Saturday, September 18, 2010

George Barna's Revolution

So I've been going over a book that came out a few years ago from George Barna ( who is the unofficial king of statisticians regarding things in the Christian world. His company and the research they do is an absolutely wonderful asset to doing relevant ministry in our time.

He put out a book a few years back (2005) offering his insights and interpretations of the data they had been collecting. Much of what was predicting is coming true. The basic thrust of the book is (SPOILER ALERT) that there is a revolution of people looking for living a Christian life apart from what is referred to as the "traditional congregational model." He is not referring to their worship style in saying "traditional," but rather what is commonly pictured when you say the word "church" whether it be a dated approach or a more contemporary approach. There is a definite excitement that comes from the pages as he is telling about people leaving the notion of "church" behind and pursuing their dreams for serving God in a unique way. You almost get the sense that Barna is like some nerdy kid with taped glasses looking out of the window at the cool kids who get to go out and play.

I have a couple of thoughts that I wanted to share (briefly!):
1. It is sad that people that are dreamers for God find it hard and sometimes impossible to find a welcoming church to see their God-given dreams realized. Sometimes churches become all about "what has been done before."
2. I definitely see a place and a role for ministries that exist outside of a direct tie to churches. Ministries like IHOP, Teen Challenge and others help to narrow the focus on a particular area to great effectiveness.
3. I find it a bit disconcerting that Barna is for the most part seeming to applaud these things as replacements of the church. (see below)

Even when the Church (not talking historical Catholic or even the later Protestant, but rather the general sense of the Body of Christ as it is organized into local bodies of believers) has screwed up in major ways, the Church is the chosen vehicle that God uses consistently. The subtext of Barna that I agree with is don't be LIMITED by the church. However, the message conveyed seems to be to do things in SPITE of the church, which causes me some issues. Whatever ministry endeavors a person sets themselves to needs to connect whoever they are reaching to a local body for the sake of health and longevity.

Perhaps it is semantics. But what I see happening today is the multitudes saying "I don't need a church to be a Christian." It is both wrong and unbiblical. It is true that a person doesn't need a church to be saved. But if you are a Christ-follower He will lead you into connection with other believers. Barna's book kind of feeds the people that say this and they wind up (not because of him) leaving their church and ultimately living weak and ineffective lives. AND the church is the lesser because they are not serving people with their God given gifts and calling. It is the extremely rare individual that Barna keeps highlighting that gather a group of like-minded people to accomplish something of worth for the Kingdom.

For more on the state of the Church in the West and what God is calling the Church to do about it, listen to this: "Why we need a 'Revolution'"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Are you an "Almost Christian?"

Are you an "Almost Christian?" What's that you say? Glad you asked. You see I think there are many many people who are living deceived. Some perhaps are self-deceived but I think the majority are living under the new norm in our culture.

So what's an "Almost Christian?" Perhaps you can identify...err I mean, perhaps you know someone who this may apply to.
You may have had numerous church moments in life.
You may have even had some genuine encounters with God at some point in the past. Perhaps in a Christian camp setting?
You may know Christians
You may be a current church attender.
You may have an uncle on your mother's side who is a pastor.
You may believe in God.
You may believe that Jesus died for the world and was raised from the dead. (Satan knows and believes this)
You may be a "good person" and have "never killed anyone."
You may know what "WWJD" stands for.
You may have a fish (Ictus)on the back of your car.
You may throw some money in the bag during offering time at church
When people ask "what religion are you?" You may readily identify yourself as a "Christian."
You may say "my family and I are Catholic."
You may throw some prayers up for help in this area or that area.

But no where in that short list of possibilities is located the things that Jesus say matter. What makes a Christian a Christian and not just some 'one [particular brand of a religious person among many choices?

It's actually pretty simple. A Christian means "follower of Christ" or more biblically correct an "emulator of Christ."
It is someone who has had a genuine life altering encounter with the Living Christ. (Jn 3:3)
It is someone who is actively and continually choosing to trust Christ with their lives via their personal relationship with Him.
It is someone who, yes, believes that Christ died for the world including them, but also confesses the Lordship and Divinity of Jesus. (Ro 10:9-10).

Let me break it down. Basically there are a whole lot of 'Almost Christians' who hang around the cross rather than getting on the cross. (Gal 2:20)
God has no grandchildren, only children.
God does not recognize 'almost children', only his kids whom He adores.
God does not have acquaintances, only those who stand as enemies against Him and those who stand as loving recipients of the terrible but willingly paid purchase price of our salvation...the cross of Jesus.

By way of balance let me mention this, being a Christian does not mean:
You are perfect.
You never sin.
You are not continually in need of the grace of Jesus until we meet Him and become like Him.

Being Christian is a journey of becoming more like Jesus as you discover who you were created to truly be and what you were created to do. It is a journey filled with error and failures and struggle with sin all along the way. But all the while there is a reality of a surrendered life and a longing to know Jesus more. Sure, you do the stuff Christians do and can check off the right set of beliefs, but that alone doesn't make you a Christian. It's what's in your heart that truly makes you a follower of Jesus.

Don't be an "Almost Christian." It sucks. There's no joy there; no life. Nothing done half way is ever worth anything. Dive in and join the adventure of being Christian!
the cross rather than climbing up and hanging