Please, No More Information!

Recently I read an article that started with the following statement,

Do you know what your problem is? Your problem is not that you are uninformed. That is what you might have thought your problem was. Your problem is also not that you lack information. This is a common misconception. In fact, people nowadays have lots of information… Ezra Klein’s philosophy in running Vox.com has been precisely this: people do not need facts, they need explanations.

I didn’t agree with the article, but the above statement reminded of a church meeting I’d attended a few days earlier.

The meeting was good. After a great time of worship, the pastor introduced the guest speaker who spent 30 minutes or so talking about how every believer was a light and the salt of this world. He talked about the properties of salt and light. He said what it meant for each believer to have those qualities. He gave examples using a flashlight while the lights in the sanctuary were dimmed. He had us tell the person next to us how precious they were for being the light and salt of this earth. By the time he was done, most of us knew more about salt and light than we needed.who-wants-change

While sitting there, I wondered how many believers in that room weren’t already familiar with Christ’s teaching in Matt 5:13-14? How many needed more information about those verses? How many had not, over and over again, heard what salt and light do? I am sure that for most of those present, the problem was not lack of information, but what to do with it. I’m confident that everyone left the meeting feeling great about who they were in Christ, but to what end?

I am a practical follower of Christ. I believe, at this age, after being a believer for over 40 years, I don’t need more information on what it means to be a disciple/servant of Jesus. What I need is how to implement all I’ve learned about what it means to be a Christian.

I wish, unlike most teachers I’ve heard all these years, our teacher that night had sent us home with some practical steps on how to make our lights shine, or how to attract people to our saltiness, so they become thirsty for the things of God. I wish he had said something like:

Now that you know you are the light and the salt of this world. Now that you’ve become aware of who you are in Christ, I want you to implement what you learned tonight. Go from here and be the light and salt to your own neighborhoods. Fulfill God’s greatest commandment—loving your neighbor through God’s love—by, at least, getting to know your next-door neighbor’s name, offer to mow his/her lawn (if they need it), make a casserole dish and take it to them, or something like that.

In order to be the light and salt of this world, the majority of us doesn’t need any more facts and information on the subject. We need to put to work all that we already know. And for that, we need teachers who can give us simple and yet practical ways to achieve that goal. And for the Church to stop being just a hearer/information gatherer and become a doer also.

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Please Do Not Go To A Bible College 2

A few years ago, I posted a blog, Please Don’t Go To A Bible College. I wrote the article after teaching at a small Bible college for five years and noticing many students committing themselves to thousands of dollars in student loans to earn a four-year degree, which could only land them a job that

  1. a) had nothing to do with so-called ministry and
  2. b) they could have gotten with their high school degree — “Would you like whipped cream on top?”

At the time, I got a lot of feedback on the post, especially from some of my former students. However, a few months ago I received the following long email from David. A young man I’ve never met. To keep this blog as short as possible, I have only included the Reader’s Digest version of David’s email.

Mr. Afshar,

I’ve read your article on not going to Bible College over a dozen times. I agree with you 100%. You have one of the very, very, very few articles on the internet about this subject and I decided to finally email you asking for two things: 1) advice and 2) you write a follow-up article.

After high school, being terrified to be out of God’s will, rather than joining the military to work on nuclear reactors, (An ASVAB test had highly qualified him for that position.) David, who comes from a Pentecostal background, felt he was called to be a missionary, so he went to a Bible college.

After finishing college, he tried to go to Japan as a missionary, but all his plans failed, so he tried to pursue a Master’s program to, as he put it, “…bring another skill to the table…” It was then that he found out his former Bible college’s accreditation was so poor that the only school that would accept him for graduate work was a seminary.

After the door on Japan closed, he applied all over the country for a youth pastor position while “volunteering everywhere like crazy” trying to build up his resume. But he was turned down everywhere mostly due to being single. He couldn’t find a job even at McDonalds or Starbucks.

Today, at the age of 32, David is back to school again starting from scratch. None of his credits, even English, was transferable. He has three more years to complete his BS. He’s already been awarded the engineering student of the year, been put on the board of directors for a non-profit organization that gives scholarship to qualified students, has an internship at an aerospace company, and is waiting to hear back from NASA regarding a grant for a summer project (According to his last text, he got it).

If it wasn’t for the following, we could all say, “All’s well that ends well.” However, this is not the end of the story. David continued with these sobering words:

Going through all of that has left me in a bad shape. I am cynical about the things of God. I have trouble seeing God as someone who is good and blesses. I constantly struggle with disappointment, disillusionment, anger, and regret. I remember imagescountless sermons on hearing how God will, “open doors” ,”bless my sacrifices”, and etc. My anger is affecting my schoolwork now (My 3.81 GPA will drop down considerably after this semester). I don’t have a dating life because no women in her mid-20s to mid-30s wants to marry a guy who doesn’t have a job and won’t get one for at least three years. I did ALL the things I was told to do and this is where it has left me. I’m ashamed of having gone to a Bible college, and these days I do not tell people.

Because I had many students who went through what Dave is experiencing — and I’m deeply sorry to say that some now consider themselves to be atheists — I wrote another post a few years back to deal exactly with the above issues and questions. Please see, Modernity, Post-Modernity, Metanarrative, And….

In that article I showed how the church, in general, has made God a being who operates like a computer: by correctly using a set of programs and algorithms, God will give you the right answer. And if the answers are not what you expected, it is due to your insufficient input (lack of faith, sin in your life, not reading your Bible enough, not praying hard enough, not being present at every church service, not tithing, and…) and hardly ever preparing us for the reaction of a sovereign God whose answers might often be, “NO.”

Dave ended his email with these questions,

How do I move on? How do I get past the regret and anger? How do I get into a good relationship with God? How do I let go? Do I need to see a therapist and who would I see or how do I find one? How do I heal? How do I deal with being sexually frustrated and not being able to do anything for at least three more years and when it is slim pickings in your 30s?

Could you please write another article in case there is anyone like me, who is going through the same thing?

Since receiving this email, I’ve spent a good hour talking to Dave on the phone. He’s a brilliant and articulate young man. I don’t know how much I was able to help him. That’s why I need you to help me answer the above questions. What would you say to Dave? Please give me some practical advice and not just spiritual clichés.

 

Is Preaching To The Masses Passé?

churchMy last few blog posts have centered on the need for church to change. But this time I want to offer an idea for a new church structure. It is just an idea and I would value your feedback in the comments section. Now, this is not something I have dreamt on my own, but I have been looking at an industry that is very similar to church, education. Both churches and schools spend a lot of their time educating their constituents. Thus, they are very similar in emphases and structure.

Over the past 100 years, every day in primary and secondary schools, teachers have lectured their students. Some included in-classroom exercises to reinforce what was just taught, and then students have homework to practice further concepts taught in the classroom. Then, as we have all experienced, we are given tests to indicate how well we have learned what we have been taught. I have tremendous respect for teachers because they are constantly juggling 20-30 students keeping the fast learners from getting bored, and trying to give slower learners extra support to keep them moving forward.

If any teachers are reading this, you know first-hand that there is a tremendous shift happening in schools today. Popular terms used to talk about this shift are “personalized learning,” “flipped classroom,” or “individualized instruction.” The main concept of this shift is for teachers to no longer lecture in front of the class and expect all students to progress at the pace the teacher sets. Instead teachers are now guiding the learning of each student individually. So each student is on their own path and can progress at their own pace. Yes, there are still benchmarks of progress each student must reach by the end of the year, but now the teacher can guide this learning and the student becomes much more active in taking responsibility and pursuing their own learning.

In this new model, everyone participates, the teacher and the student. No longer do students sit for hours listening to lecture after lecture, taking notes; neither do teachers give the same lecture two to three times a day. Now, both teachers and students go on the learning journey together, down the path set by the curriculum. No longer are teachers viewed as the sage on the stage, but as a mentor, a facilitator, a guide who can draw deeper learning from their students by offering wisdom, different perspectives, and asking questions that make students reason and think, and not just repeat what they memorized. Perhaps, this is a model churches could adopt.

In my last two blog posts, I have mentioned that one of the main reasons the “dones” are leaving the church is that they want to participate more instead of sit in a pew and listen to another sermon. They want to be involved; they want to be active in using their knowledge, expertise, and gifts to help others. I could easily see teams of leaders guiding, mentoring, and helping believers grow deeper in their faith and knowledge of the Bible and of God. In this structure both congregants and leaders embark upon a journey to learn together. Now, I am not advocating putting unskilled or inexperienced people in positions of leadership, but I am advocating giving those who are mature in their faith opportunities to use their gifts to guide the learning of others.

It might be hard to break away from the mindset of groups of people being taught by one person. Heck, most of us have experienced this for most of our lives. But at the time when we have so many mature, experienced, educated and godly “dones” why not engage them and create opportunities for them to participate.

 

By embarking upon journeys together, conversations will happen, people will share what they are thinking, will read something that gave them insight, taught them something new, or even answered prayer. People will read together, people will read on their own, people will wrestle with problems in the company of others who support them. Since we are all in this journey together, I think participation by more people would be a good thing. Now, I will repeat, I am not saying I have all of the answers. I am not saying this is the way things have to be. This is one perspective that I wanted to share.

So, your turn, what do you think?

By Guest Blogger, CK Miller

People Are Leaving The Church To Save Their Faith. What?!

Have you ever heard of someone leaving the church in order to save their faith? That seems so paradoxical, yet it is true for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Countless articles, studies, blogs, and books have examined this phenomenon, the reasons behind it, and what the church could do in response. People keep trying to get the church, especially Protestant, evangelical churches to change. But most churches have turned a blind eye, preferring to blame those who have left, saying they were never true Christians to begin with, or that they prefer their sinful lives. But is that true?

People Have Been Leaving for Decades

Pastors, sociologists, academics, and researchers started conducting surveys and research about this trend decades ago. In the 1990’s, the trend was identified: people were starting to leave the church in large numbers. In 2003, Andrew Strom wrote an online treatise called “The Out of Church Christians” about the phenomenon occurring around the world. He quoted David Barrett, an author for the World Christian Encyclopedia, who estimated that there were 112 million churchless Christians worldwide and that this number would double by 2025.

George Barna was one of the first to study this trend. In 2006, he published a book about it called “Revolution” claiming the trend was growing rapidly and would transform the church.  From 2008 to 2014, the Barna Group interviewed more than 20,000 people trying to understand the American public and they published their findings in their latest book, “Churchless: How to Understand the Unchurched and How to Connect with Them.” They characterize the U.S. population as 49% actively churched, 10% minimally churched, 33% de-churched, and 8% purely unchurched.

The Pew Research Group has conducted their own surveys, and in 2012 they found that “one-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today.” They call this group the “Nones”, which has now evolved into the “Dones”. Researcher and sociologist Josh Packard, Ph.D., co-wrote a book with Ashleigh Hope, called, “Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why the dechurched left… and what they’re hoping to find.” They identified a group they call the “Dones.” These are people who, it turns out, were very active in church leadership–full-time workers, lay leaders, Sunday school teachers, elders–but have left the institutionalized church because they are just “done” with the politics, the power plays, hypocrisy, lack of depth, and performance-based church services.

Leaving the Church but not their Faith

While the statistics paint a broad picture of the current state of the churchless, I think the actual stories by former church leaders and member are more impactful. For example, former church leader, Tony Steward, wrote a blog post about why he left the church. He said, “I’m relearning honesty after being in that world as a profession for more than 10 years. I’m still trying to find out what I think, what it means, and how a real faith in Jesus still exists in my life. I’m detoxing and looking for what remains that is real, that is love, and that is true.”

Another example is Tom Schultz, co-author of the book, “Why People Don’t Want to Go to Church” talks about his own research. He said, “The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.” He also quotes John Packard, who recounts one of his interviewees as saying, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”

Like Tony and the millions of others, I too left the church. Unlike Tony who is just beginning his journey, I left almost 10 years ago. Why? I couldn’t find God at church in the midst of all the church programs, projects, classes, and ultra structured Sunday services. I was tired of people hiding behind the facade of self righteousness, as they denied their humanity, preferring to quote Scripture than to admit their fallibility. However, I did find fulfilling community in a small home group that was not affiliated with any church. I enjoyed soul quenching conversations about spirituality, faith, humanity, and life with quality people of different perspectives, hurts, joys, foibles, and journeys they were willing to share. Although I moved away too far to continue being a part of this group, I still commune with my Savior.

Perhaps now we can see the churchless differently. They too are people who long for authentic experiences with God, the Creator, and Jesus, the Savior. They don’t want pat answers to questions and they certainly don’t want anyone to just quote Scripture at them. They are young and old, Millennial, Gen X, Boomer, you name it, they are people who long for authenticity, deeper relationships where people can express their doubts, concerns, and questions about God and life. They just couldn’t find what they were looking for in church.

By Guest Blogger, CK Miller

Not At My Church!

The name of my organization is Shahzam Factor…Seeing church different. The tagline has to do with something I have begged the American church to do for over 30 years, CHANGE. The following article is about that very subject. It’s written by my friend CK who, from time to time, will be doing guest appearance on this blog.                                                                                             Shah
                                                                                                         
Why is it so difficult for us to realize the need for change? From churches and businesses, to non-profit organizations and even families, so often we fail to see the need for change. It seems that we so often need to come to the brink of disaster before we come to terms that if we don’t change, our organization, our relationship, or our church will fail.
As I have researched “change” in my graduate studies the past two years, it has struck me how difficult change is for people, people in some of the most successful companies, people throughout history, even people in the Bible. Let me give you a couple of examples.
World Class Medical Center Nearly Closes
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts is one of the leading hospitals in the world. The quality of this institution is due in part to the long standing and coveted relationship with Harvard University. Many of the doctors who practice and teach at the medical center also teach at Harvard. However, this institution nearly closed. For years, the medical center was losing money. During this time, several CEOs hired reputable consulting firms to determine why the medical center was consistently losing money. Report after report was submitted to the executives, board of directors, and the chief medical staff. Yet nothing changed and the medical center continued to lose money. It wasn’t until Paul Levy was appointed CEO in 2002 that things changed.
In Levy’s first few months on the job, he faced the fact that the medical center was nearly bankrupt, and that the governor and city officials were planning to take possession of the institution. But Levy had a plan to revamp operations and was able to convince the governor to delay the closure for six months. Confronted with the fact that they were about to lose everything, the medical center’s executives, board of directors, medical staff, and employees finally saw the need for change and made some tough decisions. Over those six months, Levy spent a great deal of his time explaining what needed to change—from leasing space on the expansive campus, and cutting jobs, to refining operations, and restructuring the medical staff and board of directors. He also communicated how the changes would take place and secured the support of everyone involved. His plan worked. Today, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is going strong.
Resistance to Change in the Bible
The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, can be seen as a book about people who resisted change. Prophet after prophet warned the Israelites to change their ways otherwise judgment would come. But they didn’t and judgment did come—they were captured and displaced. In the New Testament, Jesus proclaimed the message of peace, love, and reconciliation to God. He performed the most powerful act of love, ever. Yet, people who heard his message and saw miracles did not believe him or change how they lived their lives. For more than 2,000 years millions of people who have heard the gospel refused to repent, to believe, to love, to receive grace, and to see the need to change their lives.
Any believer, who has evangelized, especially pastors, would probably understand how difficult it is for people to change their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. However, believers, especially pastors, are the very people, who need to realize the need for change. Modern-day prophets—the statisticians and researchers—are sounding the warnings. The Hartford Institute of Religion Research estimates fewer than 20% of Americans actually attend church every Sunday, more than 4,000 churches shut down every year, and between 2010 and 2012 less than half of churches added any new members. In June 2014, CharismaNews published an article by Ed Stetzer, examining trends, which paint a picture of a dwindling church. In their book, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore”, Joani and Thom Schultz show how church membership is declining and why. Research conducted by Steve McSwain, author and consultant, was published on Huffington Post showing statistics that the church is in decline across different denominations.
Are we going to be like the Israelites and ignore the prophets? Will church leaders be like the doctors at Beth Israel Medical Center and disregard the research only to say “Not at my church”? Are you going to be like those whom you have shared the Gospel with and yet, never saw the need to change? We have passed post-modernism and entered a new age when EVERYTHING is changing. Right or wrong, People who were once employed are becoming free-agents; schools are shifting from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered learning; established industries are being threatened by new business models; social media has changed how people communicate and the list goes on. With all of the research showing that church attendance is declining, and every aspect of society changing, are you able to see a need for change in the church?

                                                                                                                    By CK Miller, guest blogger

Preaching Butt-Naked

On that Wednesday night, I started my message by asking my audience the following question:

“Coming to church, did any one of you see the man standing butt-naked at the off ramp of 118 Freeway and Porter Ranch? He was holding a sign saying something about God judging the nakedness of America.”
“If you’d seen him, would you have called the police?” I continued asking.
“I almost did! But first I decided to talk to him. So I got out the car and asked him why he was doing such a stupid and disgraceful thing in God’s name.”
“God told me to do so!” Shouted back the man.
With much indignation in my voice, I asked the people, “Can you believe this lunatic? Would God EVER ask us to do something so humiliating, so shameful? Would He EVER expect us to do an act that might make us feel uncomfortable?”
I then went on to say, “Before answering my questions, let me read something to you.”
In the year the field commander, sent by King Sargon of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought and took it, God told Isaiah son of Amoz, “Go, take off your clothes and sandals,” and Isaiah did it, going about naked and barefooted.      Isa. 20:1-2
“I believe the word naked means butt-naked since it’s the same Hebrew word used to describe Adam and Eve’s appearance in the Garden. However, even if you believe it means stripped-down to one’s underwear, as some argue, it was still an extremely shameful act for a Jewish man to perform. After all, Isaiah didn’t live in America where it’s fashionable for men to wear their pants at their knees and their underwear pulled up to their chins.”
“So, my friends, in order to make his point, the Lord might/will ask his servants to perform acts that are uncomfortable, shameful and even indecent by our standards. The Bible is filled with incidents like that.“
A few years ago I had a very strange spiritual experience that was quite unusual and humiliating. Personally, I would have never sought such an experience. In fact, earlier, I’d mocked those who had experienced it. It didn’t live up to my theological standards. Hey, I was a seminary graduate who had the Creator of the universe all figured out.
On the surface, the experience was not only humiliating, but also foolish and downright weird. However, through that incident, I came to know my Savior and his love for me like I never felt and understood before. It created in me a deeper love for God and a longing for more of him in my life. I began to seek him like the addict Origen talks about when he says, “Without ceasing, the soul searches after the Bridegroom, the Word, and when it finds him, it looks for him again like an addict, in other things as well.” By the way, I am well aware that Origen, an early Church Father, didn’t have an orthodox Christology; however, I also believe that all truth is God’s truth.
Unfortunately, my experience didn’t sit well with some of my more theologically sophisticated Christian friends because it didn’t jive with their understanding of the Bible. Regardless of how much that experience had increased my desire to seek my Lord in a much deeper way, they severed their relationship with me. As if, like the blind man healed by Jesus, that was going to make me deny the reality of what had taken place in the inner most part of my being—that deep sense of God’s presence in my life.
Let me finish this post with a challenge to my readers. The core desire of my ministry, Shahzam Factor, is to see church different (the incorrect English is intentional). To see church differently, many of us Christians need to experience the Lord in a new way acknowledging that:
The newness inherent in any situation of encountering with God is brought by him, not by us, and the newness it calls for in us is not a newness of physical or psychological or intellectual experience, it is simply a newness being given to him (and that, too, is not a matter of psychological or any other kind of experience in itself, though it may, of course, lead to or involve some kind of transformation of experience of life).               Simon Tugwell
The Psalmist says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” When was the last time YOUR soul longed after God with that intensity? Please note that I am not asking how much you love to read or teach the Bible. I am not asking you how much you long to fellowship with the believers, serve others, or tithe, but thirst after God and his presence in your life.  What if to fulfill that longing, God requires you to do something humiliating. Will you be willing to do so? Or at least, will you be willing to rejoice with a friend who is willing to be humiliated so he/she can draw closer to God?