Tuesday, December 06, 2005

My Reaction

Rick Warren opened his best selling book The Purpose Driven Life with a simple and profound statement that must surely have come as a shock to many Christians in America. Warren’s now famous quote was, of course, “It is not about you.” It seems so simple, but this short statement really represents the weight of the world. I say it represents the weight of the world because the American Church has allowed the world to slip into the darkness of sin and despair by focusing entirely too much on itself while ignoring the lost world that continues to fall deeper and deeper into sin.
I am thankful to Rick Warren for reminding us that the world does not revolve around us. However, I want to take a little word journey to discuss just who it is about. If everything really is not about us, then who in the world is “everything” about. Of course the obvious (and correct) answer is that it is about God and God alone. However, God is a correct answer to nearly every question in Christianity, but simply stating God as the answer can be a cop out and is often not the only answer. You see, God is what Christianity is all about, we are about worshipping God, through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. However, what is God all about? Well, God is all about having his name known and being worshipped. After all, the Bible does tell us that God is a jealous God and that he will not share his glory with anyone. But, God is also a loving and gracious God who desires that all men should be saved. His Great Commission commands us to make disciples of all nations. The Great Commandment tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
I am aware of no place in the Bible where we are commanded to be comfortable and stuck in tradition. However, in the American church today, we have become consumed with our own comfort and our traditions. As a matter of fact, in many American churches we have become so consumed with meeting our own wants and desires that we have forfeited the needs of others and the salvation of the lost so that we would be spared the challenges that come along with altering our way of “doing” church. We have so ostracized those outside of the church that we have developed a culture of young people who are not merely unchurched; they stand in opposition to the church. These in opposition are not worshippers of Satan, many claim to have real interest in Jesus and in worshipping him, but are convinced that the church in America does not promote true life-changing worship of the Son of God.
Those outside of our churches are not looking to how a church acts to make a judgment call. Their parents made judgment calls on the actions of the church during the seventies and eighties because of the many scandals in the lives of televangelists. The young adults of today are removed from those activities, they are not interested in our actions, they are looking for the response by the church. The church has done well to respond to national and international catastrophes of late and I believe that the response from the Christian church does show that God’s people do care about helping those in physical need, but more must be done.
How will the church continue to answer to the cries of the lost today who claim the church to be full of hypocrites? The easy answer is to get angry, throw up our hands and retire to our big buildings and state of the art worship equipment. That answer, however, is just the answer that those outside the church expect to receive and it is that type of response that has turned lost people off to the gospel. The church must, instead, be willing to change to meet the changing needs of the lost in our society. We must not merely act in accordance with our traditions and comfort levels. There must be reaction from the church to the secularization of society and the defamation of the church. The church must respond with love and compassion and innovative approaches to evangelism that invite those outside the church to feel welcomed into the church with the love of Christ. As we respond to God by sharing his love with others I believe that we must react to our society with open arms and open minds to meet them where they are in life rather than expecting them to meet us at the church. People away from the Lord are lost and will act accordingly, we must not expect that they will suddenly act like a Christian and then we can turn them into Christians; we must meet them at the point of their need regardless of how it inconveniences us. Christ left heaven to meet us in our sin on this earth; should we not leave our church buildings and our traditions to meet lost wherever they might be?

The very moment that change is mentioned in many American churches, red flags go up before the nature of the change is mentioned. The American church is steeped in tradition. Tradition is not necessarily bad, but tradition should never become a hindrance. The history of the church should be remembered and celebrated, and I believe that it should be celebrated often. The American church, regardless of denomination, has incredible history that should never be forgotten. However, when we use tradition as an excuse to continue do church the same way that the church in America was started, then we have ceased to celebrate history and are merely stuck in the past.
Now, for those of you who might not really grasp exactly how I distinguish between celebrating history and conforming to history, I would like to offer an example to which everyone can relate. The decade of the 1980’s in the U.S. marked a very unique time period. The music, fashion, and even hair styles of that era are distinguishable from any other time period. My wife celebrates the eighties by enjoying eighties music on occasion and by sometimes catching a re-run of “Growing Pains.” Most people can appreciate her celebration. However, if my wife wore parachute pants and continued to tease her bangs to this day, most people would recognize that she was stuck in the eighties. Very few people would take seriously, a professional woman who had not pulled her head out of the dirt long enough in the past fifteen years to realize that the world had passed her by. Unfortunately, that is where many churches are today.
Many churches and many pastors are stuck in a rut. They have given in to tradition and are stuck in a time period that ended fifteen to twenty years ago. Many can not understand why the church is losing its effect on culture, but refuse to accept the reality that the culture around them passed them many years ago. Hopefully no pastor would continue to wear a leisure suit in the pulpit today, but many churches insist upon continuing to have church the way that they did thirty, forty, or even fifty years ago. The culture has shifted and advanced, and still the church is doing all of the same things.
Again, the goal is not to abolish tradition, but to keep up with the times. I am not suggesting that everything that the church did thirty years ago should be ignored. However, if the only music (or eighty percent of the music) used in the church is the same music used by your parents and grandparents, then your church is most likely stuck, spinning its wheels in the past, and not gaining any ground on the culture of today. However, I do not want this to be just another piece of writing about contemporary worship, because I believe reaching the culture of 2005 involves much more than just changing the style of music. We must be willing to change everything about the way we have done church and be open to innovative approaches to worship, ministry, evangelism, and even prayer. The future of ministry involves worship in homes and even shopping malls. Evangelism is being done at rock concerts, college football games and even in some cases night clubs. Evangelists are not professional preachers, they are students, teachers, coaches, and blue collar workers who use more than just paper tracts to spread the gospel. The gospel is being spread through blogs, and internet sites as well as television commercials during primetime football games. Lost people do not listen to Christian radio stations, but they do listen to secular radio stations and growing churches are tapping into advertisement opportunities and ministry opportunities on secular radio stations. God is blessing those who are willing to be different in their approaches to His church. God is blessing those who are reacting to the culture with creative ways to share His gospel.
To many, the concept of a blood-washed Christian man or woman stepping into a bar or attending a rock concert is unconceivable. After all, what business has righteousness with unrighteousness? Though it seems strange for anyone to encourage Christians to spend time in places where sin seems to prevail, we must be reminded that Jesus was seen often times eating with sinners. Our Savior was even accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. Please realize that I am not necessarily encouraging Christians to begin hanging out in bars, but what I am saying is that Christians must find ways to be in places where people who need Jesus can be found. The unfortunate situation is that most people who are lost do not realize that they are in need of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Until people realize their need, they are probably not going to show up at our church, so we need to meet them where they are offering them the life-saving hope and future that is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must react to their needs by being willing to ignore some of our comfort levels and meeting them where they are.

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