Sinful Church and Leaders Who Don't

I was chatting with an old friend who, like me, has been a believer from our high school days back when we were wearing long hair and called Jesus Freaks. Now as the Freaks have become “Evangelicals” (that is sooooo weird), we wonder what’s happened to the faith once for all delivered. Specifically, we were commiserating about the stupid, goofy, and occasionally sinful things we’ve seen in church contexts.

Yes! I frequently make the joke that I love Jesus, I love the church, but actual Christians are really disgusting – imagine what God thinks of us! (There’s a reason that I’m glad God has blessed me with parenthood: back when they were really little, my gorgeous children could be rather disgusting, but I still loved them dearly) Anyway, that's one reason that my calling is to dysfunctional churches. There is much that I've seen in the church that is good and right, and a lot that is stupid, ignorant, and rebellious. My desire is to facilitate God’s working in those churches; partly for no more noble reason than for them to stop giving Jesus such a bad name.

My friend and I were also talking about the many people we’ve seen wounded and scarred by church ministry. I also wonder at why so many guys end up leaving pastoral roles. I think something is systemically wrong. I highly suspect that our 'recruitment' process is messed up - there are a lot more that are "called" to ministry than really should go. We esteem leadership too low and allow people to lead who probably have no business doing so. Out of our egalitarian philosophy rather than Bible, we really believe that Christian leadership is something everyone should do. We should probably have fewer Elders and more Deacons. We should re-think what being "Elder Qualified" really means. And I could go on and on - but I can't because I really need to get my Greek homework done this morning. :-) Pray for me, we are beginning participles.

Yes, the church can and has been a place of rampant anti-Jesus stuff. Let’s change that! It is NOT easy to do, but God calls us to it anyway. It will not be comfortable and grate against most of our preferences, but God says he’ll be with us as we move to being better Jesus people.


Cross Cultural Christians

If there’s anything that my one intro-to-missions course reinforced for me was the importance of contextualizing the gospel. This obviously goes beyond language acumen – which is hard enough! It’s has to also be about deeply understanding the culture that the gospel has to go into.

I’ve also been doing some thinking about “gospel.” The Gospel is clearly the news that Jesus died, was buried, and rose according the scriptures as an atoning substitution for the penalty of sin. But I’m increasingly aware that “gospel” is – for postmodern U.S. – part of what we would technically call ‘pre-evangelism.’ Thankfully, Evangelicals are coming to grips with this.

How do we become “good news” to our community? How do we take the Jer 29:29 thing and be a blessing to our immediate context such that they see that we Jesus-people are around and would miss us if we left? So an example of ‘pre-evangelistic gospel’ would be the good news that those Jesus-people did a ‘pick-up the trash around the neighborhood’ event, that they opened their facility to the neighborhood association, that they unilaterally gave out some Christmas gifts (because, after all, they think Christmas is a Big Deal) to kids around the place-neighborhood where they meet. All of that while maintaining a fierce devotion to Jesus.

That is a combination of missional and attractional, of course. But then it’s only attractional if, should these neighbors come to see what it’s all about that they see authentic worship done in a culturally coherent way. For example, in the case of an urban church that I’ve talked to, hymns are dorky and even praise choruses are contrived – and that’s just the music part. But they frequently have people walk into their service from the street and so make sure that what they are doing makes sense to those folks – that it is coherent with their culture.

In our increasingly ‘Balkinized’ society, every Christian needs to think cross-culturally. There’s a double entendre’ there: the more a believer becomes like Christ the more they are changed from an aspectational-perspectivalism of ‘the world’ to a God-perspective. A Christian, seem to me, should be moving to a "Cross Culture." OK, that’s dorky, but stay with me. Christians need to keep feet in both cultures: the culture that is profoundly shaped by the ‘Christ Event,’ as well as the culture that urgently needs that good news.


Jesus is the thing

In school I’m taking a course, “Interpreting Scripture.” To those who like the big words: Hermeneutics. We are learning that interpretation is not just a personal thing (perspectivalism) but a rational and fairly objective process. It’s not that perspective doesn’t enter in, it is that we strive to not let that happen. We attempt to manage our perspectives so that they don’t interfere with understanding the author’s intent. We do that through a process that helps that happen. The process is called, “hermeneutics.”

OK, all that aside, we are using a section of scripture to practice on. It is the book of Colossians. Doing either a casual read of the book or analyzing it deeply you come up with a pretty clear picture that the main theme of this letter that Paul wrote to the Colossian church is something like: “The Supremacy of Christ.” A direct statement of this theme is Colossians 3:11 – “… but Christ is all, ....” For Paul, The Main Thing he wanted to make sure the Christians in Colossae got was that Christ is All.

We Christians today don’t get that. We are a bit fuzzy on whether Christ is The Deal or not. Over a year ago I was challenged by David Byrant to listen to sermons and “worship songs” and count how many times we actually talk about Jesus, Christ, Lord Jesus, or any combination of those words. We as Evangelical Protestants are, these days, all about a kind of generic monotheistic religion. We like to talk about “God,” “The Lord,” and the like. But we don’t talk that much about “Jesus.” Why is that?

I think it’s because we’ve forgotten that Christianity is about Christ. We talk much about God – but that doesn’t distinguish us from Jews or Muslims. Christians believe in Jesus. Christians love and worship Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is worthy of worship in exactly the same way that we would worship creator God because we believe that Jesus IS creator God. I won’t get into the theology of that – save that for another post. But my point is that the Christian church has to be about Christ or it really is not Christian.

As a Christian, I invite you to an experiment. At church, walk up to a friend and ask them, “So what has Jesus been teaching you this week?” For most Evangelical, Bible-believing, born-again “Christians,” this will seem to be a kind of weird question to ask in a church lobby. But what is really weird is that it would be a weird question. Of all people, we ought to be able to talk "Jesus" to each other. As supposed fully-devoted-followers of Christ we should be able to talk about Christ with each other.Why are we reluctant to talk "Jesus?" Maybe because it hasn’t been modeled well by our spiritual leaders. Maybe because our theology is more impoverished than we thought and we don’t understand the supremacy of Christ (read Colossians!). Maybe because we are more comfortable with our vague generic monotheism than real Christ-ianity.

This much I do know: if we can’t talk about Jesus with each other then we certainly can’t talk about Jesus to those who don’t yet know him. If we aren’t comfortable talking about Jesus to Christians, how can we expect to talk about Jesus to seekers?