Thursday, July 29, 2010

Out of Touch

I have had a cup of ice water poured directly in my lap recently.

It came in the form of an article distributed by The Office of Research of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.

The article claims that nearly half of the population of the United States is “out of touch with church” –

Meaning –“These folks are unreceptive and closed to attending church and churchgoing is simply not on their agenda.”


For the last several decades the church has (rightly or wrongly) targeted “seekers:” people who were interested or curious about God and a relationship with Christ and His church, but not “in” yet.

Now even the population of seekers is dwindling
And the fastest growing demographic is

Not people who have been hurt by a church
and have vowed never to return
Not people who have never had a church connection
Not people who are “spiritual just not religious”


That is pretty sobering

One question that was not addressed in the article
Is why?
Why are more and more people becoming unreceptive and closed?
I have some guesses
But I think the whole truth is that the answers to the why questions
Are as varied and different as the people who can truthfully and thoughtfully answer them.

The good news is that
Who have either seen this coming
Or experienced it themselves,
Have created expressions of the church like
“Missional church”
Or “emerging church”
Or “Fresh Expressions”

The bad news
For some
Is that we must wake up to the reality
That we
The church
Especially mainline
Sometimes called
Continue to do the same things we have done for the last
Few years
The last few decades
The last fifty years
The last century
And expect to effectively reach people
And make disciples of Jesus Christ
For the transformation of the world

The question is now
Are we willing to do be different for the sake of the kingdom?

Are we willing to take risks we have never taken
Are we willing to go to places we don’t usually go
Are we willing to meet people we don’t know
Are we willing to do things we have never done
If it means that we will reach someone with the love of God
Who is

Or maybe the question ought to be
Who is really out of touch?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Spiritual but not Religious

I remember the first time I heard these words:
"I don't like organized religion."
What did he mean?
He doesn't like organization?
He doesn't like the church?
He doesn't like religion?
He doesn't like institutions?
Is he just excusing his lack of participation in a community of faith?
I'll admit,
it was jarring
and I was unprepared to dialogue about it,
though I am sure I asked a few questions for clarification

If I had a dime for every time I heard these words
(or one of their many variations)
"I am not religious but I am spiritual."
What does THAT mean?

More often than not, I think these statements boil down to two things:
First, the modern perception of the church and
Second, a modern preoccupation with the self and the immediate

To be sure, the church has had some less-than-stellar moments in our history
Moments for which we cannot be proud
Moments about which we should, even now, weep in shame
Moments which clearly do not reflect our best practices and the values of God's Kingdom
Many folks seem to relish in pointing out the church's historical and contemporary flaws
and it seems to give them sufficient reason to not only reject the church
but ridicule any and all who practice the Christian faith.

I am not so sure.
Irrelevant has come to mean more like "What have you done for me lately?"
Clearly the church is relevant in the lives of countless of people both within and outside of the church.

For instance, my congregation was relevant in the lives of about 900 people a few weeks ago as we handed out free food to the hungry
Unfortunately, it's the seedy, not the positive, story that gets told in the press.

(I will have to admit if we are talking about a relevant message, I will agree that I have sat in worship services listening to a completely irrelevant message given by a less-than-passionate preacher praying that a brick would fall on my head and stop the pain.")

That said, I find it hard to believe that one can reject a whole organization and mock millions of followers because of a small minority of events and people.

Today "being spiritual" has become, not only trendy, but an escape.
Today what passes for spirituality is a home brew of pragmatic practices and beliefs borrowed from a vast array of religions including both Western and Eastern religions
as well as aboriginal religions.
These spiritualities are all about what works for me now
Practices are about making me a better person
They do not hold me to an authority beyond my own conscience or pleasure
They do not demand that my "beliefs" be cogent
They are not about how I can make the world a better place
They do necessarily hold me accountable to how I treat others
Or how I steward the earth and all that dwell on it
Ethics are about what works for me and can be abandoned
the minute they cease working for my pleasure

Don't get me wrong
I don't think the church is perfect
And I applaud any attempt to transcend self
and find a transforming relationship with God
But what I have found
is that community - like the church
or the synagogue
or the mosque
however imperfect
is the right and best place to sustain
a wise and healthy spirituality

I am not sure what people mean by
But I AM sure that
Thomas Merton
John Wesley
Mother Theresa
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
the Dalai Lama
and those like them