Counteracting Church: Learn. Love. Live.

Posted in Uncategorized by Stephen Stonestreet on December 9, 2008

As I start this new book, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (funny I haven’t read it until now), there are a lot of things that have been on my mind, negative and positive. I look at a lot of things negatively and a lot of things positively, and more so positively, unlike the past. The past as been a rumble of cynicism; a critical mindset of people in general, and institutions. It seemed if I could find one bad thing about a person or institution (church or ministries) that I would altogether disown them. It was simply wrong.

Now, as I contemplate the past, I know I need to correct the wrong. Maybe I should call these people up and ask for reconciliation; for a clean slate. There are a few I would choose first, a few I would consider not calling because much has already been reconciled, and some I just wouldn’t call at all, out of fear. There is yet a lot to overcome.

But, as I read and think upon this first chapter of Blue Like Jazz, one thing I remember the most, and I believe with all my heart needs to be confronted, is the lack of understanding within a “church”. [this is not towards any particular institution or person, or any certain ministry, it is a comment in general]…

 

As a child, the title Father God offered an ambiguous haze with which to interact. I understood what a father did as well as I understood the task of a shepherd. All the vocabulary about God seemed to come from ancient history, before video games, Palm Pilots, and the Internet.

If you would have asked me, I suppose I would have told you there was a God, but I could not have formulated a specific definition based on my personal experience. Perhaps it was because my Sunday School classes did much to help us memorize commandments and little to teach us who God was and how to relate to Him, or perhaps it was because they did and I wasn’t listening. Nevertheless, my impersonal God served me fine as I had no need of the real thing. I needed no deity to read out of heaven and wipe my nose, so none of it actually mattered. If God was on a dirt road walking toward me, He was on the other side of a hill, and I hadn’t begun to look for Him anyway.

[Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. Chapter 1, page 4 and 5]

 

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If you have been in the institution called “church”, as a kid or as a teenager, you might understand. Sometimes the pastor’s kids understand more than anyone else. As for me, I saw it, lived through it, did it all, but my parents blessed me by including trips and encouraged times of solitude and reading, as well as things that were outside of the institution. I understood the meaning of church as ME and not a building early.

This quote stuck out to me the most, and a lot of people have talked about this. I know that even Paul from the New Testament talked about this to the church, the people, he was connected with. So I don’t feel convicted to highlight the words I have written so far and click the delete button. Instead, I feel convicted to speak on this controversial subject to enlighten hearts and minds, and to encourage change within the church as a people and not an institution.

Maybe the reason for Donald’s misunderstanding of a personal God is the institution, maybe not. Maybe he wasn’t listening and only could remember that he memorized verses. But he was a child, as was I, and that is all I can truly remember us doing. “If you bring your bible to wednesday church, you will get a point. If you memorize the verse for this week, we’ll give you another point, and if you get this many points, you can get a BIG prize!” A manipulative way of helping people know God, from my view.

 

The idea I want to bring up, and the encouragement I want to bring, is this:

If we can only realize the true, life-changing, life-renewing power of community and love, the kind Jesus brought with his disciples, then maybe we wouldn’t read these words again in another book, the words that talk about the misunderstanding of a loving heavenly Father who cares deeply for us and wants to see us filled with His joy and His peace and His affection and love.

Donald didn’t understand what a father was supposed to be like. As he continued to write, he pointed out that by going to “church”, he learned that God, our Father, was rich, and had a perfect young daughter who was a cheerleader and a son who was the perfect athlete. He also learned that God had “a lot of money and a big car” (second paragraph). These things, of course, a lot of us would laugh at. But this was reality to him, by going to a place called “church”.

I want to counteract this by saying, church is not a building, it is me and you and all the people of the world. The institutional “church” should not be called, “The House of God,” for I am the temple of the Holy Spirit, and God’s house is wherever “two or more are gathered”, whether in a building or under the stars or in a home.

 

After saying that, God is not rich or poor, He is who He is, unchanging and unending; He is the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” He does not have two children, a son and a daughter, who are perfect. He has a Son, and because of that Son, he has adopted all those who believe upon His name and follow (actively) Him.

And saying that, I would like the encourage you all, whoever you are, whether you understand what I am saying or not, to actively see and positively change, through love (with meekness), the way people know God and “do” “church”. Live, be, THE church; we are the church. Stop trying to make people understand, but LIVE as the Church of Jesus Christ, and CHANGE others by loving them: being a father to those who don’t understand what a father is, or one who hasn’t had one. Whatever it is, just BE and that encompasses “doing”. Being is doing, but doing isn’t being.

 

One thing I know is true and needs to change: the way we teach our children about God.

No more throwing them into a program at your “church”, or making them go to the children’s church during sunday morning services. It is actually semi-selfish, because you want time to learn yourself, but are denying a deep realization and understanding of God in your children by putting them at a different level as you. If you show them that they can learn the same things you are learning, it challenges them to understand the things of God, and therefore they grow in the Lord. Otherwise, they play games and sing silly songs that keep them “entertained” while you are being fed. The “silly songs” and “entertainment” give them a hype, it makes them have a shorter focus span. But if you counteract that, and you bring them where you go to learn, then they have to learn to sit still, listen, focus, and learn. That is how they can grow, by learning to be still and focus longer and get something out of “church”.

 

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

 

The last thing I want to say is, “please forgive me”. I have for a long time put down the institutional “church”, which is not all bad. I hope you will pardon me.

Instead, I want to start encouraging others to look at church different, which was started with the post before this one; I want to challenge others to change the way they do things, so that others can change. And this only starts by “BEING THE CHANGE I WANT TO SEE”.

The only hope for the church, as a people, is if we look at church more relationally and within THE community and not A community, instead of it being a place we go.

 

 

It is a place we are at now, and forever will be: within ourselves and with others.

 

It is a place we BE (which includes doing) and not just DO; a place we look to live in and not get something out of (because it is within us — the Holy Spirit).

 

It is the place of our hearts, the heart we share with others, and as a result of sharing, we learn, we love, we live.

 

It is within our hearts we find church.

 

 

 

It is a place we simply LIVE.

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2 Responses

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  1. Harry said, on December 10, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    I like (most) of what you have put man. Joshua Longbrake actually did a project a while ago called “I am the church” where a bunch of people wrote down “I am the church” on something, and took their picture. Showing, as you have said, that people are the church, not buildings.

    The one point I disagree on, is the children’s work. I can’t remember if you do children’s work yourself, but from my experience, taking the children out of the main teaching sermon, and giving them their own time, is the best option for everyone. The parents can concentrate on the sermon without having to constantly keep an eye on their child(ren), people who don’t have any children are able to concentrate on the sermon without being disturbed by other people’s children, and the children themselves are able to receive a more targeted sermon. I do agree however that just sitting them down in front of a movie (I am really not a fan of Veggie Tales!) quite possibly does more harm than good, but also, giving them a targeted sermon to their age group would be more beneficial than them receiving the same sermon as the main congregation, which may be on, for example, finances.
    I do a whole lot of youth work, and one of the things that I really struggle with is the whole teaching thing. I, like both you and Donald, and countless others, went to Sunday School, learnt what I needed to learn to get a star that I could show to my parents and get praise for. I didn’t really learn anything about Jesus. What I do remember however, were the leaders. How they acted with each other, good or bad. For this reason, I more go on the belief that it is more what you do, than what you say, that will effect children’s and youth’s minds, and future lives.
    Apologies if it doesn’t make sense, I’m rather tired :)

  2. Stephen Stonestreet said, on December 11, 2008 at 12:30 am

    To be honest, I thought about not posting on this just because I, personally, don’t agree with any kind of service in a church building… I feel there is so much more to learn, just being with each other, learning to love each other and God, and living in encouraging community, relationally…

    With the idea of children in the service, I have had a lot of experience seeing children who have joined in on the main service, and children who have not, and I have seen how much it can benefit the child. For instance, a family I know from Virginia always had their children in the service at a retreat we go to each year, and didn’t have them stay in a separate room… They are probably the best kids I know, and one of them, who is three, was talking one of the days there at the retreat about what his dad was talking about on stage… he actually got the message, a freakin 3 year old, and because his parents have him sit and listen, and he has to stay still, he starts to want to do those things and listen and learn…

    I believe that we can’t just start taking the kids out of the children’s church now… the kids are not ready for that, because they have grown already, and are adapting to the children’s church already, and it would be hard to put them back in. But I believe it is the responsibility of the parents to make the decision to keep their children in the main service or not… I am definitely keeping mine in…

    I don’t mean any of this post negative, by the way, either… This is just a thought for people to think about… I mean, I really learn from how the children react to the speaker and the worship, and I think that we can learn, and not have to be annoyed or watch over them to make sure they don’t do anything wrong…

    Anyways, I do agree with you about the sunday school classes, the attitude of the teachers makes a big impact on how the children who are in the class act and learn… I just think they could learn better, both ways (learning from the teacher’s attitude, and the message that is given…)…

    Bless you, I’m really happy for the feedback!

    cheers,
    stephen


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