Unexpected places

About a month ago we were spending several days away with dear friends who have been a significant part of our lives and ministry for the better part of 3 decades.  The trip may have involved a few wineries and some magnificent food. Most importantly it was a road trip with several hours of unscripted time to share life and build memories.  Somewhere in the midst of our shenanigans … I believe we were in a Walla Walla Walmart parking lot …  we were sharing binge-worthy television series. Our friend referenced “Queer Eye” and in doing so he expressed his opinion that it should be mandatory viewing for every pastor.  He didn’t elaborate on why and the moment quickly passed, but the comment wasn’t lost on me.  I will admit that my limited knowledge of “The Fab 5” centered around style and fashion. I am also painfully aware of my ineptitude with both of these, so maybe there was some promise there for me.  We never came back to the subject but fast forward 4 weeks and in the midst of my wifes recovery from surgery we were needing to cue up some Netflix therapy … you see where this is going.  Having similar philosophies and angst over the current state of the Church, I was all about putting my pastoral artist back on and settle in to discover what was behind his claim.  We still haven’t talked yet about it, but it only took part of the first episode to see what he may have been referencing a month ago in that Walmart parking lot.

Anyone who has read any of my previous ramblings on this site has some idea of the journey of recovery I’ve been on in recent years and my complicated relationship with the traditional forms and philosophies of my evangelical heritage.  I’m exhausted by the show.  I’m worn out from years of figuring out how to catch and keep people so I can created the illusion that my church is “growing”.  I’m jaded … does it show? … by the motives of the masses.  I’ve used up the “if only” excuses.  If only we had the right building, more people would come.  If only we had a more compelling sermon series, more people would stay.  If only we had ______________, then they would ____________ . I’m discouraged and ashamed at my own role in using volunteers to keep the machine rolling each week.  I’m tired of explaining why people need to experience “good news”  wherever and however they are when it’s just easier waiting for them to come to us at 10am Sunday morning to hear “good news”.  I once had an executive of a church planting agency ask my wife and I why we were “wasting our time” with people in our neighborhood if there was a good chance they might never show up at our Sunday gatherings … never mind that those we were “wasting our time” with happened to be responsible for most of the encouragement and opportunity that we experienced during our 4 years in the neighborhood … and in the end were the friends, and still are valued friends, who wept with us when we decided it was time for our journey to end.   I have mourned my part in this.  Despite what you might think after reading these previous cathartic sentences, I hope to turn it all to good somehow.  That’s where “Queer Eye” comes in to my journey.  I would also state for the record that I believe it should be mandatory viewing for all pastors as I believe, if those who need to get over themselves can actually do so, they may see a more biblical and gospel model of ministry than many of us ever had the opportunity or conviction to practice.

Jesus, when asked about the greatest commandment, simplified everything by stating that we are to ” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).  This is a holistic relationship with God … it’s heart, mind, body, and soul.  If we were honest … and by we I mean pastors … we would admit that our focus is primarily on the mind … the teaching, convincing, apologetics. We’d love to, with a bit of effort, be able to address the heart, but rarely have time to consider the body. Of course it goes without saying that we are also in it for the soul … if by the soul you mean where it will be spending eternity.  If we can check those boxes off then we can probably keep our positions.  The problem is that we are dealing with holistic beings created in the image of God internally, but covered in external stuff that keeps us stuck in place … very unreliable and inconvenient if you are trying to build your kingdom, but necessary to deal with if we want to build “The kingdom”.  Here is where the “Fab 5” understand something that too few of us have connected with.  When they engage someone in need of transformation, they go after the whole person.  Their concern is so far beyond the cosmetics that I had imagined.  They go places that few churches or church people are willing to go.  They give everyone value… unconditionally.  They are willing to confront their own discomforts in the reclamation of “the other”.  They act as a unit.  They don’t rely on only one to accomplish all … each plays a critical role … are you hearing any “body of Christ” imagery?  They are encouraging and pointedly honest, with love and respect. They cross racial, social, and cultural barriers.  They convey more about discipleship than any program I’ve seen marketed in recent years.  They encounter people on their own turf, in their own homes.

Here’s the catch though … and the challenge for the Church moving forward.  It’s labor intensive.  In this illustration it’s a 5 on one investment in the life of each individual.  We have relied for so long on the notion that “all they need is Jesus” because “once saved, always saved” and we’ve won when their eternity is secured so it really comes down to a transaction.  Sure it’s more difficult to get the transaction … it takes more time than it used to.  “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” and all.  Things are different in the post Billy Graham era.  We don’t have the luxury anymore of attracting people with a better show and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. After all, that’s honestly just laziness.  Ironically I and many more like me became burned out by being lazy that way.

As hard as it may be to believe and despite what I have just unloaded here, I am very much encouraged.  I’ve been struggling in the pastoral arts long enough to know what holds promise and what is simply the next shiny thing.  I think I have a handle on what gospel transformation entails and how lengthy, elusive and difficult the journey is, but I believe it’s worth it and I still believe that the Church is the Bride of Christ, ordained as God’s instrument here on earth … and I believe that if even a few people called to lead it are willing to find inspiration in unexpected places, then we can once again be seen as light in the darkness.  Now for the next episode …


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