-For those of you who may have been wondering, “What in the world has happened to Eric in the past few years?” This blog post is your answer.
In the past, I would beat myself up because I had not read the latest books on the hottest topics relating to the church scene. I felt inadequate and insecure because I was “out the loop” and unable to drop the name of the newest author and discuss the “fresh” ideas from his or her book.
Over time, what I began to observe was a lot people who were quoting the latest author or speaker, but not quoting Jesus much. I heard all the buzz phrases; city-wide transformation, missional church, reproducing churches, house of prayer movement, multisite campuses, etc. –Again, I was hearing a lot of talk about the latest voices and their ideas regarding how to “do church” and “what the church should look like,” but not much about Jesus and even less about His simple, but foundational teachings.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the American church is losing its voice AND its effectiveness in our culture. I am not the smartest guy on the planet, but I have managed to figure out that if I continue to do what everybody else is doing, I am going to get what they have. –And I do not want what the American church has; I say that respectfully, but very frankly.
So out of frustration AND desperation, I have thrown away the buzz words and allowed all the books on my night stand to collect dust. For the last few years I have fasted from most “Christian content” and read wrestled with the raw and unapologetic teachings of Christ found in the Gospels.
Jesus’ teachings were different. By studying His actions, we find that He was not concerned about getting invited to the next speaking engagement, and He was not trying to sell His new book. He was also not worried about what the offering would be after service, so if He offended someone with His teaching… so be it. It was not that He did not love or care about those that He spoke to, it was just that He loved them enough to tell them the Truth. If He were graded by today’s metrics, He would have been a terrible church planter; He could gather a crowd but could not keep them. -And when the crowds left, it never seemed to even bother Him anyway…
Still, His words cut to the core of my heart. They echo in my mind; I wrestle with them almost always. In a lot of ways, Jesus’ teachings have ruined me. The more I focus on the core teachings of the Gospels, the more I feel that I simply do not fit in, in today’s American church culture. Sometimes I feel like an alien.
One of my responsibilities at my job is that of the accounting manager. One of the key tasks that I perform every month is a “bank reconciliation” of our company’s accounting data to data provided by our bank. It is just like balancing your personal checking account, just on a larger scale. If our data does not match the banks data, I have to find out why. -And if an error was made, it was usually made by me or another employee and not the bank.
Therefore, when accounting errors are found we do not get mad at the bank. We do not attempt to manipulate one of bank tellers into trying to reconcile their “true” data to our “false” data. Nor do we twist the policies of the bank to match our errant accounting practices. No, we humble ourselves and make corrections to “reconcile” our account balance to that of the bank.
In the past few years I have been attempting to “reconcile” my life and ministry to the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus. I had been “reconciled” to American church culture, but not directly to the teachings of Christ. I still have a long way to go but I am slowly wrestling through what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. It is more than just showing up for church. It is more than just learning to speak “Chrisitianese,” –the official language of the American church. It is more than saying a prayer or reciting a few “buzz phrases.” And for me as a minister, it is far more than just a good sermon with a few funny stories and pats on the back after a worship service.
I am learning that reconciling my life to the Gospels will change everything about me. My ambitions have been lost, my dreams have faded; honestly… I do not even know what to dream anymore. I have found that my dreams and ambitions from the past were empty and fruitless. Those dead dreams and ambitions have been superseded by a hunger for something authentic, real and genuine. I feel different; different from those who are merely religious and “churchy” and different from those whose minds are focused on the things of this world. I don’t care to discuss the latest church growth program and I am not interested in climbing the corporate ladder. I have discovered that neither will satisfy the hunger, -and the void, that is inside of me. Some would call me a hopeless idealist; I have just decided to stop playing “the game.”
I am sickened (almost daily) by the carnage that is left roadside by the actions of “the machine” we call the American Church. We preach “Jesus is the answer!” –Then when new Christians are introduced to our (sometimes) toxic churches we often chew them up and spit them out. We should all be haunted by these words spoken from the lips of Jesus, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” -I am sure that statement was “unthinkable” to the religious leaders of that time. -How arrogant are we to think that there is no possibility that portions of the American church have degraded to this state as well?
I know my voice is small. I know my influence is weak. But from the small weak voice that I have in the Kingdom, I beg you to read through the Gospels for yourself. And don’t just read through the parts you like. Read the Words of Jesus that put your stomach in knots. Read the teachings that if acted on would turn your world upside down. Read the stuff that fractures the foundations of “our” American dreams. If you call yourself a pastor, preacher, clergy or whatever, read chapters like Matthew 23 and wrestle with the Words of Christ. Be willing to ask yourself some very hard questions. Question everything that we call Christianity and reconcile it the Master.
Do not attempt to reconcile “your life” to “my life.” My data is corrupt. Do not attempt to reconcile “your church” to “the church down the road.” The data is corrupt. Do not attempt to reconcile “your ministry” to “my ministry.” The data is corrupt. Let us reconcile our lives, our churches, and our ministries to (the teachings of) Jesus. He is the only reliable Source of Truth and Life.