Wednesday, August 30, 2006

riding the wrecking ball

Why are young adults not finding their faith in their parents church?
Brian McLaren asks the question in a recent post.

These families share something in common: their young adult kids are not easily finding their places in the church of their parents. The problem is widespread. I have been in two groups of pastors lately where someone asked how many of our post-high-school kids were actively involved in the church. No pastor in either group had a majority of his kids involved in the church; most had no kids actively involved.

Mike Sares replies that it is the drive for “excellence” is driving young adults from the church

Today’s young adults see a generation of baby-boomer Christians that has striven for "excellence" in every part of church life. Boomers proclaimed in the 1980s that image is everything, and their churches have reflected that cultural trend. The nurseries have got to be sparkling clean, the church buildings are marvelously functional as opposed to artistic, the music is as close to FM radio quality as possible (even if they must hire a band), the Sunday services are seamless with perfect transitions (just like television), the preaching is entertaining and informative (but not so deep as to offend visitors), and the plants on stage are beautiful (but artificial).

As a result, according to Dieter Zander, the next generation has concluded that "everything is image," and therefore nothing can be trusted. Church is too slick, too good, too polished to be real. And the twenty-something hunger for raw authenticity just doesn’t fit in.

(posted aug 27

on a 'day off' while on mission in sri lanka, i was talking with a twenty-something (whatever that means) friend of mine about this phenomenon.

in the late 80's and on into the 90's, the quest for quality became the new (or not so new) idolatry... at the expense of relationships. as part of this battle for a culturally relevant environment in reaction to the christian counterculture that had risen up with its own radio and television stations, its own celebrities, colloquialisms and inside jokes, the family of God became institutional with a capital I. although there was a real drive to, by means of a quality production, reach those who had yet to hear and respond to the gospel, the whole relational element of evangelism and discipleship became almost secondary to the correcting of the mistakes of the church's forefathers and, with boomers at the helm, the assembled church became this thing that was the anithesis of everything the they had restlessly sat through growing up.

and so now the next generation of pastors and worshipers slowly (or not so slowly) moves into position to take hold of the wheel and turn this thing off of the superhighway and into the bush where their adventure is.

great. boomers, step back.

here's the thing, though. within every new reactionary method, there is wisdom and there is folly. just as the pursuit of 'quality' was great for reminding us that our best was important to give to God, it also belched out a bi-product of mass spectatorship. people started inviting their friends to church because of the programming, the music, the yada yada yada and stopped inviting them to Jesus. it was possible in this environment for one to be in active ministry, having perfect church service attendance for a decade or more without ever actually connecting with God one-on-one.

with gatherings so well-produced and facilities so shiny-looking, it was easy for many to slide back into consumer-mode simply because they felt somehow unworthy to serve in the upfront stuff and were mildly unaware of (or, let's face it, disinterested in) the behind the scenes stuff. social marginalization took place in the church and one of the key groups that felt marginalized, as cited above in the observations of brian d. mclaren and dieter zander, was the group of younger people that would grow up to eventually inherit this monstrosity.

it wasn't, in our church's case anyway, that the youth and younger adults were excluded from invitations to serve. it was simply that the time commitment implied by involvement in many of the ministries, what with some pretty intense type-A leadership styles and over-achieving work ethics, left little room for a life. it became quite common for everyone to be about reaching a hypothetical crowd with the gospel, since very few of us actually had any time left in our lives to develop relationships with those who weren't doing the same ministries, much less with those who didn't know Jesus.

so many of the prodigal heirs left home without their inheritance.

they were not abandoning their faith as such... they were simply checking out of the infrastructure before they got stuck trying to maintain something that they didn't believe in- something that had air so conditioned that they were left feeling a bit chilly, daydreaming of the beach.

house-churches and alternative services now rise up to attend to all the failings of the I-Me-Mine church. fair enough. in the tradition of their fathers, a new generation of church leaders moves into position to have a go at seeing the great commission realized.

i only hope that new approaches to authenticity in faith and fellowship result in a deeper walk for all generations, not just in producing environments where the children growing up in these emerging churches 'fix it all' again when they come of age by returning to the hard wooden pews, hellfire and brimstone homilies and eloquent hymnals of their grandparents' worship experience and tradition. otherwise we're just riding a generational wrecking ball back and forth as it destroys worship environments to the left and to the right in a forty-year arch.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006


i hadn't heard that voice in years.

that tomblike sound that is the cavernous resonance of my friend's empty heart. i heard it again in a telephone conversation one morning in july when i was too far away to be of any use. i was at an educators' conference three provinces and several days' journey away.

i came and sat down in the morning's keynote session and began to unpack my cluttered heart on paper...

it is a powerless feeling to be separated by geography in a friend's time of need... especially when the one in need has so often been there for me when the roles have been reversed. what good is my strength now in bizarro world? and of what use is my fellowship from such a distance?

satan is a bastard, assailing so many of my friends while i am here, holidaying gaily under the thin veneer of conference attendance. is guilt my affliction? even in that i am spared, for i do not really feel guilt right now- more the obligation to feel guilt.

yet i will not thumb my nose at this season of health and freedom, for to do this is to be ungrateful- embezzling thanksgiving and worship from Almighty God who has been the author of my on-going journey towards his beautiful face.

it is good to sing in the silence;
good to dance in life's heaviness;
good to be heat in chill, light in oppression, energy in malaise.
this is to bear witness to the wonder working power of Jesus' blood in my day of reason amidst weeks of confusion and lostness- the loneliness of sin

but are my prayers of intercession enough? i mean, i'm trying to figure out what my role is in the ongoing restoration of my friend. pray? sure, but i find my prayers becoming increasingly cluttered with my own desires for his life.

i'm not sure, but i think that this type of prayer may be bordering on offensive (or at the very least, annoying) to God in the same way that the prayer of the smug pharisee, as cited by Jesus in luke 18.9-14, was.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

nope. the truth is, we are not to be each others' salvation or benchmark... Jesus is, and he will accomplish his will in all things- even actively in people where invited to do so. as my friend invites a closer walk with Jesus in this time of spiritual emptiness, i join him in this invitation from my time and place of strength with all the passion i can muster.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

rings and loops

c.s. lewis, one of my heroes, wrote an amazing article long ago entitled 'the inner ring.' in it, he says this:

of all passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is the most skillful at making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things...

as long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. you are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left. until you conquer your fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain...

the quest for the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.
but if you break it, a surprising result will follow. if, in your working hours, you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. you will be one of the sound craftsmen , and other sound craftsmen will know it. this group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. it will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the professional as a whole against the public, nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. but it will do those things which the profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which the profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain. and if, in your spare time, you consort only with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside, that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. but the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric, for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do the things that they like. this is friendship. aristotle placed it among the virtues. it causes perhaps half of the happiness in the world and no Inner Ringer can ever have it.

(c.s.lewis; exerpted from 'the inner ring', taken from 'the weight of glory', circa 1962)

if we make loving others our profession, what are the implications of lewis' words here?

i think the implications of this are a feedback loop the builds upon itself with each cycle to a deafening celebration of everything good.

could this, perhaps, be the voice of God himself?

*note: jollybeggar is off to sri lanka until the end of august on a mission. for descriptions and details of what this kind of mission can entail, feel free to read his journals from last year, posted at (hyperlinked to your right under the heading 'jollybeggar abroad')

shalom, my friends.

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