Contending Over Commenting

I have been reading the latest book from Mark Sayers on renewal in the church through a remnant of discontents seeking Jesus. Reappearing Church: The Hope of Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Age. It is stirring some good thoughts and hopefully refining me as I attempt to lead such a ragtag remnant.

This weekend though one line really put a pin in something I have experienced in leadership. In a chapter calling the church to move away from consumerism Sayers says this: “Consumer Christianity is a form of cultural Christianity that compromises the cross with self rather than flag, mixing the worship of God with the worship of options, personal autonomy, low commitment, and opinion over responsibility.

First, we have to recognize our penchant to be consumers. Even those of us in the Christian subculture that prefer hymns over fog machines, we are likely to pursue church, and dare I say, community as a consumer. I do it, you do it, we all do. From that point we recognize a major problem.

We prefer to maintain our own kingdom rather than surrender to Christ’s in a community of believers (meaning my time, my hobbies, my Netflix binges that interfere with mission and the life of the church.) And we prefer to add comments rather than sweat or contend for mission and discipleship in the church.

Too many wanna-be leaders are well equipped to opine on the health of a church or lack of forward motion while neglecting to take any action themselves. Maybe we think the people paid to do ministry should handle everything or maybe we are just stuck in our consumer mindsets. We convince ourselves that our schedules are too full or life is too busy to take up the work. So we keep our options open, commit just a little more than the next guy so we can feel like we are the most righteous, and then miss out on mission because we refused to contend for the church.

We refuse to contend for renewal in Christ.

There is hope. Repentance and realigning our priorities and lives around the mission Jesus has given us, move us beyond consuming. Giving our lives away for the glory of Christ breaks the hold of autonomy of self.

Will you pray with me toward this end? That the Lord would refine us, renew us as we contend together? There is a place for you to contend. Step up and pursue Jesus with abandon and find a family of believers to do it with.

Are We Too Numb to Hear

Dr. John Johnson is a relatively nice guy, pastor of a large church and occasional seminary professor. He enjoys conversations on “culture” at least that is what I assume after sitting in his class on Christianity and Culture. He said the word a lot but I don’t think I every heard a meaningful definition when it came to what exactly Christians should create. I was the snarky one in the front row always talking about biblical  living. I got an A-, and I am still bitter.

Bitterness aside, Johnson has been stirred by the change of heart of another mega church pastor expressed in his dissertation. The Doctoral work is essentially on consumerism in the church today. Johnson quotes a meaningful paragraph from the dissertation:

“Consumers find freedom in devices that deliver what they value, becoming dependent upon those devices and embracing a “device paradigm” that shapes their view of life. Over time, consumers lose all sense of the value of process. They think technologically, expecting their needs to be addressed through devices, even when those needs cannot be commoditized. I contend that American evangelicals have learned to think of spiritual maturity and community as commodities. They expect their churches to provide the devices necessary for enjoying those commodities with minimal engagement in the processes that create and cultivate them. Churches grow if their programs and services seem to deliver what is expected, yet neither maturity nor community is a commodity. Neither can be enjoyed without full participation in process. The result is ironic: churches that are most effective in delivering a product are least effective in making disciples.”

Johnson then goes on to unpack what he sees as a need for realignment around different priorities. His whole post on the Transformed blog is a must read for pastors of large churches. The following are some of his thoughts I found most poignant (which are most of the post). Most of Johnson’s thoughts center around the difference between device thinking and grace thinking in the church.

“Device thinking focuses on efficiency (best means to achieve an end), calculability (bigger is always better), predictability (making people feel comfortable and safe), and control (institutionalizing and packaging). This is what a technological society values.  It is also what pastors can come to value, especially as the church grows into a large corporation.”

“In contrast, grace thinking is much more interested in participation (how can we get maximum personal engagement with what matters?) and contingency (creating space for the inefficient, the immeasurable, the unexpected, and the uncontrolled).”

“Just as our consumerism culture has reduced, fragmented things into mere commodities to consume, assisted by machine and technology, so the church has tended to fragment, reduce, mechanize the things that are focal, transcendent, things that provide a center of orientation.  It looks something like this–worship is reduced to excellence on stage, with passive observers expecting something more next week; fellowship gets reduced to giving units; obedience gets reduced to legalism; sacrament gets reduced to an efficient prefilled communion cup with wafer; and the Bible gets reduced to a sermon extracted from its metanarrative–e.g. “7 tips to Marital Happiness”).”

The post suggests what needs to happen in churches for there to be change. It starts with repentance, and involves new metrics for measure what we do and creating space for diversion and true discipleship.

Challenging words. Read the whole post here.