Solutions to the 5 Dysfunctions of Denominations
Solutions to Dysfunction 1: http://donowens.typepad.com/donowens/2010/06/solutions-part-i-clarity.html
How many times have your heard the Gospel described in someone's life with terms like, "feel","sense","heart","I just know" and other terms for emotion and feelings?
When sharing the Gospel, do you or your congregation start with Jesus and skip the Old Testament?
I outlined the second dysfunction of denominations as a shallow gospel. Let me offer a deeper explanation of this shallow pond of truth.
FIrst, I must share with you that I am all for street preaching. I believe it has a place and that God uses it for his purposes.
At the same time, let's admit that this is not how most of us will ever share the Gospel, nor does it ever tender much fruit in our lives. Most of us are involved in relational evangelism. The living and telling of the Gospel in our everyday activities and words with those in proximity to us.
Visit any denominational church today and you will find very few of those who have been entrusted with truth, have any deep understanding of that truth.
Most pulpit prophets share a gospel with the depth of a street preacher.
Also, let me say, a lack of depth should not hold the new follower of Christ back from spreading the new discovery in his or her life.
The problem we have is that among the pastel hallways are long time believers with no greater understanding of the scriptures than what they had twenty years ago. You will find their Gospel is shallow, true, but shallow.
You will also find their ability to communicate that Gospel starts and ends with things like the Roman Road, or the cross in the gap, and other simplifications.
This is a limited Gospel, and the only understandings held by most in the protestant denominations and almost not present in Catholicism.
When sharing our faith we start with Jesus, not Geneses 1:1, we go straight to Jesus. We do not provide a complete intellectual Gospel built on all Scripture, nor do we ask permission to take people on a intellectual journey in relationship leading up to Jesus. We start right in the middle of the Gospel with, "You need Jesus." True, but this answers few questions as to why unless you're just seeking the emotional response of, "Yeah, I've always felt like something is missing in my life."
I have dear missionary friends in a sensitive region in Africa. They do not walk into a village and say, "Jesus died for you." They go and ask permission to build a home with them. They join them in the day to day activities of running a village. They have coffee on their front porch in the mornings and tea in the evenings. They get to know the people. They invite people to listen to a series of stories from a book called the Bible. They start with a story about the creation of the world. The creation of man. The coveting of man. The fall of man. The problems of man. The ways God and man interacted. The many lessons and ways God was revealing himself to man over thousands of years. And then, maybe months later, they introduce Jesus.
Why so long? Why tell all these stories? Because without an understanding of the world, our place, our condition, and the historical events that lead up to the cross, Jesus doesn't make any sense.
Even so called American Christians think they have a concept of Jesus because they have heard about him from birth, but they really don't know, or have any of the support story, cast, purpose, or theology.
When was the last time your pastor did a sermon series of the theology of the Trinity? Never. When was the last time your pastor dug into the dynamics of relationship based on what we can learn from our Triune God? Never.
Most Christians are still snorkeling in milk. The have not strapped on the life saving breath of the Gospel and dove deep.
In addition, we don't start with the mind, we start with emotion.
We tell people they have a whole in their heart and God wants to fill it. We tell them their behavior is bad and God wants to change it. We ask them, "Don't you feel like their is something more?"
We speak softly and play soft music behind our professional speakers. We dim the lights and say we are speaking right to you. We put on theatrics to draw you in and to set the mood. SImply, we play on your emotions.
Yes, God gave us emotion, but not to be the gauge.
An emotional Gospel is subject to the changing tide of emotions. An intellectual Gospel is based on a foundation of known, thought out, dealt with truths, not so easily penetrated. While every Christian, if honest, will admit moments of doubt, the 'head' gospel is much more reliable and easy to fall back upon than the 'heart' gospel.
An emotional gospel is subject to powerful tools like: guilt, doubt, and failure. How many times have you seen the confessing-baptized believer feel the need to, "do it again". An intellectual Gospel saves people from the sweet tones of eloquent speakers looking for a reaction.
At the moment the doubt of salvation steps on the heart scene, the heart Gospel says, "I haven't felt God in my life lately. I am so guilty of sin. I feel so confused. I wonder if I am saved. It feels like God is far from me. I don't sense God's Spirit in my life. Maybe I am not saved. The pastor says I have to obey. I haven't been obedient. I need to start over again so I can know for sure. I know I feel it is real this time. I know how important Jesus is. I am going to go down."
The heart Gospel is shallow. However, the intellectual Gospel can guide you through the tough moments.
At the moment the doubt of salvation steps on the brain scene, the intellectual Gospel says, "Wait. Yes, I am a sinner. The Bible has already told me that. Yes, I can fall back into sin patters. James tells us that if anyone says he does not have sin in his life he is liar. Yes, I failed. The Bible says to confess your sins one to another. This is not because once you are saved you aren't going to still sin, or fall back into sin patters. Confess so you can move on and seek God in dealing with the sin. Paul told us to work out your salvation. This is the process of working it out, it doesn't require us to start all over again. I don't have to go down and start again. God's Word says we cannot be taken from his hands. We are sealed. This is a part of the journey and how God is working on me. Confess, and continue. The Bible tells you to not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of your mind. We must renew. David sinned and God still loved him as a man after His own heart. There were consequences, but God's love was not gone. Jesus loved Peter even after Peter cursed and denied Him three times. Yes I am sealed and His."
Last year 35 kids in our church youth group felt the need to get saved again. Our vernacular is so lacking isn't it?
Kids that had professed faith. Kids I watched baptized by their pastor and fathers. Kids that apparently only received a shallow Gospel that had no real truth to their lives when they needed it most, and a speaker and leadership that let them go with emotion instead of taking control of the situation and speaking truth into their lives. This has been a cycle I have seen over and over, and until we step out out of the "feel good" into the "know good" the denominations will keep repeating this shallow Gospel pattern.
As Nancy Pearcey wrote in her book, Total Truth, "If all we give them (children) is a "heart" religion, it will not be enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a "brain" religion - training in worldview and apologetics-to equip them to analyze and critique the competing world-views they will encounter."
This shallow Gospel is taught from the pulpit and it is the place to set a huge portion of the blame. Every sermon must in with a short story about a need for Jesus and a call to action. How many times have you heard the pastor say something at the end like, "The Spirit is telling me, or I sense that, maybe you feel that you...", etc. Shallow.
Pastors, in order to keep the attention of the information over-load generations, make up catch phrases and three point seminarian sermons instead of digging deep into the challenges of scripture and keep everything on the 8th grade level so as not to lose anyone. We've replaced teachers of old, with preachers.
In the temple a Rabbi, a teacher, sat with those who wanted to go deeper and he placed in them his deep interpretations of the scripture. This is how Jesus learned the scriptures. This is how he took twelve guys a lot further. We take those that have become disciples and continue to allow them to snorkel in the milk and play on their feelings.
I had a pastor friend and his wife tell me that he would like to go deeper into scripture, but people in his church preferred preaching to professorial teaching. So great, let's give people what they want, not what they need. And so the very men that are so called "ordained" are simply preserving their jobs.
Pastors these days disciple a few seminary students or staff members, not their flock. But, let's just agree, giving them the old classic name of pastor is simply a moronic idea as that is no longer what they tend to be.
We need teachers of the Word. Men and women who study and are willing to invest their life in a small group of people and pass this knowledge along to ensure we are not left with a Joel Osteen sermon.
Elton Trueblood, in his book the Incendiary Fellowship, offers the idea of "Lay Academies" within our congregations. He calls for instruction in order that "many become ministers in common life."
We've relegated this task to Sunday School's that are seldom about teaching anymore and more about therapy.
Pearcey adds, "A religion that avoids the intellectual task and retreats to the therapeutic realm of personal relationships and feelings will not survive in today's spiritual battlefield."
I have found no pastors willing to discuss a change in approach. They're all too busy for lunch. I will cover their dysfunction of clergy in number three.
Few pastors are willing to dig deep enough into the apologetics of other denominations to discover the similarities and that are Gospel is the same Gospel.
I have said before that my protestant brothers are always critical of Catholics and that they miss the truth.
My response is always this, "Let me ask you a question. Do you believe in God the Father, Almighty maker of heaven and maker of earth, and in Jesus Christ His only begotten son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born to the virgin Mary. Suffered under Pontius Pilate. Was crucified, buried and dead. He descended into hell and the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven, where He sits at God's mighty right hand. And He's returning to judge all of man?"
There answer will be, "Yes".
"Well my friend that's what our Catholic brothers believe. That is their Gospel as well. So we all add our fluff around the truth, but we share the same truth."
But we don't study other denominations and our similarities. We draw our lines in the sand and ignore that we share the basic same truths.
A shallow Gospel means you don't have to go deep. When you go deep I can attest, you end up with more questions than answers, but it is a great place to be and ever so challenging.
So how do we thwart this shallow Gospel for a rich, stimulating, challenging search of Total Truth? Here are my action items:
1. Read. This is your responsibility. Don't let your pastor or class leader do the work for you. Be prepared by reading and investigating on your own.
2. Challenge your congregation to start serious classes that challenge the mind and cut out the overdone "complaint festivals" . Prayer time is important, but only if your group is really serious about it, and it should not eat into your lesson time too often. More theology less therapy.
3. Choose a book and read it as a family. Everyone should read a designated portion each week. Then go to Starbucks and discuss what you each read as a family. Choose something on a level your family is ready for and YOU TEACH YOUR CHILDREN!!!! Don't leave it to the church staff - most of them will mess it up because most of them are not trained well.
4. Be ready to provide, as Frances Shaeffer called it, "Honest answers to honest questions". Don't avoid intellectual discussion and debate. Prepare and seek it. Develop an understanding of your Christian World-view and be prepared to articulate it.
5. Watch out for "Quarterly Quakers". If the teacher of your class is not studied and follows the weekly printed materials, RUN and find some please you can get deep challenging theology to build your 'brain' knowledge of Truth
6. Share your faith. Don't jump to the end with the people in proximity to you. Start telling the stories of the Bible and build to the great saving grace of God trough Christ.
7. Know Truth and live it out. "Don not merely be hearers..be doers"
Take the reins on your own and seek a Gospel of depth. In addition, it is important to remember our God is still a God who created emotion. As Allen Youngblood always says, "I wouldn't give two cents for a God I couldn't feel."