In a telephone conversation with my farmer friend Alan the other day we talked about several things that I have recently given some thought to and would like to explore just a little more.
One of our running conversations centers around how complex church has become.
Alan is a dairy farmer, a publisher and all around get-to-the-heart-of-the-problem-quickly kind of guy. He is hard to fool and is not shocked by anything that comes out of my mouth. He is not afraid of other religions—having told me on more than one occasion that if what he believes can not stand up against these other religions and philosophies—he doesn’t want to have that belief. He is not concerned so much as to whether I am right or wrong—only that I am truthful—and in so being the rest will work itself out eventually.
Alan doesn’t answer every time I call and I have come to appreciate that part of who he is. Sometimes I am to quick to want to discuss something that needs a little more time to develop anyway.
In other words—we are comfortable with each other and appreciate what God is doing in us and through us and around us.
I met Alan during a period of time when he had been invited into a situation where the leadership of the church I was a part of was having some problems in transitioning from one leadership model to another. After his initial input into the situation—as it seemed to be somewhat resolved—he backed off and I didn’t see him much until that same leadership had reached another, more significant, impasse.
With the finesse of a farmer and the insight of a prophet, he was able to help us identify some root problems and even began a process of helping us work through them until a full breakdown occured and we finally left that church.
All this goes to say that Alan knows my stuff and is always up for the questions I bring to the table everytime we talk.
He is a firm believer that if a preacher can’t say something in 20 minutes time then he or she doesn’t know what they are talking about well enough and need to learn more of what it is they really want to communicate. Sure, there are times that you may go a little longer and if “God shows up” there is no telling what might take place and the time thing becomes irrelevant—nobody will be looking at their watches in that case.
Alan always makes me see something that is right in my face. One of his favorite sayings is that “…it’s not what you know that will get you to where you need to go but what you don’t know that will get you there.”
He was bold enough to tell me the other day that many of us are looking outward, toward the church for something that can only be found inside of us. A simple sentence from a prophetic farmer that describes the last two years of my life.
Christ is not an organization or denomination but lives in us in and through an organism called the body of Christ—parts of which still meet in churches on Sundays and other places during the week. We can all quit looking for Him to be someplace else and start seeing Him right here wherever we happen to find ourselves at this very moment.
What I have felt for some time is that the very church which was designed to bring us closer to a relationship with Christ is actually a participant in putting a wedge between us. What I mean by this is that we have focused on so many other things (what is leadership; the role of pastors and elders, deacons; children’s programs, music styles, etc.) that the simple gospel message sometimes takes a back seat—maybe not in your experience but certainly in mine. Let me say I don’t believe that this has been done intentionally but is certainly what happens when mankind gets ahold of something simple and then turns it into a product that can be manufactured and distributed in the most efficent manner. If it can be packaged it will be.
The most nutrition you will ever receive is from a vegetable picked ripe from the garden and eaten fresh—it doesn’t get any better. A week in a processing center and 3 or 4 days in a truck and a couple more to your table doesn’t do much for the flavor of the food we eat either. Not that something packaged can’t feed the body—just not in the same way and to the same extent that something fresh can and does.
I guess the question we must ask ourselves is about the simple gospel message and how much of the conversation surrounding the emergent church and so on and so forth we want to involve ourselves in. There really must be a balance between living a faith filled simple life and engaging in coversations about church structure and the postmodern society that we live in.
Or at least that is where I find myself today having ridden 20 miles on my bike yesterday, with a hope of sunny skies and a longer ride tomorrow.