Today is May 6th. If I’m keeping track of time correctly, we are currently in our 7th week in the United States since federal and state authorities began making restrictions for citizens in light of COVID-19. There is no doubt that we are all being affected in deep ways – not just physically or economically, but socially, relationally, and emotionally. It’s hard to fight against emotional fatigue and apathy when you’re not even sure what day it is anymore.
Call me naïve, but I was really hoping that this pandemic would be an enemy that would unite the American people. The divisive rhetoric of our culture, driven almost entirely by political and racial divides, has become too wearisome for me to bear. But as days have become weeks, the pandemic has become another source of contentious divide. I am especially saddened when I see God-fearing Christians using divisive language, promoting politically biased information, or even lashing out at those who disagree with them on what is best for our country.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. These behaviors have become the mold that our culture has made for us. It is far easier to settle into a familiar way of doing things (even if that involves unhelpful or sinful behaviors) than it is to pursue the difficult paths of humility, grace, and kindness.
This cultural mold has given us patterns of convenience. In the history of God’s people, it is not uncommon for us to choose the complacent path of convenience rather than the difficult path of obedience. The Israelites early conquest of the land of Canaan is a great example of this pattern that is worth our time to consider. Continue Reading
One of my favorite prayers in the Psalms says this:
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come. (Psalm 71:18)
The Psalmist is aware of the fatigue that old age brings, so he prays for the strength to mentor and disciple the next generation. This kind of intergenerational discipleship is assumed throughout the Bible (Deuteronomy 32:7, Psalm 78:4-6, 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Titus 2:1-6, etc.). These relationships between older and younger members of Christ’s body are a reflection of the kind of unity which God has won for us in Christ (Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 12:12ff).
I have a special burden for intergenerational relationships and discipleship in the Church, not only because it has made such an impact on my life but also because I believe it is a biblical model that is often neglected in our churches. While there’s nothing wrong with affinity groups (where we explicitly gather with other saints from common demographics), we are missing out on necessary growth and sanctification when these groups are the only Christian relationships we have.
Over the years I’ve tried to pay attention to the latest in intergenerational research, whether that is in the broader culture or in the church explicitly (sadly, the former often impacts the latter much more than the latter impacts the former). I was delighted when I learned that David Kinnaman (with his friend Mark Matlock) at the Barna Research Group put out a new work for us to learn from. Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon has some really insightful research and applications for ministry today. In particular, this new research sheds light on how intergenerational relationships not only need to be a priority in our churches, but it also shows us how these relationships might need to adapt for the challenges of this new age. Continue Reading
I’ll never forget a conversation I had a few years back with a group of Christians. I had been attending some atheist and freethinker groups for a couple of years, and I was continually impressed by the kinds of honest relationships and communities my friends in these groups were forming. I longed to see something like that happen except with Christians leading the effort. Since many of these group meetings I had attended were in “neutral” places like breweries or coffee shops, I was praying about whether I too could start such a group in a neutral territory like a brewery.
When I shared this prayer request with the group of Christians, one of them antagonistically shot back: Well what are you going to do once all these bar people are coming to your church!?
Yikes! (Note: This dear friend is now one of my biggest supporters of ministry in uncomfortable places!)
I was shocked. How could a professing Christian have such a strong view toward people they hadn’t even met? Looking back on that experience now, I’ve come to see how often I have similar reactions. It is so easy for us to deal with people in the abstract rather than as actual people, isn’t it? Some might call this othering – labeling and treating other people as being intrinsically different and therefore unrelatable to ourselves.
Bishop William Temple once said, “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” It’s a nice sentiment, isn’t it? Perhaps attempting to echo the teachings of Jesus from places like Mark 2:17 (“I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”) and his many parables about the Kingdom of God (like that of The Great Banquet – Luke 14:12-24), this quote reminds us that the mission of the Church is to go out into the world to make disciples. In so doing, more and more people will have peace with God and be made whole.
So why does it seem like becoming a part of a church can often be so, well – difficult? In his recent book The Second Mountain, author David Brooks describes what some might call a conversion to Christianity, or what others (myself included) would call a spiritual journey toward embracing Christianity. When it came to actually interacting with Christian people and Christian institutions, Brooks describes his journey in this way:
“I was on a journey toward God, and I found out pretty quickly along the way that religious people and institutions sometimes built ramps that made it easier to continue my journey, or they built walls, making the journey harder. I found that many of the walls in the Christian world were caused by the combination of an intellectual inferiority complex combined with a spiritual superiority complex. I found that Christians, especially of the Protestant evangelical variety, are plagued by the sensation that they are not quite as intellectually rigorous or as cool as the secular world. At the same time, many of them are inflated by the notion that they are a quantum leap or two more moral.”
Yikes! In a future post I will explore some of the ramps he found that made it easier to interact with Christians and their churches. In this post, I want to explore the four walls – or barriers – that Brooks discovered in his experience and discuss some of the applications it might have for our churches. Continue Reading