Archive for the ‘United States’ Category


I’m convinced that more often than not, they see it better than we do. “They” meaning those who do not even claim to be Christians, and “it” referring to the inconsistencies between our lives and the one we claim to follow.

Ben Folds is one of these “theys” who has gotten it right with his song, “Jesusland” (IMHO). It’s been out for a while now, but I just “got it” recently.

For the best experience, watch the music video by clicking here and then going to “footage.” Here are the lyrics as well. These words are convicting. Notice all the things he associates with Christianity.

Take a walk246882.jpg
out the gate you go and never stop
past dollar stores and wig shops
quarter in a cup for every block
and watch the buildings grow
smaller as you go

Down the tracks
beautiful McMansions on a hill
that overlook a highway
with riverboat casinos and you still
have yet to see a soul


Town to town
broadcast to each house, they drop your name
but no one knows your face
Billboards quoting things you’d never said
you hang your head and pray

for Jesusland

Miles and miles
and the sun’s goin’ down
Pulses glow
from their homes
You’re not alone
Lights come on
as you lay your weary head on their lawn

Parking lots
cracked and growing grass you see it all
from offices to farms
crosses flying high above the malls
Along the walk

through Jesusland


Dear Church…

Recently, I have heard older people questioning whether or not the younger generations would be fit to lead the church once the older generation passes the baton. What these older leaders don’t understand, I’m afraid, is that many young people aren’t sure they want the baton in its current state. Call it “baggage,” “red tape,” whatever-you-want, but many young people have serious questions about &emdash; or simply do not want &emdash; the church of their parents (let alone their grandparents).

Sarah Cunningham is one of the young people &emdash; a twentysomething, specifically &emdash; who has some serious questions for the church. She recently wrote a book &emdash; Dear Church: Letters from a Dissilusioned Generation &emdash; which reveals that Cunningham is certainly not alone. I’ll let her tell you about this new book, which is available for purchase at your local Barnes & Noble, Borders, or any online retailer. (I interviewed Sarah via e-mail a few days ago in an exclusive HarvestBoston feature)

For someone on the fence about purchasing “Dear Church,” summarize or tease the book in a few sentences.

Dear Church connects with Christians who are burned out or frustrated with their local church experience, but it doesn’t leave readers wallowing in disillusionment. The second half of the book offers tips and personal anecdotes for readers who seek to sift through disappointment and maintain allegiance to Christ. Dear Church also includes a firsthand introduction
to Generation Y and their approach toward faith, 50 tips on forgiveness, a sweeping apology from the church at large, and a love letter to the church you won’t want to miss.

Talk about the process that led you to write this book.

I had an ideal introduction to the faith as a child. My brothers and I were immersed in church from day one because my dad, Harold Raymond, is a pastor and church planter. Our dad found a wise balance between exposing us to his own take on God and encouraging us to develop and own our own faith. Along the way, I naturally adopted a sense of ownership in the local church. Later, in college, I went a few steps further by getting involved with and eventually becoming a full time staffer at an energetic, innovative church. This experience allowed me a lot of creativity and freedom to lead and, by doing so, pushed me toward deeper involvement in the global church. But simulataneously, adult life revealed some flaws and credibility gaps in church systems that I had not always seen as a child. It was disappointing to me to see areas where the church lost credibility and it was even more disappointing to see my peers distancing themselves from the church at large. This book responds to the disillusionment I saw in myself and those around me.

You put in some considerable research for this book. Talk about the directions the research process took you.

I took a couple different approaches. I did read just about everything I could find about my own generation and about disillusionment in general. And I also conducted some informal surveys of twentysomethings and disillusioned people in real life and online. But most importantly, I really wanted this book to have a personal feel, one that genuinely connected with people who were frustrated. To try to accomplish this, I spent a significant amount of time just talking conversationally with every person I could find about their experiences with and impressions of the church. I talked to people in the post-office, I talked to people at the park, I had what seems like a million conversations in coffee houses. That made for some incredible, eye-opening dialogue. And the more I talked to people, the more they inspired me, saying “You have to finish this project. Someone needs to write this book.”

What was the most surprising thing that you discovered?

I discovered that my own disillusionment was more of a universal problem than I had realized. It seemed like almost everyone who had been invested in church at some level had a concern or frustration related to their church experiences. I don’t remember running into anyone who didn’t have a very personal and often painful story to tell.But what I discovered, at the same time, is that–despite my lifelong exposure to church–I was not personally equipped to sort through disillusionment. I had a tremendously hard time trying to reconcile the issues I saw with the message of Christ. For me, it was a long journey to push past my cynicism and critiques and to find renewed commitment to Christ and his mission. I wanted to capture this difficulty along with some of the solutions, with hopes it would inspire others who were challenged to overcome their frustrations.

What nugget do you think will shock your readers the most?

Maybe the balance? It sounds funny to say people would be shocked by something like “balance,” but I think some people will be. There have been so many books that offer critiques of the church. People sometimes expect this one to be almost a “celebration” of disillusionment–flaunting how savvy it is to be cynical toward the church. But after reading the book all the way through, people are often surprised that the book really is a journey THROUGH disillusionment. In the end, it retains an air of responsibility and wisdom without sacrificing authenticity. And it comes out strongly on the side of the church.

In your view as a twentysomething yourself [this is correct, right?]…

Yes I am 28 now, which is a nice age to be because it puts me past some of that initial idealistic-to-a-fault save-the-world mentality. Whew. That stage of life was exhausting. But I still believe the world can be infused with hope in massive ways. I’m still a thousand percent idealist. I just am a lot more content and a little less dramatic about how I invest toward that end.

…what role does “the church” play in society in the 21st century?

The church may undergo a makeover of sorts. Not necessarily a change of doctrine or even a change of spiritual practices like corporate worship and teaching, but a change of face. Barna, for example, reports that the local church is the primary form of faith experience for about two-thirds of U.S. adults currently. However, he projects that by 2025 the local
church will lose roughly half of its attenders and that alternative forms of faith experience and expression will pick up the slack.Some will say this sort of movement toward alternative church communities, like house churches, is superior because it allows for more personal connections, more life-on-life relationships. But I genuinely do think there are a variety of models or non-models even that can be equally effective, as long as the majority of their efforts are spent on generating internal transformation and not just religious ritual. The reason house churches may be superior to my peers, in my opinion, is more about context and life stage. If right now, that is the form of community that feels real and personal to us, if it inspires us to love Jesus more
and to become more like him, to align more of our lives to His ideals, then we should embrace it without institutionalizing it. A feat which is very tricky.

What changes must it make? What must stay the same?

Personally, I would most like to see the church move further toward being intentionally inclusive. I want to think past simply stating “all people are welcome” in words and put some significant energy into building and maintaining relationships in diverse parts of our communities. This is what paints a true-life invitation that shows Christ’s care and desire to transform all people.When I say that, I am not just throwing the “race card.” Focusing on race alone would be a very narrow understanding of what it means to “go into all the world.” There are plenty of groups defined by other characteristics‚&emdash;their education level, their family arrangement, their income, their disabilities and so on‚&emdash;who are on the margins of the church. To get at these, we may have to shift a little bit of focus away from in-house programs into more natural, more organic opportunities. For example, I would like to see churches inspire their small group leaders to go beyond book discussion with twelve fellow church attenders once a week and to mentor twelve people from their routine social circles. But my own ideas for how the church “should” change won’t necessarily match up with everyone elses. I think the beauty of personal tensions‚&emdash;individual observations about how the church could improve‚&emdash;is that each of us can work out the tensions we see in our own lives. We can use our dissatisfaction to bolster the church’s weaknesses. And hopefully, if I put my life energy into building a more inclusive church and you put your energy into a completely different source of concern, in the end, by our collective efforts, Christ wins.The things that needs to stay the same is the focus on Jesus and his message. God designed Jesus to embody all the truth and enlightenment that our world could ever need. Where Jesus is lifted up, regardless of model or generation, He draws all men to himself.

Many of the readers of this blog (including myself and my wife) are experimenting with less traditional “forms” of church than we grew up with (ie house/simple, emergent, cell churches, among others). For many of us, this change came from seeing how far the church seems to have strayed from the biblical precedent and the example of pre-Constantinian Christianity. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon, which George Barna has found is more prevalent than anyone thought? Is this consistent with your findings for “Dear Church”?

One of the most important things to note when talking about how church is changing is that the need for change and the move toward change is not new. Throughout church history, there have been cycles of change and renewal that have given rise to many faith movements. The Reformation. The Great Awakening. The SECOND Great Awakening. And so on.We don’t have to fear change or even be absolutely focused on anticipating it or responding to it exactly right. Change is a natural life process and as it applies to the church, we know it is one that will not drain the church dry. From the first time Christ mentioned the word “church” in the gospels, in Matthew 16:18, he told us all we needed to know from the beginning. The gates of hell, or some translations say the forces of evil, will not prevail against the church. The church may change, but it will never die. It will live on until the climax‚&emdash;its wedding day with Christ.

As I write a book about disillusionment, its funny how many times I find myself calming the panic that once gave me concern. These days, I am not worried if people are going to go to home churches or if they are going to church in a coffeehouse on Friday night or anything similar. If they are furthering their understanding of God’s principles defined in the Bible, if they are worshipping, if they are reflecting and praying toward living out God’s aims, if they are opening themselves to feedback from other followers of Christ, then I bless them. I bless them and I say “Live out what God is doing in your life as fiercely as you can. Work your faith over in your mind and your heart until it is seeping out of your daily life. It is only then that we ARE church and we LIVE church in a way that makes our concerns about whether or not a specific steepled building with pews is full to the brim become unnecessary. When we are all aligning ourselves with God and internalizing and living his ideals with intensity, no one will be afraid the church is dying. It will be more obvious than it has ever been that the church is alive and thriving.In closing, the fact that the church will always be evolving is a sign of health–a sign that an organism isn’t dying. At one level, it is a enormous positive to see younger generations struggling through their own reservations and reconciling their own doubts because this illustrates their wish to truly own and live out the mission of Christ within their own generation. I hope older generations will encourage them to seek the answers they need and come along side them to shed some light on their path to truth.

political (un)involvement

Politic3.jpgI had a talk the other day with our friends Aaron and Amy about politics and faith. “Steve probably took the radical leftist viewpoint,” you’re thinking. (I know, I know — I have in the past been guilty of being over-passionate about my viewpoint in political discussions).

But on Sunday, I took a different route. You see, we were discussing Christianity and political involvement, specifically as it pertains to advocating for the oppressed and downtrodden in our world. Even a few months ago, I might have followed Jim Wallis and the Sojo crew to the steps of the Capitol Building to lobby for a “moral budget.” Wallis was at the center of our discussion, as I told our friends that I’m not sure the answer to a “radical right” Christianity is a “radical left” Christianity. In other words, I said, I’m not sure Jim Wallis is good for the current political dialogue.

Aaron agreed with me to a point, but still holds that Christians have a responsibility to participate in the political process and even to take grievances to the appropriate representatives. (Note: Aaron is at Harvard’s Kennedy School earning his degree in public policy) Like I said, a few months ago, this would have been my stance. But I am becoming more and more non-participatory in my political leanings. Idealogically, I probably identify more with traditionally Democratic viewpoints, but as I gain a clearer understanding of life in the kingdom of God, the kingdoms of this Earth seem to fade just a bit. I’m beginning to identify more and more with the views of my Church of Christ forefather David Lipscomb, who purposefully abstained from any political involvement (beyond paying taxes) and was a staunch pacifist. I don’t think Lipscomb held these views because he was sowing his wild oats or was mad at America or was differentiating himself from the Methodists. I’m convinced that Lipscomb, like many others throughout Christian history, recognized that when one chooses the way of Christ, they have a different king and belong to a different kingdom.

I’m not saying Christians should never petition their governments on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Clearly, there are times when this is unavoidable and a moral obligation. But to rely on political action for social change — as I fear Wallis and others have — seems to minimize the Christian’s identity in this “new world order” of the kingdom of God.


proud of the little bro…

…for this column that will be published in the Optimist soon.

Poverty exists for many reasons.

All situations are different One simple explanation can’t be blanketed over everyone living in a state of economic suffering.

Many publications have tried to tackle the subject in the past, offering reasons for economic suffering in Americans; many of these have failed.

An article printed in Issues & Views, a conservative publication for those “concerned about liberties lost, especially through the ongoing exploitation of race,” delivers one explanation for poverty:

“In economically mobile, relatively free societies, the poor are often guilty of failing to take steps to prosper. They marry too early and have too many kids and thus arrest their own development and, also, those of their children. They stick with bad jobs because they have gotten themselves into debt too early. They do not take time to get educated because they are in the hurry to have fun.”

This “economically mobile, relatively free society” mentioned in this article, entitled “Modern Liberal Condescension,” is an obvious reference to the United States. The writer didn’t just come out and say it, but he basically thinks that poverty can be attributed to laziness, irresponsibility and stupidity.

This argument sounds right from our middle-class American perspective. However, we don’t know what goes on in the lives of the poor individuals in this Abilene society. The true ignorance in the above argument rings clear to those who have experienced poverty.

Meet hypothetical Andrew. He was born into a five-member family and is the youngest of four siblings. His father left after he was born, and he’s lived with a single mother who has worked a $7.50 per hour job his entire life to support the large family but still depends on a Welfare check each month to get by.

The only thing he’s ever known is a less-than-adequate school system, a chaotic family life and the idea that he’s never going to break the barriers of race, location and economic status to become a successful person, in the standards of this capitalist America.

Andrew was doomed to lifelong poverty from the moment he was born ‚&emdash; or at least that’s what he’s been led to believe. He isn’t simply “in a hurry to have fun,” as the above excerpt states.

So, with this young man’s acquired taste for being down-and-out and having nothing to lose, he resorts to outlets that seem the best choice for the situation ‚&emdash; gang affiliations, violence, petty crimes and taking what he needs to survive.

Every story isn’t like this, but many of them are similar.

According to the Global Development Research Center, an educational resource that specializes in issues about the economy, environment, urban centers and community, many different reasons for poverty exist.

Lack of educational preparation, physical handicaps, culture of poverty and gender and racial discrimination are all reasons people live in poverty, according to the organizations Web site.

Laziness might be the immediate reason people live in poverty, but the true, underlying reason has everything to do with where a person comes from. Poor education or physical infirmities are not the fault of the child ‚&emdash; neither are the lifestyles an individual learns from his or her family or the neighborhood in which he or she grew up.

Technically, each person has a choice on how to live but, in reality, he or she really doesn’t.

But America needs to realize this; Abilene needs to realize this. The sooner the haves start helping the have-nots ‚&emdash; intertwining values and culture and breaking down racial and socioeconomic barriers ‚&emdash; the sooner the poverty level will drop.

Too often those with financial security, a strong support system and a strong educational background are so quick to judge those who are different that the aforementioned barriers of mistrust grow.

A change in attitude is in order for everyone, and the beginning of this change is trying to understand the lives of the poverty-stricken.

by Mitch Holt, 2006

Let Mitch know what you think — good and bad — in the comments section below. Also, Mitch is in a band called Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys, which will be playing at the Cornerstone Festival, the largest Christian music festival in the world, in Illinois this summer.

Please click here to vote for HHRB to play on the main stage at Cornerstone in front of 40,000 screaming indie rock fans.

leaving, etc.

Well, we’re heading to Austin tomorrow, and then on to Boston on Saturday morning. We’ll be in Boston (with my folks and brother) through the following Saturday. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ll be doing further scouting of the city, a little touristy stuff, meeting with similar-minded folks, and walking in confidence that God is going to continue to unveil his plans for us even further. I hope to provide updates — if not every evening, at least three times — this coming week. Please, please, please pray that God’s will would be done in, through, and around us in Boston this next week.

Anyone with their eyes open can see that something is afoot around the world. God, like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, is “on the move.” Clearly the “missio Dei” is exploding in areas like China, India, and Africa, but let’s not forget about what God is doing in North America. Consider the following report, which I received in an e-mail from Joel News:

The ‘organic’ leadership solution

In North America there is a growing movement of simple churches, home-based small groups focused on Jesus and doing what He says. House church coach John White shared about what he calls ‘the Luke 10:2b leadership solution’ – a daily prayer for laborers in the harvest. Since he started praying this, and teaching this organic principle to other believers, God sent people on his way, one after the other, asking advice on how to plant churches, and he could simply coach them in doing that. In this way, the simple church networks in the United States are growing exponentially. While 530 simple churches were planned for 2005, they planted over 6,000. While they intended to train 530 church planters in 2005, they saw 1,000 church planters trained in the first two months of 2006 alone. With this kind exponential growth (the current growth rate is 70%) they might reach their target of 4 million simple churches in North America (in 400,000 networks, and with 40,000 network coaches, and 4,000 lead coaches) by the year 2018.



Related Update: Did anyone see this article in Time this past week about house churches in the United States?¬† There are even “house synagogues” (seriously…) — read about it here.¬† OK, we’re heading to Austin in a few hours (to hopefully eat some Kirby Lane cheese dip tonight), and then onto Boston tomorrow morning.¬† Pray!

can (or should) emergent be a prophetic national voice?

Underneath the Cosmetics
Before asking how church should look, let’s make sure we’re clear what the church is for.
by Brian McLaren

I’m often asked by pastors, as I was recently, “Should our church adopt a more emergent approach?” Often the assumption is that adding certain forms (candles, incense, a particular style of music) will make a church “emergent.” But I want to reply: “What would it profit to gain the cosmetics of an emerging church and lose the deeper opportunity?”

As churches seek reinvigoration, many are finding inspiration from emerging/missional approaches (the plural is important). But many focus on the forms and miss the foundational issues. The deeper opportunity is more than rethinking how church should “look” or be “done.” It’s the chance to ask what the church is for.

Most of us have our “theologically correct” answer. The church’s purpose is worship, or evangelism, or making disciples, or some combination. But deeper than our conscious answers are our unspoken, unexamined, perhaps even unconscious beliefs‚&emdash;four of which are especially powerful these days:

The church exists to …

Provide a civil religion for the state

Preserve and promote certain social values

Provide a living for religious professionals

Promote the satisfaction of its members.
It is on this deeper level that the emerging/missional conversation has, in my opinion, the most to offer.

The civil religion approach in America speaks much of America as a Christian nation, or at least one with “Judeo-Christian roots.” It frequently speaks of “going back” to days that were supposedly better.

But this approach fails to realize how compromised those supposedly Christian roots are‚&emdash;by slavery and racism, for example. What Native American would like to go back to the nineteenth century? What African American would like to go back to the 1950’s? Dr. King used to say that the church must be neither the master of the state nor its servant, but rather its conscience.

If we seek to reinvigorate our churches but fail to be a prophetic voice in our nation, we miss an important opportunity. Or, put another way, if in ten years more of our churches are thriving and growing‚&emdash;but racism is intact and no less entrenched, will we be satisfied?

Closely related to the civil religion approach is the “social values” approach. Nobody is against things like the health of the family, but what happens when the church lets someone else‚&emdash;a political party or a cultural patron‚&emdash;set its agenda? The emergent conversation is asking whether we can bring together the positive values held by both social and theological conservatives and liberals.

For example, conservatives have a lot to say about fighting divorce, but they’ve had less to say about caring for creation. Liberals have a lot to say about fighting poverty, but they haven’t said much about fighting the sexualization of our pre-adolescent children. A convergent conversation would stop looking for patrons on either the left or right to set the agenda, and would instead seek to combine strengths while challenging the conscience of both.

Nobody would ever say‚&emdash;overtly‚&emdash;that the purpose of the church is to provide employment for religious professionals, but we would be na√Įve to think that this assumption isn’t hiding within us and our institutions. Colleges and universities can subtly come to think of themselves as existing for faculty and administration, not students or the world to be served by those students. And religious professionals can certainly drift into this unintended self-absorption, especially during hard times when self-preservation is threatened.

Likewise, few would say the church exists for the benefit of its members alone. No pastor I know would claim the title “purveyor of religious goods and services to a discriminating spiritual clientele.” But pastors know what happens when they ask members to sacrifice personal tastes or preferences for the sake of mission. (Often they become ex-pastors!)

The emerging church is raising these deeper questions and proposing that the church exists to be a catalyst for the kingdom of God as a transforming force in the world. This doesn’t minimize worship, evangelism, or making disciples; it puts those elements within their grand purpose.

Not everyone is interested in this exploration. But just about everyone would agree it’s more substantial than candles and cosmetics.

Brian McLaren is founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland.