Saturday, September 22, 2007

Escape from Consumer Church

My friend Paul just pointed me to this article. It says a lot of what I have wanted to express, so I'll let it speak for me until I have time to come back to this subject:

Escape from Consumer Church

Saturday, September 15, 2007


As our CTI teams travel around the US this year, they’re engaging their audiences with this theme of awakening, which is an exhortation to us, the church, to awaken in passion to our responsibility and privilege of taking the Spirit of God that lives in us to the world.

The following is the text of an address that I gave in a chapel service at Northwestern College on September 14, 2007 while traveling with one of our teams on the Awaken tour.


Do any of you read Relevant magazine? I recently received the latest issue. The cover sports a photo of folk artist Ben Harper and advertises articles inside including several artist interviews, a story on the aftermath of Katrina two years later, and a rundown of this fall’s TV shows. Relevant has a pretty in-depth website too, and a podcast – both of which you might assume, based on the name of the magazine.

Their tagline is “God, Life, Progressive Culture”. If I had to identify their primary mission, I would say it was to draw attention to spirituality, both within “Christian” media and “secular” media. In fact, I doubt that the Relevant editorial staff really believes in differentiating between the two. The point seems to be that God exists in the music, writing, personalities and art of our culture, regardless of whether or not they are deemed exclusively “Christian.”

But I’m not here to endorse the magazine, nor am I here to defame it. I just want to draw attention to both the word and the concept of being “relevant” because the term has been getting a lot of press among younger Christians within the last few years.

I think it’s become our cultural buzzword for the concept of being “in the world, but not of it.”

Have you heard that phrase, “in it, not of it?”

I’ve heard it over the years – back in 2000, the CTI team that I was on covered a song by Avalon called “in not of.” Somehow I just assumed it was taken from scripture, I guess.

So I spent some time looking for it while I was preparing for this message. I was surprised by how difficult it was to find those words in the Bible.

In fact, I couldn’t find the phrase “in the world, not of the world,” or anything like it, anywhere that I looked.

What I did find, however, was a lot of scriptural support for the fact that we aren’t of this world. It’s not so much a command as it is a reality that we need to embrace.

As an example, while praying for his disciples in John 17:16, Jesus said that they weren’t of the world just as he wasn’t. And in I Peter 2:11, we read “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” And there is more scriptural support for the fact that we are not of the world.

As for being “in” the world, Peter goes on in verse 12 to instruct his audience of “aliens and strangers” to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Drawing it all together is the Romans 12:2 exhortation: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

So we’ve got some scriptural basis to stand on as we talk about this issue of being relevant to the culture we live among as aliens and strangers – in effect, being “in the world, not of the world.”

But sometimes, it seems like our efforts to be “in the world, not of the world” have prompted us to create a completely separate world. And we’ve stocked this separate world with every Christian alternative we can come up with… inventing “patterns” of our own world that resemble the ones of the world outside, and then we conform to those patterns instead.

And in the end, our zeal to be “in the world and not of it” has led us totally out of the world, yet left us totally of it. We can be very worldly, having everything that the world has, though the version in our separate Christian world is often viewed as sanitized.

And relevance has often become the term we use to define doing all of the things we can do to our separate world to make it more appealing to “them.” We think of it as the gravity of our separate world – the force we hope will draw people in. We reason that, if we use enough video, lighting and rock music, and then have a softball team on top of that, they’ll be attracted to our world, because it will look like theirs.

Have you ever walked into a Christian bookstore and found something that tries to persuade you that “If you like this secular band, you’ll like this Christian alternative”?

If you like Weezer, you’ll like Bleach.

If you like Gavin DeGraw, we promise you’ll like Nate Sallie.

If you like Avril Lavigne… well… maybe we don’t want you in our world that badly after all. (But if you really must come, we suggest checking out Jessie Daniels.)

It seems like we want to stand on our own cleverness and the things we have created, instead of relying on the overpowering attraction of the Spirit of God. We’ve forgotten that we have nothing to offer.

Remember, Peter said to live such good lives among the pagans that they may see our good deeds and glorify God… not for us to live in separation, and bid them come to us.

And Jesus, through his final recorded address to his disciples as recorded in Matthew 28:19 commanded us to “go, make disciples of all nations…”

Eugene Peterson renders it this way in The Message: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.”

And so it strikes me that the only way to be relevant is to go,

to live our lives among the pagans,
to train those we meet, far and near, in this way of life,
to erase the fictional divide between the “Christian” and the “secular,”

and to remember that our words, our efforts, our lights and video and rock-and-roll praise bands are nothing to them without the reality of Christ and the Spirit of God.

As our CTI teams travel around the US this year, they’re engaging their audiences with this theme of awakening, and this is what that’s all about: As an organization, we long to see us, the church, awakening in passion to our responsibility and privilege of taking the Spirit of God that lives in us, and going to the world instead of waiting for the world to come to us.

After all, the presence of the Spirit is the only thing that really makes our world any different anyway.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

What is church/the church/a church?

I've been consumed with this subject for a while now, and have been formulating and sketching through my thoughts, intending to eventually work them out here as I have other streams of consciousness in the past. Look for that in October, which is currently calendared as the next chance I have to breathe.

I'm reading through Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell right now (thanks, Miles) and have tripped across a section that gets me so keyed up I just have to share the essence of it here with you. It's exactly where I'm headed in my own thinking, though I want to elaborate on it in a different way. Check this out:

My understanding is that to be a Christian is to do whatever it is that you do with great passion and devotion. We throw ourselves into our work because everything is sacred...

...this is why it is impossible for a Christian to have a secular job. If you follow Jesus and you are doing what you do in his name, then it is no longer secular work; it's sacred. You are there; God is there. The difference is our awareness.

This truth has significant implications for how churches function.

...A church is a community of people who are learning how to be certain kinds of people wherever they find themselves so they can do whatever it is they do "in the name of the Lord Jesus." The goal isn't to bring everyone's work into the church; the goal is for the church to be these unique kinds of people who are transforming the places they live and work and play because they understand the whole earth is filled with the kavod of God. ["Kavod" is the Hebrew word that we translate as "glory."]

...Missions then is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there. It is almost as if being a good missionary means having really good eyesight. Or maybe it means teaching people to use their eyes to see things that have always been there; they just didn't realize it. You see God where others don't. And then you point him out.

...That is why the best teachers are masters of the obvious. They see the same things that we do, but they are aware of so much more. And when they point it out, it changes the way we see everything.

Happy teaching, friends.