Pew Forum Report

Religion_dm_500 The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has recently released a report, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The report is worth a read for the info that it supplies about the American religious landscape. A lot of it is surprising, and as the report states,

…The Landscape Survey confirms the close link between Americans’ religious affiliation, beliefs and practices, on the one hand, and their social and political attitudes, on the other. Indeed, the survey demonstrates that the social and political fault lines in American society run through, as well as alongside, religious traditions.

One section is worth pulling out for consideration:

Most Americans agree with the statement that many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those who are affiliated with a religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life. This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including more than half of members of evangelical Protestant churches (57%). Only among Mormons (57%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (80%) do majorities say that their own religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life.

Most Americans also have a non-dogmatic approach when it comes to interpreting the tenets of their own religion. For instance, more than two-thirds of adults affiliated with a religious tradition agree that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their faith, a pattern that occurs in nearly all traditions. The exceptions are Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, 54% and 77% of whom, respectively, say there is only one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.

I can imagine evangelicals and Christians of all stripes bending over this report, concerned about the direction and focus of religion in American (which is basically dropping dogma for spirituality).

There will undoubtedly be many initiatives to stave off and reverse this trend of faith in this country. Lack of faith on one side, and apathy and weak theology on the other is destroying our country, culture, …(fill in the blank).

The problem is, of course that we see it as our battle, our problem, and probably our fault because Christianity is losing ground. If we can be more faithful, preach and witness more, proclaim the word, people will hear and turn and be saved.

Unfortunately, the problem is that all of this is simply getting in the way of the the work of the Spirit. I see more and more that Christianity in the US is more “Jesus lite.”

The battle is not ours, it belongs to the Lord. We do not fight against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12).

What we have is managerialism imposed on the church, enthralled by systems thinking and programs that do not rest on faith, but reason and intentionality.

Image source:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/images/200708/20070828BizReligion_dm_500.jpg

The Myth of Belonging

sheep-belonging-to-tenant I’m a fan of REVEAL, the initiative started by Willow Creek.  I think there findings concerning the reality of spiritual growth in the church are significant, and point to an issue that I have been harping preaching about for years.

The sources of the problem are largely the result of the descent of managerialism on the church. However, that is an issue for another post.

One of the five “key findings” of REVEAL is that there is not necessarily a correlation between commitment and church attendance, or community. This is what REVEAL reports:

We found that those who were the most active in the church did not necessarily report higher levels of spiritual attitudes (“love for God and others”) and spiritual behaviors (evangelism, tithing, etc.) than those who were less active.
This led us to discovering a Spiritual Continuum centered on a relationship with Jesus Christ, which was much more predictive of spiritual growth (Chart 3).

 

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What I find interesting is that I missed the conversation going on in other quarters. I have a book I purchased a few years ago, long before REVEAL hit the stands, written by Joseph R. Myers, The Search to Belong.

In a chapter entitled “the myths of belonging (p9),” Myer writes:

More commitment = more belonging. People often believe that there is a significant relationship between commitment and community. That is, however, a romantic view. When we search to belong, we aren’t really looking for commitment. We simply want to connect (p12).

I’m not saying that Willow Creek borrowed the idea, quite the contrary. When an organization as large as Willow Creek  picks up on an issue that has been surfacing throughout the church,to say we are sensing a moving of the Spirit is a bit of an understatement.

This sentiment is found in Rick Richardson’s writings, such as Evangelism Outside the Box, and in the the halls of the emerging church.

So, what’s next? That is the question that faces my colleagues and I in France. I’ll get back to you.

Systems and Structure

Pope-leo[15] My friend and I have had an ongoing conversation about how to do church. The one thing that we’ve tried to do is to hear what God is saying about the mission and purpose of the church that we attend. This has been an ongoing conversation.

Our greatest frustration is to get others to focus on what the church should be about. We find that the more we focus on the mission and purpose statements of the church, the more resistance to change we encounter.

The other night we had a particularly “spirited” conversation about the topic, and I sensed that as we parted company, we were both a little frustrated and feeling down about our seeming lack of progress.

The conversation continued this morning, and one thought came out of all this. We have been focusing on changing the system, and not the people. The passage that came to mind was Eph. 6:12:

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (ESV)

This tells me that we are trying to change the system and not the people in the system.

In other words, we are fighting a losing battle.

As long the system is our focus, we are lost in a quagmire that will only drain us and spit us out like a seed from a piece of fruit.

We have to change our focus, not simply to address the problem by writing a vision/mission/purpose statement for the system, we need to make our main focus the need to disciple, mentor, spiritual formation, make followers of Christ, etc., in order for change to happen. This will happen because we need to make the role of the Holy Spirit in each person’s life of paramount importance.

So, structure is good, it is necessary, but that isn’t what we are called to do. We are called to introduce people –not the system, to Christ, so that we all may experience abundant life.

What this makes me wonder is, how many times in the past I’ve looked directly into the sun and not seen it?

Some Good Advice

Okay, I admit this is not one of my strengths, which probably why I find it an interesting clip. It’s worth a look at any case.