Thursday, November 17, 2011

On doing something new but forgetting to actually change

I've been around the church my entire life. 

Several times at different points on my journey I've thought of leaving, for any number of reasons:
>I couldn't stand the hypocrisy (in others or myself).
>I didn't like how things were done.
>I thought we were missing the mark in what "the Church" was supposed to be.
>I didn't think I had what it took to be a Christian.
>I intellectually couldn't get in gear with how the Gospel was presented.
>The Gospel was lost in the trappings of religion.
>Too much focus on the outside, not enough on the inside.
>Soul-crushing legalism and the small minded people it created.
>Church politics
You get the point. Lots of stuff rumbled through my heart.

Ironically, the majority of my generation (aka, "The Busters", "Generation X" etc.) with whom I grew up in Church are no longer part of the Church. From my vaguely rough estimation, it seems the primary reason(s) were because
>the Church majored on minors. Being holy meant giving inordinate attention to hand-picked social mores.
>Church "felt" condemning/guilting (and often was). I routinely hear "I just felt guilty all the time, like I could never measure up."
>The Church didn't/couldn't/didn't know how to answer real heart questions.

Simply put, there was no actual discipleship (in spite of that word being thrown around a lot).  Despite saying we were being taught how to follow Jesus, no clear definable steps or paths were opened that made it possible for Jesus' life to be replicated in my life. Any actual spiritual 'fruit' was pure gift from the Holy Spirit. I know that might seem like over-generalization and possibly an unfair representation of the multiple people who invested in me, but it's a story I've heard repeated many times.

I've now lived long enough (just makes me feel old typing that) to see multiple shifts happen, and I'm starting to see a pattern in church leadership.
Generation #1 does something they feel captures (accurately and relevantly) the heart of the Gospel.
Generation #2 grows up under Generation #1's tutelage, chafes, and either leaves or sets out to "do it right" with much eye rolling, contempt, cynicism and arrogance.
Generation #3 grows up in the shadow of Generation #1 and in the tutelage of Generation #2 and ironically repeats the pattern (clueless of their ignorance).

For the sake of making a point, let me focus on change that happens all the time: we change the language. 

Here's what we Generation #2ers think. "The words used (by Generation #1 types) to describe my experience were/are inaccurate, irrelevant and full of cobwebs. They don't do justice to the grand narratives of my heart or the grand narratives of God's story. It's too (insert choice) churchy/cheesy/insider coded/outsider unfriendly/theologically inaccurate/missiologically misguided/unlike something I came up with/unlike the guy I read that I agree with came up with."

Now, there is a point. Language isn't a coin you can spend in any generation with the same value. It changes with time and so the Gospel has to be re-articulated in the vernacular of each generation. Language certainly matters.

Let's take the phrase, "get saved" as an example. In a culture where you knew the Bible was the moral authority, knew the sinners from the saints, and knew where you stood on the moral continuum, that phrase likely had potency. You were "lost" and needed to "get saved."

But when you are in a culture where moral authority is rooted in personal interpretation, sinners and saints are archaic designations of a bourgeois and oppressive moralism, and you define your own moral continuum, "get saved" sounds like strong arm tactics or language from Mars. It no longer 'works'. So, Generation #2 changes the language.
Necessary. Good. More people follow Jesus (which is the point).

But here's where we miss the point. We change the language thinking that unchurched/dechurched/nonchurched/hatechurch people have the same problem we do with language.
As in, the reason they didn't show up to our service/program/thing is because we were saying it wrong.  

We tell ourselves, "now, in our wisdom, we have corrected your problem unchurched/dechurched/nonchurched/hatechurch person. You may now flood us with your presence." We did something new, but nothing actually changed. We said it differently, but to appease ourselves, not actually connect with them.
An aside: 
Hey fellow Generation #2ers: could we consider that postmodernism has so flooded our collective souls as a society that people once again feel "lost" and hear "getting saved" as good news? And since they don't have our church baggage, it doesn't mean for them what it means for us? Not my main point, but worth stopping and considering. 
Case in point: one church led by a well-known missional practitioner (a fellow Gen-Xer) doing some killer things to connect with people describes themselves thusly:
(Blank Church is) a congregational network of incarnational communities that are apprenticing kingdom people.

Now I know their heart is to reach people disenfranchised by religion, and I actually love what they are attempting to say, but I don't get it. If I have no background in Church, I have no idea what those words mean. They are as much church-ese as anything Generation #1 ever printed on one of those bad stock-bulletins featuring random Country Church framed against mountains you'll spend the entire church service wishing you could visit.

However, they ARE words that immediately connect with a theologically informed, disgruntled, churched person (e.g., me) who thinks Generation #1 got it all wrong. Without meaning to throw stones, I'm simply asking this as a diagnostic question about the current direction of evangelicalism as led by Generation #2ers and now #3ers: they did something new, but did anything actually change? 


Cindy M said...

What a great, so true.

Houston said...

I don't think that community would disagree that their statement is insider language. But I also don't think they would expect un-Christians to be attracted to their community because of words on a page. They would expect, however, that un-Christians would be strongly attracted by the kingdom revealed through their lives.

Scott said...

Houston - My larger point was that simply saying words in a new way changes nothing, unless those newly defined words are backed with new actions. I don't know the church beyond their reputation and their leader's reputation, but would assume based on reputation that they fit the bill of new actions AND new words.