Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Inflatable...missional...or something else entirely?

Books and hundreds of magazine and internet articles have been written about what it means to be 'missional'. I always think we're setting ourselves up for a little bit of trouble when we invent new words to describe what God has already gone to great lengths describing in His Word, and this 'new' word falls exactly into that category: trouble. Is church life really supposed to be so complex that we need to invent new words 2000 years after the inauguration in order to describe what we're to be about. Maybe instead of a new word, we need to simply remember what Jesus said was most important.

But never mind. If you simply must have a new word, then you must have a new word. Introducing the word: missional. But the definition? Of course, because it's a new word, there are dozens of definitions. But the best one I've found came, not from a PHD, pastor, or emergent leader. It came from a twenty-three year old posting the following on her web site (italics mine for emphasis):

Who's in the house? J.C's in the house...

The other day, while a friend was pumping gas, I wondered into a convenience store to buy myself an iced tea and was met at the door by a group of overly zealous, poster board waving, fifteen year old girls in triangle bikini tops and booty shorts, all of them blonde, bronzed, and recently hosed down.

"Car wash round back" One of them shouted at me. "Donation only!"

"What are you guys raising money for?" I inquired, mentally tallying possibilities. Cheerleading nationals...Dance Team Camp...Future Strippers of America convention...

"Well, it's for two things really. Bible camp this summer. But while we are there we are going to build a school. It's in Mexico."

"But not, like a nice part. Not Cancun." piped up one of the peanut gallery.

"Oh...okay..." I said, dumbfounded. Youth group definitely didn't look that this when I was a kid, or more teenage boys would have been born agains.

"We're around back." They repeated, and I watched them walk away, the words "younglife" emblazoned on the seat of their three inch shorts, right above their almost exposed cheeks. And all I could think as I stood there, trying to wash the mental picture of 'tween T&A out of my head was, "damn. Christianity has gotten SEXY."

And so it has. Being a "Christian" means a lot of different things nowadays. It means being "hip". It means being "cool". It means being part of a membership only club ran by the big JC. It means being proud of who you are and not caring who knows it. It means wearing your wwjd bracelet everyday and supporting your president even though nobody else does and putting "I love Jesus" in your myspace profile and listing "god" as a hero. It means keeping up with MTV and what's "new" and "with it" because this is how you are going to drive your ministry. You have to have something catchy to put on those reader boards, after all.

In the past two weeks I have been invited to at least three different church sponsored events, all of them masquerading as something non-church related. I was met in a coffee shop/the park/the mall and given fliers for a B-movie night/ BBQ featuring an "emo" band/ 80's Dance party. I received all of these invites from super outgoing, well dressed, attractive individuals...all of whom didn't bother to ask my name. The fliers were well done, with graphics featuring only the coolest in inanimate object trends and color schemes (guns are the new skulls you know, and orange is the new pink, which was the new black.) and simple directions to nameless addresses that, upon further investigation, lead me not to a house party/club but to a *gasp* church activity center.

Though the promise of FREE PIZZA tempted me beyond belief I didnt opt to attend any of these functions, though I am sure some of the more naive members of my fair city were not so lucky. And after praying over their "free" pizza and being asked if they are down with the G-O-D (yeah you know me) and being preached at by some super cool, girl jeans sporting preacher who may or may not have colored hair or an eyebrow ring they left feeling totally had, and with a really bitter taste in their mouth in regards to God.

I have been lucky to have met some really amazing people in the past few years. I met them in a bar/ at a party/ through friends. They live their lives without excuses and without gimmicks. They build relationships not hoping to sucker you in but out of genuine interest in who you are. They are your friends because they want to be, not because they have to. And, unless you bring it up, they don't talk about being a "Christian" much. This doesn't stop you from knowing that they are, you do. You can tell by the way they lead their lives. But they never force it on you. It's refreshing and honest and exactly what "Christianity" should look like. When I think of the word "Christian" I think of them.

Unfortunately that's not true for everyone. They think instead about the cheesy "Forget Miller...its Jesus time" reader board they passed on the way to work this morning. Or the news report they heard about the zealots who killed ten people in an abortion clinic bombing two days ago. Or they think about the fifteen year old MTV video back up dancers washing cars for their youth group on the corner of 19th. And then they shake their heads and move on.

Way to get your message out there for the masses, guys.

MISSIONAL... read the italicized paragraph again, and I think you'll see what it's supposed to mean - and what we ought to be about - and how we ought to go about building the kingdom - and how liberating it is!


At 11/7/07 20:30, Anonymous lemonscarlet said...

I love your descriptions and reflections, Richard. (actually laughed out loud heartily at the phrase "tween T & A" hahaha! How gloriously acurate! Write a book! Now!)I attended Bethany a few years ago briefly before I moved back east - i still read your blog and I always feel more willing to pursue fellowship when I remember that there are genuine, real, wise, balanced pastors out there. Thanks for helping me keep the faith. ...still giggling...

At 12/7/07 10:22, Anonymous donte said...

I recently had a conversation with a friend who is Anabaptist. He does not consider himself to be an evangelical in the traditional sense, because the Anabaptist approach is to live a life of faith and conviction rather than simply preaching. I agree with this in principle, but I struggle to believe that “living” without preaching, teaching, and sharing is enough.

I am thinking about Dr. King and his powerful use of biblical rhetoric during the civil rights movement. I know that his life and his actions served as a powerful testimony of his faith, but I’m not sure if we would be where we are today without his teaching and preaching.

I am also thinking about the company of friend that I keep who are not Christians. None of them have voluntarily asked me about my faith. I think they respect my values, but I am not sure if they understand that whatever is good in me comes from my convictions and beliefs as a Christian. My fear is that if I do not teach them about Christ, they might easily go on believing that I am just a ‘good and moral person.’ Maybe that is okay, but for some reason the idea of ‘living’ without teaching and preaching feels somewhat incomplete to me. If the gospel is indeed ‘good news’, shouldn’t we be excited to share it with people?

Your thoughts?


At 13/7/07 09:45, Blogger Nicole N said...

That does seem to be the struggle of the modern Christian life, doesn’t it? How to balance living out your faith and sharing the gospel.

Throughout the last several years I’ve witnessed a polarization between Christians that want to “live” their faith and Christians that want to “proclaim” their faith. It seems to me that an over-emphasis on either ends up diluting what it means to be a follower of Christ. When you observe people fully bent on “proclaiming” their faith, you see a kitschy group of business and marketing majors – always coming up with the next catchy phrase (perhaps missional fits here?), overly zealous scripts of how to greet someone when they enter your church, steam-makers and neon lights for the preacher’s “stage,” etc. And little do they know, the reaction from most people in Seattle is to gag. Those from this camp that do notice the gag reaction attribute it to the fact that not all people are initially open to Christianity – maybe we just need to try harder!

But then you have Christians who are entirely averse to the marketing techniques described above – they want nothing to do with that. Okay, well that’s fine…I don’t really want anything to do with Kitschy Christian Marketing either. (Maybe we could term that “KCM” – kidding!) This group fully bent on “living” their faith, however, does have a tendency to estrange themselves from the church entirely. They don’t want to be a part of such a corrupted, naïve, hypocritical institution…they could far better reach out to people by smoking a pack with the guy next door, having premarital sex because the emphasis is not on the law anymore, or using everyday lingo like “fuckin A.” As long as you are genuinely relating to people and investing time in relationships, the other stuff doesn’t matter really matter, right? I mean, it’s not like we’re still stuck on the Biblical law here in the twenty-first century…we now realize how literary and metaphorical the Bible really is.

Admittedly, I’ve just described two very extreme camps and certainly not all Christians fit into one camp or the other. But the point here is that the Church, or Body of Christ, has existed now for over 2000 years – it has made its mistakes, but it has also performed some incredible tasks throughout its history. For the camp that is focused on finding new ways to market the church, I would say that tradition has its place. A church service is not supposed to be entertainment time for an ADD generation…there are some beautiful liturgies engendered by hundreds of years of reflection on Christ and his word. And yes, some parts of Christian living are serious – it’s not all peppy times and bubbles.

And for the camp that is bent on “being real,” let’s not forget that Christianity is more than merely a nice moral code. If you want to be a Christian, there has to be an emphasis on Christ and the living word. And one of the pinnacles of this faith is the Body of Christ…living in a community. I personally think it is lazy and selfish to disengage from the church just because it has problems – we all have our problems! And to abandon “the law” because we want to focus on relationships and not just religion is ridiculous. The Bible is not meant to be a piece-meal, take-what-you-want Buffet. The Bible is meant to be fully engaged so as to train us how to develop Christ-like relationships.

OK, I’m done…this blog entry is already way too long.


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