Now the subject line of this post in itself is a quagmire full of unending meanings for those reading this post. I can finally say that I’ve read Tony Jones’ book Postmodern Youth Ministry. For those of you who are not youth pastors, this is one of those “have-to reads” within my profession. I’ve heard so much about it, and have to say that it is “as advertised.” Tony Jones is able to do what I hope to do – that is raise the bar in youth minitry. He helped remind me just how unique our jobs as youth ministers are. None of you can realy relate to what I do. [In all fairness I cannot truly relate to any of you in your professions and situations – after all, that’s at the heart of postmodern thought.] I have no real “boss” and yet everyone is my boss. I’m my own “boss” and yet have little authority. I am well trained . . . but to do what? After all, what is my job description?
I am rambling. Reading this book comes as a pivotal point in my ministry (two years at one place is many youth minister’s Waterloo) thus it has sparked much thought in my mind. It is a pivotal point for many reasons. After two years I am questioning everything that I have done here and have to ask myself, “Was it worth it?” “Did it make a difference?” “Is this church better off than it was three years ago?” These are tough questions. Biting questions.
Financially life is tough making these questions more significant and more biting. Two years without a raise and without one in sight provides a bit of gut-check experience. Especially when your mortgage raises seven percent. Then health benefits fifteen. Things become tight. Things become evaluated through a different lens. Suddenly the questions turn from, “Am I being effctive?” to “Can these people continue to support my family?” to “Do they want to . . . do they care?” Perhaps a cynicism and isolationism coming out a bit there.
Here’s the real thought in all this mess. The more I read and study the more I realize that my epistemological presuppositions are thoroughly rooted on post-foundational deconstructionism that few people I converse within our church relate to and even fewer understand. If you have no idea what that means . . . then you’re probably better off. Basically, I’m confused. Things make sense to me as I read through books, as I think through my faith; but, then when I see people and interact with them, everything blows up.
I think it all comes back to the notion of truth. Propositional truth is something I have trouble buying into, and yet it, in many ways, is the very foundation of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement from which my church has descended. Tony Jones suggests that many (or even most) in Christianity have bought into an epistemelogical model rather than a living and active faith. I agree, and nowhere is that more evident in Churches of Christ.
Most of you who read this blog probably have not followed what I am rambling about, so let me try to lay out through practial application how all this effects me in ministry and why it leaves me so confused.
Many of those within my shared tradition of Churches of Christ believe that they have figured the Bible out and now know exactly how things are to be done. We have made it into a puzzle to be solved, and many believe they have solved it. With the issue of solving down, now we must simply hold on fast to the solution and not let anyone mess it up. Many traditions within Christianity have come to the same conclusion (I know my own tradition so I stick with it for examples). We have figured out that the Bible declares:
* Communion is to be taken every Sunday . . . complete with servers . . . Matzos crackers . . . small plastic cups of grape juice . . . frilly serving trays . . . a communion devotional . . . and only those who are baptized can take them . . . and only men can stand up to serve them . . . and on and on the list goes.
* Baptism is required in order for salvation . . . upon the “age of accountability” . . . except in cases of mental impairment . . . and it must be immersion . . . and it must be done when a person knows enough . . . they must be fully immersed . . . the baptized must be flung backwards under the water (the only way I’ve ever seen it done) . . . must be done by a man . . . must be prefaced with “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”
* Women are not to teach an adult Bible class if even one man is present . . . or serve communion . . . or read Scripture aloud . .. or pray in public . . . or make announcements . . . [yes, our services reak of chauvenism]
* Songs must be led by a man (oops I forgot to put that one above) . .. can never be accompanied by an instrument (except a pitch pipe . . . hhmm . . . isn’t a pipe an instrument) . . . must be sung by the entire congregation . . . and on and on I could go
But what I’m getting at is that I now question all of these conclusions. Every one of them. Yeah, sure some of them I exagerated a wee bit (there’s room for saracasm on my blog any day), but by and large this is what the people I come together to worship on Sundays believe. I am convinced of the following things more and more (and this may be very unfair, but I’m not intending to be):
1 – Leadership in Churches of Christ (elders, ministers, and deacons) are afraid to even touch these issues because they are so “hot.” They are so sensitive that dialogue can seldom occur. The result is that we sing without the instrument for reasons unknown to most of the congregation . . . women are disallowed opportunities for unspoken reasons . . . baptism is emphasized as a work instead of a God-filled salvatory symbol
2 – The peripherals have usurped the resurrection as central to the faith of millions. Members of Christ’s church are more offended by the technicalities of a worship service than of wars that kill millions. They are more concerned with meeting times being “correct” than the hungry being fed and the naked being clothed.
3 – Moderns have nowhere to go in the emergence of a postmodern cultural setting. Christians become further isolated afraid to let their children be “indoctrinated” by secular music, media, and education. We keep our children isolated . . . unfortuately, leaving them unprepared to answer the difficult questions moving through their minds.
4 – Many are addicted to power. I have worked intimately with three churches and at each church I have seen men who are so consumed with their egos and self-preservation that they will never open themselves to new ideas that would ultimately result in reducing their power. Ministers are most at-risk since we recieve our paycheck from these folks . . . you know that comes into play when i decide not to make these points in my next sermon!
5 – Many are afraid to let go of what they’ve always believed. It is a scary and undeniably brave thing to do to leave behind all that you know, and yet that is exactly what postmodernity asks moderns to do. It doesn’t scare me not to have an answer to a question about God . . . for some it is the most terrifying thing they could ask for. For years many of our members have been ingrained with the fact that the Bible is easy to understand and any two people in two different places with a good, loving attitude will come away from the Bible with the same answers. Nothing could be further from the truth . . . and it’s time we start owning up to it.
6 – Many are paranoid. I am convinced there are people who are paranoid at Alum Creek scared to death that I’m a cult leader sifting through our teenagers’ the many cultic ideas that I have to share with them. What they don’t realize is that their teenagers are already there. They have already been raised in a postmodern world asking them questions that our churches are not preparing them to answer . . . and that is something I will do my best to work on with them. College should challenge them . . . not destroy them, and many of our “Christian teens” are walking away destroyed.
In all honesty, I don’t know where to go. I walk forward humbly. These things scare the dickens out of me. There are no clear answers. There are only millions more questions. Some of my modern friends laugh at that and think I am insinuating we should just all sit around and sing “Kum ba yah” with everyone who loves Jesus. that was said to me sarcastically, but maybe that’s a great place to start – then we wouldn’t be talking so much about the church.
There’s a little debate among those who have too much time on their hands whether our names should be: Church of Christ or church of Christ . . . but in reality most of our churches would best be described as CHURCHES of christ. I am sick of discussions regarding CHURCH being allowed to steal away the wonder, mystery, and power that is in CHRIST’S name. May we all be churches of CHRIST! Leave all the modernistic, boring discussions for the age that has past and look ahead to the opportunities and challenges that the new world affirms. The fact is we are talking (and blogging) but no one is really taking note. We need to address the world around us with a message of hope, liberation, and salvation and move from allowing doctrine to be our shield and sword.