Sunday, October 07, 2007

Everyone’s got an opinion (and I’m getting tired of mine)

I’d cut myself a little slack if it was at all in my nature to do so. But here’s a problem I’m running up against in my own life: sometimes I’m all talk.

By that I don’t mean that I don’t believe what I say, or that, given the opportunity to practice it, I don’t. But I just seem to express a lot of opinions about the way I think things should be without giving people much of a reason to listen to them.

Perhaps it’s a problem of credentials: no one knows, or really cares to know, who I am. And who can blame them? There are plenty of people in this world with well-articulated opinions, and many of them have worked long and hard to earn the platform from which they opine. So why listen to someone like me who doesn’t seem to have earned as much of a right to be heard?

This past month I spent a week traveling with each of our two fulltime ministry teams for the purpose of helping them work out what, exactly, they had to share with our audiences. As the Program Director for CTI Music Ministries, I’m the person responsible for coming up with the central message we deliver to our audiences each year, but they’re the ones responsible for delivering it. Talk about a tough job - these teams have to take a thematic challenge from someone else, somehow make it their own, and then try to impact the church in the US with it! And this is all predicated on my ability to formulate my own thoughts well for them!

Fortunately for me, the back-pressure that I needed in order to solidify my thinking on the subject for this year was presented by an invitation to speak at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. The school really wanted a sort of “sermonette” as part of the chapel service that the team would be giving. It seemed like a good opportunity to model something for the team, so we had decided in advance that I would deliver the message that day. I spent a couple of weeks refining my thoughts and distilling them down to fit into a 7-minute time slot. (You can read the text of my message here.)

It was well-received by the students, but I felt a little awkward about the fact that all I did was passionately highlight my own opinions about what it means to be “relevant” and what I think it looks like for the church when relevance goes wrong. I concluded with my thoughts on what the church should be in response, and the student body of 1,000 or so applauded politely as I left the stage. I think it opened some minds, but it lacked anything that made it more compelling than just another person’s opinion.

A few days later, one of the team members was addressing a crowd at a Christian high school about essentially the same subject. She started by talking about someone she had known – someone whose life had been an inspiration to her. She shared what it was, specifically, about his life that impacted her so much. Then she shared about his unexpected death. She shared how that event had rocked her, hurt her, and caused her to seriously evaluate how she spent her own brief time on this earth. The students hung on her every word. By the time she was ready to deliver her central challenge to them, they were ready to listen to what she had to say.

She used the few moments she had with them to build a platform of credibility by sharing something more than her opinion. The fact that she had an opinion mattered because of her personal experience.

I desperately want the things I say and challenge others with to carry the weight of personal experience. Because everyone has an opinion. Blogging and conversing are fun… but I’m growing tired of having an opinion, and I’m not blaming anyone who is getting tired of hearing about it. I want to leave a legacy of action, not words.

My friend Jeff has been after me for some time to write another article for the online magazine that he publishes called Wrecked for the Ordinary, so the whole time I was developing this message for Northwestern, I was thinking about whether or not it could be adapted to share with the readership of Wrecked. Jeff is not one to let my thoughts go unrefined, however. As our discussion evolved, I came to the realization that Wrecked was a platform for sharing spiritual discovery that had been made through the adventure of life, not so much for preaching at people in a way that was detached from personal experience.

Jeff’s response to my discovery was You’re right. We tell stories that exemplify radical Christian living. It’s not a soap box. We’re trying to be just a little bit unique in a market that is inundated with opinions. If we had young people write about what they thought sucked in American culture, we wouldn’t run out of articles, but we also wouldn’t be able to compete with a whole slew of other mag’s.... Preaching without application is over-done and produces even less fruit.”

This has fundamentally impacted how I think about my own life and experiences. Instead of relating the personal convictions I have come to through experience, I’m now trying to focus more on relating the experiences themselves. It’s like starting over, in a way. I’ve still got a lot to say, but it’s taxing a completely different set of muscles to learn how to say it in this new way. I feel like I need to get back in touch with my own life. I don’t necessarily remember all the experiences that have brought me to the convictions I hold so strongly, and I need to re-discover the art of telling the stories, not the endings. Because the stories are the reality, and the endings are interpretive.

After all, everyone’s got an opinion.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

So Many Christian Infants

Another recent article challenging the church to action among it's own (translated "discipleship" or "spiritual formation.")

This one's by Gordon MacDonald. He's asking the question:
"Why are we so good at leading people to faith and so bad at prodding them to maturity?"
So Many Christian Infants