Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Some Teeth-Grinding Reading Observations

I am reading a book that is really making me angry. Contributing to this is, undoubtedly, the series of difficult ministry issues that have happened over the last month, which already had me in a rather grumpy disposition. (And, incidentally, have prevented me from writing anything as well.)

So I re-enter the endeavor of writing by engaging this book, and exploring with you who care to read along just exactly how it is ticking me off. I’ve read the introduction and the first two chapters of “Breaking the Missional Code” so far, and the ideas presented up to this point have been clich├ęd, redundant, and even archaic. Here’s three:

1 - Page 2, still in the introduction, we encounter this thought: “Missions history is filled with stories of great revivals because missionaries were able to ‘break the code,’ and the church exploded in their community.”

Wow. So many things to say about that.

Missions history is actually filled with stories about cultural pillage in which arrogant Europeans basically destroyed beautiful communities in the name of Jesus. To ignore this is irresponsible. (Perhaps the authors will address it later in the book.) When missionaries, for example, forced Native American children to wear shoes and sit on hard wooden desks learning English, they were not “breaking a code” for the sake of offering a relationship with God. It was cruel, it was horrifying, and we need to say that out loud. We also need to say that to talk about the church “exploding” is probably not the best way to describe a history with a lot of violence.

2 - Page 5, to set the tone for the whole book, we read that Christians need to “…break through the resistance” to “the church and the gospel message.”

Wow. Where do these guys live?

There’s just not that much “resistance” to the church anymore that needs “breaking.” We are not at war with anyone here. This approach makes the church sound like enhanced interrogators working over a prisoner or something – yuck! The prevalent attitude in our communities is apathy, not antagonism. If we go about this process with the mindset of countering resistance, we are tilting windmills. There’s nothing noble about fighting against something that is not present. We call those tantrums, and they are never pretty. Apathy is very different than resistance, and the church needs to realize that before deciding how to share the love of God.

3 - Chapter 2 lists seven pastors that comprise a “new breed” of pastors that understand the new reality and the authors want us to see as examples. A good idea, but here’s the kicker – every single one of them is a white man.

Along with this subtle narrow-mindedness, the authors actually affirm that uniform sameness is a strength of the congregations they highlight. “We have discovered that when the growing core of leaders, the pastoral leadership, and the community are from the same tribe, then the potential for impact is significant.” Well, so much for diversity. Although they do say that it is okay if different congregations look different from each other. “Churches should function differently from location to location. When it comes to the kingdom of God, uniformity is not a value.” I wonder what the authors think about the common lament that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Their thesis seems to be, one church can look different from the next, but people in a church should all look the same. I’m sorry, but I just can’t go there.

Those are three ideas from the first three sections of the book that made me grit my teeth a bit as I read them. And I fully intend to read the entire book, so I may need a mouthguard. But maybe it will get better as we go along.

There was one good idea I read: “We value technique, and sometimes it keeps us from hearing God’s voice and vision regarding our church.” Amen to that! There is far too much emphasis on “technique” in church leadership training these days, and far too little theology. Yes, that may be an attempt to compensate for years of too much theology and not enough technique. But I feel there has been an over-reaction, and completely agree with the authors’ assertion. So there, it’s not all bad!

If you’ve actually cared enough to read this far, I commend you. Engaging this book is my way to get my writing momentum back again, so I crave your indulgence for a few posts as I do so. Thanks!


John Meunier said...


Good to see you back blogging. I hope the frustrating ministry situations are in the rear view.

On the "resistance" issue, do you think what they mean has anything to do with the Hauerwas-Willimon argument.

I was just reading one of Willimon's book on preaching last night where he wrote about the gospel being such an affront to our ways of doing and being that it takes a miracle for it to be heard at all.

Apathy, to Willimon, is resistance - a way of avoiding the radical nature of the gospel.

Just a thought I had while reading.

Melissa said...

When you have had the kind of couple weeks you have had, I am not sure you should be reading books like this - your blood pressure can't take it.
I just finished "Same Different As I" and am reading another book about multi-cultural ministry. I will lend it to you when you finish the classic you are reading right now. They are much calmer.