Anyway, after my 2-part post on The Church, a friend texted and asked if he could send me an email with "some thoughts that were too long to text." So I sent my address his way and went to bed.
This morning, his email was there in my junk folder, and I was so excited to read it. When someone asks you if they can send you an email that's "too long to text," you just know it's going to be good.
You guys. I need to introduce you to Mason. He's a writer (though he doesn't know it, and he'd never tell you even if he did) because anyone who WRITES LIKE THIS in an EMAIL is most certainly a writer. There is just no other explanation. His words are below, and below that is our conversation from this morning in which I say some things that seem important for all of us to hear.
First, let me thank you for sharing your story. It's heartbreaking and beautiful and powerful and eye-opening. It is everything our generation needs to hear. It is everything our generation has been trying to say. Thank you for genuinely loving Jesus and loving the Church. Your disillusionment only shows how much you deeply care about the Church and long for it to be what it was meant to be. The Church has been carried throughout generations by faithful disciples like you.
I agree with you and I'm standing with you in your disillusionment. I want to be in ministry, but I'm confused and discouraged and most days I feel alone. I feel outside the mold. I feel like I don't fit the cookie-cutter shape of someone in ministry. I feel restless and uncomfortable and unsure with the state of the church and yet I don't know why I feel that way, what it means, or what I want. I question whether it's a sign I'm not meant to be a leader in the Church, or whether it's bold affirmation that the Church should have me all the more. I want to see the Church be able to embrace all the disillusioned, "post-modern," millennials I know and love deeply. I want aspects of "Western Christianity" to stop being roadblocks for so many people belonging at the wedding feast of Christ Jesus our Lord. I want modern Christianity (emphasis on modern, as in the last few decades of Christianity) to stop being such a head thing, and by that I mean such an intellectually-have-all-your-doctrinal-ducks-in-a-row-or-else-you-are-out kind of thing. I want Jesus to be made known in unconventional ways and I want to be trusted as an unassuming, honest, no-bullshit, not famous, messy, not put together, whoa-he's-actually-more-fucked-up-than-I-am kind of way. And for centuries people like you and I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Jesus, belonged to the Church and fallen in love with His people, seen issues and experienced conflict, become disillusioned, and have used their voice and their humble love and service to reform the Church. And so it has been made better, is always being made better. And so it has been given to us, passed down to us, entrusted to us, like the cherished family treasure. Like my dad's old Rickenbacker.
My dad got this Rickenbacker guitar in '78 or something when he was in 7th grade. He wanted to learn how to play guitar, and since the 70's were apparently awesome, that means he got this sick Rickenbacker. For a few years he started learning scales. He strummed. He got all this sheet music for Zeppelin and The Eagles.
After a few years he put the guitar away. Maybe life was too busy. Maybe it was just too damn hard. But he held onto it because he loved it and was determined to put it to use one day.
Time passed and he went to college. He met my mom when he asked her for a pencil on a placement test during freshman orientation. They dated for a while, then didn't speak, then we're friends, then were more, then were engaged and married. They had two boys who would forever be mistaken for twins.
I started playing piano in 1st grade when my mom picked me up from school and told me we were going to piano lessons. I quit in 5th grade. I started writing music in 8th grade and eventually bought recording equipment.
One Christmas I sat dumbfounded next to the tree with a heap of torn wrapping paper at my side and the Rickenbacker in my hands. The case smelled musty and reminded me it was older than I was. The wood was smooth and the neck was short. I strummed the open strings and wished I knew how to play, what to do with my hands.
The Church is our Rickenbacker. It's this vibrant, beautiful thing of old handed down to us. It's for our fascination and our admiration and our frustration. It's been given to us because we're ready for it. It's been given to us because our fathers didn't want it to sit in it's old case, dusty and detuned after they're gone. It's a treasure and it's priceless and it's ours to do our best with though we don't really know how to play. Technically I still don't know how to play. But, let's not take the metaphor further than it needs to, okay? :)
Here's why the metaphor. The Church is a thing of tradition and yet is passed into new generations. It is living, as alive as Christ Himself. It is always the task of us - the young, silly, unwise, naive, stumbling, fresh, energetic children - to take the Church and BE IT. Christianity, per say, doesn't need to "progress." Neither, necessarily, does the Christian. But we cannot pretend like the church is something outside of space and time. After all, it is nothing more than us, we who are so helplessly comprised of matter and harnessed into time. The reality of everything except God Himself is that it is and always will be rooted in a specific context.
Today in our churches, whether they are ones labeled "progressive and hip" or not, our sanctuary spaces, the songs we sing (and if not the songs, most certainly the arrangements), the modern style of most of our sermons (even the ones we say are preaching nothing but the Gospel), our spiritual books written by pastors, and most definitely all of our programs are the product of "progression." At one point, the Doxology was scandalous to whom it was introduced.
The Church is always progressing, growing, moving, changing; a stable tree watered throughout the ages by apostles, saints, and heroes of the faith, all the way down the timeline of human existence until it reaches none other than you and I. Oh, how much it needs to be watered, needs to continue to live! And how much more is this the case, precisely for all of us in our generation who are so disillusioned with church. For us, it is precisely progression that the Church needs - movement to churches that are more simple, more down-to-earth, more what-you-see-is-what-you-get, and altogether more trustworthy. It's not that the churches we see aren't any of those things. It's not that [Mega Church A] isn't any of those things, as you have said. It's just that perhaps churches are in more need of intentionally being simple and trustworthy. I know that sounds ridiculous. They shouldn't need to be. But this isn't another "growth-plan" or "target strategy" or "evangelism technique" or anything else. It is simply what the Church must do so that it is free to continue being the Church and invite all to come and belong at the table. At one point the Church felt it was necessary to bring rock instruments and casual ornamentation inside of its doors. I can't condemn that; I praise it. I wish our Church didn't have to "progress." I wish we weren't tasked with that burden. Lord knows all of our selfish desires and concerns with aesthetics and pop culture-relevancy end up getting in the mix. I wish I could say in my future endeavors I won't make that mistake. I hate that I will and I want to do everything possible to prevent it. I wish I didn't grow up feeling called to ministry and told I'd "be the next Matt Chandler or David Platt." I wish I didn't want to have the fame of writing a book, or pastoring a big church. I wish pastors were prohibited from building tiny kingdoms on Facebook and Twitter. I wish churches didn't record worship albums and create live worship music videos. I wish the Church you and I were handed wasn't naturally untrustworthy because of our giant numbers and nice clothes and fake smiles and pretty preachers and recorded sermons and New York Times best sellers. I wish the Church we were given didn't have to fight to "prove itself" as authentic and trustworthy. But it does. It HAS to show it's trustworthy, and be intentional about doing so. People need to BELONG before they believe. The church needs to be the community it was meant to be, and that might sometimes mean looking different. But the difficulty is that those sentiments are mixed up with the cool-factor you're talking about. And a lot of churches who progress for the right reasons end up getting caught up in aesthetics and everything else. It's safe to say every church ever has and will, though some certainly more than others. So the issue should not and utterly cannot be IF churches "progress," but rather HOW they do it.
We decide how they do it.
Yesterday, my roommate asked if I would sell him the Rick one day. I told him I want to give it to my child.
I have some thoughts on the whole idea of "famous Christians" and how many of us don't exercise our gifts for fear of getting big egos or beginning to desire The Things Of This World. If you'd like to read them, there's a "read more" link after my sign-off.
Mason went on to say that he appreciates how disciplined I am in blogging--that it's an art. And then he expressed some more frustrations about having "this intense creative energy that so quickly becomes selfishly distorted." He has talked to so many people our age who have the same fear--they feel called to ministry and see all these "famous Christians" and "big deal pastors with NYT bestsellers" and suddenly they think "hm, I'd kinda like to be a Big Deal too!" And then suddenly their "call to ministry" becomes a "desire to be famous" and they either GO BECOME FAMOUS or they GET REALLY SCARED OF THE FACT THAT THEY "WANT" TO BE FAMOUS and so they drop out of ministry altogether to try to save their humility.
First: I’ve never thought of blogging as being an art--or a discipline. So it is an honor that anyone might see it that way. To be honest, it is the only way I CAN be. I HAVE to write, not because I have time for it or am disciplined enough to do it but because my BRAIN cannot possibly hold all my thoughts, if I want to stay sane. So, in favor of sanity, I write. I have copious journals, as well. And I have about 12 consistent pen pals. And pages and pages of notes on my phone. And all my book margins are FILLED with thoughts that could be turned into novels. Overkill? Maybe. But honestly, at least I’m not out numbing my too-many-thoughts with drugs and booze. Writing is literally my therapy. And, it’s become habit. “When you need to write something, you sit down and write--doesn’t matter what else (school studying) you’re sacrificing,” I tell myself. Somehow, I’ve always “had time” to write, even when I don’t have time. So I just keep doing it. My rationale is: “Jordan, writing a blog post instead of studying for your exam has NEVER NOT ONCE had negative consequences in the past. So what makes you think it will this time? Trust your history. It tells you what to do in this moment.” And the what-to-do looks like stopping and churning out a blog post.
But yes, I respect the notion that keeping up a blog takes effort. I don’t deny that!
Second: I think all of our creative energies become selfishly distorted. I am chief of sinners in that regard. Do you know how many times a day I check my “stats” after sending out a post? Infinity times. Do you know how much I crave people (like Mason) sending me notes saying “WOW THAT WAS A GOOD ONE?” A lot. I crave it a lot.
But you know. Here’s the thing. If I let all my worries about potentially being selfish KEEP ME FROM SPEAKING OUT AND USING MY GIFTS, then I’m on Satan’s team. Satan just wants to take us off God's team, and he'll use whatever he can to accomplish that, even our good motives. I think he uses guilt and shame a lot to keep people like us silent. He can’t stop us any other way. He’s got to silence us. And because he knows we ALSO have huge hearts and are very deep thinkers, he knows that if he can get us to think too much about the possibility of us using our gifts for selfish gain, we’ll stop using them altogether. We get fed up and angry and upset and confused that we have all this energy but it's mixed up with selfishness and so we become paralyzed. We step into the world of "speaking out" with all our fallen, selfish motives and then WE START TO HATE IT ALL SO MUCH THAT WE RETREAT ALL TOGETHER. Then he wins.
So, I refuse to let him win. When I get too high on my pedestal (daily), I laugh about it, tell someone, make light of it (so as to not dwell on it all day long), and say “sorry, God. Humble me.” And then I move on. And I keep writing.
Basically, God's like "yeah you're selfish, but I want you on my team. Let me take care of the rest." And while Jesus certainly pulled away from all the crowds and the recognition, what he did not do was silence His voice altogether and step away from His purpose.
Yes, many people our age (and the generation above us) have the same problem. The difference is, some people DO do it (writing/speaking/whatever) because they want to be a big deal. THAT is a poor motive. But the rest of us--we do it because it’s our gift. And, granted, we do have the THOUGHT “woah, I could be a big deal if I wrote this” but we don’t write it BECAUSE of that thought. The "Big Deal possibility" is like, an after thought. I think that’s the difference. I write because it’s my therapy and because I feel like I need to write--to not do so would be to silence something God very clearly has given me. If I happen to become a big deal because of it, well then GOD PLEASE KEEP ME HUMBLE. But I’m not out there LOOKING for ways to become a big deal (and when I do start looking, which happens sometimes, I ask God to keep me humble and to NOT give me “that deal” or “that contract” or “that whatever” just so that I don’t get a big head.)
So guys. Let's keep running our races. Guilt and shame are tools of the enemy and they are antagonistic to Kingdom Work. Let's keep Good and Wise People in our courts who will knock us down a few notches when that Big Ego starts to build, and let's take all praise/adoration for our works and give it back to God. He's the reason any of us are doing anything "good" at all, in the first place.
Grace and Peace to you, friends. Guilt, be gone.
And, one last word from Mason: "Find every family member and friend you know seeking/doing ministry and give them this same encouragement. How greatly our leaders just need to be cared for and encouraged in the same way we do our children."
Yes, let's do just that.