Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him ’til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains
Yes he still remains

-Simon and Garfunkel, the Boxer

Many times over the years I have walked into a church building and felt uncomfortable. There was no single source that I could point at for what I was feeling, just that feeling of discomfort and the overwhelming desire to be out of there as soon as I could.

I had a tough time putting my finger on the problem- everything seemed to be normal. The people were nice enough; there were no obvious signs of something being amiss that I could see right away; only the discomfort and the acknowledgment that for some reason, I just didn’t quite belong.

I have had this feeling in other places as well, sometimes in a home where the income level or manner of the persons living there is way beyond what I am used to. Or, maybe it was in a store or restaurant with successful businessmen in suits sitting just across the way from me in my steel-toed boots. Anyway that you look at it, it boils down to the fact that I was different somehow than my surroundings and had become painfully aware of that fact.

There must be a class somewhere that I missed. I remember missing a day in school and looking at the assignments that were handed out upon my return and thinking to myself, “I get this that was taught the day before yesterday and I understand that assignment from today. The middle one, I have no clue what that is about.” Like being the one “who should have been there” when you hear an inside joke, I have always felt a little uncomfortable around those people who made the class that I obviously missed.

I imagine that somewhere in the discipleship process, there was a workshop given detailing how to act in church. The teacher (who happens to look an awful lot like Martha Stewart) would stand very erect in front of the class, her posture speaking in great volume, teaching in proper English how to dress, how to smile just right so that you give no clue to those around you as to your real thoughts or intentions, how to emote all of the right things to all of the right people. Perhaps included in that workshop is a lecture on the art of small talk as well; I also seemed to have missed that one.

More than the way the people around me are acting though, it is the feeling of being somehow different that gets me every time. Like when I first entered ministry, I actually tried to dress up when I preached. I saved all of my money so I could buy a few cheap suits at JC Penney’s. I had a black one and a blue one. I also bought a shiny pair of shoes because all the other preachers that I saw wore shiny shoes. And I felt transformed. I had been a Skinhead, a punk rocker, and an all-around screw-up. My hairstyles ranged from the bald uniform cut of a skin to the 9-inch purple Mohawk. And now, here I was, a citizen. I wore the same clothes that they all did; I was obviously the same, right?

I couldn’t have been more wrong and I should have known that better than anyone.

You see, when I was in the world, we had a term we used quite frequently to describe someone who dressed the part but was something different than the façade they were displaying; a poser.

There were very few things worse than being named poser, honestly. Anyone who was seen to be a poser knew then that everything they were projecting about themselves was a lie. You were acting or dressing differently than the person that you really were. It was the lowest of the low. Back then who you really were inside was more important than what you appeared to be to others. Anyone could cut their hair funny or shave it off. Anyone could don the apparel and act out a role. To the real skins, punks and Goths, the outside display was just a manifestation of an inner working. And if you didn’t feel what you were doing then you just needed to go away.

So there I was with my black suit and blue suit (and shiny shoes) and I tried to do street ministry with all the “street cred” that my apparel afforded me. And I found that the ones that I identified with the most – identified with me the least. Without meaning to, I was preaching a message before saying a single word. And that message was “all that I was before I became a Christian was an act- I was just a tourist”. Needless to say, not many listened to what I had to say.

I went home dejected utterly. God finally illuminated something to my spirit that I will never forget- He did not call me out of everything that he did just so that I could be like every other Christian. I got rid of all of those things that were not really me almost immediately. I made a call that has influenced everything in my life ever since- I will be myself, be that good or bad, ugly or beautiful, right or wrong. I will never pretend to be something that I am really not in order to please you or to be seen as “safe” by the Churchian community.

So I have become an iconoclast of sorts. I am not safe to bring in to preach because I will do what God tells me regardless of how people feel about it or if I will get invited back or not. I am not safe to be friends with because I will put God first before you. I am not safe to have in your clique because I will not adhere to your rules just because everyone else does. I will reveal things about myself that are not acceptable if I feel that God wants me to because I value his approval way more than yours.

And so on and so on. But thanks be to God, I may be ugly but at least I am real.

I believe that this rampant posing has impacted the church in one area more than any other- with our men. The Word tells us that we must have our hearts circumcised and I could not agree more. That must not have been enough for the church though because we seem to have skipped right past circumcision of the heart and went right for a total neutering. The churches read books like “Wild at Heart” and then they say to themselves, “I AM wild at heart, by George! I want adventure and to be dangerous again- maybe we should make a focus group and share how we all feel inside about it.” And so the neutering is revealed even as the heart shows the slightest stirring of recapturing what was lost.

My friend once had a cat that was a real tomcat all the way. He did what he wanted, prowled the neighborhood, and picked some fights with other cats (and occasional dogs as well). He was so ornery that we had to contain him under a laundry basket sometimes because he would attack anything that came in reach. The vet told my friend that the cat needed to be neutered in order to settle him down a bit. So he took him up and got the job done on him. From that moment on, he was a different cat. All he did was sit on the windowsill and look out the window at a world that he no longer saw the adventure in.

So it is with our men in the church. Somehow after a very short time of being saved, we no longer have any fight left in us. We become little hippy Gandhi Christians, de-neutered, de-clawed, de-odored and disinfected, safe for inclusion in the white suburban neighborhood church of our choice. Like the lion at the zoo who yawns instead of roars, we have become sad shells of what God intended us to be. And this is applauded by the church, even considered to be virtuous- especially for preachers.

No wonder our young people are not lining up to take on the challenges of ministry any more. They all want to be rock stars, leading praise and worship when they start out but graduating to real Christian rock stars later on. Forget laying your future at the foot of the cross and heading out to a foreign mission field, that is not really needed anymore. Why suffer to spread the Gospel or lay your life on the line for the cause of Christ when you can be idolized by adoring fans who will listen intently as you talk about God for two minutes at the end of your hour long set?

We want to be cool, not Christ-like and it is showing in our utter failure to reach the current generation.

It is not really their fault though if we are to be honest. They are this way because when we look around for heroes of the faith we can find none among our contemporaries. When I want to get edified myself I have to find sermons preached 30 years ago from men who are dead because there are very few that I would listen to today. The mold for today’s minister is safe, funny, inoffensive and relevant to a hip 30-something society.

But that kind of man does not speak to the heart of who I am. I have a roar in me; a roar that I know is meant for the hoards of Churchians who have my savior as a hobby in their life. It is a roar that is meant for a world that mocks God and rushes headlong into an eternal hell. A roar that is sent with all of the ferocity of someone that was left beaten, robbed and raped on the side of the road of life all of those years ago, and is aimed directly at an enemy that figured that no one would take the time to rebuild what was so obviously ruined.

And though I have oftentimes tried to bury it in the past, that roar always rises to the surface because it is not my roar alone but it is the raw sound of the frustrated heart of an entire generation.

We must be ourselves, no matter what it looks like. We must learn to hate the Churchian mask with every fiber of our being. We must discover the fighter that the enemy has tried to emasculate before it is too late and the battle that we were meant for is over and the looting begins.

Find your war cry, church. Then scream it with all of your heart no matter who approves or disapproves. Cast off Saul’s armor and find your stones and run to the battle. Who cares what everyone else is doing or what is considered appropriate Christian behavior at the moment? That is nothing but a spiritual flavor of the month club and is utterly useless in real application.

We are a generation that could not see who we really were in any of the Christians that were around us and so we figured that it was us who were wrong. So we bought the clothes, the bumper stickers, donned the hairdo that we saw everyone else wear and became Christian posers. When that failed to satisfy or when the utter hypocrisy ate at us too much, we just quit.

But who you are inside is tailor made for the hell you live in today. You are God’s answer for the enemy’s advances. But the fake can never make the cut. Only the genuine heart roar has a place on the battlefield of today.

So get saved, get real or get out.

Advertisements

I do not believe that anyone who reads this blog would be the sort to say that there is not something rotten in Denmark. So what we are doing is looking for some active solutions, those inspirations from God that reveal His answers to the quandaries that currently beset us on all sides.

Most of us are quite aware that many of the mainline churches are in imminent danger of closing within a 15-20 year period. As the current membership gets older, there are not many young people coming in to carry the torch. I truly pray that in response to this problem, the fallen heads at the top of the ivory towers don’t repeat their mistakes of the past by simply attempting to compromise more with a world system that is inherently Anti-Christ. We saw this flawed reasoning in action in response to Modernism here in North America. Many of the churches felt that their only chance for survival was an all-out surrender to the Modernist mindset. Of course, this has had interesting consequences beyond the immediate fallout of their compromise. Today, in a Postmodern, or Post-postmodern age, Modernism is considered to be the enemy in every way possible, hence the gulf between attendees and non-attendees in those churches. In other words, these churches compromised with a worldview that seemed to be gaining steam at the time in order to save their own tukhus’ and ended up completely alienating a future generation by it. And what appears to be their solution? Get more postmodern!

Compromise with the Zeitgeist will never be the answer of God, ever. As Watchman Nee said; “This world is to us when we are alive, a journey, when we die, a tomb.” That is all that it is, a place that we pass through as strangers and foreigners. To compromise with the ideas of the world only ever landed Israel in trouble and at times, in bondage. It is no different for us today. The seeker-sensitive, positive self-image Gospel has landed us in a much more dire position than we were before it began.

Consider; we have never had bigger churches than we do today. And yet, 90% of the people who make decisions for Christ leave and never follow Him. On top of this, look at the moral condition of our nation at the moment. It seems to be teetering on the brink of anarchy at times and immorality and crime are ever increasing. How do you reconcile these things? We have plenty of bubble gum churches with atriums and amusement parks and yet we have made not a single dent on the moral condition of the world in which we are here to save? I could argue that getting the message out of the necessity of repentance and the mandatory nature of regeneration is the sole reason for the existence of the church, not the tending of the 99 sheep. The church has become the land flowing with milk and money and we simply must just stop all of it immediately.

We have found some solutions that genuinely seem to work. For us, we have very few people over the age of 40 and so if there were ever a suitable mouse maze, this is it. The churches where I serve are primarily Gen-X/Y Churches. I see this as only increasing as we go along and that suits me just fine. So, what solutions has God led us to so far?

If we are to reach this world, let us first take advantage of the desire for anchoring among the current generation. As everything around them spins off into confusion and disorder, people are hungry for something solid and reliable. There has possibly never been a time in the church when people were more desperate for the old paths than today.We have implemented several things here that serve this end.

First, we distribute index cards at the start of service when people are coming in. They are encouraged to write down any prayer requests that they may have on these. The very first thing that we do in the service is to pray for these problems so that people can focus on the message and have their needs taken before God. Now there are other branches of the local church who do this and the prayers are different from church to church, to be sure. The Baptists pray for the people to have the strength to endure their time of trial and the Pentecostals try to lay hands on them directly. Sorry, just a joke, couldn’t help it. At any rate, the needs of the people are taken before God first.

At the Churches where I serve, we have temporarily taken out all worship songs from the service. I wrote about this elsewhere and so I won’t reiterate it here. Suffice it to say, if you can’t stop gossip, backbiting and not serving widows and orphans, God doesn’t want to hear you sing (Isa 29:13). We need to stop thinking that love is an emotional feeling that we extend towards one another, it isn’t. It is not hugs, smiles or picnics. Love is a verb, an action in laying down your life for others. So, until we start operating in true love, why sing? I know, real Gen-X there, right? Hence the exodus of the Boomers.

Boomers truly desire a meaningful worship service and no guilt trips. The same can’t be said of Gen-X, they want the hard stuff. During service, people are free to ask questions and we always close with question and answer so that no one goes away confused. The service is followed by Communion and a weekly Lovefeast.

Also, anyone who needs some food is taken to our pantry and given food for their family, after every service (and during the week if need be). We have also started a weekly soup kitchen on Mondays where we feed those from the surrounding area who just need a bit of a helping hand through the week. This is one of the most satisfying new things that we do.

The latest addition has been Wesleyan Classes, Bands and Select Societies. I will write more on this a bit later but it is easily the single greatest area of fruit that we have, so much so that people would much rather just do Class meetings than Church meetings, go figure.

We have decided that radical changes must take place if we are to reach this generation of souls on the earth. To this end, we have begun to change our thinking in many, many ways as God has led us deeper down this rabbit hole.

I truly believe that we are in desperate need of the passionate communication of doctrine in these churches. The true and fiery preaching of the fundamentals needs to be restored to the pulpits once again in our mainline churches. Nothing else will do except a genuine revolution among the pastoral corps here because for far too long these pulpits have sat as bleak reminders of the better days of years gone by. They simply must remember what it was that stirred the people originally in their churches and do those things again.

Now, whether you are a bit to the left of the political spectrum, or a bit right, is not the issue. We can learn to operate together and build the Kingdom of God. The right side desperately needs to employ aspects of the Social Gospel in what they do and the left desperately needs to employ the Spiritual Gospel in what they do. We truly can learn from one another and allow our diversity to be our strength.

Here, in the town where we live, we are learning to come to terms with the idea of “Church by Locality”. That in essence, God only has one Church in our town. It is not the Baptist or Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic or United Church of Christ. It isn’t even the Spirit-Filled Churches (curiouser and curiouser). Instead, it is all of us together and each of us is only a branch of that greater system of things in which God is moving. This is a revolutionary idea and in chasing hard after it, I see not just the only solution to the problems currently plaguing the mainline churches but also the only solution to the increasing problem of the marginalized 18-35 demographic.

For us, this is still in its infancy to be sure. We pastors have been meeting together to pray for revival once a week now for the last seven months or so. And though it started off quite awkward at times, it has gelled into a unity among us that I did not know was even possible in 21st century America. We are all very different (major understatement here) and have very different views of ministry, church and God. But we are all passionate about Him and His Kingdom and that has seemed to trump all reservations. Currently, we are starting to take some baby steps towards a more visible “Church at Darlington”. We want the congregations to experience the same unity that we have and for them to become involved in the growth of the Church and serving the Community at large with us.

What are the next steps for us here?

1. I think that ideally we would begin to pray for revival together on a regular basis as a single church.

2. To be able to recognize strengths in each branch of the Church at Darlington and use them towards common goals.

3. To willingly sacrifice members, talents, resources and time from our stronger areas to make up for weaker areas in the other churches.

4. To begin to operate more like a single church with many branches rather than a collection of individuals who are either building our own Kingdoms or extending the reach of our sectarian denominations.

If any of you readers want further information on any of those things or would just like to talk with Nate or myself, please drop an email to us or comment on here. We would love to serve you in any way we can.

J.