An Answer in 4 Parts

Morning

Every once in a while, I get an email comment or question from someone. To be honest, the majority of them have been offers to increase web traffic, get 100 years of free Viagra, an unexpected chance to earn 1.4 millions of dollars for a wire transfer, or some other such spam. (“Curse you spam!” he threatened while shaking his fist in the air.)

Last week, Julie from Incite Faith (@InciteFaith on the twitter) asked me a couple of questions:

I realize I can ask this via Twitter, but I hate the 140 character limit. I wanted your input on something: Where do you think we have failed as a Christian community and what can we do to make things better? In your honest opinion? I know you’ve blogged about your experience(s) with Church. Both good and bad. What has been your biggest struggle with the Church in the past few years? I realize these are questions that I have asked you or you have previously addressed. But I wanted a fresh perspective. You don’t seem like the same person you were 6-7 months ago. You’re growing. You’re changing. You’re evolving. And I appreciate your insight. Thank you in advance and for your time. Godspeed, Julie

When I first read this, I immediately started formulating a rant about the perceived failings of North American evangelicalism, how over all culturally irrelevant it is, about how (pragmatically speaking) moralist behavior has replaced gospel, and how we have created a church culture that completely separates us from the world and our selves, thus keeping us from recognizing the activity of the Holy Ghost out side of our religious rhythms. It’s easy for me to point out the failings I think I see. I’m still a passed off, gospel hungry, nerd punk at heart. The problem with me answering these questions on this way is this: I am drawing lines between myself and the “them”, effectively and pragmatically making enemies of people who fall on the other side of the line. I am not admitting the fundamental truth that not only am I part of the problem, but I am not the chosen one with the solution for the people of Jesus.

In that realization I begin to find parts of my real answers to Julie’s questions.

part 1

To put it bluntly, I think that we the church have failed as a whole to leave our focus centered on Jesus alone. We gather ourselves, we attempt to grow in faith, we strive to bring good change to the community and world around us… but without Jesus as the sole core of our identity and efforts, we end up missing the mark and devolving into either social clubs or theological war zones. Having the wrong center is like pulling the beating heart out of a child: they will never discover who they were meant to become and will be robbed of the journey it’s self. In other words, it all goes horribly wrong.

part 2

In the past few years. I have found my struggle not to be with Church as much as it has been with my self.

No matter what church culture does well or poorly, I am left with my own participation (or lack thereof) in a life that is shaped by believing in Jesus. No matter the words I spew out about believing better and being part of a community centered around Jesus, I am left with my own integrity (or lack thereof). My struggles with myself come down to this: how do these beautiful, deep, wide, lovely things I believe make a difference in my everyday? How do I follow in the steps of Jesus without resorting to moralism while still maintaining a meaningfully change in my thoughts, feelings, and actions?

I don’t have a well formed, non-chaotic answer yet.

Part 3

I feel like we ask the wrong questions most of the time. We ask where/how the church has failed, how we have been hurt, and what we can change. While these questions may lead our thinking toward helpful conclusions, I feel they are too limited and will ultimately leave us asking the exact same questions down the road.

Most of the time, we ask these questions because we want reform of some sort. While reform is good, we have to be aware who we are seeking reform for. It’s easy to think about the methods and means I would like to see in Church. It’s easy to identify the areas that would make me feel better if they were changes in a particular way. None of these desires are intrinsically bad, but they are focused on a reformation for me. We want to change the church and see expressions of Christian faith that make the world a better place now, that form better communities for us to be part of now, and that ultimately let this generation of postmodern believers find a home in the great tradition of universal, apostolic faith.

But what about those to come? What about our children and grand children? What about the generations to come? What kind of faith inheritance are we leaving them? What kind of church are we building for them to inherent? Yes, every generation must articulate faith for themselves, finding expressions that matter for their time and place… but we can either give them something to build on from, or we can build our way of Christian life that they will have to tear down because it is in the way.

Maybe rather then ask “what can we do better? ” we can work and grow to become the kind of faith and church we wish had been given to us.

Part 4

I am tired of being alone. It feels like I am asked to be a part of community, but am expected to perfect my own piety for the sake of others. Maybe it’s just my perception, but the individual expectations of living christian lives and the emphasis on community seem at odds with each other. I’m not saying that others are responsible for my belief or that I. Not responsible for other people. Rather I am thinking that a better understanding of communal identity and personal commitment needs to be voiced and expressed by believers that are committed to various congregations.

I don’t know what this exactly means or what it looks like or how to do it, but it feels too important to ignore. This is one of the things I want to pass on to my son better than I received it from my spiritual mothers and fathers.

*****

Julie, thanks for the questions. They really prompted some good thoughts in me. Hope I answered them well.

If anyone wants to drop me a line or ask a question, I’m always down for that. If I get enough material, maybe we can start doing this a weekly thing. Feel free to submit questions, thoughts, reactions here, or leave something in the comments. I’m also interested in how you would answer Julie’s questions: Where do you think we have failed as a Christian community and what can we do to make things better?

  • InciteFaith

    Aaron,

    First, I want to say thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions so thoroughly. I spent most of the day chewing on this and trying to formulate a response. I’m really letting God speak through me right now because I want to be transparent.

    Part of the reason I asked you these questions is because I have negative feelings about the Church as a whole. Not because they have done anything to me directly but what happened in my life as a child. Also, I’m a very observant person and what I see and hear often from the Church isn’t always to my liking. Most of this is due to the fact that a lot of Christians are still depressed, broken, and more lost than before.

    The part in your post that resonated with me most was your statement on ‘reform’. You’re right. I think I’ve been focusing too much on *how* to make the Church better, when in truth I should focus instead on finding my identity in Christ. *THAT evokes change. I complain about the things I’d like to see different and change but I’m not really doing anything about it. It’s a double edged sword.

    Then I am reminded of Romans 12:1-2. I believe this goes hand in hand with how we view the Church. I believe our mission is to challenge and change society, not conform to it. Basically “Be the change you want to see.” Change, of course starts within. And maybe this is the problem. We have to search within ourselves first before we can evoke change in the world we live in.

    The Church is supposed to be a place where people can be whole again (ideally). A place where bruised and bleeding people can be healed. It’s supposed to be a restore point. Inside and outside of the Church there are people in need of healing and the hurt is continual.

    I want to see reform for those people. I want to see this reformation for myself.

    Thank you again, Aaron.