can be part of the conversation. Very little will be censored unless we start talking AT each other or yelling which is pretty unproductive, at least it has for the last couple thousands years in the life of the church.

If you’d like to join our team, contact me.

The Scrapheap Pastors

We’re a bunch of pastors and leaders, who through various circumstances found ourselves broken, discarded and on the scrapheap. The view from here though is interesting to say the least! We talk about our experience as leaders with burnout, ministry and try and pen what we’ve learned. We want to help others avoid our fate and we dream of a different church that doesn’t consume it’s leaders.