Professional Christianity

I grew up as a preacher’s kid. I have known the name of God all my life and I have attended church since I was born. I love much of it and at the same time can’t stand much of it. I find myself in conflict constantly between what it means to be a Christian and what I know about being a Jesus follower.

As a pastor myself, I look at Christianity and say, “It’s become too safe…too slick…too polished…too commercialized…too business oriented…too focused on programs…too concerned with paying the bills…too professional.”

Professionalism is one of the worst things that could ever happen to Christianity. No, I’m not railing against education nor order nor having a vision nor any of that. But when the movement of God becomes a business, housed in an institution, ran by professionals…the resulting mindset too often becomes “promote and protect our ‘product’ at all cost.” As a result, the “obligation” we push on the people in our care is to the youth group or to the church or to the ministry rather than to Christ. The goal of living a reckless life of love – love of people because of our love for our Father – somehow gets lost in the ever-present need to keep the machine running.

Whether we say it or not, we end up functioning with the mindset that we can’t REALLY send people into the world, away from us, because we define maturity and faithfulness through our programs. And if we send out our best, what would happen to our churches? What would happen to our budgets? Our paychecks? This struggle is one of the many reasons why the missional/organic movement of Christianity is so popular. A movement that has so many challenging truths for every follower of Jesus to consider – whether you find yourself reaching out to the man at the bar or the woman sitting next to you in worship.

Question: Is it possible for an organized, institutional body of Christ to escape the many traps of professional Christianity and simply follow Jesus?

I say, “Yes!”

I believe that I am a part of a community that is intent on doing just that. We don’t do it perfectly and we will make many mistakes but our target is clear. We are after Jesus. We want to know him. We want to become like him. And we want to show people the way to him.

We are an institutional church…we have a building, ministry programs and a staff that includes both volunteers and paid professionals. We don’t see these as enemies of the kingdom but tools to reach our culture. We speak constantly that these things are not the point. That we are not building our kingdom but his. That the success of our programs is not the issue but seeing people find true life with Christ is. We realize that the kingdom is so much bigger than us but that we have a significant role to play. And we are intent to partner everywhere we can for its expansion, while sending and planting other expressions that are needed. Some of them will be national church plants, some will be international ministries, some of them will be local organic movements that don’t look like what we know church to be and will never enter our walls. We celebrate them all, look for new opportunities and send people out!

We live on a mission, with one real purpose: to love God and to bring people to him through authentic love.

This is what being a Jesus follower is all about. It is where life and purpose and meaning are found. If we chase his kingdom and not our own, he will be with us. He will bless us and use us as his partners in reaching a desperate world. In this process, people who have been wounded by Christianity and have given up on God will be drawn back to him by our love.

There truly is no better way to live!

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A Great Read

Do you have a Bible? If so, how many? Do you have a favorite? Is it a thin-line Bible? A daily devotional Bible? A chronological Bible? A study Bible? A pocket Bible? Or possibly an on-line Bible?

What version do you prefer? Do you like the NIV? The New Living Translation? The Message? Or do you lean more toward the New King James? The New American Standard? The New Revised Standard?

It’s amazing how endless the possibilities are for us to access scripture. We have it on our phones. We have readings sent to our e-mail accounts. We have them in our cars, in our bedrooms, in our living rooms and even in our hotel rooms when we travel. We have literally come to the place where we could have constant access to the word of God.

And so I ask, “What’s your relationship with the Word?”

Early on, I knew the Bible to be God’s book. That he inspired over 40 different men to write his words down for us. That it is divided into two major sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. That it has 66 books, 39 in the Old and 27 in the New. That the Old Testament has stories about God and his people – Israel. And the New Testament has stories about Jesus and the church. I was a student of the word. I took notes in church and worked to connect all the dots. I was definitely in pursuit of more information. I wanted to know more about God, more about the church and more about what this meant for me.

Then, there was a time when I stopped reading the Bible altogether. I struggled with what appeared to be inconsistencies in scripture. And with inconsistencies in my personal experience. I stopped my pursuit of God and did my best to numb my heart.

But still he spoke to me. In the midst of my struggle, he reminded me of his love and his desire for me to be free. I heard is voice through the gentle challenges of other believers. And finally, he broke through with a word spoken deep into my heart, saying, “You have no life without me!”

When I came back home to him, I entered with a new desire. I wanted to know this God who would not give up on me. I longed to discover his heart. I wanted a real relationship with him, not predetermined religious answers. And so I searched, I questioned, I discovered and I let go.

In my pursuit of God through his word, I found Jesus. I was introduced to the Word who was God and has been with God from the beginning. Who participated in creating us for relationship with himself. Who ached as we continually choose to love ourselves more than him. Who has relentlessly chased humanity from the beginning of time. Who established the nation of Israel to represent God to the world. Who refused to give up on people. Who punished and rebuked but always followed it up with hope and provision. Who willingly gave up his place to become like us. Who came to once and for all rescue us from the enemy, from this world and from ourselves. Who stood in our place, taking our penalty…dying so we could live! Who promised that his presence will always be with us, leading us and reminding us of his way. Who will one day take us home!

When you look at your Bible, do you see him? Do you encounter his heart? Do you invite him to break through and have his way with you?

What’s your relationship with the Word?

Custom Order

How do you like yours?

For me, it’s not an easy answer. Sure, I have a default…black, drip coffee. The house blend will be just fine. But this is because it’s usually not all about the taste for me. It’s about the physical presence of the cup on the table. It gives me a reason for occupying the booth for a couple of hours. It gives me something to do as I process what I’m reading and it gives me that extra little kick in the afternoon when I tend to hit the wall. I guess you could say that coffee is my security blanket.

However, there are times when it is an extremely different experience. When I am craving that perfect cup of coffee. When I want to sit and take the moment in. When I stand in line imagining the taste of the latest promotion…salted caramel mocha, peppermint latte, or duppio con panna. And so I experiment. I jump in and try something new and make an intentional effort to remember my favorites.

Do you have a favorite? My wife hates coffee but I can get her to join me by offering her an Earl Grey tea – if I remember to get a cup of ice on the side. What’s your go to drink? Are you a Frappe’ person? Maybe the traditional Cappuccino? How about a Caramel Macchiato? Are you a Mocha fan? Or are you possibly a bold coffee lover and an Iced Americano is more your speed?

It’s amazing how individualized a simple order for coffee has become. There are endless options in front of us and we all seem to have our preferences. Some like it extra hot. Some prefer decaf. Some like dark roast. Some don’t want the taste of coffee in their drink at all. We have become a culture of highly sophisticated consumers and nothing seems to display this more than the local coffee shop.

Question: How does this hyper-consumer culture we live in impact our relationship with God?

Too often, this has become our approach to church. We shop them, looking for the right set of goods to be provided – which tragically misses the point. When we do this, we turn the light of the world, the family of God, into a commercialized provider of goods. But this mentality doesn’t stop with our relationship with church. We have become so deeply consumeristic that we apply this to God as well.

How often do we approach him, expecting to be provided a service? Expecting him to reproduce a previous experience we had with him? And are we frustrated if the cup he hands us is not as hot as it was last week?

How does this mentality impact our worship experiences? Our one-on-one times alone with him? Our moments of service? Have we really gone this far? Have we become consumers of God? Are we trying to walk into his store, order what we want and anticipate our request to be filled in the next five minutes?

What do we do when our experiences are not what we ordered? Do we threaten to leave his shop? Do we go in search for a provider that promises to fill our custom order?

Have we become a people who have turned our relationship with God into a business transaction? Is he just another thing we are trying to consume? If so, what are we really consuming?

Have you ever answered, “Why?”

I often really struggle with the word, “Why?”

Years ago, when I was still pretty new at the whole parent thing, I couldn’t wait for my child to grow and advance to the next stage. I couldn’t wait to see him roll over…then crawl…then walk and talk. On and on it would go. One thing would be accomplished and then there was always the next thing to anxiously look forward to. Then it happened. The next stage came and I wasn’t at all sure that I was happy about it. In fact, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t. But I knew there was no going back.

My son had advanced from beginning to talk and say a few words to being able to verbally process information. He was beginning to learn about the world and he liked it. In his pursuit of gathering more information, he unfortunately became armed with that one terrible word…”Why?”

Everywhere we went, in all situations and as a part of every conversation, out came that word, “Why?” Sometimes it was sweet and innocent and my precious son would look up at me and say, “Why Daddy?” But other times there was a darker expression. One of rebellion and stubbornness and he would ask with every ounce of defiance he could muster, “But why?”

Now, as my third child is well into his 3’s, I am more prepared for this exchange but still do not care for it. There are some days that I simply don’t want to answer to question and I want to ask him back, “Why do you ask me why so much? Why do you want to know that? Why did you say that? Why? Why? Why?”

But there is another experience I have with this question, quite often. When asked from people who love me, who are leading me, who long to challenge me and see me grow, “Why?” becomes a transforming question. I’m immediately called to the deep places of my heart and pushed toward greater clarity and growth when I’m asked:

> “Why did you choose that?”

> “Why do you want that?”

> “Why are you pursuing that?”

When my wife or a close friend has to courage to ask these questions of me, I am at the same time challenged and deeply loved. In these moments, my motivations are made more clear and the noise in my heart quiets. I can see myself for what I currently am. And I can see the version of myself I desperately want to be.

So, I ask you, “Have you ever answered, ‘Why?’ Why do you believe in God? Why do you love God? Why do you go to church? Why are you involved in ministry? Why do you teach your kids to turn the other check? Why is a life of selflessness and sacrifice better? Why?”

I ask because I really want to know. I ask because I really believe the answers matter. I ask because I believe wrestling with these things can and will change your life. It can be the difference between the brokenness of religion and renewal of authentic relationship.

And so, I ask again, “Why are you a Jesus follower?”