Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Relinquishing the Platform/Pew; Performance/Passivity Paradigm

I'm very appreciative and affirmed by each additional voice that creates a sense in me that we are not insane. I don't think it is happenstance that a "holy dissatisfaction" keeps echoing in variable tones through the canyon of status quo methods of perceived biblical obedience.

For me, David Platt is a new voice. I'm reading his 2010 NY Times best seller "Radical" It was given to me by my good friend, Eddie Broussard. He's leading a men's group at Java Journey on Thursday mornings who are going through this book.

As is typical for me in this blog, I'm copying an excerpt that resonates with me.

This particular portion pretty much symbolizes our sentiments and paradigm challenges over the last 6 years. It comes from chapter 3 of the book: "Beginning at the End of Ourselves"

Exalting Out Inability

In direct contradiction to the American dream, God actually delights in exalting our inability. He intentionally puts his people in situations where they come face to face with their need for him. In the process he powerfully demonstrates his ability to provide everything his people need in ways they could never have mustered up or imagined. And in the end, he makes much of his own name.

Consider the story of Joshua outside Jericho, a strong city with massive walls surrounding it. Certainly Joshua was anxious about leading the people of God in his first battle as commander. I can only imagine the sense of inadequacy he felt as he contemplated the task before him.

That's why, at the end of Joshua 5, we see him alone, wondering about the combat that lies ahead. But suddenly, God appears. In that moment God promises Joshua that his side will win the battle, and he gives Joshua the plans.

You can almost picture Joshua as he listens, thinking, What will it be? A frontal assault? A trick of some kind? Or just lay a siege and starve them out?

Put yourself in Joshua's shoes as you hear thse battle plans:

March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of ram's horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.

Let's be honest. That's weird. If you're Joshua, you're wanting a second opinion at this point.

Why did God design this battle plan for taking the first city in the Promised Land? Don't miss what God was doing. He was divinely orchestrating the events of his people so that in the end only he could get the glory for what would happen. Read the rest of Joshua 6, and you will see them tak the city of Jericho just as God hod outlined. But notice carefully what you don't see. You don't see all the Israelites going up to the trumpet players and tellin them what an incredible job they did that day. I can almost hear them now: "Abishai, I've never heard you play that well." "Nimrod, when you hit the high C, that was beautiful, man." No. Instead you see the people of Israel realizing that only God could have done this.

This is how God works. He puts his people in positions where they are desperate for his power, and then he shows his provision in ways that display his greatness.

Dependent on Ourselves or Desperate for His Spirit?

This is where I am most convicted as a pastor of a church in the United States of America. I am part of a system that has created a whole host of means and methods, plans and strategies for doing church that require little if any power from God. And it's not just pastors who are involved in this charade. I am concerned that all of us -- pastors and church members in our culture -- have blindly embraced as American dream mentality that emphasizes our abilities and exalts our names in the ways we do church.

Consider what it takes for successful businessmen and businesswomen, effective entrepreneurs and hardworking associates, shrewd retirees and idelistic stdents to combine forces with a creative pastor to grow a "successful church" today. Clearly, it doesn't require the power of God to draw a crowd in our culture. A few key elements that we can manufacture will suffice.

First, we need a good performance. In an entertainment-driven culture, we need someone who can captivate the crowds. If we don't have a charismatic communicator, we are doomed. So even if we have to show him on a video screen, we must have a good preacher. It's even better if he has an accomplished worship leader with a strong band at his side.

Next, we need a place to hold the crowds that will come, so we gather all our resources to build a multimillion-dollar facility to house the performance. We must make sure that all facets of the building are excellent an attractive. After all, that's what our culture expects. Honestly, that's what we expect.

Finally, once the crowds get there, we need to have some thing to keep them coming back. So we need to start programs -- first-class, top-of-the-line programs -- for kids, for youth, for families, for every age and stage. In order to have these programs, we need professionals to run them. That way, for example, parents can simply drop off their kids at the door, and professionals can handle ministry for them. We don't want people trying this at home.

I know this may sound oversimplified and exaggerated, but are these not the elements we think of when we consider growing, dynamic, successful churches in our day? I get fliers on my desk every day advertising entire conferences built around creative communication, first-rate facilities, innovative programs, and entrepreneurial leadership in the church. We Christians are living out the American dream in the context of our communities of faith. We have convinced ourselves that if we can position our resources and organize our strategies, then in church as in every other sphere of life, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.

But what is strangely lacking in the picture of performances, personalities, programs, and professionals is desperation for the power of God. God's power is at best an add-on to our strategies. I am frightened by the reality that the church I lead can carry on most of our activities smoothly, efficiently, even successfully, never realizing that the Holy Spirit of God is virtually absent from the picture. We can so easily deceive ourselves, mistaking the presence of physical bodies in a crowd for the existence of spiritual life in a community.

Bill Hybels made a repentant statement a few years ago at one of his sponsored "Summits." He stated:

"Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for."

It is the "stuff...people are crying out for" that suggests the desperation of God's Spirit David Platt speaks about.

In the past 3 years, we have gone through such painful and challenging desperation. We have discovered a God who really catches those who operate by uncalculating faith. We have had to let go of notions we once thought of as unshakable principles. Little did we know that most of them were based on the rudiments of the misleading "American Dream." We have discovered God's ability to provide everything we need in ways we could never have mustered up or imagined. And in the end, he indeed makes much of his own name.