Saturday, January 28, 2006

Culture -- Some Comments Inspired by Darrow Miller

This morning I attended a lecture by Darrow Miller of Food for the Hungry and DNA (Discipling Nations Alliance). While much of what he said came from the book Against All Hope -- Hope for Africa, he did make one statement that I thought was quite important to think about. Darrow said the following:

Our culture is derived from our worship. Who we worship determines our culture.

Western civilization as a whole, and the USA in particular were built upon a Judeo-Christian worldview. The God we worshiped was the God of the Old and New Testaments. Our laws, values, beliefs, etc. were all based on the worship of the Christian God. I don't think much of this can be disputed by anyone who knows any history.

However, if we look at what has happened in the Europe, Canada, Australia and the USA in the past 40+ years, I think you can agree that we have begun to drift from a Judeo-Christian worldview. This happened in Europe before it happened in Australia and Canada. It is now becoming more evident in the USA. As many have said, we are moving from a "modern" worldview to a "post-modern" world.

As this transition becomes more complete, who or what we worship also changes. This too, is quite evident in North America. Who or what do we worship today? I would suggest a number of things.
  • materialism -- and the bottom line
  • individualism -- "what is good for me?" or what I would call "me-ism"
  • convenience
  • comfort -- not only physical comfort, but also psychological, sociological, emotional and spiritual comfort.
  • pleasure
You could add a number of other "idols" I'm sure. However, if you think about what Darrow Miller said -- what we worship determines our culture -- and if we assume that the things I mentioned above are at least partially correct -- then we need to ask a question.

How will our culture change if we continue to worship materialism, individualism, convenience, comfort and pleasure?

How will our worship of these things affect:
  • the elderly and those that are sick or disabled?
  • unborn children?
  • our healthcare system?
  • multi-national corporations?
  • our individual, corporate and national generosity towards the poor, the disenfranchised and the oppressed in our own nation and in other countries in the world?
  • illegal immigration?
  • the sex trade and industry?
  • the slave trade that continues throughout the world?
  • our we respond to human rights issues in countries we trade with (do we value people or money?). Do we only worry about human rights in those countries that do not affect our standard of living? Do we ignore the human rights violoations of nations that are our economic and/or political friends (eg. China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the list goes on)?
I am sure you can think of scores of additional issues that a change in who or what we worship will bring in our culture.

Much for us to think about and consider.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Revolution -- George Barna

Over the past few weeks I have read a number of critiques of George Barna's latest book entitled Revolution. Surprisingly, these critiques have come from the people who are usually huge fans of Barna, so this made me curious. So, over the past couple of days, I read the book.

What follows are what I thought were the most important things Barna said -- and some thoughts about the issues he raises.

1. Barna states that there may be somewhere around 20 million people in the USA who he defines as "revolutionaries" -- Christians who " are confidently returning to a first-century lifestyle based on faith, goodness, love, generosity, kindness, simplicity and other values deemed quaint by today's frenetic and morally untethered standards" (page 12).

2. What are some of the characteristics of these "revolutionaries"? Barna states the following:
  • They have no use for churches that play religious games (page 13)
  • They refuse to follow people in ministry leadership positions who cast a personal vision rather than God's. (page 14)
  • They refuse to donate money to man-made monuments that mark their own achievements. (page 14)
  • They are unimpressed with accredited degrees from Christian colleges and seminaries. (page14)
  • They zealously pursue an intimate relationship with God. (page 15)
3. What are the "passions" of the revolutionaries? Barna suggests the following:
  • Intimate Worship (page 22)
  • Faith-based Conversations. In other words, evangelism is about relationships and conversations, not marketing, big events, etc. (page 23)
  • Intentional Spiritual Growth. Revolutionaries don't want to be assimilated into the "borg" of the local church -- they want to become involved in things that will enable them to grow spiritually and in every area of their lives. (page 23)
  • Servanthood. Serving other people is the best way to express one's commitment to Jesus. (page 23)
  • Resource Investment. All our resources belong to God, and we need to invest them wisely. (page 24)
  • Spiritual Friendships. The Church is all about relationships. (page 24)
  • Family Faith. Faith grows in families. (page 24)
The end result is that the proof of someones faith is not in the information they know or the religious gatherings they attend, but in the way they integrate what they know and believe into their everday practices. (page 25)

4. We are not called to go to church, rather we are called to be the church.

5. Barna writes what may be the most important chapter of the book. Called "Spiritual Transitions in the Making" it focuses on the seven trends that he believes will lead to a "new church" that will facilitate the moral and spiritual revolution of the coming decades. Here are those seven trends.
  • The change in leadership from Builders and Boomers, to Busters and Mosaics. Barna believes the latter two groups are changing the ways in which people relate to each other, the types of outcomes deemed desirable, the procedures used to achieve meaningful results, the values and beliefs that underlie critical decisions and the role of technology in daily life. These transitions radically affect how people perceive and practice their faith. (page 42).
  • The Rise of Post-Modernism According to Barna post-modernism:
    • claims there are no absolute truths
    • suggests that good citizenship requires tolerance of all points of view and behavioural preferences
    • proclaims that relationships are the most important element of life
    • claims that the processes you engage in are more significant that the product of those procedures
    • states that the most apporpriate route to influence is through dialogue, not monologue or the imposition of one's beliefs or approaches on others.
  • Dismissing the Irrelevant Busters and Mosaics quickly abandon anything they deem as irrelevant to their personal passions. They demand things that foster shared experience and that these experiences be "real, adventurous and memorable." They have little patience for anything based on tradition, customs, ease or social acceptability. In a culture where there are no moral absolutes, exercising choice without any limits is a cherished right. (page 44)
  • The Impact of Technology Technology reshapes the marketplace, and reorients the community into new forms and relationships. There is an expectation that ministry resources can be found that respond directly to felt and real needs. Finally, there is a heightened awareness of global faith conditions and opportunities, and the desire to be part of the worldwide Church. (page 45)
  • Genuine Relationships Busters and Mosaics pursue meaningful relationships rather than making passing acquaintances. They are much more likely to invest themselves in the messiness of other people's lives, and the devote a large part of each day in building relational bonds. As a result, there is a greater focus on personal authenticity than in performance. Personal stories are emphasized in teaching rather than principles and commands. Team leadership and ministry is appreciated. Finally, organizations that demonstrate inclusiveness are preferred over those perceived to be narrow or judgmental. (page 46)
  • Participation in Reality People expect to be active and creative participants in the developing the reality of their experience. Evangelism moves from being event driven at a local church to relational in every-day life. Short-term missions is exploding. Funding for missions and ministry comes as a result of personal involvement.
  • Finding True Meaning A growing number of people consider sacrifice and surrender as the possible missing link to their maturity and fulfillment.
Barna ends this chapter by stating two simple facts.
  • Christians and churches may not like these trends, but you still have to deal with them.
  • The more you can anticipate some of the results of these trends, the greater will be your ability to shape the world in ways that are likely to honor God.
Personal Comment Everything that Barna has said so far, seems perfectly obvious to me. As someone who works primarily in the context of a "mega-church" what has become clear to me is that large churches of all kinds will need to understand the trends in our culture and adapt to them. Clearly, this will be painful. Everything will need to change. Leadership will need to be more inclusive. Simply telling people to give regularly to "the church" will fail to bring the finances necessary for these large institutions to survive. However, if a church is perceived to be missional, and to be making a signficant difference in their local community and the world, there will always be money available. Churches have to abandon the attractional model -- come on Sunday to hear good music and a good speaker. Instead, churches will need to serve their communities and neighborhoods in practical ways -- and, through relationships in the community people will become followers of Jesus. Words such as community transformation, social justice, community service, etc. will become key. Churches will need to understand that they don't exist for themselves -- they exist for the world. Whether or not mega-churches and other "modern" churches will be able to make the transition is not clear to me. I think a few will -- but most will not. My suspicion is that in 10-20 years from now, fewer mega-churches will exist. Instead we will see smaller, intimate Christian communities formed in all kinds of neighborhoods and communities. Some will look like traditional churches, but most I suspect will operate more like businesses or community centers. These new churches may include recovery groups, pottery studios, art studios, ESL classes, computer classes, tutoring programs, and all kinds of other things -- oh ya, also times of worship , Bible studies, opportunities for pastoral counseling, etc. But they will not look like the church of the 1990's or even the church of 2006.