The End of Casual Christianity – article and reflections


I spent a few moments today, as usual, skimming my usual blogs.  ONE article was a stand out today! If you have any interest in "churchworld," or what some would refer to as "contemporary Christianity," this perspective will be a challenge to you.  It has now been over a couple of weeks since the latest Pew Forum study on religious practices.  I've read all sorts of spin and have seen all kinds of analysis based upon findings that clearly indicate that Christianity in America, though according to some is "doomed," is declining.  Call it what you will, the onset of Post-Christendom paired with Post-modernity and the increasing influence of secularism, individualism, and moral relativism, has taken and is taking its religious institutional toll.  

The article is worth reading…it is a short "take" on the Pew research but includes, most importantly, some key phrases that are telling.  Read it for yourself…but look carefully at:

"Old grudge"

"Cultural preeminence"

"Faded into broader culture"

"Repressive traditionalism"

"Collapse…of religious belief as civic assumption"

The distinction between, "repressed remnant" and "joyful minority"

I think that there are some good points in this article especially when its author rightly points out that the church's role is society is perceived with an "angry and anxious public face."  Those words alone should be a wake up call to those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus.  How the culture perceives Jesus lovers is how the culture will respond to Jesus lovers.  If that love cannot transcend the increasingly secularistic cultural norms, than churchworld will continue to decline.  A "new model" of social engagement must emerge from the halls, pews, chairs, auditoriums and sanctuaries of churches.  Pure and simple, that's his encouragement.  Frankly, I think it is wise advice!

The End of Casual Christianity

Before you plan, PLAN!

1planning-graphicBefore you plan, PLAN!

I was on my way to Encinitas beach a while ago (Southern California near San Diego). I had planned on bringing my “sponge” (surfer lingo for a boogie board) with me so that I could catch a few waves prior to a meeting I needed to attend. I hadn’t been surfing in quite some time so I was “stoked” about having some moments to relive the glory of my youth. When I got up for my drive to the surf session, I couldn’t contain myself with excitement. Then it hit me…I wasn’t properly prepared. In my enthusiasm to get out of town, I hadn’t spent the amount of time that was needed to make the day happen. Yes, I had my board and I had a car to get to the beach…what I didn’t have was the rest of the stuff I would need to make the day what I had hoped it would be. I forgot to bring my wetsuit and I grabbed the wrong swim fins. So, in a matter of moments, my excitement turned into frustration.

Most of us who take Kingdom work seriously are planners. Jesus followers tend to be driven by passion, inspiration and enthusiasm to do the will and mission of God. That is the way that the Holy Spirit works. But if you are like me, my enthusiasm often drives me to be more impulsive than strategic in accomplishing what I believe needs to be accomplished. It’s the only way to combat that oft times irresponsible spontaneity. Consequently, planning needs to be a part of the DNA of who we are. We need to have a detailed enough plan to be able to launch and live Kingdom priorities in a fruitful manner. Even so, before you plan, plan on planning. In other words, before you plan, before you sit down with a blank sheet of paper praying for creativity and the envisioning “muse” to lead you, don’t end up at the “beach filled with frustration.”

Here are a few suggestions:

1 – Before you plan, make sure you set aside ample time. Your ally in planning is time. You need time to be your friend. You need a lot of it. You need it be time when you are at your best. You need time without distractions. You need time where you actually struggle a bit with boredom. When I’ve been tempted to get bored or distracted during my planning times, I find that I am just at the cusp of a good idea or perspective. If you are not pacing a room, or tempted to call it quits, or looking for an excuse to do something else, you probably have not set aside enough time to plan.

2 – Before you plan, prepare for your time. I have discovered that almost all of my times of planning and strategizing rose or fell based upon my preparation. In other words, ask yourself the question, “What will be the focus of my plan?” Is this a plan for YOU? Your church? Your ministry? Your schedule? Your family? Is this plan going involve anything specific in YOU, your church, ministry, schedule, or family? Do you need any documents, computer files, minutes from meetings, notes or journal entries you’ve made where you may have scratched out a few ideas that you need access to as you plan? What books or articles you’ve read recently would you want to refer to as you put together a plan? I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve sat down to do some planning and strategizing and have gotten frustrated because I didn’t bring something that I needed for that session. It might sound redundant but it is helpful to remember that you need to plan for your planning.

3 – Before you plan, ask yourself, “Who are the people in my life that this plan will affect? Do they need to be part of this planning process?” This is a factor that you need to take seriously. All of Kingdom planning is “community” planning. In other words, just as our lives in Jesus are a relational journey so is the formulation of a strategy. We don’t plan in isolation. You may think you do but every plan or strategy that you devise has relational implications. And, as we are apt to do, don’t let your enthusiasm for a plan divorce you from the obvious need for relational feedback and accountability. The worst plans I’ve implemented are the plans where my “killer” idea was launched in a relational vacuum.

4 – Before you plan, get a Coach. I’ve been intrigued over the years with the idea of having a personal “board of directors,” that being, a select group of people who were invested in me, the vision and mission that I adhere to for my life. I’m still striving toward that goal. But in the meantime, what I’ve discovered of late is the INVALUABLE asset of having a COACH as a vital part of my life. In actuality, my COACH has been my personal “board” over the past months giving me piercing feedback, wise counsel, priceless perspective and appropriate life challenge to make the changes, plans and strategies that I need to make. At FIVE-TWO we are “big” on the value of coaching. If you don’t have one, get one. Planning and strategizing that is not consistent with who you are, your mission for your life and an “incarnation” of your deepest dreams and aspirations will bound to be flat and ineffective over time.

5 – Before you plan, ask yourself, “Is this plan going to include some change? In me? In my organization?” Any plan that instigates change needs to have clarity on what dynamics you will be facing when any change is actualized. I’ve been “obsessed” with studying the dynamics of change and the fluidity of organic systems. Churches are living organisms impacted by change. From fear to anticipation, from disillusionment to renewal, change dynamics will affect your plan. If you need a good read to build your knowledge of what you face in change, read ANYTHING by John Kotter and/or the Heath book, Switch OR the Starfish and the Spider. Know these dynamics well and your plan will be served well. 6 – Before you plan, read the book, Five (Zadra, Dan. Five. Seattle: Compendium. 2009. ISBN 978-1-932319-44-6). Reminding me again that you can teach “old dogs new tricks,” a friend of mine bought this book for me and serendipitously placed in my hands. I’ve been working my way through it for over a week. I find it to be a book that asks the right questions that will provide a helpful framework for your planning. One question that is very helpful is this, “Is your planning consistent with your long-range plan?” Short term plans are good but NOT good if contextually out of synch. Good planners are contextual planners…they know how today will fit in with the flow of history and the visions of the future.

Again, don’t embark on your planning journey without a plan for your journey! Simple…obvious but profound!

Back to you with a POST that is VITAL for you to read…

AnnI do a lot of writing on a day to day basis.  Sometimes it is meaningful…sometimes?  Well, you can imagine.  Despite my writing habits there are authors and bloggers who "take my breath" away with their insight, prophetic voice and challenge.  One of those authors is Ann Voscamp.  I've been so thankful to God that Ann's blog was brought to my attention.  I'm never disappointed in her artistic and poetic posts as well as her subtle encouragement to deepen a walk with Jesus as well as join in the mission of the Kingdom of God.

This post has not left my imagination or my heart for several days.  It is powerful and heart-breaking but calls from Jesus followers a deliberateness in seeking God, actually, pleading with God for action.A friend of mine is critical of our country's administration regarding Iraq and, truthfully, I understand the criticism.  But this takes more than criticism…this post talks about a travesty of justice and such outrageous brutality that it alone should spark some moral clarity within anyone who has a soul.  I don't know what to do…there's a part of me that says, "we have to do something militarily to stop this"…there is part of me that bristles against war of any kind and remembers what happened and the destruction and death that occurred during the Iraq war.  I'm stuck…but my heart hurts for these young girls and the massive amounts of people who are suffering.  Our past mistakes can't immobilize us from action.  Something needs to be done…pray with me that that will happen soon!

Adapted article…take a LOOK! “Most followers are NOT like Jesus”

I can't remember where I got this article.  It is good…really good.  I adapted some of it…but otherwise it is 80% of what the original author wrote!  To whoever wrote it, bravo!  And thank you for writing this…for my friends, take a good look:

"Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, "He is out of his mind."…And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you." And he answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?"And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother." Mark 3:31-35

Most Jesus followers aren't like Jesus…isn't that obvious? Should we even try to or expect to be? Isn't that impossible?

None of us can be like Jesus perfectly, but the Gospel of the Kingdom calls Jesus' disciples to hear his call and set the goal and direction of their lives to be like him. For a follower of Jesus, Paul's words of "follow me as I follow Christ," are translated simply, "follow Christ in every way possible."

Ghandi said "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.
They are so unlike your Christ."

Ghandi is far from the only one to have made that observation, and those critics aren't holding anyone to a standard of perfection. They are simply looking for enough congruence that the claim to be a follower of Jesus makes sense. Christians have gotten very good at explaining why they really shouldn't be expected to be like Christ. At various points, these explanations are true. At other points, they start sounding like winners in a competition for absurdist doublespeak.

Perhaps many Christians don't resemble Jesus because they don't really know what Jesus was like. Or- more likely- they assume Jesus was very much like themselves, only a bit more religious. Getting our bearings on being like Jesus will start with something very important: discarding our assumption that our personal and collective picture of Jesus is accurate. One of the constants in the Gospels is the misunderstanding of Jesus. The list of mistaken parties is long:

  • Herod the Great mistook Jesus for a political revolutionary. 
  • The religious leaders mistook Jesus for another false Messiah. 
  • Jesus' family mistook him for a person who was "out of his mind."
  • Nicodemus mistook Jesus for a wise teacher. 
  • The rich young ruler mistook Jesus for a dispenser of tickets to heaven. 
  • The woman at the well mistook Jesus for a Jewish partisan. 
  • Herod Antipas mistook Jesus for John the Baptist back from the grave. 
  • The people said that Jesus was a political messiah, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. 
  • The disciples….oh my.

The disciples were certain Jesus was a political messiah/king who would bring the Kingdom through miracles, but just at the moment they were most certain of who and what Jesus was, he turned everything upside down. Only after the horror of the cross was past and the Spirit opened their minds and hearts to the truth did the disciples begin to see Jesus clearly. Thomas mistook Jesus for a dead man. Like the blind man in Mark 8, the disciples had partial, unclear sight that required a second touch for clarity. I believe Judas misjudged Jesus. Saul the persecutor certainly did, as did Pilate and the Romans. If you got all the people who misjudged Jesus into a room, you'd need a bigger room.

A friend of mine has a son who is a big fan of wrestling. Every wrestler has a signature move to end a match, a move that no one does exactly like they do. When I read Mark 11 and the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the merchants and moneychangers, I believe Jesus' signature move is turning over the tables of expectations about who he is and what it means to follow him. Read back through the Biblical examples I've cited. In almost every instance, it's Jesus who overturns the tables of expectations and preconceived notions. It's not just a discovery by a seeker. Jesus is the initiator of the big surprises.

Part of what it means to be a Jesus-follower is to have your notions of religion, life and God turned upside down by the rabbi from Nazareth. So is Jesus like today's Christians who so easily assume they know what Jesus is all about? I'd like to suggest that the answer is, NO! Jesus isn't like today's Christians at all, and a large portion of our failure of Christlikeness comes down to a failure to know what Jesus was like.

Do you like grape Kool-Aid? When I was a kid, I always loved the taste of grape Kool-Aid on a hot day. Have you ever tasted grapes? Do grapes taste grape Kool-Aid? No, they don't. But you could easily imagine a child who loves grape Kool-Aid eating a grape and saying "Yuck!! This doesn't taste like grapes at all!" The real thing has been replaced by the advertised replacement so long that there's genuine confusion and disappointment at the taste of a real grape. So it is with Jesus. The version of Jesus that dominates so much contemporary Christianity is the grape Kool-Aid version of a real grape. And many, many Christians have no taste for Jesus as we find him in scripture, especially the Gospels.

Where would the real Jesus perform his signature move of turning over our popular misconception of him? Here's just a few tentative and preliminary suggestions.

  • Jesus wasn't building an institution or an organization, but an efficient, flexible movement with the Gospel at the center and grace as the fuel. 
  • The church Jesus left in history was more a band of brothers (and sisters) than an organization of programs and buildings. 
  • The message at the heart of all Jesus said and did was the Kingdom of God, which implicitly included himself as King and the status of all the world as rebels in need of forgiveness and surrender. 
  • The movement Jesus left behind was made up of the last, the lost, the least, the losers and the recently dead. 
  • The world would never recognize this Jesus shaped collection of nobodies as successful. 
  • Jesus treated women, sexual sinners and notoriously scandalous sinners with inexplicable acceptance. 
  • Jesus taught the message, power and presence of the Kingdom. 
  • He did not teach how to be rich, how to improve yourself, how to be a good person or how to be successful. 
  • Jesus didn't teach principles. He taught the presence of a whole new world where God reigns and all things are made right. 
  • Jesus rejected the claims of organized religion to have an exclusive franchise on God, and embodied the proof that God was in the world by his Son and through his Spirit to whomever has faith in Jesus. 
  • Jesus practiced radical acceptance in a way that was dangerous, upsetting and world-changing. 

Jesus calls all persons to follow him as disciples in the Kingdom of God. This invitation doesn't look identical to the experiences of the apostles, but the claims and commands of Jesus to his apostles extend to all Jesus-followers anywhere. God is revealed in Jesus in a unique way. What God has to show us and to say to us is there in Jesus of Nazareth. All the fullness of God lives in him, and to be united to Jesus by faith is to have the fullness of all God's promises and blessings. Jesus didn't talk much about how to get to heaven, and certainly never gave a "gospel presentation" like today's evangelicals. Nor did he teach that any organization of earth controlled who goes to heaven. Jesus never fought the culture war. Jesus was political because the Kingdom of God is here now, but he was the opposite of the political mindset of his time as expressed in various parties and sects. Jesus was radically simple in his spirituality. Jesus was radically simple in his worship. Jesus fulfills the old testament scriptures completely, and they can not be rightly understood without him as their ultimate focus. The only people Jesus was ever angry at was the clergy. He called out clergy corruption and demanded honesty and integrity from those who claimed to speak for God and lead his people. Jesus embraced slavery and servanthood as the primary identifiers of the leaders of his movement. Jesus didn't waste his time with religious and doctrinal debates. He always moves to the heart of the matter. Love God, Love Neighbor, Live the Kingdom. Jesus expected his disciples to get it, and was frustrated when they didn't. Jesus died for being a true revolutionary, proclaiming a Kingdom whose foundations are the City of God. Does this sound like Jesus as you've encountered him in evangelicalism? That's the sound of tables turning over. That's the taste of a real grape, not the Kool-Aid. That's why so many Christians aren't like Jesus. They have no idea what he was really all about.