Tag Archives: transparency

On the Deep Questions of Faith and Church Exodus

Churches have split, morphed, and disagreed over hi-lo church, community building or lack there of, relevance or lack there of,  rock bands vs organs vs chants, liberal vs conservative, moral therapeutic theism, legalism vs grace, or even the prosperity gospel.. and yet, nothing changes as concerns the ongoing church exodus. If Gregorian chants etc were the answer to countering the church exodus, it would be an obvious winner by now, and its not…pretty much none of the above have made a dent. No matter the choice of issue to fuss over, it appears everyone is loosing once you take birthrate evangelism, demographic shifts, and churn off the table.

So… what gives with this?

One of the commenters on Jonathan Merritt’s blog stated the following:

...People can google a seminary’s worth of information about any religion and theological thought at any moment. Deep questions of faith are what everyone has along their faith journey and, sadly, they aren’t being addressed regularly from our pulpits. Churches must being willing to be transparent about the most difficult 
issues of faith and help people celebrate the mystery of God and faith.

Deep questions, yep… but if this is an issue leading to church exodus, which I sort of tend to think might be more right than wrong, why is this as issue today, more so than of years past.

The ease of access to information is certainly an issue. Looking back ~120 years, where in the Wisconsin Bible ban was enacted due to the dangerous nature of the KJV

So its google, or the pulpit, or both, and what about transparency?

Google and pulpits are certainly easy targets. Information is a major threat as I wrote about as concerns the Wisconsin Bible Ban a ways back. Alas unlike the WI Bible ban, its more than just Bible versions running into difficulty, its the uniformity of thought that pervades the church. Ie, within a trinitarian theology, how many folks accept it a face value, vs how many truly struggle with it… how many errant examples of the trinity are commonly thrown out by any number of well meaning Christians.

and pastors, even if willing run into scaling difficulties. Ie, indepth 1:1 pastoral counsel works wonders, but only for the 1, or maybe a few… much more than that, and there aren’t enough hours in the pastors schedule.

Alas, google can be pretty superficial, Ie I can google the Nicene creed and its variances through time. I can read about the heresies that each of the ecumencial councils were trying to address. I can read of miaphysitism and monophysitism and can parrot back all sorts of stuff about Coptic Christianity. However, such data is superficial… one doesn’t really know much about the 2 natures of Christ until one goes and pokes a Copt, and then gets poked back a few dozen times over a period of time. In other words, depth comes about not because of mere reading about something, but of struggle with it over time.

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So… we are then on to the pulpit, and sure, some pastors are quite well equipped for this, but we then run into the problem that pastors can’t scale, even if they really wanted to. If we do want to scale beyond the pastor, things get crazy difficult. In other words, the depth issue is really beyond what most any local church is capable of addressing at scale. Alas, the body of Christ is much much larger than the local church and it scales with ease.

As far as the timing issue… In the past, one could seek out information at a university or seminary library, but only if one had the resources and focused determination to do so. I think a lot of folks suffered in silence, and community / familial values drove church attendance, irrespective of whether any depth could be found there. Today, with the CCEL and related information in the palm of ones hand… folks know they are not in it alone, they see that others have struggled, they see that bits and pieces of answers do exist but they are far out there in the distance….

Ponderings on Donald Miller Dustup

So Donald Miller wrote a series of why he doesn’t go to church posts and its caused more than a bit of a stir. He is a fairly big time Christian author, so as one might expect, his honesty caused no small amount of teeth knashing and other bits. Alas, out of 526 blog comments I read, no one tore their clothes… not sure what that means, but it was interesting.

There were two things struck me with the commentary on Donald’s series… First, many of the issues he brings up are spot on. Secondly, I perceived an underlying tone of many of the most ardent objectors that seems to indicate they are trying to convince themselves they are holding to a right position. If my perceptions are correct in this, no wonder church growth has been going negative… its not just more folks not believing.

Its not a new deal either. Folks have been leaving churches behind for centuries. You have folks in early Christian and other histoircal writings leaving the church for the desert. You have the Didache going so far as to state  itinerrant preachers and prophets who stick around for more than a couple days are not cool. Alas, leaving to get closer to God is probably not the largest cohort of folks leaving, but it most certainly is part of it.

My guess is that the larger number of folks who don’t attend is that church doesn’t seem as relevant to their life as it once did. In folks I’ve talked to over the years, Jesus most certainly is as important, or even more important than when they were regular attenders, but formal worship not so much. I’ve heard many a story of folks digging into the scriptures more, praying more, and being closer to God post leaving than they did when frequent attenders.

individual vs communal vs scaling vs bidirectional vs unidirectional

Thus we are at a paradox, but I sort of wonder if we haven’t been there for much longer than is apparent. My guess is a lot of things served as masks, and now that a couple bits have changed, the light penetrates deeper than it did in the past.

In the glory days of church growth, attendance was often by social command. Christian privilege was also a huge deal. If you didn’t show up, your name was mud. If your kids didn’t show up, your name was mud… peer pressure kept a lot of folks in churches. One problem with this of course is the lack of authenticity it creates. Ie Christian for 1 hour on Sunday and then its turned off until the next Sunday. A positive side is that repetitive experience, even if ones mind is 99% turned off can have lasting effects.

Beyond the social pressure of worship to maintain Christian privilege, we also have the scripture bit about not forsaking the assembly. I’m not convinced this is anywhere near the global prescriptive we read into it. Ie, its one thing to be encouraged to assemble to stay on track to build one another up etc… its something else when it becomes just another must do thing to get the suffering over with as quickly as possible. From Donald Miller

The subtext of these comments seemed to insinuate that God wants us to suffer for Him. But not suffer by reaching the poor or by being outcast, suffer, literally, by standing in a church service singing songs you don’t find catchy. Really?…..

He’s not calling us to be sanctified through dutiful boredom.
Yep, the whole gnostic leaning thought that we go to church for the spiritual side and we should ignore feelings and such is pretty counterproductive. Granted I’m not saying church services should be like a Journey, Grateful Dead, Def Leppard, Vikings, Packers, Bears, etc (insert favorite concert or sporting event here), but they ought not to be totally ignore folks feelings either. I remember a Catholic priest friend some years back telling me if he consistently didn’t get anything out of going to church, he wouldn’t be going either. I think he was right on the mark with that. Church cannot be a one way deal… consider the bride of Christ thing, and how no one in their right mind would enter a marriage if it was only a 1 way deal from the get go. Of course recognizing this is one thing, addressing it another. The trad vs contempo vs mixed vs integrated vs age specific thing is likely a bandaid deal.

I think there is also an issue of expectations… remove the social pressure to attend, and the scrutiny increases. Consider that Acts 2:42-47 presents a pretty hardcore model for church… Such might fly and sort of does in some university constructs in part due to their transitory nature… but in a regular community, such is near impossible human nature being what it is. Consider the following discussion from Carson T Clark and a church leader related to his ordination process.

After I’d carefully laid out my understanding, he replied something to the effect of, “That sounds more like AA than a church.” Wanting to make sure I was understanding him rightly, I asked for clarification.
He explained that that degree of transparency about psychological struggles, intellectual doubt, broken relationships, spiritual confusion, and the like was simply impractical for a local church setting. It was unfeasible.
“People may need to go outside the local church for that kind of growth and healing.”

Carson T Clark’s view was probably close to the Acts 2 texts…. I’ve seen many a recent grad carry similar idealism, only to have it blown to bits when its execution is attempted. This is not to say its not valid and/or that it can’t be done via picking and choosing bits and pieces here or there, but holistically it can’t work. Churches are hospitals for the broken, run by broken people, and crashes and burns are inevitable, its not a matter of if, but a matter of when… which is why such can work out better within a university context that a traditional parish… ie the membership is continually moving, long term scars and institutional pluses and minuses don’t have enough time to become dominant. This does pose a problem for the recent grad though… their experience has created Acts 2 expectations in a given form which is near impossible for a typical local parish to meet. (Or at least if they are brutally honest, it is near impossible to meet.)

 

2 Timothy 2:16 Godless Chatter, Getting Real, Transparency

Hmmm, been thinking about this one a bit… There is an element of being “real” or transparent, and there is Godless chatter too. Its incredible hard to define, as realness and transparency can cross into a lack of reverence and gossip pretty easily. Perhaps this is one where one has to rely on the still small voice, albeit scripture does address this in a multitude of areas.

sadly, I think it quite easy to put up a brick wall and not listen to the Holy Spirit in such matters, whether it be common parlance, or something one really likes for other reasons. Or perhaps worse, being a guy with a log in the eye, its what others do (being middle aged), ie the young whipper snappers and their enthusiastic chatter over movies or the little old ladies who mix fellowship and gossip.

Of course there is also the issue of conviction. We dont get hit with every detail of the law at once… it may take years to be led in that direction. Yet, if God is calling, we best listen. Ultimately, the quesiton is where do we pick up the cross on this, and should we put lines in the same, and if so, where should they be. Perry Noble has some interesting thoughts on that, concerning personal safeguards. I think he makes a lot of sense, know ones vulnerabilities, and make the lines from there.

For me, is it endless bantering over theology? It could be, but perhaps not, as it could also lead to edification. Its tough though… I must admit I do like to spar periodically, but when is the line crossed? I know I never let things go personal, but that may well be too far.

Is it crass language? This is a tough as well, as its regional, its cultural, and its even time sensitive. What about a couple blog titles I’ve read. One is Jesus says Dont be a Dick (which btw is quite funny, and surprisingly theologically profound too, but the language is bothersome to me). Another is a title I’ve shared here, “Giving Jesus the bird” There was also the outrage over the use of some language on Christian radio that resulted in the removal of Chuck Swindolls show on VCY a couple years back. This is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I guess I draw the line some of the time, and not others on a case by case deal. Probably more cultural/regional than anything though.

What about song lyrics? Heart of a Pastor in Garbage in Garbage out brings up some interesting ideas. In some ways I agree, but in others not so much. The lyrics in Highway to Hell are very much aligned with someone who doesn’t know Jesus. I obviously dont think such has a place in worship, but for a teenage youth group as a discussion topic, absolutely. Whether teens should be listening to such, I’m not so sure. I dont make the same connection with music as Heart of a Pastor makes, at least as concerns these lyrics, although there are others, which go way too far ie actually promoting sin etc. However, as a bass player for hire years ago, on a Saturday night, I may well be playing “Highway to Hell”, and 6 hours later at a church somewhere playing “Awesome God“. Perhaps I am putting up a brick wall.

I will say after living on the road playing CCM for 3 months, and not hearing any secular music, I was taken aback when I first heard Chicago’s Stay the Night on the ride back to LAX. Granted, there is a difference between Highway to Hell and Stay the Night, but no where near as much as between them and Let There be Praise.

By the same token, if we sanitize our communications such that we dont even mention some scripture, or completely disregard real life, hurts and all, thats not cool either. Granted, just because the size comparisons of male anatomy is present in scripture, I doubt one should not make such discussions common parlance. (Yep that was going on, way before the advent of spam)

I think perhaps part of the answer resides in context, 2 Timothy 2:15-18, seems to present a significant amount of lattitude, yet obviously its not the whole story, there is still the outright condemnation of gossip, and reverence is a common theme throughout scripture. Alas, it is late, and thus those are for another blog entry.