Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friends With Benefits!

I recently returned from Auburn Hills, MI, where I attended the “Human Experience” event. If the truth be told, it has represented a real shot-in-the-arm in my spiritual journey over the last couple of years, and that truth is supported by the fact that I’ve been back three times. There’s always so much to masticate and decompress, that it often takes me a little while to wrap my head around all the concepts, ideas, and amazing stories of gospel-induced life change, which is why it’s taken me this long to post on it.

In addition to the typically invigorating brain storming sessions at this event, Michigan in October served to heighten my sensory experience. I couldn’t help but admire the verdant greens and the vivid reds and yellows in the turning trees, and it all served to remind me of just how much I miss the changing seasons, and indeed how important seasons are to the cycle of life. Anyway, I digress…. One of my favorite discussions at the event was centered around the idea of mobilizing the Church to engage our 21st Century world, instead of working so hard to bring people “back to church.” Let me begin by putting out a disclaimer here: My thoughts are exactly that… my thoughts! As I process through these ideas, feel free to make your own contribution to the conversation so that we can all benefit.

  • Jesus didn’t come to start a movement of Christianity but to reconcile the world to Himself by making the world more human again. The first time people were called Christians was at Antioch in Acts 11. Prior to this specific occasion, there were both Jews and Gentiles who were finding a relationship with Christ. What were they becoming once they engaged in this new relationship? I suggest that they weren’t making a horizontal or lateral transition from Judaism, Secular Humanism, or Atheism to Christianity, but a vertical relational transition into being Christ-followers.
  • Even if we somehow bucked the current alarming statistical trend of 150,000 people a week leaving the institutional “church” and somehow managed to mobilize millions to come back and start attending a local gathering… so what? Would that somehow solve the issues that our world is contending with? Would that make people better at living out the ethos of being Christ-followers? What about the billions of others who didn’t respond to the “back to church” trend?
  • Is our mission to “repair” the Church so that people are attracted to our institutions, or is it to become the Church by following Jesus into the world and engaging people right where they are? I’m reminded that, though Jesus did visit the synagogues (local churches) and read from the scrolls of Isaiah and the prophets, His greatest work in the hearts and lives of people was done at the Wedding in Cana; by the Pool of Bethesda; at Jacob’s Well with a broken, destitute woman; on the opposite side of a hostile crowd calling for the head of a woman who’d been caught in the “very act of adultery” (while the man somehow mysteriously went awol). I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the point.
  • Instead of focusing our attention on trying to get people back to church, should we be mobilizing the Church forward to engage the world? If so, how do we get the Church to move forward into mission? Is reaching the non-Christian really a function of getting people to switch their religious affiliations or is it calling all people, Christians included, to encounter the risen Christ and follow Him?

Your orientation to the future and to these questions will largely determine how you engage culture and community. As you process through these questions you’d do well to remember that they are not meant to be divisive but are meant to form the framework for healthy conversations that answer the question: What’s the starting point for a conversation about God in today’s world? With that in mind here are a few parting thoughts:

Would we be more effective in our mission if we viewed the local church as a staging area for a cosmic battle in which Christ-followers are the foot soldiers that heaven is marshaling against the enemy of our souls? You see, every army that strategizes and prepares for battle, must have a camp or staging area from which to wage its war, but we’d also do well to remember that no army has ever won a war cowering in camp! Even when Israel cowered in their tents in rabid fear of Goliath, it took the exploits of a brave, ruddy faced, young lad to go into battle against him, remembering that his and Israel’s deliverance lay in the hand of God and not in his own. He was privileged to merely be an instrument of battle.

Had David not been present when Goliath issued his laconic challenge to God’s (Israel’s) army, Israel’s story may have been told differently. By the same token, the establishing of the local church is not the end of the Great Commission, it is merely the beginning. It is simply the staging area from which we wage the war in which we are embroiled against spiritual forces which seek to block the good news of the Gospel message from reaching the hearts and ears of those who are seeking truth. Remember that the crepuscular effects of Satan’s strategies are designed to keep us busy about the “local church” (doing good stuff) and less engaged with fulfilling our mandate of making the world more human again (doing our mission).

Finally, guaranteed safety cannot be a prerequisite for participation in this battle. As Christ-followers we’ve been called to “die daily.” Whatever this looks like from where you sit, it still comes with the ineffable parentheses that makes it abundantly clear that your life is not your own. When you don’t own something, you have no absolute claim in determining its direction, use, or purpose. That, is truly one of the great benefits in being a “friend” of Jesus’. Now it’s your turn!


Joe said...

Profound and convicting!! Thanks, Joseph!

Joseph said...

Thanks Joe, welcome to the conversation!

Daniel said...

I'll join the conversation!
Perhaps "we" don't have to mobilize anyone. If Christ is building His church and His sheep hear His voice, maybe we'd be better off following instead of leading?

Joseph said...

Daniel, welcome to the conversation! If your contention were remotely true, then it would make nonsense of Jesus' call to His disciples (which is still the call today) to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men.

The goal is and always was to follow Christ and let His light shine through us so that men are drawn to Him through us! It's easy to shroud this in an ambiguous spirituality so that it doesn't cost your flesh anything.

Last I checked, the same God who gave us a spirit also gave us a mind which He calls us to renew daily so that we can prove His good, perfect, and acceptable will. to lead others effectively requires a brokeness and humility which costs a significant price.

It might appear right to some when you say we'd be better of to "Hear His voice" and be "following instead of leading?" but this completely shirks the responsibility He has honored us with, as, the call to hear his voice is also so that we can lead others. I believe Paul made bold to say "follow me as I follow Christ." To have people following you, you must be leading!

Daniel said...

Is it possible that His sheep are hearing His voice and following Him out of the institution and being mobilized by Him?

Joseph said...

Daniel, I'm sure it's possible that "His sheep are hearing His voice and following Him out of the institution." Where God is concerned anything is possible, but thankfully since I'm not God, I don't make the rules or get to decide or adjudicate such matters.

That being said, I'd rather live by facts rather than speculation though, so here's what I do know: "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts." Christ's Church is His "Body" and as such we don't function unilaterally to fulfill the "Great Commission." I certainly understand that we each have a role to play, and just like the fingers have unique responsibilities that cannot be carried out by the nose, so do we in Christ's Body have differing roles to make the Body work effeciently and effectively.

If, from where you sit, leaving the "institution" is indeed motivated by God calling us to be mobilized into the world, then that's obviously a good thing. If, on the other hand, leaving the "institution" is simply because we're trying to avoid being further "hurt" by church folk, or if we're pouting because things haven't worked out quite the way we expected, then we're acting like spoiled kids who really need to grow up.

I like the way Rick Warren puts it: "I often find that my attitude, like a diaper, requires changing or I stink up the place." So... what's your diaper like?! :)

Daniel said...

Thanks for the conversation Joseph!
Many blessings and much love,

Hope R. Clark said...

Love this. Just hearing you talk about it is like a shot of adrenaline in my arm!

I desperately concur... the "local church" should be a staging ground for mass expeditions of tangible help for those around them. Not a shelving ground for masses to sit and be spoon fed. When that change begins to happen, I believe people will come back to church.

P.S. Re:"...our mandate of making the world more human again." For those who may be just now tuning in and who may not have caught your posts from last year's event, could we get a refresher on what "being human" is all about?

Joseph said...

You too Daniel, you too!

Joseph said...

Hopeful, welcome back! It's been too long since I "read" your voice here. I'm going to actually post a blog on the notion of making the world more human again, but in the meantime here's a little snippet that I'd posted on FB in response to someone's question about the same topic:

God made the world then He made man (human kind) to live in it. Neither heaven nor hell were ever made for mankind as a dwelling place, and the ultimate destination of redeemed humanity is the "New Earth."

God made man in His image and likeness while making him fully human, but sin robbed us of that. We were not made to be "little gods" nor were we made to be Angels. We were made to be human. There was never a plan for mankind to evolve from being human into being anything else. As a result a Savior/Redeemer was required in order for humanity to regain the image of God and consequently the complete image of humanity. The further we move away from God, the further we move away from His image and therefore from being fully human (according to His original creative purpose).

Jesus' death and resurrection was so that we could, through Him, become fully human again and not so that we could make it to heaven as if that were God's orginal intent. Heaven is a benefit of being redeemed and not the purpose for being redeemed.

Hope R. Clark said...

Thank you! :)