Most of you know that I’ve been angsty about the effectiveness of the local church when it comes to helping people do and say the things that Jesus did and said. I mean, I’ve trafficked in the highest levels of evangelicalism since my earliest days of following Jesus…everything from attending a “solid” Bible church in my days as a student, having fellow travelers take me under their wings in college, excellent years in ministry with Youth for Christ, knowledgeable & capable professors at Dallas Theological Seminary, and 15 years serving in one local congregation in the edges of the Bible Belt.
To be sure, I’ve seen some wins. I cannot deny that
But, frankly, I’ve seen more ties (at best) and losses (at worst), much of both caused by the “systems” of evangelicalism. I’m passionate about being proactive in trying to correct those weaknesses in how we do business…especially as it relates to the future of how we do business. I’d say that the last half of my life will be dedicated to that very thing, especially as it relates to preparing the next generation for the handoff of leadership & vision we’ll give them.
Someone who knows my passion well recommended that I attend the Inhabit Conference last weekend in Seattle. It’s put on by The Parish Collective, which is an organization dedicated to getting people who are doing ministry through local neighborhoods together to pool resources and experiences. They partnered with The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology to make the weekend happen. Now, you should know that these are the types of groups that will actually schedule a pub-crawl as part of the conference. Awesome.
Now, it isn’t my intent to use The Diner to bore you with details of each speaker/topic or breakout seminars or whatever…there was simply way too much by way of information/insight to process before I could even begin, anyway. What I’d like to do is use the major themes of the conference to get discussion going.
Suffice to say that when these folks started the entire conference by doing an exercise to “welcome home” those of us on the fringes because we’re questioning convention & practice of the North American Church, well, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt truly “at home” among my Tribe and it meant so much to me to (almost instantly) feel I’d found my people.
At any rate, as Mark Scandrette, one of the breakout session leaders, noted, there is a gap between what many evangelicals dream about personally and for their ministries and their “doing” of these things. Granted, this is an old theme…much like we all know that to lose weight we need to improve our diets and exercise more but we never get around to it. Or we’ll start next week, next month, when things slow down. So we wind up sitting in discontent between where we are and where we want to be.
Since I’m being honest here, that’s where much of my angst lies.
I have a dream for ministry.
No. It doesn’t look like the suburban Bible-Belt congregation. Yes. I know that model “worked” for many…at least on the surface. But since I’m being honest, I think that wave has crested and we’re on the downside of it. Yes. I know that many of my Texan friends will dispute this and point to all the big buildings with fannies in seats each Sunday and blah blah blah. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, the studies are in: Fannies in seats doesn’t mean effective discipleship is taking place. As I’ve also mentioned in this space, the “commuter” church (as the folks at this conference often referred to megachurches) has some inherent flaws in the system. I won’t bore you with more regurgitations of the same. You should know I’m not alone in this line of thinking as current publishing in Christian circles is more than happy to sell books on it…and is doing so.
Much of this comes from the individualistic and information-driven (which I’ll discuss in the next three days, so plan on a busy week here at The Diner) approach to spirituality that most of our discipleship methods lead to. You know, you attend a class in a lecture format on Sunday, or sit in an auditorium and listen to a charismatic speaker after hearing a hip & with-it worship leader, and maybe grab your Bible and your devotional and your journal and snuggle up with a latte at Starbucks two or three days a week. Then you call that “quiet time” your “worship.” As one the speakers put it, “Have you noticed that we can ‘worship’ Jesus without ever really worshipping Jesus?”
Anyway, back to my dream…which certainly employs much of what I gleaned from my experiences in student ministry and puts it in a blender with the realities of the suburban place I’ve been stationed.
See, I put the dream on the back-burner inadvertently. I started focusing on all the reasons it didn’t seem doable. The start-up cash I’d need. The locations that all have drawbacks. The start-up of something foreign in the Bible Belt and the resistance that will come…much of it’ll be harsh instead of constructive. The much more romantic allure of moving downtown and working with the young & urban populace. I’d stopped dreaming. My fault.
Here’s the dream I let die (which, as an aside, I believe can work in/through/with the right local church as the principles could apply though a variety of already happening ministries where all you have to do is add a little imagination…so, I’m not ruling out working for a church at all. The right church with the right mindset could implement such an environment in existing systems): A “Third Space” kind of place that wasn’t given to the Wednesday/Sunday conventions of our culture for the spiritual life. A place where you could be excited to leave your privacy-fenced cocoon and drop-in, as you are, where you are. A place where you could know others and be known by others. A place where you could grab margaritas and discuss the problems of raising kids in a pressure-cooker or deep theology. A place where you could smoke cigars & drink scotch and throw darts (or, skeeball or horseshoes or whatever else we had room for). A place where all generations could roll in and feel at home. The music would be good but low enough to allow for talking more than anything else. Where the only TV would be behind curtains that would open only for “planned events” like a ballgame or The Bachelor finale or whatever else would foster community rather than provide white noise & visual pollution. A place where the kids would be welcome and grandfathers could teach dominoes without having to spend $4 for a latte and having enough room for a table of 20 or nooks for two. A place where live music happened in our burgh. A place that would be upbeat & you could just drop in whenever you felt like it and expect to see someone you know (even if it wasn’t prearranged) and feel like you were “31 miles from Dallas, 40 miles from Ft. Worth and a million miles from Alone & Busy.” A place where you could live out your spiritual life in true community with all that entails.
Sounds beautiful, no?
Why did I let this die under the weight of practicality? Why had I stopped praying about it? I have no idea.
And this conference helped me to dream again.
So, today, here at The Diner (which, 8 years ago I named this blog that very thing, so maybe seeds of this type of community have always been with me)…
I know I took a heady and circuitous route to get to a simple question, but that’s my biggest take-away.
…what is YOUR dream right now?
P.S. Tomorrow we’ll dive into some more provocative insights from the conference.