Thursday, June 15, 2006

People will

This evening I'm headed to Alaska. This trip is a home repair mission to a little town outside Anchorage. There will be nearly 300 of us spending a week sleeping on floors in a school and fixing the homes of elderly, disabled and disadvantaged people. This is a costly trip for everyone who is attending. Airfare to Alaska, especially in the summer, is ridiculously expensive. Then there is the cost of the mission experience itself. People have spent the better part of the last year preparing to go on this trip. They have raised money, attended meetings, prayed together, and made all the necessary adjustments to their schedules to go. They chose to do all this for the sake of making a difference in the lives of others.

People fascinate me. Given the right motivation or the right invitation people will do all sorts of things. This has contributed to humanity's greatest and most terrible moments. The outpouring of support for tsunami and hurricane victims is one example. And I'm not talking about money. We learned yesterday that money can be diverted and abused. How in the world does $1.4 billion get misappropriated? That's a tangent for another time. No, it's not money but the sacrifice of time and effort. Tens of thousands of people have left their churches and flooded the Gulf region with labor and love to help restore lives. But, on the flip side, we can look to stories like the Jim Jones debacle of the seventies where seemingly normal people followed a madman into the jungle and descended into a paroxysm of suicidal horror. That whole thing started as a fairly mainstream church in Indiana. Then there's David Koresh and Waco in the nineties. People sacrificed their own children in a fiery conflagration believing they were following God's call.

People will do the most outrageous and wonderful things...given the right circumstances. Knowing this, why is it that so many leaders in the church never truly challenge the people in the seats every Sunday to anything more than sitting still and listening attentively for an hour or two? Why don't we trust people to be world changers? And if we do trust them, why aren't we offering more challenges to actually prove it? I know plenty of churches that send mission teams, run homeless shelters, staff crisis pregnancy centers, provide elder care and on and on. I also know that, on average, only about 20% of the people fully engage and accomplish 80% of all this work. One hundred percent of those who were committed to the cause of Jim Jones followed him into the jungles of Guyana. I can't imagine the conditions. One hundred percent of those people drank the kool aid laced with poison. In the end, yes he needed armed guards to keep some of them there. My point is that in the beginning they followed. All of them. If that many people will follow a madman for the sake of evil, don't you think people will follow God fearing, Christ following leaders for the sake of good? I think they will...if we ask.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

True enough

I've heard that banks don't teach tellers how to spot counterfeit bills by showing them counterfeits. Instead they show them real money. Tellers handle real money over and over and over again. They become so familiar with what's genuine that when they encounter a fake it's immediately obvious. The key here is that the tellers handle the money. They experience it on a daily basis.

Along comes The DaVinci Code. Pastors and church leaders all around the world seemed to go into anaphylactic shock over this movie. The danger has passed now that the movie is out and people haven't abandoned church in least there's been no perceptible quickening of the already steady decline most churches are experiencing anyway. Many churches in my town have offered sermons on the movie. In some cases these are multiple week series. There's nothing wrong with confronting a counterfeit. When a bank teller finds one they report it immediately and point out the person who handed it to them to the authorities. We should identify untruth but, more importantly, people who claim to be Christ followers should be so intimately familiar with the truth that they reject counterfeits without needing a three-part sermon series to explain why.

I am concerned about those who don't know Christ, or have thus far rejected him, having one more excuse for avoiding the Christian church. But I wonder if the histrionics of church leaders over this movie don't reveal something deeper. Could it be that some are concerned their core constituency might be deceived? Is there a nagging suspicion that those who come to church week in and week out aren't really equipped to spot the blatant stupidity The DaVinci Code peddles? I'm wondering if the reaction to this movie is a tacit admission by church leaders that they haven't adequately done the job of leading people into a deep and intimate experience of what is true. Maybe it reveals that church leaders doubt the capacity of faithful people to think for themselves.

Whatever the reason for such a vitriolic response, it's curious. I hope the church will examine how it exposes people to truth. I hope we can find new ways to draw people into a personal experience of faith that penetrates their hearts. I look forward to the day when untruth in rejected by all who follow Christ without anyone launching a sermon series to tell them why.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Some encouragement

This blog has been very cathartic for me. I've had the chance to share my opinions, hopes, frustrations and experiences with the Christian church. One side benefit to all this is an increasing boldness to share my thoughts outside of this blog. Writing helps me develop ideas more fully and get a better grasp on what had been nebulous concepts floating around in my head. And I've been getting feedback from folks that is very encouraging.

Last week I had the chance to visit with a pastor who isn't pastoring right at the moment. He's fixing computers. He expects to be back in a church someday. We had a few minutes to reflect on how churches operate and agreed that there is lots of room for improvement. A few weeks ago a woman who participated in the youth ministry at my church years ago wrote a very encouraging note in response to this blog. She shared her frustration with the church and how she longed to be involved with a church all year long that had as much impact as the one week mission trip we took each year. She was thankful to read something that echoed her concerns about the seemingly ineffective way we do church.

I'm encouraged at what seems to be an undercurrent of dissatisfaction. I'm hopeful that this will turn into a groundswell and then a movement. I pray that there is a genuine revival coming that will revolutionize the church. I don't know what this revolution will look like or what the end result will be. I'm happy just knowing it's a possibility because I fear the track the church is on now is leading to oblivion or, at least, irrelevance. And isn't that really one and the same thing?