I remember when I first heard the U2 song “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” on the radio. The lyrics on their first couple albums had such a strong Christian undertone that I had to wonder what Bono and the boys really meant when they penned that chorus. Initially, the song kind of bugged me and I had to wonder if maybe they were starting to head in the wrong direction spiritually. In truth, I still don’t have a clue as to what might have inspired that unmistakably haunting anthem, but over time, I’ve found myself singing those words with ever increasing conviction. And lest you’re tempted to draw your conclusions prematurely, I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’m questioning my faith. Or that my relationship with the Lord is somehow waning. More likely it has something to do with an unmet inner longing that seems to have been with me for as long as I can remember. Put simply, I know there’s more out there for us… and I want it.
In all honesty, the Sunday-mornin-go-ta-meetin thing just ain’t cuttin it for me anymore… for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that I have always had a tough time staying motivated to do anything on a consistent basis when I’ve lost touch with its intended purpose. Though singing songs and listening to someone talk for 45 minutes can certainly have some value for a believer, I no longer see regular church attendance as an accurate indicator of the quality or depth of ones relationship with Christ. Jesus really didn’t talk a whole lot about the importance of going to weekly meetings. Think about it. He gave himself to modeling the hands on, one person at a time, spread the kingdom with every step you take method, and then he sent his followers out to do the same. The early church did not sit around for 20 years and talk about theoretical strategies for world changing, they went out and DID THE STUFF! Is it possible that we are now mesmerized more by the idea of Christianity than we are committed to its practices?
“But Brother Bump, we must not forsake the gathering together.” Oh please! Can we not get beyond that verse? If we’re not hanging out with other believers in a more relevant context than our favorite pew, that’s nobody’s fault but our own. I don’t need to stare at the back of someone’s head for an hour to feel like I’m “having fellowship” with them. Personally, I can “fellowship” a lot better around a dining room table, or on a lawn chair on the back porch than I can sitting in a row of chairs surrounded by people who are afraid to even make eye contact with me. Say what you will about this kind of indifference, but I think the American church culture is pretty messed up. We’ve substituted a bunch of cookie cutter rituals for the empowered lifestyle and life giving relationships that our inner most being was created to enjoy. God please forgive us.
The older I get, the more pragmatic I seem to become. Yet so much of the Christian faith and the local church experience seems to defy any sort of quantifiable result. How do we determine if what we’re doing is actually accomplishing what it’s supposed to? I find myself asking questions like, “Is this really working?” “Are we making any progress?” “Am I getting any closer to where I’m supposed to be going?” Often, the answer to these kinds of questions is so ambiguous that I find myself doing all sorts of mental gymnastics… trying desperately to “stick the landing” in my mind. But more often than not, my dismount ends up looking more like something you’d see on AFV than you would at the Olympics. Nonetheless, I’m apparently compelled to keep trying to make sense out of what the Lord is doing in me personally and in the life of his church. In my frustration, I must confess that I sometimes slip into apathy… but much like the men in that original band of 12, over time I’ve come to the realization that I have no where else to go, and nothing else to do but to follow the Lord and to serve his church. As a result of what I’ve seen and discovered along the way, I am spoiled for any other life pursuit.
A few thoughts about the next reformation:
1. God’s love and acceptance of us is not effected by whether or not we go to meetings.
2. When we do have meetings, I think they should be as inter-active as possible. People need to tell their story and to have others actively listen and genuinely care. The season of the talking head at the front of the room has passed.
3. We must get in touch with our personal calling, gifting and anointing for ministry. Many of us are still not really comfortable in our own skin. The church culture has trained us to conform to the image and philosophies of others. We must get free from these so we can function as who we were created to be… nothing more, nothing less.
4. People need Jesus, so we have to learn how to demonstrate genuine Kingdom power and authority in our everyday environment. We can no longer be focused on bringing the world into the church. We must turn our attention to “going into all the world”.
5. We are surrounded by an unprecedented amount of potential distractions. The tumult created by our current geopolitical- environmental -economical mess could easily become our focus if we allow it to. Fear, doubt, and unbelief must be cut off at the quick if we’re going to thrive in the days ahead. We can stock our pantries if we so choose, but there is no adequate substitute for faith.
6. If we can just hang on to the simple belief that God is good, that he loves us without condition, and that his son’s death on the cross has the power to solve any problem, save any person, and right any wrong… than we will be able to transcend any conflict that we might face while navigating the perils of the next reformation.
7. The days of our current church structures and paradigms are numbered. It’s time to let them die so that we can get on to whatever is next.
8. Though I’d like to believe that I have some good ideas about what the next reformation might involve, I’m still unclear as to what’s lies ahead for the local church. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, but at least I’m still looking and I’d like to encourage you to do the same.
I guess that’s all I need to say about the next reformation for now. Please know that I am painfully aware that “reaction to error can often result in further error”. Knowing my passionate disposition, I’m sure I’ve made a few statements that have been a little tough to swallow. Admittedly, the process of working through some of my thoughts and feelings about the state of the church has been quite therapeutic for me. I also will be the first to acknowledge that many years of pastoral service has left me rather crusty and cynical at times. Sheep bites are painful and can definitely leave a scar. My heart is to continue to expose my emotional wounds to the great physician and to others whom I have come to trust in the hopes of inner healing and restoration. My desire, Lord willing, is that I will be able to bring the same to his precious Bride when given the opportunity. The next reformation is calling.
2012 UPDATE: I’m trying to make the time to put the Next Reformation series of articles in to book form. Much has changed in my mind and heart since writing these last 10 posts, so the re-write is taking longer than I thought it would. I would greatly appreciate your prayers and thoughts on this stuff. Your comments (especially the encouraging ones) are valued.
When Jesus was asked to provide the cliff notes version on how to be a Christian, he said “love God and love each other, cause that’s what this thing is all about.” RBT (Revised Bump Translation) Most would readily agree that Christianity, in its purest form, is truly simplistic. But for reasons apparently beyond our ability to comprehend, we often seem to make our faith and practice a lot more complicated than we would like it to be. Maybe it’s some kind of spiritual A.D.D., but we tend to quickly lose sight of that which was intended to be our primary focus as believers… loving God and loving others. Added to our struggle to stay properly focused is the fact that well intentioned pastors and church leaders sometimes get distracted by lesser truths and teachings and thus inadvertently cause much confusion and loss of clarity as it pertains to what is truly mission critical for the local church. We all have our pet doctrines and specific topics that we particularly enjoy propagating. But I would contend that even more concerning is our shameless addiction to maintaining the sanctity of how we do what we do every Sunday morning. Somehow, because we’ve been basically doing the same things the same way for the last several hundred years, we now associate singing songs and listening to someone talk for 45 minutes with being a believer. What has happened to us? The basis of our faith has become an event that most of us merely attend as a non-essential spectator. In turn, we’ve created a false perception of what it means to be a Christian. We’re not really living as Christians anymore, we’re singing songs about it and letting someone else indoctrinate us on their theories of what it might look like if we actually did something about it. Brothers and sisters, I submit to you that Christianity is not an event that we passively attend, but rather a life we must live and more fundamentally a real being that we must get to know as a friend.
It’s been said that to know someone is to love them. Before we can truly love anyone, we must have some form of up close and personal interaction with them. Especially in the U.S., we’ve been trained to interact with God vicariously through the songs, teachings, and books of others. This is a relatively recent phenomenon that I’m sure would seem quite strange to early believers. Much of what we’ve come to accept as our expression of faith is no more than an obligatory routine that we do each week because apparently we lack the motivation to try something else. According to the Lord, the bare essence of our faith is relational in nature, not ritual. But therein lies the problem. Our culture has trained us to put more effort into our events than we do our relationships. We were created to live out our lives in the context of a family and a community that would allow us not only to function, but also to actually enjoy ourselves in the process. It is my contention that American Christianity has become more about our meetings than what our meetings are supposed to be about… mutual life giving love relationships with God and others.
Looking at the back of each other’s heads while listening to a talking head, although purposeful, is clearly not relational in nature. Of course there’s value in these types of gatherings, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t get together on Sunday mornings anymore. The point is that we’ve just invested an unhealthy percentage of our time and energy in our meetings and not nearly as much as we should in each other and our individual interaction with the Lord. Genuine relationship, be it with God or others, is costly. It is time and energy consuming. It is also very risky and thus potentially unattractive … at first.
One of my daughters came into my office the other day and blurted out, “I’m mad at God!” Being the picture of parental wisdom and patience that I am, I responded, “Yeah? Why’s that?” She went on to explain in detail several of the things she didn’t understand about her current life situation and more specifically what the Lord wasn’t doing for her that she wanted him to do. She went on for some time verbally re-enacting the conversations she and the Lord had been having. “I said this, and then he said that, then I asked why, and he answered with this…” and so on. It was as if she was describing verbatim an interaction she had just had with one of her high school girlfriends. After she left the room, I have to admit that I had a deep sense of pride in my little girl’s relationship with the Lord. It was real, it was raw, and it was honest… the way genuine relationships always are. Sometimes we get mad and have to give each other a piece of our mind. “I don’t like the way you’re treating me… why’d you do that? Sometimes I don’t understand you.” If we ever find ourselves talking this way with God… that’s actually a good sign. It means we’re getting to know him as he really is… and not just because someone else told us what he was like. Intimate relationship requires truthful, gut wrenching vulnerability more often than not.
And frankly, that’s probably more at the center of the real issue. Most of us are so emotionally wounded, that we have great difficulty achieving much heart to heart intimacy with God or anyone else. Life has been rough on all of us whether we’re willing to own that fact or not. I don’t care how spiritually mature we think we are, we are deeply emotional beings and most of us could benefit greatly from some prolonged inner healing and deliverance ministry. And in my experience, sometimes it’s the most visible and influential church leaders who are in the most desperate need of emotional healing. Many of the leaders I’ve known would love the opportunity to be truly vulnerable with someone, but they realize they can’t go there for fear of certain character assassination. This dynamic has bread much of the rampant superficiality and smiling fakeness that we’re experiencing currently in the local church. Pastors are people too… so we need to cut em some slack. Pedestals tend to be precarious by design.
In addition, we must also not forget that every moment of our lives we dwell smack dab in the middle of a full on, bare knuckled brawl in the supernatural realm. As a believer, we have an enemy who is hell bent on sucking all the peace and joy out of our life here on earth that he possibly can. One of his primary strategies is to simply get us to focus on one another’s weaknesses or mistakes so that we remain in a state of offense toward one another. Or, he just gets us to start doubting the Lord’s goodness or love for us and as a result we become offended at God. Proverbs 18:19 says, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city” That sounds like battle language to me. Local church life seems to bristle with opportunities for relational pain and anger, but unhealed emotional wounds and unaddressed offense both have the potential to keep us from honoring our two most essential directives. We can’t love God or each other at a distance. It has to be a transparent, face to face interaction for it to work.
If you think about the definition of “love” provided in 1 Corinthians 13, you will realize that very few of these concepts are easily applicable to a large public gathering. True love must be expressed in the context of relationship, and most often to an individual. Thus, loving God and each other can be difficult to do well in a crowded room with someone singing or talking on a microphone. Forgive my pragmatic nature, but we need to re-think this thing a little. How am I to express love to you if I’m afraid to even look at you when you’re sitting right next to me? God forbid we distract one another and miss some crucial moment of the performance on stage. Is it just me, or is there really something very wrong with this picture? Why are we so afraid to get out of our seats and mix it up a little?
Truthfully, it’s not just the rut we’re in on Sunday morning, it’s the overall shortage of joy and our frequent inability to simply ENJOY our relationships with one another and the Lord that seems to keep dogging us. We’ve been so busy doing the church thing that we’ve forgotten how to BE the church. How we interact with our friends, our family, our fellow employees, or our boss is a much more accurate indication of our spiritual maturity than how well we understand and can articulate the latest and greatest doctrines. Paul called this being “blown here and there by every wind of teaching.” (Eph 4:14) Many of us still think that if we can just get our friend to the meeting…. if they just here the right message, they’ll “come to the Lord.” Here’s an idea, why don’t we make an honest effort to take the Lord to them? He’s in us right? I don’t know anyone right now who would say they suffer from too much kindness being shown to them, or having too many friends who really care about them. Jesus was known as a FRIEND of sinners. Sometimes just being a good friend may be the most spiritual thing we can do for someone. That also applies to our relationship with the Lord. Slowly I’m coming to the understanding that he wants us to see ourselves as more than his child or his servant. Just like us, he needs friends. Jesus likes it when we just hang out together, no agenda, no pressure… friends. Honestly, I still have trouble being a good friend in the Sunday morning environment, to the Lord and to others. Too much other stuff is going on, and we only have so long to do it because there’s another show starting in an hour and a half. Hurry and find your seat, we don’t want to miss the trailers. It’s time for change. God help us, I feel like we’re at a fork in the road.
Christian blogs and Christian articles are rapidly becoming the preferred source of spiritual sustenance for many modern believers. With the advent of the internet, our information gathering habits have changed dramatically. The dependency we once had on our local family bookstore has diminished as we have learned to surf the waves of the web for various forms of heart and mind nourishment. Rather than buying a hard cover book for twenty five bucks that we only read once and then end up using as a shelf decoration, we now can visit any number of Christian blogs and find quality Christian articles with the tap of a touch pad.
Although many of us still find some kind of visceral pleasure in feeling the texture of the paper as we turn the page, I’m not convinced that this kind of biblio-nostalgia will have a significant impact on the rate at which we are converting to the splendors of the e-universe. I for one am seriously considering getting rid of at least some of the hundreds of books we’ve acquired over the years. My friends all cringe when they find out we’re moving again. They know the pain of schlepping Uncle Bumpy’s countless book boxes from point A to point B. My seminary texts alone are cause for a hernia blow out. Like me, you may be an old dog that often has trouble learning new technology, not to worry. If I can figure out how to create a word press post, you can learn to track down your favorite speaker or author’s private cache of Christian blogs and Christian articles.
However, we must never forget that we were created to function as a vital part of a much larger organism. The internet is not a viable substitute for genuine, face to face, relationship. Though many churches still closely adhere to the “talking head standing in front of a room full of heads” paradigm, there is a notable resurgence of relationship oriented gatherings. Many believers have wearied of the spectator mentality and have opted for the deeper level of personal interaction provided by more intimate venues. House churches and ministries with the core value of community building are making a come back. Personal manna gleaning is one thing, being “rightly joined and fitted together” (Eph 4:16) is another.
Now is the time to master the many nuances of Google. The research tools available and the opportunities to disseminate Christian truth are truly astounding in their scope. A few months ago I had no clue what link building, keywords, or SEO had to do with anything. But with the help and patience of my techno-geek friends, bump on a blog was born. For the time being, Christian articles have become my primary means of seed sowing. My hope and prayer is that those with a heart to write Christian blogs and Christian articles would be encouraged to give it a try. The movie Julie and Julia was inspirational to me. Julie was a blogger, Julia Childs wrote the quintessential cookbook for the 1950s housewife. They lived in two very different worlds, very different times, and used their own unique means of communicating the same content. Great movie if you’re thinking about blogging. Lord bless our Christian blogs.