I’ve been writing lately about what I see as the problem with the liberal/mainline/progressive church. I’ve talked about Liberal Vs. Progressive, why we’re not growing, and said that I think Mark Driscoll is right. Then I shifted a bit and raised the question “Why Christianity?” and offered my reasons as to “Why I Am A Christian.”. My next question was about a “Salvation Moment” and my answer. Last week I asked What does a Christian Look Like? and gave my answer. I want to continue in that vein of raising a question and then offering my answer on a variety of different topics. I’m not trying to provide definitive answers, but rather to raise what I see as the provocative and/or essential questions that the church needs to be able to have answer for (even if that answer is to say that this isn’t an idea we need).
Yesterday I asked: Do we need discipleship and accountability? And if so, what does that look like? Today I offer my thoughts on these questions.
I believe that we are facing a crisis of faith formation in the mainline/liberal/protestant church. Not just for children and youth, but for adults as well. In fact, I think the whole reason I am feeling the need to write this series stems from this faith formation crisis. I look around at our churches and people can’t answer these questions: why Christianity? What does a Christian look like? What does salvation mean? And we’re not encouraging people to answer these questions.
This stems from a variety of reasons: we’ve been hurt by fundamentalist churches and teaches. We know what it feels like to have a certain viewpoint shoved down our throats and to be shamed if we raise questions or differ from the party line. We worry that we’ll come off as exclusivists or Christian supremacists. Or maybe we believe that there are no answers to these questions or we simply don’t know our own answers.
But our unwillingness to grapple with these things is what is leading to the watering down of liberal/mainline/progressive faith. It’s what’s leading us to the “be nice” and “do good” sentiments that are so prevalent. And I believe it’s why so many youth and young adults are leaving the church never to return.
My friend, Adam Rao, is a pastor of a new church in Minneapolis and last week at Safehouse he preached a great sermon on why he believes progressive children’s ministries are vital. I recommend that you take the time to listen as I think he’s pointing out some really important things. He talks a lot about the bullying of queer youth in schools and about how, in some cases, the bullying is being done with theological language. He asks where were the progressive Christian kids to stand up and say, “What those kids are saying about God isn’t true.” I think that we have taught our youth (by our own words, but maybe even more so by our actions) that they should be quiet about their faith so that they don’t come across like those evangelicals. And so we have created a vacuum. Our youth might believe that God doesn’t condemn queer folks, but when they see bullying, even if they stand up to it they will probably not use theological language. Why? Because we haven’t taught people how to think and speak theologically.
When I was in the evangelical church I felt like I had companions on the journey. We were in it together. We got together to talk and to eat. We read our Bibles and prayed together. We explored what being a Christian meant to our lives, our jobs, our relationships. Our youth were taught how to read the Bible and to love it. They were taught how to minister to others and the importance of service.
I think the mainline/progressive/liberal church needs to do better at discipleship. We can’t just count on confirmation classes and then be done with it. It needs to be a birth to death cycle of exploring questions and coming up with answers together. We need to teach people how to read the Bible. We need to teach people how to be in community. We need to talk about what being a Christian means for our relationships, for how we spend our money, for the way that we live in the world. Our acts of service need to be tied to our faith.
I want to be in a discipleship relationship with a community. I want us to be having hard conversations about what it looks like to follow Jesus. And I want to be held accountable by a community. I want someone to call me out when I’m being a jerk. I want people to encourage me to work on my prayer life and to make sure that I am making time to spend with God. I want people to ask me hard questions about how I am spending my money and my time. I want people to care enough about my spiritual life to walk it with me.
Being a Christian isn’t about being nice and good. It’s about following in the way of Jesus. It’s not intuitive. For me, it often goes against what I would like to be doing (maybe I am the only one with a selfish bent). But I know it’s what I am called to and I know it is worthwhile. I can’t do it alone. I need a community to come alongside of me. I want more to be required of me than what I am seeing in most churches. I think we’re trying to make things to easy. We want to make it easy for people to opt in. We want to make things convenient. We don’t want to require too much.
I want more to be required of me. I want to be challenged (and supported in that challenge). To me, this is what discipleship and accountability is all about.