What the Mysteries of Social Media Tell Us about Ourselves

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I’m not cynical about social media.  You won’t find me complaining about my Facebook timeline or my Twitter feed.  I enjoy keeping up with everyone and the ready availability of information.  However much I appreciate social media sites, I cannot boast an understanding of them.  I have found, though, that if you expend some mental energy on the mysteries of social media, you come away with a reminder of the nature of humanity.  Here are some of those mysteries and what I think they tell us about ourselves.

Congratulations 

Why do we congratulate people of notoriety for their accomplishments through a medium on which they will not see our congratulations?  If to congratulate is to express pleasure to someone in light of their success, then is it really congratulatory to write an online, third-person well-wish?  In October, we may all be writing:  “I would like to congratulate the Atlanta Braves on their World Series victory.”  But what do we hope to accomplish with those tidings?  Clapping, says the koan, is repeatedly high-fiving yourself for someone else’s accomplishments.  

These sort of online postings remind me that for many of us social media are partly a public forum.  We aren’t merely trying to maintain friendship and relationships with social media.  Showing our acquaintances and friends that we are “in-the-know” is also desirable.  Working theory:  we’re all a little bit vain.

A First Person Walks into a Third Party       

Why do famous people have social media accounts in which most posts are in the third person?  Okay, maybe, the answer to that question is obvious.  Social media are useful for marketing.  But what really astounds me is when famous people write a first-person message on their third-party-managed account.  Charlie Daniels might be one of the worst offenders.

MichaelScott

I much prefer when the social media presence of noteworthy people is an obvious ruse.  I can pretend that those concert promoting tweets were sent by Ray LaMontagne himself, but when the curtain is pulled back, I no longer tremble for the wizard.  Still, I kind of understand where these folks are coming from.  They want to give an authentic touch to their online presence.  Working theory:  we all want to be considered genuine and sincere.

Daddy Loves You, Boo-Bear

Why do we address our children on social media sites, when they are too young to read, let alone have an account?  They reach one of those magical birthday milestones, or they learn how to do something amazing like go potty or ride their bike, and we go online to tell them exactly how we feel.  Are we really just telling everyone else?

Most of the time, when we communicate, we carefully consider our audience.  We think of best possible means for communicating the message.  But our children inspire inanity in us all the time.  I pretend to have gun fights with my children when I’m getting gas for our van.  To this day, I’ve never landed a single shot.  They, on the other hand, have world-class marksmanship, apparently a maternal trait.  I reel and stagger from their shots, even at a crowded gas station.   That’s how awesome kids are.  We really don’t mind looking silly because of them, even in front of hundreds of online friends and followers.  Working theory:  children are awesome.

“Never satisfied are the eyes of man”

Many other mysteries remain unsolved.  Why do people retweet or share posts that quote or cite them; isn’t that a bit self-promoting?  Why does everyone keep telling me to do myself a favor; am I that self-serving?  When commemorating a significant person’s birthday, why do people keep using the line “he would be X years old today” when the would-have-been age far surpasses the average human life span?  Each time we check our social media accounts, it seems as though we are staring into the abyss of what humanity is (in)capable of.  I, for one, can’t turn my eyes away.

Sufficient to Explain: Intro and First Phenomenon–Drug Addiction

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sufficient to explain final

A dubiously lit picture, a million-views video, or an unsubstantiated claim of a celebrity’s death bring out the investigative journalist in all of us.  Most YouTube comments sections are graveyards, riddled with tombstones reading, “That’s fake,” “If you fall for this, you’re an idiot,” “I make $70/hour from home and here’s how.”  We are a culture of myth-busters with a craving for explanations.  Since explanations are highly valued in our culture, the Christian worldview has an opportunity to appeal broadly.

The Sufficient to Explain series is an up-close examination of Christianity’s explanatory power.  Each post will focus on a phenomenon that the world struggles to explain.  We’ll look at facets of our existence like music, reason, and morality.

This is a personal experiment in apologetics, which is the discipline that seeks to assert and defend the faith.  Too often, Christian thinkers hope to argue their position by piling up pieces of evidence.  Many apologetic efforts feel like an evangelical parody of Buzzfeed:  “20 Reasons the Resurrection Is Totes Awesome.”  I have reservations about that methodology.  What makes a belief reasonable is not a preponderance of evidence.  In fact, the notion that evidence makes our beliefs warranted is a belief that itself lacks evidence.                 

What I aiming to do in Sufficient to Explain is to show that given the conditions of our world, the Christian worldview is a sensible one to hold.  Christianity often is uniquely sensible.  Our first example of Christianity’s explanatory power is an unlikely one.

Drug Addiction:  A Sufficient Christian Explanation  

Addictions wield a mysterious power.  We have become so accustomed to fixes, prescriptions, reforms, repairs, troubleshooting, and updates that seemingly intractable problems baffle us.  When people reach this point of confusion, they struggle for concepts and descriptions sufficient to explain troubling phenomena.  Reactions to the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this year illustrate this bewilderment.  Slate’s Dana Stevens asked the question so many of us were thinking as the news settled:  “Why and how is it that so many people are willing to sacrifice their dearest treasure—their work, their gifts, their families, their precious remaining years on earth—for another dose of the poison that’s slowly (or, sometimes, suddenly) killing them?”  

The ones tasked with combatting illegal drug use and trade do not appear any more suited to answer these kinds of questions than the rest of us.  When government officials and other public figures grapple with the anfractuous topics of drug use and trade, they employ language and imagery that many Christians would readily understand.  The Christian doctrine of the fall is in the background of many drug policy discussions.

An Impasse in the War on Drugs

The United States’ wide-ranging campaign against the illegal drug trade—rhetorically branded by the Nixon administration as “the war on drugs”—is in its fourth decade.  Many of those waging the war have declared the struggle an impasse.  Hidden among these resignations is an endorsement of the biblical view of humanity.

In the January 6th edition of The New Yorker, Mattathias Schwartz’s “A Mission Gone Wrong” profiles the war on drugs by examining recent events in Honduras.  The seeming inevitability of drug use and trade permeates the whole piece.  Here are a few of the more striking comments:

  • A variety of studies suggest that “interdiction—seizing drugs in transit—was unlikely ever to make much difference in U.S. cocaine consumption.”
  • During Reagan’s presidency, the highest-ranking officer in the Navy, admiral Carlisle Trost shared this view:  “The only way we are going to stop this immense flow of illegal narcotics into this country is to shut off the demand for it.”
  • General Barry McCaffrey, a drug czar in the Clinton years, suggested a different type of strategy on the issue:  “If you want to fight a war on drugs, sit down at your own kitchen table and talk to your own children.”
  • William Brownfield, an official with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, bluntly concedes, “If the endgame is perfection, we’ll never get there.  At least, not in this world.”
  • A local Honduran leader told Schwartz, “Not even the Americans can stop it.  Because of business.  Money is the strongest thing in the world.  The only one who can stop these things is God.”

The Explanatory Power of the Doctrine of the Fall

These statements cohere well with a worldview that understands humanity’s inherent sinful nature.  Strategies that focus on interdiction and prohibition will ultimately fail to root out destructive behavior because the cause of the destructive behavior is not the availability of means.  Admiral Trost was right: the driving force behind the illicit drug trade and use is demand.

The fall has altered the whole being of the human.  Our bodies are now prone to weaknesses, illnesses, and withdrawals.  In the life of the mind, we do not believe, think, and understand as we should.  Our emotions are often misguided, and we do not feel what we ought to feel.  Each of us experience perversity in our affections, and we want what we should not want.  The fall has conditioned humanity as a host for the parasite of addiction.  A few ideas commend the Christian doctrine of the fall as the explanation for addiction.

The Bible rightly estimates the sway of desire.  For instance, the author James describes people’s desire as that which lures and entices them to sin, and he depicts desire as the birth mother of sin (James 1:14-15).  In the post-fall world, God looks upon the humanity and sees that “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  Those qualifiers—“every,” “only,” and “continually”—are dramatic.  The result of these desires was that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Genesis 6:5).  The baffling power of drug addiction is to some degree due to effect of the fall on our desires.

The Bible depicts the duplicity of human interests.  We have difficulty even knowing what it is we want.  The prophet Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Our decisions, emotions, and thoughts are remarkably confused.  Even when we know what we want, we have incredible difficulty doing it (Romans 7:19).  Addictive behaviors, including the horrible reality of relapses, cohere with what we know of humanity’s confused emotional condition.

The Bible attributes a transformative power to sin.  If we are apart from Christ, our sins are much more than something we do.  In a sense, they are something we become.  When the people of Israel turned away from God, they “went after worthlessness and became worthless” (Jeremiah 2:5).  The result of each individual’s rejection of God is futility in our thinking and a darkening of our hearts (Romans 1:21).  Persistent sin shapes human identity, a fact evident in identifiers recurring throughout scripture:  “slanderers,” “idolaters,” “adulterers,” “thieves,” and “liars” to list only a sample.  Addiction seems compatible with these patterns.  It dramatically changes those in its grip, and many addicts come to identify themselves with their abusive behaviors.

The Bible is compatible with genetic predispositions toward behaviors.  The public discussion of addictions often comes around to the question of heredity.  Is there something in our biology, specifically the genetic factors inherited from our parents, that determines or at least influences our proclivities?  Christians are sometimes uncomfortable with this concept, as if it could be used to excuse certain behaviors and decisions.  Yet, if the Bible’s account of the fall is true, ripples in the human genome should be expected.  Creation has experienced the effects of humanity’s fall and is now “subjected to futility” and in “bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:20).  Adam’s sin has affected all of humanity by introducing sin into the world and spreading death to all (Romans 5:12, 17).  No biblical passage deals explicitly with the issue of genetic predisposition and its pertinence to drug addiction, but striking descriptions of the fall’s effects would make the concept plausible.

“Our Bite of the Apple”

Chuck Palahniuk’s 2001 novel Choke tells the story of Victor Mancini, his mentally unstable mother, and his various vices.  For its nauseousness and prurience, I would not recommend it, but Palahniuk’s treatment of addiction is perceptive.

Mancini’s mother, Ida, saw the Bible’s account of the fall of humanity as a compelling explanation for humanity’s predicament:

Ever since the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible, humanity had been a little too smart for its own good, the Mommy said.  Ever since eating that apple.  Her goal was to find, if not a cure, then at least a treatment that would give people back their innocence.

Addiction, Ida suggests, is a treatment option—perhaps an inefficacious one—for this predicament:

Every addiction, she said was just a way to treat this same problem.  Drugs or overeating or alcohol or sex, it was all just another way to find peace.  To escape what we know.  Our education.  Our bite of the apple.

If Ida is right—if human addiction is our attempt to counter the effects of the fall—then addiction is more a perplexing and disturbing reality than any of us can imagine.  Addictions abound because of how the fall has transformed humanity; yet, somehow we hope to escape that transformation through addictions.  We are swimming to the deep end in hopes of getting out of the pool.

The only wide-scale solution to drug addiction is a retransformation of humanity.  As policy makers have suggested, demand has to be cut off.  Changing demand though is out of the purview of human governments.  Our sole chance is to have our demands and desires fundamentally altered.  That’s not to say that occasional successes won’t occur through interventions, like a twelve-step program; God, in his common grace, can use such means for healing.  The only way, though, to root out all our addictions is to be cleansed from our uncleanness, to be given new hearts, and to have a renewed spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-26).  This kind of transformation occurs through conversion to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).  So, in addition to sensibly accounting for drug addiction, Christianity also uniquely gives us hope in the face of addiction.  An explanation and a glimmer of hope are exactly what the world longs for.

A Five Year Old’s First Contemporary Service

Uke

This last weekend, my family attended a contemporary worship service with some old friends. For my five year old daughter, this was her first exposure to contemporary worship. Her experience thus far has been a traditional format with some modern songs incorporated.

For the record, I’m no worship warrior; I’m theoretically open to contemporary services, though I would need to add lots of biblical caveats to clarify my view. My daughter’s experience seemed to touch upon some interesting issues in contemporary services. The questions, comments, and responses that this contemporary service elicited from her were priceless.

Why did the lights change color,” she asked me early in the service. During the music, the sanctuary lights were dim, and colorful lighting accented parts of the stage. I simply replied, “I’m not sure,” which is true. I have trouble conceiving a legitimate reason for this lighting technique. After a moment or two, my daughter offered this theory, “I think they are for decoration.”

A few minutes into the sermon, the large screen caught her attention. The pastor’s face was projected onto the screen, and occasionally the screen showed Bible verses or sermon points. My daughter asked my wife, “Is that a mirror, or is it like a TV?” When we explained to her what it was, she wanted to know if it was for playing DVDs. Knowing that some churches like to use video clips, I replied, “Yeah, sort of.”

Not again!” my daughter protested near the end of the service. The sermon had ended, and for the response, we were instructed to sing a song from earlier in the service. Apparently, in my daughter’s estimation, we had already meditated on this chorus and its themes for a sufficient duration. I encouraged her to sing along, but she had a hard time learning the melody and structure of the song.

As the service concluded, she had an important question, “When this is over, can I run around?” I should note that in our official position we are against running in the sanctuary; my enforcement of our position is sometimes lacking! At our church, my daughter and her friends fellowship together after the service by crawling under the pews, hiding under the information table, and squeezing in and under the pulpit. In her mind, that time of friendship and fellowship is an important part of church. What she was really asking was, “Is this a church? Can I do church things here”

My intent on sharing these comments is not to poke fun at contemporary services. Instead, I want us to reconsider the principles of these modern approaches to worship. Some tend to think of contemporary worship as inevitable. If we want to reach our culture, we need to provide an experience that is aurally and aesthetically appealing. Yet, production value only goes so far. I can assure you that few have as keen of a sense for production value as a five year old girl with artistic inclinations. To her, those elements in the contemporary service did not tap into some deeply engrained desire for beauty or excellence. She was, instead, baffled by them.

Of course, we all want unbelievers to have deeply-felt reactions to our churches’ worship. What we should desire, though, is to clarify, not to confuse. The order and structure of worship should leave unbelievers reeling from the truth, declaring “God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). My fear is that some corners of the contemporary movement—not the ones I’ve attended, mind you—are creating experiences that Apostle Paul cautioned against. He critiques disordered worship with a compelling question about unbelievers: “. . . will they not say that you are out of your minds?”

That’s sort of what my daughter was saying. These lights, that big DVD-player thingy, this song again—are these people crazy? I wonder what other unbelievers think. Certainly, the atmosphere of the contemporary service is a unique experience to them. They won’t ask anyone what my daughter asked, if it’s okay to run around in the sanctuary. They might be thinking, though, is it okay to talk to these people? Is it okay to come back?

Make no mistake; unbelievers will often think poorly of us. Specifically, what we believe about Christ—that in his death and resurrection he has accomplished the forgiveness of sins—will be derided as folly (1 Corinthians 1:18). Let our insistence on the gospel—not our choice of guitar effects or lighting accents—be what affects their assessment of us. Then, if through the simplistic “folly” of preaching some are saved, our only boast will be to boast in the Lord.

Why We Chose Public School

This fall, my daughter starts Kindergarten at Eisenhower Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky.  She is really excited, but probably not as excited as I am!  (I’ve already been looking to buy Eisenhower paraphernalia!)

Louisville’s public school system involves a degree of choice.  When parents register their children for school, they prioritize schools within their assigned cluster, and they also may request placement in special magnet programs.  Parents’ preferences, however, are not ultimately determinative of the outcomes in the school assignment system.  We felt fortunate to get into Eisenhower, our top pick of schools.

The process that led to my daughter’s enrollment at Eisenhower was a year long.  I approached the issue with a geeky obsession and preoccupation.  I parsed out all the school-related data I could find, read school improvement plans, talked to educators I know, and took my family on school visits.  This decision required much prayer and study, as well.  My wife and I have particularly enjoyed guidance from David & Kelli Pritchard’s Going Public:  Your Child Can Thrive in Public School

We are a minority among our friends, most of whom have chosen homeschool or private school.  My wife and I respect those choices and admire our friends for the godly motives behind their decisions.  Since we are among the minority—and since we anticipate the number of Christians who are like-minded on this issue to decrease—I wanted to share why we’ve made this decision.  Our choice stemmed from a variety of factors, reasons, and expected benefits.  (For the record, we think homeschool and private school families can address these same issues in different ways.)          

1.  Parenting Philosophy.  We want to teach our children to deal wisely with the world while under our care.  Our preference is to navigate them through the challenges of secular environments gradually and repeatedly while they are young, rather than suddenly when they become adults.  Yes, there will be bullies, bad influences, opposing beliefs, and maybe even an apathetic teacher or two along the way.  Adulthood, too, has those kinds of challenges.  We want to raise our children to think biblically about the challenges of life, and public school looks like a good laboratory for that kind of learning.          

2.  Educational Opportunities.  Good public schools provide an array of opportunities for children to learn and develop.  My wife and I had some amazing opportunities to learn along the way, such as college coursework in high school and afterschool academic teams.  We want those opportunities for our children too.  Public schools are increasingly striving for rigor.  The Common Core State Standards initiative—which, in an upcoming post, I plan to defend from unfair criticisms—is pushing schools to demand more from learners, even at younger ages.  Eisenhower Elementary has some very exciting learning opportunities, including French enrichment, an engineering lab, and a self-contained advanced program.  With these kinds of advantages, I think my daughter will surpass my academic achievements and talents pretty quickly.      

3.  Community Involvement.  The vast majority of families in our community opt to send their children to public school.  I see my daughter’s school as a chance for me to build relationships with educators, students, and their families.  Integrating my family into the culture of the school will give me ample opportunities for a salt-and-light witness to unbelievers.  I intend to know people at our school well, to pray for them, to host them in our home, to invite them to our church, to share the gospel with them, and to maintain friendships with those who do not find my faith appealing.  I hope that people at our school will know that I am a minister and that they can come to me when they experience crises.      

4.  Children’s Disposition.  Our oldest daughter is amazing (so are your children).  She’s very creative and is a take-charge extrovert.  Please pray for her teacher!  Being around other people excites and motivates her.  Her preference is to be on the go.  Many nights at bedtime she asks about what special things we’re going to do the next day.  It seems wise to me to leverage these aspects of her personality to aid her learning.  I think school outside of the home is the right fit for her.  She already thinks of school as somewhere fun to go and learning as something fun to do.    

5.  Cost.  It would not be a good use of our resources to make the sacrifices to afford private school.  Now, we are living a modest, but blessed, lifestyle.  My wife spends most of her time at home, caring for our children, one of whom is still a couple of years away from school age.  We are not willing, at this time, to modify our lifestyle for her to work more outside of the home.  As a bivocational minister, I already work two jobs and cannot work more without neglecting the emotional and spiritual care of my family.  The reality of the situation is we cannot afford most of the options for private school in our community.  Since there are suitable alternatives, we are easily content with this reality.        

6.  Professional Integrity.  I work in public education; my day-to-day work is to find funding and other resources to improve public schools.  It would seem a glaring contradiction for me to work in this field and then decide on a different path for my children.  I could see how one would justify another arrangement, but my preference is to avoid tension between my family and career that other options would create.      

Of course, it is difficult to be among the minority among our friends.  So many have found it prudent to choose homeschool and private school.  Couldn’t we be making the wrong decision?  Yes, we could.  But we learned a couple of years ago from a wise couple that the schooling decision isn’t final.  If our children struggle, if we can’t navigate the challenges, we can always adjust course later to homeschool or a private school.  The same goes for all of us with children.  If we have erred, let’s have the humility to admit we are wrong and the determination to get it right.  Since we know that God is the giver of learning, skill, understanding, and wisdom (Daniel 1:17; 2:20-23), we ought to be hopeful that he can cause our children to thrive wherever he would have them learn.


 

 

Appreciation, Hesitation, and Concern for Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide

Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide has been on my to-read list for longer than I care to admit.  The book’s concept, captured by its subtitle—Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend—is so enticing.  Yet, I was vaguely familiar with criticisms against Stanley’s ministry and theological views.  The book thus languished in the recesses of my interests.

But every time I went to grab a new title, I saw Deep and Wide on the list, and eventually I could no longer suppress the urge to dive in.  If you are a church leader or a highly-committed church member, I think you can relate to the instinctive attraction I had for this book.  Don’t we all want a church that “unchurched” people find appealing?   

Andy Stanley certainly has a track record for leading that kind of church.  His ministry history—which he recounts in sections one and two of the book—attests to his success.  So, I set aside, momentarily, some of the criticisms I’ve heard of Stanley’s theology and philosophy of ministry and sought to find anything helpful in Deep & Wide.  The result of my search was a mix of appreciation, hesitation, and concern. 

Appreciation

I benefited from much of Stanley’s wisdom on ministry matters. 

His disposition toward those outside of the church is an attitude we should all want.  Stanley has a very helpful principle for addressing unbelievers.  He sets up a dichotomy between wanting something from unbelievers and wanting something for unbelievers.  This seems a wise way to communicate with unbelievers.  We can assure them we are not trying to dupe them or merely to add them to our number.  Instead, we want them to experience grace.          

Aspects of Stanley’s preaching are worthy of ministers’ consideration.  He has a readily apparent audience-responsiveness in his preaching.  By considering visitors, especially those who are unfamiliar with church culture, he is able to incorporate tersely effective evangelistic appeals into his message.      

He has an interesting approach to choosing sermon texts.  He notes that preaching every passage of scripture is practically impossible:  in his estimation, it would take 99 years to preach the Bible chapter-by-chapter.  Thus, everyone, even those who preach through whole books of the Bible a passage at a time, has to pick and choose what they will preach.  He writes,     

“Here’s my point:  since we have to pick and choose anyway, why not pick and choose the passages and principles that are most appropriate for specific audiences?  Let’s not simply avoid the awkward and inappropriate.  Let’s be intentional about what we teach, where we teach it, and to whom we teach it.  Like Jesus.”

Deep and Wide is one of the more inspiring and motivational books on ministry I have read.  Stanley challenges his readers to pursue God-honoring risk.  For those serving in stagnant and complacent churches, he offers this advice:  

You want to see change?  Ask God to start with you.  Ask him to burden you with something worth risking your career for. And no, that’s not hyperbole.  That’s the nature of a God-ordained vision.

He writes movingly of his decision to leave a respectable position at his home church (working for Charles Stanley, his dad) to start a new church.  When he and his wife see fruit in their ministry, they are amazed and reflect, “What if we had never left?”  I think of my ministry dream—which is digging in where I am—and I hope for a future where my wife and I wonder at God’s goodness and say, “What if we had left?”       

Hesitation 

Even as I was appreciating those aspects of Deep and Wide, from the very beginning I was distracted by a question, one that relates to what interested me in the book.  Is it even possible to create churches that the unchurched will love?

That subtitle—though it is quite appealing to Christians, who love their unbelieving friends and family—is fraught with tension.  These “Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend” sound wonderful, but I have reservations that they can exist. 

I hope my hesitation is not theologically pedantic.  I just can’t shake the suspicion that when the unchurched love a church, either love or the church is compromised.  A person cannot love the church, the gathering of God’s people, until that person has experienced the love that the gathers God’s people.  The writings of the Apostle John gives us the right order of these experiences.  No New Testament writer emphasizes love for God’s people more than John.  In five chapters of 1 John, we see roughly fifteen direct references to loving God’s people.  Yet, John knew that this love of God’s people has its roots in God’s love for us:  “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

I fear that if we labor to build churches the unchurched will love, we will labor in vain.  That objective is, to borrow from undergrad philosophy, a pseudo-task, a non-doable thing, like trying to draw a square circle.   

But wait, the subtitle doesn’t emphasize loving the church, perse; right?  Stanley is promoting the kind of church that the unchurched love to attend.  Loving the church and loving attending the church are two different things.  That distinction turned my hesitation into concern.    

Concern 

I admire the concept of backwards design.  A decision-maker envisions a goal and plans in reverse order the incremental steps that accomplish that goal (e.g., goal, step 3, step 2, step 1).  A risk, however, in this method is that a poorly chosen goal leads to ill-advised means.  I’m concerned that Stanley’s vision for a church the unchurched enjoy attending suffers this fate. 

At several decision-points, Stanley’s criteria have led to ministry approaches that are at odds with scripture. 

For instance, Stanley considers some service roles appropriate for unbelievers.  I can see why he would take this view.  After all, stepping in and serving would increase the engagement factor for the unchurched.  Unbelievers could feel some ownership.  Yet, this idea is in stark contrast to how the church operated in the New Testament.  To “serve tables” in the apostolic church, you had to be “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:2-3).      

A similar mistake is made in Stanley’s discussion of corporate singing in the worship gathering.  He notes that many people in our culture do not like to sing.  Since we want the unchurched to love attending our church, we have to be careful how we approach corporate singing.  Stanley writes,

DW_Mad_Lib_Turned

 

It’s important for song leaders to remember that there is a segment of our population that doesn’t like to sing ever.  They don’t sing in their cars or in their showers, and they aren’t going to sing at church.  I remind our song leaders from time to time that they aren’t doing anything wrong.  Some people just don’t like to sing and that’s okay.  And please don’t guilt people into singing.  An individual’s willingness or unwillingness to participate in corporate singing is not a reflection of his or her commitment to Christ or spiritual maturity.

Unfortunately, Stanley’s advice fails to account for the importance of congregational singing in the New Testament’s depiction of the church.  The Apostle Paul, for example, commands singing and describes it as a means for mutual edification.  Should we eschew the commands of scripture to make the unchurched enjoy our worship gatherings? You could create a mad-lib of that paragraph with any number of Christian disciplines.

A Concluding Question

Early in Deep and Wide, Stanley asks a thought-provoking question:  “Who is the church for?” The answer demanded by Stanley’s vision is that the church is for the unchurched.  If you answer the question in this way, then you ought to follow many of Stanley’s suggested practices.  Most of the energy, resources, and time of the church would be invested in outreach and evangelism. 

Another potential answer is that the church is for believers.  If we answered the question in this way, our churches would take on some isolationist tendencies.  Most of the energy, resources, and time of the church would be invested into discipleship.  The preaching, for example, would probably be most accessible to the most biblically literate.    

I think both answers have merit, but need a more accurate theological setting.  Since everything is “to him” (Romans 11:36) and ”for him” (Col 1:16), we can say with confidence that the church is for God. 

The church exists to say something about God:  “. . . through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be make known. . .” (Ephesians 3:10).  The unchurched benefit from this aspect of the God-directed church. 

The church exists for God’s pleasure.  One of the clearest depictions is the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:6-8).  God’s people are a bride, who has beautified herself for her husband Christ.  Part of this bride’s beauty is her clothing, “fine linen,” which represents “the righteous deeds of the saints” (v. 8).  The church flourishes and becomes beautiful because of Christ’s work in her (Ephesians 5:26).  

We all need a reorientation of our view of church.  Evangelicals tend to emphasize an aspect of the church’s purpose to the exclusion of others.  In his acquisition of a people for his pleasure, God has purposes for believers and unbelievers.  Local churches can go “deep and wide,” but not merely by intensive discipleship and not exclusively through far-reaching evangelism.  The church grows stronger and broader, only as she directs her gaze upward, or more accurately, Godward.