Notes from Outside the Bubble: Part 1

As some of you may have read in an earlier post, I will be taking part in the Futuregen conference here in Phoenix in March. From what I gather it’s a conference that will be mostly made up of Christian ministry workers and will focus mostly on how to reach young adults. I asked for some suggestions and many of you pulled through with some great comments and questions. In this post that I’ve split up into to two different peices, I’ll be taking a closer look into what it is my perspective really is and what useful ideas i may have, if any, to offer a room full of pastors.

Basically I’m at a point where I need to find a way communicate in some way my take on the perspective of those outside the Christian church culture. I’m in a very unique position in my life in that although I’m a Christian, I rarely hang out with other Christians other then when I’m with family members or the occasional bible study group. When I work, I literally travel and live with those I work with (all of them are great friends of mine). In this traveling group of secular misfits, I’m usually the lone “religious nut” in the room. As someone who is a Jesus follower but often finds himself outside the Christian culture socially due to my “secular” status, I get asked a lot about the opinions of those who are outside the Church walls.

I grew up in a church environment that was firmly in direct opposition to the secular world around me. No rock music, no rated r movies, no alternative radio, no tattoos, no earrings. Although not totally prohibited, drinking was frowned upon. No bad words, no hanging out in bars, etc. They even showed the junior high group the video “Hells Bells: The Dangers of Rock and Roll”!

Ironically, I’ve now found myself playing drums in a moderately successful secular rock band. I am currently living a life that is in direct opposition to what I was told was “good” by the church while I was growing up. Even more ironic is that I sense a deeper connection to God now than I’ve ever had growing up. As a young churchgoer, all the dos and don’ts got old. The villainizing of the secular world began to go in one ear and out the other. I began to sense that merely following a specific moral code wasn’t enough. I became suspicious of the church and packed my bags and checked out. (To be fair, I need to clarify that the people who I was surrounded by as a young believer were all very loving towards me. My parents, my sunday school teachers, my youth pastors were all amazing people for me to be around. I learned many great life lessons and useful wisdom from them during this time and for that I can only be eternally grateful.)

As I graduated from high school, my band ended up making a path for our selves professionally and started playing shows in the Phoenix area and eventually all over the country. As I ventured out into the real world and into the heart of secular America, my suspicions of the church were confirmed. I walked into dingy bars and slept on the floors of strangers’ homes and found a real world with real problems. I found people who, under the surface, were no different than those in the church. I found people who were honestly searching for answers in life but had been previously burned by flames of fundamentalism. I’ve met homosexuals who wouldn’t be caught dead in a church for fear of death itself. When interacting with these amazing, interesting, and wonderful new friends it became pretty clear to me: the God I learned about when I was a young believer was dead to them. In a way, I can’t say I blame them because that God was dead to me as well as I pulled away from church activity in high school.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, in my mid twenties, when I was shown a new picture of what God might look like through a new lens. Through many discussions with my friend John Chandler, sermons by Rob Bell, and books by Brian Mclaren and Dallas Willard did I start to see my relationship with God in a totally different way. It was a way of framing faith in a way I could approach with passion and conviction and not the embarrassment and doubt that choked my experience as a young believer.

Now that I’ve been given a glimpse into a fresh and renewed perspective on following Jesus, where does that leave me in my surroundings today? Has God placed me in the secular music world for a reason? If so, how am I to proceed in a world that is becoming increasingly resistant to what the Christian Church has to offer? I have further thoughts on this but I’ll put up the rest of the this post some other time. Until then, I’d love to hear more thoughts and suggestions.

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11 thoughts on “Notes from Outside the Bubble: Part 1

  1. speaking of don miller (in your last post), i had a chance to hear him speak on the topic of “evangelism” at a local church this weekend. his emphasis was on relationship, and that the problems people have with God are not intellectual, but relational. they have been hurt by christian people and therefore feel like God doesn’t like them. our call then is to show them that we love them, and also that we like them, and communicate that God loves them, too. miller said at one point, “i don’t care about the growth of the church as an institution.” i know what he meant – that if it gets bigger by numbers but hearts don’t change and we’re still just as judgemental as ever, then we’ve failed. however, the institution is what we have to work with. i guess we could start over and try to start more loving churches that look more like the picutre of church in the new testament, and there are lots of people who do that i guess, but what about all those people who go to church and agree about Jesus being the Savior, but who don’t get it that we’re supposed to love people and not live in a hole? do we just leave them behind because their church leaders are assholes? and don’t problems eventually creep up in these new postmodern, relevant, whatever-you-want-to-call-them churches because church is made up of people and we constantly screw up anyway? i feel like somehow we need to be “in the world” and loving people and eventually introducing them to Jesus, and then drawing them into churches, which is a massive challenge if they think church is just out to control them or get their money or parade political leaders before their eyes. i don’t know how to meet that challenge, but i do know that i would encourage you not to insinuate to people that it’s okay to throw the church as we know it out the window, as i felt miller could have been interpreted as saying. and i know he goes to church and probably invites “unchurched” people to church, but he sounded very dismissive of the american church. i agree that the american church tends to be focused on the wrong things all the time, but i do feel like we can’t leave it behind. these pastors to whom you’ll be speaking most likely want to “do church” in the best, most God-honoring way. a lot of them are probably frustrated at members of their staff who don’t “get it” and members of their church who are uncommitted and lazy. but these pastors’ job is to just keep doing what they’re called to do and find a way to make a bridge between their screwed up churches and the people they know who don’t know Jesus. i feel like just being around and loving toward the “sinners and tax collectors” isn’t enough. they have to be drawn into a community of believers. yikes, that is hard. i don’t know how to do that yet. but i’m interested in being part of a conversation about how, and i’m interested in praying about it, and i’m interested in telling my friends who don’t know Jesus about my church community in a way that’s positive, even though there are plenty of complaints i could express to them… so there’s two cents for you from a complete stranger. 🙂

  2. (Insert fantasy music): I think it’d be really neat if all the churches in Phoenix challenged their people to go “be” the church for two months, then the church building locked up for two months, then they came back together and discussed.

  3. ‘Hell’s Bells’. Oh the memories. I graduated from Tennessee Temple Academy (on the campus of the Bible college), so I’ve seen that video several times. Oddly enough, it did nothing but make me question the Christian take on music. I would argue with teachers who told me secular music was worthless that many of the bands I enjoyed (your’s included) covered very relevant issues as far as youth in the culture. Also, gasp, the music connected with me on a level completely different than my relationship with Jesus. I was told to ‘honor God in everything I read, watched, or listened to’, then we read poems from the Rennaisance period that very bluntly dealt with sex, booze, murder and other ‘unholy things’. It was classified as ‘classic’ simply because it was widely accepted by the literary crowd.

    Onto your question. Your situation is obviously unique. I don’t know a lot about the pastors you’ll be speaking to, but I would venture the guess that a large percentage are very open to secular society. One story that really caught me was the one you wrote of the discussion you had with the businessman in Sydney. It is conversations and interactions like those that most pastors miss out on.

    It seems to me that for all the attractive aspects that the postmodern, emergent, etc. church bring to the table, I can’t see that it has much attractiveness to non-Christians. I think we as a church are getting there faster than ever before, but it is still a long way off before we are able to chat with a complete stranger without the common misconceptions of Christians hanging over the conversation.

    It is that area that I would say you have a very unique place. I would love to hear your ‘presentation’, whatever you decide to speak on.

    I’m not sure any of that turned out coherant. 🙂

  4. First, let me say that I love your band. What draws me even more to the music is that I feel like I know you through this blog and your character comes out when the band sings. Sounds wierd, I know, but that’s me.

    I have come to the conclusion through reading and other things that there are some people that have spiritually outgrown the church. I know my husband and I have. We remain for two reasons: 1)we don’t want to alianate our son from Christianity and 2)there are others who are inside who have grown that need us to tell them that they are not alone. We have come to see church attendance as mission work.

    Starting in March we are starting a gathering of our other friends who have outgrown church to meet and do spirituality in more creative and meaningful ways than hymnals and sermons. Not official church, just friends gathering to love God.

    We have also found people within the church that are looking for that which the church cannot offer and we now have a Sunday School class that is just open dialogue about where people are at in their lives and with God. Sometimes the cussing gets a little too loud. 🙂

    Anyway, just wanted to encourage you about your place in Christianity. Your band has had tremendous impact on a lot of people I know, myself included. Your sond “In the Middle” has been of great aid in my healing process. You do have a voice in secular culture, and part of it is using your “fame” to be real and reach others.

  5. Interesting stuff as always Zach. I am very happy I was able to meet you through Darren and Heather.

    I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, church every Sunday, etc.

    Then I went to ASU. People I had been told were going to hell seemed to be good, decent people. How could I judge any one on a single aspect of their life, whether that be they are good people just because they went to church, or bad people because they do not.

    I am still at a point where I am trying to get my politics, personal life, and spirituality all on the same page…although, I suppose that may take the better part of a life time.

    Keep writing Zach!

  6. It is ironic to me that I can relate with so many feelings that you have even though I am in the opposite extreme of my surroundings. As long as you keep a positive attitude on what Christians can and are doing, despite those who make things harder for us all, I think that your perspective and insight is extremely valuable…especially for those of us who are not able to hear those outside of the church regularly voice their opinions. Your perspective, combined with your heart for God, is a powerful combo that encourages others around you. Keep it up

  7. Rebecca when I was a pastor I heard people say from time to time that they had outgrown church, and I could understand that because so many churches operate like a restaurant franchise and so many church goers think like consumers.

    I’m not sure what your plans are for “doing spiritually in more creative ways” — you may have already figured it out. If you haven’t, may I make a suggestion or two?

    Get involved in ministry to the poor. I mean real ministry where you get your hands dirty and spend your own money and sometimes put your life at risk but where you make a difference in people’s lives that they will remember in 50 years. Where ever you live there are probably kids who need to learn to read or adult immigrants who need to learn a foreign language, or people who need help managing money or … well, you get the idea. Regardless, good luck on your journey.

    And thanks Zach for providing this platform for these ideas to be discussed.

  8. One more thing Rebecca. I just took a quick look at your blog and it looks like you’ve got the serving-in-the-trenches thing pretty much covered! When people feel like they’ve outgrown church it’s usually because a.) they’re knee deep in a life of sacrificial service to others and are tired of the surface level mentality of typical church, or b.) they’re spiritually ready to get knee deep in a life a sacrificial service to others. Looks like you’re A.

    Good luck on your journey.

  9. I wonder about this whole ‘growing out of the church’ thing. It seems to me that a disciple of Jesus should always be growing. Why then would He knit us together into a body of believers that would restrict that growth?

    Could it be that instead of growing ‘out’ of church, we are actually growing ‘into’ the church? Maybe this institution that we’re calling the church that we’ve outgrown isn’t really what Jesus has in mind when He talks about His Bride.

    Maybe it’s just semantics, but when you say “Not official church, just friends gathering to love God.” I wonder if that’s the point. The church isn’t something ‘official’ – it is people loving God.

    Hope we all can keep growing into being the church.

  10. It’s great to know that there are others out there who have been affected by McLaren, Bell, Willard and Miller as much as I have. Thanks for your post. Going to a Christian school I feel this almost everyday. This was encouraging to read. Jon

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