(Note: Wednesday’s & Thursday’s entries are taken directly from the address Tim Soerens gave during the Inhabit Conference I attended last weekend. The three main points in his address during the Leadership in New Parish Symposium on Saturday afternoon are what I’ll be thinking through)
A couple of quick stories:
Cut to a lunch table loaded with youth pastors. I had by far the most experience and was easily 10 years the elder statesman of the group. Now, this isn’t to say that I was the “best” of the bunch because there were two that I truly thought were more gifted than I was…but after years of a lot of professional turnover, these lunches had become a repeat of the earlier get-togethers. Usually the younger guys would want to get some big event on the docket. Something we could do “together to show unity among area churches.” Somehow, Third Day and Mercy Me and a local football field would help us show unity. The next question was what curriculum we were using for our middle school/high school ministry.
I always appreciated the heart behind the first discussion even if I knew enough about logistics to know it would be a lot more money than the young guys thought it would be…which usually squelched the ideas because nobody seemed to have an extra $15K lying around their budgets. It was the second question that made me crazy because I didn’t understand it.
See, I never purchased curriculum during my tenure in youth ministry. And when they’d ask me what I was using, the answer went something like this: “Well, our group is taking a look at the nature of the community in the process of spiritual growth, so we’re looking at passages in Acts & Thessalonians about the nature of the early church.” Their question: “Who published that?” Me: “Um, well, I don’t think anyone in Nashville knows my kids and context. So, I pray, study and off we go.”
Their response: “But…but…why reinvent the wheel? Shouldn’t you be spending time with kids in coffee shops or at their games? Why not just get some good stuff from Youth Specialties or Lifeway and use that time building relationships?”
Cut to a Q&A session after I’d spoken to a group of younger moms for our women’s ministry.
Question from the audience: “What books would you recommend for parenting our kids? You’ve got so many years of working with teens and I only have so much time, so which ones are the best?”
My response: “Proverbs and Psalms.”
Nice lady: “No. What books? Like ones we could get from the Christian bookstore.”
Me: “I’m being sincere when I say just spend time reading Psalms and Proverbs and you’re limited reading time will be maximized. I’m not trying to be cute or trite. Just dive in to those and you’ll develop a deeper walk and that’ll make you a better parent.”
Nice lady: “But there have to be good books, too.”
Me: “Well, in my experience, parenting books are all written from a position of success by the author. The problem is that it often makes you feel inferior. Psalms lets you deal with the ups and downs of the spiritual life and Proverbs gives you principles to guide you in good times and tough ones. I mean, nobody writes a book about what they did to provoke their kid to roll their eyes and slam the doors or that their kid got four tickets and two wrecks in their first two years of driving. All the books “work” and all the books “fail.” So my advice is to stick to God’s advice and be Spirit-led as you parent.”
…one more group I won’t be asked back to speak for.
I had the discussion several times when I was leading the Christian Education department at our church. I’d ask adult ministry leaders why they’d dedicated an entire semester to (insert nationally-known Christian All-Star)’s DVD/Workbook series…to which I was told how great of a speaker he/she is and how “passionate” they were (as an aside, I’d like to remove that adjective from our lexicon as I can’t think of one more misapplied. Coffee with me if you want to discuss that).
Look. I get that they’re great. But are you trying to tell me that they know our people and our context more than someone in our ministry? And are you telling me that (nationally-known best-selling author here) knows our needs better than us? Surely we can be all Ephesians 4 and have gifted servants write something for us.
Them: “But this is already written and proven and I’ve seen it. It’s great.”
I’m not alone. In 2010, Lifeway (the only company I looked up) averaged $60 million in sales.
And that was the final point of Tim Soeren’s symposium. That we can easily fall into a trap that spiritual formation occurs through more information.
Think about it for a second. A typical church service starts with announcements, goes into a few songs (which we call worship) that we sing together, there’s a special song by a talented member of the church while we “worship through giving,” then we go into a 30-40 minute sermon that is lecture. It’s information driven while we sit in our chairs and listen. Then our Sunday School class is the same thing with tables and chairs and a “master teacher” format that runs the same length but there’s maybe some Q&A. Our mid-week studies are the same thing with the exception that we’re in a small group and we sit in a circle and have prayer requests…and then we read a book we picked up at the local Lifeway about some area we’re trying to improve our spiritual life. Maybe we attend a conference or two, like a Women of Faith thing or Promise Keepers or Teen Mania…even those are mostly larger-scale versions of our Sundays when it comes right down to it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m big on information. I love learning.
But Tim Soerens’ point was that information alone isn’t going to get the job done. The funny thing was he talked about the romance of publishing and made a joke about “half this room being published authors.” It was true. I’d read a lot of their books…and the conference was attended by a little over a hundred folks…and it was entirely possible that half of them had a book out.
His point is correct. It requires information, to be sure. That’s a part of the process. But the American church is missing the boat when it comes to having those principles embodied in the life of a person who is walking alongside you, as well as living it out in a community of folks who will encourage and, if needed, rebuke you.
And too often, we show up on our Sunday classes, hear good information and have a cup of coffee with a few friends, hit up our small group and do things similarly, and then we live out the other hours of our lives all by ourselves…
…hoping that the next sermon series, or conference, or book, or class, will spur us to a deeper, abundant life.
And they won’t. These will only come from what Soerens called a “whole life faith.” Where we live with a common mission, with a common formation of our spiritual lives, lived out in common relationships (or community). This will spur us on to faith & good works. I mean, I kept hearing at the conference that their goal was to simply encourage people to do and say the things Jesus did and said…which, when you look at it with the disciples, they had common mission, forming their spiritual lives with a common focus and living out that faith with common relationships.
So, today, for the discussion…
Who are some people that lived out their faith alongside you and how did they embody the information you were given?
What do each of the elements of Soerens’ “whole life faith” look like to you?
Can you think of a time when all three of those elements were obvious in your life and would you say that was a time of spiritual growth for you?
Have at it, patrons!