Thanks for checking back in this morning. This is a copy of a note posted on Facebook, which was the result of a long status update conversation a couple of weeks ago. Feel free to interact by commenting here or there.
Sorry for the nearly week long delay between parts 2 and 3, but
the last several days have been absolutely full, which has limited my
thinking/writing time to the minimum.
For those of you who followed along with the first two notes, thanks
for taking the time to do so. I'll once again encourage any of you to
jump in at any time with comments, questions, or anything you feel
would actually advance the conversation.
Preliminaries aside, let's get to reason number 3 that people avoid attending a church:
(3) Christ-followers seem to be isolated from the "real world" and a
bit out of touch with what an average, everyday person is experiencing
I think there are a couple of layers to this particular objection. The
first is what I would call a cultural barrier between Christ-followers
and those who don't. Often Christ-followers have looked at some of the
elements of the culture that surround us (particularly media) and have
seen a great deal that is offensive, degrading and reinforces some of
the worst elements human beings have to offer. In response, instead of
engaging with those cultural creators, we have chosen to retreat into a
Christian subculture which, in many respects, becomes a cleaner, more
tame version of the culture surrounding them.
This leads to a further disconnect and less engagement with culture,
which moves us away from meaningful conversation about the issues that
face people outside the church. In my opinion this tendency is deadly
to the mission of the church, which is to engage the world with the
message of the gospel, including discussions about the way the good
news about Jesus intersects with key cultural issues. I'll concede this
point willingly, and will spend the rest of the years God gives me in a
leadership role in the church trying to find ways of provoking the
church out of its cultural box.
My hope is that the church would take seriously its role as a creator
of culture, instead of simply reacting to the things we see in culture
around us. I think that could take the form of creating all kinds of
cultural goods (not limited to media, but I think that's a piece) that
would reflect engagement between the gospel and the world. I would love
to see Christ-following writers who wrestle with the questions and
doubts we all struggle with and do it with creativity and beauty. I
would love to hear music written and performed by Christians that does
more than offer some trite religious phrases and instead digs deeply
into the emotion of the human soul and experience.
This work would be tremendously rewarding. I like to think of these
notes as a step in that direction for me – an opportunity to engage
with what I hear outside the church and offer some thoughtful
reflections on the response of a Christ-follower to those concerns. I'm
not sure how creatively or well I'm capturing that, but I'll call them
halting steps in that direction.
The second layer that I see is more of a worldview, philosophical
barrier. Anyone who has chosen to follow Christ and taken that
commitment seriously has chosen to allow for the reality that there is
a world that is spiritual and that intersects with the world we see
every day in all kinds of different ways. Included in this commitment
to follow Jesus is the submission of our worldview to God's, and a
humility to accept certain things by faith.
This often does not play well in a culture that looks for reasoned
proof and looks to the individual to form his moral principles and live
from them. A person of faith may be willing to live with a certain
amount of tension between what he believes to be true and what he sees
happening in the world around him. In fact, it is that tension that
provides the opportunity for people of faith to work to change what
they see in the culture. It is that tension that could (and should)
drive Christ-followers to be fully engaged in the world that we believe
God has called us to affect.
But again, the temptation to disengage often gets the best of us. There
are times that Christians are guilty of looking at faith as simply a
way of escape, an opportunity to dream about the world to come without
putting in much thought or effort to the world that is. We must do a
better job of holding onto the tension of a life of faith that is
concerned with the spiritual world that we cannot deny but is equally
concerned with the struggles our neighbor faces today.
If anything, the gospel provides more than sufficient motivation for
those who take it seriously to throw themselves into the task of
working for God's concerns now. I see some very hopeful strides in
churches being made now that are, in part, a product of us doing a much
better job of listening to the real, practical needs of the world
around us and working to address them out of genuine concern for our
One of my favorite moments in the gospels is when Jesus is asked a
question by one of the religious leaders of his day: "Which is the
greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus' response is to take two
separate commandments and bring them together. "Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind," he
says and, "love your neighbor as yourself." Those two things cannot, in
the life of any serious Christ follower, be separated.
If we are to retain what makes us people of faith, we must cultivate an
ongoing connection with God – a spiritual perspective that gives us
life, hope and love. But we should also cultivate such a connection
with our neighbor that we express love for him as much as we love
ourselves. In that tension is the real work of faith. We point to the
reality of a world beyond our own, and we work with all the strength
God gives us to change the one we live in now.
If the church took that seriously, I think it would change our
perspective a great deal, and would go a few steps in the direction of
repairing our reputation among those who look at us a bit skeptically.