Churches Gone Wild This is a New York Times opinon piece by By G. JEFFREY MacDONALD brings up some really telling points about the relationship between church and its consumer culture. It has had major consequences to the health of spiritual leadership both for vocational leaders and volunteer leaders the programs have depended on. I think the writer here brings to light some really valid points, while at the same time is just describing a generalization, I suspect this is not the case everywhere. The temptation for the Pastor in consumer America is to “make things happen”. Be relevant, execute the measureables, increase productivity, expand territory, manage the assets, be politically savy, make cunning decisions and most stressful of all: entertain the congregation. These are qualifications more of CEO’s in an aggressive business model than they are of those with shepherding hearts and a desire to communicate values that are “not of this world”. In our thirst to be relevant, did we lose our soul? In our chase to increase production, did we adopt the American coporate business model and walk away from what our spiritual ancestors displayed for us? There is a temptation to be busy over being quiet. To be funny over being prophetic. To be powerful over being merciful. To be persuasive over being a listener. To be liked over being a leader. My personal story is that I’ve lived this theme out. I spent 12 years in vocational ministry before I realized through complete burnout that I had developed an addiction to success over being a pastor. I was still executing all the work of ministry on the outside, but something internally was off. I had lost my spiritual identity in my search to be relevant and powerful. My story is not alone. If I’ve met one with a similar story, I’ve met hundreds. Broken hearted, talented folk who got lost in the machine of the modern American Church and its thirst for productivity and programs. To be busy trumped the caring for one’s own heart, leaving behind a wake of broken leaders. Some never recover. God was gracious to me, gave me a 3 year sabbatical in seminary that re-defined what ministry in the Kingdom was to me and set me off on a whole new course. I decided to fire myself and become a bi-vocational pastor to my community. One that would not be paid by those I was charged to lead and shepherd. I”m not saying its “the” ideal for ministry, in fact in a lot of ways it is very, very hard. But I think I’m converted for life to this model. Particularly in a culture of an economic downturn and the fears that go with it, our house church community has no overhead, no debt and no bills that have to be met. We are able to give away 100% of our tithing income to needs that promote the values of the Kingdom we care most about. Single moms, repairing marriages, mercy giving, addressing poverty etc. This is not the only model, I am quite sure many good leaders out there have figured out ways through the landmines of the relationship between church and consumerism, but this has been my story and the way God led me. My advice to anyone out there stuck in the struggle of these issues is 1) Buy and read Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” 2) Take some solitude time to retreat and pray and rest 3) re-read Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus” 4) Discuss what you’ve read and heard in solitude with someone who cares about the real you, and not your persona. I’m not a doctor, but this is my prescription. peace, Marshall
An interview with James Davison Hunter for his book: To Change the World has really captured my attention today.
Here is a quote:
“In contrast to these paradigms, the desire for faithful presence in the world calls on the entire laity, in all vocations—ordinary and extraordinary, “common” and rarefied—to enact the shalom of God in the world. Christians need to abandon talk about “redeeming the culture,” “advancing the kingdom,” and “changing the world.” Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life. When faithful presence existed in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care—again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn’t new; it’s just something we need to recover.”
This speaks directly to the kind of reflection and thinking that led me on a path of planting Ordinary Community some 10 years ago now and is continuing to sharpen our mission and presence as a people. I need to unpack all of this a lot more in my own mind and heart, but it rings so true with my reflections for a decade. The thirst for new, to be exciting, to be relevant, to be popular, to be politically powerful etc. etc., are not the ideas of the Kingdom of God, they are the dressings of American consumer culture in 2010 A.D. To be a people set apart, to live within our culture but to incarnate the Christ of the Kingdom in that place, that is my pursuit. We don’t do this perfectly, but it is the intention of our hearts as a people. Ordinary Community, let’s never stop asking the questions of what it means to be Church in our culture, in our context and in our time.peace,Marshall
Internet and TV mulit-tasking . This article states what many of us do, “The folks at Yahoo and Nielsen have come out with a new study on media multitasking: They say three-fourths of American Internet users surf the Internet while they’re watching TV. That’s up 20% from a year ago.”
Here’s a quote from my cousin’s facebook page that struck me, I’m not typically a “Piper”-guy but this rings true. “Television reflects American culture at its most trivial. A steady diet of triviality shrinks the soul. You get used to it. It starts to feel normal. Silly becomes funny. And funny becomes pleasing. And pleasing becomes soul-satisfaction. And in the end the soul that is made for God has shrunk to fit snugly around trit…eness”. -John Piper
I am a mult-tasker at heart. I am pretty much undiagnosed adult ADD. I love the instant gratification of information gathering online, I find it much more satisfying than most television shows. Outside of sports, I don’t have a show I regularly wach, just doesn’t intrigue me. When I do, when my laptop was actually working, I often multi-tasked online alongside the watching. What I’m reflecting on today is not that multi-tasking and media is a regular part of our life, but that we can tend to use it for comfort and satsifaction that it is not designed to fill. It certainly sells itself that it will, but ulitmately we realize that is just folly. What does satisfy? Well, over the years, this ADD extrovert has learned that quiet and solitude does the trick. It’s like petting the dog against its fur. It doesn’t feel right at first but the stark contrast to a manic-media life screams wholeness and a sense of center. In Russian, this kind of reflection is called “Poustinia”, which is a silent place for prayer. This is what my heart longs for that my external flesh cannot appetize. We are designed for cosmic connection to the One who made us, there are no satisfying counterfeits. Let’s live critically aware of our media consumption and seek for quiet and solitude as we live amongst noise.
From today’s Aidan reading in Celtic Daily Prayer: “Come, occupy my silent place, and make Thy dwelling there. More grace is wrought in quietness than any is aware.” – John Oxenham
Isaiah 40:21-26 (The Message)
21-24Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening?Haven’t you heard these stories all your life? Don’t you understand the foundation of all things?God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants.He stretches out the skies like a canvas— yes, like a tent canvas to live under.He ignores what all the princes say and do. The rulers of the earth count for nothing.Princes and rulers don’t amount to much. Like seeds barely rooted, just sprouted,They shrivel when God blows on them. Like flecks of chaff, they’re gone with the wind. 25-26“So—who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?” says The Holy.Look at the night skies: Who do you think made all this?Who marches this army of stars out each night, counts them off, calls each by name—so magnificent! so powerful!— and never overlooks a single one?
I mostly sit back and just watch the political climate of America. I vote, I can give my opinion on matters of practicality, economic trends and my preferences, but that’s about it. Most fundamentally, “my kingdom is not of this world”. I don’t expect it to be, I don’t want it to be. My identity is set in a world that has come and a world that is yet coming. Deep rooted in my beliefs is that the King is coming back with a new heaven and a new earth, that is where my hope lies. I cannot buy into the church’s affiliation with political power systems, it is the worship of a foreign idol. Be it Republican, Democrat or Tea parties . . . they do not make the sun rise nor the seas roll. The One who does brings perspective. The manic pursuit of foreign idols is a life of being tossed back and forth by the wind with no center, nothing that gives gravity to one’s life. Root yourself in the one who doesn’t change. Root yourself in the one who is King of all reality, not just the land you happen to live in at this point in time. Root yourself in the One who gave you being, not the one who wants your vote and your treasures. Worship the one true God and you find living water that your soul thirsts for. Worship a foreign idol and you drink dry sand. I guess my heeding is be careful where you put your ultimate hope. God has reigned over the universe before America, and God will reign over the universe after America. We are but chapters to a greater story. With what little time we have, let’s not live it with all the wrong dreams. I swear singular allegiance to the the King. peace,marshall