3 Things About Modesty that You Never Learned at Youth Group: A Letter to My Daughter

It’s wonderful watching your children grow up and become their own person in young-adulthood.  My oldest daughter has grown into a beautiful young lady, and I’m so excited to see what God and life have in store for her.

Recently, my daughter posted this article on her social media, along with this caption and an invitation to comment:

“I think this is a really important article for everyone to read. I have been told time and time again that I need to dress differently, I need to act differently, and that it’s my fault and any woman’s fault if a man is turned on by how they look.”

This is my letter to my daughter.  And maybe to yours, as well.

Modesty

Dear Daughter;

You are beautiful. From the moment you were born, I have wanted to share you with the world and proudly show you off.

You are beautiful. Now that you have grown into a young woman, I marvel at how you present yourself: your attention to your hair and makeup, your choice of clothing ensembles and accessories, and the way that you carry yourself with confidence and poise.

You are beautiful. And I see how men and boys notice you.

You are beautiful. So I have raised you to be modest. Not because of the failings of lustful men, not because of a misplaced fear of your sexuality inciting a rape, and not because of some legalistic rule about the way women “should” dress. I have raised you to be modest because modesty is a reflection of your character and identity.

You are beautiful. Not only on the outside, but also on the inside. And your outward appearance should reflect your inward beauty. Outside, your physical beauty is fleeting. In fact, they say that it’s only skin deep. But inside, your beauty begins with something that began in eternity: a heavenly father who created you in His own image, with a purpose, a value, and an identity that transcends time. He planned you before He even created the world, and He knit you together with care and with love. The person you are is far more beautiful than the body that you inhabit.

You are beautiful. You have gifts and talents that are far more valuable and attractive than anything you could ever wear. You have abilities and values that shape your inner beauty and radiate from the inside to the outside. You have dreams and goals and passions and desires and loves and hates and purpose and destiny that transcend anything that can be seen by anothers’ eyes. You have character, shaped by God, family, and experience that defines who you are and how you present yourself to the world.

You are beautiful. And the world should be allowed to appreciate your beauty. But the beauty of your body cannot and should not be separated from the beauty of your character. And the flaunting of your body diminishes the beauty of your inner self, and blemishes the perfection of God’s design in you.

You are beautiful. Your beauty will be shared in three different and distinct types of relationships. You see, God created you for relationships: a relationship with Him, with them, and with “the one”.

You are beautiful. Your beauty is something with which you worship God. This is the first relationship. You are created in His image, a reflection of Him and of His character, and you are created for His pleasure. The Bible says to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. As a Christian, modesty is not about a rule to follow, but about an act of worship. As we follow Jesus and as we live for God’s will, we sacrifice for Him. We dress and present ourselves with our bodies in a way that is glorifying to God. Defining and presenting ourselves sexually, which is what dressing immodestly does, corrupts the good creation of God into something that it wasn’t intended to be. When you choose how to dress, do you ask if you are acting in a way that is pleasing to God?

You are beautiful. The people around you see your beauty. This is the second relationship. Your outer beauty should never overshadow your inner beauty and character. When it does – when men view you in a purely physical and sexual way (and they do) – you allow your beauty to be diminished, because you allow them to separate how you look from who you are. This may not sound fair, but the way that you dress does affect others, and you do bear responsibility for that. This is because of who God created you to be and what He created you for: a member of a community. Just as God, Himself, exists in relationship, He designed us to live in community with others. Living in community carries inherent responsibilities: your responsibility is to point others to the glory of God, and nothing should detract from your ability to do so. Dressing “provocatively” or immodestly distracts people, especially men, from seeing your character and your far greater “unfading beauty” of your inner self, as the Bible says. When you choose how to dress, do you want to show off your body or do you want to be appreciated for who you are and what you contribute to society?

You are beautiful. Your physical beauty is a gift to your future husband. This is the third relationship. Whether you think it’s fair or not, your feminine body is highly sexualized in our culture. How much more special is the gift of yourself to your future husband – when God joins you together as “one flesh” – when only he is ever able to see the parts of your figure that no one else has seen [or almost seen]? And for you, how much more special is it that a young man is first attracted to you because of your inner beauty and character rather than an initial, perhaps even involuntary, physical attraction? Giving yourself to be joined with your husband begins long before you ever meet him. When you choose how to dress, do you want to attract men who will lust after your body, or a man who will love you and pursue you to win your heart… and then, and only then, to be the sole winner of your body as well?

You are SO beautiful. As your Dad, I want to guard your beauty.  No father ever wants his daughter to be merely an object. I don’t want that for you, and our heavenly Father doesn’t want that for you.  I also don’t want you to just follow a set of modesty rules or cover yourself out of fear or concern for how others will look at you. When you guard your physical beauty, you are actually demonstrating a deeper, mature, and far greater beauty that your creator gave you and that you embrace.  You own it, and you get to choose what to do with it.  My desire is that you would choose to live with your beauty as the child of the Most High God that you are – a princess of the Kingdom of Heaven – and that you would, in all areas of life, choose to honour God, respect others, and submit your body and your beauty to your future husband.

You are beautiful.

Teaching, Towtrucks, and Trust

Yesterday, my car got towed. 

Have you ever felt that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you step around a corner, and there is just an empty space where your car should be?

I had just come from meeting with someone facing a crisis.  They told me that they had told some “small” lies to protect their interests and to buy themselves some time as they faced potential homelessness.  Visibly upset, they also told me that they had cried out to God and that He wasn’t showing up and answering their prayers.

It’s difficult to teach someone to trust God.

My own words rang in my ears as my anxiety meter began to climb to nuclear meltdown level.  “Just trust God.  It’s as simple as just releasing your worries into His care, knowing that He will provide.”  Yeah, right!  My car was missing!  And my friend was facing homelessness.  How do you relax your grip on your circumstances and give them to God?

towtruck

There were two tow truck drivers waiting for me at the impound yard.  The bill was $250, and there was no getting out of it.  The tow truck driver wanted me to pay the full amount, and he offered to waive the sales tax without a receipt.  He would pocket the money, I would save the tax amount, the government wouldn’t get their slice, and no one would be the wiser.  Right?

This was a moment of trust.

I was facing an enormous problem:  I don’t have $250.  But adding another thirteen percent in tax seemed even more daunting, and I could save money by accepting the offer.

I told him that I had to pay the tax.

That decision resulted in a conversation.  “Why?”  The answer is simple:  Because Jesus said so.  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” He said (Luke 20:25).  In Romans 13:1-7, we are told that paying taxes, an example of obeying the governing authorities, is obedience to God.  It’s a matter of conscience, verse 7 says, and my conscience wouldn’t allow me to walk away without paying the tax.  Integrity and character are more valuable than money.

I would have to practice my own teaching… and Trust God.

Then something amazing happened.  The two tow truck drivers asked me question after question about Jesus, the Bible, and what we believe and what we do.  This lasted an hour and a half!  When we said goodbye, one driver asked for the towing and impound bill back…

My towing fee was waived completely.  I owed zero dollars.

But wait.  There’s more.

He called me later and thanked me for the conversation.  He said that our time together was worth far more than the $250 bill, and then he told me that he would come and visit the church that I serve on Sunday.

Then, the next day, I found out that the driver telephoned the place where my car had been towed from, and told the manager about our conversation.  Then, he waived the fee for every car that was towed from there that day.

God Teaches Us Trust Through Trials.

The Bible teaches that we should face our trials with joy because they grow our faith (James 1:2-4).  If I can trust God with $32 in taxes, then can I trust Him with more?  Maybe my tow truck trial happened, as it did and when it did, to help teach my friend that they can also trust God in their time of trial.

When we obey God and when we trust Him, He shows up in bigger ways than we ever could ask or imagine.  God didn’t just replace a few spent dollars; He saved the money for me and then multiplied the blessing by saving it for others, as well.  And then He used my obedience, my trust, to possibly even draw others toward Him through His Church!

What are you struggling to trust God with, today?  What might God do with your trust and obedience in the middle of your trial?

Hope is not enough

It is simply not enough to offer someone hope.  It just isn’t.

There is a vast difference between offering hope to a person and stepping into their world and fighting for them.  If I am a follower of Jesus — and I am — then I have something that so few people (even other self-identified Christians) have:  I have freedom.

The freedom that Jesus offers to us is life-changing.  It’s transforming.  It’s mind-altering, soul-nourishing, world-shattering power that shouts, “You can’t hold on to me any more!  You don’t have power over me any more!”  to anything or anyone that tries to beat us down or hold us back from the fulfilled, joyful, peaceful life that God created us for.

It’s the kind of freedom worth fighting for.  And I’m convinced that it’s what being a Jesus-follower is all about.

Discouraged and Hopeless

Consider the young lady that we helped move this past week.  She told us horrific stories of sexual abuse as a young girl, the intense and evil betrayal by persons responsible for her care, and she showed us the scars on her arms from years of substance abuse.  She told us that other people had told her that they would help her… but they never did; we were the first people in her life, ever, to follow through and help her leave that shattered, scarred, painful life behind.  Today, she is working on rebuilding broken family relationships, staying clean, and getting her kids back.  Today she has hope.  And today, she says, she is pursuing God’s plan for her life.

Then there’s the single mom who, just a few weeks ago, was being pulled away from her work, her passions, her friends, and even her family and her home by people who would take advantage of her and manipulate her for their own ends.  We were able to step in, remove her and her young children from a toxic situation, and now she’s following Jesus.  When I asked her how we could help her, she said that that was the nicest thing that anyone had said to her in six months.

There are the young, recovering drug addicts who call late in the evening for a word of encouragement, the older guys who are trapped in a cycle of poverty and wishing they could find a way out of the drug and prostitution infested rooming house lifestyle downtown, and the young, suburban couples who are trying to figure out how to start a life of their own.  There are the divorced and the widowed who just need someone to talk to, and the ex-cons who are struggling to rebuild their lives while dealing with the stigma and guilt of what they’ve done.  There are the families who are struggling to make ends meet, but who would selflessly take a needy stranger into their homes while trying to figure out how to put enough food on the table for their family.

The numbers of stories like these are endless.  These are just a few of what we’ve been faced with over the past few weeks, alone.

Erecting a church building and telling people that we offer them hope is senseless.  Entering into their world and fighting for them so that they can find hope is the Jesus way.

Jesus doesn’t call us to simply offer people hope, because it’s not enough.  We’re called to be Freedom Fighters.

 

One Thing that will Change Every Conversation with People You Meet

I hate small talk.

Don’t you?  Those meaningless little conversations when you first meet someone and you’re obligated to fill the time and space with culturally agreed-upon pleasantries…

What if those conversations weren’t so meaningless, after all?  What if you could say something so radical, inject something into the conversation so surprising, that it would cause the conversation to suddenly come alive and take on a meaning and purpose that the other person never suspected could happen?

Maybe it isn’t just about something you say… maybe it needs to start with your perspective of who you are and why you’re having the conversation in the first place.

Hello my name is

This morning I was getting a haircut.  The lady cutting my hair began with the usual ice-breakers to start the conversation as she worked.

“Are you off today?” she asked.

“No, my schedule is pretty flexible, though.”

“So you have to go to work this afternoon?”

“Yeah, I have some meetings to go to today.  I was able to come in now because one of my meetings canceled.”

And then she asked the question:  “What do you do?”

“I’m a pastor.  We’re starting a new church in downtown.”

Crickets.  But only for a moment.

Then, she said, “I’m so lost.  I don’t have any hope.”

Whoa!  Thank You, Lord!  I’m not kidding… She actually said that!

So many of us who are trying to follow Jesus and call ourselves Christians find it so difficult to share the Good News of Jesus with our friends, co-workers, and neighbours.  Why is that?  Is it because we don’t know how to start the conversation?  Is it because we don’t know how to inject Jesus into a conversation?  Is it because we’re afraid that we’ll come across like a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman?

Here’s one simple idea for living on purpose and finding ways to talk with people about Jesus:  Identify yourself as a Jesus-follower, first.

I’m not a mechanic; I’m an ambassador for Jesus at a garage.

I’m not an account manager:  My missionary work is supported by my position at the corporate office.

I’m not a student:  I’m a campus chaplain.

It’s just that simple.  When someone is interested in who you are and what you do, shouldn’t your first answer be that you’re a follower of Jesus?  Doesn’t that define everything else about you?  It should.  So why not communicate it that way, and then see what kind of conversations that generates?

 

Footloose Pastors

Kevin Bacon danced his way onto the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last week, reprising his role from the 1984 original version of Footloose.  It… was… awesome!

Do you remember the story?  It’s the classic tale of teenage rebellion, where the young rebel in tight jeans and a white t-shirt finds himself in a town where rock ‘n’ roll music and dancing are illegal.  The bad guy:  his love interest’s father, the local Bible-thumping town Pastor.

That’s right.  The Pastor is the bad guy.

I wonder if a lot of people view the Pastor that way, today.  He’s the morality police, here to take the fun out of everything.  I wonder if people, in general, really have any idea of what a Pastor is and does.

Pastor's Office

I was recently asked to be interviewed about what it means to be a Pastor.  I could easily recall my seminary training, the books I’ve read, and the Biblical foundations of what it means to be a Pastor…  Instead, I found myself thinking about the role that the Pastor actually plays in our post-Christian, postmodern culture, and how and why I actually do what I do.

Here, then, is my list of essentials of being a Pastor.

1.  Available

Office hours are over.  No one makes appointments to open a bank account anymore; you can do it with a few clicks of your mouse while you’re sipping your favourite latte at Starbucks.  No one goes to a movie store to rent Footloose on disk, because you can watch it on demand.   No one calls a church office and talks to a receptionist, because now we text each other, and the conversation happens anytime, anywhere.

Being a pastor means being in the people business.  People matter.  People’s lives matter.  And people want to know that they matter to their pastor.  So a Pastor is available to people when they text in the evening.  Pastors engage the conversation on Facebook.  Not responding, because it’s after office hours, just shows people that they aren’t important enough or that the popular perception of the Pastor is true:  they’re out of touch with the culture and how people communicate.

2.  Accessible

This is very similar to point #1, except that it’s not only about being responsive:  it’s about being known. A Pastor that spends his days in the church office is a pastor that no one in the community knows.  And it’s a pastor who doesn’t know the community, either.

If you’re not a church person, then you should know that your local pastors really, really care about you.  In fact, we long for you to talk to us about life and relationships and jobs and parenting and dating and purpose and love and the things that keep us awake at night and and and… It’s just that most of us (and I’m sorry about this) still kind of expect you to come to us.

Today’s Pastor, on the other hand, recognizes that talking with people happens in the normal rhythms of life, and not in the stuffy offices of a building that the community often perceives as irrelevant at best, or invisible at least.  In short, the Pastor should be recognized on the street or in the grocery store or in the coffee shop, and when he’s there, he needs to also be…

3.  Approachable

A Pastor shouldn’t only be well-known in the community; a Pastor should be well-liked.  This means that he not only is present in the community, but he is active in the community.  Today’s Pastor makes a positive contribution by serving and volunteering, and by engaging with local organizations.  Today’s Pastor doesn’t draw a line between the church and other community agencies, but seeks to find the places where there is overlap or where he can simply plug in and help when needed.  Today’s Pastor doesn’t serve the community so that he can invite people to his church; today’s pastor serves the community because it’s the right thing to do and because that’s what people value today.  It’s probably what Jesus would value, too.

It’s in the context of being active in the community where relationships are built.  People like people who care about the same things that they care about.  When you see someone in a coffee shop who you met while volunteering somewhere, aren’t you more likely to approach them and say hello?  Today’s Pastor does life with people in the community, and so he understands the challenges of daily life that is common to everyone in the marketplace, the schools, and the neighbourhoods.  And that makes the Pastor approachable.

* * *

The days of the local pastor as the respected, wise sage of the town like in Little House on the Prairie are long gone.  The days of the Pastors of our cities being perceived as the judgmental rule-keepers like in Footloose should be just as far behind us.  The biggest challenge for Pastors, today, is overcoming the irrelevant label.  It begins by getting out of the church offices, and into peoples’ lives.

What would you add to this list?

Why a Spotlight Should be on Your Life

I sank down into my chair a little bit and tried not to make eye contact with the people whose heads suddenly turned my way.  My name had just been mentioned by the City Councilor who was waxing eloquently on stage at this community event, and when heads turned my way, I suddenly felt very uncomfortable.

You’ve felt this way before too, right?  We’ve all been singled out in a group at one point or other.

It made we wonder, though, why I reacted that way.  I was there representing Hope Barrie, and so you would think that I would welcome the attention to both my church and myself.  Maybe it’s because, in my church background, it’s been repeatedly hammered into my psyche that any kind of publicity is wrong.

Why do Christians and the Church shun attention?

spotlight

Here are 3 Reasons Why We Should Welcome the Spotlight:

1.  Because We Should Be Noticed.

Peter, one of the people who walked closest with Jesus, wrote to the churches and reminded them that they’re supposed to look different.  He said that Christians are like strangers and aliens in this world.  My life should be so different from the surrounding culture that people take notice.  In fact, Peter phrases it as a command:  “Live such good lives among the people that they’ll see it and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12, my paraphrase).  Is your life noticeably good enough that people want to spotlight it and praise God because of you?

2.  Because it makes people want to be part of what you’re a part of.

Early in the life of the Jesus-movement, in the midst of persecution by the religious establishment, the Church spread rapidly.  The people took notice of the miracles that were taking place, so that they “all paid close attention to what was said” (Acts 8:6).  One guy (although his motives were wrong) even begged the apostles for the power to do the great things that they were doing.

Notice two things that happened here:  First, while the good news about Jesus was being preached, it was the good works of the preachers that made people take notice and listen to what they were saying.  Second, even a sorcerer (Simon) wanted to be part of it.  In the same way, our lives authenticate our message.  What would begin to happen if our churches began to promote the good that we are doing in our communities and around the world?  Instead of inviting people to come to us to hear preaching that they don’t want to hear, maybe they’ll be interested in what we have to say when they see how we live.

3.  Because you reflect Jesus to the world more.

Christians are really good at spending time with God.  We do it alone and together in prayer, Bible study, and worship.  As we spend time in the presence of God, however, the effect is supposed to be that we become more and more like Jesus, and reflect him to the world around us.  If you spend time with Jesus, you can’t help but be changed by him.  And if you’re changed by him, it shows up in your life as love for him and obedience to him.

The early church did this really well.  Under persecution by both the religious elite and Roman oppression, the Jesus-movement became known for their love and the charity for one another, and for anyone in need.  We know from history that as Christians spread throughout the Roman Empire, this way of life attracted people to the faith by the millions.

*  *  *

Today’s Church needs to demonstrate that it is a force for good in the world.  No one is going to be attracted to your faith just because you have a good work ethic or because you manicure your front lawn really well.  We need to get out of our church walls, and we need to repent of our individualistic, private approach to faith that says that as long as I go to church, read my bible, and pray, then God is making me more like Jesus every day.  You’re not like Jesus if you’re not out changing the world.  The Church needs to get noticed.

It’s All About Motive.

Some people are going to argue that Jesus said not to advertise your good deeds.  Jesus wasn’t commanding that everything should be done in secret, however.  Jesus was talking about motive:  Don’t do it with the motive of getting attention and accolades for yourself!  Throughout the Bible, God’s people are commanded to do good to all people, to be a blessing to all nations, to shine our light and glorify God, and to spread the Jesus message.  We can’t do that if we’re doing everything in secret.

When you find yourself in the spotlight, you are putting Jesus in the spotlight.

What do you think?  Should Christians shun the spotlight, or should we embrace it and show the world what this Jesus-movement is all about?

Why people won’t go to church with you… and how to change that

How do you help somebody to feel like they belong in your group?  When you’re the outsider, how do you connect with a new group?

I’ve been wrestling through the issue of how to build community.  The trouble is, we often set up a system, whether it’s intentional or not, that makes the process difficult… or even uninviting.  If we’re not careful, we might create an us and them mentality, and not even know it.

I’m talking about church.  The process that I’m questioning is the linear path from Believe to Behave to Belong.  More on that, later.

If you’re not a Christian or if you’re not attending church, what is keeping you from trying to get involved?

If you are a Christian or if you are attending church, what is it about church that keeps your friends from coming… or keeps you from inviting them?

3 Types of People Who Won’t Go to Church:

Looking for Belonging

As I talk with people on the streets and in the coffee shops, and when I mention Church, I can usually tell from their reaction which one of these three categories they fit in to.

1.  The Inferrent

I made up a new word for this first type of person.  Someone who infers something is someone who speculates or even draws their own conclusion about what something is like.  The inferrent is someone who decides what a group or experience is like without ever trying it.

Let’s be honest:  the church gets bad press.  And people believe it.  From the extreme views and self-righteous judgmentalism of Westboro Baptist Church to the most recent scandal involving money, our church buildings (and the people in them) are being looked at with very critical eyes.  Many people think that churches are full of judgmental hypocrites who want to take you on a guilt-trip to brainwash you so that you will give them your money.  The church has a bad rep with a lot of people.

2.  The Indignant

Some people have been hurt at church.  They went to church, and they held Christians to a higher standard, and then they were disappointed when someone let them down.  Or maybe someone bludgeoned them with a rule and treated them with a lack of grace and love.  Maybe they simply didn’t feel like they fit in.  Maybe this is you.  When I’m talking with people about church, more often than not I find that they’re not affording me a neutral position to start from; I begin with a trust deficit, and need to figure out how to regain the ground that was lost before I even showed up.

3.  The Indifferent

When I was kid, we said the Lord’s prayer at school, everyone knew the Christmas and the Easter stories, and every kid on the block was picked up on a school bus to go to Sunday school at the local church.  Not any more.  Increasingly, we’re faced with a post-Christian society in which the Church has lost its voice and its influence.  The church is no longer where people turn for help with their marriage, their kids, or their grief, and in this postmodern culture a variety of views and philosophies prevail.  Tolerance and pluralism are valued most, and the church is just an old fashioned institution with out-dated views.  The indifferent people aren’t angry at the church and they haven’t been hurt by her; they just don’t care.  The church has no relevance in their lives.

So… How do People Transition from Outsider to Belonging?

We need to rethink the linear approach to the Believe-Behave-Belong process.  Or maybe it’s Behave-Believe-Belong.  Either way, if people are going to belong to our tribe, we tend to make them behave like us and say that they believe what we believe, first.  But maybe the process isn’t a straight line.  What if people found a loving, caring community of grace and purpose, and found a place where they belong, first?  A place where they were valued and were invited to get involved before they believed and behaved to an arbitrary standard?  A place where the rest of us made them feel like they belong?  How would that change how people progressed in their own spiritual journey, and would more people who might be inferrent, indignant, or indifferent to our community be more open to joining us?

What do you think?  Your comments are welcome.

Hope on TV

I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to be interviewed on our local television station.  The producer told me that they wanted me to talk about what I was hoping to accomplish with Hope Barrie, and how I was “changing the way that people view the church and religion”.  The interview was only a few minutes long, but I was asked about my own journey in becoming a pastor.

Here’s the interview:

How Churches Use Salt… the Wrong Way

Most churches are like salt shakers.  They shouldn’t be.

As far as I can tell, salt shakers have three functions: First, they hold the salt.  Second, they are used for distributing salt with a measure of control.  Third, they’re decorative.

Like churches.

If you’re a Christian, you’re probably catching my metaphor of salt right away.

If you’re not familiar with a lot of what Jesus said, here’s the reference:  Jesus told his followers that they are “the salt of the earth.”  Here’s why:

Salt Shaker

Salt is a good thing.  The human body needs salt.  It adds flavour to food.  And it acts as a preservative.

If your home is like my home, then you always cook with salt.  We put salt in almost everything we make:  potatoes, pasta, or rice…  I even put a pinch of salt in my coffee grounds, because it cuts the bitterness and the acidity of coffee.  The experts say that you should always cook with salt.  I’ve had dinner with people who don’t cook with salt.  The food seems bland, and it doesn’t really matter how much salt you sprinkle on the food after it’s cooked, it’s just not the same.

And that’s the problem with a lot of churches:  we keep the salt in the shaker, and then we try to sprinkle it here and there.

Here’s what I mean:

We focus most of our time and resources on our church services and programmes, effectively keeping the focus of the church people (salt) inside the church walls.  Sometimes (maybe often; maybe not so often) we see a need outside of our walls that we can meet, and so we try to sprinkle some salt on it.

  • We go on a short-term mission trip;
  • We organize a one-off service project in our neighbourhood;
  • We do a food drive for the local Food Bank a couple of times per year;
  • We enter a float in the Santa Claus parade;
  • We write a cheque to another service organization.

It’s like sprinkling our salt on the culture to try to preserve our Christian influence or make it more appetizing.

It doesn’t work well.

Have you noticed that the gap between Christians and non-Christians in our western culture is getting ever wider?  We’re becoming more and more opposed to each other, backing into our corners, over issues:  things like gay rights, just war, sex education, economics, and religious symbols in public spaces.  More and more, Christians and churches are being defined and known by issues – what we stand against – rather than how we add value to the culture.  So sprinkling a little bit of salt here and there doesn’t really have much effect.  In fact, you can tell that there’s something still lacking.

Handing out mittens and blankets to homeless people once per year tends to highlight the fact that you’re not there serving them the rest of the year.

Wouldn’t the better approach be to add the salt in such a way that it is cooked into society, spread throughout the culture, changing the flavour, cutting out the bitterness, and adding its preservative qualities throughout?  All the time?

What if we:

  • Spent more of our effort and resources in the community instead of in the Church?
  • Sent individuals and teams into committed volunteer positions in local service organizations?
  • Reorganized our affinity groups and mobilized them to adopt a need in the community for the long term?
  • Encouraged people to spend more time building friendships with unChurched people than with their church friends?
  • Planned and organized events in the community for the community, instead of inviting them to our churchy events?

Wouldn’t that be a better way of loving our neighbour, gaining a voice in the culture about the issues we care about, and earning trust and the respect of people so that we can actually have the opportunity to show them the difference in our own lives and tell them about Jesus?  Wouldn’t that be a better way to use salt?  And wouldn’t they be more likely to join us when we gather every week to celebrate what God is doing through us in our cities and neighbourhoods?

So, tell me:  What are some ways we could reorganize the church to get the salt out of the shaker?

When Someone Swears at Church

On Sunday at our church meeting, someone dropped the “f-bomb”.  We ignored it and kept on going with our Bible study discussion without (I hope) missing a beat!

When people swear in church, we consider this a good thing.

The gathered church needs to be a place where anyone feels free to come as they are, and are comfortable enough to dress, sound, look, and act like themselves.  If we don’t hear the odd curse word, we’re worried that either we’re attracting the wrong kind of people, or that we’ve created a church culture where people feel like they need to conform to something that they’re not.

Tornado in your pathHere are several things I value about the place we are at in our journey of starting a church.

1.  We don’t have any reservations.

There’s nothing stopping us.  There are no limits on what we can and cannot do, short of following Jesus faithfully and holding on to “sound doctrine“.  No one in our tribe is going to say something like, “That’s not how we do things here” or “We’ve never done it that way, before.”  Instead, we’re going to be like Jesus, who hung out with people he shouldn’t have, who spoke with people who he wasn’t supposed to speak with, and who was known for bringing the best wine to the party.  We’re not going to be prevented from our mission by someone who thinks it’s not “proper” to keep the company we keep and go the places we go.

2.  We don’t have any traditions.

Organs and pianos versus guitars and drums; wearing suits and dresses versus jeans and camouflage jackets; sitting in someone elses’ seat versus giving the best seat to a homeless guy:  Tradition stifles Mission.  Why?  Because when we focus on what we’re comfortable with, what we’re used to, and our own rules and preferences, we lose sight of the things that are really important.  Things like loving people and welcoming them into the community, humbling ourselves to serve them, and applying the Gospel to every conversation and activity.  Take this a step farther, and we begin to focus on producing quality programmes to entertain ourselves and people like us instead of being invitational to people who need Jesus.

3.  We don’t have any money.

We’re not limited by our resources.  If God calls us to act, He will equip us.  That’s why Jesus told us to make His Kingdom expansion and our right relationship with Him our first priority, and then He will provide everything else we need.  Someone I know is in India right now and is learning how the Indian Christians live day-by-day by faith that God will provide.  And he does.  Why should it be any different here in Canada?

4.  We don’t have any expectations.

We don’t expect that people will show up to our gatherings every week.  And when they do show up, they don’t expect that there’s going to be a polished, professional production for them to enjoy from their comfortable, back row seat.  We don’t expect people to give to the cause, and they don’t expect that we have the resources to help them financially.  We don’t expect that God will grow us into a mega-church of thousands, but we do expect that God will transform people, one life at a time.  We expect that God is going to act in the life of our community every week, that He will provide everything that we need, and that we’re going to see His grace in the life our community and in the homes, business, schools, and streets that it touches.

5.  We don’t have any roots.

There’s something to be said for not owning or leasing a building.  Not only are we not tied down by the expense of it (and the worry that that might cause!), but we’re not anchored to a particular place.  God’s Kingdom is advancing; it’s moving forward.  We may not be in the same place next year, but wherever we find ourselves, I can guarantee that we’ll continue to be a movement with a mission!

6.  We don’t have any limits.

Because we’re a movement, there’s no limit to how far we can reach with our message and how much the mission may advance.  Since we’re not anchored to a location, our movement and our reach can extend as far as we can imagine, and as far as God calls us.  Our philosophy is that Church is not where you go — it’s who you are.  That means that most of our activity, by definition, happens outside the church walls.  Whenever and wherever we gather as a community, it’s to celebrate what God is doing in us and through us the rest of the week!

7.  We don’t put on a show.

We’re a community, not a spectator sport.  We don’t expect people to come to our gatherings and consume our product.  It’s all about relationships.  We love people for who they are, not for what they can give or for how much they can serve.  Not only that, but we don’t try to hide who we are behind masks.  We value authenticity and transparency.  The moment we begin to portray something other than real people doing real life with real problems pursuing a real God, we cease to be who we are.

* * *

If you’re committed to a church, please don’t think I’m throwing stones at the way that you do church.  God has given me the rare and exciting opportunity, along with a team of other trailblazers, to create a new culture for a new Jesus-movement in downtown Barrie, and it’s a responsibility that we take very seriously.  At Hope City Church, we’re in the beginning stages of creating a new community that God is already using to Reach, Restore, and Reproduce followers of Jesus Christ in Barrie.  We’re casting vision for us, not throwing stones at anyone else.

Can you think of other things that we should value in our Church Community?  Comment below!