LentBlog ’14, Day 23: Discipleship, Wrestling meets, and Intentionality.

1 Corinthians 9:16-27

There’s a lot happening here.. From the oft-misinterpreted “all things to all people” passage to the essence of Paul’s call. It’s hard to pick what to reflect upon because there’s so much there.

In light of all that, I think I’ll talk about my son Nick for a bit. Nick is 6, in kindergarten, and absolutely loves life. We’re trying to give him some opportunities to try new things, knowing he’ll find one or two things he really likes to do so he can do them well.

This winter/spring, Nick started wrestling in the local school’s wrestling club. They have kids anywhere from 4 to 14 or so, at all levels of experience. I wrestled 7 years between Jr Hi and High school, so I’m able to help the little guy as he gets started. One thing about novice wrestlers: they have no sense of technique or wrestling instincts. As a result, when the whistle blows, they tend to flail. They move around, sometimes with a great amount of energy, but there’s no purpose behind their movements. A wrestler with a year or two of experience under his/her belt knows better. They have a plan for what moves to hit and when. They have developed instincts that tell them what to do next, and they do it on purpose with no flailing.

If you put a total novice up against one of those experienced wrestlers, the results are usually short, decisive, and predictable. The wrestler with a plan wins almost every time.

I think this is what Paul’s talking about in our lives of faith when he says,

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not NickWrestlingbe disqualified.  NRSV

Don’t run aimlessly… don’t flail the air if you’re boxing… you’ll lose. Instead, structure your workout and the match so that you have a plan, and then execute the plan. In short, willy-nilly, unintentional discipleship is going to get its butt kicked. 

Last Saturday was Nick’s first wrestling meet. His first match was brutally short, because he went out there and flailed against an experienced
opponent. The second match was different. Nick had a plan, and he went out there and beat the guy with his plan.  I wish we as individuals, families and churches could learn the same lesson with the wrestling match we’re in. If we’re flailing around, looking for the next flash in the pan thing that’ll make us feel good for a minute, we’re going to get rocked. Effective discipleship is intentional, purposeful, and long-lasting.

 

Blessings,

Mark

 

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Ecclesiology, church hopping, and “we’re leaving.”

I’ve heard it dozens of times, and last week we heard it again. “We have made a decision. We’re leaving this church and looking for a new church.”  If you’re anywhere within 50 feet of a church in the West, you’ve heard it, too.

This particular family’s leaving came as a near total surprise to all of us. There’s no known conflict. No known hard feelings. No known weirdness. Just “We’ve made a decision we’ve been thinking about for a year now.”BreakUp

I’m experiencing a bunch  of emotions when I heard it this time.  At first I was a little angry at the family. I went through the possible real reasons they might be leaving. I did not and still don’t believe in a situation where “everything is fine” this family has no underlying reasons for breaking fellowship with their church.

I felt terrible for the Sr. Pastor of the church.  This is not the news he needs right now, and I’m growing weary of my friends and colleagues getting beat up by dysfunctional church dynamics.

I felt frustration… At what point do people think divorcing (and “divorce” is the right word here) themselves from the life of a church is entirely up to them?  Don’t they realize they have been given to this community of faith just as much as it has been given to them?

And with a sigh and a prayer for mercy, I remembered the lesson I’ve learned so many times the last few years:

The answer is “no.” No, they don’t understand. They don’t understand their family is a gift to the faith community and by leaving they are depriving the community of a gift from the Lord. They do not understand why “divorce” is the right word for what they are doing. They don’t understand why church shopping is contrary to God’s will for their lives and the life of the church.  They don’t understand a pastor’s pain in their leaving might have nothing at all to do with a lower statistical report.

The simple fact is this: This particular family is a product of the church growth movement that has decimated (and continues to decimate) our churches. They are living as they have been taught to live… by the church.

And my frustration at them melted away into a larger concern for the church.

As Tony Jones graphically represented in his blog last week, entire generations are leaving the church and not looking back. A lot of people who “feel led” to leave wind up hopping from place to place until they eventually hop on out of the church completely.

I am convinced one of the main reasons they’re leaving is because we’ve taught and embodied a bad ecclesiology for a long time. They’ve got a skewed, flawed, incorrect definition of what “church” is in the first place. And it’s not really their fault. It’s ours. It’s the pastors’ and church leaders’ fault. When we made numerical growth the #1 priority, we committed idolatry. Over time, that idolatry eventually changed our idea of what the church should be. And now we get to read posts in social media where a seemingly solid, committed family “breaks up” with their church like it’s a normal part of life.

Fixing this problem– particularly in the life of a local church that has swallowed the Church Growth movement hook, line, and sinker– is going to take a lot of time, patience, vision, and intentionality. It’s going to take serious theological/practical work. We’ve got a lot of change to experience to consistently embody a Church that Christ might actually recognize as His Bride. It’ll take a miracle. A bunch of miracles, in fact… because manipulating church systems to affect spiritual change is what got us into this mess in the first place. We mustn’t forget that.

So let’s get at it. Let’s quit reading about it, looking longingly at other ministries that are doing it, wishing we could do it, and start seeking something better.

Blessings,

Mark