What evangelization is not.

As I reflect on the nature of growing things it seems like things that grow to big – to fast, also often grows corrupt. This might seem like a big assumption to make but here are a couple of examples.

 If a company grows its market share and profit in a way that was not expected then that perpetuates more growth buy interested investors who want to be a part of this new ‘miracle’ on the stock market. Eventually the company is not able to sustain the growth expected by the new investors and the interest starts to fade. However, before this takes place often the leadership of the company has managed to make a good private fortune on the company, selling their shares. Knowing what would happen all along. (Hello global economic recession in 2008)

You can observe this pattern in plants as well. Plants that are given ‘speed’ nutrients’ to grow fast are not as high in nutrition (or flavor) as naturally grown plants. The same goes for animals. What we gain in time and size seems to be lost in quality. When maximizing physical profit is the solemn priority and transaction the method then things may grow fast by the optimization of the profit, but usually there is also some kind of crash or corruption of what was good in the beginning. The root and stem can‘t sustain the weight of the crop.

Unfortunately we see this pattern in church life as well. Churches often want to grow fast to get big because we make the mistake of equating the good and true work of salvation with the number of people that has said the ‘sinners prayer’. We view the ‘unsaved’ as a ‘market’ to convert to the ‘product’ we can offer (salvation). We believe that a good church is a big church. But we are not called to be successful as the world defines success (size) we are called to be faithful, full of faith. When Christ issued the great commandment to ‘go an make disciples’, He said just that, disciples. A disciple I someone who follows. He did not say: “Go-and-make-people-that-goes-to-church-once-a-month-because-they-agree-with-the-things-said-there-and-it-eases-their-sense-of-guilt.” This is not the essence of gospel life, yet this is what we experience in many, if not the majority of churches in North America. This is not the essence of the Good News of Christ. The essence of the Gospel is a living, ongoing relationship with the risen Lord, Christ.

To fill the pews on a Sunday morning in a 3000 seat church building is not rocket science. With the right marketing strategy you will eventually be able to do so. If we use the methods of the world, the world will respond. But to see peoples lives transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we carry the gospel with us all week, wherever we are, requires more than a great marketing campaign with a huge budget. It requires relationship. And in a way that costs a lot more than your monthly check to the church. Evangelizing requires getting to know people and their joys and sorrows, to enter a journey with them. To be there when life just seems to be a long line of unbearable situations and events. To preach the gospel is to be the gospel to people who has lost a sense of joy.

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People can get the worldly things anywhere, but the Church evangelizes and spreads the joy of Christ by taking time to build true relationships when the world won’t. During a couple of afternoons in Lent, clear your schedule from activities. Look around and start to listen to the people around you. You might be surprised how many people out there that just needs to be seen and listened to. If you want to be a light to other people, start to create time in your schedule where you listen to others hurts and joys. Don’t just wait to talk, but listen. To listen to someone is a rare gift to give these days and people need to be heard, not just considered as a consumer. They don’t need a ‘clean cut solution’ to all their problems but they need to know that someone actually cares, that they are seen. It may not be as glamorous as you imagined the Christian walk to be but then the Kingdom of God was not about glamour and quantity. It is about reality and quality. We don’t evangelize by great slogans, the best web resources and podcasts. We evangelize by making ourselves available to people that hurt.

There is an answer to the question that The Beatles posed back in the 60s. “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” They belong with God and His family, and if you confess yourself to be a Christian, you have a responsibility to leave your comfort zone, seek lonely and hurt people out and get real, to be a friend. To evangelize is to walk alongside someone on a journey towards healing, not a ‘one time stop’ where everything is solved right then and there. Because people are people, not machines. They need time to heal. Use Lent as a period in your life when you give of ‘your’ time to others. 

 

Statistics for the broken

This Tuesday I went to a ‘Christian leaders forum’ featuring the title “Changing stats. Shaking the Church.” I did not attend this forum because of the title (I don’t believe anything can shake the Church). I went to nurture relationships. However, I did not mind getting a bit of information about the statistics concerning religion in Canada. For instance, 80% of Canadians say they believe in ‘a God’. This is higher then I expected but 33% of Canadians between 15 – 24 years of age, have never attended a religious service. This presents a great opportunity for the Church. I also learned that Canadians spend 1.63$ for every 1$ they earn (I can hear that train coming, as Johnny Cash sung). In 2011 Canadians spent 1.5 billion dollars on Christmas while in 2010 the median annual, charitable donation was 123$. So there are some stats for you. Some more numbers to ‘think’ about in the ever –flowing stream of information that comes your way.

The problem with statistics are that they only highlight the surface. Statistics can, at best, reveal parts of the problem but can never offer healing. Statistics operate with the assumption that if we can identify the problem rationally then we can also find a rational solution. This is the same method as companies use in their thirst for increased profits. Even though the ‘crises’ of religion is reflected in the stats we must add another dimension to understand this crises, because as you have probably noticed, people are not rational. It is not enough with a ‘market survey’ to grasp the depth of the hole we are in.  Actually this very approach to ‘evaluate’ religion or church is part of the problem because it perpetuates the false notion that everything can be weighed, measured and defined by us. After definition is made then we can use our reason to choose in how to act. Right?

We can observe this in how people choose Churches, products and lifestyles over all. The ‘free’ market of preference and individual choice fosters this notion that we are the end-all-and-be-all of ‘our’ universe. We understand our problem hence we can solve it. Parts of the Church Herself have bought into this in trying to ‘attract’ people to Her doors by being culturally ‘relevant’, by using the same methods as the marketplace. “If we can communicate seven impressions of our message to a person that equals one new guest on a Sunday service.” (It does work because we are holistic beings, weare affected by our circumstance and impressions) Or;  “If we can emulate contemporary music in our services then people will be able to approach Church.” Or; “If we can offer a solution to the problems people perceive they have then they will come here.” To a great degree this is how the contemporary Church operates. But this is not going to work in the long run. The stats are starting to show this…

In my experience people go to Church because they are looking for something radically other then what they are culturally immersed in. If people where at peace with their life they would not seek the Church out. (And many don’t, but this only reveals the depth of our disillusion). They are tired of the shallow culture of profit, stats and non-committal relationships. They seek real, solid and true relationships and values. They come because they have not been able to solve their problem (be it busyness, relationship crises, poverty, addiction or straight up pain). I’m not saying that the Church shouldn’t go out of Her way to show hospitality but that does not mean that She become the culture She wants to aid because the Church, at Her very core is culture proper and the place where culture/religion is restored. Church (when functioning as God intended) is not a preference for people to choose but the way of life we may enter into. A culture/religion of life as it was intended to be. It is re-born life. And usually this life looks different from the life people are living right now.

Good News

Lent teaches us that life begins with us submitting to the Holy Spirit living in the Church. We submit to a rule of life rather than our own preferences. Not because the law will save us but because the law points to the Fulfiller of the law. Life begins by serving others because that gets the focus from us to Christ in someone else. We go from individual preference to communal relations. Let Lent be a period of life when you ask the Holy Spirit what He wants for your life together with the Church, instead of being seduced by the ever -flowing stream of shallow data.

In Christ,

fr. Jakob

Pure motives?

“Many human activities, good in themselves, are not good because of the motive for  which they are done. For example, fasting, vigils, prayer, psalmody, (the singing of hymns), acts of charity and hospitality are by nature good. But when performed for the sake of self-esteem (vainglory, self glorification) they are not good. In everything we do, God searches out our purpose to see whether we do it for Him or for some other motive… quite clearly He bestows blessings only when something is done for the right purpose. For God’s judgment looks not at the actions but the purpose behind them.” – St Maximos the Confessor

By nature, the way we are created, we know that some things are good to do. We know that it is good to help the poor, the sick, the old, the homeless, the broken and the lonely. We know this by heart. What is harder to realize is who and where the broken are? There are so many ways that a person can be poor, broken or lonely. How do we know who they are? Sometimes it’s obvious just by the very situation you observe. Brokenness can be openly manifest in addiction, sickness and in situations of abuse. But often it is hidden and the only way to find out who is broken and needs help is to recognize ones own brokenness, it takes one to know one. We must face our own failures and sin to be able to see who needs help. If we hope to help other persons without recognizing that we need help as well we run a great risk of falling into the pit of pride. We risk projecting our own sin and struggles on others instead of helping them. We risk helping others in an attempt to ‘take away’ the guilt we feel for failing to help before or for other wrongs we committed. We might help others so that we may feel a little bit better about ourselves. These are all false motivations that changes good works into something else. Good works only remain good if they are done with good and true intention and motivation. Good and true intention and motivation finds it’s source in acknowledging that it is only Christ that can bring peace to the war in your heart. To the big empty hole you try to fill with everything from ‘good deeds’ to dulling chemicals. Everything done repetitively without Christ will turn into an idol/addiction. In terms of restoring the brokenness of our hearts, a legal approach is not sufficient. “I do one good thing so that I may cancel out one bad thing.” The legal system is only there to show us that it does not work; the brokenness is still there and out of recognizing that it is, we turn to (repent) Him that He may heal us from the inside out. Christ and the Holy Spirit works with vessels that are empty (or wants to be). Good deeds only remain good when we yield to Christ and let the Holy Spirit do them through us. Empty your heart during Lent, ask the Holy Spirit to fill it with His grace and healing power.

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”  2 Timothy 2:20 – 21