Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Story of the 21st Centruy (Part 2)

Can we break the cycle? It's the cycle of becoming a church member somewhere and never getting off of the religious merry-go-round where we keep seeing the same landscape on every revolution. It is the life that never grows spiritually. It is the life that looks for fulfillment and finds it in getting involved in doing good deeds, very seldom ever taking a spiritual risk, and never questions why they are only religious.

Let's go back to the stereotypical 24 year old college graduate who is in their first job after finishing college. Maybe they too were won to Christ during their latter teen years, or while in college. Their minds have been shaped by the world, their expectations set by worldly standards, and goals for life set by a world that can only identify success by what it sees in the world.

There are a number of professions that have a real advantage over most other vocations. Take for example the medical professional. They are not expected to have their lives together until they are 30+. Why? It takes eight years of education, not counting internships and residencies, much less specialties. Why don't we level the playing field and let all grads know that they don't all have to have it together the summer after they graduate. Why can't they use their mid and late 20's to find themselves in the profession that they have chosen?

There is a spiritual correlation to the above "vocational lane". We are going to call that 24 year old "Jed". Jed has become a new believer. He doesn't know what is expected of him. It is a lot like his profession--he is starting at the bottom--it is a whole new world. Where does he go from here? Sometimes he feels like one person in a sea of people in downtown Houston at noon. Many of them are going in one direction, so he decides to join them and begins walking with them. They are headed to the underground tunnels and he doesn't know what's there, or where the tunnels will take him.

Spiritually speaking, why can't Jed be discipled over the next five years and have an opportunity to grow and mature in his faith. It would teach him about abundant Christian living and he would be able to experience it through the life of someone who is ahead of him, but walked the same surface. Why don't we provide that? You say, "Some churches do provide discipleship." Sure they do, but not near enough. It is almost like we are afraid to raise the bar of expectation because we might run them off and then they will go somewhere else.

If we truly discipled Jed, say from 24-29 years of age, he could probably look after his own road map for growing from that point on. During that period he would probably find a wife and they might even have a couple of children, but he would be growing during that period. He would be ready to be a good husband and father. He would be learning how to be a leader and would probably find his niche in the church as well. If he continued to grow, his years after age 30 would probably be the most productive of his life.

In too many cases, Jed becomes a Sunday morning attender and never grows beyond his "baby formula" spiritual existence. Jed may become a success in the world, because that is how he has been groomed by the world. He never becomes a spiritual leader in his home, while his wife is looking for some kind of leadership. He thinks being a great provider is what life is all about, while his children beg for attention. Life may fill with some cracks and yet Jed does not know where to turn. People don't know Jed, so his life rolls on almost unnoticed. It is a critical stage for him and for his family. If he survives this period of his life, there will probably be similar "emergencies". How many can he survive?

If Jed keeps being revived time after time, he goes into his 40's, then 50's, then 60's and life has not changed. Now Jed becomes an usher in the church and he's a good usher, but that is the apex of his spiritual life. There has to be more than that! We must do more!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Story of the 21st Century

I've been thinking about what happens to a young man after he receives Christ and the link that may tell us why he doesn't become the disciple that Christ expected him to become.

When I received Jesus Christ I was a college student. I was baptized the next Sunday evening. Then I asked a number of people, "Now, what is next?" College came after high school...there must be something that comes after a monumental decision like this one.

No one seemed to be able to give me the answer about what comes after my public declaration of my faith and baptism. Several adults told me that I was now a member of their church. A few more told me to join a Sunday school class. I never attended a class on Sunday morning, but I did attend worship my entire senior year.

After graduation I joined the military and got lost in the world for the next few years.

I'm afraid that what happened to me is multipled thousands of times each day. A young man or woman receives savior of the world, but never makes Jesus the Lord of their lives. Those last few words are foreign lingo to them---nobody ever helps them past first base!

About this same time in the life of this 20 Something, he is trying to find his place in the world. He or she may have a very good job, but they are trying to figure out how to get ahead. Maybe they are dating, or even recently married. They are searching for meaningfulness and can't seem to define it.

Let's assume that this ficticious person attends a worship at a contemporary church and thinks it is a pretty cool place. He enjoys the praise singing, the different styles of visual presentation, and the messages seem to be so practical. He can apply so many of them to his work environment and the people he is meeting. He gives a token offering each pay day and thinks everybody does the same thing.

Now, ten years pass by. The young man is now 35 years old, married to a great woman he met through a mutual friend, and they have two beautiful children. They both have very good jobs and are "rising stars" with their respective corporations. They make more money than they ever thought possible. They are very good parents and dad looks forward to coaching both kids in soccer and baseball in just a few years.

They both decided to get involved in the church "for the sake of the children". So they chose a church that would be "new" to both of them. They now attend large "First Church" where all the up and comers rub elbows with each other. Sunday morning worship is rather traditional and somewhat stuffy, but they are always bringing in nationally known speakers like Bill Gates. Our young man gave $50 a pay period for several years, but since their income increased so dramatically, they have increased their giving to $75. There has not been much of a change in their lives religiously.

If everything remains the same in this family's life, the chance for genuine change and growth is alarmingly low. By the time the kids become teenagers, the parents will be busier than ever and the whole family will be driving themselves as hard as they can. When the kids leave home and the nest is empty, nothing will really change, except maybe the hole created by the missing children. When they become grandparents life will probably be not a whole lot different. Maybe now "Jed", our main character will be an usher or greeter for the church.

Stay tuned for the next installment and see what could have been for Jed and his family.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What Is Missing Today?

I wake up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking about discipleship. I can't tell you how many times a day I think about how we can help Christians grow in their spiritual lives. I believe the lack of personal spiritual growth is the primary reason that so many of our churches seem stagnant. We lack the power to do what is needed for the new believer and as a result, many of these new believers drift into oblivion, or become supporters who do nothing significant in the church.

What are we seeing today? Too many people who want to come to worship on Sunday morning for a little "soul massage". They want to hear good praise music, view different forms of media that connect with the theme of the day, and experience how others are relating to over-all message. Too many folks do not see themselves in the equation at hand. They do not want to be expected to act on anything they hear.

I guess it bothers me to watch people who act religiously on Sunday morning, but there is no fruit eminating from the Sunday morning buds! They want to look religious on Sunday, but the fervor is not translated into the other six days a week. They are not making an effort to grow themselves, much less reaching out to minister to others. Their hands go up in surrender on Sunday morning, but they escape into the world during the week. They stand on Sunday to honor our Lord and maybe be seen by others, but sit down and blend in with others the other days of the week.

We need discipleship, or spiritual growth to be the primary goal of the next decade, probably across the country, if not the world. Without this kind of emphases, evangelism will diminish and probably is on a decline right now. We may see people who are willing to do some street ministry once a month, but it will never become a lfestyle. We might get a few people to take an annual mission trip to the other side of the world, but they will do nothing with their new-found passion when they get home. There will be little outreach from a Sunday school class if the folks are not growing. There will not be a passion for the needs of others, if it cannot be handled by a checkbook or debit card. Do people help others during times of tragedy? You bet we do, but what about some on-going ministries>

I think you get the picture. This is why we need to offer what will grow our people over a 3-5 year period of time. It is one thing to offer the opportunity. It is something else to motivate them enough that they will want to participate. It has to be at the top of one's agenda, People have to understand that you feel that it is of absolute primary importance. It is looking down the road for results and change, not for a successful garage sale this Saturday. We, too often, want the quickie and discipleship does not work that way.

If your church is not investing in discipleship and valuing it as primary, I would bet that most of the plans that you see are short-term in nature, only have a partial, spiritual, emphasis, and may not be affecting human lives, especially people who do not know Christ.

I feel strongly about our ineptness in the 21st century concerning spiritual lives and the impact it has on other people and our churches. Maybe we need to re-evaluate everything about ourselves and re-write where we are going and how we will get there. I would challenge every person who reads this to not blow it off as we often do things, but to let it linger in the reaches of our minds for a period of time. But, BEWARE: it may create a new way of thinking and a new way of looking at the world around us,