I have many friends who work in areas where life and death are truly in the balance. There’s always a sense that if I work a little more, one more street child will be safe, one less person will die of aids or starvation, or one more slave will be set free. Even in my pastoral work, there’s a sense that if I just spend a little more time with people it will make a difference. These thoughts are evil! They are a proclamation that you are the one holding the world together, that you love them more than God does. Only when we are confident in our call and the character of our God, can we say no with the peace that God doesn’t need us to save the world, he needs us to do and be exactly that which he has built and called us to do and be, nothing more and nothing less. The Kingdom of God comes when we each, with reckless abandon, fall into submission to God, not when we each pursue that which we think will maximize the work of our hands.
Ok, so in my last post I talked about the problem with preaching being that it often elevates the gifts of one over the gifts of others and it’s important that we have everyone’s gifts for the Word to be more fully expressed. (If you’ve not read it already, you should read it first as the following comes from within it’s context.)
Another problem with the way churches typically go about preaching is that it often comes at the cost of the preacher’s other gifts.
For example, my head of staff J. is an incredibly gifted preacher. (I’m not just saying that, person after person, friend after friend, repeatedly tells me how much they connect with her preaching.) In addition to gifts in preaching, she is an incredibly gifted theologian, pastor, teacher, church visionary, mother, wife, writer, disciple-maker, and the list goes on…
Sermons take a huge amount of time to prepare and are best prodded by the Holy Spirit instead of a weekly rhythm (IMHO). When our expectation is that J. preaches every week, we must realize that that comes at the cost of her using and developing some of her other gifts.
The problem is that, generally, communities assume that someone must preach each week.
My point is that churches need to examine whether that is truly the best use of the preacher’s time. Are there other gifts we want them to explore themselves and impart to our community?
In my communities, I tend to be the guy who “doesn’t like preaching.”
However, my problem isn’t with preaching at all, it’s only that churches often recognize preaching to the detriment of other spiritual gifts. Assuming that preaching is the best way to share things week-in and week-out is a mistake (pedagogically and theologically). (It’s similar to my problem with relegating worship to only music.) It’s one of many ways to proclaim the Word. As such, it’s as problematic to never have preaching as it is to always have preaching.
The issue is that in many churches today we have legitimate avenues for bringing the Word (most notably preaching and musical worship) and illegitimate ones. Though we may use a medium poorly, there are NO inappropriate mediums for bringing the Word. We can bring the Word of God when we preach, when we care for the least of these, when we are alone praying, when we impart joy to others. We can proclaim the Word through fine art and music, through caring for our neighbors, through loving our enemies, through blogging, and through living the eucharist. The Word can appear in our discussions, in our cooking, and especially in our silence. We need space for all mediums.
If your gift is preaching, preach. If your gift is painting, paint. If your gift is cooking, cook. To bring the Word in greater fullness, we need everyones’ gifts.
Jan’s been writing a lot about the Holy Grounds community the last few days. Her most recent post reminds me of a problem that I’ve heard many an institutional pastor talk about–that they are unable to worship with the congregation they serve. Many even go to other worship gatherings in order to do so. What a shame!!!!
I’m blessed to be a part of a community where people have not only learned and accepted the responsibility to feed themselves (Note: not talking individualism here, it’s God who does the feeding), but have also learned and accepted the responsibility to feed others. It’s not up to me to feed everyone, rather it is a communal responsibility to find and share spiritual (and actual) food. We teach, bless, and encourage one another (as our gifts allow) in our pursuit of God.
It’s sort of a spiritual potluck.
We each bring a dish.
Some people bring old favorites, others bring new recipes that they’ve discovered along the way. Sometimes people can’t bring a dish because they are too tired or overwhelmed. Sometimes people bring a few dishes or one giant dish.
Some people eat a little bit from what every person has brought, others just get a massive helping of a handful of dishes.
There is plenty for everyone to eat and certainly something that will fill the hunger each brings.
We don’t just leave with our hunger satiated, but, as with any good potluck, we share the recipes so that we can make them later for others.
The cool thing is that it’s not incumbent on me (or anyone else) to make sure that everyone is fed. It’s a responsibility we share. I don’t arrive too tired to eat from preparing a massive meal for everyone; I get to partake in the spiritual feast as well.
And we each depart with more than we brought.
While in Houston for my wonderful college friend Christina’s wedding, one of my other friends and I went to a couple of “church” services. The first was Lakewood Church AKA Joel Osteen’s Church AKA Six Flags Over Jesus. The next was Ecclesia, but I’ll leave that to a future post.
For those unfamiliar with Joel Osteen, he preaches a prosperity theology to, by many accounts, the largest church in the United States. Essentially saying that being a Christian means that you will prosper. Time Magazine did an article two years ago called “Does God Want You to be Rich.”
Coming into the stadium, there was a notable abscence of a cross (not that a cross can’t be an idol), but there was a large American flag displayed in the back (looking at later videos I think there were more than I could see from my vantage point) and a massive rotating golden globe emitting fog.
The problem with Osteen’s message isn’t that it is completely false (deception must always contain some truth), it’s that it is, at best, incomplete. His message is at core, think positively (and give to Lakewood) and you will have your best year ever. Of course he talks about aligning oneself with God, but the only route to this provided is to think positively and recognize the God inside oneself. He provides a false hope to the poor and greedy in the face of the other American churches which by in large provides so little hope it’s hardly worth mentioning.
Osteen’s narrative is not primarily that of Christ, rather it is the American narrative: work hard and you will prosper. At core, it is a narrative of empire which makes the golden globe so appropriate.
While Osteen may be one of the most egreggious, most churches throughout the United States have traded the narrative of Christ with the narrative of America. It is a narrative (familiar to Family Christian bookstores) of God’s favor and endorsement. Of the availability of an unquenchable river of cheap grace flowing with comfort, wealth, safety, and health. In short, people get what they deserve, therefore I am entitled to that which I have and have no reason to share. I can have everything I desire and follow Jesus as well. Sorry, but that’s simply untrue (see Luke 18:18-23 and Matthew 10:39 for a couple examples of the many times Christ rejects this Saducean viewpoint).
It is the narrative that says that God’s favor is on the United States, therefore our actions, whether the genocidal removal of Native American’s from their land or the exploitation of foreign labor, are unquestionably sanctioned, ordained, and blessed by God. What arrogance! What foolishness!
Quite simply put, that is completely against the narrative Christ offers. Whether we like it or not, the United States is not the “new Israel,” the United States is the “new Rome.”
I spoke at a follow up discussion for the Jesus for President tour. Here are the remarks I prepared for the conversation:
I should start off by letting you know that my hope is best described in Christ manifesting himself through the Church. I’ve gone the traditional political action path and it proved hollow to me. There is no legislation that can love. The checks and balances of programs whether governmental or church-based ensure that the least of these is never served. Programs are incapable of love, people of God love.
The average person walking down the street today sees Christians as hate-filled hypocrites who hate gays and want to outlaw abortion.
Christ says that they will know you are Christians by your love.
My call today is for us to die to ourselves and, instead, become a people of love–costly, difficult, wonderful, painful, relational, messy, uncomfortable, sacrificial, transforming, beautiful, unconditional, love.
We have become mesmerized by the power of this world–the hope of principalities and governments. We have done an analysis and figured out that we should best spend our resources in leveraging the government to coerce the world into behaving as if it were Christian. That goes for both the Christian right and the Christian left.
We have figured out that it is much less costly to comfort our guilt by having the government outlaw abortion instead of seeking to open our spare-bedrooms up and offering refuge to mothers and their babies. We have said that it is much easier to leverage the government to provide healthcare to those in need rather than to assume that cost ourselves as the people of God called to care for the poor. We would rather protest war than to go thousands of miles away from our homes to, as peacemakers of God, stand between oppressors and the oppressed.
We are more interested in proclaiming truth to government than living out truth as God’s people. And guess what? The world has called our bluff. Until we are willing to live by the call of Christ ourselves, we have nothing to say to our elected officials.
My call today is for us to be a prophetic witness of love, first to our brothers and sisters in Christ and then to the world. I don’t know about you, but I have a long way to go in this respect.
A few examples of how this might play out:
In the mid-1800′s, there was a similar amount of abortion per capita as there is today. The church saw that this was a problem and began to open up homes for women and their babies and even their spare bedrooms. The rate of abortion plummeted without any changes in the law.
Throughout the world Christians provide healthcare to those in need, in fact there is a history of similar action in the United States. Think of how many Methodist, Baptist, and Catholic hospitals you know of. These were originally founded by the church.
Christian peacemaker teams today choose the costly path of going abroad to stand alongside people being bombed and oppressed.
You see it is much more important what you do before and after voting than what you do in the voting booth.
If you are called to politics, do politics. Don’t however do politics because you believe that will maximize your impact. Be willing to seek after God and obey, even if that means you are called to do something that in your view will only help a handful of people.
The Holy Spirit deploying the people of God to do the work of God knows exactly where and how each of us fit in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. It is up to us to make the decision to accept that call–the call that will cost us our life.
While there I met some amazing college students. We had some great conversations–needless to say, they all left with Irresistible Revolution in hand. None of them knew what the emerging church was, so, at their request, I clumsily tried to define it.
The neat thing was, though none of them knew the term “emerging,” our conversations revealed that the concepts spoke of most often in emerging circles were in no way foreign to them, in fact, they were givens in their conception and understanding of God.
Many people think of emerging as a movement to do something different and shift thinking in the church. This tends to be less and less the point the younger the person is.
I didn’t have to introduce my new friends to the concepts of emerging. I didn’t have to show them how to be emerging. At core, they culturally are already emerging.
In John 13:34-35, Christ says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
It’s funny to me that most churches today decide if you are a disciple by a “conversion” moment, baptism, a profession of faith, or agreement with a belief statement.
Being a disciple of Christ has NOTHING to do with a mental assent and everything to do with having Him as the decisionmaker in each of our lives. The gage Christ has given us is love not law.
Too bad gaging love requires relationship instead of a few words on a form. God forbid we waste church resources on truly getting to know people instead of building better and bigger programs and expanding our rolls. The way of the Kingdom is always ineffecient and ineffective in the eyes of the world.
I had a new friend ask me what I meant by an activity listed in my facebook profile: “Learning to be the Church while helping others do the same.”
Here’s how I tried to concisely describe what I am trying to say:
During college I experienced a lot of growth in my faith–I was surrounded by people seeking to give their whole lives to Christ, who challenged one another, lived simply, sought to love one another unconditionally, prayed and worshipped together throughout the week, met up throughout the day, shared possessions, and so fourth. When I got out of college, I discovered that, though I did all the churchy things like going to worship, being in a small group, leading the missions team, working with the homeless, and even practicing hospitality, I became more and more like the world and less and less like Christ. I was an A+ citizen of a church, but I was becoming less and less of a follower of Christ while I became more and more “American.” I continued to discover more and more how selective and myopic churches are as to scripture and the gospel. Because I wanted to be a follower of Christ (even though the cost was much more than churches let on), I sought a community of people dedicated to doing life together (much like I’d experienced in college).
I think that the Church is very specifically defined as people and, while theologically and rhetorically pretty much everyone would agree, churches structurally tell people that church is an event, a building, a club, or an institution. (Check out what I wrote about “my church” a few months ago: http://www.atthemargins.com/2007/05/04/where-do-you-go-to-church/ ).
I want to be a part of the Church that sets people free from those things that afflict them, that is powerful, that is known by it’s unconditional love for others, that radically follows Christ, that is willing to die to itself, and that, as a result of all this, sees people transformed day after day.
I came as Herod and shared in first person my/his perspective on himself. Then I did a quick costume change and shared as Simeon.
I’d planned to repeat both Herod and Simeon last night, but, because of a wonderful discussion, I ended up just sharing as Herod.
I was just remarking to Israel, that the morning felt like a performance, while the evening felt like a conversation. Perhaps it was just because I had already done it once, perhaps it was because I know the folks from Holy Grounds better. However, I think it’s because of a difference in atmosphere. I knew in the evening that all I had to do was spark–spark thinking, spark conversation–and we would be able to grapple with things together. In the morning, I felt I needed to impress (ugghhh) and to do a good job–I needed to perform well. I knew that people were only going to be able to take away what I brought and what the Holy Spirit said through me, that we wouldn’t be able to process as a community.
What pressure people who preach week after week must feel!