Thursday, September 03, 2009

Shaking up the faithful

One of the points Hirsch makes early on is that the urge for community can lead us to seek safety above discipleship. 'Too much concern with safety and security, combined with comfort and convenience, has lulled us out of our true calling and purpose.' (p25)

As my anonymous friend (good to see you back, by the way) points out 'perhaps discipleship is about being selfless' - absolutely right. Discipleship is the polar opposite of consumerism because it is always seeking the welfare and benefit of others rather than ourselves.

Such a calling requires people who are constantly asking questions. If Hirsch is right that 'the most vigorous forms of community are those that come together in the context of a shared ordeal or those that define themselves as a group with a mission that lies beyond themselves - thus initiating a risky journey' (p25), then our gatherings should be awash with questions about what we're doing, why and how we'll do it.

The church's mantra should focus less on answers (the usual focus of teaching programmes that fill our people's heads with information) and more on questions (what is the shape of discipleship in the context we actually live in? How do we live for others in that context?)

So I agree with anonymous that 'Christian teaching might not be all it's cracked up to be' in this sense: if a teaching programme is just about filling people's heads with information that has precious little effect on how we live when we're not in church, then it's not going to make disciples and is really a complete waste of evryone's time.

And it's not what Jesus did. As Hirsch points out: Jesus 'spoke in confusing riddles (parables) that evoked spiritual search in the hearers. Nowhere does he give three-point devotional sermons that cover all the bases. His audience had to do the hard work of filling in the blanks. In other words, they were not left passive but were activated in their spirits.' (p44)

Now that would shake things up a bit.


Julie said...

Sadly even small churches seem to conform to the same teaching mode as big churches! My congregation hates 'interactive' evening services precisely because they then have to engage and risk being challenged or finding that everything is not black and white, right or wrong.
What brought this home to me was someone who came to a new study group I started here (community reading - no pre-prepared questions or answeres! Its amazing where our discussions have lead us!). His comment after 6 months was that he learnt and grown more as a Christian in that time than in all his previous years in church - he is over 70 and been to church all his life, twice every Sunday, lay preacher etc etc.

People have lost the belief that God can speak to them through scripture - they have been made to rely on experts (preacher, teacher or off the shelf daily/study notes or whatever) and that they can have opinions or that there can be any debate about what we believe. Thye have lost confidence and that is why they are also reluctnat to enter discussion with non Christians - they only have what they have 'learnt' from others rather than what they have learnt for themselves with the help, maybe, of others.

It hasn't therefore been transformational in their lives.

Thank you for all your thinking, writing and challanging!

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm a bit tired and cynical, but I think you've got a point about teaching filling up people's minds with information, rather than challenging them on the way they live.

Many Christians that I have known are lovely people, trying their best to "do the right thing". But when they try to, for want of a better word, "witness" to me, it just makes me switch off.

What's the point of knowing the Bible references which relate to predestination, or discipleship, or anything else if you're talking to someone who doesn't believe, or wouldn't know one end of the church from another.

It's a bit like joining any other club where specialist knowledge is required. Once you've got to grips with the lingo, worked out who's in charge (and that may not be the vicar), made some friends, worked out what will get you into the "in crowd", then you get somewhere and start to feel like you belong. But then you might as well leave your brain behind. After all the effort of "fitting in" you begin to feel that asking difficult questions, like: "Why are we doing it this way?" or "What's the relevance of a finely honed spiritual sermon when I feel like crap because of ... ? " are not the right things to say, or might rock the boat, or make everyone feel a bit uncomfortable.

I like what Julie said: "they only have what they have 'learnt' from others rather than what they have learnt for themselves". She's right. So much of Christian thinking is derivative. It filters down into what church has become. I know I have a real downer on contemporary church music etc, but that's a symptom of being disillusioned.

Why is it that every church nowadays seems to have a powerpoint screen rather than hymn books? Why do they all have a "course" like Alpha or Christianity Explored as a marketing introduction to the main theme, and become carbon copies of each other?

Jesus was nothing if not brave. He shook up the status quo, questioned long-held beliefs and generally got under people's skin.

Yes, there is a place for three point sermons and yes, there's a place for powerpoint, although I would struggle to see the relevance of either in church. But then that's just the whole, smug, Johnny Boden style modern Christian thing again - which really sets my teeth on edge!

If I'm a non-Christian attending for the first time, I want to be enthused, challenged, amazed and ultimately humbled. But what about when I've been "converted"? Doesn't that still apply?

Great cathedrals were built to show us mortals that we are tiny in comparison to God. They were built to reflect the immense power of God. OK, I might not find that physical structure in my village, but then I don't find that kind of awe either.

It really gets to the heart of why church attendance is falling, and materialism is on the rise. Everyone is looking for a quick fix - and they don't exist.

You can't just say a Billy Graham prayer while walking to the front of a church, as the congregation sing "Just as I am". Touching and lovely though that scene is, it isn't going to be a hell of a lot of use when you're at rock bottom a couple of years later, and haven't got anywhere to turn to.

I wish I could say that you need "more interactivity" or "more freedom" or "more anything" in your Sundays. I don't have any answers. I never have.

But it's just a hunch that by engaging people's brains, as well as their emotions, you might get somewhere. Plus, church needs to be uncomfortable. The things in life that are the most rewarding are sometimes those that are most challenging and most risky.

Challenge and risk are two words I've never associated with going to church. But what you do to change that, is way beyond a soul or brain like mine.