Family Matters and the Frustrating Church

famfightFamily reunions are a funny thing.  They create this bizarre mix of emotions that only occur in a family setting.  It is this tumultuous emotional churning of happiness and frustration, anger and joy that induces both laughter and temple rubbing.  Families make us feel the full spectrum of emotions, and they do so for one simple reason.

They matter to us.

The things we feel the deepest are felt so deeply because they matter.  The things that cause us the most joy and the things that cause us the most sorrow matter.  The things that cause us to soar to the heights of happiness and the things that make our bodies vibrate with anger do so because they are important to us.  If they did not matter, we would never – we could never – feel them on this same level.

For me that perfectly describes my feelings about my church at this moment.

I write this for those of you who go to church with me and for those of you may feel the same way about your own church at this very moment.  The single greatest source of concern, stress, and frustration in my life at this very moment is my church.  To be honest, there are moments that it is so frustrating and stress inducing to think about, that I wish I could just give it up and walk away from it all.

But I never could – it matters too much to me.

In the past couple of years our church has hemorrhaged people – going from a church pushing 150 to a church that struggles to break 60-70 each week.  It has cost me my career and changed the direction of my life.  It has affected me greatly, and I feel it deeply.  As our church dies, I feel like I die along with it.  The reasons people give for leaving have covered not liking the music, not liking the children’s ministry, not liking the preaching, personal conflicts, and wide variety of others.  The issues are hard to specify, making them hard to address – and it eats my lunch every time I think about it.  It stresses me, depresses me, frustrates me, and, at times, enrages me. But here is the funny thing, when I think of all of those negative things that the state of my own church makes me feel – it makes me think of one thing:

Family reunions and the turbulent landslide of emotions that can accompany them.

Do you know why what is happening in my church makes me feel that way?  I think it is because it matters so much to me.  It has to be, because only things that matter so deeply can make us feel so deeply.  What is the church if it is not family?  What is a family if it is not willing to stick it out in the toughest of times?  How can either survive if we so easily forsake them, so quickly give up on them, so rarely practice forgiveness, so often shy away from reconciliation, and so rarely pitch in?

I have to ask myself this question about my relationship with my own church – If it truly matters to me, then what kind of commitment am I willing to make to help this relationship work?  If I am truly being honest, I have to admit that there are definitely times when I have allowed those emotions to hinder my ability to lead and to worship.  I have utilized them as excuses for not serving.  In doing those things, I have become a part of the problem.

To my church, I say I am sorry; but I also say – you matter to me.  Even in the midst of the dizzying array of things I feel about you right now – you matter so immensely to me. You are my family even when I feel distant from you. You are kin to me.  It seems strange to say, but I am grateful for the frustration, the heartache, and the fear.  Those are all evidences of this strangely deep and beautiful connection I have with you.

I think it is a tragedy that so many people experience these feelings and so easily leave a church.  It is, I think a horrible precedent and so far from what the church is meant to be.If only we could open our eyes to the reality that these things we feel – good and bad combined – are all normal things for a family.  They are, in fact, symptoms of the reality that we matter to one another. We should not fear or flee these feelings.  We should embrace them, face them, and let them serve as a reminder of the deep deep connection we share with one another.

You are all my family – crazy aunts, obnoxious uncles, boisterous brothers, and all the rest.  It is a bond that I could not break if I tried, and I wouldn’t want to.

You matter to me.

Microblog: Sheep and Goats

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I miss blogging on a regular basis but find myself less than inspired to dive too deep into a subject right now.  So, in lieu of the grandiose, I am going to experiment with micro-blogging.  These will just be short posts, a few sentences or single statement, on what I am thinking and/or questioning right now.  Mini-thoughts are all I am capable of lately.

The hope is that the discussion then becomes the real meat of the content.  Sooo, don’t hold back on the comments….

Thought for the day:

Christians who declare other people as “Christian” or “Un-Christian” because they believe and/or think differently on a topic are counter to the Kingdom.  Matthew 25 – There are going to be some surprises regarding who is “in” and who is “out”. Thinking about how right you are and how wrong they are seems a bit more out than in to me.

I’m pretty sure Dan Haseltine is in though…

My Job Is Harder Than Yours

I'm more stressed than you... na na na na boo boo!

I’m more stressed than you… na na na na boo boo!

I was a full-time pastor for the past 15-years.  Within the last 2-months I dropped to part-time at the church and accepted a full-time position at a small business owned by a good friend.  As a full-time pastor, I remember many a days when I longed for one of those easy secular jobs that didn’t come with the stress of full-time pastoral ministry.  I remember thinking how no one understood just how hard my job was and how mentally and emotionally draining it could be at times.  Recently, I have seen many a post and/or links to posts from pastoral friends of mine referencing how little respect or understanding people have for how hard  their pastor(s) work and just how much stress there is on them and their families.  I don’t wholeheartedly disagree with these posts – but I fear that, in some way, they show how disconnected the pastoral office can (at times) be from their parishioners.

Funny how a little perspective changes everything.

In the past 2-months, I have learned something about jobs that I had forgotten.  Be it pastoral ministry, neurosurgery, emergency services, or flipping burgers – every job has its blessings and its curses.  My fear is that when we, as pastors, begin to believe that our job is somehow harder, more stressful, more time-consuming than those of the people we pastor, we distance ourselves from both reality and the people.  Pastors, we are not the only people who lose sleep over our jobs.  Even worse is when we begin to believe the lie that somehow our job is more important.  Pastoring from a position of power and exceptionalism is a dangerous, scary thing.  As a pastor, I am not better than you.  My job is not harder than yours.  My life is not more stressful than yours.

I truly believe every pastor should take a 6-8 week sabbatical to work a “secular” job and gain a little perspective.

The other thing I have heard and read a lot of lately is just how undedicated many pastors feel their church members are to their local church.  We preach and write about how people’s lives have become too busy with jobs, sports, school events, PTA meetings, and other extracurriculars and how all these things are a sign of spiritual weakness and lack of religious fervor.  Of course, we do this after making announcements about the fellowship supper, mid-week prayer meeting, planning committee, youth fundraiser, trunk-or-treat, small groups, Sunday school, and missions rally that we want you all to attend.  I think you see the problem with that.

Apparently church busy-ness is a different and better thing than our regular busy-ness.  (Read my thoughts on simplifying church)

(I wonder how Pharisitical it is to demand such dedication to the thing we call “church”.  Has “church” become the new “law” – the new legalism in some way? Do this or be labeled a heretic/blasphemer/insert insult here) – Just thinking out loud as I write.

It just seems to me that it is very easy, as a pastor to be out of touch with the reality of people’s lives.

I know I will offend quite a few pastor friends who read this – but I am writing this from a place of conviction myself.  I want to be a better pastor – and for me that means opening my eyes to realities.  It is REAL that my stress is not more real than that of the people I pastor.  It is REAL that church can often be the biggest time drain for people.  It is REAL that it is H.A.R.D. to make it to a 7:00pm church event when you don’t get home until 6:00pm.  It is REAL that choosing to be at a kid’s soccer game over the church work day is not a sign of spiritual deficiency.

For me a large part of being an effective pastor is keeping in touch with those realities.  It is respecting the lives of the people I pastor – the difficulties they face, the decisions they have to struggle with, the sacrifices they regularly make.  I can’t do that when my view of myself is elevated and out of whack.  I can’t do that when my definition of church is out of line with scripture.  I want to lead from a place of humility and vulnerability – walking amongst the people I pastor as one of them.  Really, that’s all I am –  a fellow disciple journeying with them.  My job just happens to be as a pastor.

Well, at least one of my jobs…

Room to Wrestle

Baa, baa, blah, blah, blah

Baa, baa, blah, blah, blah

There are times when I feel like a black sheep…or more like a black sheep wrestler.  You could call me Mutton Chops.

I feel this way not because I am a self gratifying, wild living, fast and furious rebel – but because I struggle with what I believe.  I have an ongoing conflict between my heart and my head, my experience and my tradition.  It is a struggle that has produced more questions than answers in my faith.  It is a battle that at times makes me feel very different, even very alone in my faith.

Yes, I have faith – but I also have doubts.

I also have convictions – but I also wonder why and if they are the right ones.

There are even huge sections of scripture that I struggle to understand and spiritual things that I find very hard to believe.

The black sheep feelings come because I often feel like I have no forum to openly explore.  Often, the very act of questioning is perceived as a lack of faith.  Wondering about long held convictions is seen as godlessness.  There are things I want to blog on, but fear the backlash – questions I want to ask, but fearful of the repercussions they might generate.  In essence, I often feel like rather than being a place where I can work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), the church can be a place of confinement, where my exploration is limited by boundaries that we just do not cross.  There are questions we just do not ask.

There’s no room to wrestle.

For the past couple of weeks The History Channel has been airing their mini-series, “The Bible”.  It is bringing to life the stories of both the Old and New Testaments, and for many people, it is bringing up some very deep hard questions.  An old friend from high-school posted on Facebook this week asking the question, “Ho w could people worship a God who orders his followers to do some of these things?”  There are lots of those directives in scripture that are just hard to understand:

The genocide of the Amalekites (men, women, children, animals) in 1 Samuel 15.

The destruction of the Midianites and the enslavement (possible sexual enslavement) of their young girls.

The sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11.

The application of the death penalty for everything from homosexuality, to dishonoring your parents, from sorcery to losing your virginity.

And there are many, MANY more.

These things are HARD.  Yet the response is often to flippantly write them off as God being God, his ways are higher than ours, and after all, who are we to question God?  Either that or we write them off as Old Testament revelations that have been superseded by the revelation of God in the person of Jesus.  Can’t we at least understand how that may seem contradictory – that the God who never changes was like this but is now like this? (Even now some of you are reading my questions as my answers)

If we are being completely honest we have to admit that at times the Bible seems contradictory, at times God seems to be more wrath than love, and at times the Bible seems out of touch with modern society.  At the very least, I would hope that we can at least agree that at times the Bible can be hard to understand and a real stumbling block to many people who want to believe in the goodness of God.  And if we can agree to that – then maybe we can allow people to ask those questions, to struggle with those concepts without calling into question their faith.

And think about what we do – we use things like historical cultural relevance and New Testament revelation to write off parts of scripture that we don’t want to apply to us, but refuse to extend that same grace to people struggling to make sense of the world they live in.  For instance, in my church (The Church of the Nazarene), we ordain and support (at least in theory) women in pastoral leadership.  We do this despite Paul’s very literal and blatant directives to NOT do this.  (1 Timothy 2:11-121 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-9)

He also writes that women should be silent in church, not cut their hair, and pray with their heads covered. (1 Corinthians 11:5-6)

But we write those things off – saying that they were either only specific to the church he was writing to and/or culturally relevant in his era.  I have no problem with that application, but I struggle to understand why it is good and right to do it for this topic because it supports what believe, but not to allow the application of this same filter to topics that we historically do not support.

Bring up homosexuality and the historical context of Paul’s teachings – and look out – WWIII is underway.  It is, after all, an abomination of the worst kind.  You just can’t have that conversation without people making assumptions about who you are and what you believe.  Again, people read questions as answers.

It applies to evolution and creation theories, to absolute truth, to the authority of scripture, to – well to a multitude of topics. There are countless tough questions that scripture just does not give cut and dry answers for but that tradition demands we accept a common answer to.  There are scriptures that we cling to, and scriptures we reject.  There are passages we read culture into, and passages that we refute the importance of cultural relevancy.  And yet, there are some topics we do not broach, some questions we do not ask, and some conversations that we just do not have.

My problem with all of this is not the questioning, it is the lack of wrestling room within the church.  Often, when a tough question is posed the church declares that the person posing it refutes the authority of scripture and defensive walls go up.  When a person expresses serious doubts about what they have been taught to believe because what they see and experience are in conflict with the application of the scripture as dictated by the church they are called faithless and more walls go up.  As wall after wall is erected, the “wrassling” room disappears.

You apparently are allowed to work out your salvation with fear and trembling only as long as the trembling doesn’t shake things up too much.  Take away the room to wrestle with these things, view faith, theology, and tradition as static, and you soon find people bashing their heads against the walls that confine them.  Do that enough and 1 of 2 things happen.  Either people conform, or they quit fighting it and go the other way.  No wonder people are leaving the church in droves – their heads are hurting!  Worse than that, we launch attacks over the walls we built.  We label people heretics and false prophets. We question their faith to the point of even questioning their salvation.  Listen…

I can believe in the authority of scripture, yet struggle to understand its application.

I can wonder if truth is deeper than details and not be heretical.

I can believe God is love and yet wonder where that love is sometimes.

I can have incredible amounts of faith, and equal amounts of doubt at the same time.

Doubt is not the absence of faith, and faith does not put an end to questioning.  Instead, the two work in cooperation, stretching us, challenging us, taking us places that we never dreamed possible.  Real faith withstands the hard questions. Doubt can lead to deeper seeking and intimate encounters with Christ (see Thomas).  Together they can open doors and create gateways instead of erecting barriers.

We (the church) do it because we just want to defend what we believe, we want to defend God, and because we want to proclaim our own “rightness”.  We think that we have it figured out and are just helping the lost and blind find the right way.  It seems to me that Jesus encountered some people like this in his journeys – religious leaders who proclaimed that they knew how to best read, interpret, and apply scripture and that their interpretations applied to everyone.  I also seem to remember that Jesus’ anger and rebuke is saved, not for the ungodly, but for these religious men.  He told them repeatedly, “you have believed this, but i tell you THIS…” They must have been shocked, appalled, offended by the notion that they had been challenged.

I bet they wanted to kill him.

I’ve been reading Rob Bell’s newest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About GodI know, I know, he’s a gay loving heretic – so write this off if you must – but he writes about this struggle between conviction and humility, between faith and doubt:

“…conviction and humility, like faith and doubt, are not opposites; they’re dance partners. It’s possible to hold your faith with open hands, living with great conviction and yet at the same time humbly admitting that your knowledge and perspective will always be limited.”

He sees this struggle as a dance of sorts.  I don’t think it is always that beautiful.  I think sometimes the conflict within us gets downright messy.  I think sometimes it leads to severe brokenness and pain as we what we have learned comes into conflict with what we are learning and when what we know is challenged by what we don’t.  I can only speak for myself, but every time I have engaged in this spiritual struggle, I end up all the better for it.  Luckily for me, I have found people of faith who are open to my struggles, who speak wisdom and truth while also practicing patience and tolerance.  The struggle often leads to breaking me down – but good things can come from brokenness.

Brokenness and struggle breeds humility, tolerance, peace, and ultimately, the growth of God’s love in my heart. Trust me, I am not “there” yet, but I know who I was and see who I am becoming through these struggles.  I like who I am becoming.

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Let’s Wrassle!

The dance imagery is beautiful, but this black sheep often needs less of a dance floor and more of a wrestling ring.  My hope is that the church can blow out the walls for people like me.  That they can pad the floors with patience and rope off the ring with grace. That they can allow the Holy Spirit to ref the match while they cheer for those of us working out our salvation with fear and trembling.  Give us space, not constraints.  Make everything open for questioning and trust that God is big enough to take it.  Let people wrestle with him and be forever changed by those encounters (ala Jacob)  Let’s tear down some walls and erect some wrestling rings.  Can you smell what I’m cooking? (see what I did there)

Do you think they make tights for wrestling black sheep?  I would look awesome in them…

Not That Different…

I was reading in 1 Corinthians 12 this week about how we are one body made up of many parts.  It is the idea that the church is supposed to be a place with incredible diversity that functions with incredible unity.  Parts come in all shapes and size, colors and design.  The functions of these parts are equally diverse.  Somehow, in the midst of all this diversity, unity is achieved.

The unity of the human body comes from a singular purpose – the betterment of the body.  In the context of this scripture this relates to the functioning of the church.  It is a truly beautiful thing when it happens.

I can’t help but wonder how much more beautiful it would be if we applied this concept to humanity in general.

We live in a world where our diversity segregates us on both macroscopic and microscopic levels.  Think about it – we tend to separate ourselves by race, religion, economy, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and politics.  We separate ourselves on issues – pro-life or pro-choice, pro gun or pro gun control, conservative or liberal, and countless other divisions.  This list of segregations go on and on.  We surround ourselves with people who think like us, act like us, and often, even look like us.  We manufacture groups of “us” and “them” We just believe that we are far too different to ever function in unity.  The only interactions between “us” and “them” is in arguments.  (Thank you Facebook.) No minds are changed, no compromises made, and no resolution achieved.  Each segment looks out for its own interests, concerned with meeting its own needs, functioning in ways that serve only its purposes.

It is a flailing mass of body parts. No wonder it feels like no one is getting anywhere.

It is easy to be this way when everything is an “issue”.  Issues are faceless hordes of mindless zombies that have no heart and soul.  Issues are stats on a page informed by our own limited world views and experiences.  Issues are media-fed stereotypes that feed on our fears.  They allow no space for humanity, no room for diversity of thought, and ultimately, remove the need for true communication and understanding.

Zombies make for good TV – but they are not real.  There is no such thing as an “issue”.

What is real? People.

Hidden behind the facade of “issues” are real live human beings – people with hearts and souls. These are individuals with stories and experiences of their own.  These are people that feel the way they feel and believe what they believe not because they are stupid or ignorant, but because of their unique situation in life.  They have been through things that you have not and been influenced and informed by a different environment.  Behind every issue are people who just want to be understood.

Behind the issue of illegal immigration are masses of hard working mothers and fathers just trying to escape violence and give their children a better life.

Behind the issue of abortion are countless women dealing with trauma and uncertainty.

Behind the issue of welfare are families stuck in a cycle of poverty that they lack the resources break free of.

Behind the issue of the war on terrorism are the faceless innocent victims killed in remote villages and the families of mourning soldiers.

Behind religious debates are people raised up with a faith as a core part of their existence.

There are people wrapped up inside every issue:

  • Gun Control
  • Same Sex Marriage
  • Foreign Aid
  • Health Care Reform
  • COUNTLESS OTHER “ISSUES”

Divided by circumstances and issues – yes.  But we are also united by something greater than that which divides us.  We are united by our humanity. After all, are we really that different?  I found this quote from Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi that sums this idea up beatifully…416850_290471434354171_217514361649879_803039_217490730_n

This morning in Iran a mother woke up and fed her children breakfast before sending them off to school.  A liberal democrat got dressed and headed out the door to work, hoping to make enough to make this month’s mortgage payment.  A Muslim man sipped coffee while talking sports with his buddies.  A card carrying NRA member bought milk and bread on the way home from work.  A welfare recipient father played catch with his daughter in the backyard.  An illegal immigrant family sat down for a family dinner. A homosexual couple laughed at an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Take away the issues, and I think we may be more alike than we realize.  Maybe there is no us and them – maybe it is just US?

What causes division amongst US is not the lack of sameness – it is the lack of desire to understand.  Understanding takes more effort than arguing.  It means swallowing pride, listening (REALLY LISTENING), practicing empathy, and sometimes admitting we are wrong. Mind you, understanding and agreeing are not the same thing.  Understanding is about information that broadens our perspective, informs our opinions, and more than anything – tempers our attitudes and tongues with compassion.  Understanding may not lead to agreement, but it does lead to respect. Together, respect and understanding breed unity.

I wonder what we could accomplish as a body of humanity if we functioned with respect and understanding?  What world problems would be annihilated?  What injustices would be conquered and what wrongs made right?

To become that sort of world starts with me.  It starts with you.  It starts as individual humans decide to get past issues and build relationships with those on the other side.  It builds as we stop investing ourselves in argument and instead invest ourselves in fostering environments of respect.  It thrives when we lay down our passions for “rightness” and pick up humility, compassion, and sacrifice.  Argue less and engage more.  Withhold attacks and extend peace. Think people – not issues! It changes everything when my world becomes less about me, and more about you.

We are not that different.

What You Catch ‘Em With

This would attract me to youth group... and keep me coming back!

This has nothing to do with the blog – but I figured bacon would “Attract” you to read…

Ever heard the old phrase – “What you catch ’em with is what you keep ’em with?”  It is a phrase usually used to warn a girl against using her body to attract a guy. The thought is that there is a danger in using the “wrong things” to establish a relationship – that if you use your body and sexuality to “catch” a guy, that becomes the expectation for the duration of the relationship.  I wonder if this isn’t advice the church needs to consider when thinking about youth ministry.  After-all, how we approach youth ministry becomes a primary informer of how our students will view church as they mature.

The typical mindset of youth ministry has been attractional.  The thought was that planning big events that included relevant music, wild games, “hip” leaders, and well furnished youth rooms would entice students to come to our youth group like rats to the Pied Piper.  Do it well enough and students will come – they’ll even bring friends – and in no time your youth group #’s could be soaring through the roof. For the churches with the resources and staff to make it happen – it works.

That model informed how we as leaders approached other aspects of ministry.  Retreats were less about retreating and more about feeding students hunger for “more” of the bigger and better.  Summer camps now required zip lines, jet skis, 4-wheeler, paint ball fields, and rock bands.  As leaders we began to believe that these “exciting” and “edgy” elements were necessary to attract and educate teens.  We catered to the attention deficit and need for constant entertainment that we believe was inherent in all teenagers – and we called it outreach.  It was a “just get ’em in the door and hope God gets a hold of them” mentality.  Oh sure, we would schedule a service project here and there – but that was for our more “mature” students.  The “newbs” don’t like/can’t handle/aren’t ready for that kind of stuff you know…

Back off fellow youth leaders – I am not saying youth ministry can’t be fun. (I say as I look at the “No Farting” sign hanging across from my desk).  Fun can and should be an element of all youth programs – but fun can take many forms.  I’m not asking you to ban FUN – just asking you to ask deeper questions and dream bigger dreams as you think about your ministries…

  • I am asking you to think deeper about today’s teens and ask yourself, “Am I selling them short?”

I believe there are things that are more attractive to even non-church kids than flash and bang.  Teens desire relationship and purpose at levels that go far deeper than their attention span.  They want meaningful relationships but may need help forming them.  They want to feel like their lives make a difference – but they may need help figuring out how.

Can I make a suggestion here?  Its my blog – so yes I can…

Service oriented projects and mission trips are powerful things.  These sort of activities are full of the “fun factor” that we find in traditional attractional models, but include some deeper elements.  I have found that relationships formed at these sort of events are deeper as students unite around a common cause.  The stories they develop are lasting ones about human elements, about compassion and accomplishment, about God’s provision and what He accomplishes through them.  Purpose is discovered as they see the work they are capable of and the difference it makes.  Deep bonds form as students and leaders rally around common goals and celebrate common achievements.  Oh – and crazy enough – they have fun doing it!

That is why our group has given up traditional models of camp in exchange for more mission oriented models.  It engages them more fully in God’s kingdom work.  It makes God’s redemptive work bigger than them.  It instills in them a sense of purpose.  It creates lasting stories of God’s provision and strength to accomplish the impossible.  They see God at work through them – and BOOM goes the dynamite in their faith!  Trust me – it is not as hard a sell as you think it is.

We have mistakenly adopted the ideas that missions and outreach are mutually exclusive and that missional endeavors are only for the “spiritually mature”. Please – don’t overlook the capacity of missional activities to attract and transform people in ALL stages of their spiritual journeys.  Don’t separate the two.  In fact, combine them and you just may exponentially increase the effectiveness of both!

It is often fear that drives us.  We fear that our students won’t be supportive and find comfort in knowing what we already do generates numbers.  We fear failure to the extent of losing the ability to dream bigger dreams and expect bigger things for our students.  I encourage you to challenge your students to be and do more than society says they are capable of.  Engage even the outsiders with the challenge instead of molly coddling them with the flash and bang – and watch them RISE to the occasion.  Believe in them more than they believe in themselves and watch the “attraction” multiply in deeper ways than you ever dreamed. YES – even those fringe kids! NEVER sell short your students’ ability to be more than attention starved, entertainment craving immature adolescents.

If you don’t dream big – neither will they.

  • I am asking you to think about how your models of ministry inform their view of church, and how that view will affect their future decisions about church.

Think about this – if we catch them with flash and bang, then it is going to take flash and bang to keep them.

If we catch them by catering to their needs, we keep them by catering to their needs.

If we catch them because our expectation of them are low, we keep them with low expectation.

What happens when the attraction fades, their attention shifts, expectations climb, and interest change? A 2006 Barna survey answers that pretty emphatically –> 70-75% of high school students leave church after graduation.  Could it be that the bait we are “attracting” them with isn’t enough to keep them “hooked”?  Even worse – could it be that we are attracting them to the wrong things?  Are we attracting them to the attractions?

The consumer nature of the American church has been discussed ad nauseam.  American Christians are looking for churches that cater to their wants and needs – fast food churches that serve them “their way”.  That is why large churches with large resources grow – they are better poised to meet the demands of the American Christian culture.  That is also why the American Christian church is losing to ability to communicate with the “outsiders”.  We know our own wants and needs better than we know theirs and we are used to having those needs met.

Does an “outreach” oriented youth ministry that is attractionally driven perpetuate that consumerist mentality?  Are we raising up generations of “needy” church-goers poised to populate the pews of the mega-church?  Just questions…just questions…

I’ve heard the main counter-argument – “But Jesus met the wants and needs of the masses before he dealt with them spiritually.”  True – only Jesus was feeding them food when they were hungry, giving them sight when they were blind, restoring movement to the paralyzed, driving out demons, and restoring life to the dead.  He met the deep physical needs they had – not their desirous whims.  I don’t see the correlation between his actions and ours.  Alas – I think that often, what we think their “needs” are, and what they really need are worlds apart.

People are attracted to movements that make a difference – so help your teens engage in MAKING A DIFFERENCE!  Attracting & connecting them through missional endeavors connects them deeply to the Kingdom work of Christ.  When you see Christ’s body at work – it is hard to not be attracted to Jesus.  I am pretty sure the Bible itself says that when we lift up Jesus, he draws all men, women, boys, and girls to himself.  I could be wrong on this, but I have a feeling that this sort of attraction may have a much more lasting and transformational effect on a person’s life.

Our teens after drywalling an entire house in Texas - LEGENDARY STORIES!!!

Our teens after drywalling an entire house in Texas – LEGENDARY STORIES!!!

I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

Attract them with something bigger, deeper, and more substantial and you just may end up with a bigger, deeper, more substantial connection.  And along they way – you just might feed a few hungry people, repair a few broken homes, and save a few lives.  BONUS!

Okay – so all that was a vent and a rant – but I mean it none-the-less.  As youth leaders we need to quit buying into the lie that teenager are mindless, entertainment hungry, hormone slaves that lack the capacity for attention spans greater than 10-minutes.  They hear that about themselves enough.  What if we communicate the counter-message – that they are more than what the media/world says they are?  We need to believe in them unwaveringly, challenge them ferociously, lead them courageously, dream bigger dreams with them, and tackle the impossible alongside them.  We need to help them see a church that is bigger than their cravings and a God that is more powerful than their desires.  Isn’t that how God deals with us?

Your bait is bigger than you think it is.  Catch them with Christ and His kingdom at work – I’m pretty sure the nets can hold…

High Five

I promise – no long post today.  No rants or rages.  I just had my spirits lifted by an anonymous stranger while sitting in my local Panera.  I received thumbs up,  a rousing encouragement, and – get this – a legit high-five from a total stranger!  It is a story too good not to tell!

Crazy man you ask?  (Him, not me you cotton headed ninny muggins)

Nope.  I was just sitting here, by myself, reading the Word and this guy walks by on his way out.  He does a double take as he passes – stops – turns around and comes back. The following conversation transpires…

Him – Great job brother!  You’re doing it right! (he says with both thumbs up) Are you on fire?

Me – Oh – what?

Him – Are you on fire for the Lord!  On fire because you are in the word!

Me(laughing) Oh! Absolutely!

Him – Keep it up!  The kingdom needs you!  (he then smiles, high fives me, and walks out the door).

A breath of fresh air to start what I thought was going to be a hectic day.  A pep talk to start the morning.  All wrapped up in a smile and a high-five.  It has challenged me to be an encouragement for those fighting the good fight – to lift up spirits with a simple kind word and smile.

God’s people should be walking, talking, living high-fives!