An Australian business leader once told me when he shared his faith with a Japanese CEO, the response was dismissive: ‘Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man in touch with another world. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager at home only in this world like I am.’
I read this in Os Guiness’ The Call, and instantly, deeply connected with it.
Around 2006 I was living in Chicago, and saw a poster for this guy named Rob Bell. He was doing a tour called “Everything is Spiritual”, and something about it just struck me. Sometime, if you find yourself anywhere near community bulletin boards, notice how many posters there are for some form of eastern spirituality. Over and over again, you see flyers proclaiming the “secret of life”, or the “path of peace.”
Notice the claims that these practices are making.
Then, the next time you see a poster or flyer for a Christian church, notice the claims they make: “A Comfortable Atmosphere”; “Relevant Messages”; “Rockin Band.”
It seems odd to me that Christians have abandoned claims to any sort of deep spirituality. Where eastern forms of religion claim—and pursue—deep spiritual experiences, we seem to pursue comfortable atmospheres where people can “hear messages” and “hang out.” What struck me about Rob Bell’s poster was that it unabashedly claimed a depth of spirituality that many in “my tribe” seem to have abandoned.
In fact, I’d be so bold to say that over the years we’ve chosen to embrace a form of faith that focuses on the acceptance of our “sales message” (convert people) rather than the call to take up your cross and follow Jesus (discipleship). Acceptance of a sales message involves understanding it and deciding that you want to buy; a life of discipleship and transformation in to Christ-likeness involves a thorough rearranging of our life practices. Make no mistake: we are called to be salt and light, to go into the world, but I wonder if over the years this emphasis on “proclamation evangelism” hasn’t begun to exalt certain expressions of our faith (extroverted, systematic, and focused on a “point-of-decision”) over others (quiet, meditative, shepherding).
(Full disclosure: I consider myself on the quiet(er) side…)
The results I often see are pastors who are in fact, more at home in the managing world than in the spiritual world. This expression is no doubt necessary and effective, but I think we slip into error when we abdicate other forms of expression and then allow other faiths to occupy them.
To say it another way: The Christian faith is a profoundly spiritual, even mystical experience. The Eastern religions have no monopoly on meditation, peace, and a spiritual “presence.” We (the pastoral leaders of Christianity) have simply abandoned many practices that produce this way of life (or just abandoned talking about them). The result is that a lot of people in our modern culture assume that if you want a spiritual experience, look to the East. If you want “salvation”, look to the Christian church.
Over and over, in my interactions with young(er) Christ followers I tell them to “seek the deeper wells.”
- Rather than merely reading the latest Rob Bell/Francis Chan/David Platt book, instead seek thoughts and books and practices that have decades—even centuries—of impact behind them.
- Learn to pray. And by “learning”, I mean learning. We assume we know how to do this, but we still feel awkward and tepid at “prayer time.” Why not get a book of prayers from the Puritans? or from the Church Fathers? People who knew what prayer was, and did it for hours. If you want to learn a skill, learn from a master, not from a hit-or-miss amateur.
- Develop practices in your life that take you away from people, noise, and voices. Solitude, silence, and secret giving are transformational in ways that other, more prominent behaviors simply cannot touch.
- Seek the people in your community who have walked—peacefully and humbly—with Jesus for a long time, and sit down with them to ask, “How do I walk a long time in the footsteps of Jesus?”
- One more thing: listen to Emmylou … she’ll set you right.