There Will Be An Another Test

A couple of days ago, you might remember I quoted an extensive passage from Rob Bell & Don Golden’s new book Jesus Wants to Save Christians. The subtitle is “A Manifesto for the Church in Exile.”

Anyway, the subject that I highlighted came from chapter 5, where the authors illustrated the reality that the church in America faces trouble when dealing with affluence. It’s hard to feel revolutionary when there’s not much to rebel against. It’s hard to connect with a Savior who interacted with prostitutes and tax collectors. It’s hard to relate to the world’s needs when you don’t have many needs. Remember?

So, I simply left the question at the end of the illustration that the youth pastor asked you, a visitor to his youth ministry group, which was “I just can’t get my students engaged with Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?”

Now, what I’d like to do is give you a sampling of the solution the authors set forth. So, here’s selected snippets from chapter 6 and the Epilogue, which I think will give you a flavor of what the author’s “manifesto” is about (you’ll need to know that they use the word “eucharist” as it should be literally translated–good gift–and that Jesus was God’s good gift to the world, so they use the word interchangeably with “Christ.”):

“The Eucharist is about the new humanity…In the new humanity you hear perspectives you don’t normally hear, you walk in someone else’s shoes, you find out the judgments you had previously made about the group of people or that kind of men or that kind of women or all those kids simply don’t hold up because now you’re getting to know one of ‘those’ and it’s changing everything. You learn that labels for different groups of people groups are insufficient, because people are far more complex and unpredictable and intelligent and creative…

This is why it is very dangerous when a church becomes known for being hip, cool and trendy. The new humanity is not a trend. Or when a church becomes known for attracting one particular kind of demographic, like people of this particular age or education level, or that particular social class or personality type There’s obviously nothing wrong with the powerful bonds that are shared when you meet up with your own tribe, and hear things in a language you understand and cultural references are made that you are familiar with, but when sameness takes over, when everybody shares the same story, when there’s no listening to other perspectives, no stretching and expanding and opening up–that’s when the new humanity is in trouble…

A church is where tow people groups with blue hair–young men and older women–sit together and somehow it all fits in a Eucharistic sort of way. Try marketing that. Try branding that. The new humanity defies trends and demographics and the latest marketing research…

The Eucharist confronts its culture with the question, If we can spend a trillion dollars on a war, what else could we spend a trillion dollars on? Water? Food? Medicine? Education?…The Eucharist is about people with the power empowering the powerless to make a better life for themselves. The church says no to the animating spirit of religious empire, the one which leads Christians to look no different than the world around them. Churches can easily become centers for assimilation, where the seats in the sanctuary are eerily similar to the seats in the cinema, the website offers all of the programs to meet your specific religious needs, and the coffee in the hallway is just as good as in the shops across the street…

…Because everything begins with the cry. It begins with someone crying and someone else hearing. And it’s hard to hear the cry when you’re isolated from it. In Proverbs it’s written that the rich man’s wealth is a ‘fortified city.’ People fortify cities with walls meant to keep people out. But the problem with walls is they also keep people in…walls isolate. So can gates. And freeways. And school systems. And grocery stores. And health clubs. And shopping malls. And homes. And office buildings. But when we hear the cry everything changes…

And whatever it is, it will not be boring. Tomorrow will not be like today. And it will cost something. The Eucharist always does. It isn’t just about trying to save the world. It’s about saving ourselves. From the kingdom of comfort. From the priority of preservation. From the empire of indifference. From an exile of irrelevance….and when we listen and go, it iwll never be about guilt. It will never be on the heels of ‘Well, I guess I’m supposed to.’ The Eucharist doesn’t work like that…It comes from being captivated by a great cause–one so massive and compelling that you’d sell everything to be a part of it. God is with us when we go, when we respond, when we hear, when we listen…”

Okay…

…so you got the gist of it, right?

The answer is found in a church being one that is unified amidst natural differences in age/status/experience/et al/etc., and then it’s found in getting outside the walls of the church and serving others and meeting needs.

Now, keep in mind this is nothing new. I mean, we’ve all heard sermons about getting outside the four walls and engaging the culture and how our congregations need to be converging and mixing. Heck, I’ve even given sermons like that.

So, before I blog tomorrow about football AND my random, scattered thoughts on this, I’d like to let you know that this is where the authors left off.

They didn’t have a chapter on what these high-minded ideals actually LOOK like. My guess is that’s what they wanted us thinking about. Because I was offended and encouraged and excited and mad all at the same time when I got to the end of the book (even through what might be some sloppy exegetical work in the epilogue, but still).

So, today’s pop-quiz, keeping in mind the similar question of “how do I get the youth group engaged” is now “how do I get my church engaged?” What does this LOOK like to you? Engagement is tied to ‘hearing the cry.’

Have at it, patrons. And, frankly, I’m expecting more comments than on yesterday’s “sex” entry! 🙂

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