In ministry, and in life, it can be hard work sifting through the dross, finding the intelligent, quality comment from the inane cliche . . . or christian soundbite – looking for real nuggets amongst the fools gold.
Books (even Christian ones) can be like this – I’m not thinking of anything in particular when I say that, but some very popular Christian books often seem filled with very basic, dumbed down “stating the obvious” kind of stuff.
This book is not a Christian Ministry book, but it is on my essential reads . . . . its called “Authenticity” by David Boyle (check it out here).
So, “how do we bring the light?” rather than make things more murky and unclear ?
All that glitters in our Christian fermament might not be actual light – we live in a world of artificial light, bulbs, tubes, flickering screens . . . we can almost be blinded by ACTUAL light, never mind its warmth and life bringing properties . . . (although, having moved to the north I’m missing the sun a bit more than I used to!)
Well, this great book from David Boyle taps into the desire that we all seem to have for something REAL – even Atheists, like Alain DeBotton appear to be hankering after something that might help people have an “authentic” EXPERIENCE of Atheisim (with “Religion for Atheists“) and, as atheism itself is not life enhancing or enriching . . . he has decided to plunder religion to try and bring more meaning to what it is to be an atheist!
We all want something REAL at the end of the day . . . we may even look in the wrong places, and even in the Church . . . we might chase after what someone else has said or written about the AUTHOR of life, rather than seek Him for ourselves.
As Christians we all have “a friend in Jesus”, but when it comes to sharing our faith or being a natural evangelist we get a bit odd. In any other context it would be strange – if we had a good friend, people knew that this person was our friend – but, if they ever asked for an introduction . . . rather than do it ourselves, we suggested they speak to one of our other friends who also knows the person . . . weird!
Yet, we do that quite often with Jesus.
How can we be REAL about Jesus, REAL about the Church . . . how do we live, breathe, have . . . an authentic community life that others are attracted to . . . the “natural” light of Christ and our love for each other draws others in?
Well, from “Authenticity”, here are ten things that David says . . . (I don’t know if this guy has a faith, the book was written about authenticity – not about the Church – but, lets ask ourselves, “If my church practiced these things – would it be attractive to others”?
#1. Real means ethical :: we have some great social justice campaigns in the Church, we need to strive for ethical living – but also ethical governance of all things “church”.
#2. Real means natural :: got that forced smile on for church?
#3. Real means honest :: we need to wake up! Honestly, we are in trouble (church growth etc, generations missing) we also need to acknowledge when we make mistakes.
#4. Real means simple :: do we make it hard for people to join? How many hoops do people have to jump through before they “belong” in your church . . . ?
#5. Real means unspun :: ha, ha! Do we spin our numbers, our influence, our reach and, see #3. our mistakes turn in to “lessons have been learned” or “it was someone else’s responsibility” or, “but look at our social media engagement, we are growing!”
#6. Real means sustainable :: how many “pet projects” can the church get involved in over the course of one year, there is a new fad, new expectation, new national initaitve from somewhere in the Church every other week it seems . . . we can’t do ALL these things, what will we DO that we can sustain – we WILL sustain what we really value, maybe that is why so much in the church comes and goes.
#7. Real means beautiful :: what is this about? Well, so much of design is about function – purpose. Have you noticed how “new build” churches could be any kind of community building? You look in an ancient church, high up – where nobody can see there are intricate designs, amazing pieces of work . . . these artists, architects and designers were not doing it to show off to the congregation . . . they were making and creating (sometimes for YEARS before they finished) to the glory of God. What, about our places of worship inspires awe and wonder?
#8. Real means rooted :: This is a hard one, we live in a transient culture – with people who move around A LOT – but we need rooted leadership, rooted volunteers, rooted groups and activities . . . we need to change the culture of volunteering for a couple of years with youth work and then doing something else – lets be rooted in each others lives, and together rooted in Christ. Ephesians 3 says, “rooted / established in love” . . . this is in Christ, but we are also a body living in community . . . – I believe that greater commitment to the place we are IN will bear fruit in our own lives and the lives of those we seek to reach with the light of the Gospel.
#9. Real means three-dimensional :: Real experience has depth, a book a few years ago was called “The McDonaldization of the Church” (check it here) – in this book John Drane is concerned that we have created a homogenous kind of experience . . . worship, liturgy, preaching etc . . . where is the light and shade? where are the dimensions where we can plumb the depths . . . ? Where can we honestly wrestle with stuff that makes NO sense?
#10. Real means human :: I am writing a blog, I will tweet about it – it will then appear on my Facebook page and on my Linkedin network . . . others might comment (or not) , all this can be done with no face to face human contact. I believe social media is a great tool for communicating with each other, sharing ideas etc – but NOTHING can make up for actual human contact. If we can reach millions with our profound thoughts online about the importance of relationships – but struggle to make eye contact or string a sentence together with someone in front of us – we have LOST what it means to be real.
If I am locked in my study sharing great thoughts about ministry and balance and living a healthy family life while my children bang on the door for a bit of attention I’m too busy “online” to give – I’ve lost the plot and the purpose.
Finally, at the end of this great, great book, David Boyle recommends things that organisations can do in this “age of authenticity” . . . this is also great stuff – think about your own context. Would trying to do these things, or thinking about them – make your light shine more brightly and more naturally?
#1. Make it personal. Who are we aiming at? The more local, the more specific, the more we are likely to connect with people . . . you might NEED to run a bunch of small groups for young people that 4-6 attend rather than do a “one youth group” for all model. The days are gone when we had 100 on the register and 95 turned up every week.
#2. Maximise human contact. Quantity is just as important as quality. I have two amazing daughters, it matters when I get home if we play together . . . but, just as important to them in terms of their sense of peace about their world is my “being there”. In the house, around, bumping into eac other . . . contact is contact – it counts – whether we are “doing something” together or not. It also means they see me just being “me”, not just trying to be “super dad” . . . our young people in our churches, youth groups need to just be around us and we need to be around them.
#3. Split up the organisation. This is a challenge for the church – I don’t just mean lets all worship together – I mean with the para church organisations, some of the national initatives that the BIG players insist we are all “in on” . . . meanwhile, in the world that has moved on . . . localism is THE agenda, more local, more geographical, more specific. Unity is not found in us all being the same, or all agreeing – unity is found in BEING in Christ.
It is not a state we bring about. Yet there is a persistant call to “join” to be seen to be “united” in specific acts. Some of this is good . . . but, why is it that we have not seen (in predominantly white churches) churches with 10,000 plus in this country? Well, in many other nations a whole church may never get together . . . there are loads of pastors and leaders released to effectively lead “mini churches”, we are not geared up for that – but, also, we have not dealt with some of our issues to do with controlling power, clergy centric, ordained and officially authorised stuff . . . lets “split” and see more happen, lets plant and see more grow.
Boyle mentions a load more things . . . get the book!
Final, final thought . . . God lived an authentic life on earth, He came and actually lived, He sought out – understood and encouraged human contact among his followers – He did not encourage them to disappear up their own backsides arguing over theological differences . . . in his calling of the 12, he tried to bring some authenticity back to the people of Israel – this so called “light to the nations”, who had lost their way . . . God then died a real, actual, horrible death – God suffered, really suffered. God died. God was then ressurected. Actually, came back to life. In the risen body the marks of death remained as an authentic reminder of what had gone before.
We need to live deep, real, authentic lives – we need to live those lives together, we need to recognise that SO MANY people in our society – especially so many of our young people are after something – ANYTHING – real, authentic and life giving.
Lets bring the LIGHT.