Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Discipleship for the American Church

What does God challenge in the American church? What we do we need to have reshaped in our lives so that we can display God's cruciformed love and join him on mission? What follows will not read like nice, American Christianity. This is not "how to have a better life 101" or "how to be happy small groups 201." There is a place for that, but there is also a place for challenge.

Western culture, and specifically American culture is addicted to three things that drive daily life:
  • Prestige
  • Power
  • Possessions
I wish I had come up with this on my own, but alas there is nothing new under the sun. I've been wrestling with these ideas with the likes of Walter Brueggemann, Richard Rohr and Jacques Ellul. My concern is that the church has gotten so used to these cultural patterns that we don't even see them for what they are. Right now, think about a few ways that social media in being used by Christian leaders to elevate these three things. It seems that we are more interested in tickling people's ears and thereby growing in these three things more than we are in telling the truth.

Then think about the last time we actually talked about these things in our churches. It seems to me that the primary message that the church is offering people is about how the Gospel can add prestige, power and possessions to our lives. And those who challenge that thought are judged as negative ninnies.

I've come to see that these three cultural patterns were also promoted by Pharaoh in Egypt and thereby dominated the slaves. These are the ways of life of Babylon. These are also the ways of the Roman Empire, against which the early Christians stood offering an alternative way of life.

Are we afraid to identify the ways of the dominant culture in the West, the ways that idolize success, control and money. If we don't identify them, how will we disciple people in the ways of the Kingdom. More often than not, we end up putting a Gospel-sounding message on top of the ways of our dominant culture. We do a pretty good job of informing people about the basic tenants of the faith, and we tell people how to live morally-upright lives. But we must also confront the ways of life that determine the rules of life in our secular, normal, day-to-day activities.

But it's not just about confronting the ways of the dominant culture. It also means that we offer a contrasting alternative.
  • Instead of fighting for prestige where we try to climb on top, we offer hospitality where we use our time to invest in others. 
  • Instead of power where we try to wield our influence, we offer forgiveness where we release others from any debt owed because of wrongs done.
  • Instead of the pursuit of possessions, we offer generosity where what we have is used to bless others.
Hospitality, forgiveness and generosity—These don't seem to have much significance. But when we live them, they change the world. They introduce the Kingdom. And they reveal the God of missional love. 

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