As a part of our “The Cloud” series I recently taught our faith family a bit about the life and teaching of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The talk mentioned a bit of the religious and political climate that led to Germany embracing Adolf Hitler as their Führer.
As I read about Bonhoeffer’s life and the forces he confronted, I began to wonder how he would respond to the events, issues, and leaders in my lifetime. My guess is that Bonhoeffer is claimed by all sorts of folks with varying views. I’ve heard one person apply his life, resistance, and moment in history to the Obama administration and another apply it to the Trump administration.
The challenge with Bonhoeffer is that he is so accessible to so many. You can read about his life, his passions, his beliefs, his story – and everyone seems to find something they can embrace.
He is theologically conservative and firm on who Jesus is, the importance of Scripture, the essentialness of the church and the priority of following Jesus right here and right now into eternity.
But he also was a champion of some causes that often seem to be more focused on by those who prioritize social justice and acting on behalf of the oppressed. Issues like racism, pacifism, non-nationalistic tendencies, and a more global perspective.
Therefore, the temptation is to make him in our own image. It’s easy to read his story and try to apply it to our own political issues of the day. We apply our own perceived Hitler to Bonhoeffer and feel like we are following in his footsteps. We should read his story and seek to apply it where we can in our issues of the day. However, I don’t trust us to do it truthfully or well. We must have the humility to see ourselves in the German church of that day. Some opposed Hitler and the Nazi’s (Confessing Church) and others hitched their wagon to Hitler (the “German Christians”). Perhaps, we need to relate ourselves to them more than to Bonhoeffer. A number of the churches and the leadership were closely aligned with the politics of the day and followed their leader above following their Lord.
Some were more desirous to grow their national and personal kingdom more than having a vision for God’s kingdom.
So, instead of quickly applying Bonhoeffer’s story to our own political biases and enemies, I think it’s vital to ground ourselves in Scripture and the life and teachings of Jesus. To learn to truly follow after Jesus even when the path gets uncomfortable or challenges our own views.
I reckon we need fewer Democrats and Republicans with party platforms and more people who declare with their life and their words that Jesus is King.
Here are some more random pastor thoughts that many of you will not be interested in. I’m doing this for my own mental health. Ha! But, seriously it helps.
When I get together with other pastors and we compare notes on our church communities the issue of “regular” participation comes up. “Regular” participation (I can’t bring myself to say “attendance”) has shifted dramatically. It used to mean getting together weekly (at least) and now it seems to be closer to once/month. In fact I’ve heard that some folks consider our church their church home, but they may have gathered with us once in the last couple years. So we (the church family) are like their mechanic. You hope to never see your mechanic, but if something breaks down you want a trustworthy place to get some help (which is welcomed with loving open arms). There are a lot of reasons why “regular” participation has changed and I don’t want to get into a discussion on church gatherings and their importance, or lack thereof, in this little post.
But one thing is often on the lips of pastors when they talk about this issue of less church participation: sport leagues. This is a doozy. Oh boy! Pastors are concerned about the amount of time, energy, and money families are pouring into sports leagues (that often take them away from participating in the church family).
Times have changed and school teams just aren’t enough. Things have gotten more competitive and there are increased opportunities to play and improve in a sport. There is increased pressure to participate more and more in more competitive sport leagues. Sometimes a parent may feel like they aren’t a good parent if they don’t make sure their kid has all the best opportunities. I love to watch my kids play sports and I confess that I can find myself living through their experience. Every family is different and value different things.
Pastors talk to one another about this issue and our concerns, but not very often to the wider church. Why? Because people get mad. Perhaps it has become a full blown idol… a good thing that has become an ultimate thing. I’m afraid to even write about this stuff because I can feel the waves of anger. Surfs Up!
Let’s set aside the whole “regular” church gathering part of this… The truth is, it is hard to be a parent and it is hard to know how to spend your most precious commodity: your time. My wife and I wrestle with this stuff too and we have to try to get perspective. At the end of the day we want our kids to love Jesus, to live a life of love and integrity, and pursue what God has for them. If that involves sports, music, church activities, school clubs, or any other really good character shaping thing – great! But, if good things hinder the most important things (what are they for your family?), then we need to make adjustments.
Do you still like me? I’m a people pleaser so I hope you do. If not, just imagine me saying, “just kidding” after all of this and consider it a joke. Or is it? Ha Ha
Last thing (if you are still reading this – congrats!!!):
When I get together with other pastors in our area, I am moved by the love that each person has for their faith family and wider community. I hear the prayer requests about marriages crumbling, people facing a health crisis, pain from loss, and a deep desire for the church community to know God and grow with Him. The pastors I hang around with are not primarily driven by attendance figures, but love, and seeking to follow God’s Spirit. I close with this thought because I fear that these little posts from my “pastor” perspective may seem like whining about getting people to get on board with the church. Yuck.
Perhaps we don’t say it clearly enough at times, but the Apostle Paul summarizes the motivation in Galatians 4:19: “Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.”
I want this for my family, my faith family, and my community. We may not get it right all the time, but we are trying to join God in pursuing this.
This post will be from my perspective as one local church pastor.I LOVE being a pastor and I LOVE my church family. I also LOVE the worldwide Christian Church. As a pastor, like any position, there are aspects that are exciting and others concerning. So, I thought I’d briefly spit out some very brief thoughts and perspectives regarding wider church culture (which includes me.)
Church people inviting church people to their church is not evangelism.
Evangelism is sharing the good news of Jesus with other people. Particularly people who have not yet embraced Jesus. I suspect that most followers of Jesus have a sense that they are supposed to be bringing the good news to others. But, for a number of reasons (fear, not knowing non-Christians, not knowing how, etc…), followers of Jesus often focus on inviting other church people to their church gathering.
I was sitting at a coffee shop and overheard two women talking to one another about church. They both were a part of different church communities and one of them was inviting the other to come and check out her church. She talked about the experience, the size, the preaching, and programs. The other woman said she’d go along to check it out. The conversation felt like a sales pitch to purchase a product. There is a lot more I could go into, but I’ll save that for another time.
This experience is driven by the next thing I’ll throw out there.
Churches are families, not shopping malls.
A church is God’s family pursuing God’s purposes together. The church is not a building, program, or a specific leader. The church is God’s people, the Body of Jesus, the community of faith.
However, from my perspective, the church is often viewed as a shopping mall. So, the church becomes a vendor of religious goods and services. So we “church shop.” We are disciples of consumerism and we look at most things with that lens and expectation. The woman I overheard talking to her friend was sharing the goods and services offered by her church. She was giving a commercial. (I’m sure it is a wonderful church, but this was the vibe I got.)
That made me think of a commercial I heard on a local Christian radio station. A church was inviting people to their church to hear the relevant biblical teaching, exciting music, and wonderful programs. I thought it was cool to try to connect with people by radio. But, then I considered the predominant audience… Christians. So essentially the message (most likely unintentional) was, “join us because our church is better than your church.”
I take the blame for my part in promoting this view of the church. Most pastors I talk to are driven crazy by the consumer mentality that is in wider church culture. Yet, often the pastors and leaders are the one who have increasingly treated people like consumers and less like a community. If we treat people like consumers they will act that way and will always pursue the next thing to consume. Don’t believe me? Imagine taking away that favorite program or taking a two month break from having a worship band. Yikes! I’ve contributed to the consumer culture and so my frustration is with myself.
Which leads to the next thing…
We are all supposed to play.
One of the contributing factors of creating a consumer culture in the church is the view that key “gifted” leaders are the ones to do the ministry and everyone else depends on them and supports their efforts. Yet, Scripture makes it crystal clear that every follower of Jesus is gifted and summoned to ministry wherever they find themselves.
I confess that I hate this and also desire this. As a pastor, I like feeling valuable and needed. I’m insecure and like to be liked. So, my ego experiences a little bump when someone depends on me and needs me. I feel special. But, this dependency that makes me feel special also is a tremendous unattainable burden that isn’t God’s best.
As a pastor, I understand that one of my key responsibilities is to join God in helping awaken people to the ministry He has for them and to help equip and encourage them in the process. However, I fear that most people don’t think God’s work in the world is for someone like them to participate in. I take my part of the blame for sending those signals so that I can feel good about myself (but resent people for).
Which leads me to this final thought…
God is bigger than our failures, disappointments, and distractions.
I shared some things I have wrestled with and feel like I’ve messed up. I’ve mentioned things that have me concerned and frustrated. Yet, there is hope. Jesus is King and His rule and reign is breaking into every nook and cranny of this world. God takes our mess ups and poor motives and can shape them into something beautiful. It is easy to rip on the church and many people do it. However, I am a part of that Body called the Church. God’s will and plans shall be accomplished. Will I continue to try to grow and align myself to Him or will I settle into complacency, comfort, or cynicism? (I could add more “c’s” but I won’t.)
Take courage, God is bigger.
Let’s move forward together.
- I’m currently at the cottage, of some friends, near Fremont, MI. They are generous and allow me to spend some time up here for a few days each Summer. I try to do some reading, thinking, processing, and planning while here. I try to get out on the kayak and slowly make my way around the lake. My favorite moment is sitting in the middle, of this little lake, and being still… Can ya feel the serenity? It is a moment in which everything slows down and things are put back into perspective. I’m thankful to my wife and family for blessing this little getaway for my soul.
- My wife and I went to the Duran Duran show in Detroit. I have been a Duran Duran fan since I was around twelve years old. Their music videos completely mesmerized me as a middle school kid. I remember an older teen coming to our house trying to play the “Union of the Snake” single backwards on my dad’s turn-table. Nothing. Ha! Anyways, we had a fantastic time and Vicki and I made a commitment to go do fun stuff like that together more often.
- This past Sunday I changed my message to speak to the prejudice/race discussions going on in our country. I found it difficult to share, because I love my faith family and I desire for every single person to go on the journey of wrestling with the issues of the day together. Our world has increasingly become polarizing and unfortunately being able to put ourselves in the shoes of one another is difficult. I hope the message was an opportunity to reflect and an invitation to join Jesus in bringing people together. Jesus is the great reconciler who calls us to be His reconciliation people!
- Getting excited about the new Watermark site. I love being involved in starting things and dreaming up new endeavors. I like rallying people together for something needed and new. The new Watermark site will begin in September and then have a more public launch in October. This Sunday we are going to have people check out the space we are going to gather in (The Trillium) off Van Wagoner and West of 31. I am most excited to hear that the emerging launch team is praying for family and friends to come to know and follow Jesus. To learn more about this – CHECK THIS OUT
- Praying for the Haiti team as they are serving with our partners in Haiti. 🙂
Anyways, thanks for stopping in!