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.

David

****************

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,
-Jer

*********************

Jer:

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.

David

12 comments:

Steve said...

Intruiging.

I have a friend who has been force fed. A part of what Christians would call a cult.

She said she believed in Jesus, and not the cross. I've thought about that I don't know how many times about how true it is.

She said that in her church they won't have crosses every where, nor wear cross's around thier neck. I didn't condone the cross' being in church, and I didn't condemn them either. I more tried to throw the thought out there that it is symply a symbol. It was the tool used. That we are to take up our own, and walk with it.

To be honest, I'm glad that at CLCC and Mountian View Church, they are both in schools. It takes the pressure off the building. Takes emphasis off of structure, and places it more on God.
The thought of having a nice church, with a nice fancy cross reminds me of the pharisees a lot. Which to be completely honest is why I'm scared for CLCC's new building... how 'churchified' will it become? Or will it simply be a multipurpose building?
The question raised in my mind was do we, as the church, focus more on what we see than what we believe? And if it is what we see, is this then a result of simmering minds because they do not go beyond simple thought?
Does this speak to anyone?

e.d. said...

First, I can hardly believe that anyone actually read the whole thing! Freaky-deaky........at least I am not the only one with not much better to do...! lol

Second, and maybe this should be a seperate post but, how we think about God is potentially the most significant collection of thoughts that our minds could ever string together. What we say and recite generally has very little to do with what we actually believe; if we believe God to be much smaller then He is then, when we pray, are we even praying to Soverign God or to some small god that we've created who never transcends, never suprises us, never astonishes or confuses us, and never leaves us any room to ask questions?

Third, David you said, "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 think it is. Now, I would never say that it is the key to make church relevant....but it is part of making it 'more relevant.' What engages the mind engages the spirit.

Anonymous said...

david,
each of us has different ways to connect with God, to get to know Him. i am different than E.D., yet at times I think we share similair fashions on how to become closer to the Father.
Whether it is reading/studying scripture, sitting on top of a mountain under the stars and just bieng amazed by His creation, or listening to praise and worship music and calling out to God- we each travel a different path to become closer to our Father.
We isolate ourselves from other believers? perhaps, but (and this is just my humble expierance) those who are in complete and full communion with God seek out others who are the same! the old like draws to like.............
the church/building is just a place for us to get together to uplift, worship, and fellowship with Christ and other believers.......our real church is out there!

David said...

It's an interesting experience interacting online. Not knowing anything about you, I have no context to understand what you are saying and so I can only respond to what you have posted.
Jer and my conversation was about making church relevant and engaging people. What I said should be understood in this context. I appreciate your comments.
Steve, should not what we see be what we believe? It it isn't, then do we have integrity? e.d. Many things engage my mind and I can argue with the best, but I don't believe that is where my spirit is. More often than not, they serve to distract me. Anonymous - how dow we find "others who are the same" in church where the gatherings are all scripted and only a few contribute? Is it outside the church gathering? If so what is the purpose of church?
Just some questions for thought and not meant to inflame.
David

Steve said...

We should 'critique' the things we see no more or less than the things we think about.

What we see can be misrepresenting. What we see can be completely clear. What we see could be a mask.
Just because you have eyes doesn't mean you see clearly.
Everything needs to be processed.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - how dow we find "others who are the same" in church where the gatherings are all scripted and only a few contribute? Is it outside the church gathering? If so what is the purpose of church?

David- It takes a lot to "inflame" me, overall I am pretty easy going (kinda sorta)
How do we find others the same- the easy scripted answer is church, but in reality that is becoming increasingly difficult. Part of the problem is the size of churches, it is easier to connect with people in a congregation of 100-150 than in a church of 500 plus............so we as a church need to look at how to get people to connect-small groups, coffee outings, hill climbing, some type of event......we do not need biblical names to make a small group a small group. However guys who are hotrod enthusiasts could go to the "Chariots of Fire Group" or those that are rock climbers/mountaineers can go to "The Moses Group" that can be a hiking group as well, or the "Peter Mountain Top Expierance Group" yup that will keep the religious nutz happy (hmmm I should edit that comment), we as a community need to grasp the simple fact that there is more to relationships than Christ, I mean he can be the reason for the friendship BUT we need more than that to continue to like someone. Common interest groups......if that is not possible I am finding that I am finding more and more people I can hang with at the strangest places, we just got to make the effort.

I love the phrase "all scripted" cuz yup it is.......from the spontanious worship (insert worship jesus time in between these two songs) to the very structured sermon (unless your pastor is a flake then who knows where a sermon may or may not lead), to the angelic playing of the piano as Pastor wraps up his sermon, the tug on the heart strings, or the story that ties it all together...yup it is scripted, and it needs to be to a point, but man I love when it just breaks out and people re-act to the Spirit in a free and cool way, just call out to God, maybe if I ever havve my own church.......1.5 hrs of time, get together, pray, bless us, tithe, sing some songs, liten to some dude, sing, go home, sleep, eat, sleep, start again........

Do we need church, yes we do, do we need this very stagnant outdated model of church, i am going to say no........

DCS said...

Anonymous,
So we're back to where the conversation began. How do we take the stagnant outdated model of church to a model that is more relevant. I say that we need to create one where there is more input from the attendees. And where we actually experience communing with God. Hearing his voice and letting him change us.

Steve said...

I think the point of a Sunday Service is being missed. Is the point not to have communal worship of the Father, communion, fellowship, and learning?

It is starting to seem like all I'm reading is that what we know as 'church' is bad because it's out-dated.

I love small groups. I love common intrest groups. I don't care what the heck you call them, I don't think God gives a rip either.

A Sunday Service is about God. Instead of complaining how it is lacking God, lacking a more 'modern' way of doing things, why don't you do something about it?

I read a stat that people who try to plant new church's often fail. Why? Because they are trying to do what they think is right, and not God.

I'm starting to become a little more cynical of the comment, "church has become irrelavant" because I would suggest it's not the structured service, the pretty songs, nor the seats in which are chosen to sit people, but rather it's the people who are actually irrelavant and they are selfish. And you know who else is selfish I'm finding? Those extremists (if I dare use the word). Now, not all the 'extremists' are selfish.
There's nothing wrong with having a church of 500 plus people. I would say it's often a bit better because of the fact that you have the resources. I don't want to hear about relying on God for resources because I know about that, and that's missing the point. With greater numbers comes greater responsibility, comes greater vision, comes greater diversity, comes greater love.
Small groups, common intrest groups, whatever you want to call them will have a role. And should be there.
I would suggest focusing less on what we think is relavant, and look to God and see where he takes us.
Thoughts?

DCS said...

Steve,
In Jesus' day there was a church. It had weekly meetings, monthly festivals, special focus events (passover) etc. Everybody went to the church. It had teaching. It had dissected the law and analyzed it, extended it to apply to the current day. There was weekly reading of the prophets. They gave to the poor. There were prophetic messages. There was miraculous healings. The temple even had satellite churches called synagogues. It appeared to be doing everything right but what did Jesus call it? And its leaders?
What do you think Jesus would say about today's church? We have dissected the Bible and categorized it, extended its precepts for today. We sing pretty songs that make us feel good but do not heed the words. We sing about dancing with our feet firmly planted. We pledge tobow our knees while standing straight and tall. We have prophecy (once in a while and rarely do we listen). We give to the poor (a little). I think I've heard about miraculous healings (most often in far away places).
Jesus left the church and went to where He could impact the people. And the church his followers established looked nothing like what was before and probably looked nothing like the church we have now. It engaged people.
Because I raise the issue of making church relavant and engaging people, I am selfish? I addressed your comment about people who attend church in my e-mails to Jer and it is completely different than your opinion.
Most acknowledge Jesus as God's Son but yet few are part of a church. Why?
Do you not think that maybe we should be questioning whether we are following our master?
I have to say that there are probably many believers that have a close relationship with the Father and listen to his voice. I would love to listen to them tell of what He says. I just don't know who they are because so few get to share.

Steve said...

I understand what your saying. And the 'selfish' comment seems misunderstood.

What I was getting at was is that it seems like it is a very self pleasing way. Now, I tried to make it clear that this doesn't apply to everyone. However, their reasons are not Godly.

I also recognize that the church is, in general very screwed up. But there is still value in it.
The purpose of it all is community based around Jesus. It came in many forms. And it has become tradition (not a bad one, but a regularly misused one) to meet on Sundays as a larger group.

I just really want to focus on Jesus when at church, in whatever way it comes. If fancy guitar/drum solos do that for you good. If climbing a mountain oes that for you good. If being in a room having a discussion does that for you good.
Just because there's been misuse and poor use of any given sunday service, doesn't mean that it has all of a sudden become invalid and not for today. There is more to it, I agree, but it's not about the different groups. It's about Jesus centred community.
That's what I'm trying to get at.

Paul & Wanda Moores said...

Doesn't honest dialogue just have this envigorating effect? I feel so alive after having or hearing of good dialogue about things that really matter.

I'd pay for good dialogue. I'd pay to subscribe to this blog.

e.d. said...

We could make a little arrangment Paul...!

Steve, Dave, and Annon - I'll get to some thoughts soon on this. I was out climbing yesterday and today and I am scripting...I mean, preaching tomorrow.