Friday, April 25, 2008


My last post was a response to what I experienced upon registration for the conference I attended this past week. What I walked into wasn't anything new or surprising but for some reason it made me think about how our consumer culture has impacted us as people of faith. In no way do I fault the people who sell these things, in fact I am quite sure that the vast majority have pure motives and are actually trying to help people. However, I had no idea how much this whole concept of consumerism and the church would impact me during this conference.

Consumers are people who are product driven, they buy what they feel will meet a perceived need. The question that has haunted me over the last week is; how much has this affected the church in America? Have Christians become "spiritual consumers" and has the church been reduced to a product that is to be consmed?

Indulge me for a minute here. Could this be why the attractional church model is the most popular way of structuring ministries? The attractional model focuses on the Sunday morning experience, trying to make it as appealing as possible to the masses, sparing no expense. I was talking to a friend the other day who is on staff at a church up north. He told me that their church was going to launch a second campus where the pastor would be beamed via video to preach the message. During the planning they talked about how all they had to do was to be sure the worship was top notch and they wouldn't have to worry because, and I quote, "we will be the best show in town".

Since when did church become a show? The answer to that question is harder than you might think because it's actually been a while now. If this is not the result of our consumer based society I don't know what is. With all honesty, can we find anything in the Scriptures that would remotely suggest that our main focus is to put on the best show in town? Don't get me wrong, I agree with excellence and we should pursue it in all we do, but how has this become the focus?

That's not all, it even affects us in more subtle ways. It's not just what some would call "seeker sensitive" churches that are affected by this. It seems that many people are driven by what church can do for them and how their needs can be met. Is the worship "annointed", how good is the preacher and are my kids happy? I am not saying that people shouldn't enjoy the church experience but should it really be like shopping for ice cream? Just find your favorite flavor and for that matter it may just be the flavor of the month.

When did church and the Kingdom of God become about us? Jesus seemed to always call his followers to lay down their lives and take up their cross. Maybe the reason it is so hard for people to find a church to their liking is the lack of willingness to engage in the mission of God.

Could it be that what is missing in the equation is you? Could it be that it is not that we need more gifted teachers and worship leaders, but rather people who are using their God given gifts and talents to be the "church" in everyday life. The hopeless, hungry, disillusioned and broken hearted people of this world ultimately do not need a place, they need a people. They need someone to show them the love of Christ and an organization cannot do that; only a person can.

Paul understood this when he wrote, "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

No consumerism here. Paul says don't live for yourself, live for Him! Ultimately it's really not about us, it's about Christ and His Kingdom. I believe that if we really want to experience the fullness of what God has for us it will not be found in the next best thing the "church" has to offer, it will be discovered in the times when we lay down our lives and give ourselves away. This is the way of Christ and it is what the world so desperately needs...the church at its best.

Monday, April 21, 2008

what if?

Flyers, videos, people, posters, and display tables filled with books, piles and piles of books. Welcome to the world of church conferences. This week I am attending "Exponential" a conference that is geared toward church planting and new churches.

Upon registration I was given a the typical bag full of "stuff" that you receive at these sort of things. In that bag were two important items, my badge for the conference and the schedule of events for the next four days. Also in that bag were no less than 32 pieces of advertising from people trying to peddle their wares to the newest "up and coming" church leaders. I have to admit that some of this stuff is pretty slick. From the "Brown Cow" creative design flyer to ELI (emerging leadership initiative) whose flyer highlights a dude who looks like he could be straight out of the next power pop band and a cool girl with more ink than kinkos, both next to the line - "are you one of these leaders?"

Don't get me wrong, I know this is going to be a great conference and I believe that God is going to teach me things and speak to me while I am here, in fact that process has already begun. However, I do find myself asking questions like "how did the apostle Paul and others ever make it?" I mean, what did people do when they were trying to start churches before there were things like "Church in a box" (yes that was a real display I saw) and these great flyers that promise to show you how to increase attendance at your church if you will simply stop by their booth.

I don't know how Paul and Timothy did it. It must have been pretty tough to have nothing more than God's Word to guide them! Forgive my sarcasm but I do find it humourous to see so much being peddled, even at a conference like this. Then again, should we be surprised? We do live in a consumer based society and church leaders are the consumers and this stuff is apparently necessary to start the next best thing on the block.

What if we didn't need to be the next best thing? What if it didn't matter how cool we were? What if people were more important than processes and communities more important than cathedrals? What if all we had was Jesus? Would that be enough?

Just something to ponder...

Sunday, April 13, 2008


In the last three days I have become keenly aware of my own sheltered existence and the impact this has had on me, my family and the church. It is so easy to be consumed with life as we know it, that we can literally be blinded to the plight of those in need all around us.

Even those of us who acknowledge our responsibility as Christ followers to love the "least of these" and be a part of God's plan to free the oppressed can fall into the trap of believing that this is something we do, more like a project, than who we are called to be in everyday life. It is one thing to talk about helping those in need but it is a whole other experience to immerse yourself in doing so.

Through a series of events, in the last three days I have had face to face conversations with individuals who are experiencing life in a way that I cannot even begin to imagine. One family tells of what it is like to flee their country in fear of being persecuted and killed because the name they carry is identified with people from the "south" and the government now sees them as a political threat. Imagine what it would be like to be arrested and then finding favor with someone who graciously sets you free and says "go down that road and keep going, don't turn to the left or to the right and whatever you do, don't come back here." That was ten years ago and they have never gone back.

Another family tells a different story. A story of homelessness and struggle. An experience just last night that is so horrific that it would render many of us literally incapacitated for weeks. One so painful and personal that I can't even write about it. However somehow they carry on, with their lives literally in two garbage bags and a back pack.

I feel humbled, convicted, ashamed, thankful, hopeful and determined.

Paul said in the book of Philippians "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me". As I have experienced these last few days I have come to believe that this is part of the reason that Christ has taken hold of me. That somehow, in some small way, I could be Christ's expression of love to people in need that He brings across my path. I find myself compelled to do so and I will encourage all who will listen to do the same.

We can't take the weight of the world upon us, but we can open our eyes to the world around us. When God brings real people into our lives with real needs and we have the ability to meet those needs, I believe we have some responsibility.

I am so thankful that I walk with people who are committed to helping in situations like this. It was the sensitivity of individuals who decided to stop rather than drive by, that brought these people into my life. I simply pray that more of us (including myself) will have a deeper sense of responsibility and sacrifice when it comes to the world around us.

Jesus help us to love as you do, unconditionally, expecting nothing in return.