*This is the 7th in a series of entries inspired by books I’ve read on the subject of the “missional church.” Please read the ground rules before beginning. Also, try to read entries in chronological order as they tend to build on the previous entry, okay?
My dad died and I took a four year drift from Christian circles. The reasons were minor, practical & legion but not important to this discussion.
Then Duffy moved into my life. He worked for a campus ministry at my high school and took an interest in an ordinary kid. He got me intrigued about Jesus, and introduced me to people who would help me out in my re-discovery of Him and the Bible that revealed Him. He helped me find a small group of guys who were pretty entrenched in the Jesus thing…and a church youth group that was very entrenched in the Jesus thing. The leaders of both of those groups also took the time to move in to my life, too.
This was when I became introduced to the idea that there were some unspoken behavioral codes in my new tribe that I’d need to adhere to. This tribe genuinely wanted to strive to be “holy.” My take-away was that “holiness” was “toeing the behavioral lines.”
I never smoked or drank, so I was already ahead of the game in those regards.
I did have a long-term girlfriend, and it was pretty quickly communicated that I’d need to be bringing her around, too.
While we were on that subject, it was made clear that touching any part of her that would be covered by a swimsuit was verboten.
Um, those Halloween and Friday the 13th movies we’d been getting into before we were 17 constituted two violations (content and rebellion).
After the Wednesday night seminar on how KISS, Ozzy and AC/DC were all agents of Satan, I kept my love of Black Flag, X, Fear, The Clash, Ramones, the Germs, et al, to myself.
I’d be wise to drive a little more cautiously and keep the music lower if the windows were down when I was entering/leaving the church parking lot.
My friends that were girls had a “church swimsuit” and the regular one they wore.
I had a lot of friends with long hair (or with crazy ’80’s cuts inspired by movies or bands) and earrings on guys were ixnayed.
I was also told I could get certain books and new music at a “Christian” bookstore that just opened.
Obeying parents was harped on with healthy frequency.
Oh, and those friends you’d take a bullet for? They’re not really the best influence, don’t you think?
Now, I’m not saying there isn’t wisdom in some of those things. Hear that. Please. What I’m saying is that “holiness” was never portrayed in a positive sense at all. The “abundant life” I was reading about in my Bible looked an awful lot like taking the stuff I liked to do and giving it a “cease and desist” order. Well, in my case, more like a “keep quiet while you keep doing that stuff” order.
Yes. I’ve heard all the justifications for these things. Time and again I’ve heard them. Generally, they boil down to “these will keep you out of trouble and the consequences thereof until you ‘mature’ in your faith.”
I’ve come to believe that’s nonsense on stilts.
See, later on, a guy who moved in to my life spent a great deal of time talking to me about the difference between legalism (which would kill me) and a walk based on grace (which would help me live abundantly). See, the church was real good about telling me about God’s grace in contrast to me being a sinner and needing to be saved, but a little short on how grace played out in my day-to-day life. Being in the Deep South in suburbia/university settings in America didn’t really help that, either. Codes.
You need to know that THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE. If we live our lives by well-intentioned codes we reduce the spiritual life to a whole lot of unattractive “don’ts” that’s all people will know about Christ and His life. There’s a positive side to that coin, and we’d better be about showing it to a world that desperately needs to see it.
So, when we decide to let Jesus move in to our lives and we choose to move in to the moment-by-moment life of Kingdom Living, well, that’s where the practicality of the missional ideas come to a “Rubber, meet the road” reality. Key components of the missional movement in the way we view our world–and hence, live it out before a watching world–generally fall into one of these categories:
We should live out an authentic & attractive spiritual life. Ned Flanders is the foil for evangelicalism for a reason. As a youth minister, I saw parents reacting out of fear their kids would fall into the wrong things with the wrong people and ruin their future, so they’d put them in the Christian bubble. They talked in codes of their tribe. They were “good kids” who lived out the codes of behavior. They became little bitty Flanders family members. All in the hope they’d keep it together long enough to get into a good college and get a good job.
But the Jesus I read about in Scripture was blessing the wrong people and certainly spending His time with the riff-raff. He was supplying the wine at wedding feasts. He was called out for hanging out with the fringe. Apparently, His idea of holiness went far beyond codes of conduct. As Frost & Hirsch put it:
We have already mentioned the kind of holiness he exuded was the kind that didn’t repulse normal ‘sinners.’ Rather, his was a very attractive spirituality. And he was not your ordinary evangelical guy. He was notorious (yes, that’s the right word) for hanging out with the wrong types. In contrast with today, when so much of our Christianity is being with the right people in the right places at the right times, Jesus was always in the wrong places with the wrong people, at the wrong times, according to the religious establishment. We want to say that this is the Jesus we must rediscover to balance our excessively sober images of our Lord. We need his model of holy laughter, his sheer love of life, of his infectious holiness, of his common people’s religion, for our day. We want to say that being Christlike is not only hard work, it’s also a load of fun–you get to hang out with the interesting people.
We need to take prayer seriously. I had a seminary professor say something that revolutionized the way I thought about prayer: “Prayer is an attitude. Sometimes we verbalize it.” I was struggling with the idea that the Bible told us to pray without ceasing and that it couldn’t be done. Prayer is really a way of looking at the world, being in communion with God and running everything through that filter. All too often, I fell into traps that prayer was what I did in the morning or before bed or joined a group of people to do at a certain time. Yeah. I still struggle with it…but think that through. We need that authentic, constant communion with Him to help us walk in holiness and interact with those we move in with.
We need to remove agendas when we interact. Too often, the Church has us view folks as “saved” and “lost” and tell us we need to get our “lost” friends “saved.” Usually, this is presented to us as, “make friends, pray for them, and bring them to our thing so they can hear the Gospel.” What if we decided to just love people without making them a “target?” Find ways to show love and serve, and trust God will draw them to Himself in weird, wild, or even normal ways.
We need to erase a secular/sacred divide. The evangelical culture I’m in actually celebrates this. There’s a billboard in my town promoting the local Christian radio station as “safe for the whole family.” Funny that one of the most posted C.S. Lewis quotes is the one about Jesus not being safe, but he’s good. We’re told that Christian movies, books, shows, stores, radio stations, music groups, are a “healthy alternative” to the “world.” Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be wise and thoughtful about the culture, but we shouldn’t fear it. You know, I fear a world where subpar & mediocre (at best) art is fostered on us and we should support it because it’s “Christian” more than I do a moving work of art in which I disagree with the artists. If Christian is used as an adjective, it’s usually a bad thing in my mind. We should erase that divide, man. Like Johnny Cash was once quoted: “I’m not an Christian artist. I’m an artist who happens to be a Christian.” We need to see that in our jobs & titles, we need to stop seeing them as saved & lost friends, we need to see it as good or bad art rather than Christian or non-Christian, and on and on. It’s all the spiritual life or none of it is.
We need to watch our verbage. Words mean things. Like all professions, we have words and phrases that we use all the time that few others around us know exactly what they mean. For example, we “lift things up” in prayer. We call gyms “family life centers.” We inappropriately use the word “sanctuary” when we mean the auditorium where we meet. We need to make sure we can explain what we mean when we flippantly use words like “justification” or “sanctification.” This kind of applies to the pulpits each and every Sunday more than our conversations…but that Johnny Cash quote is pretty important and telling, no?
We should hallow the everyday. This flows from erasing the secular/sacred divide and ties positively with refocusing our idea of worship to what it truly should be in Romans 12: 1-2. Every moment of our lives should be lived as a spiritual service of worship. See, we’ve reduced “worship” to the songs we sing or maybe even a few exercises we’ll take part in during a service. Scripture is clear that we should view everything we do as worship. Our interaction with the clerks. Our driving. Our hanging out with friends. All of it should be sacred to Him and presented to Him. That alone would govern a lot of our codes of conduct, no?
We need to be an authentic community. Ever had that prayer request or question or struggle you wanted to bring up and get help with from the insights and wisdom others could give but chose not to bring it up? Yeah. Me, too. We need to be real when we’re together, man. The good, bad and ugly. Too often we see “authenticity” as mentioning the ugly stuff. But it includes celebrating with those who are celebrating just as much as bringing up that struggle with lust or gossip or helping a friend who lost a job. And we need places where we can talk about doing life together and everything it brings without condemnation and/or shame. Because, when we stop pretending, we expose the pretending of others…and somebody’s got to lead that. Yes, it can get messy. But it can also get beautiful, too.
So, there you have it.
That’s my overview of key components of missional…and tomorrow (and maybe the next day) I’ll put my views on what this all looks like in my mind for the Church today and how we might go forward for the Church we want to be of tomorrow and the future…
…but for today,
First, how does the idea of holiness going beyond codes to living abundantly excite you? Scare you? What changes would you have to make if you decided to live that out or see it being lived out by others?
Second, how does that idea of prayer change the way you view it? Do we pray enough?
Third, where do you see the need to erase secular/sacred thinking in your life?
Fourth, do you have (or ever have been in) authentic community? What did you love about it? What got messy?
Have at it, patrons!