Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

Strike 1

March 24, 2020

Although I’m not overly happy with the technical qualities of the first sermon I posted to the Internet, given the last minute rush to figure it out at all I don’t consider it a strike.  But I was very disappointed today.

I’m a Windows user, as far as computers go.  Though I dabble in Apple products (such as their early generation computers were the norm in high school and college labs, and I use an older model iPhone) my daily work for decades has been done on Windows-based PCs.  Although I enjoyed brief experiences with UNIX and Linux, I never considered them reasonable replacements for Windows.  And more and  move I’ve migrated from proprietary software options (such as Microsoft Office) to freeware solutions (such as OpenOffice).  That is also the case for the software I’ve used to generate audio files over the years – Audacity.

So I hooked up the mixing board and mics to a new computer I had installed Audacity on and put together my first Internet-destined audio file.  The only problem is that when I went to upload it to YouTube, it was rejected because it’s an audio file rather than a video file.  Now I have to figure out if there’s a way to fold the MP3 data into a video file that YouTube will recognize and accept.

Some might ask why I don’t just film me doing the Bible study and post said video.  It would be much simpler, ’tis true.  But I’m a rather cantankerous person at times.  I naturally resist the cultural obsession with visualization and our predilection to juding everything by looks rather than content.  As such, I take opportunities to kick against these goads , resulting in the predicted discomfort (such as losing a District election several years ago by one vote, in no small part because I refused to provide a photo to be used with my bio).

The current example is not wanting to film myself.  Go online and you’ll find scads of preacher videos.  What’s the first thing you notice before you hear a word out of their mouths?  What they look like.  Old or young?  Hip or outdated?  Liturgically vested or skinny jeans?  This is how we’re trained, but the Word of God encourages us to move past these surface level things to examine what’s underneath.  Oftentimes a nice exterior hides rottenness within.  Likewise, if we can ignore how someone looks, we might find they have something valuable to say.

My congregants already know what I look like (and I feel bad for them in that regard!), but those who don’t know me (and who aren’t compelled by a divine Call to listen to me on a regular basis!) should judge me not by what I look like or how I dress but rather by what I say and whether what I say is in line with what God says to us in his Word, the Bible.  If I’m going to reach a larger audience, I want to reach that audience not with me, but with Christ.  And while I’m sure there are plenty of preachers who can upload videos of themselves without a hint of pride, I’m not sure I’m as immune to the temptation to value what I’m doing  by the number of views or likes or whatever other means of cultural approbation we come up with.

So I kick, and it hurts.

I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out, but it’s a learning curve I’d much rather not have to be climbing at the moment!  I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, in Britain…

February 10, 2020

Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, has been banned from a speaking tour in Britain because all seven of the venues he was scheduled to speak at have cancelled.  Lawmakers there several years ago wanted to deny Graham a visa to enter the country.  At issue is the Biblical stance on gender and sexuality which Graham has the audacity to adhere to.

What’s really disturbing is not just how quickly society and culture have changed in the last century.  I mean, Billy Graham visited Britain many times between 1955 and 1989, where millions of people came out to listen to him.  Billy Graham met with Queen Elizabeth on several occasions over the course of his career, and was knighted in 2001.  One wonders if he would be as warmly welcomed today.  Based on his son’s treatment, I’d wager not.  The Queen’s silence on this current manifestation is telling.

But the more disturbing thing is that Christianity and the Bible are being redefined by a small but vocal group of Christians who wish to eradicate clear Biblical teaching on gender and sexuality.  Nearly 2000 years of nearly unanimous teaching and doctrine in this regard are being classified as hate speech because of a small group of Christians in the past few decades who have decided they are free to make such an assertion.

The Church should welcome LGBTQ people.  As the church should welcome adulterers, liars, thieves, murderers, and, well, everyone.  Sin is sin.  The problem is when a small group decides the Bible can be ignored regarding sin.  That we are free to declare sin as not-sin.   That current public opinion overrides the Word of God.

Sinners need to hear the Word of God, because only there will they find the cure for sin and the death it leads to.  That solution is not a demotion of sin to a lesser or non-existent issue, or to determine some sins are no longer sinful.  Jesus is clear this is not acceptable (Matthew 5:17-20).  So I would welcome all kinds of sinners to come and hear the Word of God.  All of that Word.  Because that Word has power, as I suspect those who rejected Graham understand.  Because that Word diagnoses us with a terrible and lethal condition to which there is only on cure.

The cure for sin and the death it leads to are in repentance and trust in the resurrected Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.  Simply declaring we are no longer in need of a cure, or that we can dictate the cure on our terms arbitrarily is ridiculous.  Only when the underlying assumption is that there is no such God and therefore no Word of God and no Savior can we possibly presume to override God’s Word.  The results of this are and will continue to be disastrous.

Telling people what they are doing is sinful is no more hateful than a doctor diagnosing a patient with cancer.  Certainly some Christians and congregations do this poorly.  But to pretend people aren’t dying from sin – whatever that sin might be – is as unloving as a doctor holding back the prognosis from someone with cancer so their feelings aren’t hurt.

Franklin Graham may not get to preach in Britain, but the Word of God continues to go out in myriad forms and through myriad channels.  And when all is said and done, that Word will be the only and final word that stands.  May the world continue to seek solace and peace there, now and eternally.

God Is Good

January 24, 2020

After writing about being tired of casting seed without seeing much growth behind me, God reminded me last night of his love and mercy and grace.  Reminded me that it is not for me to demand or predict the growth, but simply to rejoice when it appears, and for however long it lasts.  Trusting him in this as in all things.

Thursday evenings for the last year and a half have  consisted of a family outreach of ours.  I go to pick up three ladies from the local women’s residential addiction recovery program and bring them over for dinner at our house. No agendas.  No expectations.  I know they are often guests at one function or another where they represent the house and the program.  They’re on display, ambassadors to future and current donors and those who pray for them that the program is working and is worthy and worth supporting.  But that’s not what we want from them.  It’s just a chance to be in a home with a family.  Something some of them have never had, or haven’t had in a long, long time.

Last night we had three women who were relatively new in the program, but something clicked with them.  They talked.  And talked. And talked.  Honestly.  Candidly.  About themselves and how hard it is to step away from the crutches of a bottle or pills you’ve relied on all your life to cope  with things.  How hard it is to live in a house with 20 other women.  Not being negative, but just honest.  Sensing as we sat around the table laughing or  in the living room after that this was a safe place.  A place where they could be honest without being worried about it being used against them in an environment full of people – including themselves – with a lifetime of experience in manipulation.

It was amazing to listen to them, to watch our kids listening, affirming them, reassuring them, encouraging them.  Recovery is a long, hard road, and the odds are stacked against them.  I don’t know what will happen to these three women.  Will they survive the year in the program and graduate?  Will they leave or get kicked out before then?  I don’t know.  I don’t know whether the seed cast in classrooms or in our home will get choked with weeds or snatched by birds or bear a crop 30, 60, or 100-fold.

But for the span of a couple of hours, my family and I got to see God the Holy Spirit at work, and nothing can take that experience away from us or those ladies.  Tangible, audible hope.  A reminder that it’s worth casting the seed.  Worth flinging it far and wide rather than trying to aim it for the ideal demographic or market segment.  Worth being reckless with, because the seed will never run out and never lose the potency of the Word of God that it is.  There is always reason to hope, to look anxiously and expectantly for the growth.  And always reasons to give thanks in those rare moments when we see it.

 

Tired Arms?

January 23, 2020

My  arms felt tired this afternoon.  I sit in a room with 20+ guys ranging in age from their early 20’s to probably their 60’s.  Some of their faces young and fresh and some of them old and haggard.  All of them there trying to shed the demons of their addictions to drugs and alcohol.  All of them nominally acknowledging towards that end their own powerlessness to change their lives and their dependence on some power greater than themselves capable and willing to help them make the change if they will surrender their will to it.

I reach into the book and cast, flinging seed around the room.  The Word of God.  There’s all sorts of soil here.  Rocky.  Packed down.  Weed infested.  But also likely some good soil  as well.  Receptive.  Broken.  Ready.  Hopefully.  The Word goes out.  But I’m tired today.  Tired of the rolled eyes and the exaggerated yawns.  Tired of the side conversations that sometimes are whispered and sometimes not.  Tired of the sharp looks shot at those who do want to talk, interact, respond.

This is my job, to cast the seed, the Word.  But my arms get tired.  Who is listening?  Who hears?  Where does the seed sink down roots and begin to grow, transforming the soil below as shoots and leaves reach towards  the Son?

I think my arm is tired, but really it’s my eyes.  The desire to see that seed begin to sprout and grow someplace.  Anyplace.  The desire to not see weeds choking it out here and there where it once seemed so promising and vibrant.  I’m just the sower. The seed has all the power in it, all it needs to do what a seed is supposed to do.  But I move along, casting here and there,  coming back a week later to cast again.  Some weeks I see some of those seeds sprouting.  Other weeks it just looks like barren, baked stone and rock.

Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.

Zinzendorf’s words still haunt me.  I still strive to be faithful to them.  To simply keep casting the seed.  To trust that it will sprout and grow.  Maybe not while I’m watching.  But someday.  Down the road a ways.  Just keep casting, slinging, hurling – in whatever way I can.  Praying for the rains and the sun and the harvesters to do a different kind of work.  Perhaps a work just as difficult in some way I can’t imagine.  Just as vital.  And from my vantage point some days, a lot more enjoyable.

 

Jesus & Me – or Me & Jesus?

January 13, 2020

Here’s a short article referring to a new book by a French photographer chronicling unusual expressions of Christianity in America  (Be warned, if you scroll through the photos associated with this article #7 contains nudity).  The premise is these are all examples of niche-marketing the Christian faith to the increasing number of  self-described unaffiliated Christians – those without attachment to any particular Christian denomination, group or sect but who still describe themselves as Christian.

I’d argue that including the Ark Encounter seems misplaced here, but perhaps from someone outside of our culture the distinction is harder to recognize (or perhaps it’s a distinction less pronounced than I think it is or should be?).  The other examples seem to be another demonstration of personal lifestyle preferences driving theology, rather than the other way around.  Rather than being conformed to Christ, we are instead encouraged to conform to nobody other than ourselves, and Christ, we are assured, will be happy to conform to us.

Problematic, to say the least.  But hardly surprising.  Traditional denominations and Christian groups have fostered this for some time, emphasizing services or programs for various different population segments or demographics rather than teaching that we are all together the body of Christ and warning against narrow association with only people like yourself.  With attendance levels falling across the country (and world) and across the Christian spectrum, an aura of desperation begins to settle in some places.  Why not try clever advertising gimmicks?  After all, the important thing is people hear the Gospel, right?

Yes, as long as they’re hearing the Gospel in the proper context, which is first hearing the Law and receiving a proper assessment of their current condition.  If that condition is happy in their nudity or comfortable in their cars, there’s a distinct possibility they won’t hear the Gospel fully, or the Law at all.  If you aren’t willing to leave your car, chances are you probably aren’t really all that worried about the problem of sin and evil in your heart.

I’m all for taking the Gospel to people, but skeptical of these sorts of gimmicks that easily  confuse the Gospel with other things.

 

Audiophora

January 6, 2020

What sort of new challenges for the new year?  That’s the question I try to ask myself.  What can I contribute to my own growth as well as reaching others with the Gospel in some respect?  For a long time I’ve resisted the trend of jumping online in terms of uploading worship services or sermons to YouTube or other social media.  I’ve long maintained that for an Internet audience, content needs to be created specifically for such an audience.  What I preach on Sunday morning is to my congregation.  It won’t necessarily translate universally (nor should it, I argue).

But it’s also obvious that online resources are a logical thing to do.  What I lack is both technical assistance towards this end or partners in any other sense of the word.  I’d like to do something with people, but that’s not necessarily something I can dictate.

So I’m putting together a light-weight recording studio upstairs at church, and will begin doing short audio recordings suitable for an online audience.  As I’ve considered this, I’ve come up with an idea to go along with it – audiophora.org.  I’ve registered the domain name but haven’t started setting up the site yet, so don’t bother trying to find it  :-)

The idea is that it would be an indexed collection of short (3-minutes or less is what I have in mind) audio files.  Some of it would be definitional in nature  – theological terms and concepts with concise definitions.  Each entry would in turn be cross-indexed with other terms, verses, etc. that come up as part of that definition.  So if I do an entry on salvation, say, then it would be cross referenced to other concepts brought up in the definition of salvation but not themselves defined there (like savior, sin, etc.).

All of this should be searchable as well as hyperlinked, so people can either find something precise or follow the rabbit-hole of hyperlinks as long as their heart desires.

Perhaps there will be full-scale studies here as well, but also broken down into bite size pieces.  Maybe one verse at a time, with a larger file entry for an entire chapter as well, or even an entire book.  I’m open to suggestions, and it would be fun to collaborate with other folks who would like to contribute, either in terms of words, concepts, etc. they would like defined, or who might even want to contribute their own audio  explanations of certain things.

Ah, but that name, tho – audiophora.com.

It’s a combination of audio and adiaphora.  Audio because, well, duh, they’re sound recordings.  Adiaphora is a philosophical and theological term which has come to mean something that isn’t either explictly commanded or forbidden.  So what color carpet should a church have?  That’s adiaphora – there’s wiggle room to make decisions.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t good things to consider, but it means the  answer isn’t a forgone conclusion via Scripture.

I’ll start setting things up in the next week or so and then do some trial recordings.  I’ll be eager for feedback and input if you’re so inclined.

Sin and Title

December 3, 2019

….But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.

So goes part of the corporate confession I’ve heard off and on either as parishioner or pastor for the entirety of my life, and that Christians have used prior to me.  It addresses one half of a complicated dual identity – that of being a poor, sinful being.  Not poor in the sense of material poverty, but rather poor in a sympathetic or empathetic way.  I am poor in that I am unable to fully change my sinful nature.  I am unable to fully refrain from sin perfectly in thought, word and deed.  I may put on a good show, but my thoughts and emotions betray me to God regardless of my self-control that might fool others.

I was talking with my parents this weekend and they were relating one pastor’s disagreement with this statement.  His argument is that we are no longer slaves to sin but rather we are free in Christ.  We live in the kingdom of grace rather under the tyranny of Satan.  This is who  we are, he  says.  And he’s half right.  Because the complicated, aforementioned dual-identity consists of this other reality.  Because of the sacrificial death of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus  the Christ, and because of the faith worked in me by God the Holy Spirit that this historic and objective reality is also subjectively true and real and efficacious for me, I am now washed in his blood and raised from death to  my sinful nature with him.  I am now, this moment, perfect and holy and righteous.  This is how God the Father sees me.  Or more accurately, God the Father sees me this way through the blood of Christ, so that his perfect sacrifice becomes part of my identity.

So we can emphasize one part or the other of this dual-identity.  And one day, this dual identity will no longer be.  The sinful part of me that I confess daily and weekly privately and in corporate worship will be gone, and all that will remain is the holy and perfect and righteous me.  I look forward to that day.  I try to emphasize that reality here and now to myself  and my parishioners.  But I also know the sneakiness of  sin, and some of the dangerous tactics of Satan.  He can’t change the sacrifice of the Son of God on my behalf.  He can’t take away the grace and forgiveness that are granted to me in faith through my baptism.

But he could convince me I don’t really need these things.  He could convince me to ignore and neglect these realities until they are no longer my subjective reality.  Until I’ve committed the unforgivable sin of declaring sin to be righteousness, rejecting the good forgiveness of God as something evil and intrusive.  And because I believe – based on Scripture – that these tactics are deadly real and effective, I will  insist  on continuing to address both aspects of my dual-identity.  Because Satan is always prowling about, internally and externally.  And he isn’t always blatant and obvious about it.

This morning I returned to the office from taking Holy Communion to Suzanne and her sister as I do nearly every Tuesday, augmented with another visit on Thursdays to share another Word from Scripture but without Communion.  Her pattern now  at this care facility is to be lifted into her wheelchair for 45 minutes or so of fresh air and a cigarette outside.  A small freedom she dearly enjoys.  So if I arrive and she’s not in her room, I know to search for her outside.

And outside I found her this morning, surrounded by several friends and co-residents at this care facility.  They gather for cigarettes and coffee, to laugh and shoot the breeze and catch up on the latest goings on.  They feed the pigeons as they smoke and chat.  A few weeks ago I invited one of the other residents to join us.  This morning, he was back along with another two women, at least one of whom was Christian.  It was a beautiful time of sharing God’s Word with an unexpected number of people, and then figuring out how to make the Eucharist available to them when I only expected to commune two.  God is good and things worked out.

Which is all secondary to the whole point of this post.

When I got back to the office there was a car parked in the parking lot that I didn’t recognize.  Sure enough, when I got out, so did the man in the car.  He was sharing flyers for an ecumenical conference in 2020.  I’m generally skeptical of these things but didn’t want to be rude.  I flipped through the brochures as he pointed out the keynote speakers.  I presume he assumed I would know who they are and be somewhat impressed.  He then went on to list off some of the other people who have presented at this conference over the years.  Again, a list of names he assumed I would know and be impressed by.  I didn’t know any of them.  Doesn’t mean they’re bad or not worth knowing, but it’s just not my thing to get into the whole name dropping stuff.  I’ve run into this recently with several different evangelical Christians in different contexts.  Oh, you know so-and-so don’t you?  They’re starting up a new church plant.  Oh, I used to study under so-and-so but now I’m over with so-and-so.  I’m not sure if it’s a Lutheran thing or my own weirdness, but I don’t know these people.  I don’t care, frankly.  If they’re serving God faithfully, thanks be to God!  I don’t need to know  their names.  I probably don’t need to read their books or attend their workshops either, which are oftentimes – in my limited experiences – just a chance for social or professional networking and more name-dropping.  When the conference ends I never hear or see these people again.

Apparently I’m not notable enough for follow-up contacts – unless it’s a mass e-mail advertising the next conference.

Which brings me back to confession.  You know, where we started a few hours  ago?

I thanked the man and made my way to my office, where I flipped through the brochure.  It actually looks halfway interesting.  Focused on youth ministry and reaching young people, the Holy Grail of church focus these days.  But it struck me odd that instead of talking about the purpose of the conference, he chose to emphasize the cool people leading it and previous cool people who had led it.

And a little green voice reared up inside my head wondering why I wasn’t speaking at such conferences and having people drop  my name.

There it is.  That subtle little nudge.  Nothing over-the-top or too noticeable.  Something designed to cruise in under the radar and lodge in the mind and slowly begin taking root.  Did God really say….?

It’s easy to say I’m not speaking at conferences because I have nothing to say and have done nothing notable.  And this is true.

But it’s also true that I just communed five people in a care facility in varying stages of waiting to die.  I brought them the Word of  God.  I brought them the body and blood of their Savior in with and under the bread and wine.  I managed to drop half a wafer and feed it to the pigeons.

And that is something.  It’s not about me, of course.  And so I pretend not to hear the one person complimenting me to one of the other people as I’m nearly out of earshot.  But the ear pricks.  The imagination flares.  Conceit and vanity are stoked.

It’s  not about me.  And that’s ultimately why I reject the popular Christian cult of name-dropping and professional networking.  Perhaps if we had more people focusing on bringing the Word of God to the least of these, the Church might be in a different situation in our culture.  Or perhaps it’s because that’s what the Church is doing that we’re in this situation of free-falling  membership levels.  It could work either direction, and I suspect Satan enough is experienced enough to tack into whatever breeze happens to be blowing.

Perhaps if more people focused on what’s important without thinking about themselves, like me, things would be better and the Church would be healthier.  And there’s the seed of sin and pride and vanity again.  It never stops.  Never goes away.  Not until I die in faith or my Savior returns.  And at that point, all those weed seeds will die off and I won’t have to worry about vanity and conceit or any other type of sin again.  I’ll be holy and perfect and righteous.  Just like I am right now.  Not because of me and my theories but because of the Son of God and his blood.  Because of the Holy Spirit pursuing me with faith that connects me to the grace and forgiveness of God.

But I still struggle with sin right now.  Sometimes I know it and see it.  Sometimes I don’t.  So I continue to confess.  Also imperfectly and incompletely, but as faithfully as possible.  To call  my sin out as sin rather than pretend it’s not.

….But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.

 

 

 

 

Missionary Thanksgiving

November 28, 2019

We hosted Thanksgiving dinner, as we have practically every year for the last 15 years, since we moved away from our home  state and our families to embark on the process of graduate work and ordination and life as a pastor and family.  And while we miss family this time of year, we also appreciate the opportunity we’ve been afforded to establish our own traditions, the foremost being opening our house to whomever wants to come by and join in.

This year we had two and a half Russians, two Swiss students, a Brazilian girl, a Belgian guy, a retired lawyer from the eastern United States, the spouse of one of the Russians, and a South African surfer/photographer/missionary.  There were at least two others who were slated to come but didn’t.  It was a big group, when you add these to our family of five and our two dogs!

We’d never met half of these people.  The other half have gradually become part of our extended family over the past months and years.  Most people think we’re crazy for doing this sort of thing, and there are moments throughout where we know we are.  But, it’s who we are.  If God the Holy Spirit grants gifts to his people, they aren’t all going to look and act the same.  And what is well out of one person’s comfort level may fit someone else just right.

And that’s what it comes down to.  As a family of mostly introverts, it isn’t that we open our house and our lives for comfort or because it’s our first inclination.  But we do it in hopes that somewhere along the line the Holy Spirit will prompt something that leads towards a Gospel conversation.  We love these people, friends old and new.  We love them here and now and as they are, but hoping and praying that we can love them as brothers and sisters in eternity as well as for Thanksgiving dinner.  It isn’t bait and switch, it isn’t I’ll-be-nice-to-you-now-so-I-can-ambush-you-with-Jesus, but rather a continuum.  I love you here and now ultimately because of Jesus and his love for you eternally.  I prayed before the meal, and not one of those generic sort of un-offensive things that doesn’t address anyone or anything, but a good Trinitarian prayer with Jesus and everything.  Not the Gospel, but a statement that we are Christians and perhaps that is why we do what we do.  And we pray now for opportunities to follow up, to continue discussion, to deepen relationships to the point where talking about Jesus isn’t weird.

It takes time, but the Gospel is being shared.  Repeated conversations with some of these people where we address larger cultural issues and have the opportunity to share what our faith and the Bible has to say about these things.  Finding places of overlap and commonality that can lead back to the God who created all things and our responsibility in messing them up and his faithfulness in insisting on restoring them.

That’s what matters most, is giving thanks to the God who does everything for us and despite us.  Not just once a year but every moment.

 

Leading and Serving

October 31, 2019

The last six months have been interesting for our Sunday evening open house.  Two of our core  members moved away last April to pursue further studies across country.  Another of our early regulars will be leaving at the end of the year.  We’ve wondered how these departures would impact who showed up.

We’ve noticed a marked uptick in attendance by friends of our children.  We now regularly have a teen-aged Russian guy coming by to game with our kids (and enjoy taunting us with his predilection for eating everything with ranch dressing).  Others have been coming as well, but he’s our regular.  And with him, on an increasingly regular basis, comes his mother, a recently naturalized Russian.  She has become closer friends with my wife over the last year or more.

Two weeks ago we got into a religious discussion.  We invited her to join a new Bible study I am leading at my congregation.  But with her busy schedule between work and school, she hasn’t had time.  But she’s clearly interested.  So we started talking about how to get the ‘big picture’ of Scripture.  Then she asked for help for a scholarship program in her graduate work.  We talked about the difference between how the world (and business schools) talk about leadership and how Jesus and the Bible talk about leadership.  We talked about the difficulty of maintaining humility in a world that essentially values pride as a necessary qualification for leadership.

I shared with her Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:42-45, and showed her how Jesus made this teaching tangible in John 13:1-17.   And I talked about God as the ultimate example of humility and servant leadership and commitment to others in John 3:16.  We talked about the challenges and limitations of applying these truths in a business setting as a CEO or CFO or COO.  There, service to other is defined in terms of shareholders and perhaps clients/customers.  Commitment and service to others is often seen as a means to another end, like profitability, or employee retention/attraction.  We talked about how hard it is as broken, sinful people, to stay focused on serving others when the point of an MBA program is essentially the promise of skills necessary to make one successful in business leadership, and many people desire those skills and positions not for serving others but for pride, greed, etc.

All of this discussion with someone who is not Christian, but recognizes a universal need to have  some greater, deeper calling outside of yourself.

Christians should have a lot to say on this topic of servanthood and leadership but we all too easily are like James and John, confusing the standards and benefits of the world for the standards of the kingdom of heaven.  We can shake our heads and laugh condescendingly in at these two chuckleheads in Mark 10, but we share their assumptions, even though we have Jesus’ teaching and example in hindsight where they didn’t!

We talk about servant leadership, but we really mean doing things the way we want, presuming others are best served with our ideas until we quit bothering to listen.  We talk about serving but we often times mean ruling, dictating, demanding, forcing if necessary.  In the interest of higher ideals, to be certain, but reliant very heavily on the tools of the worldly leadership trade.  Tools that authorities have always kept on hand to ensure things run the way they want them to.

We don’t talk about servant leadership the way Jesus demonstrated it.  We don’t mean leadership that washes filthy feet.  We don’t talk about leadership that allows itself to be maligned.  We don’t mean leadership that suffers being called a liar and a thief.  We don’t mean leadership that leads by patience, day in and day out, year after year.  We don’t mean leadership willing to die for others rather than seek personal  protection or glory.  We hold these things lightly.  We see them as signs of weakness.

Just like the Jews did.  Just like the Romans did as they mocked Jesus with a fake royal robe and crown before leading him away to die.  What leader would suffer such a fate?  Isn’t it the mark of a true leader to avoid such shame, such failure?.  A leader who does things these ways, the way the kingdom of heaven does them, is no leader in our world today.  We don’t trust it if we see it.  We don’t respect it if we encounter it.

Challenging realities to face for someone who aspires to leadership, whether in the corporate world on in the church, which all too often prefers to borrow corporate principles rather than stick to Biblical ones.  Because it isn’t easy.  It isn’t perfect.  None of us have the perfect wisdom and insight of Jesus, and so have to make do the best we can with what we have.

I look forward to future conversations, and marvel how God the Holy Spirit continues to foster these possibilities.

Religious Trends

October 28, 2019

Here’s another article about the ongoing trend of millenials  (those born between 1981 and 1996) away from religious life and particularly Christian religious life as defined by a corporate/communal worship service.  This isn’t anything new, but it does remind us that things are not changing, and are not going to change anytime soon.

The title of the essay is problematic, as there’s no exploration of why millenials are trending this way at all, other than a passing reference to being in the stage of life where family, finances, and career tend to overwhelm all other priorities.  But this is hardly anything new or unique to millenials.  Every generation has to balance and manage these demands during this time of life, and for far larger percentages of our population, this was done alongside (or perhaps more accurately enabled through) active, sustained, committed participation in a religious faith community.  Primarily Christian.  The Church.  This isn’t so much an issue with religion in general in America, but with Christianity.  According to this data, 70% of Americans consider themselves Christian (not including Mormons).  Non-religious make up almost 20%, which leaves only about 10% of the population that follows other religions.

So blaming the demands of work and finances and family doesn’t cut it as the reason millenials are no longer participating in churches as earlier generations did.  But the article does point out some of the ramifications of this change.

Yes, people are lonelier.  But let’s draw a few more tangible connections, please.  Loneliness is likely a high contributing factor to rising levels  of both depression and suicide.  More pertinent to this is the recognition that Christianity and the Bible offer something in very short supply these days – hope.  A reason to continue on in the face of periods of bleakness or sorrow.

The article also references lower levels of sexual activity among young people as another aspect of the pressures on millenials.  But what about some  deeper analysis, please?  Could reduced levels of sexual activity be linked to less attachment to Christian community and  a much decreased emphasis on the value and beauty of marriage?  Dating apps may be decreasing in popularity, but they are also being singled out as likely culprits for increasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases.  And of course if traditional Judeo-Christian teachings on sexuality are being increasingly ignored, then the overwhelming prevalence of pornographic access at the click of a button with virtually no safeguards or obstacles also is likely to play a big part in changing levels of sexual activity.

Of course the article doesn’t deal with the biggest issue of all – as rates and levels of regular worship continue to drop, there is a very real risk (likelihood?) of people abandoning not just worship but the faith.  Rather than temporal mental health or social health, Christianity posits that what we believe has eternal consequences.  That’s not something most articles like this want to deal with or know how to.  The reality is that increasingly these people may not simply be lost to the Church for the time being, but eternally.  That’s a huge deal.

Millenials  aren’t coming back to church.  How many of them were really there before?  How many of them were raised in worshiping families where weekly worship was a priority, no matter how hard the work week had been?  How many of them were isolated from actual worship in youth ministry bubbles where fun and games eclipsed actual engagement with the Bible and Christian teachings, and where discussion of how faith applies to life were limited to purity rings and other one-off experiences?

We can look at lots of factors contributing to why young people are less and less interested in church, even if they still consider themselves to be Christian in some less-easily defined way.  But I think we need to include the Church itself in those factors.  Somehow, the faith was not transmitted to millenials (and the generations following them, don’t doubt it) in a meaningful and applicable way.  If most  younger Christians are essentially moralistic therapeutic deists, the Church has to wonder if it contributed to this tragic mistake?  If church is about being nice, can’t people get that other places?  School programs, work programs, TED talks, any number of other options.  What makes church unique if not the very message and heart of the Bible and Jesus and faith?

No, the youth aren’t coming back.  Not for a long time.  How is the Church going to adapt to this and plan to deal with it?  Especially given the reality the article notes, that collection baskets have suddenly gotten lighter?  And how does the Church attract a younger demographic that is going to see – and not entirely incorrectly – that a sudden surge in interest in evangelism is driven perhaps less by actual love of neighbor and more as an effort to prop up and sustain a model of doing church that is less and less sustainable as membership levels continue to drop?

Again, it should be noted: these are large scale trends.  There are (thankfully!) always exceptions to the rules, both individual congregations and even larger communities where this is not the case.  But it does mean that sooner or later these larger trends will begin to affect these places that may not really notice the change right now.