Wednesday, July 25, 2012

We Interrupt this Irregularly Scheduled Blog

This is the time of year in ministry when I'm on the road almost as much as at home.  I don't think blogging has become enough of a habit yet to be sustained through the summer.  See you in August sometime!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hey Church, You Lost Me! Part 8


THREE LESSONS


We've been exploring a new book on the decline of church participation among young adults: "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church," by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group.

We conclude our series with Chapter 11: What's Old is New, where Kinnaman offers three main lessons he's learned from the project:

1) The church needs to reconsider how we make disciples.

Original Assumption: The church exists to prepare the next generation to fulfill God's purposes.New Thinking: The church is a partnership of generations fulfilling God's purposes in their time.

My two cents: My congregation prioritizes age-niched ministry to children and youth.  What are additional ways we can foster enduring 1 on 1 relationships between young people and adults?  How might older generations receive the benefit of fresh perspective from the young, especially during this time of rapid cultural change?

2) We need to rediscover Christian calling and vocation.
"Vocation is a clear mental picture of our role as Christ-followers in the world, of what we were put on earth to do as individuals and as a community...Despite years of church-based experiences and countless hours of Bible-centered teaching, millions of next-generation Christians have no idea that their faith connects to their life's work."
My two cents:  How about you?  How might your work and service connect to the activity of God in our world? What does God want to accomplish through your occupation?

3) We need to reprioritize wisdom over information as we seek to know God.
"Submerged as we are in a society that values fairness over justice, consuming over creating, fame over accomplishment, glamour over character, image over holiness, and entertainment over discernment, we need a blueprint for what life is meant to be. How can we live in-but-not-of lives in the world that surrounds us? In a culture skeptical of every kind of earthly authority, where information is dirt cheap and where institutions and leaders so often disappoint, we need God-given wisdom...Wisdom is the spiritual, mental, and emotional ability to relate rightly to God, to others, and to our culture."
My two cents:  How is wisdom acquired?  What are church practices that foster wisdom?  What gets in the way of wisdom?  How would we teach our children differently if imparting wisdom, not information was primary? 

You Lost Me concludes with a final chapter that offers "50 ideas to find a generation," gathered from fifty pastors, authors, and leaders in the Christian community.  Plenty to chew on there and a helpful indication that it will take all of us to envision faith and church in the emerging generations.  I'm glad for the work Kinnaman and the Barna group have done here to give us the lay of the land.


My hope and prayer is that in a few years, UnChristian and You Lost Me will be joined by a third book: I'm back, Baby!  ...Or something like that.


How about you?  Is there a fourth crucial lesson we ought to consider along with these three?  Leave a comment below:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hey Church, You Lost Me! Part 7


DOUBTLESS?


We've been exploring a new book on the decline of church participation among young adults: "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church," by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group.

The second part of the book examines the six most common descriptions of the church given by young adult church dropouts: overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, doubtless.  

Today we'll look at the final description: doubtless.


ANTS IN THE PANTS
We all know that questions and doubts form part of the experience of faith.  We see doubt and struggle in the very Scriptures.  Yet, do our churches have room for the doubts of the day to be voiced safely?


Kinnaman distinguishes several experiences of doubt:

1) Intellectual doubt -
"Sometimes I wish I could just push the belief button.  I really do wish I could say yes to Christianity, but it doesn't work.  I can't get past some of these big questions about faith, about God, and about Christianity."
2) Institutional doubt - 
From those deeply at odds with expressions of modern-day Christianity, or disgusted by institutional scandals like the child abuse cover-ups in the Roman Catholic church. 
3) Unexpressed doubt - 
Fully one-third of young adult responders agree that "I don't feel I can ask my most pressing life questions in church."  This leads to patterns of pretending or increasing isolation from the church.
4) Transitional doubt - 
This has to do with temporary phases of serious doubt, for example, following the death of a loved one.  Oftentimes the Christian community was not supportive and encouraging during these times of struggle.
Doubting Turns to Doing: 


Kinnaman encourages churches to find opportunities for young adults to put feet to their faith.  
"We need to help young adults do something with their faith in order to contextualize their doubts within the church's mission."  
We cannot argue people out of doubt, but we can walk with them in the questions and encourage them to act in faith and service, even while awaiting the Holy Spirit to make faith a lived reality.  He concludes, 
"There are millions of young adults rethinking church and faith - and they have doubts about their doubts.  How can we help them act in faith, allowing their doubts to be "ants in the pants" of their quest for God?


How about you?  Do you consider church to be a safe place to express your doubts?  Leave a comment below:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hey Church, You Lost Me! Part 6.

CHURCH EXCLUSIVE?


We've been exploring a new book on the decline of church participation among young adults: "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church," by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Research Group.

The second part of the book examines the six most common descriptions of the church given by young adult church dropouts: overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, doubtless.  

Today we'll look at the fifth description: exclusive.


Exclusive is one of the most common descriptions of the church given by young adult former church participants.


Kinnaman spends time exploring the changing and increasingly diverse landscape in which young people are raised.  The particular claims made about Jesus Christ run up against the pluralist spirit of this age.  We've all heard statements like, "there are many paths to the same God," etc.


The author then gives three aspects of ministry that may be redefined or nuanced by the insights of young adults:


Evangelism - 
"The chasm between their beliefs and those of the broader culture, which says that it's offensive or even hateful to argue for a specific religion or truth claim...for better or worse, many young Christians believe that evangelism must be connected to actions on behalf of others."
Denominations - 
"Young Christians of all stripes want to move beyond 'theological feudalism' in favor of a shared vision of their role in Christ's kingdom."
The "Other" - 
"The more critical among the younger generation might say that the typical church is good at reaching 'recycled Christians' - believers who are uncommitted to another church body - but not at reaching those who are truly on the outside looking in."
Exclusion turns to Embrace- Kinnaman closes the chapter by reflecting, 
"How would the church be different if we were to reject exclusivism as unacceptable and tolerance as not good enough? What would we do differently when discipling young adults to help them cultivate Christlike empathy that identifies with the least, the last, and the lost?"
The Lutheran Two-Step of "law and gospel" may help us to understand these concerns:
  1. According to the law, ALL OF US are excluded from eternal life, salvation, and the favor of God.
  2. According to the gospel, ALL OF US are loved by God and have been died for by Christ, and have the welcome to be included in God's family by grace.
How about you?  How should the unique claims of Christian faith be communicated in today's pluralistic culture?  Please leave a comment below:  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Marvelous Avengers? Part 1: Justice


Revenge is so sweet.  How else to make the perpetrator realize the impact of their actions?  Anything less would just be unjust.




I'm playing catch-up on superhero movies, but Joss Whedon's The Avengers impressed me.  Raised on the previous generation of superhero movies, I didn't know action and humor could blend so well without coming across as cheesy (I'm talking to you, Batman and Robin).  There are mild plot spoilers ahead.


There's a concept in Scripture of the Blood Avenger.  In ancient cultures lacking an evolved system of courtroom trial, vengeance for murder was the primary responsibility of the male next of kin, exacting satisfaction in kind ("eye for an eye").  The Bible placed limits on retribution in cases of unintentional manslaughter through the practice of refuge cities (Numbers 35:11-28; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; Joshua 20:1-9).


The Avenger is actually considered a "redeemer" or "restorer" of the blood that was taken.  Murder "steals" blood that belongs to the entire clan.  The Passover celebration remembers the avenging angel who was satisfied only after seeing the lamb's blood on the doorpost and who exacted the blood of the Egyptians who had subjected the Lord's people (blood) to bondage.


In Romans, Paul wrote about the redefinition of vengeance in light of Christ's life and sacrificial death, indirectly fleshing out Jesus' call to love your enemies and pray for them:


"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"  Romans 12:14-21.


So, what are we to make of the Marvelous Avengers?  Loving your enemies makes for dull blockbusters!


Yet, this is not a movie about human conflict, but about what it takes for ordinary and heroic humans to band together to face a common and real enemy - an inhuman opponent - when the fate of the world is in balance.  The Avengers effect the wrath of God on behalf of a modern world increasingly skeptical of the super heroism of God.


The inhuman enemy is killed indiscriminately, but hope is held out for Thor's brother and evil mastermind trickster, Loki, to be redeemed (Yes, I understand Loki is not human, but a god, but he is also a person).  This might be a cultural trace of Christian theology.  


A Christian sense of vengeance delights not in the death of the wicked, but in the redemption of evil.  The ultimate revenge would not be to eliminate evil but to transform it.  To bring life to death.  This would require that Life give itself to Death, as all of the Avengers are willing to do as possibility, and one of them as certainty.


How about you?  Where have you seen examples of "Christian revenge?"  Please leave a comment below: