Church Relevancy

•May 31, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Not only have I gone to church my entire life, my entire education was spent in religious schools. Every aspect of my childhood and early adulthood was affected in one way or another by my church. I never knew or hung out with anybody who was not a Christian. In reality, it’s kind of impressive the structure my denomination has established so as to provide a mostly normal upbringing. I say mostly normal because it is clear that my growing up is exponentially different than any person’s I know that is not a Seventh-day Adventist. However, I am very content with my young life. It wove spirituality with every other aspect of my life, it established habits that, though they really were just habits for several years, kept me preserved, sort of, until I was ready to analyze and test my own reasons for being a Christian.

So when I consider the number ten reason for young adults leaving the church, I have to think of what kind of religion people are growing up in. This is a difficult task, to be sure. For me, my church did a pretty good job, I think, of keeping things relevant. There are two reasons for this: first, my youth groups were always quite small, and second, my church never asked me to take what it said at face value.

The smallness of my youth group is a double-edged sword.* It is clear to me that many churches struggle because they have a very small, not-diverse group of people that are being raised in the faith. When there are almost no kids growing up in the church, the relevancy question soon becomes a there’s-nothing-there-for-me problem. It was easy to be bored because there are so few people to connect to. I remember visiting relatives that went to even smaller churches than mine and being in a Sabbath School class with one other kid and an adult that tried his or her darnedest to keep us engaged. However, the small size of my youth group was also very beneficial. I knew my teachers, adults who were dedicating their Saturday mornings to guide us in spiritual ways. We had the option of really connecting and understanding each other. This is very different than youth groups in bigger mega-churches, really any church that has probably 30 or more kids in a youth group. Though I would envy these larger groups from time to time–they had full praise bands, dynamic speakers, and more people to interact with–but it can be so easy to get lost in those groups. As a teacher, I know how easy it can be to lose track of a kid from day to day or week to week. It’s hard in large room full of people to connect with people and know their needs.

So relevancy was built for me because groups were small and easy to talk to my teachers. And even after I started attending a boarding school for high school, I had the benefit of time and opportunity. If I didn’t talk to a teacher on the weekend, then I probably would later during the week because we all live on the same campus. It was also at this school that the second key to relevancy was developed. I attended Bible classes every year of my educational career, but in high school, I was told to not accept what I was told without studying it for myself. Honestly, they only kind of meant it. They still drilled us on Daniel and Revelation prophecy, and we took copious notes various doctrines. But the idea was still there. “Don’t take our word for it.” “Your parents’ religion isn’t your religion.” This in itself didn’t ensure my continued interest in religion, of course, but it impresses me still that they would introduce the concept that their theology was only good if you honestly studied it yourself. This became a challenge to see if what I believed is really what my family believed and what my church believed. As it turns out, we’re not 100% the same, and that’s not only ok, it beautiful.

How a church stays relevant after adulthood may be the trickier part of the equation. As it has been pointed out, people leave churches in droves after high school and after college. But I don’t know if that’s a relevancy issue. It may be something else, and I’m sure I’ll address that in a later post.

* A double-edged sword really is no big deal unless you are holding the wrong end (credit to Nathaniel Salzman from some Twitter post a long time ago).

Why Leave the Church?

•May 20, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I stumbled upon this blog this morning, and it’s got me thinking. I’m not going to do a full response right now, but will return to it several times over the next several days. 

I’ve listened to the concern of many a pastor about people leaving the church once they hit adulthood, and I’ve thought many times about why this happens. This piece does appear to be dead on in many cases, however, I can’t see myself in all of his arguments. I don’t think this is because I’m 30 years old and have always gone to church (making me a minority for sure). Some of the differences are because I’m from a small town and a small church. Some of the differences are because I went to a Christian boarding high school and college. Of course, some of those same differences are the reasons that I know many of my peers left the church a long time ago.

I won’t give a set timeline for my responses (since this is my first post in 5 months), but I want to explore these reasons for leaving the church, how they relate to me and the people I know, and of course, why I haven’t left.

Mere Christianity: Part 2

•December 31, 2012 • 1 Comment

In Lewis’ second chapter, I am reminded of what I miss while working with large groups of people every day at work: people forget to consider the counterargument. In a room of 30 students, each feels like he or she has a perfect argument because they never stop to consider somebody else’s opinion. Lewis dedicates the whole chapter to what people have said in response to his ideas. Aside from a great rhetorical device, his arguments themselves are marvelous.

What stands out to me the most from this chapter is Lewis’ comparison between morality and mathematics. They both must be taught, but they both exist regardless of their being taught. Again, Lewis has not brought God into the conversation at all yet, he is still working on establishing the grounds of his argument by convincing us that there is an inherent morality that people feel even if they don’t always follow it.

The other brilliant point that Lewis poses is that our moral choices are not set in stone, they  are flexible and we follow different rules at different times. I can’t begin to express how great this is for people to understand. Every impulse we feel can’t be put into a category of good or bad, but they often depend on the circumstances. I know that gets into the realm of conditional morality and ethics, but it supports the third chapter of Ecclesiastes very well. For everything there is a season. This calls on us to do a balancing act that, at times, is desperately difficult, but also allows for the kind of decent behavior that Lewis claims we all feel a pull toward.

I can’t smack down everybody that thinks and believes differently than I do because, to do so, it would put my own decent behavior and morality at risk. Beyond that, if I agree with Lewis that morality and math must both be taught, then I can’t expect everybody to act the way I want them to all the time–they may not have been taught. They may be like the city of Nineveh, not knowing from right and wrong, in which case, tolerance, patience, and grace are essential.

Mere Christianity: Part 1

•December 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I like C.S. Lewis. I think his work is brilliant both within and without the Christian context. His work with Narnia is amazing, not for the stories themselves, but the great way he ties in so many great ideas, theories, and philosophies about life and interpersonal interaction, and the mysterious nature of God. The Screwtape Letters blew my mind, not just because it helped expose some of the subtleties that distract and detract from fully living, but because of the whole concept of using the demonic characters to show the power of the Almighty.

Now I’m rereading Mere Christianity. I interacted with this text before and was thrilled with the clarity Lewis provides when discussing the very nature of religion. I return to it now though for another reason. I recall a college professor talking about losing faith after analyzing Scriptures with an extremely intellectual and open mind, and he said that it was the work of Lewis that restored his faith in God. This is what I seek now. I need a revitalization in my religious life. I have spent a long time focusing on the intellectualism of Christianity and I’ve kept a mind more open than many. However, I have been struggling, not with the belief of God, but with my interactions with Him. I am hoping that Lewis will help me find something that I have missed that will recharge my spiritual batteries.

Lewis’ first chapter is a great little argument that is so simple that it catches me off guard. Essentially, we all know what it feels like to be cheated and we can all see some things that are wrong. We may not all agree on what these things are when it gets down to the particulars, but we have a sense of what right and wrong are.* Lewis never attributes this feeling to the presence of God as I would expect a Christian writer to do. And by the end of the second chapter, Lewis has refrained from insisting that this inherent moral compass is proof of God.

Secondly, Lewis emphasizes that even though we sense a morality of some kind, we don’t stick to it. Instead, we often bring it up only when we feel we are being wrong. We appeal to a sense of fairness and a standard that is never explicitly stated, but always assumed in human interactions.

For me, Lewis’ point about not keeping with the Law of Human Nature is where I feel this journey taking off. The concept of not keeping with the a moral law is nothing new to theological thought. My hope: that reading the work of a man who has thoroughly explored the theological landscape and has found a very logical and practical way of living leads me to find a more balanced way of living for myself.

 

*I’m not going to spend the time explaining everything that Lewis has already written, so if things seem like they need further explanation, please read the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Facebook vs Reality: The Like Button

•October 13, 2012 • 3 Comments

Like a lot of people, I get pretty snooty when it comes to online social interactions. I like actually talking with people, I like being able to use nuance and inflection to make the best of a social exchange. So for years I refused to press that silly little thumbs up. It was cheap and too many people abuse it without thinking.

Then I actually did like something. I don’t recall the first time it happened, but I read a status update from a friend, and I actually enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I had nothing to say in response. But could I just let it sit there all by itself to be lost among the thousands of updates that nobody pays attention to ever? It didn’t seem right. So as if I was supporting some local business I slowly, apprehensively clicked that tiny little thumbs up and showed my appreciation.

Even more recently, I discovered how this little social interaction, cheap and lame as it may be, might be preferable to actual human interaction. A friend of mine from out of state posted something that demanded my making fun of him. He responded back and I responded again. Before I knew it, we had a great little back and forth that was being updated every 30 seconds or so. But this is where Facebook, or any other online interaction for that matter, gets awkward. What happens when I stop responding?

Like texting, people start feeling like it one’s obligation to always answer a message immediately. But now that my friend and I did a nice little back and forth, I was done. In a real, face-to-face situation, this would likely result in a change of topic or some kind of uncomfortable silence. I didn’t feel like I could walk away from the conversation entirely–It was my turn to say something and everything. That’s when I noticed it.

It was perfect. A response that wasn’t actually a response. A gesture that in a real conversation would never work and would probably seem rude. But now? It was the greatest thing ever. I clicked it and walked away…or tabbed away…whatever.

Life is loaded with weird conversational moments in which we flail and struggle to know the best way to not look rude or stupid. The like button, for all of its non-committal annoyance, might just be the perfect break from an otherwise social-rule bound society.

The Most Excellent Way

•October 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Everybody has a place in a body of believers and within a society. Everything that people can bring into their community is a gift. But even if you can’t recognize the gifts that people have, Paul suggests a more excellent way. In 1st Corinthians 13, Paul outlines, in what is probably in the top 5 most popular and well known chapters in scripture, the model perspective for all people.

Paul begins the chapter but referring back to some of the gifts he had outlined in chapter 12. He claims that you can have the greatest gifts available to you, but they don’t help anybody. You make noise, you lose your value, and you gain nothing unless you have love at the heart of it. Even if the chapter went no further, this would be a world altering idea if people lived it out. What if the world was just as divided as it already is, if inequalities still damaged everything for millions of people, but people would actually love one another?

We can’t know the full extent of this kind of power. We can’t fathom it. For now, we only know in part, with the greater realizations still to come. This is probably why the whole idea sounds a bit too hippie-esque. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Because even if love is ranked number one in the top three, faith and hope are still to play a major part. Love is a risk it all plan, something we can do without knowing how things will turn out. It’s a strategy to change yourself and change the world, but there are only so many known factors. But to move forward in faith and hope with love as a primary focus and goal, we will, eventually, know fully even as we are fully known.

The Value of Spiritual Gifts

•October 8, 2012 • 1 Comment

As I’ve been working through 1st Corinthians, I’ve been more keenly aware of the context of Paul’s writing. Some of the most famous lines in this book are often taken out of context. For instance, in chapter 11, Paul talks about the Lord’s Supper–a passage I hear read at almost every communion–but, Paul seems to be in the middle of rebuking the Corinthian church when he brings that up. It’s odd, I guess, that even the description of such a beautiful event as the Lord’s Supper could be read as a rebuke about how the Corinthian church was way out of alignment.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

So much of 1st Corinthians is a response to something that the Corinthians sent Paul. I really wish we had that document. I wish would could see the whole conversation and not just Paul’s side. However, in chapter 12, Paul starts constructing some of the greatest images and ideas so far in this writing that, regardless of the original questions the Corinthians asked, transcend Paul’s original intent.

Paul’s analogy for spiritual gifts is fantastic and ludicrous at the same time. By comparing the many jobs, acts, gifts, and abilities available within a church to various parts of the body, we can see not only a model for efficient church interactions, but excellent interpersonal relationships on any level. The underlying principle: we are all have something valuable to offer, so appreciate what you have and what others have because our system will fall apart if all these pieces aren’t in place. In a church, this means that you have preachers, teachers, greeters, prayers, scholars, and so on, and they are all essential for a church to fully function. This same idea, though, is what keeps society running. We need doctors, lawyers, mechanics, farmers, designers, publishers, sales reps, plumbers, garbage collectors, accountants, and politicians. Paul highlights the idea that what seems to be a more lowly position is likely the most essential and what seems to be the more praiseworthy position is likely the part that we don’t need so much.

What change we would see if we lived these ideas out. If we stopped glorifying the ones with fancy job titles and took more time to appreciate the jobs that actually make our lives move. This is some of the best of Paul’s writing and some of his best philosophy. From chapter 12 on, Paul hits a stride that adresses so many key elements that not only set up valuable and necessary aspects of a Christian life, but elements that are at the heart of a thriving community.

 
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