Monday, May 01, 2006

In Search of Jesus

Last Sunday, our family along with my cousin's family decided to visit a church we had heard about in our neighborhood. It is a Willow Creek Association church which has been meeting in a French elementary school just a few blocks away from our house. I was intruigued because it was the first church in Orleans that I knew of that was connected to Willow Creek.

When we got there we saw that the service was in the gym which they had split conveniently in two so that their children's ministry could meet on the other side. Seating was around large round tables - the kind you use for fundraising dinners. It looked like our two families comprised almost half the congregation. There was a small band set up with drums, bass, acoustic guitar and keyboard in the front. There was no stage. The LCD projector was large but of good quality. There was no pulpit in sight but there were several awkwardly placed music stands for the band and for the speaker. A coffee table was set up on the side but I couldn't figure out where the coffee was on the table. Though they did have a lot of bagels.

The program started with the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" led by the drummer. This was followed by a welcome and announcements by the pastor's wife/keyboardist. She also introduced a movie clip from "The Truman Show." I didn't quite understand the point of the clip. But the theme of the day was Spiritual Spring Cleaning: Removing the Clutter. After the clip, the pastor stood up to preach. The whole setting was casual and light. I think I may have overdressed wearing corduroy pants, crew neck t-shirt and a brown, cotton jacket. After the pastor ended his sermon, the band led in a closing song.

We got to talk to the pastor and his wife. They were both very nice people. Apparently they had started the church in their home about 10 years ago. It was very kind of the pastor to sit and talk with us for such a long time since we made it clear that we weren't really searching for a church but that we were just visiting churches in the area. They both admitted that that's why they did the first few months they moved into Orleans before they started the church.

As I sat through the service, I couldn't help but get flashbacks when I had started our first church plant in Orleans almost 15 years ago. We didn't last one year at the time due to a lack of experience and not knowing what to really expect in churchplanting. If I had to compare what we did to what we had experienced last Sunday, I'd have to say that we were doing pretty good 15 years ago without even knowing it. Lots of lessons learned. This Willow Creek-style church really reminded me of how we tried to do it. This time though, as I sat through the program, I had a more discerning perspective.

The intention and mission of the seeker sensitive model is quite noble and Biblical: turn unchurched people into fully devoted followers of Christ. But I think I see where the holes are in the seeker approach. By seeing it like this on Sunday, I also saw where I had made grave errors.

As I observed the proceedings and listened to the message, I asked, "Who is Jesus to these people? Or who do they portray him to be?" Unfortunately, Jesus was barely mentioned except for a passing remark when the preacher quoted from the Sermon on the Mount under one of his points. This positioned Jesus at best as someone who said some things about wise living and at worst a marginalized figure in the church.

I also tried to discern what the gospel was as presented through the experience. It seemed to me that the Bible was the central figure rather than Jesus. Biblical principles were shared on how to overcome struggles with fear and worry. What came across was, if you obey these Biblical principles your life will get better. But then I thought, "Isn't this the same "do this and God will give you this" religion?

In talking to the pastor and his wife -whom I truly believe loves the Lord and have laid down their lives for the kingdom- I know that their approach to Christianity is the "Christianity is not a religion but a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" kind of deal. This is the same mistake I believe I have been making for years. Oh, it's not a theological mistake. It really is about a relationiship to Jesus Christ and not religion. It is more of a missiological error.

These days, as I try to be more missional and see things from a non-Christian perspective, the whole "personal relationiship with Jesus" angle seems a little soft especially if I'm trying to reach men (the toughest audience no matter what culture you're in). It's starting to sound a little effeminate and gay when the gospel is presented as having a loving personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe it's because of our reference point. Which Jesus do you have a personal relationship with? The hippie Jesus in the gospels who walked around jobless with a bunch of guys loving on people and who got a beating for doing it? Or are we talking about the post-resurrection Jesus who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords with fire in his eyes, a sword in his mouth, and a tatoo on his leg ready to open up a can of whoop ass on the nations?

In dealing with the theme of worry and fear, I think he should have brought us to the cross. We should have been provoked to search our hearts asking, "What is the root of our fear and worry? What is going on in our hearts that causes us this distress?" And once our hearts -filled with self-centeredness, pride, unbelief and a desire to be in control- were exposed, we could have been led to the cross where these things can be dealt with. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can deal with the human heart. And only repentance before a mighty Jesus can transform fear into faith and worry into worship.

I think that in the work that we plant here in Ottawa, the message of the cross must be central no matter what topic we teach on. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." The church of Jesus Christ must proclaim Him faithfully to this culture. The cross is the only hope for any society.

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