Why not more?

  • I am writing this article as a conversation starter, not as an expert with answers.  My first order of business is to bolster my faith by inviting you to shoot me an email identifying yourself as a fellow sojourner.  I'm not quite confident that anybody is reading along with me which is oddly insignificant, as I find these articles a challenge to put on paper ideas that have vitally captured my attention.  But for fun and perhaps conversational engagement, my email address is suptruss@gmail.com.

  • Approximately 10 years ago, our church started a ministry we call PURELife Builders.  The ministry concept arose out of a contextual challenge as a first tier bridge community from urban to suburban.  Almost daily, men would show up at the entrance to the church looking for help.  Multiple conversations pointed to the reality that the majority of these men had been through recovery programs both inside and out of prison.  Further, the majority had attended, at some point, the evangelical world's most noteworthy institutions.  Come to find out these programs tend to track their graduates for a maximum of 6 months after graduation and project their success rates based on this data.  Having lived in that world for a decade, my informal data projects far less impressive numbers.  Further, if the economy of the Kingdom of Christ is faith and grace and transformation and these become our metric of measurement, the statistics take a dismal dive once again.  Recovery and PURELife, however, are not the focus of this diatribe.  My concern lies with the Church of Jesus Christ.  While lives are being genuinely transformed, my fear is that our metric is skewed and our potential is stymied.

  • For the sake of time, let me cut to the chase.  The vision of The Evangelical Church is "transformed people mobilized on the mission of Christ."  If we were to employ a metric that Christ seemed to utilize, how would we fair at the end of the day?  In other words, if instead of recording the numbers of people who prayed the prayer, attend small groups, give a tithe, and serve their church and community each week; we logged those who have taken up their cross, sold everything and gave it away to follow Jesus, and are multiplying fully devoted followers of Christ while visiting orphans and widows in their affliction as they remain unstained from the world (James 1:27)...  how would we fair?

  • I've been around the church for awhile and I know what happens when radicals start talking like this.  Please, lend me your ear for another moment or two.  While the statistics may be impressive alongside our cultural definitions and metrics for transformation, do they really measure up to the standard of the gospel?  Hear me clearly, I do not question your passion for Jesus or personal transformation nor your desire to see others genuinely transformed.  Your reading this!  You love Jesus and love proclaiming His name.  We all desire for our lives to count for Him having seen Him for who He is.  To toil in vain in the light of His supremacy is unbearable.  Perhaps, as a result of this pure motive, we tend to lower perceived unrealistic standards to accommodate our individualistic, relativistic culture.  Let me attempt to explain.

  • We proclaim Him as Lord yet He is afforded very little Lordship in those who hear.  We believe the Word to be an absolute authority on life and godliness yet well over 50% of our people consider it relative.  We encounter His majesty and will never be the same again while others experience an emotion strong enough to bring them back but impotent to transform.  We labor in this cultural milieu (perhaps the most difficult of any when it comes to transformation) and find ourselves compelled by hope to measure what we can.  While the gospel is a subtraction story we content ourselves with measuring additions.  Instead of death to self and surrendering everything and descent into humble servitude we gauge the addition of a devotional life, christian friends and noble causes.  While they identify inherited morality, god consciousness and a pursuit of genuine fullness and significance, do they at all measure transformation.

  • For those who would dare to return to a Gospel of Christ metric (subtraction rather than addition) for identifying transformation, let me close with some encouragement.  While our standards must undergo a violent dismantling, our strategies may just require simple additions.  Having largely removed the sacred rituals of the past in order to become real and relevant to those we seek to reach (a commendable and effective strategy) are we unwittingly communicating a relative message?  Not that it is relative to us but to the buffered, individualistic minds of a culture whose conditioned unthoughts (presuppositions) accept nothing but scientific materialism (that which is physically verifiable) as absolute (cf. Charles Taylor, "A Secular Age").  Not that we must reintroduce sacred ritual but we must retrain presuppositions concerning the authority of the Christ and the Word.  Some way, some how we must reconnect people with the sacredness and absolute authority of both Jesus and Scripture in the midst of a mostly secularized worship environment.  I'm not sure how this happens and would love to engage dialogue over this most crucial matter.  I do believe I can spot it when it happens.  Our people will not be able to add Jesus to their life as an app making it better, they will be reduced to brokenness and death to self.  Crushed and devastated by the inadequacy of individualism and compelled to dependence on Christ as Lord.  "Lord I believe, and he worshipped Him" (John 9:38).  Crying out "Woe is me" at exhale and "Here I am send me" at inhale (Isaiah 6:5&8)!  For the appropriate metric of transformation is not one of addition but of subtraction.  With the right standard in place and a reconnection with the sacred authority of Christ and His Word our people will encounter a choice of surrender to the Lordship of Christ or rejection.  The former leading to genuine transformation and the latter to simple addition.  Thanks for your ear and wrestling heart!

 

 

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