Elections: Should Christians Even Vote


Why do we even attempt to engage in the divisive arena of politics?

Anytime in church history that Christians are involved in the power play of leadership of the state, it has been nothing but disastrous to the state and to the body of Christ. The more I journey this life, the more I contend that the original Anabaptists were correct to avoid political office and political engagement and participation in state affairs, and what has become known in Western Democracies as “civic duty.”

This season in the USA Presidential election, what I have seen and heard, and what I myself have engaged with, through social media, in my discourses with people, especially those who consider themselves Christian people, it has convinced me more than ever that the “Evangelical Right” is an oxymoron and that those who advocated 30 years ago that Evangelicals should seek to dominate the right and “take the country back” from the abyss of the progressive liberal left,  were no different than those who perpetuated the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Religious Wars in Europe, and even the Salem witch hunts in early America.

Why is it that sincere and devout Christians of every denominational stripe must castigate, criticize, ridicule not only those contending for the Presidency, but equally ostracize and ridicule and besmirch those fellow believers who think differently than they do? Believe me, I know, I have been equally guilty in my own comments on the primaries and the now current Presidential election.  I have found myself pitted against people I thought I would never be against, especially when it came to political opinions and views.  But here I am now, months into this, and I find myself at the point for my own sanity, I cannot any longer take part in such things.  I must separate myself from the whole debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

It is the same when we come to the whole question of Christians and patriotism.  Just look at the whole unfolding of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the stand, or kneeling taking place through the inspiration of Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49rs.  He wanted to make a point of showing that America and its ideas of opportunity and equality for all is not working.  He happens to benefit as an athlete, but he wanting to address social injustice and the fact that racism is systemic in America and that it is not equal opportunity for all, and that many people are dying through the hands of law enforcement, and the inappropriate use of guns.  This whole Kaepernick debate is stirring up the pot in this election cycle, and even this week Kaepernick pointedly pointed out just how both candidates are just not good enough for America.

Some of the most vile comments concerning Kaepernick I have heard have come from self-confessed Evangelicals who have wrapped up themselves in the US flag, the anthem (Star Spangled Banner) and an insidious form of “Christian nationalism,” and they sound an awful lot like the German Christian voices that were bellowing nationalist slogans in 1930’s Germany.

 

We cannot marry the state, nationalism, with biblical Christianity.

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God rules overall and over all, and yet the vitriol that comes from some Christian circles, makes it all seem that if you don’t support a certain candidate, or vote a certain way on certain issues, then “you are not a ‘real’ Christian” (whatever that is supposed to mean). I am writing here out of a heart that is hurt, grieving and saddened.

I am not even an American and this is really causing me grief

I am a born Brit who is Canadian by choice. What happens in America affects the world, not just the USA. But as a Christian, I am more convinced than ever that it is only the Gospel of Grace and the work of God by His Spirit, which can bring about all the change the American people are yearning for. The establishment and politicians don’t seem to give a care about it at all. This is why both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have struck a cord with disenchanted Americans. The status quo just won’t do. This is why this thing even with Kaepernick is not going to go away. He and those who stand, or kneel with him, are saying that America is not only broken, but it has never worked like it was intended to work.

 

The ideal of America and the “American dream” has only benefit some of the people of America

The disenfranchised, the oppressed, the persecuted, the disadvantaged, from people of color, race, creed, country of origin, sexuality, are all crying out for change. So many are turning to politicians for change, but the politicians are not listening. I happen to believe that God can bring about the change that needs to come, and God will use people like he always has to do it, but it has to be with people who put God and others first, based on love and respect.

I am seeing neither in this election cycle. I am seeing a lot of pain and injury caused by people who are dissatisfied and angry, and who have no hope, and there are no answers coming, because the leaders who are looking to be elected really are not listening regardless of political party, and are not engaging with the people. All they are looking to do is woo people for their votes and then forget them and keep going with the status quo.

Without God, I am afraid that America faces another troubling racial revolution that will affect the right and the left

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If Christians are not standing with God and the Gospel first, and are not displaying love and respect and reaching out in compassion and a desire to be agents of grace and change, then there really is nothing that can help or save America. Christians need to stop trying to fix America through politics. US politics wrapped in the flag and anthem is not fixing this. Only humility before God, and a broken and contrite spirit, and loving each other, no matter the color, creed, race, orientation or ethnicity, and truly seeing each other as one, and worthy of love and respect, is it every going to have a hope of changing.

 

This is indeed the most crucial election in our time

0c1ee5c053f6b987c6c5ca361f764fabBut Christians need to stop this politicizing and start seeking God, and repent for ever trying to politically hijack their country. God can heal America. Americans need to turn to God, and those who claim to love and know God are the ones who must humbly lead the way. I apologize for my long statement. I will remain silent until the election is over. This breaks my heart.

Psst… Democracy is a Greek pagan concept. Nothing Christian about it. No, Christians DO NOT have to vote. According to Romans 13, Christians are to pray for their government, their leaders, live according to the laws of the land, pay taxes, and live at peace with all men. There is nothing there about running for office, or voting, or trying to change society by voting and using the political process. So, no you can be informed but you don’t have to vote. You can disengage from the rhetoric. You can pray and seek God. And then just keep on loving others in the power and love of Christ that is within you. I have determined for my own sake and my own conscience, I will never vote again. I will pray for my country and my leaders, and pray for God to have his way in the land. I know God is sovereign over the nations and I can put my trust fully in him. American voters can do the same.

If you vote or choose not to vote, that is your freedom to do so. Pray and ask God what to do, and do it. But let’s all calm down, and just turn to God and ask his help for America.  What happens in America affects the world. Let’s get God’s take on it, and let’s turn our hearts back to God. Only God can save America, and it starts one heart and life at a time. Will you be one?
Peace and grace,

~ Samuel M. Buick

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LINKS:

The Evangelical Vote: Will 94 Million Americans Sit Out This Year

Evangelical Views of the 2016 Election: Why I Resigned My Evangelical Leadership Roles to Support Hillary Clinton

Football, the Flag and the Right to Speak Our Minds

Colin Kaepernick On Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Letters To The Editor: Criticism or Kaepernick’s Anthem Protest Exposes Weakness

Why Colin Kaepernick Didn’t Stand for the National Anthem

Colin Kaepernick’s Twitter Mentions Are A God Awful Cesspool

Colin Kaepernick’s Anthem Protest Underlines Union of Sports and Patriotism

Colin Kaepernick’s Anthem Protest Leaves the NFL Necessarily Uneasy

Jets Owner Says Player Protest Would Prompt ‘Conversation’

This Time, Colin Kaepernick Takes a Stand by Kneeling

Obama Says Colin Kaepernick Is ‘Exercising His Constitutional Right’  

NFL’s Opening Day: Reaction To Colin Kaepernick’s Anthem Protest

NFL’s Kaepernick Sits In Protest During National Anthem

Navy Sailor Sits For Anthem In Solidarity With Kaepernick

Posted in Church, Personal, Philosophy, Politics, Society, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wow Jesus… How Do I Create A New Spirituality?


 

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Eclectic… smeltic…

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For years when Christian theology was so paramount in my philosophical grid and understanding of the world, I was very much an “eclectic” believer, taking various portions of theology that happened to fit nicely into my then worldview and view of the Christian understanding of the world and our place and mission in it. That lasted a goodly portion of my 58 years on this planet. I find it hard to believe sometimes that I have graced this planet for this long. My Dad only lasted 59 years, and my father-in-law lasted 66 years. It just reminds me how fleeting life is, and how relative our “belief systems” are in comparison to what really matters in life. We make so big a deal about what people believe and whether they are right or wrong. For years I lived in this kind of grid, where people were in or out based on their belief system and answers to the tough questions.  If you really are seeking to know the truth, then this pursuit of right belief, or dogmatic purity, just will not lead to life.  Doctrine absent of divine encounter just waxes the heart old, and renders the whole enterprise as a cerebral exercise, a kind of philosophical grid of understanding. Devoid of mystical encounter, devoid of facing and embracing the “holy other”, it will not satisfy. It may take decades for you to discover it, but it will not satisfy, eventually that inner voice will get your attention.

It is hard to go back when you wake up from it all

bluepillredpillmatrixmorpheusThen something happened. I woke up as if from a bad dream, and realized just how different my life was from what I had read in the New Testament. My life, my life in what was considered to be “the church” was not at all like the New Testament church. Yet so much belief, so much practice, so much hard work, energy, finances and resources were spent, advancing an understanding of “church” and “Kingdom” that really did have much in common with the body of Christ revealed in the New Testament. The more the fog cleared, the more the senses became attuned to the distinctions and differences between life and what is religion, the more I realized that it was more of a power game, a control game, a world view that fostered and promoted a lot of work in the name of God, but it was really not very convincing that God was even behind all the expended energy and resources of all the work being done in his name. It was as if it was a make work project to justify your beliefs and you very existence on the planet. Much like the film The Matrix, once you take the red pill, and go down the rabbit hole, and you wake up to what is really going on, you really cannot go back to what was.

When all you know is gone

spiritualjourneyNo matter how you try to go back, you can never recover that sense that what you once knew was even legitimate to consider and you had to live with the reality that if you went back, you were just trying to apease what others expect from you, knowing inside it was killing you because it was devoid of authenticity and life. If the thing never produces life and only causes frustration and grief and leaves you empty, then there is something wrong with it. It isn’t you at all. You are awake. You feel every nano second of the trauma, the deadening pain of the emptiness that no hype, on song, no wordy explanation can satisfy. It is all a con game to keep you coming back week after week. You know inside it isn’t so, so why pretend. Better to leave the emptiness, pull back, and just start to breathe, and unpack it all, and as you let each thing fall apart, embrace the silence and find comfort in the silence and the reality that you are not even alone in the silence. Someone is already there, loving you, embracing you, binding your wounds, telling you down in your deepest self that you are OK, and that you will never be alone. It is just an unfamiliar place because you have never been in this place before, devoid of what you had preconceived as normal. Your new normal is without all the religious verbiage and tradition you grew up in. You have few reference points or markers to go by. You are flying the seat of your discernment, that still small voice inside you that prompts you and moves you and leads you. That is all you have to go by.  And, it is enough.

So what is a guy to do, moving on and embracing something new, something different?

uplifting-bible-quotes-about-life-235x165I came to believe through my own Bible reading and study over the years, that the Bible carries illustrations of encounters with God, which inspire us and encourage us to journey with God ourselves. What we see from Genesis to Revelation, as example after example is the action of God calling upon and reaching out to people, with divine encounter through dreams, visions, auditory engagement, embrace, empowerment and life journey as pilgrimage that illustrate for us what it is to “walk with God” moment by moment. You never walk alone… God is ever present, and is with you. It is only your sense of knowing and awareness that gets in the way. I have come to realize that I never ever walk alone. Christ is always with me, ever before me. I am never forsaken and never alone.

The history of Christianity is filled with mystical encounter and the language of spiritual journey with God

christian_mysticism_v11thankyoujourneyI know from my own life that “pilgrimage” has come to mean not just a sojourn to a holy site of some kind. Since the early Middle Ages there have been Christian pilgrimages to many sites which have been viewed as “holy journeys” such as the Way of St. James, a.k.a The Camino, and the Celtic sites and pilgrimages to the shrines of St. Patrick, St. Kevin, and St. Briget. In Spain there is not only the Camino, already mentioned, but pilgrimages to sites dedicated to Teresa Avilla and St. John of the Cross. In Italy you have the holy sites attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Claire and St. Padre Pio among others. Every Christianized nation has their patron saints and pilgrimages associated with these saints, and not just in the Western branches of Christianity, but also the Eastern, the Orthodox churches have more than their fair share of saints and pilgrimage sites.  But I am viewing the idea of “pilgrimage” within a broader context.

Daily pilgrimage with God is rooted in the biblical examples that are set before us

bringhappinessAs I mentioned it above, I view life, our life journey, as a day by day pilgrimage with God.  I find inspiration for this line of understanding from the Holy Scriptures themselves.  From Genesis we see that Adam walked with God in the Garden, Abraham walked with God as did all the Patriarchs.  You find God revealing himself over and over throughout the Old Testament, Moses, the judges, the prophets, David, Solomon, kings, queens, servants, slaves, to the New Testament, where you find the parents of Jesus and John had their own pilgrimage with God and holy other types of encounters where God spoke through angelic encounters, through dreams and visions. Jesus had ongoing encounters with his Father, whenever he separated himself from the crowds and disciples and went away to be with himself and his Father. Jesus modeled the kind of mystical reality and encounter that has continued to our own day.  The disciples who became the apostles all had ongoing encounters with God and had the ministry of angels minister to them as they had encounter after encounter through dreams and visions, and prophetic revelations. This too continues to our own day. So, sojourning with God is a very private and personal ongoing relationship with God that has within it characteristics of engagement, encounter, mystery, mystical connection, which are all transformative for the one who is engaged in it with the divine.

Mystics do not look for validation through others or in group settings

mysticalchristianityMy own sense and experience in the Christian mystical experiential encounters have all been rather private, even though I have experienced some powerful encounters with God while among many Christians worshiping God together in one place.  But my encounter was my own, and not a common encounter with the group. That is precisely the point. These encounters though they may happen anywhere, and amongst many people, or no people at all, are all very private and personal encounters with the “holy other” and it is really a “wholly other” kind of dynamic at work.  It is often hard to put into words all that is experienced.  These mystical experiences are not experiences that most people have sought. Most have sought to love God and worship God , and then this mystical encounter has come about in the midst of this union with God that transpires in the realm of the Spirit.

pilgrims-progressWhen we read the literature on Christian mystics we read of the lives of common people who had a simple trust and vibrant faith in God, and God met them and encountered them exactly where they were spiritually and emotionally.  In some cases these encounters continued over time throughout their lives, and in others, there were few encounters, but in each case there seems to have been ongoing fruit manifesting in the life of the person who experienced this kind of engagement with God. Their lives were forever changed.

mysticialexperienceI have had my own share of mystical encounters and I believe them to authentic, but I am not a pursuer of more mystical encounters.  I just want to know God more and better. I just want to pour myself out in love and adoration to God, and walk with him day by day, and hear his gentle voice and do as I am asked to do. I am not looking for anything more than to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection in my life, day by day, moment by moment.

Living day by day with God and with our shared common humanity

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seek_the_lightWhen I think of moving outside the traditional and historical parameters of the institutional church, I wanting to do so for the sake of my own heart and life. While there are many who find sustenance and safety and belonging in the “Christian tradition” of their choice and experience, I myself find so such succor within the confines of the institutional church. It actually does the very opposite for me. So for me to be obedient to the voice of God that I am hearing in my own heart and spirit, I need to walk the “ancient walk of the pilgrim.”  I need to imitate those of the Scriptures and church history, who journeyed with God moment by moment and lived a life of obedience to God and service to others. It is really that simple. You may ask, “How do you live life like that in a Post-Modern society?”

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I would suggest that a “life of pilgrimage” has the following elements:

  • matthew-6-34An attitude of living in the moment. Jesus demonstrated a life of living moment by moment, and stopping to embrace that particular moment. Nothing was a coincidence. Everything was viewed as holy and beautiful and to be lived. Compassion and love was expressed in each moment and each situation and context where Jesus encountered people. He embraced each moment for itself. I believe that when Jesus spoke in the Gospel of Matthew, and said “do not be anxious for tomorrow” he lay down the principle of living life in the moment, in the day. As a Christian pilgrim, I have come to realize that the past cannot be changed, and the future does not yet exist. I can only take care of the present, the “eternal now”, and we cannot change the future, as it does not yet exist.  I can only take care of the moment I am in. So I need to just live life to the full in the moment which we have and not worry or fret. As a pilgrim I just live life to the max as I am able, in that moment, and I must choose to embrace it, the good, the bad, the ugly. All of it is life worth living to the full.
  • lifejourneywithgodLooking at life as encounter. I find that when I look at the life of Jesus in the Gospels, he lived a life of encounter, encounter with his Father in intimate times apart, one on one, and he lived life of encounter in human relationships, one on one, small clusters of two or three, and in small groups of a dozen, and then larger encounters where they were merited or imposed on him. Jesus lived a life that had at its core engagement and connection with people. Encounter was the byproduct of a life that committed to engaging with others. He was not afraid of being alone, or separate from others or situations, but neither was he afraid to engage with others. He saw and understood the importance of relating with other people. He loved being with people. His life is a perfect picture of what it is to be comfortable in engaging with others and embracing the reality of encounter. As a Christian pilgrim, living my life hearing God’s voice, and obeying his voice, often leads me to a life of encounter with people. I encounter people in my work day, in my recreation, and in unplanned moments, and just like Jesus, I see life as encounter, to be lived in the moment, and to enjoy the encounter and the fruit of it in my life as I just go with and experience it in the moment.
  • journe2godBeing comfortable in our own skin. In each encounter, Jesus was himself because he was comfortable in his own skin. Jesus knew himself. To embrace a life of true encounter, you need to know yourself, your inner core, your inner reality. As you know yourself and become more aware of who you are, and you are comfortable being alone with yourself, and your heart is settled on that, and you are at peace with yourself and with the world around you, you come to understand just how “one with God” you truly are. You realize your own identity is not lost, but is truly found in the one-ness you have with God and in God.  Jesus knew this intimately and it affected all the engagements and relationships he had with other people. In my own life, as a Christian pilgrim, I need to be comfortable in my own skin and become fully aware of who my inner self truly is, and that the reality is, you and I are loved by God just as we are, and so, we should embrace who we are as fully as we can, and become more and more comfortable in our own skin. God not only loves us, he likes us.
  • doctrines-principles-applicationsRecognize the reality of the power of religion. Jesus saw what religion had become in his own society. He knew of its power and influence and control over the people. His sharpest critique and judgments were expressed toward the hypocrisy of the religious establishment, more so those who wielded religious power over the people as task masters.  Jesus understood that the religious devotion of people should flow from the heart to God and to others.  He demonstrated his love for the Father through his love for people. This was Jesus’ own confrontation against the religious establishment, that this very establishment made serving God and others onerous and difficult for people who already had difficulties and challenges in life and the judgments of the religious establishment did nothing to alleviate or remedy the lot of the people in their own predicaments. So the challenge of Jesus to the religious establishment of his day is as real in our own day. He calls on us to love people, help the poor, the outcast, the widows and orphans and to stop judging other people and to cease from our determinations of who we consider to be in and those to be out. Jesus today is as concerned about the attitude of the heart as he was 2000 years ago. We need to be the same, and realize that organized religion can have a positive impact on society, but it can also have a devastating impact on society. As a Christian pilgrim in this world, where there are more religions than you can shake a stick at, I am called to love God and love other people and not judge or criticize and that goes the same for my attitude toward organized religion too. I have my opinions of the matter of religion, and at the end of the day, it is my opinion. As a pilgrim, I am called to just carry on, love God and love people, even in spite of religion.
  • everymomentSeeing each day as a holy day, is a gift given to me by God to be lived and embraced and enjoyed. One of the difficulties in “leaving the old world behind” is that you have to leave it all behind, especially when what you are leaving behind, is all the spiritual religious world and understanding you have come to know and understand. As a Christian pilgrim I have come to see what Paul spoke of in Romans 14 when he addresses how Christians should approach holy days and feast days, his reference to how Jews observer the Old Covenant holy days, and the implication is that we ought to treat each day as a holy gift from God. This does not mean sacred and holy in how we celebrate and commemorate, as much as holy in our attitude to the day we are living in. As a Christian pilgrim, every day is sacred and holy, not just the “Lord’s day” as I once observed it.  As a Christian I now find it is no longer a burden to not observe Sunday as I used to at one time.  I can sleep in, and enjoy the day. I can have coffee in bed with my wife, and relax and enjoy God and the day he has given me to rest in him and to renew myself. I can apply this to any day and my attitude toward the day actually affects how well I embrace it to the full, and how rewarding I find the day and all the encounters I have with people in the moments of that day. It is a most enjoyable day to embrace each day as a unique gift from God. It demystifies the “Sabbath” I grew up in, when I was within the religious system.
  • life-love-quotes-the-only-ompossible-journeyCreating my own sacred elements to enhance my journey in God and in life. I find that at one level, as a Christian pilgrim, I see all things in my day as sacred. My friends and coworkers at work are holy representations of the image of God in my life, and a constant reminder of the diversity and beauty and creativity of God. When I see God in them, it really removes an attitude of criticism and judgment and opens up more dimensions of God in my own life. I find too, that when I prepare meals I find them to very much be sacred and special, even if there is no “ritual” attached to it. How I prepare it, and who I prepare it for, really brings a centering within me, and a joy and delight to be able to serve others and in my serving others, I come to see and know the delight of God in my life and his blessing and presence. Celebrating with friends and family really highlight much of the sacred reality that shows just how much God’s Presence permeates every strata of my life, and that I am no alone at all. He is very much present in every little thing I do, and in every conversation, and in every act of kindness and love shared with another person. How I act and behave in these moments and encounters with others are indeed very much holy and expressions of devotion to God.
  • behappyExperiencing freedom one little moment at a time. I finally realize as I embrace my past and deconstruct my past, and let go of elements, one element at a time, and I surrender it and give it to God, I am released from the past attachment and need to that element, and down within my spirit in my heart of hearts I experience a new awareness of freedom, freedom to be the pilgrim of Christ I am meant to be, freedom to be fully one with God, and freedom to just “be” and relax and embrace that moment where freedom becomes fully alive in that element. I have found that those elements released, are never the same thereafter, and there is a real sense of peace and well being that comes over and takes over that part of my heart and life. The thirst for knowledge is not the thirst for books, or the intellect. It is that thirst to truly know intimately. The Koine Greek work “ginoskow” means to “know” as in the “sexual union” of man and wife, an intimate oneness and union of two becoming one. For me to “know God” means becoming one with God in spirit and in truth. This is where true freedom leads, it leads to more unravelling of what we once thought to be truth, to discover deep within it, at the core, is a knowing of God that had up to that moment had been unknown. It goes past intellectual understanding, and past words being able to comprehend and understand and pass on this “inner knowing,” and “inner freedom.” It culminates with that sense you just “know that you know that you know,” and no person can talk you, reason you out of that truth knowledge of God.

Living a life of fullness and joy, a gift from God

betterdaysaheadThis is the fullness of joy that comes in embracing the life of a Christian pilgrim on a life journey of daily and momentary discoveries of the heart of God, revealed in ongoing daily encounters with circumstances and people.  We are never alone. God is ever present. God and humanity together, and God is working all things together for our good. How he does that is up to him. All I know that he is more than able to make all things reconciled to him in and through Christ Jesus, the savior of the world, the only mediator between God and man and creation. It is a wonderful gift to be alive, to know God and love him and to love and engage in life with others made in his image.

Peace and grace

~ Samuel M. Buick

 

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Wow Jesus… What Now? How Do We Become More Relational?


I received the following from “Bob” in my email. I thought I would address his question in a blog post.

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Is there anything redeemable or doable to correct the lack of relational life in the “organized church?”

my-name-is-bob-e1387316594176Well “Bob” (and anyone else that is asking), quite frankly the very core and nature of how the contemporary church is established to effectively work and perform week to week would have to be put on its head. The veritable “pyramid of power” would have to be turned upside down on its head, literally and figuratively, in order to begin the process of being a relational servanthood paradigm, that would express the mutual edification and expression and exchange of life and mission that was evident among Jesus and his disciples, and Paul and his mission team that established the Church and extended the Kingdom of God in the first century. Only with is one small step with gigantic consequences can the post-modern institutional church have any kind of meaningful and lasting change that would lead to ongoing reformation and transformation.

resmindiaRegrettably the institution itself is set up to be self-perpetuating, in that, the bible colleges and seminaries are all set up to crank out year in and year out the “leaders of tomorrow” as it they were some kind of factory producing widgets for the marketplace.  That is a core DNA and disconcerting structural defect to what is known as the “institutional church.”  There are those, and I know many of them personally, who make or have made their living through “Christian academia” in the guise of “equipping the saints for the ministry” and “training Christian leaders.”

Paul mentored the same as Jesus mentored his disciples

jesus-coaching-2-638Unfortunately when Paul spoke of mentoring leaders (check his mission trip chronology in the Book of Acts and his epistles for all the people he was living and ministering with), he did not have in mind what has become known as seminaries and bible colleges. No, he had something much more authentic and basic in mind when he stated what he did for the record.  Paul was by far the most successful missionary and church planter not only in the Early Church, but I would even say easily so since that time. There have been great evangelists, and many successful missionaries, but all are pale in the shadow of what Paul accomplished. I believe everything Paul did was relational, and he patterned the relational paradigm after the pattern that Christ modelled with the disciples who became his apostles.  Remember too, when you read about Paul in Galatians and his conversion, Paul mentioned some 14 years spent in Arabia, where he learned from the Lord directly, before he went and returned to Antioch or Jerusalem.  Paul in doing this fulfilled the very words of Jesus, that not only he, but all of us, are to be convicted, converted, called, equipped, empowered  and sent forth by the Holy Spirit.

jack-hyles-quote-gods-calling-for-usThis is not about being equipped by human institutions and man made teaching, or being called by men into ministry, and sent out by some ministry organization to do the work of the ministry. This is God’s work from the beginning to the end. Paul and all the other apostles demonstrated this and the evidence is set before us in the Scriptures and in recorded human history. What we choose to do with it, and how we apply these principles in our lives is up to us and has consequences.  We currently have 1700 years of the consequences of following the teachings of men on what the Church and life and ministry in the Church looks like. It does not bear the look, feel, or the stamp of authority of what Jesus gave his apostles and Paul. Which do you think works best? Do see the effects of the consequences of what has evolved from the church as a human institution rather than divine?  This divine model was the model if you will, or the ” relational ways and means of being prepared for the work of the ministry” by God in Jesus Christ himself. This is a radical departure from what goes on today in the name of preparing people for ministry.

Paul the apostle’s own mentoring experience was experiential with Jesus of Nazareth

jesus-and-disciplesPaul not only had this same experience as the other apostles, of being directly mentored by Jesus himself, Paul also did what Jesus told the apostles to do, everything Jesus modelled and did for the apostles, he encouraged them by his own ethic of, “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).  This was a gentle pat on the back, an encouragement to do the same things with others. John Wimber taught this concept in this way, Jesus told his disciples, “Watch what I do. Then you do it and I will watch you do it. Then you can go and do it on your own. Teach others this same way.” Here are John Wimber’s own words describing the phenomenon:

wimberJesus’ method of instruction was the method of the day: rabbinic. A rabbi would minister, while his disciples watched; then they would minister with him watching. Next, they went out on short missions, reporting back for further instruction and correction from the master. After repeating this process for years, if the rabbi was convinced his disciples were formed in his way of life, he released his students to become rabbis and teach others by the same process.

Christ used the same training method with his disciples. Christ, the teacher, formed his disciples in his way of life, passing on his character. Faith, hope, love, joy, peace, and so on were the goals of his training. Performing signs and wonders – casting out demons, healing the sick, and even walking on water – were avenues through which the disciples learned more about God’s nature. The disciples understood and accepted what Jesus expected of them. We never read of them objecting to being asked to do the works of Jesus, only of their sense of personal inadequacy in performing his commands.

Being around someone who performs a certain ministry skill successfully (or demonstrates personal maturity) is the best way to learn to do it (or be it) yourself.

~ John Wimber

paulsjourneys

01-paul-and-timothy-the-ministry-of-mentoring-660x371Paul modelled this very kind of ministry on his church planting missionary journeys that are recorded in the book of acts. The timeline for the missionary trips vary, but the shortest length of stay was several weeks up to a couple of years. Paul came and established communities of faith that were rooted in relationships, first a relationship between himself and God, and then relationship between God and those who had come to faith in Christ. He walked with them, and taught them how to live a life dedicated to God and a life of obedience to God. He taught them to obey God, and to search the scriptures and to wait on God and to listen to the Holy Spirit and do what the Spirit said to do. Having given them these instructions and having modelled them for them, he set them free to journey with God on a lifelong pilgrimage of faith and action, dependence up God, and relational community with the people they engaged in. This is the most basic concept of what it is to be a “disciple of Christ” and to live a life that honors God.

The problem is still the same problem that has faced all God chasers since creation.

jesuscreator-05The problem has always been the same problem. When God revealed himself to Adam and Eve and all the patriarchs in the book of Genesis, he revealed himself as a relational being and as one who wanted to be in ongoing communion with his creation, with humanity.  Sin coming into the world made it a problem and challenge to engage in meaningful relationship and community, and whenever people have felt a distance from God, a sense of alienation, and we have that in our own day, it has not gone away, people turn to “religion” and “forms of religion” where they try to appease their understanding of God by doing acts of devotion and obedience to what they understand to be “righteous” deeds and actions, and try to follow what they understand to be the “rules of required conduct.” So the rules of religion come to replace the principles of relationship between a divine being and his creation.  This is what “organized religion” keeps alive, no matter how hard God himself tries to kill the beast of religion in us!

quote-i-get-scared-to-death-when-i-see-people-who-say-they-ve-found-jesus-christ-and-they-re-out-there-willie-aames-37Changing the whole foundation of how a church community organizes itself and gathers, meets, and experiences life in Christ in community is just way too much for most churches to take on. But there is one hope, of bringing more relational interaction and meaningful authentic connection between believers and those exploring the Christian faith. On a personal note, if there had been even meaningful opportunities to gather relationally at some of the churches I was attending over the last few years, without the “stuff of religion” being part of it, I would likely have stayed there longer. However my own experience catapulted me right out of the whole Christian religion box altogether.

So, to answer Bob more directly, what can a current post-modern Christian church community do to be more relational? We need “religion-less relationships.”

  • Every facet of the church ministry, public, and private, needs to be relationally engaging. This means that everything everyone that claims to be a part of this Christian community needs to engage authentically, plan and make room for face to face interaction and connection. Make all the communication as engaging and non-threatening as possible, and encourage different people within the congregation to be “face to face” with people during the public church ministry time. It is never about the “ministry of the few over the many.” It is about the “visibility of the few to the many to create more openness and connection possibilities.”
  • Face to face interaction means exactly that, face to face. Don’t hide behind social media or phone calls or emails. Those things are merely the means of making your arrangement to connect face to face. They are not a substitute for connecting face to face.
  • Interaction should not be for ministry, but for authentic connection. Let’s be honest, when you have connected in the past in Christian churches, it has always been centered in ministry. The small group meeting was to study a book of the Bible, the pastor’s sermon, or a book study of some author’s best-selling book. I am talking about face to face encounter just for the sake of friendship and belonging, human contact and interaction. Gather to share a meal. Gather to go to a movie. Gather to meet in the park for a walk or a hike. Gather at the local coffee shop and just hang out together.
  • Change your mindset and let it be driven by a desire to connect with people. If we are to put people first, as Jesus said, to love God and love people, then that means putting people first, and you should be intentional that when you are trying to connect with people, it is a sincere connection to just be with people.
  • All the other “stuff” that usually becomes important, comes through the relationship being first and foremost. When you prioritize just putting people and friendship first, all the other stuff just seems to happen organically, all on its own. Don’t push it. Go with it. Just watch how God weaves your friendship with the hearts of people. It is always best to have no agenda but the agenda of I want to be a better friend to this person. That should be what drives you in your desire to connect with people.
  • Some people are desirous of connecting with other people, and need to be encouraged to connect through different social contexts that are provided through the local congregation. I heard one man say that his church has no programs and that it is up to people to reach out to each other and connect. That is pretty intimidating even to people who don’t have a problem mixing in a social context. When you presume that people will connect just because you tell them to when they gather as a larger church gathering, and you don’t offer the means of doing so, like providing a reading club, or a study group, or a men’s group, or a ladies group, or a youth group, and you just presume people will just randomly grab a coffee and chit chat on a Sunday and start connecting, that is what I call the sin of presumption. To me there is nothing worse than saying your church family is relational and you do little to nothing to put the means of actually meeting and interacting at a safe level of encounter through a book club or other meaningful regular event, then you are just asking for your church community to become a group of cliques that meet within four walls, where those outsiders trying to connect are left on their own, like a survivor of the Titanic in the frozen waters seeing a bunch of circling sharks in the water. Church communities need some ministries that meet outside of Sunday and in people’s homes. Without it, you lose people.
  • Encourage your leaders and key people in the congregation to invite others and new people to social gatherings for a meal and to get to know people. I went to a church picnic where there were a couple hundred people there. Three people spoke to me. The pastor. A person that I was in line with for my hamburger and hot dog. A person that I had to get by to get to the beach. No one came to my family or I other than the pastor where we were seated for our meal. So meaningful engagement works better when others in the congregation take it upon themselves to face to face invite people to come out and hang out. Another church always posted opportunities to meet and connect in the bulletin, and in public announcement, but those same people did not actually go up to people to face to face interact and invite them to come. It is the face to face interaction that makes the invitation real and authentic and worth taking the risk. If you don’t put your own skin in the game to meaningfully interact with people in the church gathering, why should anyone respond to a generic, vanilla invite? They can just as well just say, “That’s nice,” and then go home. They were not invited personally. They were invited with a generic “everyone come, you are all invited” approach. People need and people want the personal touch, the personal interaction, the sense that they are actually wanted and needed. Without it people just go home, and some may come back, and some may just decide to stay away. A lot of it depends on the face to face interaction and relational opportunities to connect.
  • Establish and promote teaching and workshops on building relationships. Do not limit yourself to what the “Bible says” about relationships. One of the axioms of the Reformation was that “all truth is God’s truth” and you will find all this “truth” in all kinds of places and settings. When it comes to developing strong relationships, dealing with conflict and conflict resolution, communication, and all kinds of psychological and social sciences resources, there is a wide array of it available in our communities at large. Do not be hesitant to tap into local college, university, or community programs to get people exposed to resources that will educate, motivate and help in developing long lasting “face to face” relationships.

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walking-friendsWhen it comes to making any kind of “church experience” better, I welcome the opportunity to advance the importance of face to face interaction and real life experience, and to leave the “Christianese” and language and phenomenon of religion in the trash bin.

After that first face to face contact…

friendship4If you want to provide a change of what has become the readily available status quo fare of “church life” in post-modern North America, then you need to embrace making your local congregation more relational and engaging and provide a steady diet of face to face interaction.  Without it, your church will become a clique with visitors leaving as quickly as they came. Face to face engagement and actual contact right up front, gets it all started moving in the right direction, but you have to put things in place to keep it moving and to build on that first impression.

Peace.

Samuel M. Buick

LINKS:

Disciples Are Trained Not Born (John Wimber)

John Wimber’s Background

 

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