June 23, 2011

The 100th! My Potential Big Idea

First let me say I am excited to have made it to 100 posts. I am grateful for everyone who has read even one word of this blog. I know I am still learning how to do this. I still am working on catching all my typos and grammatical errors. I am still figuring out backgrounds and fonts and all the other things that come with working on a blog. Generally speaking this has been a joy. I love your comments, and feedback. Please keep them coming.

But on to business.

I started this blog for a reason. I am trying to sort out an idea that I have. It may well be THE idea that I have. You know what I mean, that one or two really good ideas that person gets in their lifetime. I think I may have had mine. Right now I am trying to figure it all out.

Let me tell you the story thus far.

After I graduated from seminary I found myself missing being a student. Yes I am one of those people. So in the hopes of capturing something of student life I dove head first in to as many books as I could find. Since I was, and still am, a new pastor first on the list were books about leading a church, being a pastor, leading a youth ministry and being a youth minister. As I finished book after book I begin to notice a pattern.

Most books took the first few chapters to outline the problem. And the problem was always the same.

Churches are in trouble. They are shrinking, graying, and closing. Youth are leaving at a faster rate than ever before. Young adults are not returning when they have children like they used to. Even the so called successful churches seem to be having a hard time really reaching out. As it turns out much of their growth has more to do with Christians moving around than it does with conversions. Along with this shuffling it seems like they also have a very difficult time moving people from 'seeker' to deeper levels of faith.

But the bad news didn't end there. Once the authors had finished with the churches they turned their attention to our place in Western culture.

They would report that the culture we live in is becoming more distrustful of Christians. Many see churches as evil. Others see them as hot beds for hate, bigotry, homophobia, and sexism to name a few things. Others were noting that many people are seeking spiritual experiences; they are just not seeking them with us. They are trying out any number of Eastern or tribal religions or some combination of various different faiths. And finally many pointed out the robust intellectual criticism that was being levelled against faith in Christ.

Like I said the books all painted a frightening story of the destruction of Western Christianity. They all agreed we were in trouble. But that was all they seemed to agree on. While they covering where we are, and how we got here every author was in total agreement. When they moved onto what we had to do to move forward, their paths diverged.
Trying to discern the way forward

Each book I read showed me the same problem, and then each book boldly declared the way forward. And declare they did. They blazed a trail through the crumbling church and the cynical cultural and explained what needed to be done. Every time I finished a book I felt so fired up.

I was ready, I knew the way forward! Look out church, look out world I knew what to do!

And then I would read another book. Same problem, same passion, same certainty, different solution. After about 20 books I found myself sitting in my office with my head feeling like it was spinning. The problem sat so well defined in my mind, but the way forward splintered in to so many different directions.

Well that's not true. As the fog lifted I started to notice that the proposed ways forward could be broken down into four distinct categories;

Some saw the way forward through mental exercise. All we needed to do was flex the mental muscles that God gave us. We needed learn scripture, theology, philosophy, science and defend our faith. We needed to prove that Christianity was intellectually robust.

Others saw the problem as spiritual dryness. Christians lacked passion and depth in their religion. We didn't pray enough, worship hard enough, or practice enough spiritual disciplines. Thus all we needed to do was reignite our souls.

Others still skipped past the soul and the mind and went straight for the heart. Their point was that as Christians we have become cold and callous. We stopped loving our neighbours, we stopped knowing our neighbours, and we stopped caring. The way forward was obvious. We had to love our neighbours! We had to get out of our churches, our holy huddles, and go and do some practical good. We had to help mothers fold diapers; we had to offer blessings on coffee baristas and on and on it went. To rekindle our faith we had to rekindle our love for our fellow man and woman.

Finally others still skipped right to the big ticket items. They asked are there people in the world, hungry, thirsty, lonely, without clothing or shelter? The answer, an obvious yes. Equally as obvious was their way forward. We must care for the poor, the window and the downtrodden. Our role is to bring as much of God's loving justice to the world. We are supposed to right all of the wrongs and mend all of the wounds that we can. The way forward was acts of justice.

Perhaps you can understand my problem. All of these things are good and true. All of these things need tending too. How did I know who was right? Then it hit me. This awful sickening realization. There was not one major problem we were facing, nor was their one way forward. We were facing four major problems and we had to move all of these things forward.

That is my idea. As Christians, as the church we must all learn to Think Clearly, Relate Purely, Worship Continuously, and Live Justly. So I decided to test my idea.

I checked scripture and found my grounding, passages like Mark 12:30, 1 Peter 2:10-11 and 1 Peter 3:13-16 .

From there I wrote a sermon. That worked well. So wrote a four part series. This also resonated with me, and the congregation. Next I took some preaching on the road. Whenever I was invited to preach somewhere else I refined that first sermon to see if  other people agreed.

Again things went well.

Finally I began to take every teaching opportunity I reasonably could to explore this idea. I was able to lead a weekend retreat a youth workshop and most recently I worked through a bible study series. Each time I felt more passionate about this. For the church to move forward we had to work on all four fronts.

So that is why I am here, that is what I am doing. You are functioning as both my critics to help me sharpen my idea and as my Guinea pigs helping me test my theory. So again let me say thank you. You are helping to shape my current ministry, my passion and my future hopes and dreams.

Thank you for being here for the past 100 posts, and let me thank you in advance for being here for all the posts to come.

Thank you for helping me plot my course forward. Where ever that may be.