Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ted Haggard and Al Gore

The challenge of communicating any vision is getting your listener to properly translate your words into the same mental picture that you see. If I spend all my energy painting an image of an apple for you, but somehow you think I’m describing an orange, then I’ve not done my job as a communicator.

I feel this way as I try to explain what I mean by the Church of the Future. I don’t have concrete examples in the same way as if I were telling you about the Church As We Know It. When you hear me use the word, “church,” you already have a prejudice toward the topic. So I search for other means to be understood.

Take the recent Green Revolution, for example. There is a section of our population that believes with all their heart that the earth is on a collision course with disaster because of the damaging effects of global, man-made pollution. Now my point is not to judge the belief, but to point out why the movement may be viewed with skepticism.

As a believer in global warming, if you try to convince me of your argument with anger and manipulation, you’re going to lose me. If fear is going to be your primary means and you get me scared that the sky gonna fall, I might bite, but how is that different than the Y2K craze ten years ago? I will change temporarily, but what happens when I don’t feel the same urgency a few years later?

In addition, I will further doubt the validity of your claims if your movement only looks like a means to make economic advancement by selling me products labeled “green.” And I am especially offended if those “green” products turn out to be inferior. You don’t look authentic in my eyes. You become yet another charlatan, nothing more than a facsimile of the hack preachers that give the Church As We Know It a bad name.

My point is not to forge an opinion about the Green Revolution, but rather to point out why I think it will end up with the same reputation as the Church As We Know It. It’s building itself on a foundation of fear and not love.

The Church of the Future will not need to make you afraid. It will recognize you are already full of fear. It will not need your money, so it won’t make you feel guilty about what you do with it. It will believe you are capable of blessing others and doesn’t assume that if you do as you please, that the natural outcome will be wrong. It believes your motivation comes from the divine transformation called rebirth, regeneration or a handful of other big theological terms.

One reason I recommend not going to the Church As You Know It on Sunday mornings is to give yourself a chance to step away from it and get a different perspective. It allows you to see the forest and not just the trees. It might allow you to understand why you feel so bored, so pent up, and frustrated.

You might see what I see.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Waking Up And Smelling The Coffee

So how long do you think you can put up with it?

Some are capable of doing it their whole life. They seem to go through life content and happy with it all, never really seeming to be bothered too much. It leaves you wondering if they are just shallow people who don’t have the courage to look any deeper than the study guide, or if you are just simply a bad person caught up in a cycle of discontent that feels like a slow boat to no fun.

But again, this is not about them. No one else is your concern right now. This is about you and first finding the answer to your questions. Vision should lead to Clarity, and Clarity brings about Perspective. And once you possess all three, you are better equipped to find a beneficial answer than a destructive one.

I didn’t always think this way and I certainly wasn’t trained to think this way. It was all about God first, others second and me third. This little mantra is easy to recite and assists in getting a leader’s point across, but catch phrases like this one used to communicate a complex idea will eventually be taken out of context. It’s a fast food truth; simple, easy and convenient, but certainly not very nourishing.

If my most personal concerns fall at the bottom of that list of three, and if I am led to believe that getting those out of order will result in wanton hedonism and a narcissistic life, I will be ill-equipped to address the desperate condition in which my inner life has developed.

The ability to put others first is an essential life skill in any relationship. Display it as Deference or Selflessness, and you will, in no doubt, be well liked. But this can only be expressed from a position of security, and in knowing your own heart well.

If your biggest concern in leaving The Church As We Know It is what your kids will think, you are admitting that that the primary reason you take them to church is out of fear.

Fear is an insidious motivator, effective mainly in preventing mishap, but not very valuable when it comes to the role of inspiration. Your fear of water might keep you from ever having a drowning accident, but it sure won’t help you learn how to swim.

You may think you are putting them first by wanting them involved in spiritually related activities, but if your faith is shriveling up inside you, what makes you think theirs won’t end up in the same condition when they get older. Maybe their crisis will happen in half the time yours did. You went to Sunday School when you were their age. How’s that working for you?

You are nothing more than a dead man until your faith comes alive.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Who Wants Pancakes?

So how’d you do this last Sunday?

I know, I know. It was a big hurdle of mine for some time, but I eventually got over it when I allowed my faith to grow a bit and realize the absurdity of my objection.

Do I really believe that the spiritual fate of my children rests in the hands of their Sunday School teacher?

You would think so if you saw how I wrestled with the question, “What about the kids?” when it came to the consideration of leaving the Church As We Know It. What would the kids think if you stopped going on Sunday?

Maybe they would think the same as you.

Would they enjoy being home as a family together, getting to make a big breakfast that you normally would never have time to do because you are rushing everyone to get dressed and get in the van so you can get to church and color?

Believe it or not, your kids get more definition from you about God, faith and the meaning of life than any other source of input. Yes, more than friends, MTV or the Internet. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, or that they may put up a fight against you, but hold your ground and don’t yield your role as parent in the equation.

Taking your kids to Sunday School or Youth Group is fine and dandy and certainly there can be positive influence there, but these two things are way down on the list of importance when it comes to the key source of impact.

Kids pick up more than you know, and certainly more than you want them to. Once while driving I was listening to the Christian porn station with my very young daughter buckled in her car seat in the back. She asked, “Daddy, do we have to listen to the angry man again?” She discerned more about the message than I could have ever imagined. Yes, we switched stations and turned on music, and no, I don’t subject her to the angry man again.

You might need to give your kids more credit. In their innocence, they are capable of detecting righteousness without pretense that you as an adult have learned to express gracefully. Do they see Mommy and Daddy putting on a face for church that they don’t see any other time during the week? If so, this should terrify you more than the thought of not going on Sunday.

Your kids are little people. They are not extensions of you. They have minds of their own and will eventually make their own decisions apart from you. Are you reinforcing a sense of insecurity in them because of your own fears about what is required for faith? And when they get older, will they understand what freedom and liberty looks like because of you, or in spite of you?

It is for freedom that we were set free.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The alarm is going off, and you're tempted to hit snooze...

Guilt pretty much ruled the day for you yesterday. You went through all the motions as usual; kids in minivan, kids to Sunday School, sit through 56 min of information, kids out of Sunday School, kids to lunch, kids back home…meanwhile your head is swimming with so much disillusionment, and now add the dutiful Christmas element to it for another few weeks….yikes, it’s too much to think about. Thankfully there’s football on when you get home.

All this ambivalence, where is it going to lead? Is this as good as its going to get? Is there any real hope of transformation that you can expect? If so, what’s going to change?

You are.

Yes, you are the one that will have to change, and it might cost you more than you ever know. And if your faith is of any real importance to you, as I think it is, you are capable of doing what is necessary to return to a vibrant, meaningful expression of that faith that will leave you dangerous in the eyes of many. And I mean that in a good way.

The first step toward your revolution of liberty is to quit demanding the Church As You Know It to be any different than it is. Stop letting it be the focus of your attention. The problem does not lie with it, and neither does the answer. You will not change the institution. You are capable, however, of changing the trajectory of your own path.

The Church As We Know It is full of people for whom the system works. There is no need to get those folk to answer your questions that they aren’t even asking themselves. It would be unfair to expect them to. Instead, focus on what you believe you wish you could do.

Start by not going on Sunday mornings.

If you are serious about getting your faith back, you have to be willing to confront the barriers that are keeping you from it. The system of Sunday church is killing your inner life. Why in the world would you want to keep beating your head against that wall?

Let me repeat: This is not an indictment against the Church As We Know It. I am not pointing any fingers at It. It is a wake up call to you, and you alone. This decision is not controlled by anyone else, but it has everything to do with you and whether or not you have the balls to step up and address what is going on inside your soul.

Remember when you came to a decision about faith, and how you feared many of your friends and family would not understand as you resolved to make God a central part of your life and worldview? Remember feeling resolutely you were going to have to cut against the grain and leave a few folk mad at you?

Same song, second verse.

Faith always runs the risk of being misunderstood, even when expressed in the best of intentions. Some will understand and some will not. Deal with it and get over it. Just be willing to contend with the fallout as a result, knowing that clarity may not emerge until a later time.

It’s time to take it back, my friend. And its not just your life that depends on it.