Thursday, April 10, 2014

Who's out of touch?

The leadership of my church spends a lot of time strategizing about how to reach Millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 2000). That's a good thing. If we don't have success attracting this demographic then our congregation will die a slow death. Many books and articles have been written on the subject. Here's a good one.

But might there be subtle dangers in putting so much emphasis on catering to the tastes of a particular subset of our culture? Here's a thought-provoking quote from millennial author Andrew Byers.

Disappointment in the cultural irrelevance of the church is justifiable.  But much of the disappointment may stem as much from a culturally conditioned arrogance as from a sincere commitment to missional, crosscultural living.  When we younger adults rail against the Christian subculture of primarily older generations for their narrow-minded cultural illiteracy, we often fail to notice that we are ourselves part of a subculture with its own narrowness and cultural ignorance.  We seem to suppose that anyone who can’t quote lines from ‘The Office’ or lyrics from Wilco is out of touch.
But maybe Aunt Gertrude [i.e. older Christians] is not so out of touch.  To be out of touch with that particular slice of society to whom Michael Scott’s awkward antics on ‘The Office’ have such appeal is not to be out of touch with everyone.  There are other slices of American culture made up of folks who have never heard Arcade Fire playing on a coffee bar’s satellite radio station while sipping a latte.
It is important for those of us in the younger generations to step far enough back from our own cultural milieu to observe that the marketing power directed our way is staggering and quite disproportionate to the size of our subculture. …Is it possible that all this attention from Hollywood, Apple, the music industry and online networking companies has spoiled us to the point that we have now become rather high maintenance, demanding lavish catering from the wider church?  (If I can download multiple apps to my smartphone, then why can’t the local church give me what I want?)
Christians must become more adept at reaching the younger generations, but are those of us in those younger generations willing and able to reciprocate and bridge the cultural lines of our elders?  Are we striving to understand the struggles of those in their mid-forties rearing teenagers?  Are we making strides to relate to the loneliness of empty-nest divorcees?  Are we able to express genuine interest in the news programs and game shows that feature in the living rooms of our grandparents?  Are we willing to venture out into the cultural realm of retirees or learn from that diminishing number of WWII veterans?
It is noted at times that younger Christians are more in tune with culture and more familiar with society’s technological innovations.  But maybe culture-savvy twenty-seven-year-olds are really only savvy about their own particular subset of society.  Or maybe they are only so culture-savvy because they have more time to watch TV and surf the Internet than a forty-seven-year old with teenagers and aging parents.

The above comes from Byers' book Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint. I think one of the takeaways is that churches need to be careful that their outreach to millennials doesn't contribute to the innate narcissism bred by things like Facebook and the "there's an app for that" mentality. Instead, it should be for the end of making lifelong disciples of the One who calls us to escape the prison of self, to lose our life in order to find abundant life.

via The Reformed Reader

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Finding freedom in our work

I just finished reading Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work (Dutton, 2012) by Tim Keller and co-author Katherine Leary Alsdorf, the director of Redeemer's Center for Faith & Work. This book is a good introduction to the excellent work of that ministry. It's helped me approach my "day job" with a healthier attitude and shown me that I can serve God (and my neighbor) at work, even though I'm ambivalent about the mission of the company I work for.

In the last chapter the authors talk about the concept of "the work under the work." This is what truly motivates us to work. It could be merely the paycheck, or it could be achieving  a sense of success and self-worth by being more productive than our peers. It could even be something as noble-sounding as making the world a better place. Every Good Endeavor argues -- effectively in my opinion -- that if the "work under the work" isn't grounded on the promises of the Christian gospel then our work will ultimately be a futile attempt to find redemption apart from the only one who can provide that -- namely Jesus of Nazareth.

Keller and Alsdorf also unpack the symbiotic relationship of rest to work as seen in the Old and New Testament's teaching on Sabbath rest, most notably in the Fourth Commandment. In Deuteronomy 5:15 the observance of the Sabbath is tied to God's rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt -- the Sabbath is portrayed as a "reenactment of emancipation from slavery." (p. 235) How might observing a rhythm of work and Sabbath rest apply to us? We're not slaves are we? Well, maybe. Here's a good quote.

Anyone who cannot obey God's command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you if you don't have the ability to be disciplined in your practice of Sabbath. Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom.  It means you are not a slave—not to your culture's expectations, your family's hopes, your medical school's demands, not even your own insecurities. It is important that you learn to speak this truth to yourself with a note of triumph—otherwise you will feel guilty for taking time off, or you will be unable to truly unplug. (p. 236)

The Bible's depiction of healthy work and healthy rest is great news for a culture in which busyness, restlessness and anxiety are constant companions -- and this book quite brilliantly unpacks it much more than I can do in a short post. Bottom line: read this book! You can have my long as you pass it on when you're done.