Of Pears and Porn

I’ve come to believe that one of the best tools in fighting sin is to meditate intellectually on how profoundly stupid and ridiculous the sin is.

Ideally, of course, one would leave vices behind simply because one was attracted to the good things of which those vices are a mere parody. But at any given season in their lives, every person is at a different place with respect to each vice.

Today, I might have lost the taste for drunkenness, and grown to so delight in sobriety that I’m hardly tempted to drink excessively, while at the same time I might be an overeater of junk food with no “taste” yet for things that actually taste good and would make me feel good after I’ve eaten in moderation. What I’d need in such a scenario (I speak hypothetically, of course!) is a physically fit foodie in my life, whom I admire, who would have the patience to teach me to savor delicious and nutritious foods until junk food tasted to me like the junk that it is. But, absent such a friend, I’m left with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to help me see food for what it is.

funny-stupid-signs-useless-pointless-11-571f374995df4__605.jpgAs Augustine undertakes his famous protracted analysis of his adolescent pear-stealing night with his friends, he engages in precisely this sort of intellectual meditation. Writing as he is in his adulthood, he’s presumably gotten over the particular vice of Theft with Friends. But certainly as a Christian bishop he is now sensing the lure of new and more pernicious vices—perhaps pride and envy in particular, temptations which seem to go hand-in-hand with ministry.

He unpacks the pear-theft ad nauseam. 

He is succinct, however, in describing, what the theft was not:

“Those pears were truly pleasant to the sight, but it was not for them that my miserable soul lusted, for I had an abundance of better pears.”

A married person with a loving spouse has an abundance of better pears. Whatever is going on when one goes after porn, it’s not images of bodies of other people after which the soul lusts. Those bodies may be pleasant to the sight like Augustine’s neighbor’s pears, which he praises because they were carefully and wonderfully made by God their Creator. But when the miserable soul lusts, it’s not for pears or porn per se.

Augustine goes on famously to detail the intricacies of concupiscence—of the deformed workings of a soul that in one respect or another is dead to true delights and delighted with dead things. And it is worthwhile to follow his exposé of such a soul as his (and yours and mine) in the fight against vices.

But the first and proper step is to learn of and meditate upon the sheer stupidity of eating junk food when there’s real food available, of stealing your neighbor’s pears when there’s better pears available in your own orchard, and of stealing glances at mere images of the bodies of anonymous humans when you have infinitely more in a good wife or husband.

Education can’t save the world. Knowledge is not really power. Rational Choice Theory doesn’t explain behavior. Reading proverbs won’t automatically make you wise and reading Aesop’s Fables doesn’t mean you’re going to avoid the folly in the fable. There’s much more going on in the soul of which the mind knows little.

But still, nobody wants to be stupid.

Grasping the stupidity of porn and telling yourself “Self, don’t be stupid. You don’t want to be stupid, do you? C’mon, stupid!” seems to be a worthwhile strategy.

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Flattening our reality, one share at a time

This past semester I taught our school’s senior class a unit on media studies. This was mostly an excuse to geek out on Marshall McLuhan and call it “work.”

But in the context of our course as a whole, I had another aim. We are spending the year studying the way in which we derive stories from various influences and then enact those stories in our own lives. When we live our lives, full of thought, passions, and actions in the world, we tell a story—what we’re calling (after Richard Rorty and Mark Edmundson) our ‘Final Narrative.’

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I’m hoping to help students identify the sources (scriptures, rituals, works of literature and art, philosophies) from which they hope to consciously construct their Final Narratives. I am also hoping to make them aware of the ways in which their immersion in the structures of social media may inhibit their efforts to discern, adopt, and enact dimensions of the Final Narratives proposed by compelling authors, mystics, filmmakers, and artists.

In short, it’s hard to mine Homer, Hemingway, Hebrews, Heidegger, Herzog, or Handel for actionable glimpses of the good, true, and beautiful when most of our attention is captured by #hashtags, handles, and header images.

And, even if our minds and hearts are profoundly moved by an encounter with great Final Narrative proposals, the life-changing impact of such encounters may be significantly diminished by the way in which our social media supervenes upon our lived experience. We are brought crashing back down from our mountaintop experiences not by the demands and duties of our daily lives, but through the banality of living within social media’s world-flattening reality.

We put down a great novel and pick up our phones. The Old Man and the Sea was trying to convince us that doing what we were made for, and doing it with heroic perseverance, is intrinsically valuable. But now Twitter is trying to convince us, by the very structure of its ‘world,’ that the latest nuclear provocation by Kim Jong Un is worthy of the same amount of concern as a snarky comment by Stephen Colbert.

We come home from church, where the liturgy was attempting to en-world us in the life of the world to come. We sit on the sofa and amputate that far off world in order to save the World of Facebook, within which a historically private moment like a marriage proposal is photodocumented alongside the also historically private (but for opposite reasons) event of my high school buddy’s afternoon snack.

When we bookend our reading experiences, however immersive they are, with immersion in social media, however brief, we tell our souls that the worlds of those books are fantasy, and these selfies and cat videos are reality. When we enfold our corporate worship within a life more fundamentally framed by Facebook, in a subtle but undeniable fashion, it is Facebook that corporate worship becomes about. 

Our technology has enabled us to see the world from the vantage point of distant planets. But our technology has also given us lifelong memberships in the Flat Earth Society. And, when our lives are through, it will be difficult for people to discern from their movements story arcs other than, perhaps, “they were born, they posted, they died.” Our Final Narratives, our supposed visions of the life well lived, are telling the story not of deep conviction and persistent action, but of things liked, things shared, things retweeted.

Are there some of us who manage to utilize social media in ways that do not allow its structures and its ‘world’ to supervene upon the ‘real world’? Are there some of us who primarily live within a world wherein duty, heroism, conviction, love, and sacrifice are treasured and enacted, rather than a world of mere likes and retweets? Certainly.

Do we have the reflective capacity to recognize when we’ve swapped the enchanted world of the great texts, great films, great artworks, great religions and real-life heroes for the flattened earth of Facebook? Do we have the will power to make a substantial change if we recognize that we’re living in the wrong world? I’m not sure.

Sloth and Our Lazy Loving

I am in the midst of teaching through a course on The Seven Deadly Sins for the 5th time. This repetition has occasioned something of a seasonal self-audit of my own spirituality. Each time through, the study of each vice (aided mostly by Rebecca DeYoung’s great book on the subject) diagnoses things in me that make me uncomfortable and, hopefully more often than not, repentant.

DeYoung’s fantastic definition of sloth continues to haunt me. Sloth is not laziness, but laziness in loving. Sloth is “resistance to the demands of love.”

We are about as slow and as tardy to love as this sloth is lazy and late in Win, Lose, or Draw:

As I’ve studied the philosopher Jean-Luc Marion, my mind has been blown by two dynamics in this respect:

  1. The reality of our creaturely, finite, temporal natures means that we are constitutionally “late” to love–not in the tardy sense, but in the responsive sense. God loves first and best. We love, but any love we give that is worthy of the name is always already a citation, a response to a call that precedes us. This is not bad. It’s good. We are imitative beings through and through.
  2. We are fallen creatures. We are late in another sense. We are lazy in love. We resist love’s demands. We hear and see the speech and action of our Creator-Lover, and we kick against the goads. We instinctively know that if we are to truly receive such love, we will be compelled to give it again. And we know and can name the people in our lives we regard as unworthy of our love. And so we push away the love of the first and best Lover, thinking this releases us from our status as imitative beings. We reject love, so we won’t be compelled to love the unlovely.

I’ve read in several places recently that one major malaise of our current culture is its boredom. Marion suggests (in his own way) that boredom is the result of our systematic resistance to the demands of love. What is left when the receiving and giving of love is eschewed as our ultimate vocation? Boredom. The residue of an always-unsatisfying saturation with entertainment, diversion, distraction.

Our relationships feel like work and so we check out from them—often with entertainment.

But often with work. Busyness is the other side of the Boredom coin.

Or we view our work as something other than a response of love and a reiteration and imitation of that love in the direction of our neighbor, and so we avoid it.

A resolution or two:

  1. Some productivity guru once said that you should swallow a frog first thing every morning. If you do, you can be sure that you’ve done the hardest, most unpleasant thing you’ll do all day, and now it’s done and out of the way. If I know a demand of love faces me, and its demand is less than fully pleasant, I need to swallow that frog. Have the hard conversation. Put down the phone and look the person in the eye. Give myself in full attentiveness.
  2. I need to stop myself before every new vocational task. I need to remind myself that I am doing that task out of love for my neighbor, my colleague, my student, my friend, my children, my wife. I need to imagine the face of the beloved for whom I work, sitting there in the room with me as I work, asking for my love through my work.

All said, to love well, I need to resist my resistance to the demands of love.

Death Still Stings (For Now)

Easter is the day when we like to say “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” And it’s a line quoted from the climax of one of the best theological meditations on the resurrection found anywhere in Scripture. 

  

But here’s the thing: death still stings. Ask anyone who’s got the stinger in them: like my wife, for instance, who lost her father a couple months ago; or her mom, who just visited us here in Seoul, who lost the love of her life. 

The French philosopher Jacques Derrida recalls the occasion of his younger brother tragically dying of tubercular meningitis at the age of two: “I remember the day I saw my father, in 1940, in the garden, lighting a cigarette one week after the death of my little brother: ‘But how can he still do that? Only a week ago he was sobbing!’ I never got over it.”

You don’t ever really get over it. My mom lost a teenage brother. I have only rarely heard about Uncle Kenny, but when I do, I can tell no one has ever really gotten over it. 

This Easter, I remember that death is too big a deal to ever get over. I remember that Paul isn’t suggesting that the sting of death is gone, or that the grave has been stripped of its victory. Not yet, anyway. 

Not till the mortal puts on its immortality:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” 

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

 – 1 Corinthians 15:51-55

Death has had a big fat bite taken out of it. And this is Eastertide’s tidings. And so we can declare these things proleptically, bringing their future facticity to bear on our present stings and sorrows. 

But death hasn’t been swallowed whole. Yet. 

When Will We Finally be Done Following Jesus?

When we talk about following Jesus, I wonder if we assume that this following is done
with when our earthly days are done; that our following will be over and our chillaxing will commence once we’re over Jordan.  

It’s like we think that spiritual and vocational effort (and aren’t these ultimately the same thing?) are a consequence of the fall, and that one day, in the sweet by and by, we won’t have to work to know Jesus and follow him faithfully.

We are allergic to effort, we champions of grace. But as Dallas Willard has told us, grace is not opposed to effort, but only to earning. In the New Creation, we’ll labor–but not just in our “work.” We’ll work to know and follow hard after Jesus in, through, and after any honest day’s labor. 

We won’t struggle against the world, the sinful flesh, and the devil as we try to know and follow Jesus in the age to come. But exhaustive theological knowledge and unabridged discipleship blueprints will not simply be downloaded into our heads when the trump resounds. Jesus is too mind-blowingly infinite and loving, and his (new) world is too full of places to venture further up and further in, for us to expect our following days to be done when the roll is called up yonder. 

And that means we’re practicing now. 

Don’t Close Your Heart

The biggest surprise for me in church planting, by far, has been this:

Hell-storming Expectations

I thought that our little church would be storming the gates of hell like boy David against Big Bad Goliath. I thought we would be spending the majority of our energies and imaginations discerning how we would make a unique contribution to the flourishing of our city, and then acting on those conclusions. I assumed that what would keep me up at night would be my burden for helping my people get a burden for their neighbors and their spiritual and holistic needs.

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Mundane Realities

I never expected that the things that would keep me up at night were the deep needs and burdens of the ordinary Christians within our congregation. I didn’t anticipate that so much of my energy and imagination, and that of my co-planter, would be deployed in the service of helping our people navigate tough seasons in marriage, parenting, and vocation.

I feel dumb for this.

And I never expected that one of the hardest things for me to do with the ordinary Christians in my congregation would be to diligently keep my heart open to them. I wrote a while back about the necessity of having thick skin and a soft heart. Paul describes it in a similar way. He says to the Corinthian church that at the very same time he is grieved and perplexed by them, and yet his heart is open to them.

The Hard Work of Heart Work

In fact, he says that even though it is their unbecoming words, attitudes, and actions that have grieved and perplexed him (and messed up the life of the church), the barrier to a renewed relationship between he and them comes from closedness-of-heart. And not his heart. Theirs.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also. … Make room in your hearts for us. … I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. (2 Cor 6 and 7)

I’ve talked with veterans in ministry who have dealt with way more Corinthianesque garbage than I have. Some of them are burnt out. They have disengaged from ministry because they no longer want to have open hearts with difficult people. This saddens me, and should not be so. If you want a congregation with hearts wide open to one another, you, as the pastor, as the planter, have to persevere in open-heartedness.

As a pastor, as a church planter–heck, as a plain old Christian–you need to make sure that whatever barrier there might be between reconciliation with other people is always in the closedness of their hearts, not yours.

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Aim for Viable, then Sustainable

Our congregation is now just a tad more than two years old. Terrible twos. Yikes. I hope not.

Let’s pretend that church planting years are like dog years. We’re a teenager. Okay. That’s a little bit better.

Photo by Sara McAllister

Photo by Sara McAllister

Ecclesial Adolescence

We’re an adolescent church. We’re entertaining our emerging grown-up-ness. We’re leaning into our inevitable adulthood. We’re making an attempt to mimic the behaviors and rhythms of an emancipated church. We’re wondering what it will be like to make a lasting contribution to society, to move beyond dreaming of what we’ll be and what we’ll do some day.

If you’re into classical pedagogy, we’ve mastered the grammar of our subjects. We’ve come a long way in discovering the logic of how our concepts and vocabulary, our rhythms and practices, fit together. And we’re learning to stand up on our own two feet, and, with the feigned confidence of a teenager in the rhetoric stage, to articulate ourselves with some degree of coherence, elegance, rigor, and poise.

We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve had our trials and errors. We’ve had a little bit of juvenile delinquency and have worked through a fair amount of teenage angst. We’ve managed not to get kicked out of the house, and to heed enough of the wisdom of our fathers and mothers so as to not find ourselves destitute, penniless, and orphaned.

Viable vs. Sustainable

If you like, we’ve become viable. We’ve, in a sense, proven our viability. I’ve switched to an entrepreneurial metaphor now. Technically, all we’ve done is achieved ‘proof of concept’. The model is not doomed to fail. It looked good on paper, at least to some. Now it looks okay in practice. There are enough signs of life and vitality to keep cultivating and pruning this plant; to keep spending time and energy seeking the lasting fruit we at first set out to see.

We are not yet sustainable. We aren’t yet ready to fend for ourselves in the ‘real world’, to leave home and start paying our own way and governing ourselves. We believe that it’s possible, and we’re learning more of what that will take. But we can’t quite pull our own weight yet.

Ecclesial Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is, from the start, the search for a viable business model. You start. Then you tweak and tweak and tweak some more until you have discerned that you have a strong potential to become profitable and self-sustaining. Church planting is, from the start, the search for a viable discipleship-in-ecclesial-community model. You start. Then you tweak and tweak and tweak some more until you have discerned that you have a strong potential to be fruitful—perhaps even, after some time, thirty, sixty, one hundred fold.

Sure, there are direct parallels between worlds. Church plants aim for fiscal self-sustainability just like business start-ups.

But most fundamentally, the move from viability to sustainability is the move from demonstrating that fruitfulness and spiritual reproduction are likely under the essential discipleship-in-ecclesial-community model, to actually experiencing that fruitfulness and spiritual reproduction.

From Pimples to Produce

It’s the transition from the growth spurt of adolescence to the countenance of adulthood. From the awkwardness of puberty to the reproduction of spiritual offspring. From all-nighters cramming for finals to the emergence of a lasting contribution to the host community in which the young adult church participates. Lasting fruitfulness is the sustained profitability that an ecclesial start-up ultimately aims for.

Is your church or church plant viable? Is it moving in on viability? Is it searching for a viable discipleship-in-ecclesial-community model that shows promise of sustainable fruitfulness?

If not, there’s no sense striving for “sustainability”. There’s nothing worth sustaining.

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Fear the Cash, Wear the Crash Helmet

“As many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” – Acts 4:34-35

Keep your hands off that cash

This would freak any of us out, if we were the Apostles. “Who put me in this kind of position?” They say that pastors should keep their hands completely off the church finances, and especially never come into contact with cash money. Keeps us honest, above reproach, un-scanalizable. These folks dumped a whole pile of cash money at their pastors’ feet and said “you all figure out what to do with this. The Spirit of God freed me to give this, and to release control over how it’s precisely used.”

Yikes.

But if you’re planting a church, and the Spirit of God is moving among his people, you’re going to have these moments.

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Wombs and wee preachers

I remember the first instance of this, when I was first learning how to preach one summer at a country church in Virginia. I mentioned off-hand while preaching through the book of Ruth, that we should notice that it was the Lord who opened her womb, and gave her and Boaz conception. I didn’t grind and axe or get pontifical. I just mentioned it, pointed it out.

Well, 2 of those country folk, who happened to be married with a good bit of offspring already, and not much cash flow and not much square footage … they had to go and get “convicted”. They decided to trust the Lord with their family size. And of course, they got pregnant. And then pregnant again. One of those kiddos was named “Ruth”.

Oh gosh! Did I do that? Yikes. Not really. Kind of? No. Oh wow.

Don’t turn your life upside down, I’m just preaching

Then there was our church plant’s emphasis and sermon series on hospitality. Hospitality. Seems innocuous enough. Being friendly, inviting people over, feeding people, maybe having someone stay for a while so they can get on their feet again. No big deal.

But after 12 weeks of preaching on gospel hospitality from creation to New Creation, all of a sudden there’s a pile of money laying at your feet. One couple in our church felt the Spirit of God call them, through the preaching of the word, to take guardianship of a 13-year-old girl whose home-life had deteriorated. To raise a teenager. Teenager. One laden with beauty and brokenness.

Wait, hold on. Don’t do that. Let’s make sure you’re not just hallucinating or having a warm fuzzy moment. This is serious business. Don’t sell the farm just because I preached about Jesus and his generous welcome to us.

Crash helmets for seersucker

You’re not in charge. You have the authority to minister God’s word. It’s not a coercive and physical authority. It’s persuasive and verbal. And you—if you’re like me—hardly think of yourself as a grown-up, much less as in some ways analogous to the Apostles who led the first churches in the New Testament. You want Jesus to move among your people, but you don’t want to feel responsible for the weird things people do as a result.

Maybe Annie Dillard is right when she says that we really ought to be wearing crash helmets, and not big flowery hats and seersucker trousers, when we enter the presence of God in corporate worship. There’s nothing cute about the Spirit using his Word to flip someone’s life completely upside down in an act of radical, joyful obedience to something you certainly didn’t explicitly suggest anyone should actually do.

I still don’t know what to make of all this. I could be trite and say that it makes me humble. I could be sagacious and say that you should be warned and prepared. But I don’t think I’ve gotten past the PTSD of seeing the pile of cash laying at my feet, so as of yet I have nothing really to say. Except yikes.

Yikes indeed.

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The Churched Disciple: Sabbath – “Expect”

Alas, back to our series on ‘the churched disciple’. If we’re going to have the kind of church that doesn’t underwhelm earnest Christians and encourage them to opt for ‘community’ instead of church, what kind of body of disciples do we need to become?

“Discipleship is never complicated or easy, but always simple and hard.” – Mike Breen

That’s certainly true of this call to discipleship. We’re called to expect that Jesus will give us plenty to receive in each Sabbath feast.

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The great London Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once had a pastor-friend who came to him discouraged. He was upset about the lack of fruit he saw from his preaching ministry. The pastor complained that he was not seeing people come to faith in Christ under his preaching.

“Well,” Spurgeon retorted, “you don’t expect that someone will come to faith in Christ during every sermon, do you?” Sheepishly, the pastor said, “well, no.” “That’s precisely the problem,” Spurgeon said.

SMALL EXPECTATIONS?

We often suffer from abysmally low expectations of what God will do in the power of the Spirit when his people are gathered in his presence.

Growing disciples of Jesus, in contrast, will experience an growing anticipation of what Jesus will do. Especially when we come to God in the posture of receptivity, we come expecting that it will primarily be him that does a great work in and among us.

We no longer look at Sunday as the religious version of a dreaded Monday. We no longer see it as a day when we have to get the children up, get them dressed, get them fed, and keep them quiet so that we can say we went to church, and that our kids didn’t embarrass us.

Instead, Sunday becomes one of our favorite days of the week—even if we love going to work on Monday and we begging out with pizza, beer, and a movie on Friday night.

3 LETHARGIC ALTERNATIVES

Some fast-growing churches seem to put all their energy into making the worship experience so spectacular that someone could wander in half-dead and be resurrected by the sheer force of the music, the lights, the preaching, and the crowds.

Other stagnating and declining churches seem to simply go through the Sunday motions, which can make the most zealous Christian comatose ten minutes in.

Some Christians have seen all this at its worst, and have lost hope in ever seeing it at its best. And so they are satisfied with small group gatherings and private devotions.

Our church’s experience of Jesus is dependent on our church’s expectations of Jesus. Will he pour himself out by his Spirit when we are gathered to keep his feast? Do we expect it? Do we believe that Jesus always throws the best feasts and brings the best wine?

So, what’s our challenge? How do we be become an expectant people?

ARE WE EXPECTING?

The challenge for those preparing to lead us in Festal Sabbathing is to mine the riches of the gospel of Jesus in its diverse implications for a more abundant life under his lordship. Preachers must prepare with diligence, with prayer, employing all their God-given powers of spiritual imagination to proclaim the gospel with authority and generosity (2 Tim 4:2). They must expect that God will accomplish much through its proclamation.

Those that cook food for the rest of us to enjoy should cook with love, expecting and praying that it will be received (there’s that word again!) with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). Those who watch the young children in the nursery, those who lead music, those who clean the kitchen, and all others who serve at the Sabbath feast should ready their hearts, expecting that their humble service will be used by the Spirit of God to enable others to receive his grace and be transformed by it.

Whatever we bring to the feast, we bring it with the joyful expectation that Jesus has given us the gift, and intends to use it for the edification of the body (Rom 12:4ff).

It is incumbent upon each member of the feasting body to calibrate their hearts throughout the week, expecting that the feast will be satisfying, and that Jesus will delight our souls on the richest of fare.

The challenge for each of us is much like the challenge of our entire Christian lives: to live our week in the hopeful expectation that the best is yet to come, and that each Sabbath feast is a foretaste of the greater feast of the New Jerusalem, which we also expect to enjoy soon.

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The Churched Disciple: The WHY

Your own personal WHY

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

What are you dedicating your life to?

What do you believe most deeply about the world and your place within it?

This is the question of calling. Of vocation. Some people call it a “through-line” or a “final narrative”, a “personal mission statement” or a “single motivating purpose”.

I am pretty much decided on what I believe most deeply about the world. I’m still working on the question of my particular place within it, though I’ve come to some preliminary conclusions about what my specific roles are, regardless of how I might sum up my overall calling in one sentence.

All of this gets at the question of WHY. As Simon Sinek says in his fantastic TED Talk,

“Everyone knows what they do. Some people know how they do it. Very few people know why they do what they do.”

One WHY leads to another

What gets your church out of bed in the morning?

What is your church dedicating its life to?

What does your church believe most deeply about the world and its place within it?

This also is the question of calling. Of vocation. It’s an ecclesiastical through-line, a Christian community’s single motivating purpose.

Does your church have one? And is it glorious, memorable, and inspiring enough to get your church out of bed in the morning? Does it lead from a breathtaking premise (what your church believes most deeply about the world) to an ambitious conclusion (what your church’s place in that world is)?

Simon Sinek might say

Your church knows what it does. Many folks in your church know how it’s done. Does your congregation know why it does what it does?

Compelling Verbiage

Church mission statements are pointless if they don’t reflect reality—if they don’t reflect both deeply held beliefs and deeply felt callings. But they are powerful, resonant motivators for those authentic church communities which rightly insist upon a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning.

In our series of gatherings called “Life in Jesus’ Church” (sort of our living room introduction to our church’s understanding of the gospel, the church, and our communal calling, with lots of food), we ask people if they know our church’s stated mission. Since it’s often newcomers, only about half do. Then we go over it.

“The truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus for the flourishing of Rock Hill.”

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I ask folks what this verbiage suggests about our church’s belief and calling. Here are some of the responses we’ve gotten:

  • “It suggests that we don’t just preach the truth, but practice goodness and value beauty.”
  • “I’ve never heard of a church before that put ‘beauty’ in its mission statement.”
  • “It says that Jesus is Lord over our city and will be the one who produces fruit here.”
  • “It implies that what we do as a church is tangible, and valuable for our town.”
  • “It says that because we have a Jesus who’s good, true, and beautiful, we’re hopeful for our city.”
  • “It communicates that we’re not just looking for conversions or superficial morality, but for our community to come to life in every respect.”
  • “It makes me think of the New Heavens and the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem, and our city’s future in cosmic redemption.” (This person was a bit of a theologian!)
  • “It says that there’s more to church than teaching right doctrine.”
  • “It tells our community that we’re here for them.”
  • “It says that we are committed to being an incarnation of the good news, like Jesus, and not just talking about it.”
  • “It seems to go way beyond ‘going to church on Sunday’.”

Now, I don’t expect anyone in our church to tattoo this statement on themselves. It’s not even important to me that everyone memorize it. But it is important that it would come as no surprise to anyone who heard it, once they’ve seen our church out of bed, on the streets, doing its thing.

As Simon Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

What would Donald do?

Could it be that the Donald Millers of the Christian world, who have opted out of “going to church”, have done so because our what is mundane, our how is full of cliché, and our why is nowhere to be discerned?

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Put another way: if you are a culture-maker within your particular congregation, do you have the spiritual imagination to bore down beyond the what and how to articulate a compelling why? Is that why freighted with your most deeply held belief about the world, and your most deeply held belief about your church’s place in the world? Are you committed to starting with your compelling why and translating it into a sensible how and a well-aligned what?

At the most basic level, do the Donald Millers of your community sense that their personal why is reinforced, challenged, provoked, stoked, informed, and deployed by your church’s why? Are there Donald Millers around who can now say, “I can hardly believe I’ve found a church that is so committed to equipping me and unleashing me to do what God has called me to do”?

What’s next?

Tomorrow, I’ll begin to outline the how. I believe that cultivating ministry across the domains of Sabbath, Neighborhood, and Vocation are the next logical ways to concretize our church’s why. If you resonate with our why, then something similar to Sabbath, Neighborhood, and Vocation is probably called for in your context as well.

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