Monthly Archives: June 2012

Relational Overcapacity: How do you navigate large groups?

Considering the buzz on the post, What Cities and Social Networks Have In Common, cultivating relationships en masse must be  more difficult than I previously imagined. No one wants to be lonely, but to be alone in a crowded room adds insult to injury. The irony shared by social media and large cities, is that in them, we have access to a lot of people, yet connect with relatively few. But maybe we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot.

Is it the size of the group that restrains community?

Malcolm Gladwell once wrote,

“We can only handle so much information at once. Once we pass a certain boundary, we become overwhelmed. What I’m describing here is an intellectual capacity—our ability to process raw information. But if you think about it, we clearly have a channel capacity for feelings as well” (The Tipping Point. 175).

Maybe plunging ourselves into large groups of people is only exacerbating our sense of loneliness. We want to connect, so we join Facebook. We want to feel welcomed, so we join a large church. We can’t seem to find community, even though we live in an apartment complex with hundreds of other people. Clearly, if you fail at Facebook, church, and neighborhood, the feelings of inadequacy will soon follow. But why?

Is it possible to try too hard?

A smaller group with Read the rest of this entry

Going outside the gate

In my last post, I shared how Christians have their own tribal language which can become a barrier when speaking to people outside the church.

A simple way to avert this might be by getting out of the church building.

Christians are called beyond the “gate” of their church subculture, and into the lives of outsiders on a regular basis, anyway. In fact, our mission involves interacting with people outside the church (John 17:15-16), and we see this reflected in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, as well as Jesus himself.

  • Paul “went outside the gate to a riverside” before happening by a group of spiritually hungry people (Acts 16:12).
  • Jesus had an urge to “pass through Samaria” where he met a spiritually broken woman (John 4:4).

Now, God’s mission can’t always be systematized. But sometimes it helps to break it down in our minds so that we aren’t overwhelmed by the grandeur of it all. If you read the context given in the two examples above, you’ll find a bit of a pattern that I think works really well in practice…

  1. Be intentional (Don’t go anywhere, aimlessly. Seek the Spirit for where He would have you be)
  2. Take initiative (Don’t expect opportunities to come to your doorstep. Engage! Seek others!)
  3. Expend yourself (Commit to that place/area/community/scene once you discover it)

(adapted from “Operation Lydia: Mission” by Chris Lazo)

Christian one-liners and tribal language

Christians have their own way of speaking to each other.

I was recently communicating the gospel worldview in a Christian church service, and used an illustration to describe the implications of following Jesus. I thought it was a great illustration–I tend to use metaphors and stories that are dramatic–and several Christians pointed out that the illustration was very convicting and effective for them. Christians respond well to certain phrases and one-liners. We use slogans that reflect where we are at in our faith, and they make sense to us.

I don’t think we realize how foreign we sound to people outside the church. I certainly did not.

Shortly after the gathering, a millennial, who was not a Christian or a church-member, approached me with a different response than what I was expecting. She shared with me that my illustration, and the things I said, were confusing and traumatic for her. It made her feel shamed, not convicted. Some of my phrases were foreign to her, kind of the way inside-jokes feel to an outsider who hasn’t been around long enough, and my passion only added to this, coming across condescendingly. She felt that I was looking down on her. Now, this girl was very humble, and gracious in her approach. She never accused me, and spoke in a way that was disarming and conversational. I never felt like she was complaining or attacking me in any way. But it was still a great surprise to me! I had no idea that I was coming across as judgmental. I apologized to her very quickly.

I have posted several blogs on the problem of Christianese (see reader comments!), why we should care what other’s think, that we must make our beliefs comprehensible, and how to speak in everyone’s language, because those outside of our church culture don’t understand the way Christians speak. This experience brought it even closer to home, and humbled me. What made it even more alarming was that the part of my teaching most Christians commented positively on, and that I was most proud of, produced the opposite experience for someone who does not regularly hang out with Christians. I failed to explain a simple truth in a way that she could understand, in fact, I communicated in a way that gave her the wrong impression of the gospel.

Our lingo can get lost in translation with other “tribes”

I was unaware of this happening because I am so deeply immersed in a church culture that I don’t know how foreign my words are to many people outside of the church. And apparently, lots of my friends talk the same way too, because afterwards, we give each other high-fives over something profound that was said, while others may have no clue what I meant. We can be great at explaining the gospel to each other, but not to those who have never heard it before. I’m really glad that girl spoke up, and was so nice about it. Not only did I get the opportunity to clarify myself, but I also got to understand her worldview, and dialog with her about Jesus and the church.

But now I wonder…how often do I speak in Christianese without even realizing it?

What is a Missional Church?

There are a few animated videos explaining a missional church. Some very popular videos have pitted the gathered church against missional churches, which is an unnecessary bifurcation—the church gathers and scatters.

This vid is short and unpolished, but so far, is my favorite, because it’s spot on.

An example of presuppositional apologetics in a conversation…

This is a continuation from yesterday’s post on navigating through clashing world-views

Person A: sexual abstinence is so archaic. You should think for yourself, and not let some ancient book and its outdated institutions keep you from a fulfilling life.

Christian: what does a “fulfilling life” look like to you in the way of relationships?

Person A: I am fulfilled when I am with the person I love, without limits being imposed on our mutual and consenting love. Sleeping together is the natural way to express that love, and limits keep us from enjoying it.

Christian: Not all rules are unloving—do you think laws governing DUI is a killjoy for people who want to drink and drive, or that traffic rules impose upon our driving?

Person A: That’s different. DUI’s kill people, and ruin the lives of others; sleeping together can only flame our commitment. Parameters are fine when they make sense.

Christian: I agree! There are some silly laws out there. But I just read a recent article put out by The New York Times on the downside to cohabiting before marriage. The author is not a Christian, but she seems to recognize the same value of sexuality that Paul taught. You might find it interesting!

Person A: Sure, text it to me.

Affirm the common ground (relationships should thrive). Point out the contradiction (all rules are bad). Offer the Christian worldview as hope for the tension in their worldview (cohabiting ruins healthy relationships).

Presuppositional Apologetics: interacting and challenging worldviews

I wrote a blog last year on apologetics, arguing that our culture requires a sacrificial love to persuade people more than a tenacious manhandling of reason and rhetoric. This blog post acknowledges the need for apologetics, when spoken well. As Conan O’Brien would say, “It’s all in the delivery.”

I have the joy of teaching Scripture to a group of Millennials at Adorn who lend me their ear every Friday night. But I can’t just explain the meaning of Scripture passages, I got to unpack life as a young adult in Southern California, with all its baggage, drama, and delicate navigation. So while I study the first century context of the Bible, I also diagnose my culture and age group, and like a physician, get a bit more clarity on where to apply the salve of the Gospel. You know what I learned very quickly? Millennials don’t speak in three-point propositions. No one does.

People live out a narrative, a series of connected scenes and events, because life is a story. 

Apologetics can be problematic if we only want to regurgitate what we learned form a book or classroom, since they are little more than reasoned arguments to justify a belief in something; they make for as much excitement as a field-trip to the DMV. Likewise, if someone was struggling with the reliability of the New Testament, it will probably not be very effective for you to overwhelm them with a bunch of technical facts straight out of the pike about extant Greek manuscripts, Canon formulation, and the science behind Textual Criticism. They would shut down in thirty seconds, and perhaps, leave you for the DMV. You see, factoids are interesting when you are on a personal journey to find them. But if you must first be persuaded to care, you need more than dry propositions. Why?

We don’t process information in bullet points very well; we process in story form.

Think about this. We don’t sit around coffee shops browsing our car manuals. We watch movies, and YouTube videos, read novels and magazines; we get inspired at news blurbs portraying the heroic deed of some kid and her puppy: because we love narratives, and we live in one. That’s why I rarely stop a good sermon illustration just to bombard my listeners with twelve boring points on the transmission of the Masoretic text or the top ten evidences that demand a verdict….unless I can take them into the unfolding story of how the transmission of Scripture happened. But if I can draw them into a scene where the aroma of the Masoretic papyrus circles the room, and they can watch the ink dry, well…then we have a sermon.

How do you use apologetics in story form?

First, let’s change the terms a bit. Let’s exchange the word “story” for “worldview.” A worldview is the lens by which we all make sense of the individual scenes in our life. Some world-views are good, and some are bad, but most world-views are a combination of good and bad.

I want to introduce you to presuppositional apologetics.

This branch of apologetics gets its name because Read the rest of this entry

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