Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Recently Published Article

This was recently picked up by


When I first entered the ministry, my church staff traveled to Willow Creek’s “Prevailing Church” conference. Fresh out of a biblical studies degree, I had only recently begun to interact with much of the church-growth literature. I had marked up my copy of Purpose-Driven Church and kept John Maxwell tapes in my car at all times. So you can imagine the wonder and awe I experienced when I first gazed upon the glory of Willow Creek’s Disneyland-size parking lot.

During this brief phase of my life, I soaked in the 'Willow-Back' philosophy like a sponge. Coming from a slightly traditional background, I became fascinated with the seeker-sensitive approach. I felt intoxicated by words like “strategy” and “excellence”, and I pretty much read whatever books “those guys” told me to read.

But the honeymoon quickly ended. Not only did I soak in church-growth literature, but I occasionally ran across harsh criticisms of the seeker-sensitive movement. Some people threw around names like “sell-outs” and used descriptions like “watering down the Gospel.” These disparagements did not compute with my experience at Willow Creek (where their passion for Jesus overruled their passion for excellence), but the seed of doubt was planted nonetheless. All that I had eaten at the table of leadership soon began to churn within my soul.

I then entered my “dark night of the soul.” My wife and I call this my “postmodern crisis.” While I wrestled with one “why” question after another, she prayed that I would still be a Christian on the other side. I felt like my superiors and peers had betrayed me—which they had not—and I found myself struggling with increasing resentment and a judgmental attitude.

It took me a while to find equilibrium. But when I did, I discovered something strange. The negative emotions that I had experienced did not stem from the so-called sins of the church-growth movement. The real issues revolved around my personal incompatibility with the philosophies of another generation. In other words, the Saddleback Sam I had come to embrace just could not satisfy my internal Postmodern Pete. Therefore, while I learned to plunder the business world for truth and virtually lived and died by numbers, I had neglected my authentic desire for community, mystery, and social justice. Of course, these are like the trifecta-force radiating from all emergent literature.

This leads me to discussing more recent voices in American Christianity. It seems that a philosophical shift is taking/has taken place regarding cultural relevance: the Lee Strobels are being replaced by Donald Miller’s and the Rick Warren’s are being replaced by Brian McLarens. I know that I should write about a thousand disclaimers here, but please allow me to bypass that necessity of drawing distinctions in order to get to the point.

My point is that despite the stylistic differences between these two camps (Sam vs. Pete), most of their leaders are striving for the same thing—cultural relevance. Whether the poster-child is Bill Hybels or Doug Pagitt, I tend to see their efforts flowing out of their similar desires to connect the message of Jesus to non-Christians—Willow’s auditorium is just a super-sized version of Solomon’s Porch.

Boomer churches strove to understand their audience in the same way many emerging churches do—a sermon about “Seven Steps to a Healthy Marriage” was just as contextual as “Deconstructing Little Miss Sunshine”. In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell complains about the abominable phrase “Christian Marketing”. I understand this complaint to be rooted in a distrust of institutions and power-manipulating the masses, but let’s be honest. Driscoll and Bell (the Mars Hill Bros.) are not popular because they portray a cultureless Gospel, they are popular for one primary reason—they’re wicked cool. In other words, they are marketable because they are connecting with the new postmodern niche. They’ve found a way to make sense to people. Purpose-driven nooma.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Weekend at a Monastery

This past weekend I spent time practicing silence and solitude. I spent most of my time in my cell (not jail), but was able to make it outside for a day. I thought I'd take you through a virtual tour of my weekend. Fasten your seatbelts!

The front of Assumption Abbey. It's a monastery for Trappist monks.

This was my room/cell. I intentionally did not bring my iPod so that I could eliminate distractions. I'm told that monastics say that silence/solitude is like a mirror for your soul. Having spent 37 hours without talking/interacting, I agree with their analogy. Without distractions we are forced to face ourselves.

Bro. Francis spent some time with us before and after our stint of silence/solitude. He gave us a brief history of practicing silence and solitude as well as some tips. He's a brilliant guy with the kind of spiritual depth I can only hope to develop.

Even though it was freezing, one day it was sunny enough for me and my long-johns to make a trek through the woods. They have this path that goes through the stations of the cross--a Catholic tradition that the movie The Passion of the Christ is based upon. The point of the stations is a tactile way for believers to reflect on the sufferings and death of Jesus. I'll walk you through it with me.

1. Jesus being condemned to death.

2. Jesus receives the cross.

3. The first of three falls.

4. Jesus meets his mother. I found this to be one of the most powerful scenes in The Passion.

5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross. (I will refrain from making any jokes about the unfortunate absence of the "L")

6. Veronica wipes Jesus' face with her veil.

7. The second fall.

8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

9. The third fall.

10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.

11. The crucifixion of Jesus--being nailed to the cross.

12. Jesus dies on the cross.

13. Jesus' body removed from the cross (Pieta). Like Michaelangelo's famous sculpture.

14. Jesus laid in a tomb.
After the stations ended, I followed the path for about another 45 minutes. I stopped and turned around when I thought about facing mountain lions miles away from anyone who could hear me. (Not that I would have screamed during my vow of silence. :) )

If I were a fox, I'd live in that hole. But I'm not, so I don't. On the other hand, if I were fox-y, I'd live pretty much where I live now...which confims my attractiveness.

Streams + Silence/Solitude = Absolute Serenity.

Most of the ice was gone, but it still existed in some shaded areas.

I was wearing a hood.

The random ice made the experience a bit surreal...almost magical. If I were to invent a word on the spot, I would have to say "Narniaish".

I found the existence of ice in shady areas as a fitting metaphor for our spiritual lives. Inevitably, light melts the frozen parts of our souls. This weekend truly taught me how to stop hurrying and make space for God's light to shine into every corner of my heart and mind.

Where we had services...6 services a day that is.
3:30 am-- Vigils
6:30 am-- Lauds
9:00 am-- Mass
11:45 am-- Sexts
5:30 pm-- Vespers
7:30 pm-- Compline

This is where we ate. All the silence business was not too hard except when we ate. It makes things a bit awkward when you can hear everyone chewing their food.

Well, there's my exprience this weekend. Hope you enjoyed it and perhaps you may feel a bit inspired to slow down, take a break, speak less, or simply take a walk in the woods. Believe me, God's voice gets much clearer when we turn down the volume of our lives.