April 1, 2020

Just Beyond The 100th Time

Dedicated to all of you on the same journey. Keep faith and keep going. You’re not alone.

It’s time for one of your favorite programs here at Internet Monk.com: “Secret, Terrible, Unspoken Thoughts…REVEALED!”

Today’s secret thought was uttered by a commenter in a recent discussion thread, but it’s the kind of terrible thought that lurks in the minds of many of you reading this post. What terrible, shameful, embarrassing secret thought am I referring to?

Frankly, I’m to the point where there isn’t that much a pastor/teacher is going to be able to say that I haven’t heard 100 times already.

I know, I know. Shameful. Can you believe there are people like that out there? Someone call the watchbloggers.

Well…..I’ve thought about his kind of statement a lot. I preach about 10-12 times a month, and have preached as often as 20 times a month at my current ministry. I’ve listened to thousands of hours of sermons on tape, mp3, cd. I’ve read sermons- thousands of them. I’m on both sides of the comment, both criminal and consumer.

Some of those preachers have been my very best teachers. I absolutely believe in the value of the right kind of repetition. Gospel proclamation calls for it. Biblical preaching calls for it. It’s commanded. I do it in the classroom.

But let’s have an honest go at, shall we? What is this commenter actually talking about? (Now the REAL shocking truth will be REVEALED!)

The commenter is correct, and he isn’t saying “tickle my ears with something new.” He’s saying that the model of Christian spiritual formation now extent in worship is one that sees the 40 minute information dump as the primary means of spiritual growth. The sermon, the sermon and the sermon from the preacher, the theologian and the teacher. Plus a daily quiet time. That’s evangelical spiritual formation in a nutshell.

It’s hit me like a ton of bricks this past year: the blogosphere is full of voices that think we are all a bunch of big brains, and nothing more. We need more information. More data. More sermons. More books. More facts. More lectures. We are what we think. We are what we hear, read and think. So open up those brains and pour it in…after an appropriate prayer.

Behind this is a view of humanness that needs to be called out. (More SHOCKING REVELATIONS!!)

What thousands of evangelicals are experiencing is not a call from the Holy Spirit to become an overstuffed theological brain with a vocabulary that can only be decoded by a committee of seminary professors and a reading list that looks like the “atonement” shelf at a seminary bookstore.

No, they- we- are longing for authentic humanness in the Gospel. A full and genuine human experience. Normal human life as God created and recreated it. Not more information in a competition to quote the most scripture and do the best imitation of a walking apologetics class. Not more religion of the (fill in the blank) _______ sort. No….humanness made alive in the incarnation. Created, incarnated, redeemed, resurrected humanity.

We long to be human beings, fully alive to who we are, to God, to one another and to all that being made in the image of the incarnated God means.

We long for beauty, for multiple expressions and experiences of beauty.

We long for relational and emotional connection; to know we are not alone; to love and be love; to be heard and to hear our human family.

We long for worship to engage the senses, the body, the whole personality. We long for mystery, not explanation. We long for symbolism, not just exposition. We long for a recognition of what it means for God to be God and for each of us to be human, not for more aspirations to know as much as God and instructions on how to be more than human.

We long for Jesus to come to us in every way that life comes to us, and not just in a set of propositions.

We long for honesty about the brutal pain and disappointments of life, and we long to hear the voices of others experiencing that brokenness.

We are tired of the culture of lies that Christians perpetuate in their fear that someone will know about the beer in the fridge, the porn on the computer, the affair, the repeated abuse, the unbelieving child, the nagging doubts, the frightening diagnosis and the desperate fears.

We long for a spirituality of stillness, contentment and acceptance in the place of spiritual competition and wretched urgency. We have grown weary and sick of being “challenged” to do more, be more committed, more surrendered, more holy by our own energy.

We long for prayer that is not a means to accomplish things, bring miracles, generate power, impress the listener. We long for the depths of spirituality, not the show of being spiritual.

We long to be loved, to be quietly accepted, to be told to lie down in green pastures, to stop the race, to pray in silence. To be given a spirituality of dignity, not a spirituality that is a feature of this week’s sermon series on how to have more sex, make more money, have better kids, smile more, achieve great things and otherwise turn the salvation of Jesus into a means to an American end.

We long to understand the spirituality of those whose religion does not drive them crazy. We long to know the Bible’s message and then be free to live it. We want to be lifted up, not beaten down. We hope for a simple spirituality, not an exciting, never-before-experienced high from the show.

Yes, the commenter speaks the truth, we have heard the same answers a hundred times. Not the same Gospel necessarily, or even the Gospel applied in 100 different ways. But the same 100 moral exhortations. The same 100 life lessons. The same 100 theological necessities. The same 100 spiritual demands. The same 100 pastors sounding like the same 10 pastors. The 100 same catch phrases. The same 100 commercials. The same 100 half-truths, convenient half-truths and agreed upon untruths.

We have heard evangelicalism’s products, its promises, its prosperity promises, its prevarications and protests at least 100 times. Those of us with longer track records have been through all of this, under different names, with different spins, different bumper stickers, t-shirts and gurus. But it is all the same.

It is far less than the glories of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is far less than it thinks it is. And we feel the emptiness in our souls, even as our minds and senses are overwhelmed by the “wow!”

Where in the New Testament does anyone say how great their church is? Where in the New Testament does anyone brag on their favorite preacher? (Other than in Corinth.) Where in the New Testament are we told to spend money on church advertising and making our pastor’s name the brand of the entire church? Where are we told we know so much that we are experts on everything and can fix anything? Where are we told in the New Testament that we are producing experiences? Where does it say we are competing for the world’s attention the world’s way?

Yes, we’ve heard it all 100 times before, and our children will hear it a 1000 times more if they stay in evangelicalism. They will hear it because the entire gassed up, energized machine is launching itself into the future with all the arrogance it can muster, replete with every answer and all wisdom, learning nothing and seeing nothing wrong.

In 2009, we will hear it all 100 times again and again.

But not all of us. Perhaps less of us than you think.

Some of us will finally say good-bye to this insanity. Some of us will stay, but we will not be listening anymore. Some of us will discover others ways, other paths, other pilgrims and friends.

In fact, many of those standing to say the same things and do the same things and insist on the same things will feel the Great Emptiness in it all.

Somewhere, just beyond the 100th time we hear it all again and the 100th time we hear the new version of it in the latest church, latest book, latest sermon series, latest CD, latest web site and so on….somewhere, we’ll hear it the last time and we’ll walk away.

We will be hearing something else….someone else. Other voices and other music. Another way of being Christian.

Comments

  1. Humaness in the Gospel? I don’t get it.

    May be I did not catch it, what is it that you mean by that?

    As far as my Terrible, shameful dirty little secret,

    “The Liturgy Wars is the dumbest most ridiculous thing ever, it is important but the fact that they still can’t seem to get it together on this just makes me want to scream.”

  2. True humanity in the Gospel? You missed it?

  3. I don’t know what you mean by it.

    It could be taken to mean many things.

    1. The fact that humanity needs to be saved.
    2. Our lack of saving Grace
    3. The incarnation fully God fully man.
    4. Human fear and doubts when faced with Truth.

    etc.

  4. I described it in about half of the essay. Forgive me if it’s not a clear concept. peace ms

  5. Part of the answer to this is a different theology of preaching and what it is attended to achieve. If the goal is to be fresh, new, innovative every week, then I am going to work at Lowe’s! I can’t do that – who really can! If the goal is to draw people to worship the Triune God by remembering him and his great acts in history, then sign me up. THAT I can do (with the help of grace of course).

    Cheers!

  6. “We long for prayer that does not accomplish things, bring miracles, generate power, impress the listener. We long for the depths of spirituality, not the show of being spiritual.

    We long to be loved, to be quietly accepted, to be told to lie down in green pastures, to stop the race, to pray in silence. To be given a spirituality of dignity, not a spirituality that is a feature of this week’s sermon series on how to have more sex, make more money, have better kids, smile more, achieve great things and otherwise turn the salvation of Jesus into a means to an American end.”

    Amen!

    I am astounded how many of my fellows can earnestly talk and seem to believe in suffering joyfully, counting loss as gain, etc in our walk with Christ and yet every prayer they offer for me as someone with a severe chronic neurological illness is for miraculous healing.

    I’m not exactly enamored of being sick and disabled, but Christ has taught me that true healing is on a completely different level. I trust in his power to grant me ease and healing, but what I crave is deeper knowledge of him, a more godly walk and greater peace.

    I would love to be supported and encouraged in trust in Jesus, not on what doctors may someday be able to do.

  7. Heraclitus said that you could never step into the same stream twice. The same foot could never come into contact with the same water at the same point in a stream bed more than once, or even for a prolonged period of time.

    The same gospel can never come into contact with the same circumstances at the same point in someone’s life more than once.

    Why we need to go running after the latest fad, the latest way to present the gospel, the latest method to increase attendance or spiritual growth is beyond me.

    Christianity is about the story of God’s good news in Christ entering into the lives of those who hear it.

    It is about the Word incarnating in the mind, body, soul, strength of the hearer.

  8. Another spot on post, iMonk.

    I would add only this quote from Peter Leithart (himself a Presbyterian) in Against Christianity as a link between this post the last.

    “Reformed Protestants generally adopt only one physical posture in worship – sitting to listen to a sermon – and therefore we are trained in only one spiritual posture. We are trained to accept as a matter of course that it is possible to think our way through life, all of life.”

    I think he’s talking particularly about Reformed with a capital ‘R’ – but this would certainly apply to the broad emphasis in Evangelicalism on the sermon.

    Sidenote: I was recently shocked to find how many sermons some listen to online during the week. I can’t but believe this contributes to the problem you’re describing.

  9. Go to some Al Anon meetings and just listen.

  10. For me, the music, (and I do appreciate the work, time and effort put into the preparation of the weekly service by the worship leader and the team) is most necessary to sustain my weekly walk. Of course, as a musician, I also apply it to my life personally, at home, on a daily basis.

    It is all important, the reading, studying, praying, listening but I must admit, and I may be wrong, that the music in corporate and private worship is the most life-giving part of my walk. It has been for decades. I wonder if it will change when I get old.

  11. Beautiful, iMonk.

    Is cyberspace the only place on earth where such fellowship can be found?

  12. “Some of us will finally say good-bye to this insanity. Some of us will stay, but we will not be listening anymore. Some of us will discover others ways, other paths, other pilgrims and friends.”

    Dear Contemporary American Evangelicalism,

    I have said good-bye. I am not listening. I am discovering new ways.

    I don’t think I ever left you, but you left me. Or maybe it just took me awhile to understand what you are all about.

    You are not evil, just misguided; just heading in the wrong direction. You are of the world, but not in it. And I cannot find nourishment in soil that has no history, reverence, liturgy, tradition, Biblical or theological depth, true aesthetic, or organic relationship to real life.

    When I seek Good News, I am offered moralism. When I seek wisdom, I am given the “Left Behind” series. When I ask how I may grow and become spiritually formed in Christ, I am given an 8-week program in “discipleship”. When I ask how I may serve as Jesus served, I am only told about work within the temple, never among my neighbors. When I express my doubts, you run and hide. When I lament my circumstances and God’s silence, you tell me to have faith. When I fail, you have no idea what to do with me. When I long to feel connected to God’s people in all ages and around the world, you cannot grasp what I am asking.

    We had our moments. But I’m moving on.

  13. Anyone here know what I’m referring to …?

  14. I’ve been to plenty of AA meetings. I know what I think you mean. But I can’t be sure.

  15. You’re talking about a real “human” spirituality that is missing in denominational services. “Human” is a got created category. Any other categories by which human beings distinguish themselves from other human beings is man created and is a deterrent to true spirituality.

    Every Christian liturgy, every prayer meeting, Bible study, meditation group .. every gathering under the auspices of some human designation meant to delineate how we are different and therefore purer, less in error, more original, etc., than other groups takes away from the leveling category of what we all share — the frailty of our humaness. And each of these groups must be careful that they stay within the dogmatic boundaries of the self-created category, which leads to consternation and frustration of God’s power and desire to heal. God can heal everyone if He so chooses, but, from my experience He wants to do it through us, but in a way that leaves us wondering who healed who. This is what happens in 12-Step meetings. I see it there all the time, and have not seen it anywhere else on any consistent basis.

  16. God created

  17. this post reminds me of something Madeline L’Engle would say for some reason….I like it.

  18. I don’t know if what makes Al Anon and AA meetings so special can be incorporated into any other institution. I truly doubt it. But God is there at every meeting as soon as the opening prayer is said and the opening statements are read. And then it’s a group of human beings who are there in agreement that they are powerless over what it is that is troubling them and that they need God’s (the God of our individual understanding) help.

    I know that parenthetical is a source of scandal in evangelical circles. But the truth is that He is the only God that can help anybody. I certainly cannot be helped by the God of your understanding unless I share that understanding — and there is no way that I can know if I really do without being you.

    That phrase — “God as we understood Him” — was added at the insistence of a founding member of AA who had a serious problem with institutionalized religion. I believe that phraseology has saved 12-Step groups from dying a religious death decades ago. People who would never set foot in any one of your church services find God and are healed by stumbling or crawling into the rooms of 12-Step groups. And then many do find the serenity to be able to move from the basement meeting rooms on weeknights upstairs to the sanctuary on Sunday morning.

    I think that the tension that some are experiencing at the idea of accepting in your theological sphere “the God of our understanding” is exactly what needs to be let go of if you truly want to experience real, plain-old human spirituality in your gatherings.

  19. Ok….Back on topic please. (I appreciate AA, but that can turn into a huge debate.)

  20. We long for prayer that does not accomplish things, bring miracles, generate power, impress the listener. We long for the depths of spirituality, not the show of being spiritual.

    EDIT – probably should be “We long for prayer that DOES accomplish”

    Great post otherwise!!

  21. Stuart: Changed to “not a means to…”

  22. Ah, makes even more sense now. Still, it would be nice if we saw more prayers have effects…prayers for healings, etc. Sure, all prayer is answered, but it’d be cool to see the broken bone knit immediately.

  23. Monk,
    Amen brother. I believe treebeard is RIGHT–we cannot find the faith, the love, the forgiveness the brotherhood we seek in the pews, so we create it and nurture it online. Maybe site like yours are the new Churches for the millennium. My church is evangelical, and the sr pastor is wonderful, Godly man who I love and respect. But there is legalism that permeates the congregation. I was in a Bible Study and felt like Paul preaching to pagans–the New Testament has set you FREE from the Law–because these wonderful fellow Christian brothers felt distanced from God because of their sins. My heart wanted to break. People feel burdened and depressed with the weight of legalism and negativity–where’s the JOY!! I think what we’re all striving for is Mature Christian faith constantly refreshed with the Spirit and fellowship in Christ. Hard to find.

    Monk–keep writing and I’ll keep reading.
    Amen.

  24. IMonk, I do appreciate the post. But I still have to ask, how does this become practical? Many people became evangelicals with the very mentality you describe, because they were tired of what they found in the mainline denominations. Others, as you have stated in a previous post, go back to those denominations after they see through modern evangelicalism.

    What exactly are you looking for practically, as opposed to theoretically? I appreciate Surfnetter’s focus on AA/Al-Anon (I know, you don’t want to go this direction, but humor me). I attend Al-Anon, and have found tremendous Christ-like comfort there that I did not find in modern-day Christianity. There is a genuineness and humanness with 12-step programs, because of the participants’ broken condition, although it is not an “orthodox” expression of the church.

    So iMonk, are you prophesying something specific? Are you contemplating something practical? It’s easy to say “we’re gonna leave and find another path,” but that’s been done and tried before. Many have become evangelicals, or joined megachurches, or joined house churches, or left denominations or returned to them, in order to find another path. Often they end up just as frustrated as they were to begin with.

    Sorry for the gloomy cynicism. Please say more.

  25. I’m not preaching AA — I’m really not. It’s against the traditions of AA to do so. I’m trying to point out the dilemma I have found in denominational settings — any denominational setting. I’ve frequented Baptist, Assembly of God, Church of God in Christ, Church of the Nazarene, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc., etc. I’m now a Roman Catholic for a lot of reasons, the least of which being that their services are engaging and informative. One is that they leave you alone as long as you’re not being disruptive.

    Maybe what I’m saying is similar to that which an old time commercial fisherman said about fish — God is where you find Him. Maybe the point of a worship community should be not just that you find God’s healing and true human spirituality in the sanctuary on Sunday morning, but that through your gathering in unity and agreement once or twice a week you are able to find those things at the lunch table at work or in the backyard with your spouse and kids or alone out on the water.

  26. “We long for mystery, not explanation.” – Amen

  27. Treebeard:

    I think the idea that I, as a blogger, should be telling people what to do on their own journey would be arrogant on my part. As the comments reveal, people are finding their own paths and their own responses. Internet Monk.com isn’t one of the TR blogs that tell everyone what books to read and what pastors will cure all heretical ills. I am writing my own journey. I am lamenting evangelicalism. I am inviting others to share their journeys.

    I’m trying to survive where I have almost no options. If I go to my pulpit and come out of the closet on what I think about evangelicalism, I’m probably unemployed in a week. Ditto in this space.

    I find a lot of hope here. I’m sorry that there isn’t the “practical solution” you are looking for. If you haven’t noticed, I’m tired of practical solutions and I’m a poor source for any of them.

    peace and thanks for reading,

    ms

  28. Yes. YES. Yes. Thank you.

  29. Being the originator of the quote iMonk started this post with (though certainly not the originator of the thoughts and feelings behind it), let me offer what I was trying to say.

    What I’m not saying is that I possess all knowledge or understand all the nuances of Greek and Hebrew and Jewish and Christian history. Nor am I saying that a pastor NEVER offers an insight I hadn’t considered before.

    What I am saying is that I’ve heard an awful lot of the same sermon series over and over. And while it never hurts to be reminded of important things, I do have a fairly good sense that what I’m missing and needing right now is most likely not going to come from another sermon. I’ve sat under some of the best teaching you’ll find anywhere for several years. I’ve read some of the best devotional, theological and Christian living books that exist. Knowledge is not what I lack or what I’m longing for (though I’m certainly not opposed to more learning).

    That is what I mean by the quote above. And it’s why the state of affairs even if good contemporary evangelical churches is leaving me feeling like something’s missing. I want…I need…I crave more.

  30. Ragamuffin and IMonk,

    Your coments made me think of I Corinthians 3:1-3

    But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh …

    It really seems like we have the opposite problem right now. So many Christians are now ready for solid meat while all churches and pastors are giving them is a constant nonstop diet of the milk of infants. I’m hungry for spiritual steak & potatoes, and this milk-sop diet in the church is starving me to death.

  31. I wouldn’t even say that what I’m getting in these sermons is milk. Much of it is quite good and meaty. It just isn’t enough. I have this gnawing feeling that won’t go away that there is much, much more to Christian worship than kicking music and great sermons. There are depths to which I want to go that a sermon simply isn’t going to take me, no matter how meaty or well-delivered.

  32. iMonk,
    Thanks for your response, and peace to you as well. I understand where you’re coming from. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, and allowing all of us (such a truly diverse audience) to share our journey with you and with one another.

    If you don’t mind my saying so, I actually laughed at this quote of yours: “If I go to my pulpit and come out of the closet on what I think about evangelicalism, I’m probably unemployed in a week. Ditto in this space.”

    Does this mean you’ve been holding back?! Wow. If you’ve been pulling your punches for fear of what others might think, I haven’t noticed. I can’t imagine what your blog would be like if you were truly “out of the closet.” You seem to be very frank and unashamed in your critique of evangelicalism, which I truly admire, even when I on occasion disagree.

    But I hope you realize that you have a ready audience. And even if there is no practical solution, at least there is an online fellowship where we can commisserate with each other. Your blog, and the comments, are a true New Testament ministry. So for what it’s worth, please be encouraged.

  33. treebeard:

    Thanks for the kind words, but I really believe there is a “solution.” The solution is for each one of us to be true to our own journeys and to make that journey authentic. To say no to consumer church and ask what a balanced, Jesus shaped spiritual formation is all about.

    peace

    ms

  34. I think of that quote from “Mr. Blue” that you used in another post, that Christ “saved us from the terrible burden of infinity”. Add to that Bonhoeffer, who wrote, “The real man is at liberty to be his Creator’s creature.” Somewhere, the gospel was perverted to be a path to a supernatural, super-human state. This reaches its pinacle in faith/prosperity teaching. Christ became human to make us human again. As Bonhoeffer said, “The quest for the superhuman, the endeavor to outgrow the man within the man, the pursuit of the heroic, the cult of the demigod, all that is not the proper concern for man, for it is untrue.”

    I think it is worth pointing out the obvious, that to be human is to be the likeness of God. The goal is not becoming a bodiless god. It is displaying the image of God with our mind, soul and bodies. Spiritual formation can’t be separated from service and vocation; our spirituality is formed in the tangible. Wasn’t it the gnostics who equated spirituality with knowledge, and also distained the tangible?

  35. The reason God is at the AA meeting is, at least for starters, that it’s a room full of people made in his image; people for whom Jesus became and remains human.

  36. Michael,

    I like what you said, “We long to be human beings, fully alive to who we are, to God, to one another and to all that being made in the image of the incarnated God means.

    “We long for beauty, for multiple expressions and experiences of beauty.”

    Perhaps I am misapplying your statement, but this is one reason that like you, I am going to read much less theology and “Christian” books and more fiction, poetry, and biography in this New Year. I just picked up some Billy Collins poetry from the library today.

    It dawned on me this last year that the gospel should free us to enjoy life – all of it. But I am pretty one dimensional. Most of my time is spent reading Christian book after Christian book explaining yet again things I already know and believe. This is much like the sermons your commentor mentioned.

    It seems to me that this is a “navel gazing” of sorts. Christian theology ought not enslave me to more Christian theology. No, it ought to release me into the world with new eyes to see and a new heart to appreciate all that God has created.

    But how can I do this if all I do is read the same thing over and over. Maybe I am wrong, but it seems that we have made theology and end in itself. But it seems to me that theology is a means to an end – better understanding God and our world so that He and it can be enjoyed for His glory!

    I hope this is not a misapplication of your post.

  37. What makes an AA meeting or most other 12 step meetings relevant to this discussion is the fact that usually, having reached the bottom of ones journey, people tend to bring the full weight of themselves to the discussion. They discuss life, things that could not possibly be said anyplace inside a church circle, meeting, etc. It’s this type of fellowship that facilitates an authentic journey, and authentic relationships.

  38. I don’t know who said it first . . . but it could have easily been me, or maybe any of us. I do think that I’ve been at different places at different times in my life. There was a period when I (I now think erroneously) could sit and listen for hours to instruction on techniques of godliness. Then there were long periods of times I sat and longed to hear theology, and Biblical exposition. I expect to be at that place again. There were times I could sit and feel the emotional worship take me to another world.

    But for now, I long for a friend. As a middle aged Christian man, I’ve never been lonelier than I am now. Sitting in our Church worship week after week is like handing a man dying of thirst a tall mug of ice cold. . . . sand.

    I long to talk to my pastor or any man in my Church with my guard down, talking about how sad I feel about my kids moving off to college, or how disappointed I am with some things in life, or how I still have dreams unrealized. I equally long for one of them to tell me something personal and of substance . . . maybe how they are struggling with an issue or how their marriage isn’t perfect. I’ve done every thing I know to do to create that safe zone where they should feel free to talk. But it is counterintuitive to speak honestly in the context of a Church.

    I hate standing in the basement of our church each week for snacks, coffee and “fellowship” while I have to filter every word that I want to say . . . to avoid the “that’s disgusting” look from my fellow-believer, or from my pastor.

    I hate to start to talk about the most important thing of my deepest place and watch the pastor look at his watch or sigh in disbelief as if I should beyond that by now.

    Speaking of AA, I would love for my brother Jason, whom I suspect is a closet alcoholic, to talk to me about it. I would love to be there for him and to help walk with him out of the emotional labyrinth. I’ve tried to bring it, to his angry response. I think he could talk to me better in a bar than a worship meeting.

    That’s the disappointment I feel when I sit each week and listen to the sermon.

  39. (Can I call you Pastor Michael?)

    Thank you for writing this post, and the last one as well. I’m away from “home” at the moment, (ironically, attending seminary, studying “educational leadership”) and inadvertantly learning quite a bit about what I want/need in a church.

    My congregation back home is amazing. It’s a mainline megachurch that imperfectly but sincerely walks the line between the good and beautiful and deep of the heritage and tradition and the alive and outreach and “what we assume people want and think is cool” of evangelicalism.

    Since I’ve moved away to school, however, I’ve been attending a different church. It’s not nearly as big, but is growing nonetheless. Spending Sunday mornings in an environment without a lot of the extraneous megachurch “stuff,” I have had the opportunity to notice something about my new church, and it has become my favorite part of the service. The two pastors there split the preaching about 75-25 (weekly, they don’t tag-team sermons!). He who doesn’t preach on a particular week leads the liturgy.

    The pastor who preaches less often, well, I love it when he does the liturgy. Because when he proclaims the absolution, he breaks into the biggest smile I think I’ve ever seen on anyone. I love this, because it reminds me that it’s real. People don’t get looks like that over something that’s fake. I’ve never discussed it with him, but just based entirely on the sparkle in his eyes and the grin on his face, I would guess that the best part of his job, for him, is getting to proclaim forgiveness in the name of and by the authority of Jesus. And speaking of Jesus, I see Him in that moment. It’s no longer Pastor, it’s Christ himself forgiving my sins, and grinning like crazy as he comes running to welcome me back.

    God’s timing is always perfect; I love my church back home terribly, and at times, I miss it (mostly the people, occasionally the coolness) like crazy. But when I left this summer, there was a part of me that was a little over it, a little burnt-out on the glamour. For right now, I have found the deep I need, and for that, I am praising God.

    Happy New Year to you all – although I rarely comment, this community has been a source of much encouragement, lifting up, and discernment for me. Here’s to the hope that we would all grow closer to the One whom we seek!

  40. Michael,

    Yes, the commenter is correct. You know, I think the Reformers’ and Puritans’ doctrine of the “pulpit” has taken “preaching” beyond where it should go. It is the center of all of what happens Sunday. One man speaks. One. Everybody else listens. I don’t see this in the bible. If everything is done for edificaion, like Paul says, how is the PASTOR ever edified? He’s the only one that speaks.

    That’s what pastor’s conferences are for, I guess.

  41. My point in bringing 12-Step groups (it is called a fellowship, by the way) into this discussion is that it appears that what most Christian denominations believe (and each has a different take on this) is necessary to invoke the intimate healing presence of God to a gathering is really not the case. The miracles I see in my own life and in the lives of other members are exactly what you don’t see happening in church groups. The message is given in the hearing, not in the telling.

    The real impact of the Gospel, as I have come to understand it, is not that I heard God’s story; it is that those who came for help to those who had done the same found God together in their broken helplessness. They got to tell their stories and though rambling, lonely, disjointed and bitter, they were heard and found that through the courage it took to tell their stories and the loving compassion it takes to listen, their stories got better and helped others get better.

  42. Preaching is a vital part of Christian worship – it’s just that much of what is called preaching in popular evangelical Christianity is not preaching. The topic of authentic Christian preaching is the Triune God unveiled in the gospel centered in Jesus Christ with the outcome that disciples will come into deeper union with God. How to have a better marriage or parent etc., may be the topic of catechesis and may be touched upon in preaching, but it is not what preaching is about. If the evangelical world would get this right a lot of good things just might take place. Besides, if you want to get all pragmatic and church growthy about it, at the end of the day don’t folks come to church to meet God?

    When I preach, my goal is to give a sermon that you cannot take notes on and that you will not go home and apply. I want the listener to be stirred to worship God right then and there.

    It’s about God.

  43. Anxious Anglican says

    The opposite of evangelicalism’s “church-as-lecture” may not be either “church-as-more-talking” (a la AA) or “church as entertainment” (I fear for my sanity every time we do the last verse of some praise song three times), but the church as the earthly representative of mankind before God “in faith, prayer, and sacrifice, in hope for all, and still more in love for all.” (Von Balthasar, I think) Another alternative is offered by this fine thinker and pastor: “The church is not some piece of machinery, is not just an institution . . . It is a person. It is a woman. It is a mother. It is living. The Marian understanding of the church is the most decisive contrast to a purely organizational or bureaucratic concept of the Church.” Or so suggests the current leader of the Catholic Church, Benedict XVI. Perhaps your wife is on to something, IM?

  44. Anyone who hasn’t read the Marian discussions at Vatican II would find them interesting. The two camps were 1) Mary seen in reference to Jesus (co-redemptrix, etc.) and 2) Mary in reference to the church. The final statements lean toward #2 and there is a clear ecumenical superiority in doing so. Certainly helped me to see that polarity in discussion.

  45. Bob Sacamento says

    I haven’t even finished reading this yet, but had to comment. I reached this point about ten years into my evangelical sojourn. People brighter than me (i.e. most people) probably reach it in about five. It was really frustrating too, because I knew I had alot of “growing” left to do (And still do, but that’s another story.), and because I, in ignorance, was operating the way Michael said, ” … the model of Christian spiritual formation now extent in worship is one that sees the 40 minute information dump as the primary means of spiritual growth.”

    But it was starting to look like I had all the info dumped that I was ever going to get. But I knew I had so much more growing to do. But there was no more information to be had. Conclusion: I was one bad apple if I could be so “spiritually immature,” despite all the knowledge God had allowed me to accumulate over all those years.

    Somewhere along the way, I came to think that discipleship, spiritual formation, whatever, is only partly about learning stuff. I started thinking that maybe it is more a matter of transformation than of education. Not that education is unimportant, mind you. I thought of it as running the mile in a track meet. There are certain pieces of information a runner has to have, or he will never be able to run that mile in 4 minutes. But, in the end, you can’t “teach” someone “how to” run a 4 minute mile. He has to do the work of transforming himself into someone who can do it. (Here the analogy breaks down somewhat, since God is the one who does spiritual transformation, but I’ll stop with this before I confuse myself.)

    Now if I can just get me some of that “transformation” somewhere ….

  46. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    It’s hit me like a ton of bricks this past year: the blogosphere is full of voices that think we are all a bunch of big brains, and nothing more. We need more information. More data. More sermons. More books. More facts. More lectures. We are what we think. We are what we hear, read and think. So open up those brains and pour it in…after an appropriate prayer.

    Yes, the “appropriate prayer (TM)” Christianizes it all…

    IMonk, everyone: I’m a former Kid Genius, diagnosed and labeled as such immediately post-Sputnik. I grew up as a “big brain and nothing more”, constantly absorbing and sifting “more information, more data, more books, more facts, more lectures”. And I’ll clue you in to something:

    It left the rest of me — the kid behind that IQ score, the personality with that Big Brain (TM) — as an arrested development case on the level of Michael Jackson. Amid that cascade of information, data, books, facts, and lectures I NEVER LEARNED HOW TO BE A KID. I NEVER LEARNED HOW TO BE AN ADULT. COMPUTERS DON’T HAVE FRIENDS, LET ALONE GIRLFRIENDS, NEVER MIND A MARRIAGE AND A FAMILY. High School Hell almost killed me; even today at 53, the rest of my “soul” is barely out of adolescence, except with 30+ extra years of scar tissue and an urge to make up for lost time without knowing how.

    THAT is what becoming “a big brain and nothing more” does to you. I WANT MY LIFE BACK. I WANT THOSE 40+ YEARS THE LOCUSTS HAVE EATEN. I WANT TO HAVE THE LIFE I NEVER HAD AS A “BIG BRAIN” AND NOTHING MORE. And the Christianized “voices that think we are all big brains and nothing more” are just setting up others for the same misery.

    No, they- we- are longing for authentic humanness in the Gospel. A full and genuine human experience. Normal human life as God created and recreated it. Not more information in a competition to quote the most scripture and do the best imitation of a walking apologetics class.

    And besides, Islam has us topped in the “quote the most scripture” department. As well as the “fight the decadent culture” department.

    We long to be human beings, fully alive to who we are, to God, to one another and to all that being made in the image of the incarnated God means.

    Not Souls (TM) to “Be Saved” for Fluffy Cloud Heaven instead of “fully alive” and sanctified for Resurrection (with BODIES!) into the New Heavens and New Earth.

    We long for beauty, for multiple expressions and experiences of beauty.

    Contrasted with the “Cult of Ugliness” that has taken hold all around us, secular AND spiritual.

  47. Amen

  48. >”We long to be human beings, fully alive to who we are, to God, to one another and to all that being made in the image of the incarnated God means.”

    Sounds like a need for the corporal (teach the ignorant, feed the hungry, clothe the naked) and spiritual (pray for others) acts of Mercy.

    >”We long for worship to engage the senses, the body, the whole personality. We long for mystery, not explanation.”

    This sounds like the Catholic or Orthodox liturgies, with incense for the nose, vestments and sacred art for the eyes, postures for touch, wine for taste, and hymnody for the ears. Personally, I prefer the Orthodox explanation for the Eucharist as “mystery”.

    I suspect that if we worship God as God likes to be worshipped then we will also be satisfied. Revelation and the OT tell us how God is worshipped and likes to be worshipped. Malachi 1:11 is a simple litmus test for worship.

    >”We long for prayer that is not a means to accomplish things, bring miracles, generate power, impress the listener.”

    A Benedictan monk once told me the story of a man centuries ago who wanted to be a desert hermit. Asking what he should do, the head hermit gave the man a basket of sand with instructions that everytime he prayed to dump a cup of water into the basket. At first the sand just became wet, but eventually some of the sand washed away. When the basket was empty, the young man asked about his empty basket. The elder hermit explained that just as the sand was washed from the basket a little at a time, so too are the effects of sin on our soul washed away everytime we pray. I’ve never looked at prayer the same since. Even a simple “God bless you” after a sneeze has some effect.

    A second spiritual epiphany came when leading a small group during Lent. An older lady taught me to pray for “those who have no one to pray for themselves.” While leading a college campus ministry this past fall, I offered a petitionary prayer for those who had no one top pray for themselves. One of the attendees had felt so alone that they had attempted suicide the past week. That one momentary prayer changed their outlook. Millions of people need our “second” in their lives.

    BTW, when I pray for others, I ask God to be merciful, forgive them their sins, and fill them with grace. Only later do I ask for healing, comfort, or other materialistic things. I pray at the sound of sirens and everytime I spot the Angel One helo from our Children’s Hospital in the air. Mercy, forgiveness, grace, comfort.

    God bless… +Timothy

  49. j michael jones,

    your comment has to be one of the saddest and most heartwrenching comments I have seen. Sorry things are like that right now. One of the reasons I landed where I have in my journey is because most of the church (including many in my own denomination)cultivate a piety that makes it impossible to be open and honest about who you are and what your’e going through. This is the other dirty little secret that no one talks about-there is no real fellowship in many(if not most) churches. No mutual encouragement, or as the old Lutherans termed it “the consolation of the brethren” What’s needed is a place where our salvation isn’t called into question because we drop an F bomb, or we have one (or five)drinks too many because our marriage is failing or our kids are sick or in trouble. Most Evangelical theologies have no category for this kind of thing even though they talk a good game of grace. Too bound up in rules( read that principles) for Christian living.

    A pox on it all-without love for each other, especially in the worst situations, the best worship and theology are nothing but a huge waste of time.