Wednesday, March 26, 2008

dear church

I just finished reading a book that my mom has been after me to read since she finished it about a month ago. She wanted to know what I thought about it.

The book is call Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation (by Sarah Cunningham)

Since it is written by someone who is probably somewhat close to my age (in their 20s), she wanted to know if I agreed with what the author had to say. All in all, I would say it was good and thought-provoking read.

Usually when I sit down with books like this I'm pretty skeptical of what is being written, because I'm really not a fan of anything that stero-types people, and I was somewhat expecting this book to do just that. It was pleasant surprise to find that it didn't do so.

One of the early chapters does talk about some characteristics of "twentysomethings". But, rather than seeming to put us (twentysomethings, which I know includes me and a lot of you who read this blog) in a box, the characteristics given did a good job of trying to explain how many of us see the world. Twentyseomthings were described with the following characteristics:

1) twentysomethings redefine the family

- possibly caused by the breakdown of the traditional family

- family is more of a commitment and a state of heart than something you'r born into

2) twentysomethings are comfortable with competing schools of thought

3) twentysomethings feel connected to their surroundings

4) twentysomethings don't see money as a trustworthy indicator of success

5) twentysomethings want instant gratification

- "One way churches can harness twentysomethings' rapid-paced energy is by calling for spontaneous involvement." (pg. 38)

- we don't always know 2 months ahead of time if we can commit to something, we're more likely to get involved when asked to stay after and help with something

6) twentysomethings like technology, but prefer human contact

- we want real life stories, not impressive special effects

7) twentysomethings are less relativistic than we seem

- we do believe in rights and wrongs

8) twentysomethings are idealistic to a fault

9) twentysomethings are transparent

10) twentysomethings value community

- our small groups may not always follow the "rules" or stay on topic, but we value the time together

- spontaneous get-togethers after church will get a higher attendance than most events planned weeks or months in advance

11) twentysomethings want to help

12) twentysomethings don't pledge our allegiance lightly

- this is why we don't become church members quickly, we want to make sure we really believe in it before we commit to it

I realize that these characterisitics may describe people who don't fit in the twentysomethings category as well. But, they do definitely describe the twentysomething category well. As I was reading this in the book, I was like: "yes, that's how I think, that's how my friends think."

There were so many things that followed int eh book that I agreed with. It felt like someone was putting the words and ideas I had on paper for me. I think there is much that we can learn from these thoughts too. And I know that growing up in the church I am also just as guilty of expecting everyone to be comfortable with traditional church as the next person. But, I'm beginning to see more and more that maybe that's not the way to "do church" to reach the next generation. There was a quote from the book that really made me think and the more I did, the more I realized that I agreed with it.

"To put it bluntly, there are moments when I wonder whether the talking-head-driven, program-centered, building-focused, mission-project-heavy version is the best expression of church that we are capable of producing." (pg 83).

"The church's ability to engage its diverse world is not a political issue, it's a missional issue. An obedience issue. A do-you-take-Jesus'-parting-shot-to-his-disciples-seriously issue. . . . Just as 'giving our lives to Christ' involves shifting our allegiance each day we wake up, one day at a time, 'going into all the world', involves being the church each person we encounter one person at a time." (pg. 70)

I found myself on this also agreeing with the author of the book. Sometimes I wonder if the way we "do church" is the most effective that it could be. And I wonder how seriously most of us take our call and our mandate. Most of my peers that I interact with today don't want to hear well thought arguements and proofs (although there are still those that want that), they want first and foremost to see it lived it out in my life as I walk through life beside them.

I've also been thinking a lot about church tradition lately. While I enjoy some of it and don't want to get rid of it completely, I sometimes wonder if we're so stuck to it that we're doing more harm to ourselves than good. To quote the book again:

"As twentysomethings in particular evaluate our definitions of church, we should avoid simplistic game plans that seek only to delete lines that don't go over well in our generation. We want to do more than just toss out previous lines only to draw a 'new' set of equivalent lines in their place." (pg. 108)

"We cling to the hope that we will arrive at increasingly accurate definitions of church as we continue to seek God's intentions." (pg. 108)

I think that last quote is key. We can change church all we want, but unless we're seeking God's desire and His intentions for the church, we will continue to be just as messed up in how we "do church" as we ever have been.

This brings me to another thing from the book that I agreed with. The author began talking about what we should call ourselves, especially given the reputation of and the picture that comes to mind when people hear the word "Christian."

"Sometimes I just skirt mentioning the C word altogether. Not to sell my faith short, you understand, but to get around all the assumptions attached to the label. Unfortunately, it is not easy to describe your brand of Christian faith without affilliating yourself with an institutional church. Simply saying that I'm a Christian would be an immediate giveaway of course. Christians go to church. Chruches are full of Christians. Everyone sees the connection." (pg. 111)

This is something I have struggled with for a while (and have written about before, see here). There are many things in church history and in present day church that make me not want to be associated with some of the people who call themselves Christians. But that, like said above, brings about a whole new question of what to "call ourselves" then.

The author is aiming to present to the church at large some possible reasons for the noticeable absence of twentysomethings in the church at large today. Often one of the reasons is because we've personally been hurt by someone in the church or we're close to someone who has. And we're waiting for people to come and apologize to us. But, what I like is that the author doesn't leave it in the hands of the church to do everything to make things right. as twentysomethings our attitude towards the church hasn't always been right either. And the author challenges both sides to apologize and forgive one another.

"It is easy to focus on how others in the church could apologize to us, rather than owning our own role and failures as we live church to the world around us." (pg. 154)

As you may have noticed by now, I'm a fan of this book and what the author has to say. I may not be one of the twentysomethings who has left the church, but I can identify with many of the struggles and opinions that the author writes about. I have dealt with them. I still deal with them to some degree. I know that the church on earth will never be perfect, but I think we fail one another in a huge way when we don't listen to where the other people are coming from and respect that they see something differently than we do.

There are people who want church to be the way it's always been. And there are people who are pushing for massive changes. I don't have the answers to how to handle this and I've seen different churches handle it different ways. But, I do know that every person who claims to be a follower of Christ has the same mission, and we detract from it when we spend our time arguing over the little details. We are surrounded by a world that is hurting and in desperate need of God. We have the ability to bring God to them, but we need to stop fighting amongst ourselves and do what we are commanded to do in Scripture. Your co-worker int he next office, your neighbour, the person at the drive-thru when you get your morning coffee, the driver in the car next to you stopped at the traffic light . . . they all need you to live Jesus - to live as a Christian should - to point htem towards Jesus and His saving grace with how you live and then with your words.

OK, I'm done my rabbit-trail rant there.

I like the way the author reminds us that as humans we are not the ones to save the world, but we are the carriers of that hope to the world around us.

"We Christians were never the hope. Yes, we were and are carriers of the hope. But we ourselves are only reflections - often dim reflections - of the hope we internalize: Jesus Christ. . . . Of course, in noting our non superhero status, Church, I am not suggesting that you have no role to play and are thereby exempt from any action. Obviously, the church is the key earthly player in Christ's unfolding drama." (pg.199)

We have a role to play, but the Church, made up of fallen human beings, was never meant to be the ultimate hope of the world. Jesus is that hope!

So, if you're wondering where or how that explains the lack of twentysomethings in many churches today . . . maybe it doesn't outline specific reason for the most part. But, I think this book and what I've written tonight does point out how we think and why we're maybe disillusioned with the church right now. I haven't nearly convered all the ground that the book covers, so it's definitely a good read. And I know that not all of you are twentysomethings and you agree with what I've written. In that way, these things are a bit of a generalization.

To finish up this long blog, let me just say. The twentysomethings I know who aren't sitting in church pews yet still claim to be Christians still love the Church. We're just not sure about all that people have made it to be.

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