Here’s what I know for sure. Merely complaining about it online without taking direct action is a waste of time. Trust me, I’ve done it way more than you have.
Leaders take people where they would otherwise not go on their own.
I’m thankful for these young leaders, agentes de cambio, who are bringing to attention a problem in my neighborhood.
One place the Good News needs to prevail is helping to reshape our neighborhoods.
We, as a culture, obey the rule of affinity in our lives. Who we gather with, who we have as friends, where we go to worship… our entire place in this world is governed by affinity.
We do stuff we like. We are friends with people we like. And we worship with people we like. We eat what we like, we wear what we like, we shop where we like, it never ends.
We’ve liked the life out of ourselves.
Doing stuff we don’t like. Well, that’s yucky.
Affinity’s Impact on the Church
Do you remember that kid in your neighborhood who would get ticked off because things weren’t going his way? He’d get all huffy, take his ball, and go home. Every kid in the neighborhood hated that guy. He was a brat. But we were friends with him because he had a nice basketball.
That’s pretty much the story of the protestant faith. Affinity– gathering by what we like– is the weakness of our religious DNA. Taking our ball and going elsewhere has been a tradition since the Reformation. How many protestant denominations were started because of disagreements going back to… “Well, we want to baptize people this way and you don’t, so we’re going to start another church across the street.” Pretty much all of them.
Don’t you hate church history? It reveals so much truth!
The result of this DNA weakness is what we see now. People go to the church that they go to because they like it. They’ll drive 45 minutes to go somewhere they like…. passing dozens of perfectly good churches along the way. Consequently, churches who have something for everyone to like tend to grow.
And this has been the unspoken narrative of church people for a long, long time. We go to a church ultimately because we like something about it. We like the kids program or the music or the pastor or what they do in the community or because we grew up in that faith tradition and it feels comfortable or because of an affinity-based conviction.
I’m not trying to cheapen these things. I am 100% guilty as charged. All I’m trying to do is raise awareness of this inborn propensity we have to gather by affinity.
Here’s where it plays out…
This morning a friend posted on his Facebook wall something like, “I’m tired of my pastor friends getting hurt because families leave. Why can’t they just work out their differences and stay?” The answer is affinity. For generations we, collectively as protestant church leaders, have told (in acts and/or deeds) people that they ought to gather together and worship based on shared affinities. (Again, not cheapening values/traditions/theological differences.)
The Problem with Building Church Around Affinity
The problem is affinity is cheap. Affinity is fickle. By telling people they should worship with people they like in spaces they like and attend churches that meet their needs is that that stuff all changes all the time. We live in a society that changes fast. And our churches pride themselves on moving slowly. So you are always caught in a cycle of being 5-10 years behind what culture wants! (This is something I call depreciating returns. It’s not 1-2 things that have killed the mojo in a church, it’s lots of things which have resulted in a gradual slow down.)
So, while it hurts we can’t be frustrated when people go to what they want because that’s what we’ve taught them… “Worship Jesus how it works best for you and your family.” So they do. That makes church consumeristic. That makes it transient. That makes it, in some ways, cheap.
It’s Romans 7 lived out in church leadership. We do the thing that hurts the most and we don’t know why but we keep right on doing it. And as a result, Satan gets a stronger and stronger foothold in our society.
Proximity is the Long-Term Answer
The Good News of Jesus isn’t an affinity thing, it’s a proximity thing. Christian people from the same community, empowered by the Holy Spirit can overcome the rule of affinity. (We can/should/must look to our Catholic brethren. The parish model is a beautiful thing!)
People of all walks of life really can and should worship together. They should recognize and celebrate differences of opinion, they should love that the church reflects their neighborhood, they should see power in willfully worshipping with people with different needs, people whom they might not be comfortable with. If you watched the vice-presidential debate you heard Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, two faithful Catholic men, express two wildly different viewpoints on their Catholic faith. Their differences were not a weakness at all, it was a demonstration of the strength of the Gospel! Two people who truly see things from different vantage points can and willfully do share one communion cup. That’s the Gospel lived out in proximity in full denial of the rule of affinity!
Proximity is how you bring Good News to the Neighborhood. Proximity is how you build lifelong, grace-filled, messy, overcoming relationships.
But to get away from affinity and towards proximity, we all need to repent of our personal preference sin. And confession and repentance, well… we don’t like that.
That’s a familiar slogan, isn’t it? If you live in the United States chances are good that I just put that jingle in your head. But have you ever stopped to think about the meaning of this song?
What is State Farm saying? It’s an insurance company reminding you that your neighbors stink. But if you pay them a premium they’ll be like a good neighbor to you.
“All we did was show up and smile.” That’s usually the honest reflection for teenagers who are serving on a mission trip. The lead-up to the trip elevated their expectations that doing mission work was somehow extraordinary. But when you sit in a circle with a group debriefing a day of service someone in the circle will always say that they didn’t do anything particularly special. There’s a little ounce of disappointment that handing a homeless person a sandwich or painting the classroom of a school didn’t feel more special.
Yet, there is power in that reflection. Often times loving a neighbor isn’t a big thing. Something doesn’t have to be large or especially memorable to be meaningful.
In fact, becoming Good News in your Neighborhood is often so free that you begin doing it without any intentionality. I recently sat down with a denominational leader who shared with me just that. He left a parish ministry to accept a position at the denominations offices, and in doing so he left his parsonage garden behind and began living in a condo. Several months later he noticed that a small common area of his complex was getting overgrown and he approached the property manager about turning it into a little vegetable garden. He admits, his desire to do this was very selfish. He missed gardening and saw an opportunity to do something he loved. But as time went on neighbors began to ask him questions about what he was growing. Of course, he shared some of his crop. And the next thing you know everyone in his complex knows his name, about his garden, is helping with “their” garden, and looks forward to seeing him.
I’ll give you one guess where a couple of families are now going to church…
What if everyone on my block knew who I was? What if other people on my block knew each other because I introduced them? What if I knew what the needs of my neighbors were and were in a position to activate others to help? And what if I had an eye to initiate or come alongside a program to serve my neighborhood as quickly as I come alongside my church?
That would be good news in my neighborhood, wouldn’t it?
That would look a lot like Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:39, wouldn’t it?
Love your neighbor as yourself.
It’s one of those obvious things we don’t do. If you are like me you think, “Gosh, that would be cool. But I’m not _____.” [Insert your excuse, mine is too busy already.]
But think of the possibility of this dream. What if my neighborhood were good news for residents? What if, compelled by a love for Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, neighbors got to know one another, learned to love one another, and helped to meet one another’s practical needs. What if people thought about the place that they live as a source of life instead of just a place to live?
Is that possible?
Of course it is. We believe Jesus at His word on so many other levels, why not the most basic one? Love your neighbor as yourself. He didn’t say, love your family as yourself or love your church as yourself or love your TV as yourself or love the idea of a neighbor as you love yourself.
You and I are the change agents who can make this happen. Ephesians 2:10 is clear, we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works. So let’s get on that horse and do some good works!
You just have to push away the voices inside of you that tells you it isn’t your job. Or that being involved at _____ is enough. Or that you are too busy, your neighbors are annoying, they don’t want to know one another. On and on. Don’t let the voice of doubt win.
5 First Steps You Can Do This Week
- Learn 5 names you don’t already know on your block.
- Create a simple drawing for your fridge. Make a box for every house and put names in every box.
- Take a slow walk every day this week on your block with the intention of saying learning names. “Hi, I’m ___. What’s your name?” You can do that. This works well after work when people are out and about. It also works great in the morning if you have a dog. (The dog will love this!)
- Pick the newest person on your block and intentionally introduce yourself. Welcome them to the neighborhood.
- Tell 1 person your dream for the block, that it would be a place where neighbors are not strangers.
You’ve got this. You can do it!
a figurative drink representing a modality of thought. those who consume it are themselves consumed by the negativity which with they speak.
~ Urban Dictionary Word of the Day, July 26th 2005
It feels like Haterade is on sale all over Facebook and Twitter these days. People are endlessly extreme and full of hate. It’s as if the middle ground approach, one which gives and takes for the sake of mutuality, has been replaced by an either or mentality… either you are for me or against me. I love people who are for me and damned be the name of anyone who is opposed.
I Blame the Internet
Before Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Huffington Post… you had to talk to people face-to-face at some point. Additionally, it was harder to find community for extremism. You talked things out a bit more with real people and there was social pressure to move from the extremities of a position more to the middle, something socially digestible, and socially acceptable. Because if you held onto your extreme position your world got really, really small.
If you didn’t then you were that crazy person on the block with the signs in your yard and 15 dogs.
The internet reverses this. In order to find community you need to refine your positions. You end up forming community with people just like you, who think just like you, and see things just like you… and that is the fountain from which Haterade flows. In time, you get more popular within an online community when you can clearly articulate and defend the group’s position to others outside of your group. Instead of social sparring knocking the edges off of extreme positions it goes the other way towards reaction.
As people move more and more of their relationships online we can expect more and more extremism and less and less love, tolerance, and middle ground.
When an extreme crime occurs in a community, say a school shooting, the news always reports the same things about the shooter. “They kept to themselves” or “They were really quiet neighbors” or “They seemed like loners.” It leaves me shouting at the TV… “Why are you talking to the neighbors? You should be talking to his friends online. That’s who knows the shooter!”
Very few people truly know their neighbors enough to be a character witness for them. Maybe we know about them? But do we truly know them?
That’s rhetorical. We don’t know our neighbors all that well.
Back to the Coffee Shops
My dad is a coffee shop guy. For as long as I can remember he’s gotten up at the butt crack of dawn and gone to a local coffee shop to socialize. And by coffee shop I’m not talking about Starbucks or 7-11. I’m talking about the local greasy spoon. A place with a griddle, a wrap-around counter, and an owner who doubles as cook, cashier, server, and moderator. Decades before Facebook and Twitter, coffee shops were the places where folks checked in with one another, gave status updates, and talked about the news of the day.
We Need Love for Our Neighbors
That’s something missing in our society. For millennia, neighbors gathered locally for daily chores like this. Women met at the watering hole. Men talked on their way to the hunting grounds or fields. Every society has a type of coffee shop. Romans met at the baths. Greeks met at the agora. On and on.
And now? We meet no where just to talk. Most people know little about their communities.
Even at our churches… there’s almost no talking. There are 1% of people who speak and 99% of people who listen. (This, too has changed dramatically in recent decades, leading to extremism. But that’s another topic for another day.) You are seen as a good congregant if you listen well, take notes, smile at the pastor and say nice things. But offer a rebuttal or ask a question? That’s disrespecting authority. Church is anti-coffee-shop… and it wasn’t always like that.
Left alone, we’ve all become the crazy dog man on our blocks who posts random, hate filled signs. We are encouraged to hold extreme positions created in isolation from one another. And our society is worse off for it.
Do you want to be Good News on your block? Open a “coffee shop.”
Where We’ve Been
In the 1940s Billy Graham became one of Youth for Christ’s first full-time evangelists. In post-World War II America, he took to the airwaves and spoke at rallies around the world. Thousands responded. And, in some ways, modern-day evangelicalism was born.
Back then the Bible was taught in schools. It was a regular part of the curriculum for high school students to memorize John 3 or Romans 8 as part of their Bible classes. Church attendance was way up, too. Culturally, America was much more Christian than it is today.
The roots of most of what we call “evangelism” today are tied to this heritage. It’s all built on the premise that most Americans have a working knowledge of the Bible, that they believe in God. and look at the world through a somewhat Christian worldview. I’ve never attended a evangelistic rally, youth event or church service where the Gospel was presented, or anything in between that didn’t have these as working assumptions.
In proclamation evangelism the role of the speaker is to connect the dots in people’s heads. They’ve heard of God. They know who He is. They have read parts of the Bible. They’ve attended church in the past so are comfortable with the format. The speaker and evangelistic rally really puts it all together and creates an emotional, religious experience, and then calls them home.
I’m not going to say that the proclamational evangelistic rally doesn’t work anymore. But if you attend one today you’ll see that most of the people who go aren’t regular Joe’s– they are Christians who came to see a Christian band but are willing to hang out to hear the speaker. And for some of those perhaps the proclamational-style is what they need so they respond?
But take someone completely unchurched? Say, a neighbor whose parents didn’t take them to church and they think Christianity is a crock? Or, like the Average Joe in America believes that if they are a good person they’ll be OK in the end. It’s too weird for them. I know because I’ve done it. A bunch. And I’ve had to go back and apologize one-too-many-times to the point where I’d never invite another friend.
It’s not that I don’t believe, as an evangelical, that I need to share my faith. It’s that I think that for the people in my life the proclamational gospel message should be replaced with a methodology that reflects today’s culture– one that is three generations removed from the Bible being taught in schools and 50% of Americans attending church each Sunday morning.
Here’s what I’ve learned
We live in a post-Christian world. We live in a pluralistic society where Christianity is one of several religions on every block. (Go ahead, walk down your block and ask all of your neighbors what religion they’d ascribe to. I dare you.)
And every day another person, claiming to be a Christian, is deemed newsworthy because they have defrauded people, or gotten away with child molestation, or supported some right-wing cause in the name of God. For skeptics or self-proclaimed agnostics or leavers or even members of other faiths… each of these reinforces a stereotype or an idea that Christians are ____.
They simply don’t know any Christians who are legit, like you.
The Age of Living the Gospel
In a post-Christian world you are going to have to live the Gospel before your friends, family, and neighbors to the point where you are asked, “What is it about the way you live that I can have?” Or “I don’t know any other Christians like you. What makes you different than what I see on TV?”
Within pluralism, experience trumps information. Experiencing the Gospel through a neighbor’s goodness, kindness, grace, and love cuts through the stereotypes and defies logic’s last stand. It’s not that information isn’t important. It’s that information isn’t trusted until the source is trust and that trust is validated through experience.
You see, it’s not that I don’t proclaim Christ. It’s that I let my very life do the talking.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~ Jesus said this in Matthew 5:16
We now live in a world where the person with the microphone and the big crowd is less trusted than the guy who mows his lawn every Saturday morning. You are legit while the person on the platform is a potential suspect.
In a post-Christian world, people will hear Good News only after they’ve experienced Good News from you.
The challenge for you is this: Do you have the guts to live a life that reflects Christ?
Photo credits: Billy Graham in the 1940s Youth for Christ Peoria, Jack Ryan mowing lawns by Liam Ryan via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Early this morning I finished final edits and uploaded the final version of my latest project: Good News in the Neighborhood, a curriculum for groups. (Check out the trailer in the sidebar to the right)
I’m very proud of how it turned out. As I think back to the original brainstorms and ideas for this product I don’t think I could have imagined it’d turn out this cool. Jon and I worked our brains off pushing through this content, finalizing edits and writing content as late as yesterday! The leaders PDF turned out to be 52 pages and about 18,000 words. This thing is beefy!
Here’s the description:
This 6-week series will deep dive your students into the practical realities of a radical life with Jesus. Built around six themes of community life, students will gain an understanding of their role in their community and be challenged by a series of simple experiments they can try. More than a series that teaches your students about being Good News in their community, Good News in the Neighborhood offers practical application based on the life of Jesus and the 1st century Church. Our hope is that your students begin to see how God has called them to become good news in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods.
Who is it for? It’s for groups. It’ll most naturally fit with high school and young adult groups (college). But I would totally do this with my adult small group. In all honesty, I’d preach this as a sermon series!
Now the really exciting part… people actually using it!
So that’s my excitement this Monday morning. As Marko just pointed out, my first book!