Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Open Mic: The New World Slang

How do I tell my friends about Christ in "the new world slang" when they take church as just singing & just a "sunday thing"?

There's a couple of threads tied together in this question... let's try & pull 'em apart so we can craft a meaningful answer.

  1. How do I tell my friends about Jesus in a way that doesn't sound "church-y"?
  2. Why do people dismiss church as "just a Sunday thing"?

#1

This isn't the first time someone has tried to figure out how best to communicate God's truth to a culture that didn't grow up going to Sunday School at the local Baptist church...
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' Acts 17:22-28 (NIV)
Notice that Paul hadn't walled himself off into some "Christian" corner of Athens - instead, he had looked around the city & made it a point to find out what the people believed. He was ready to quote their poets in order to communicate clearly the grace of Jesus Christ. He was even willing to concede that they are "very religious" - in part because he didn't think much of religion, esp. for "a good Jewish boy" (Philippians 3:2-11).

In fact, he wrote his "game plan" in his first letter to the Corinthian church:
Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (MSG)
Put those two passages together & you come up with the main reasons people who love Jesus start talking about Him and sound like they've been dipped in "church batter" & lightly fried:
  • rather than wander around Athens (or whatever the corner of the world God puts us in) and get to know the culture, we stick our fingers in our ears and chant the spiritualized equivalent of "Nah, nah, nah... can't hear you!" until the world around learns to stay the heck away from the crazy people who say they're Christians
  • rather than try to see things from someone else's POV, we put on blinders & assume that the best way to show people truth is to insist that they reject everything & drink the Kool-Aid with us
  • rather than go out & serve people with the love of Jesus Christ, we expect them to come to us & join in "doing it the way we've always done it"
So, what should we do instead?
  • get to know the culture around us... not so we can be the hippest kid on the block but so we can speak truth into the conversation that's already going on
  • listen to others as they talk about spirituality & God... not so we can slam their answers down to the mat but so we can hear where Jesus is moving in their lives & respond appropriately
  • serve people outside the walls of church buildings... not as a gimmick but because that's what Jesus did
#2

Which leads naturally to the second question - why is it so easy for people to dismiss "church" as a bunch of people singing & attempting to sit through yet another "exciting" sermon from the pastor? Frankly, it's because we've made a mess of the word, "church" - which never refers to a building in the Bible - instead, it refers to the people. The churches that Paul writes are not quaint little buildings with steeples - they are the ekklesia (Gk. for "called out"), the people drawn to Jesus who've committed to live for Jesus.
You can't "have church". You can't "go to church". We are the church. That's the whole problem. We have turned "church" into this event, this place, this controlled program that people come to like a movie or a theater. We have redefined church to be something so foreign to the New Testament church that in some cases it seems almost unrecognizable. We have taken the mission of the church and turned into a self-focused, self-serving corporation instead of teaching that the church is worshippers of Jesus on a mission together. Dan Kimball (in an interview at Church Planting Village)
The point of inviting people to attend a worship service with us is NOT to get them to "go to church." (As Keith Green aptly noted so many years ago, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian, any more than going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger.") We invite people to join us in worship so they can experience the presence & power of Jesus Christ.

And when we are loving each other with the love of Jesus, when our meetings are powered not by our denominational preferences but our devotion to God, when what we do on Sunday lines up with how we live the rest of the week (and is culturally applicable to our 24/7 life), then people will hear about Jesus in a way that is compelling & life-changing... and, by His grace, respond.

1 comment:

Dani in NC said...

Great message, Mark!