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Youth Ministry is SO important

I was in a meeting tonight at a coffeehouse with the creative planning team (the Palette Team) for Vintage Faith Church. I ducked out of the meeting for a minute to call home and walked out into what was the light misting rain outside the coffeehouse. As I did, there sitting around the table outside in the cold was around 6 high school students and the local Young Life leader. They were sitting out there in the mist, and talking with Bibles open. (This is a dark picture of them that you can't really even see, as I didn't want to disturb their discussion but secretly used the cell phone camera again like a paparazzi following a Young Life group) 1018052105

I watched them talking and thought to myself "how cool is this" as I was observing several surf/skate looking teenagers on a Monday night huddled around a table at night reading athe Bible and talking about life and God with someone who is investing into their life and helping them as an older brother type sort through the transition into adulthood. Many teens don't have good family life to where they don't get this type of attention, or even if they do - having a mentor older role model-friend outside of the home is so important and helpful to a teenager looking for direction. I do think youth ministry needs to figure out how to be more family oriented and not such a separate thing in a church, but that isn't an easy task. Anyway, it was just very cool seeing these teenagers and the youth leader out there together in the night just hanging out and' being church' together.

I also just returned from the second of three Youth Specialties conventions, and I think this is my sixth year in a row being part of them - but as I left this one I felt pretty overwhelmed in recognizing the importance of youth ministry in the church today. Talking with youth leaders at the conventions are always such a highlight for me, hearing stories of their ministries and the joys and struggles of serving junior high and high school students. Youth Specialties is such a very cool honest and wonderful organization who really, really cares about the future of youth and supports youth leaders in such great ways. It is kind of ironic, as in my 8 years of being a youth pastor I never went to a Youth Specialties convention - and now I go to them a lot. But, what happens at a Youth Specialties convention in the lives of those going, which then leaks down to the youth is something probably only heaven knows. Youth leaders at these conventions are encouraged in tiny churches with tiny youth groups knowing they are not alone. I can't image how lonely it might be in some of the churches that I talk with the youth leader from and quite often are paid so crummy, and not really appreciated by the senior leaders in their churches. So events like this hopefully give them courage and inspiration to go back and keep going.

I just am sitting here now at my house, but after seeing that group of teens and that leader tonight - just got me thinking of how incredibly important youth ministry is. It is really the future of the church (I know that sounds so horribly cliche, but it is true). With the incredible drop out rates in churches of teenagers and the incredible shrinking population of youth in churches, we need to focus on youth ministry with all the more passion and prayer.

I was recently speaking at Talbot Seminary at an event, and when I was asked to introduce myself, in the midst of explaining what I do now, i ended up saying "I really am a youth pastor at heart". I wasn't planning on saying that, but after I did , I realized it really is true.

I am rambling here, but that image tonight and also talking with so many youth leaders last week, I just believe we in the church really need to make sure we never, ever forget the importance of youth ministry. We never, ever better forget the importance of the youth pastors who serve so much, countless hours, going to campus, sleepovers, camp trips, Mexico trips, sitting with kids when they struggle and go through hard times, keeping your cool when they don't pay attention when you are speaking, not giving up on the teens who seem so complacent and uncaring (having been in youth ministry and then staying in the same town for another 7 years it is fascinating that many of those who were the "top leaders" end up not being involved in church or in the faith and many of those you think are the most irritable and bothersome kids end up being key leaders as adults).

If you are a youth pastor or a youth volunteer - thank you for all you are doing. Don't give up, your efforts are not in vain. You may be making a life long difference by simply hanging out and believing in a teenager that isn't showing appreciation to you now, but one day they will remember. If you are a senior pastor or executive pastor at your church go take your youth leader out to lunch or dinner and pay attention to them. They aren't crazy and maybe they don't fit in with you and your style of things, maybe they leave a mess sometimes or their office is a mess, or they forgot to lock up the building again - but they are your future. Crochetpillowcover

Please take them seriously and mentor them and pay them decently and show them in tangible ways you believe and care for them...or I will find out who you are and come to your church and walk into the middle of your elder board meeting and hit you in the head with a soft white crochet laced pillow.

Tony and Duffy - Brotherly Love

1016051451 This afternoon I was the moderator of a discussion called "Postmodernism: Good and/or Bad? A Brotherly Conversation" with Tony Jones, (who is a good friend and also the national director or president or emperor (I forget the title) of Emergent )and  Duffy Robbins , 1016051452 who is a professor at Eastern University was the other person on the panel. This panel discussion stemmed from one we were on two years ago about the pros and cons of how postmodernism is impacting youth ministry,  but things got pretty heated with Tony and Duffy.  Duffy was sharing how he feels that youth leaders will allow a slipperly slope to occur of morals, and Tony was saying it wouldn't and the debate got somewhat out of hand.

1016051501_2 So we did another one at this year's Youth Specialties Convention, and I was the moderator and set things up and it was primarily a discussion with Tony sharing why he feels postmodernism is a good thing and how it impacts youth ministry, and Duffy was sharing his concerns (and also good things too). They discussed topic like absolute truth, how we view Scripture, theology throughout church history etc.

I will say that to me, this was the best type of discussion I have seen on this topic so far. Tony was articulate and kind and raised great points and Duffy was kind and also raised many great points. There was also some really great questions from people there, and I believe Jesus was honored by the tone and the things shared. At the end I was expecting Tony to run across and give Duffy a huge hug, and break down and cry and let Duffy cradle him in his arms,  but that never happened. Maybe in Nashville when we do this again in November. 1016051510

I sat between them and was sneaking taking photos with my cell phone, so that's why the angles of these photos are a bit odd.

Common Perceptions about the Church

Jesusactionfigure_1 I am wrapping up a book I have written for Zondervan, called "They Like Jesus, but Not the Church". It is based out of a series of interviews I have done with people (primarily those in their twenties) who either dropped out of the church, or grew up outside of the church and want nothing to do with church.

The list below are the primary things they have said are their perceptions of the church and Christians - which keep them away from the church (not in any order).

I am wondering if there is agreement with these things being the main reasons people stay away from church.  Or is there anything I have missed in this list?  I would appreciate any feedback on this list.

  1. The Church is an “Organized Religion” with a political agenda
  2. The Church is Judgmental and Negative
  3. The Church is Male Dominated and Female Oppressive
  4. The Church is Homophobic
  5. The Church Thinks They Have the Exclusive Way to God (and everyone else is wrong)
  6. The Church takes the Bible too literally and are “Fundamentalists”

             If you could leave comments or suggestions that would be very helpful to me. Thank you!

I don't hate Psalty anymore

When I was a high school pastor, I used to see the Children's Ministry use Psalty videos in their classes and put on Psalty musicals. I am not talking about the current cartoon version of Psalty, I am talking about the older live version where a guy dresses up in a Psalty outfit and sings songs with kids. From seeing these videos I vowed I would never, ever use Psalty in anything I ever was part of. The reasons were several, but I hated Psalty really, in a Christian hate-a-cartoon-character kind of way. Since Psalty isn't real, I didn't feel bad about having hatred towards him.

Img_2369_1 For one, Psalty is a really freaky and scary looking creature. Psalty is supposed to be a Bible or a book of Psalms or songbook or something. So the guy playing Psalty puts on this bright blue colored book costume with yellow accents and white gloves. Ugly colors. Nightmare colors in this combination. The Wiggles wear primary colors and it is goofy, but they are still done in a cool way. Psalty colors are different. Psalty wears this blue and yellow combo that makes you feel tense and agitated even looking at it.Img_2374_1

The songs Psalty sang were horrible. I would stop and watch some of the videos played in children's classrooms and the songs were so very, very bad. They sounded like bad 1980's television theme songs from a sitcom - but worse. The lyrics were so incredibly sappy and it seemed like many lyrics were thrown together just to make it rhyme. They would sing them again and again and again, it seemed each song would never end.

The kids on the videos also wore really weird clothes. I don't know who picked them out, but they were clothing that grandmothers would wear with polka dots and floral patterned clothing. I think even some boys wore floral patterned shirts.

But, the freakiest part to me, was the grown man who dressed up like Psalty in the blue book outfit. He would paint his face entirely blue - and this isn't cool looking like Blue Man Group. Img_2381 This is ugly, scary, face paint blue with big white circles for eyes. The main guy on the Psalty Videos also had a beard. So he would paint his beard blue. It was horrible looking. He could have at least shaved his beard, if he was playing Psalty on a video so he didn't look so horribly freaky and scary. The rock band KISS never had beards and they look better and far friendlier than the bearded Psalty with his face and beard blue. One of the gangster rap band Insane Clown Posse  paints his face and has a beard, and I understand that with them - because their lyrics are violent . But for a church kids cartoon character, it made no sense. It is nightmare looking and makes the Psalty guy look crazy - especially when he is skipping around singing. Why didn't he shave his beard for the video taping? It was freaky, freaky and scary looking to me.

So, I have always detested Psalty.....But that changed this morning.

I came out into the living room today, and I could hear Katie and Claire singing words like "I Love you Lord" and "Jesus loves me". I thought, "how nice!" - but then I came around the corner and as I looked up on the TV screen, there was Psalty, the man in the blue costume and painted blue face and beard. As he was singing and smiling, there was Katie and Claire were smiling and singing with him. (Becky bought an old Psalty video in the flea market, so it has been sitting around. I was disturbed to see it when she brought it home,  but didn't say anything). Katie_and_claire

But there they were singing these words about God and Jesus, and Psalty, my enemy, was leading them. I didn't know what to do. I stopped and watched for a few monents, and then like the Grinch in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" heart swells when he sees his stinginess, I then had mine change for Psalty. All these years of hating him, turned into appreciating how he was teaching Katie and Claire these goofy songs, but the lyrics that they were singing back that was so nice to hear and see them sing.

Now I am not too sure, what Katie and Claire are thinking when they sing the lyrics to these songs, as I see them singing Barney the Dinosaur songs with the same passion and joy. They do only have 3 year old minds and comprehension. But never-the-less, it was a beautiful thing to see and hear them singing about Jesus.

I am not angry at Psalty anymore. I appreciate him. I still will never, ever have a Psalty musical at our church. But, I now have a soft spot in my heart for him. I still think it is rather disgusting the way he looks with that painted blue beard and outfit. But if Katie and Claire learn lyrics about God that encourage them, then I will now not resent him the way I have for years and I repent of my hatred of Psalty.

Vintage Faith Church is moving.....

Vintage Faith Church was planted-launched last year in 2004. We've been meeting at Santa Cruz Bible Church but we just announced that we will be leaving and heading over to the west side of town (near downtown) and move to another church campus.  Actually, Vintage Faith Church isn't moving, as the people are the church - I should say that the offices, our day to day operations, and our Sunday worship gatherings are moving......  We have been praying that something would open up in this exact area of town, and we can only believe it must be God having arranged this incredible church we are moving into.

Tn_01_worshipcenter1_1 We are moving to the First Presbyterian Church which is a very "vintage" building built in the 1930's. So instead of video projecting stained glass images on to screens, they actually have beautiful stained glass in this building. Tn_03_vintage_1 The building needs some interior decor and renovation. But it has the exact size seating for a single worship gathering  we are looking for, it is close to the university, it has a great part of the church building to convert to a coffeehouse to open with super visibility as it sits on a major intersection. Tn_06_rearview_1 It has lots of children's classrooms, and even a gymnasium.

More details and photos and the timetable of the move are here: http://www.vintagechurch.org/missionStreet.php

Tn_02_vintage_2 Having come from being on a megachurch staff for 14 years, our philosophy for Vintage Faith is trying something different than I experienced before. Instead of growing bigger and bigger worship gatherings, or even one or two really large worship gathering like we did with the "Graceland" young adult ministry I formally led, we will be intentionally launching/planting a series of smaller worship gatherings/congregations.

Then each of these gatherings will be broken down further into Community Groups and other community connections, which really will more of what the "church" was like in the New Testament. Each will still remain part of the one church and hopefully then have the best of both worlds in terms of what we can be doing in the mission of making disciples. The congregations will be sort of like video-venues, but without the videos.

So, we are now heading to the next step in the life and mission of the church.

We announced it this past Sunday night at Vintage Faith. Since we were speaking about the mission of the church, I had a 20 year old girl come and and share how she recently prayed to become a Christian on a Sunday night at Vintage Faith. She told everyone her story and why it is important to not give up on those like her. Those who are on the outside of our churches and she shared how there are many people who are open to Jesus like her out there, more than we might think.....

The Emerging Church circa 1970

About a year or so ago, a friend of mine was in a small used bookstore in Texas and found a copy of a book called "The Emerging Church" by Bruce Larson and Ralph Osborne. Emerging_church_1970 It was published in 1970 and sold for $1.25 (although it now sold for 25 cents in the used book store).

Having written a book with the same title in 2003, it was funny seeing this one. I didn't know there was a book with that title, since it must have gone out of print years ago. The cover of this "The Emerging Church" book, has a somewhat 1970's psychedelic feel, with a plant representing the church in a true organic way.

When reading the beginning of the 1970 Emerging Church book, it says:

"When historians of the future look back at the 1970's, they will doubtless see this is an era of chaotic change in the Church, a day of new beginnings, a strange mixture of despair and hope, frustration and boldness. disillusionment and expectancy."

Over 35 years have past since this was written, and how true those same words can be said of today's church. Chaotic change, new beginnings, frustrations and boldness, disillusionment and expectancy, despair and hope. Culture has changed since then, and quite a significant change in the church has emerged since then.

The_4 35 years ago, there was no Willowcreek, nor a Saddleback. The church growth movement hadn't started yet. No such thing as video venues. Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice of Youth Specialties were just making copies of youth ideas books in their garage and had their very first YS Convention the year this book came out. So the church emerged and many things happened in the past 35 years by leaders and followers of Jesus who have done their best to discern the times, understand culture and make Jesus known in their emerging culture, whether 1970 or 2005.

With all this  recent "emerging church" talk and books and conferences and blogs etc. all happening, it is good to remember that 35 years ago there were others thinking about "the emerging church" of 1970. There will always be emerging churches throughout history, until Jesus one day returns. We are simply in yet another "emerging" time period - and the same Spirit moves in people to lead and develop and discover what church looks like as culture changes. What's weird is even as I write "what church looks like as culture changes", I immediately think of those who bristle and say "church never changes - you don't cater to culture, sola scriptura! blah blah blah (I am not criticizing sola scriptura, I am criticizing how so many who use that as a rally cry against anything that is at all "emerging church" and condemns most changes in church, and what they really mean is "sola-the-way-I-interpet-Scriptura -and-there-is-no-room-for-anything-else-but-my-way-of -thinking-about-what-church-is-supposed-to-be-a").

I am always amazed at those who react like that to that, as looking at the New Testament church it was constantly changing and emerging due to cultural issues in what they did. It seems like some think the Reformation locked in the final point for when churches stopped emerging - and then it was over and the church was finalized and shouldn't emerge anymore. I am getting off track, but I never understand why some get so angry and freaked out about admitting each emerging culture does in fact change how we go about church, as it did in the New Testament church itself.

Emerging_1 Anyway, as we talk about "emerging church" things today, I think the biggest question one day isn't going to be bout about "how historians will look back on this", as the 1970 Emerging Church books asked, but it is how Jesus will look back (I guess, Jesus doesn't look back, He just knows) on the emerging church of our time. Most of us are just trying our best to follow Jesus, and doing our best to discern the times and be faithful to the inspired Scriptures, led by the Spirit and make Jesus known and be salt and light to others as His disciples. Jesus won't be asking if we "emerged" or "if we read the latest emerging books, or did body prayers, or lectio divina, or used art in worship or rethought theology.......but whether we were faithful to what He entrusted us with as leaders in His church. Whether our hearts grew in love for God while we served Him - and as a result, did our hearts then soften and grow in love for other people? I think Jesus will be concerned about whether the fruits of the Spirit were growing in our life as we yielded to His Spirit in the emerging churches we are part of. Whether we represented Jesus as ambassadors and His disciples in the emerging culture we lived in. Did we really go out of our way and out of the Christian sub-culture to "be His witnesses" to others in our emerging culture and day? Whether we "served God's purpose in our generation"(Acts 13:36) (*it is also weird how you can't say or read the word 'purpose' anymore and not have Rick Warren's face pop into your mind or others wonder when you use the word 'purpose', if you mean Purpose-Driven ® or not). Church_1

Emerging in 1970, or emerging in 2005. I hope we are more concerned about Jesus and His thoughts of our service to Him than anything else. I am still going to fully engulf myself in "emerging" ministry and culture more than ever. I see this as only as being faithful as a missionary today and desiring to teach others to be disciples in the most effective way in our culture. That is what I pray I will never lose sight of. That is what is underneath at least all that we do in our church in the "emerging" way of things.

And one day, as my "The Emerging Church" book sits in a used bookstore for 25 cents in Texas somewhere, and there is another book out called "The Emerging Church" published in 2040 by someone who is probably right now 6 years old, may the generation of leaders at that time still be concerned and passionate about serving Jesus - so in 30 years in whatever the emerging culture of 2040 may look like, they are serving Him faithfully in the emerging chaotic change, new beginnings, frustrations and boldness, disillusionment and expectancy, despair and hope of the future emerging church.

Thank You Josh McDowell (sort of)

It is interesting reading and listening to various thoughts about how Christian apologetics plays a role (or not) in our emerging culture today. The overall emerging consensus and voice seems to be leaning towards the belief that a rational and logical presentation of the gospel and the faith to persuade people is not working and not too helpful today. That Josh McDowell's evidential approach and Campus Crusades "Four Spiritual Laws" are not too useful in our emerging post-Christian culture. I totally agree with this and I totally disagree with this.

I agree that apologetics in a post-Christian world is not useful when:

We use apologetics to display the clever answers that we have come up with to prove people wrong: Couplearguing I have met and listened to people into apologetics who seem to delight in arguing with others. It is like they study to get "answers" and their heads fill with knowledge. This new "information" and "evidences" then becomes almost intoxicating to them. They seem to enjoy laying out their logical presentation to others and then with an air of arrogance and smugness fold their arms and declare "I just proved you wrong!" The motive seems more about the winning of the argument than about sharing Jesus' love for people who don't know him.

My heart gets so sad because their attitudes so often seem so darn smug and I don't think they realize how they come across. They say they care, but then I listen to them speak to their Christian friends and fellow apologists and they subtly mock and joke about the poor thinking skills of others. I don't usually hear their hearts breaking for people. It seems like it is more about how pleased they are to have analysed someone's elses thinking and then take pride in how they out-think them. I really wonder if they actually have true relationships with non-Christians sometimes, or do they like just making their presentations to the already-Christians who applaud at their knowledge and affirm how smart they are. But is that the point of apologetics? (( I need to say that I know this isn't the case with every person into apologetics, but it sure seems like a lot of them (us) are like this)).

We use apologetics like bullets to shoot people down: Cowboy_shooting I have met (and sadly in my past, been personally like this at times) where we like to study answers, reasons and evidences and load them up in our gun holsters like bullets. TexasrangerWe patrol around our towns looking for any outlaw who disagrees with us. When we see them, we jump off our horse and pull out our apologetical-pistols and shoot them down with our careful and precise aim. Our thinking in this is that we are out to protect the sovereignty of God (as if He needs us to do this for Him). Our trained evidential eyes constantly scan the horizon for anyone who does not hold a Christian worldview (and quite often we also look for fellow Christians who do not hold to our particular branch of theology). We then find them and when we see what we feel is the weakness in their thinking, we pull out our pistol and shoot every little vulnerable soft section of underbelly we see exposed. We blow the smoke after we shoot our pistols, place them back in our holster with a flip and ride off to find the next outlaw who doesn't hold to our truth.

We use apologetics like we are lawyers on a television episode of Law and Order: I think we have felt that if we have a nice slick and logical presentation of what the gospel is, then of course, people will respond. Lawyer_3 This is like the approach of the "Four Spiritual Laws". I know fully that God has used the Four Spiritual Laws with millions of people and seen wonderful effectiveness with the approach of walking up to people and giving them this tract. But this was primarily with previous generations. I believe the more we live in a post-Christian world, having a nice logical presentation and walking up to strangers to present it to them in a little tract, may not be as effective as in the past.

When we even begin equating spirituality with "Laws", doesn't that immediately reinforce Christianity is "organized religion"? 4_laws_3_2 Even the little Four Spiritual Laws tract looks like a legal document or the cover of a term paper. And the rather faded pale orange color of the cover doesn't help much either. I don't sense people want a legal presentation of something "spiritual", and it might even backfire with people in today's culture. We aren't lawyers in a court battle. We also can't with integrity say "God has a wonderful plan for you life" as easy as we used to and not sound horribly corny, unrealistic and inauthentic (although I know that was not the intent of when the 4 Spiritual Laws were originally written). So, I believe apologetics and evangelism in this manner are not too useful in our emerging culture when used like a lawyer making a case in a courtroom.

However, I agree that apologetics in a post-Christian world is useful when:

We use apologetics when people actually ask us for them:

Brain_1 This is where some may disagree with me in some emerging church circles. I am someone who thinks that more than ever today, we do need apologetics. We do need classical Josh McDowell type of apologetics (well, not all of Josh McDowell), with reasons, answers, evidences, logical lines of persuasion etc.

But, I don't see using them as we mainly used them in recent years. Most typical apologists have 1 Peter 3:15 as their theme verse. But this verse says "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." It says that we absolutely need to be ready with answers. But it says to give the answers when we are asked. Most of the time it seems we like giving answers when we haven't been asked to give them.

I really do believe emerging generations still want solid reasons, answers and evidences today to understand why Christians believe what they do. I am immersed in relationships with non-Christians, especially in their twenties whom most would consider classically "postmodern". However, in the relationships I have, the proofs and evidences are not what they are looking for at first. We used to use apologetics as part of our initial approach in evangelism. If we can convince them of the logic and reasons of Christianity, then they will believe. I don't see that happening anymore. I rarely ever get asked about these type of things from people outside of the church, until long after the relationship is established.

But..... eventually I do get asked, and that is when apologetics is needed. Eventually, after true Christian hospitality is experienced, after trust is built, after they see and experience the love of Jesus in us - most thinking and intelligent people eventually want to know if there is any validation to what we believe. Blindfolded They want to know if our faith is totally blind faith, or are there any intelligent reasons for believing what we do beside our emotions and feelings?  If they care about us, how can they not want to eventually know why we believe what we believe spiritually and ask us questions?

With every single thinking person I know, eventually it still comes around to at some point where they ask "Why do you believe the Bible is inspired?" "Where did the Bible come from and what makes it any different from other religious documents?" Don't all religions lead to God?" etc.  However, this never comes up at first. As I said, people are first looking to see if as a Christian, are we the jerks they think most of us are? Are we the "crazy American fundamentalists" (as Coldplay singer Chris Martin recently said in a Rolling Stone interview).

I think that the apologetic crusades of the 1970's where people flocked to hear someone debate the faith on secular colleges, is not what in my experience what people outside of the church care about anymore. Nuns Christians like these types of things though. So many Christians raised in churches have never been taught apologetics, so when they hear them for the first time it is a thrill and they gain confidence in what they already believe. Most Christian teenagers and college age Christians who were raised in the church, love hearing apologetics to intellectually affirm what they already believe. It is refreshing and new to them. But, I don't think people who aren't Christians are out looking for debates and arguments around "spiritual" issues. In fact, this approach can be very anti-apologetical. Debates, arguments etc. only further prove that Christians are angry people pointing self-righteous fingers at others and always trying to prove others wrong. Evidence_2

However, the reason I really believe we still need apologetics, is that it would be embarrassing to not have an intelligent answer when people do ask us questions. To not have an reasonable answer, will only reaffirm that they think Christians are unintelligent and believe in blind dogmatics. When we say that we believe something, to not know what we really believe and why (beyond just our emotions or feelings of belief) is to not respect another persons intelligence. When someone says why do you feel the Bible is inspired?" I hope we can adequately answer that. When someone asks "Don't all faiths lead to God?" we better have a well thought through compassionate and intelligent response. To not have answers and reasons to these questions, really lessens any right we have to make statements about another person's beliefs. These are the questions that those growing up in our emerging culture are still thinking and asking us when they trust us enough to want an answer. We need to "be prepared to give an answer".

When I hear how some people say that apologetics aren't necessary today or that emerging generations aren't interested in them - I wonder if they really are engaged in any relationships out there with them. As I already said, in my experience with every single person I know, without exception - they all eventually want "reasons" and "evidences" as they ask me why I believe what I believe. How could they not, if they end up trusting and respecting me as a person, and then wonder as a friend why I believe what I do? They sincerely want to know, so I better "be ready" with some intelligent answers. 

We use apologetics and don't see saying "I don't know" as a weakness, but as a strength: I think that a major fault of contemporary apologetics has been how we have taken great mysteries of the faith and turned them into simple little trivial puzzles to solve. Contemporary apologetics subtly indicate that it is a weakness not to have an answer to every question. Jack_1 So we came up with books that have answers for everything. Chapters hitting all the tough questions with tidy answers wrapped up and solved in less than ten pages.

What is embarrassing about this, is that we can't just give quick tidy, and easy answers to a lot of things (most things) as I read in some apologetics books. Only God knows some of the things we claim to know and have solved with answers. I think we have gone too far with a lot of our apologetics and turned the beauty and mystery of God into a 6th grade mathematics equation.

But I still believe we need apologetics today. I was recently talking with a thirty year old manager of a local coffeehouse. We have been getting to know one another over the past year. He is someone who is pluralistic in his viewpoint of religions, and is someone who definitely believes "all religions lead to God" sort of a thing. One time when we were talking, the resurrection of Jesus came up. He asked me if I believed that Jesus really rose from the dead, as he felt it is more of a Aesop's fable type of a story to prove a moral point to early Christians. He was honestly asking me why I believe in the resurrection as a fact. Resurrec

So, as he asked me, I ended up recalling some of the Josh McDowell writings from years ago on why you can believe the resurrection actually happened. I walked him through how it is truly by faith alone we believe that, yet it is not a totally blind faith we hold to. I then gave him some of the classical evidential Josh McDowell reasons. I also walked through the whole C.S. Lewis "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" deal etc. I also focused on how my life has been changed by the resurrection. But personal testimony is subjective today, as one every late night infomercial, there are testimonies of how lives were changed by all kinds of things and products. The difference in relational apologetics is that people who you are friends with, see it lived out day to day - not just in a quick testimony.

A few days later I saw him again and he told me how he kept thinking about what I said about reasons I believed the resurrection wasn't a fable. He shared how he went home to his parents house that weekend and took a Bible he knew was there. He read the resurrection accounts in the New Testament and then told me that he now believes it really happened and wasn't only a fable. This change of mind on his part, wasn't by argument, or logic, nor by me pushing things or shooting out clever answers. It was primarily through dialog, friendship, and trust built over a year. I also pray for him regularly. Then when he finally did ask me for a "reason", I was able to remember some things Josh McDowell wrote. I didn't just give him an answer of feelings that I have about it, or tell of only an experience I had. Apologetics helped give my friend some confidence that I had more than just blind faith in why I follow Jesus - the resurrected Jesus that he also now believes in.

Josh_3  I am rambling here, and this is a pretty long post - but I guess I just feel that apologetics are still very much needed in today's emerging culture. We need to have rational answers and logical intelligent reasons. But not in the way we normally have used them in spouting them out with a cocky attitude and to prove others wrong or given tidy and absolute answers for things we really don't have answers for. I hope our apologetics foremost do focus on us primarily being the apologetic, by walking in the ways of Jesus, and befriending those who don't know Him. And as they know us and that we follow Jesus, and eventually ask us reasons why or questions - we then have some answers and intelligent reasons to give them. I am truly glad that Josh McDowell and those like him did lay out some good answers to things for us to read. However, I certainly wish Josh would have said "I don't know" more. I wish he wouldn't get so wrapped up in the "absolute truth" sensationalism that is out there which causes a fear frenzy among some Christians. I wish he wouldn't freak out parents of teens so much, saying the world is ending, so you better buy his latest book to know how to save your teenager. But, I am certainly glad he and others like him did do some good thinking for us and give us some answers and reasons we can articulate today in a clear way when people ask like my friend did and some things Josh wrote helped me share about the resurrection and now my friend believes it happened.

They Like Jesus, but Not the Church: Interviewing "H" and Kristin

I am in a hotel over in San Jose, CA right now. Tommorow, CCN  www.ccn.tv  is filming one of their programs that I am doing. I did one a few months ago with Sally Morgenthaler and the CCN folks are really nice. This one isn't "live" with call-ins like the last one I did, but will be broadcast later this year. It is called 'They Like Jesus, but not the Church", which is the title of a book I am finishing up with Zondervan that will be published next year.

What is most exciting, is that "H", the non-Christian 23 year old girl that has recently been part of Vintage Faith Church is coming over here tommorow for me to interview her on this program. She is going to be talking about her impressions of the church as a non-Christian and experience with Christians. She spoke up once at our worship gathering in July about her negative reaction to the word "missionary" and we have been chatting since. She is really smart and a recent graduate of University of California Santa Cruz.

I am also having Kristin come over and be interviewed with "H". Kristin is another 23 year old girl, who is now on staff at Vintage Faith Church and becomming friends with "H". They began talking at a Sunday night worship gathering. Kristin became a Christian 5 years ago, and I baptized her 4 years ago on Easter night. She is absolutely incredible to have on staff and has a huge heart for those outside the church.

So, this should be very fun and I hope insightful. talking to them both. I am praying for "H", and I know she reads this blog, so hello "H" and I am glad you are doing this and I am praying for you!

Henry Nouwen on Forgiving the Church

"When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, "I love Jesus, but I hate the Church," we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too.                                                                                                                                       

                   

The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.

                                                                                                                                             

It is important to think about the Church not as "over there" but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer."

            

- Henry Nouwen   www.henrinouwen.org

Reality Church?

So_happy_5 The First Stage: We begin going to a church, exciting, thrilling, love Jesus, the church is exciting, all things new.

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Second Stage: We begin getting involved, learn behind the scenes things, feel privileged to know the church staff and leaders more personally, we are totally excited.

Mellow_1 Third Stage: We see things you start to question, the thrill of the big church meetings wanes, as it seems more and more predictable, the leaders seem more human now and not as special as first.

Doubt Fourth Stage: We start to get tired of serving in ministry. It seems routine now and we only see it as fueling the big meeting that we don't really like anymore. The leaders we once were in awe of now seem not only normal, but there is a suspicion of self-serving vs. serving the church in their motives. We lose excitement and wonder if church is even something we should be part of. We grow more disillusioned by the day.

Angry_1 Fifth Stage: Total disillusionment, begin feeling bitter towards church leaders, and wonder why people don’t question things more. We sit in the big meeting and feel very alone. We look at the crowds around us and don't feel like we belong anymore. Is church just a produced big meeting? We are tired and it even angers us to see excited new people joining the church as we now know how it really works and how they too will eventually become tired like we are and see church is a program and organized religion.

Smug_1 Sixth Stage: We silently drop out of church. We read the Bible and early church history and see that they didn't have bigger weekly meetings in the early church. We read "house church" literature and begin thinking this is the real New Testament church. We get excited about really doing church the right way and not the big organized way. We find a few other disillusioned Christians and either form or join some sort of small house church gathering. We want it to be simple and not "organized" or programmed or big, but pure like the early church. Everyone all sharing together, true community will happen here, unlike the bigger programmed meetings.

Sad_sad Seventh Stage: Fairly quickly, we realize it isn't too easy leading people. Even in a small house church. People don't show up, or you have people dominating conversations. There is the same bickering, some gossip, people whispering to others that they are not happy with how the meeting went etc. We sometimes try to sing worship songs with ten people and it feels very odd. So you don't try to sing anymore, but do secretly miss the corporate singing that happens in a larger group. Eventually we find the same disappointments in the smaller house church that we did in the bigger programmed church, but at a different level. We get even more disillusioned, as we realize that even the key leaders (including ourselves) and the people of the house church are just as messed up as the big church leaders and people in those churches.

We also feel subtly uncomfortable that the house church feels a bit inward focused. It would be weird to have non-Christians break up the intimate dialog and prayer we have taken such a long time to establish together. But we know something has to be done, as we keep thinking about those who don't know Jesus and that our house church might not be the best place to invite them. Plus dealing with little kids running around every week during your meeting certainly limits your full engagement into the Bible discussion. We get more disheartened as our 4 year old knocks the entire strawberry shortcake dessert onto the kitchen floor as he was trying to get at it early before it is served at the house church.

Dukes_of_hazzard_1 Eighth Stage: We stop going to any church of any kind. We forget it all. Watch a lot of TV. Play video games. We go see the Dukes of Hazzard movie.

Think Ninth Stage: We begin missing other Christians, and regular fellowship. We do some introspection and eventually deal with the disappointments and high expectations that we had. We begin a new level of maturity and thinking about the church and church leaders.

We start thinking about our options. We don't want to go to a preaching-driven church that just has everything revolve around the senior pastor or the preacher, as that subtly creates passive spectators who depend on the preacher to "feed" them weekly - rather than maturing as Christians whom should primarily be "feeding" ourselves (since we aren't infants anymore). We don't want to go to a hyper-Reformed church where we feel guilty all the time and get caught up in the everybody else is worldy and wrong but us mentality. We don't feel good about the seeker-type of churches where everyone is so happy, the music is hyper-cheery and we fill in the blanks in the notes they give out. That excites us for a little while, when we fill in the blanks, because it feels like you are really learning. But after a while we see the stack thickening in our Bibles that we stuff them in and realize that we have never even looked at them since we filled them in. We look at our notes that we filled the blanks in on, and can't remember a single thing from these sermons, even the one from two weeks ago.

Content_3 Tenth Stage:  So, we slowly go back to our original church that we at first felt good in because of the overall vision and mission that drew us to it in the first place. We find that the leaders do admit freely to you there are weaknesses and flaws and mess ups and ego issues, but still try their best to blend both the bigger meetings and smaller home meetings for the purpose of the mission. They try to be organized, without being "Organized".

It's not perfect, but we begin to enjoy and even more appreciate the benefits and momentum of the church. But now we get involved with more realistic expectations of what church is and understand the leaders are just like us, trying their best to serve Jesus. We become happy again with a balanced life and imperfect church family all serving on a mission together.

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* Due to the rather large amount of emails I am getting from people about this post and asking questions - I wanted to say this is not an entirely real situation, but one made up from lots of different experiences and stories. Nor do I think everyone has to go through all these stages. Nor do I think everyone always ends up back at their original church. Sadly, some churches should never be returned to!

I am just thinking of the churches that people leave that really are OK, and just trying their best and making some mistakes along the way. Pondering some of the unrealistic expectations we make sometimes of church and church leaders. I'm glad it is stirring up some thinking and from the emails, sure seems like a lot of people have personally experienced some of these stages.    - Dan

Brian Setzer lyrics

" It's something that's scorned from the left
And abused by the right
It's something so misunderstood
And ignored in daily life
Setzer_4
If you proclaim the mystery of faith
You'll be absolved from daily strife
Through Him, in Him, and within
Him Springs our eternal life."

- from the song St. Jude 

Scary Bowling Girl Statue in Reno

While we are here at Donner Lake on vacation, we read about The National Bowling Stadium in Reno. It is a massive bowling alley that has been dubbed the "Taj Mahal of Tenpins," by The Los Angeles Times and "Pin Palace" by USA Today. There are 78 lanes in a space larger than a football field, it has the world's longest video screen displaying scores and graphic presentations, and the high tech ball-return sends the ball back at speeds in excess of 30 miles an hour. The big ending scene in the movie KingPin where Bill Murray bowls against Woody Harrelson was filmed here.Girl_face_2

                  

                                        

        We wanted to go to Reno since it is pretty close, and I was excited to bowl a game in this amazing-sounding place. So we drove there and found the Bowling Stadium. However, as we entered it, it was eerily empty. We found the lanes and there was no one there and everything was turned off. It turns out that the lanes are not open to the general public. They only open for professional tournaments. So, I was rather saddened and dismayed that I wouldn't be able to bowl.

Perhaps it was my disappointed mood which caused this perspective, but we walked by this really huge statue they have in the main lobby and it was quite frightening. It is a statue with a title something like "Family Goes Bowling" and it is a group of 7 foot high family members running at full speed getting ready to bowl. However, in their mad dash to go bowling, the young boy is being left in the dust. The aging dad is being pushed back and looks like he is falling, while his bowling shoes are flying. The mom looks like she partially insane the way she is smiling, running fast and staring into space. And the freakiest one is the little girl who is running ahead of the rest. Frenzy_bowling_5

She has the horrific look of gleeful uncontrolled frenzy on her face as she runs with her cheek romantically pressed against the bowling ball. Her eyes are fixed straight ahead, I assume at the bowling lane she is running towards, but in her eyes there was a sense of almost possessed evil. It was as if nothing could get in her way of going bowling. She pushes her own dad down out of the way, she leaves her little brother behind, nothing matters to her. All that mattered was that she would bowl and she would use violence if anyone tried to get in her way.

I stood there looking at her and found that I couldn't stop staring at her. It felt as any moment she was going to come alive and run right towards me like a large football player carrying a ball ready to plow me over. I began getting nervous looking at her evil glance, and I eventually had to break free of the somewhat hypnotic grip this statue had on me and leave the Bowling Stadium. I am still thinking about her now, hours later while we are home and it is late evening.

I will probably have a scary nightmare about this bowling girl chasing me tonight.

Vacation - and Writing Break

I am on vacation, currently at a friends place on Donner Lake near Lake Tahoe. Donner_lake_2005_035_2 My parents are visiting with us for a week from New Jersey and I am also going to use this time to be writing the "They Like Jesus, but not the Church" books.... Today we went canoeing on the lake which was nice and peaceful. .....I am going to attempt my best to not look at my emails, and hopefully emotionally unwind a bit, so I will try my best to resist blogging anything or looking at my emails until August 8th.....

I don't have to shave my head - I have found a new hair cutter

I am back from getting my hair cut at Miss Mae's House of Beauty. Missmaes_big Jennine is the owner and her middle name is "Mae", thus the name of the shop. It is literally right next to the coffeehouse I go to weekly, so it shall work out well.

Miss Mae's is a very vintage-styled place, 0716051501and I feel at home there. I have gone there a few times before, when Maya (my normal hair cutter) wasn't in town, so I have chatted with Jennine before and we sort of know one another already.

Jennine is very aware of my faith and that I am a pastor at a church. Today we talked about Christianity and if she is OK with me asking her questions and being open to talking about spiritual things. Jennine_maeShe said totally was, and maybe it is because I am paying for the haircut, so she just wants to be customer-friendly, but I do sense she likes having dialog about these things.

While cutting my hair today, she shared that she is a practicing Buddhist and we talked all about reincarnation, the after life etc. She told me how she got interested in Buddhism and why it is attractive and meaningful to her.0716051501a_1 I really like her and she seems to be a very good business person, reads leadership books and it looks like she runs the shop there well. I look forward to our future chats.

So, I believe my prayers are answered of finding a place I can have confidence in with the hair cut itself, and I now do not have to shave my head. And most of all, that I can be in regular dialog with someone who does not go to a church and is open to spiritual discussion (in addition to normal life discussion about music, family etc.).

I shall surely miss Maya greatly as a friend and as a hair cutter, and I will be having one more haircut from her next month. She leaves for Austin at the end of August, but has already moved back to her parents house (about an hour away). Before she leaves, she will be coming over to our house for dinner with myself and Becky, and cut our hair (and Katie and Claire's) and that shall be our good bye. But I am going to be in Texas twice in the next year, so I will try and make a point to go see her and get my hair cut during those visits.

I am preaching tonight and tomorrow morning at Santa Cruz Bible Church and very, very, very far behind in preparation. So, I shall now get back to my studies here. Hotel_1 Tomorrow night I am preaching at Vintage Faith Church about the movie Hotel Rwanda and showing clips of it. So, that hopefully will be moving our church into having global awareness and God's heart for compassion being embraced by us in our church ethos and heart.

Vintage Faith School of Theology

I am sitting in my office after the first night of the Vintage Faith Church School of Theology. Sign_on_door_1 We are doing sort of an experimental run this summer of 4 classes, and then be revamping things for the Fall and future as we go. One of our passions as a church is to see the people of the church become thinkers and theologians (which actually means 'one who studies God', not in the academic usage of the word). I was gone the whole week before in Singapore, so I was basically a participant and observer tonight as Robert and Hannah put it all together.

As I arrived, I immediately was surprised to see a long line of people waiting to get into the room. Line_outside_4 I was so thrilled to see that many people showing up for the various classes and actually waiting in line to get in to learn and discuss together. The room was so packed I had to stand outside. They had a intro. sort of thing with everyone in the coffeehouse at Santa Cruz Bible Church and then we were dismissed into the various rooms.

I walked around and peeked in most rooms and again to my thrill, in Barry Renfro's class on Understanding the Bible, there was "H" here and in that class. Barry_teaching_5 "H" is the girl who shared in our worship gathering that she is not a Christian and was concerned about how I was using the word "mission" and "missionary" (which I write about a few entries ago). I had a wonderful conversation with her that night, and it was so great to see her in that class tonight. I was so happy to see her taking this step and exploring things further.

I then went into Marika and Christy's class which was on local religious faiths (different than a global religion class, but ones unique to Santa Cruz). Marika_teachingDuring the class at some point there was a time for sharing and a girl raised her hand and told everyone how she just became a Christian 2 months ago. She said how she was a "pagan" (as in the religious practice of paganism) and a witch, but recently had a conversion experience and put faith in Jesus. It was thrilling to hear her share and after wards I talked with her about her journey.

It is so incredibly refreshing to see and think about what the Spirit of God will be doing in people here tonight and on the mission we are on. My prayer is He will use as a church to bring the love and saving grace of Jesus to many like this girl and "H" in Santa Cruz. This is exactly what we have been praying for as we birthed VFC, and it is just thrilling to hear these stories and see what was happening in the classes. I am very sleepy right now. I better go home.