Saturday, April 12, 2008

Involved in church's ministry = serving God?

Okay, so this just illustrates the point. It amazes me how easily we accept this rhetoric. At the big Shift event going on this week Kara Powell, the executive director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, had the following to say:
If there is one thing that everyone in youth ministry seems to be talking about it’s how to keep students following Christ after high school....

Her data reveals that 50% of high school students who had been deeply involved in a church’s youth ministry will not be serving God 18 months after graduation. And that’s not counting the many other high school students who are only going to church because their parents are forcing them.

She said this standing in front of a mountain of "youth resources" making the point that there are more resources available than ever before and yet students are walking away from God after High School. Then, she poses four critical questions for youth ministry. I'll only highlight one here:
4. How can we train students to feed themselves after graduation?

Doesn't that establish a bit of an oxymoron? On the one hand she laments that teens in alarming rates are not coming to church, then out of the other side of her mouth she prods how those same teens can be trained to feed themselves. If they are feeding themselves and out amongst the unbelievers but fellowshipping intentionally with believers in some manner isn't that awesome!? That is, unless someone has embraced the myth that dragging oneself to the table is synonymous with feeding oneself.

So, here are some questions that come to mind:

  1. If the churchites can keep them there, does it really mean they are growing and serving Christ?

  2. When exactly was it that attendance replaced personal contact (discipler to disciplee) to determine growth?

  3. Isn't it kind of presumptuous to assume that someone participating in a program is engaged personally?

  4. If the youth ministries we rabidly defend are doing their jobs maybe the teens are just the first new generation of self-sustaining Christ Followers going out into the world to fulfill the Great Commission. Maybe they get it that the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled hiding away, in-breeding in our super-structures.

Okay, like that was not jarring enough, this will be really unpopular. While it may not be at the forefront of the thinking of these "ministry professionals" I do believe an underlying concern they have is the realization of the lost revenue after the business has spent so many resources to raise up future foundational support. They know if they cannot keep them they cannot sustain the super-structures they built on "new believers" alone. How can I say such a thing? I just reflect on my own meetings applying formulas which divided the total giving (revenue) by the number in attendance to arrive at a per person figure which can be applied to the increase in attendance to get a increase in available funds to "grow the ministry".

Skye Jethani, the author of the article and managing editor of Leadership poses his own questions as he closes out the article:
48 year olds may not be leaving the church the way 18 year olds are, but are they really growing? Are we feeding them a Red Bull gospel? Are we teaching them to be self-feeders?

What is needed is a complete re-evaluation of what serving God truly means; a re-evaluation of what personal growth is; a re-evaluation of what the Church is. One of the most common concerns I've heard among staff members about believers or groups of believers feeding themselves is the issue of "control". Control only becomes an issue when the numbers become so big that personal involvement can no longer be maintained. This is when rules and structure become necessary. It amazes me that in statements like the ones in this articlt the writers look right past the obvious laying in front of them... isn't teaching church-goers to be self-feeders and expecting them to be dependent on the super-structure for food (I know, this is not what we say going to church is about, but really it's part of how the necessity of the institution is protected) a great oxymoron?

Where, O where is the outrage at statements such as this? (truth is, folks will be more outraged that I've said what I've said than they will that these speakers and writers have equalized serving God with going to church activites)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bursting the Christian Bubble -- The Cart Running Over the Horse

It appears that Dan Kimball, author of They Like Jesus But Not the Church, speaking live at the Shift conference shared some thoughts on "Bursting the Christian Bubble".
In an increasingly post-Christian culture fewer people have contact with real Christians. We’ve hidden ourselves in a Christian sub-culture bubble.

I would totally agree with the sub-culture bubble concept. We emerged from that bubble last February and ever since folks think we have backslidden (one of those sub-culture terms used to help protect the organization and keep people inside) and "lost our faith". In fact, just the opposite has happened since we purposefully stepped away from that social bubble which demanded way too much time for us to be out impacting the lives of those outside the bubble. In fact, a friend with whom we've become reacquainted with since returning to the Denver area, tells us about the stealth inquisitions she often undergoes from those in the church we formerly served on staff at while here. Yet not one of them has picked up the phone and called us to ask what's going on. Wonder if that means life outside the bubble is way weird to those inside.

In one of my first mywalkblog posts was The New 80/20, I reflected that "my time was so tied up in good things at church and in ministry [that] I spent little time engaging with people outside my church in the community or my even my own neighborhood."

Inevitably the cart gets before the horse and before too long the cart actually begins running the horse over and killing it. Of all the things I reflect back on of value during my years serving the organization it's the relationships with precious people that I am most fond of today. Those don't require the institution itself to exist. In fact, those relationship often thrived and were most founded from any time we spent apart from the bubble.

Now almost two years later I'm going to propose something that will be very unpopular to those inside their bubbles... I don't believe it's possible to have the organized institution which is called church without that bubble inevitably becoming a dominating reality. I'll concede that in some smaller communities in secluded areas where the "churches" themselves are small, I believe the bubble-syndrome is less likely to be as crippling to true Christ Followers. But that's where it stops. Even as those institutions increase in size it will require more resources to keep them going and ultimately there won't be enough time to serve Christ and their church any longer. (ouch... I can't believe I just said that) The very nature of the organizations we've created and called "church" (given, Christ established His Church as the global body of all who profess a faith in Him but I'm less inclined to say the establishments find ourselves slaves to today and call church are what He had in mind at all) will inevitably turn inward in focus and create a sub-culture of isolationism because of what they strive to be. Maybe that's why the disciples were scolded when they asked Jesus about having a position in His future organization.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Nature Illustrates True Life

Today I came across an article about a recent study at Exeter University citing how a significant majority of captive-bred carnivores reintroduced to the wild are unable to adapt and die. (Most Reintroduced Carnivores Die in the Wild.) It was very interesting and timely given one of this week's observations and revelations as I was reading Mark.

As my two readers (probably my mom and some obscure person who has nothing interesting to do) will know, last year I set out on my first "through the New Testament with filters of what I'd been told removed" to see what Jesus really did say and not say about "church". It was an amazing journey.

The turn from Acts to Romans was very interesting. To date the record which had been recorded was of the Apostles and Jesus' closest (Jewish) followers using the Law and Prophets in the attempt to convince other Jewish individuals who had also been raised from day one to expect a Messiah that Jesus whom they crucified was the Messiah they had spent their whole life expecting. Then, in Romans we see the clash of cultures. Paul obviously begins to wrestle with how to communicate with this new audience who was not raised with those expectations of a Messiah and truly have very little background in things which were givens in the Jewish culture. I was astonished as Paul began to explain that the evidence of our Creator was evident in everything around everyone which left those who had not heard without excuse. That reality began to grip me. For so many years I had been using things of nature to illustrate things of the Kingdom. As if the Kingdom should be grateful for how nature lent itself to help it's cause. But what I began to understand was that you can see God and His ways in the things of nature because that which is created is always a reflection of the one who did the creating. It prompted me to begin looking at things all around me a little differently.

The other day I was reading in Mark, I don't exactly remember where while I'm sitting here now, and read something that made me think about how cautious those who handle wild animal rescues are about creating too much dependence in those whom they are caring for because too much human contact will limit the chances for re-introduction back into the habitat to which they belong. In fact, it could cause their death. Suddenly it hit me. The institutions most "Christians" grew up in need to learn this lesson from nature. Most of those who claim to be Christians are not capable of surviving and growing on their own because the "rescuers" have over cared for them. There is little or no hope of the rescued being able to go back into their native environments and feed themselves so they can be interacting as those sent out. And the article was about those who were raised in captivity being so at risk being reintroduced to the wild. Sit back and think about that in relationship to how many children "raised in the church" struggle as they get older and find themselves "in the real world". Think about how ineffective individuals are in their workplace... especially comparing the tsunami of resources leveled every week at equipping them for ministry. I'd wager to say more resources leveraged weekly against "discipleship" than has ever been available in time and yet individuals have less influence on those around them than ever before.

Maybe we've just been bred to be addictively dependent on our care givers and cannot be reintroduced to the very place we are most needed. I know for Julie and I this has been a true struggle. Trying to find a way to thrive in relationships where we can do the most good but were encouraged most of our "Christian lives" to avoid often leaves us dumbfounded.