I’ve got a descrition of the Jesus Shaped Church over at Jesus Shaped Spirituality.
UPDATE: This post is starting to upset people, which is predictable. Add comments at your own risk because I’m surly.
I’m trying to not write when I am mad, because I always wind up getting in trouble with somebody, deleting the post and so on, but I don’t think I’m going to calm down about this in the near future, so it’s time to type.
For starters, I am just amazed at why anyone would want to be involved with Jesus unless you were convinced that what Jesus said, Jesus taught and Jesus did was the truth. I cannot understand why someone wants to be involved with Jesus if they don’t either intend to believe and emulate Jesus or at least encourage, assist and applaud those who do. Taking the Christian label and then acting like Jesus was someone from whom we should never take advice or example is incomprehensible.
Now I’m not talking about who to vote for in November. I’m basically talking about the fact that if a person follows Jesus at all there is going to be some sacrifice involved. Economic sacrifice. Sacrifice of security. Sacrifice of certainty. If someone wants Jesus without the call to discipleship that means they either a) give up making a lot of money or b) give away your money? Fine, but that’s another Jesus.
Don’t look at me and say that the responsible thing for me to do is follow Jesus, but get in a situation where I can make lots of money. Don’t talk to me about ministry as the big church with the big salary and the big house and the big retirement. I don’t have it. I don’t have anything bad to say about those who do. They stand or fall before God on their own. I just know that Jesus took me out of that career track and put me out here in poverty where he could demonstrate his faithfulness, because I’m going to have to put all my bets on that faithfulness.
Jesus didn’t give me any choices about some things. He simply said “There’s your place, and I’ll take care of you.” I’m not a person who takes that to mean I can’t save money or have a retirement plan, but I do take it to mean that following Jesus dominates the decision of where I am, what I do, and what kind of resources I have.
What I don’t have to do in my ministry is constantly delete sections of the teaching of Jesus and of the New Testament from my Bible. I may not fulfill it, but I can read it and know it’s the real deal in my life. However it’s going to work out, I can say that as much as one can do in America, I’ve come a couple of miles down the long road of following Jesus in the area of money, security and possessions. Not anywhere close to as far as millions of other Christians around the world go every day, but far enough that it scares me, and far enough that when Jesus says he’ll take care of me, I don’t really have a plan B.
I say all this because a recent sojourn into suburbia has reminded me that if one wants to come face to face with the demands and the promises of Jesus, there are just some places you can’t go. Jesus is still the “sponsor,” but the economics, politics, and security of the Kingdom of God are taking a beating over there. Stay very long, and it gets into your head and starts pulling alarms that you’ve actually wasted your life by not having the American Dream.
I’m not in anyone’s face over this, but I don’t get Jesus AND the American Dream. Some people do. Great. I don’t.
The test for me isn’t what the average Christian is doing. It’s what the average Christian has to say about the person who is trying to do it.
I used to get paid by large churches to tell their kids all about Jesus, get them into Bible studies and take them on mission trips- which I choose to be in the inner cities of Chicago and Boston, not the beach. The basic assignment was actually to keep these kids out of drugs, jail and pregnancy so they could go to college, make lots of money and pursue the lifestyles of rich Americans while attending large prosperous megachurches.
I figured this out early on, but I kept telling myself it wasn’t the case. I thought that if one of those kids becomes a serious Jesus revolutionary, going among the poor, giving up the suburban lifestyle, my churches would have applauded.
Then, a few years ago, a church kid from Minnesota came to talk to me. She’d been out of college for a few years, had come to Appalachia to teach English, then taught and coached at our school for a while, after which she took off for Africa for a couple of years. She brought me a letter from her parents where they told her what they thought about her life.
Note: These parents were card carrying suburban American Christians in church. “Nice sermon, pastor.” “Oh the music was lovely today.” “We so enjoyed the youth leading worship today.” All that.
In this letter, the parents honestly said what they thought of this girl. They thought she was nuts. The called all the ministries she worked for abusive, slave labor operations. They begged her to come home, take her college degree into the city and make some money, get a house in the suburbs and find a husband with wealth and security.
And there were good churches up there, too. Churches where she could do whatever it was she was doing.
Hey, I understand what parents go through. I feel their pain. I really do. But that letter told me, once and for all, that I had been right all those years ago, and I’m still on target today when I feel this way. Suburban Christianity is frequently not about an honest following of Jesus. It’s about an edited, reworked Jesus who blesses the American way of life and our definition of normal and happy.
It’s Jesus the sponsor of our beautiful church. It’s Jesus the bus driver of the ticket to heaven. It’s Jesus the guy who wants us to be nice to children. It’s Jesus who presides over all kinds of niceness.
Hey….I can get that from Tony Robbins or Oprah. I don’t need to dilute the demanding, revolutionary promises of Jesus into the suburban American Dream. I can get that life from someone who makes no more demands on me than buying a book.
Churches in suburbia can do so much good for the Kingdom, but when I have to come face to face with a version of Christianity that puts Christ in his place and baptizes all the values of the empire, it makes me angry. It discourages me about what all those nice people are thinking in those beautiful buildings. I know a lot of them send a lot of money to ministries like ours, but if we don’t really believe Jesus is the one for whom we sell it all to buy the pearl of great price, what’s the point?
I also know my own answer. Learn to know the virtues of relative poverty. Learn to see poverty as Jesus and the saints saw it. Keep real poor people in view. Keep real poor churches in mind. Don’t listen to the broadcasted, published propaganda of the suburban Jesus. Read the sermon on the mount. Remember that Jesus is a true revolutionary, and those who want Jesus but reject the revolution always have a nice slide show and plenty of facts and figures.
Remember that to those who are ignoring the game, or eating in the parking lot, or dozing in the sky boxes, the game on the field is just a game. To the players on the field, it’s blood, desperation, hope and perseverance.
So if you’re within earshot of the suburban Jesus and his invitation to have your cake and eat it to, walk away. Walk away with humility, but be decisive and walk away.
Jesus never gave his disciples a lesson on how to explain it all to their families, friends and communities. He just told them that the reaction wouldn’t be positive. And he was right. His own family came to take him home when things got tough (Mark 3) and they tried to kill him in his own home town.
Christian had to leave the City of Destruction with his fingers in his ears, you know.