Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Who Will Clothe the Emperor?
Someone said the other day that the key is taking people on mission with you... but when I have spiraling days... I have to ask what exactly is that? Where am I going? Where am I asking people to go?"
This brought to mind a little scene.
**An auditorium in a hotel. Air conditioning hums, people squirm as they settle in. Fresh-scrubbed, earnest faces above greenish carpet in rows of plastic chairs. At the front is a temporary stage and an overhead projector.**
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to our 'Missions 2005' conference. We're sure we're going to come up with some great ideas for a fresh approach! Now we all know that the church is in crisis. People falling away, losing interest, losing touch with the unsaved. We need to reverse that, so this conference is dedicated to finding a way to reach the world. I will now invite our first speaker to come up. He'll introduce our theme."
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Folks, we have a problem. The church's voice is getting lost in the modern bustle. We just can't compete with all the other voices: video games, movies, television, cellular phones. There's a lot of talk going on, but not much communication. We need to reverse this trend."
At the back of the auditorium is a man leaning against a pillar. He shows the body language of someone listening intently.
"What are we going to do about it? We're going to introduce the personal touch! Yes, that's right. We're going take other people on mission with us! Isn't that great? Look around you. Your friends, your contacts, the people you meet on the street. All of them going on mission with you."
The man in the back shakes his head. He raises his hand.
"I'm sorry. We can't take questions right now. This matter is too important to interrupt."
He quits leaning, turns and walks away. Just before he opens the door to exit the auditorium, he turns and says, quietly so that only a few hear, "The Emperor is naked." The door closes and the conference drones on. The man walks away, praying that the Holy Spirit will manage to get a word in edgewise with those people.
Now, just what does this mean? I'm sure that some marketing guru came up with this expression. Marketing types are like popcorn: heat them up and all these wonderful phrases come out. In the heat of the moment everyone says "Oooh, that's wonderful!" and the new plan is adopted. No one asks, "Ummm, what does this mean? How will we do it? What do we expect to get out of it?" No, it sounds great so it's spread around through churches and meetings and organizations. After a while people sort of lose track of it and then the new idea comes along and the pattern repeats.
"The key is taking people on mission with you." The first time I ran into something like this in my Christian experience was in about 1972, when there was this big seminar. The Bill Gothard Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts," something like that. People went to it, said it was great, showed me their big notebooks full of illustrations and parables and instructions... and in a couple of months the whole thing had been forgotten. There was no long-term effect that I could identify. This has been true of just about all such things I've seen.
There's a strong desire to fix things, which is good. People want to help. The problem is that they jump onto bandwagons instead of letting them go by and thinking about what actually will solve the problem.
Now, consider an alternative. No bandwagon, no conference, no big-name speakers and all the usual hoopla. What about individual followers of Jesus, listening to the Holy Spirit, ready to speak a word or act in a way that shows God's love? You can't reduce that to a cute, memorable formula. There's not much comfort in a slogan, but there is comfort in the Holy Spirit.
So, what we really need is churches that introduce new Christians to the Holy Spirit and to the idea of a powerful relationship with God. What we get instead is worship of ideas. Some new meme becomes the current hot item in the Christian ethos (see, I know the words too) and everyone goes out vigorously thumping the new tub. The tune is the same.
Who do they think they're kidding? Do these organizers think they're reaching out to newborns? The very means they're now touting to spread the Gospel are the same means that allow the ones who are being reached to see that the whole thing is hollow. If the church looks like society, what's the point of going through the doors?
I stayed with Mosaic in Beverly Hills not because of the trendy language, pastors with goatees, incomprehensible videos or the privilege of sweating early on Sundays, but because, through the people's meta-language I could see the Holy Spirit. He lit up the whole place like neon. God was THERE! Even I could see him, and I was helplessly attracted, my dead feet drawn to this lively path.
Folks, the medium is NOT the message! Forget the culturally relevant insensitivity. Now church leaders are jumping onto the Blog bandwagon. I think this is great idea, but not when you use a Blog to pass on the same dead words that come out elsewhere. Dig deeper! Show people what it's like to follow Jesus and be a leader at the same time. I'm tired of the well-polished ideas that no one turns over to see what's underneath.
Our message is unique. There is a Living God, the One who made the Universe from its largest cluster of galaxies to the smallest microbe on the root of a blade of grass. He made me, too, and you, singing us joyfully into that black expanse because he likes our company. Can't we give our world, and our God, more than the backside view of a buck-naked, bankrupt and bony Emperor?
God won't fit in any words. Nothing will contain him. All I can do is make my words representative of Him in as big a way as I can, and that means making things lively. He is a very lively God. Committee-speak isn't the way. Dig deep, make the truth yours, and rather than giving back the same tired phrases you picked up in a book, take Jesus' hand and go wander around the new land and find your own words. Or paintings, Or...
I like your train of thought here.. on this BLOG. I like to talk people into blogging... like Randy Elrod in Lu's blog today... but I am right now tired of all the time we spend on our "culture" of Christianity.... so much more time than the simple message of the gospel... and yes that simple message can be displayed in our daily simple life... catching the "trend" wagon... or the "whatever" wagon... doesn't mean we are walking with the simplicity of the message of Jesus Christ.
I like Billy Graham... and his I have one message and I'm sticking to it!