That From This

by think on January 10, 2014

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Orlando, April 2011. Day one of the Exponential conference. Francis Chan wrecked my life.

Chan had been visiting countries that are hostile to Christians, asking what it was like to follow Jesus there. The stories stunned him: ostracism, abandonment, beatings, and sometimes death. Believers had no dedicated “church” buildings, no curriculum, and no worship bands. They didn’t complain about “not being fed.” They fed themselves scripture, totally orienting their lives around obeying Jesus, making disciples and serving one another in love. And, wherever two or more were gathered… was “church.”

Francis begged them to tell him more. Curious, one person finally asked, “Isn’t it like this where you come from?”

Not exactly, he admitted. “We meet for an hour a week in special buildings with padded seats and air conditioning and coffee. We sing songs that we like and listen to someone explain the Bible to us. And then we leave, and come back the next week, unless there is a better speaker or cooler music someplace else… and then we go there.”

They started laughing at him. He must be kidding, or lying… but of course, he wasn’t. And it got quiet. That’s when one of them held up a Bible and asked,

“How did you get that from this?”

It was good question. Chan did not have an answer, nor did several thousand pastors at Exponential. And neither did I.

For me, this question stood at the pinnacle of a growing mountain of doubt. The systems, processes, programs, and players we have deployed add up to lots of religious activity that is not producing disciples who make disciples. Willow’s Reveal study opened some eyes to the problem, but mostly stirred up a lot of academic analysis, handwringing, and feeble justification of the ways we currently “do church.”

How we got “that from this” sent me back to square one. I didn’t seek scriptural justification for existing practices, I tried my best to start with scripture and work my way out, repenting for failure and outright disobedience. It’s made me sad, and a little angry.

I’ve re-told Chan’s story in multiple settings. People gasp, shed tears, and then continue business as usual. The suggestion that we should actually examine our results, derive our practices from scripture, use different metrics, or even abandon efforts that function just fine without any interference from the Holy Spirit… are met with resistance and resentment. Comparing ourselves among ourselves we are not wise. We have embraced the status quo.

What motivates me is not my persecuted brother holding up a Bible at the end of his machete-scarred arm… it’s my upcoming exit interview upon leaving earth. Instead of “Well done, good and faithful servant,” my Savior says, “I left you on earth to make disciples, and I showed you how to do it. I gave you everything you needed, and empowered you with the Holy Spirit. You were incredibly busy, but I was wondering…

“How did you get that from this?”

You can see Francis Chan’s talk from Exponential 2011 by clicking here.

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