Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

Book Review>UnChristian>part 2 Busters, Mosaics, and 6 Criticisms of the Church.

In UnChristian David Kinnaman seeks to discover how those outside the church view the Christian faith. The bulk of Kinnaman's research was done among two generations: Mosaics (born between 1984 and 2002) and Busters (born 1965 and 1983). I'm right at the beginning of the Mosaics baby! From the book:
"This book will focus primarily on the oldest Mosaics, those in their late teens up through age twenty-two, and the youngest Busters, primarily describing those under thirty...Keep in mind that identifying a "generation" is an analytical tool for understanding our culture and the people within it. It simply reflects the idea that people who are born over a certain period of time are influenced by a unique set of circumstances and global events, moral and social values, technologies, and cultural and behavioral norms...Recognizing the generational concept as a tool, rather than as definitive for every person means that exceptions are to be expected."

This is a great snapshot of Kinnaman's writing. He clearly defines his terms and is not pretending that his research is the ultimate authority, nor does any study capture 100% of reality. Consider this quote from page 20: "Jesus is so much more than a logical proof". In clarifying the generations he studied as well as allowing for "grey" with exceptions Kinnaman shows that he is a top notch researcher with integrity and does not pretend to have the silver bullet.

Each chapter contains some charts and graphs to visually demonstrate Kinnaman's findings. There are also some thoughts/real life examples from leaders within the church at the end of every chapter. This is the 3rd or 4th book with "reflections" after each chapter that I've read, and these were the best.

The chapters are built around 6 major areas of "heartburn" people expressed about Christianity:

To focused on "Getting Saved"
Too Political

throughout the book there is sort of a "thesis" at the beginning; how Christians are perceived followed by an appropriate Christ like "position" on the issue. More on those with later posts. As you can see, these certainly interweave. So for those of you who just want to know what the book is about and the format it takes, there's two parts for ya. I hope to write on each chapter soon.

Right now I'm off to replace some tires on the Malibu.

Book Review>UnChristian>part 1 Knowing your audience

UnChristian is an empirical effort to examine how those "outside of the church" view Christianity. The research was done by David Kinnaman from The Barna Group, sort of a Christian Gallup Polling organization if you will.

The subtitle reads "what a new generation really thinks about Christianity...and why it matters". So as you might infer research was primarily focused on those aged 16-29. Which is a crossing of two generations: "the leading edge of the Mosaic generation and the trailing half of the Buster cohort". Throughout the book, Kinnaman provides well defined terms so even if you disagree with them at least you know up front with what you are not agreeing. Also, there is just the right amount of graphs/charts/pictures to know that this is great research, without feeling like a boring communications class presentation.

The overall "posture" of the book seems to be towards born-again evangelical Christians. Kinnaman seems to be peeling back the curtain for those folks that are along his own theological lines of thinking. He'll use the words "we" and you're not sure if that means Christians, or those that subscribe to particular doctrines within Christianity. Kinnaman does lay out different "tiers" to Christianity:
Self-identified Christians, Nonevangelical born again Christians, and Evangelical Christians. Since no one likes a mega-post, and Kinnaman has essentially written this book for an evangelical audience, here's his definition: (which is found in a small "glossary" in the back, great idea)

Evangelicals are "born-again" (meaning they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, and believe they will go to heaven when they die as they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior).

Evangelicals also meet the following criteria-
1. saying their faith was very important in their life today
2. believe they have a personally responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians
3. believe that Satan exists
4. believe that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works
5. believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth
6. asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches
7. describe God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.

Kinnaman's definition of evangelical did not consider any denominational affiliation or requisite for church attendance.

This could be a misinterpretation on my part, but evangelicals are the audience to whom this book is written. This makes sense, because that is where David Kinnaman is coming from. To me, that is a fundamental (no pun intended!) factor in how one will receive the information. If you are not a part of the "we" that Kinnaman addresses, you could be in for a bumpy ride. If you're wondering whether I am on the fence on this, I happen to agree, if I had to pick yes or no, with Kinnaman. I would identify myself as an evangelical, with only a slight amount of trepidation given his definitions. But again, Kinnaman is very upfront with this, and kudos to him for not being wishy washy nor arrogant in his assertions. We could go round and round about the definition of "evangelical" and his criteria, etc. The most important part of the book is not what I've started out discussing, the most important part is the research and what it reveals about the state of the church in relation to the world around it.

So, now that you understand the basic premise of the book, and equally importantly the assumptions ( I'm not saying "bad" assumptions) behind the audience let's get to the good stuff.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Burst Your Bubble

So I've had an interesting couple of days. A little context- I'm currently reading the book "UnChristian" by Kinnaman/Lyons and one of the chapters talks about the perception of people outside the church thinking that Christians are sheltered. Dan Kimball speaks of the "Christian Bubble" many times in his books, on his blog, and in his sermons. You guys probably know some of the symptoms- Do you know who Doug Fields is? What about Dan Kimball, who I just casually referenced? How many Jars of Clay concerts have you been to? Can you use the word "fellowship" in a sentence? Do you know what an Epistle is? If I sing two words- "Father Abraham..." can you complete the melody with "had many sons, and many sons had...", and so on and so on*.

If you are reading this and that didn't make much sense to you, you probably aren't in the Christian bubble, or at least have not been exposed to it that much. But if you're like me and your first real concert was CARMEN, then you are in danger of being in the Christian bubble.

The danger of being caught in the bubble is exponentially higher when you are on staff at a church. Even if you volunteer a lot, you still have a job where you interact with people outside of a church community. The office can be almost like a cell in trying to reach a world thats going on outside the bubble (inside the bubble still needs redeeming too, but thats another post altogether).

But I've discovered if you want to burst the bubble a little bit, you can. If you missed my Imam encounter, go read that post to understand a little better. Yesterday, Mohammad called me. His car is still busted, so I helped take him around a couple different places in our area so he could invite people to his Mosque's inauguration (post office, city hall, police/fire stations, area churches, etc). I told him to call me if he ever needed anything, and he did!

You know what Mohammad told me? I had said something about being glad we were friends, and he said that we're more than friends because many "friends" won't help you when you're in need, but I was helping him. What a compliment! He also gave me a copy of the Koran, which, is another blog post altogether, as is some of our conversation.

So there I was, suburban white boy (complete with North Face Fleece jacket) hanging out with a Muslim leader. That was yesterday.

Today, I had breakfast with my good friend Harry. Harry is pastor of a church downtown that I contacted earlier in the summer because some of the Men's Ministry guys had him speak at their retreat, and I knew he had a church downtown and was looking for a place to do some service. Well, a great relationship evolved- Harry and I have become quite close.

Harry and I ate at Bread Co, with time going much faster than we thought. I come outside to discover I have a flat tire. Well, crap. Harry had AAA so he gave them a call (thanks Harry!) and we got to continue our long breakfast discussions. Now I have to tell you we're on Delmar street, an area in St. Louis known as "the loop" which I believe Nelly has referenced more than once, not that it matters. The Loop is one of the most diverse areas of the city in every facet you can think of.

So Bread Co. being the melting pot that it is, Harry and I are hanging out waiting for the tire to be changed and out comes a young woman wearing a pentagram around her neck. Just to give you a visual, Harry has got on a cap that says "Hooked on Jesus" and a t-shirt that says "Jesus Saves". I'm sort of blocking this girl from exiting the parking lot and me and Harry are standing there talking, and we both sort of pause. I darted back and forth between Harry's gear and her jewlery like somebody at a tennis match and braced myself for something going down.

Turns out this young woman was a witch, she was soon moving to Phoenix (and was allergic to the sun, which I found funny, she didn't). She had been raised Catholic/Baptist/Witch and had settled on the witch. She knew more about the Bible and took her faith more seriously than her Christian friends. She was very quick to assume that Harry and I might try to convert her (sort of) and was reluctant to really stand there and discuss with us but talked way more than I thought she might. Her name was Danny. The interaction that took place is ANOTHER blog post for another time.

My point is, maybe if I give a little effort, and take the opportunities right in front of me breaking out of the bubble isn't so hard. The white bread west county mold isn't so binding after all.

After all, a black preacher, a white preachers kid, a Muslim preacher, and a witch sounds more like a bad joke than my last two days. But it's true! We can burst our Christian bubbles if we look hard and take the risks. No, I didn't convert Danny or Mohamed. But I am helping to reverse the stereotype.

New Blog

My boy Cody just entered the blog world, check him out at:


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Youth Worship

So we're having worship the first Wednesday of the month. The whole goal is to create an "alternative" worship experience. We don't really have a catchy name or some revolutionary model. I have blatantly stolen ideas from lots of sources, and our whole goal is to get kids (and their families) connecting with God in ways they may not be used to, on a night they may not be used to.

We set up chairs in a circle, so we're looking at each other, not at the back of everyone's head like when you're in pews. We have youth leading the music, but it's without amplifiers, and they join us in the circle. Whoever speaks (it's not me every time) sits right there in the circle with everyone else. This use of space communicates a theology that whoever is leading does not have higher access to God nor do they have some privileged position (literally above everyone else on the stage/platform/alter area/whatever).

Our focus is to try and move away from music and lecture into more experiential worship. Tonight it worked out pretty well, so I thought I'd share:

We sang Chris Tomlin's "indescribable" but before we did I asked everyone to take out their cell phones. I explained that we had been having problems with phones going off, and if every one could silence them, then throw them in the middle of the circle so that we wouldn't have to worry about them.

Then I said we'd be spending time thinking about the concept of forgiveness and how Jesus calls us to live, reconciling and bringing healing to our relationships. Then I gave a short introduction to the song "Apologize" by Timbaland feat. OneReplublic (it's actually a OneRepublic song, remixed by Timbaland. OneRepublic has a pretty remarkable MySpace following, and is releasing their first album soon). The song is about broken relationships and being hurt, and the haunting chorus says simply: "it's too late to apologize"

While the song was playing, I had asked everyone to write down the name of someone that they felt they had wronged...a relationship that needed healing...a person that needed an apology.

Then we read Matthew 5: 23-25:
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

I talked very briefly (again, the focus is not the speaker) about the ancient laws about offering sacrifices and that people could be following all the rules but not really be doing God's will. You can follow all the rules but still miss the point. Then I said how we can come to church on Sunday, walk out the door, and be jerks. Jesus says this is crap. It is never to late to apologize, it is never to late to restore a relationship by asking for forgiveness. We cannot seperate our worship of God from our relationships with people.

Then, I asked everyone to pick up their cell phones and call the person they wrote down. Ya know what, just about everyone did. We then came "back to the alter" for prayer and appropriately sang "Grace Like Rain".

Funny how that works- came to church, tried to live out what Jesus said. Plus, we were done in about 40 minutes!

I encourage everyone to try this and let me know how it turns out.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

National Youth Workers Convention

Friday through yesterday I was able to attend the National Youth Workers Convention right here in St. Louis. We were able to take 6 of us from church, which was great. Not only did we get to spread out and capture many different workshop sessions but it was also cool just to hang out.

Heard some great speakers- Duffy Robbins, Tony Campollo, and the producer of the X-Men movies. Got some really good music too- Leeland, Jars of Clay, and the surprise hit, Family Force 5.

Also, met some cool new folks. Thats definitely the best part of the convention, the sheer sense of community. Just yesterday (after the convention obviously) I had 3 people ask me "what it is I do exactly" and it's so cool to be with 3,500 people who do the same thing. We were at a Chinese buffet in line to pay, and some people from the convention were also in line and were eating sherbert. Upon commenting that it looked good, the guy offered me some right then! Now, how often does a stranger offer you ice cream, and neither of you feel creepy about it!?

Also, I attended two seminars with the same guy, and we struck up a conversation and ended up eating dinner one night. I just realized how "Meg Ryan Movie-ish" that sounded, and I'm sorry. Anyways, his name is Jake Bouma and he is a youth leader in Iowa. Even though he's a Cubs fan, I'll throw him some link love on the right!

Anyways, it's good to be back!