Admittedly, this is not one of my prayer posts. Instead this is the first post of an occasional series, which I like to refer to as “VENTING.”
I realize in the blogosphere every day young cocky guys vent about what they don’t like about modern Christianity (a.k.a. Christendom). Please realize that as I vent through these occasional venting series on this blog, that I am not speaking against some ambiguous group of evangelical Christian leaders. I am venting about my own struggles as a follower of Jesus and a leader of other followers- struggles which I am confident are not limited to just me. Hopefully you’ll find this occasional venting posts helpful to you as you seek to follow Jesus and lead others. So here’s my first vent….
We know far more than we apply or experience.
We tend to give people a lot of Bible based theology, thoughtful philosophy, even helpful strategies for life, but this great wealth of information does not necessarily translate to long-haul-life-change. I know plenty of Christians who know what the Bible says but who struggle to connect these truths to their daily lives and even more importantly to what God wants to do in and through them in the context of the real world. Why? Here are a few reasons that come to mind:
*Information does not equal intimacy. Although it is a common cliche, it is true that we can know a great deal about God without knowing Him on a personal level. As a young teenager I was starstruck by Michael Jordan. He was the most amazing athlete I had ever seen. I had posters of him all around our family’s basement play room. I knew all his stats and plenty of information that no one else really cared about. Although I knew everything about Mike, I would never have mistaken that for knowing him on a personal, intimate, experiential level. One other thing: my knowledge about Mike did not translate into me being any better on the basketball court… I ended up becoming a wrestler.
*Discussion does not equal action. We love to talk about doing things. Often in church settings we will fill in the blanks, answer the questions, and even have transparent conversations about issues in a small group setting. Although all of that can be helpful (and I’m a practitioner of all those things), it does not mean we actually do anything with what we’ve learned. Until our faith moves us to action, our discussion means nothing. We must be willing to ask, “what next steps is God leading me and/or us to take?” Then we actually need to do it… and doing it usually requires some type of sacrifice. Real action will often require radically reorienting our priorities and that can be painful.
*Challenging teaching does not equal accountability. This one is especially for pastors and other leaders. We often proclaim truth, cast vision, share core values, and give relevant messages (all good catch phrases) without actually holding anyone accountable to what we say our churches are about. We must begin by holding our own selves as leaders accountable to what we share publicly, or we just need to keep quiet. Then we must have the guts to actually hold other key leaders accountable. If not, we’re just talking.
Side note: Jesus would often teach something and then lead His disciples to live out what He had just taught (Luke 9:1-6, Luke 10:1-20). Other times, Jesus would place his disciples in challenging situations and then unpack the teaching points after their experience: Luke 5:1-11, Luke 5:27-31 I cannot think of many (or any) instances where Jesus’ teaching (i.e. dispensing knowledge), did not relate to intimately connecting with God, and experientially practicing what was taught. Can you? His teaching always led people to live out God’s mission.
What needs to change?
*All or nothing obedience.
Jesus had a very friendly invitation to those who wanted to follow Him: deny yourself and take up your cross daily. Following Jesus requires having an open hand with everything in our lives: our desires, our feelings, our convictions, our comfort zones, our security, our insecurity, our self confidence, our dreams, our fears, our plans, our relationships, and even our identity. Telling culturally conditioned consumers that we must deny ourselves is not an easy message, but it’s always a big first step to follow Jesus. Sometimes we compromise by offering incremental obedienc (i.e. moving towards obedience in small incremental steps), but Jesus’ challenge was always all or nothing- either you’re in or you’re out.
*A sense of being sent.
Do we approach our lives (wherever I am, wherever I am going) with a sense of being sent on a mission by God? Jesus made a big deal of “being sent.” He described Himself as “being sent.” He actively sent out His disciples 2000 years ago and sends us out as His followers today. Just to be extra clear, you cannot be static and live a “sent out” life. The ideas of knowing Jesus, following Jesus, and being sent out by Jesus are indivisible- they are all part of the same stream. Unfortunately many of us are like well equipped sail boats tied to the docks (and those docks can represent all kinds of things in our lives and ministries.). Many of us have everything we need to catch the wind and sail the open sea- we just decide to never leave the perceived safety of the dock. Instead of casting off and being caught in the wind of God’s activity, we settle for being mere spectators.
*Jesus’ mission equals our mission.
We need to know what Jesus is sending us out to accomplish. If you are a follower of Jesus then your mission on this earth is inseparable from Jesus’ mission. Jesus stated His mission with clarity in Luke 4:18-19: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. We can look at all the scriptures where Jesus explains what His/our mission is all about and it all boils down to this: seek the lost and serve the least. God has placed each of us in a specific home, family, neighborhood, community, workplace, and relational network to accomplish this mission. Period. We can know the mission, share the mission, philosophize about the mission, strategize how to best accomplish the mission, but ultimately Jesus wants us to personally live out His mission.
*Embrace accountability in community. Although this can be especially tough for leaders, we need other people. We need a community of people where we can find accountability and accountability requires transparency. We obviously cannot be equally transparent with everyone, but that does not mean we should not be transparent with anyone. Jesus Himself had an inner circle of three (Peter, James & John), then the twelve, then the seventy two- each with differing degrees of closeness and transparency I realize Jesus probably did not really need accountability the way we do, but during His time on earth He definitely modeled a desire (and possibly a need) for community. If Jesus pursued community, we can bet we should too. The fact is we need to be painfully transparent with others we trust, and we need these people to ask us the tough questions, to encourage us, to correct us, to pray for us, and even rebuke us. We need to listen to the wisdom, experience, and perspective of others who are faithfully pursuing Jesus. The moment we think we can stand alone, our life and ministry is in jeopardy of becoming at minimum a joke and possibly a wreck.
In closing I want to say how blessed I’ve been over these past six years to serve with a group of leaders who genuinely strive towards these ideals. Sometimes we’ve succeeded, many times we’ve struggled, but God has been faithful to move us forward together.