Thinking Out Loud

April 9, 2010

The Time We Disobeyed God

…Okay there were lots of times…

The time in particular that I’m considering is the time we moved to the city where we now live.   It was over 20 years ago, and we came with some “push” factors (wanting to get out of our 9th floor apartment in the city of three million) and some “pull” factors (liking the look of the town, as seen from the highway).

Later, I would write a song with an opening sentence that talks about the “pull” factors:

The part of the town that you see from the highway
Is never the part that the people there know.
The smiles and hellos that are so superficial
Filter the feelings we never let show.

When the business we were going to start in this town didn’t happen, we got caught up with the momentum of the “push” factors and decided we would move anyway.   We would go into this foreign place and trust God to work out the details for employment and income.   Not so smart.

(Tangent/aside:   Never move to a town where you plan to raise a family if you don’t know anyone and therefore don’t have your potential babysitters or family supports lined up ahead of time.   Ours included teenage girls who were (a) completely inexperienced — “You mean I was supposed to change him?” — with kids, (b) dealing with medical crises, (c) dealing with severe emotional breakdown.)

I think there was some element of God’s leading us to where we moved.   We thought we were moving to start a business, but instead, we ended up getting involved with a church that really needed us.    I got to write a newspaper column every weekend for ten years which paid for our groceries.   My wife got to raise her boys in a house and not the apartment in the big smoke.  I got to teach a year at a Christian school.   My wife got to start a number of ministry projects which have made a big difference in the lives of people.

But did God just allow us to “make the best of it?”   Was there a principle we missed?

I think there was, but I didn’t know the particular chapter and verse at the time.   The verse is found in Proverbs 24:2 —

Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house. (NLT)

First plant your fields; then build your barn.  (Message)

Fix your business outside.  Get your fields in shape and then build your house.  (rough English translation of Louis Segond translation in French)

In other words, get a job, know where your mortgage payments are going to come from.  Heck; know where your next dollar is coming from.   Settle your career in that place first, then talk about your residence.  Don’t move to Dallas, or Lisbon or Sydney without having a job waiting.

But we were young, we were idealistic, we were acting on a mix of faith and foolishness.    I think we prayed about it — a bit — but earnestly praying together as a couple hasn’t been our strong suit.   (If you’re a younger married couple, and the shoe fits, take that as a personal admonition to do better than us when it comes to prayer.  Starting now.)

Joshua 9:14 — the story of Joshua’s ill-advised treaty with the Gibeonites — makes an even stronger case:

The Israelites … did not inquire of the Lord. (TNIV)

So the men … did not ask counsel from the Lord (ESV)

I really feel that God has journeyed with us and blessed us so many ways.   But there have been some uphill battles that I believe trace back to not adhering to a basic scriptural principle.   In many ways we’ve lived like monks who have taken a vow of poverty, nonetheless we’ve been blessed with some family circumstances that made it possible for us to live what appears from the outside to be a comfortable lower-middle-class life.

But my advice to people today is always the same:  Prepare your work in the fields and then build your house.


August 14, 2009

Brother Maynard: To Clarify This Journey

Two posts back, Rick Webster commented that The People Formerly Known as the Congregation by Bill Kinnon left him longing for something more constructive, and left us the link to the Brother Maynard piece we’re posting today.   Then Bill Kinnon informed us that Brother Maynard actually had a hand in crafting the The People Formerly…

Both of these posts accurately reflect the aching of peoples’ hearts with respect to church, and since we posted the one, I thought we’d ‘reprint’ the other.   To read it in the original, link here.

Seems there’s some misunderstanding about the journey we’re on. To some, it looks like the journey to leave the church we’re in… which to me is evidence that we aren’t explaining it very well. Given that observation, I thought it might help to take another stab at it in hopes of clarifying it in my own mind if nowhere else.

I long for a church that is low-key. I’m tired of hype, I’m tired of noise, and I’m tired of intensity. I used to like all those things, but I no longer equate these with “signs of life.” I long for something more contemplative, a place that can acknowledge worship as being intellectual as well as emotional.

I long for a church with deep interpersonal relationships. I was attracted to a place that talked about relationships and tried to build relationally, but with growth, time, and change, what started as relational has become merely functional. Faith walks need camaraderie, lives shared one with another

I long for the attainable challenge of Jesus. Put the other way, I’m tired of being challenged, by which I refer not to the challenge of the gospel or the challenge of Jesus, but to the challenge of leaders who seem to continually push for greater levels of sanctification. Ever unattainable, this leaves one straining for an unreachable goal and feeling cast down for falling short. To elaborate, this causes a situation in which a believer perpetually feels or is actually considered “not quite good enough” to engage in ministry. I long for the challenges which God give the grace to attain, rather than the challenges of men which one strives fruitlessly to attain.

I long for a decentralized structure, and I long for servant leadership among peers. Power corrupts, which is a danger in the church as anywhere else… and a hierarchical structure is the breeding-ground for the corruption of church leaders. Jesus talked about this, about what can happen to church leaders who start well but end up enamoured with their positions. Practically speaking, this drives the necessity for decentralization so that the structures can be interrelated but independently manageable in smaller sizes.

I long for a culturally relevant church. I don’t understand why cross-cultural missionaries attempt to understand culture to present the gospel within it, while churches in the developed world tend to simply withdraw from their own culture, often condemning its evils. Unfortunately for them, our culture is filled with people who need to see real Christianity in action — they’ve seen enough caricatures of Christianity already. Being culturally relevant in the early 21st century means understanding -gasp!- postmodernism.

I long for a church that can be outwardly-focused without constantly pushing evangelism on the congregation, and for a church that does not relate evangelism with church growth as an end.

I long for a church that recognizes the value of ancient traditions. I’ve long been saddened by the iconophobia in many evangelical circles, discomfort with symbolism, suspicion toward any type of mysticism, and the ignoring of rich faith traditions from Advent to Passover.

I long for a church that is not uncomfortable with mystery or with the sacraments. The evangelical understanding I’ve been taught on the Eucharist is anemic, and the standard baptism explanation of “an outward symbol of an inward faith” misses the spiritual act, which still has an element of mystery in it.

I long for a church that recognizes the value of story. Scripture is story, and so are the lives it touches. One cannot presume to talk about relationship without recognizing the importance of personal stories.

So this is the path I’m on… I am seeking a place that is in pursuit of the things I long for. If I can’t find a place like that, I’ll find some people who are in pursuit of the things I long for, and together we’ll create such a place. The path I’m on is the pursuit of these things I long for in the church.

Is this path a reaction to church? Partly. It would be easy to list the things I don’t like about the church and give that as the reason to leave… but that really misses the heart of it. Please understand that I’m not mad at the church. I have been frustrated, but the path I’m on puts an end to the frustration and helps me to be able to avoid getting mad. To unpack that a little, I’ve tried for several years to change things. Big things, small things, things that bug me, things I think are wrong. Let’s just say there’s resistance, and leave it at that for now. It does tell me that this church will never be what I hope for, and efforts to change it will only result in frustration and/or pain. In other words, no good will come from my efforts to change it… it is what it is. Now, I’m not dismissing the church or writing it off. On the contrary, I consider it a part of my heritage; for many years it was a rich part, and something for which I’m deeply thankful. On the other hand, I’ve reached the point where I long for different things than the things I longed for when I first signed on.

So the basic thing about this journey is the same as about any journey… it’s not about the place we’re leaving, it’s about the place we’re going. Even if we don’t know where we’re going; it wouldn’t be the first such journey instigated by God.

‘Brother Maynard’ is the pseudonym used by the author of the blog ‘subversive influence’. he/she lives and worships in Winnepeg, Canada.

Church Size:  Big Church, Big Faith?

A few days ago I ran a link to another blog which in but a few short words clearly articulated a case for capping churches at around 300 people.  (Was that 300 adults?   Or like the feeding of the 5,000; do they just count the men?   Sorry, I digress…)

If you missed that, you can read it by linking here.

But it turns out that just the day before, the blog Church Relevance highlighted a Barna Research study which shows that the personal faith — and the adherence to Evangelical doctrine — is stronger in larger churches than it is in smaller churches.   (Except for the area of ‘born-again’ identification, which would be smaller if seekers are interspersed among the larger crowd.)

There was even a multi-colored graph.   I, for one, am always impressed by graphs.   And I think the study is quite significant.   But I also agree with the value(s) of keeping churches at numbers where there can still be intimacy.   (Maybe I should go into politics…)  You can see the Barna study for yourself by linking here.

~Paul Wilkinson

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