August 2008

Lately I’ve been trying to resolve the growing concern that I have for the church culture when it comes to building the kingdom as you will see in my last couple of posts. I’m finally getting around to working through Art Rogers’ excellent series on “Institutional v. Missional.” And I find that he says here what I’ve been trying to put into words. Take a look at his thoughts and get some ideas of your own.

(click image to see all of Art's thoughts on Institutional v Missional)


It was in a revival meeting—you know, those extended meetings that evangelicals schedule and claim to be revivals—that I got to know the old saint of a man who was the long-time pastor of one of the smaller congregations in our association of churches. He was a small man, full of fire and energy (especially in the pulpit). I recall many things from that particular series of meetings. I recall the night that he threw a hymnal at the church music director because he was either asleep or simply not paying attention. I remember the night that he locked his keys in his car and two or three men spent the better part of two hours trying to get the car opened. It was on that particular night (toward the end of the week) that he sang—I remember because he commented on both his ability to sing and his inability to get his keys out of the car—an old song that I had almost forgotten from my childhood:

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from the Bible

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from God’s word.

The inward look

The outward look

The upward look

From the old, old book

Get the new look from the old book

Get the new look from God’s Word.

It’s inspiring still to think back on that night’s service. His encouragement was one that I try to practice each day—get a godly perspective from diving into His word daily.

Here’s what else I remember from that particular situation. The church from which this pastor came to preach our revival meeting had the reputation of being very evangelistic and highly successful at their efforts in evangelism. Knowing the man, I suspect that the great success that the church had rested mostly on the shoulders of this fiery preacher who was full of evangelistic fervor. The church itself also had a reputation of never growing.

This is the thing that happens in many of our churches today—even those who are exercising fantastic evangelistic muscles. Even though we have reports of numbers of people coming to know Jesus, these same people are not becoming part of the church. We’ve missed the point of the song altogether. We don’t want the new look from the old book, but the old look from the old way. We have neglected the outward look and the upward look. We have become highly skilled in looking inward toward ourselves.

We worry about buildings and budgets. We concern ourselves with our wants and wishes. And we’ve stopped looking [upward] to the Master for the direction we should go—which by the way is outward.

What do you think? Is the evangelical church evangelical? Or are we just happy with ourselves?

Recently we spent several days visiting with my mother- and father-by-law. During our time at their home they broke out all young children’s favorite thing—BUBBLES. My kiddos were elated and ran around the backyard blowing and trying to catch bubbles. What fun!

Then, just a few days ago, my mother-by-law called to chat. She’s had a pretty stressful time of late and was weary when she returned home on this particular day. She said, “You know what I did? I got out the rest of the bubbles and sat in the backyard and blew bubbles—it was very relaxing.”

I think that there are a number of us in the church who have found that relaxing place as well. We’ve built around ourselves a bubble that will allow us to remove the rest of the world and its distractions from our senses, and there we live.

Sadly, it is within this bubble that nothing happens. We have effectively removed ourselves from the world and the world from us. In so doing we have relegated our churches and our faith to extinction. Now, certainly I believe that Christ is able to reach beyond our feeble attempts at perpetuation and make the Church Triumphant triumph—my concern is that we have so wrapped ourselves in our religious expression and so insulated our church from the outside that we have lost the ability to reach them. Ed Stetzer and David Putnam make the suggestion of the modern American expression of church this way:

Many evangelicals live in a “Christianized” world where people listen to James Dobson tell us how to raise our children, consult Ron Blue to understand our finances, sing along with Third Day for musical inspiration, choose political candidates based upon Christian Coalition voting guides, and read Tim LaHaye to enjoy some good Christian fiction. (Breaking the Missional Code, p. 33)

Long time readers will remember that I’ve been hashing through this for several months now (check out the series on Mercenary Christianity and Mainstreaming). But lately, I’ve been plagued by more and more desire to burst the bubble. I am not opposed to Christians being a part of the marketplace, nor do I think that we need to do away with Christian expressions of music, literature or business ventures. What concerns me is that we have phariseed ourselves to the point of removing the legitimacy of any Christ follower who chooses to educate their child outside the religious sector, listen to anything but religious radio, or read a good whodunit. While narrowing the field of exposure for the Christian community, we have also removed credibility among those who need Jesus most—the world outside our religious gates.

Is the bubble really a good thing? Well, I think that we ought to have a retreat to retire to for times of refreshing, but we cannot hermit ourselves to the point of religiously wasted lives.

What do you think? Should we influence the world or set up our own little version of it that keeps them at arms length?