Most of you know I spend a great deal of time reading about “mission,” what with being a Mission Pastor & all. On Mondays, I try to get your thoughts going about stuff I read. Today’s thoughts come from Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Timothy Keller
I met Jim in my first stint at seminary.
His story was being raised in a Christian home. Home-schooled through his elementary school years. Went to a suburban private Christian middle school, that continued through his high school years. Then attended a well-known Christian liberal arts university that had strict behavioral codes. Immediately after graduation he went off to a well-known seminary and completed his Master’s degree. He was working on his doctorate fresh off that stint.
Another guy I hit it off with in the dorm and I invited Jim to go out with us. While Ron and I had the Christian home thing in common, both our stories involved public schools, times of distance between ourselves and God, university football factories and I had a fraternity stint. We had recently completed our undergrad degrees with little effort and were looking forward to the challenge of grad school…and in particular, this particular seminary.
We were all single then and it was a Friday night. We were in Dallas, Texas, man. We wanted to go OUT. Really out. Not Chili’s and a movie out…young people Friday night going out and Jim was interested in going.
There was this night club Ron & I had heard was fun for grad-school types who really wanted to go OUT. Really out. Not Chili’s and a movie out…young people Friday night going out.
And it was all the rage, too. Long line to get in. Folks were dressed to kill. Kinda pricey cover charge. Very pricey drinks. Lots of folks looking for maybe more than what the three of us were looking for, to be sure. But it was definitely a LOT more than Chili’s and a movie.
Even saw cocaine snorted in the restroom.
So, after a few hours it was obvious that the party was going to get even MORE into young people going out Friday night we figured we’d seen enough. We had some conversations with some girls (who, somewhat surprisingly, weren’t as interested in a couple of seminary students as we’d maybe hoped) and spending more money on a drink than we wanted and listening to some loud techno music for three hours and seeing drug deals/usage in the lavatory, we decided to call it a night. Not all that much fun, but, whatever.
Back in the car, the conversation went something like this:
Ron: Kind of awesome, really. Good music. Good drinks. A little pricey, but a pretty good time all in all.
Jim: What was good about it?
Ron: Lots of pretty girls. Smart, too, grad school types. The DJ knew how to mix the music well. I had fun dancing. I mean, I spent more than I wanted to, but I think we left before the partying got too out of control. The drugs in the bathroom were over the top, but what are you going to do?
Jim: I really just cant get past how many people smoked.
Ron: That was what you got out of all that? There were women dancing in cages with strobe lights behind them. Drug deals in the bathroom, for crying out loud. Some folks were drinking too much, sure, but most weren’t. And, yes, lots of them were all on the hunt for sex. And your take-away from all this is that people smoked? Wow.
It was, too. That’s what bothered him the most. That people smoked.
It dawned on me that he couldn’t relate to…
Later, Ron and I discussed the whole conversation. Maybe we shouldn’t have taken him to one of the premier clubs in Dallas for his first out-on-the-town excursion. But, while it wasn’t our scene, we were aware of the scene. We knew what to expect. We had a framework for how others lived life and played on their time off. We were concerned about what and how he was going to do as a pastor. I mean, think of how much Jim’s disconnect would get magnified in dealing with church folks.
Thankfully, it turned out, he was headed for a career in academia. Specifically, he wanted to teach at a Christian college. God has a design for all of us, which is kind of cool. And maybe his disconnect would be minimal.
But I use that story as an extreme example of what I think is a common theme among Christians: We lose the ability to connect with those that don’t know Jesus. I mean, there is some statistic out there that says once someone gets involved in Christian circles they lose all their non-Christian friends before three years are up.
And that’s what Keller addresses in Center Church:
Yet we could also argue that the greatest problem for the church today is our inability to connect with non-believers in a way that they understand. Isn’t it a major issue that the evangelical church exists as a subcultural cul-de-sac, unable to speak the Gospel intelligibly to most Americans, and is perceived to be concerned only with increasing its own power rather than with the common good? Of course it is.
Did you catch that?
The biggest problem for the church is that we can’t connect with non-believers in a way that they understand?
We are a subcultural cul-de-sac?
We don’t care much about the common good of our communities?
…and today let’s ask a few questions:
Do you agree with Keller or not? Why/not?
What do you think he means by the phrase “subcultural cul-de-sac?”
How can we connect with non-believers in way they’ll understand? What does that look like?
Have at it, patrons!