Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sleepy Hollow Church?

Here is a series of emails between myself and member of our church community. Some of you might find it interesting and together, Dave and I, would be interested in any of your response.

Further to conversation last night and your comment that most church attenders are asleep: a couple of questions for your comment (3 to be exact).

1. What has have you observed to lead you to this conclusion?
2. How could the church be awakened?
3. What roles (or responsibilities) do the organization and clergy have in creating and awakening this sleepy culture?
Look forward to your comments.



Dave if I can respond briefly I will. To set records straight…my comment was more to the point that people in churches have their minds on simmer. They are stimulated just enough to be enough and not much more. Sleeping works as a metaphor though…

1. What has have you observed to lead you to this conclusion?
My main observation, and I could obviously explain it clearer in person, is simply that we are taught to not think. We disguise this terrible misrepresentation of the church by suggesting that what we must do ‘is just have faith’. Unfortunately, faith can not exist without doubt…and, for whatever reason, we have villianized doubt, doubters, and people who like to ask questions. Faith without doubt is not faith at all; it is knowledge.

By way of example:

It is suggested that somewhere between 80-90% of teenagers will have left their faith and never walk through the doors of a church again by the time they are in their mid-twenties (or, consequently, by the time they are finished their degree). Now imagine this change of events; a teenager has been taught and spoon fed some ‘truth’ their whole life in church, then, they are faced with some truth in a science, philosophy, psych, or whatever class at University that contradicts what they’ve always held to be true, then, they are left with an intellectual dilemma. Do I hold to a faith that, at this point seems contradictory to truth, or, do I hold to my intellectual integrity? I would suggest that probably 80-90% of these now students go with their intellectual integrity. You follow?

I would further suggest that people who have truly and honestly struggled through their doubts, concerns, and skepticism can give a much better apology for faith then someone who has never dealt with such issues.

2. How could the church be awakened?
I believe that we, as the Church and the church, must learn what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. We need to recognize that more often then not the translated word ‘soul’ is in reference to our minds. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind’ seems to show Jesus’ view of how to love God; with our minds and our hearts and through our physical. I believe that if people think right they will begin to live right. This means asking questions and developing a healthy and Biblical worldview. This doesn’t mean that once our worldview is developed that we hold to it unswayed; rather, it means that we interpret life knowing that there are holes and blindspots in how we view the world. Simply, people’s heads need to ‘get saved’ just as much as their heart and experience needs to ‘get saved.’ In my humble opinion.

3. What roles (or responsibilities) do the organization and clergy have in creating and awakening this sleepy culture?
I’m not entirely convinced that it is merely a clergy problem. Though, I do believe that as teachers of God’s word we need to make this very clear to those we teach. IMO I believe that churches and their leadership should be willing and open to dialogue and conversation which, to all of my experience, has been the case. However, I do know that there are many cases where debating theology or questioning is taboo or outright seen as a threat. I am going to shy away from the question at this point and not suggest what I think everyone else should do…however…I will tell you what I try.

Anti-conclusions. It is my observation that generally preachers and workshop leaders too often try and create a witty presentation complete with nice stories, provocative language, and cultural cues (all of which I think are effective and help people to engage) and then end with a conclusion that we can walk away with. The problem with conclusions is simply that; they are concluded matters. No more room for thinking about it…the matter is concluded. What if our thesis was a question and not a statement. What if Jesus wasn’t the great void filler answer so much as he was the question (read my post called “Jesus Doesn’t Fill Your Void)? What if the ‘conclusion’ forced you to be moved and stretched beyond yourself so that it wasn’t a conclusion but rather a starting block? Education happens when you are put into a place where your only escape is to think.

Another thing I do is that I deliberately leave holes in my teaching so that it leaves room for people to fill in the blanks on their own. Follow this.

I’ve learned that people are challenged to learn in one of two ways:

-ONE, by dealing with weird vagueness. People, by nature, like to organize, systemize, and make specific of big meta ideas into smaller compactable ideas. So…I present huge ideas with holes that people have no choice but to think…because it is their nature.

-TWO, by dealing with bold specificness. Culturally, we shy from absolutes and, as a result, any time we teach of anything concrete or absolute or objectively true, it challenges people. People, by nature, like to challenge anything that is bold and overly specific….often times out of spite. And so…I will boldly specify something but leave holes in it.

Beyond that, I think that as a clergy we can really impact the cultural feel of the local church to either think or not think. It takes a lot more work, is entirely more messy, and encourages people to be different. But it is worth it. I might say it is an eclectic: a gathering of diversity.

Anyhow, I wish I had been briefer as I have loads of stuff to do before Friday. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this though I may not be able to respond until next weekend as I am away most of next week. Thanks for the convo last night – I enjoyed it.

Grace and Peace,



From your answer, and some of your other writings, could it be said that you see Christianity as a primarily mental or mind process? A process of learning, evaluating and questioning? Or maybe you feel that this the aspect that has been most neglected in the current Christian environment? In which case you’re your contention that the goal is to encourage the local church to think can address the problem of the simmering mind.

In your position ministering to young adults who are intense in learning and questioning and being heavily influenced by new and different ideologies, it is important to encourage them to think – not only to evaluate their belief in God, but also to question all the other philosophies and theories that they are being taught. I have great respect for you and your commitment to the young adults.

After my first (and only) year at WPBC, I was talking with my mom, decrying issues I had with the structure of the church, the seeming emptiness of the liturgy (yes, PAOC has liturgy) and the lack of integrity between what was preached from the pulpit and the reality. My mom, probably led by the Holy Spirit (though I doubt she realized the impact of what she said), told me, “If you have so many problems with the church, why don’t you just stop going?”

That is what I did. I moved to a Frat house at UBC and registered to take Sciences. I spent 4+ years there in the middle of what the church fears greatly but did not find conflict with my faith. I was an enigma, I partied, studied seemingly heretical theories, did not attend church but had faith in Jesus and was known as an upright compassionate person. There were many things I was not interested in knowing or questioning - but issues that brought questions, I sought, and found the answer. Often it was to be skeptical of the theories and subject them to the same critical analysis so often reserved for Christianity. Learning to question that which is taught elsewhere has been more beneficial that learning to defend my faith. The learned defense is only good until a better sounding opposing argument is presented. Questioning the opposing argument critically will unearth its falseness.

As I remember our conversation, we were discussing how to engage people and making church more relevant to them. Your response was that people in churches have their minds on simmer. While I agree that many people do not critically evaluate their faith and seem to have their minds on simmer, I do not think that providing teaching that causes them to think is the answer to making church more relevant to them. It may be a component of building a sound belief system.

I find it bothersome when I hear messages to church goers that criticize their lack of faith, of righteousness, of evangelism and telling them how they should be living and relating to the world. Everyone is on a spiritual journey including those who go to church. It is not easy in this society that is highly critical of Christianity to make a commitment to attend a church and those that do should be honoured for their commitment. They should be commended for their decision and treated the same as those outside the church. If we are to not download or argue with those outside the church, why should the church be structured to download on those who attend? Yet that is what church is: get to the church sing a few songs, get dumped on, and go home. Sure the messages are often stimulating, but how often do they have real impact on the lives of those who hear them? I may be jaded (having heard thousands of sermons) but I would say only a few of them have impacted my life. I would say that the most important of them were a conduit to my meeting Jesus in a new or deeper way.

I think, that to make the church more relevant to the world, we have to make the church more relevant to those who attend. And I think that this must include engaging people. Creating an environment where people contribute to and create a community. I don’t mean in setting up chairs or serving coffee but real meaningful contribution. If I could say there was one main reason for joining CLCC, it would be this. However, achieving this goal is a struggle. We seem to get distracted and the pull to do traditional church is often too great – especially with the rapid growth lately.

More than anything else, church is about meeting God and building a relationship with Him that endures through the week. We often think that the way to build this relationship is to know more about Him so we listen to sermons, read books, analyze scriptures, conduct Bible studies. But the result is that we become more like the Pharisees, with lots of head knowledge but who don’t know God. The way to relationship is to spend time with God, listening to him and letting his Holy Spirit change us. And our church needs to be a community where we spend time with God, and share with others the revelation God brings to us.

In the isolation created by the church that seeks to direct (and control) the relationship people have with God, I often feel that I am the only one that communes with God – or that no one else understands God like I do. In my care group this last year I strove to break this isolationist mindset and was often astounded by the way others (who I thought were simmering) had a real and vibrant relationship. For some it took a long time to break the silence and required building a community where we were secure and accepted.

So I have done just what I criticized, dumped on you but I hope that there is something in this that builds community and helps enrich your communion with God.