Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Fastest Way To Drive Young People From The Church

Let's see. What might be the fastest way to drive even more young people out of the church... Hmm...  I know! 

We could have a major controversy over an issue that is a big deal with older adults but not so much with young folks...

We could have dramatic pronouncements on social media about a big shift in policy... Which would really upset half of the older folks, setting off a flurry of angry tweets and blogposts...

Then... We could have that decision reversed a few days later... Causing the other half of the older folks to send off a flurry of angry tweets and blogposts... 

And we could throw in some indignant board member resignations as well...

Remembering, all the while, that those younger folks we so desperately want in our churches think this is pretty much a non-issue... 

OK. I admit that the sarcasm there was a little thick. But why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Young people can see quite clearly what draws the most passion out of church leadership - and they are not attracted at all to this internal warfare over an issue that they see the way we see racial segregation. 

I once stood up in front of presbytery, at the end of one of those long, emotional debates where nobody's mind gets changed - but we all make ourselves feel righteous. I simply asked that we show as much passion over the topics of poverty and evangelism as we do over homosexuality. Even half the passion would be a big improvement. 

This issue is dragging us down. And fast.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Supporting Public Schools Is A Conservative Value

Dear Editor,

"Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps."

"Give a man a fish, and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll feed himself for a lifetime."

These two phrases are often used when people talk about ways to deal with the problem of poverty. And they make a lot of sense. Giving people handouts might help with immediate needs, but it does not produce the self-sufficiency that allows people to escape poverty and support themselves.

Which is why supporting a strong public education system also makes a lot of sense. Public schools are the best way to help children find their bootstraps and learn how to fish. But for some reason, we can forget this when it comes time to fund public education.  We send our children to outdated and deteriorating facilities; we underpay our teachers; and we cut many of the programs that help students acquire the tools they need to succeed in life.

This spring, the Mecklenburg County School Board is proposing a $3 million increase in the annual budget. Part of the increase covers requirements passed down by the state. Other parts are intended to restore funding that was cut in previous years. All of it makes sense to those of us who would like future generations to be less dependent on government welfare. To cut education funding at the same time we cut welfare is shortsighted and cruel - and it defies the core of conservative values.

I encourage the Board of Supervisors to approve the proposed budget. This is not about whether we like Dr. Thornton, whether we approve of Project Based Learning, or whether we are in favor of consolidating the high schools. This is about giving all of the children in our county a fighting chance to feed themselves when they are grown.

The Rev. James E. Moss

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Line of Obligation

There is a division in our churches. It has nothing to do with race, gender, sexuality, or politics. It is loosely based on age, but specifically has to do with attitudes toward worship. I call it the Line of Obligation.

Above this line, people feel a sense of duty or obligation to go to church on Sunday morning. They might find worship fulfilling, but what gets them out of bed consistently is this feeling of "I ought to be there."

Below this line, the sense of obligation is gone. Church, if it is even considered, is just one of many possibilities for a Sunday morning. Those below the line who do attend regularly do so because of particularly strong faith or to enjoy the feeling of community. "I ought to be there" carries little or no influence.

As time goes by, the Line of Obligation creeps higher, and less people in our communities wake up on Sunday morning feeling the "ought to" feeling. Nonetheless, many churches continue to rely on the sense of obligation to get people there. 

As a result, churches are not only struggling to attract unchurched young people, but are also seeing many of those who do come slipping in their regularity. The answer is not to try to attract them back with consumeristic methods, but instead is to be realistic about what the end of the "ought to" age means. 

It means that we must do a lot more than try to convince young folks that they "ought to" come to church - and perhaps that we should stop considering attendance at worship the scorecard of faith. 

We have to find ways to nurture deep and abiding faith, and tight community to go with it - in ways that might go well beyond what church going meant in the "ought to" era. And when we do this, we will find a whole new way of living the faith opening up below this Line of Obligation.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Grassroots Socialism

The big scare about socialism is that it involves some sort of government takeover, a strong arm tactic implemented from the top down. But what if an economy based of sharing (instead of competition) grew organically from the bottom up? Starting at the local level between friends and neighbors?

Churches are already good at socialism. Have you ever seen anyone turned away from a covered dish supper because they weren't able to bring anything?

Small towns can be great at socialism. When a family's house burns down and they are left with nothing, people don't say, "They should have bought better insurance." They chip in and do whatever it takes to get them what they need.

So let us soundly reject the doctrine that every person is responsible for themselves. We know better - in our families, our neighborhoods, our churches, and communities. We are already socialists, and we already depend on sharing with one another - despite whatever rhetoric politicians might spew. We might disagree on the role of government in the matter, but let us not let them convince us that we are not to care for one another.

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Parable for Today's Church

A man lives in a nice house in the country, just outside the city. Everyday, he wakes up at 6:30 and takes a shower and gets dressed. At 7:00 he sits down for breakfast and reads the newspaper. At 7:30, he gets in his car and drives to work, arriving on time at 8:00. This is his routine for 20 years.

Eventually, however, the city begins to grow. The country road the man lives on becomes populated with neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and shopping centers. Traffic becomes congested, and numerous stoplights are installed. The man's drive to work now takes an hour.
The man is not happy, and he complains about the new situation:

"They should not have done so much building on one road."
"They should not have installed so many stop lights."
"They should widen the road, or build a freeway."

And as he complains, the man continues with his routine. He wakes up at 6:30. He eats breakfast at 7:00. He gets in his car at 7:30. And he arrives at work at 8:30. After a while, the man's boss becomes impatient with his constant tardiness, and the man is fired.

10 Cultural Realities That Affect Sunday Morning Church Attendance

  A. Technology

1. Rapidly changing, constant learning curve - from perhaps one major
innovation per generation to major innovations every few years.
Perpetual state of adaptation to something new. Expectation of novelty.
2. Communications diversified - from two predominant modes (mail, telephone)
to multiple modes (mail, home phone, cell phone, email, texting, social media). Splintering of focus       and message.
3. Growing Virtual Reality - more time spent in cyberspace, less in physical space. Splintering of commitments in physical space.

B. Mobility/ Dislocation

1. Loss of hometown - permanent transience, unwillingness to make commitments
2. Distance from family - loss of unconditional support
3. Spiritual homelessness - "Who are my people?", "Where do I belong?"

C. Economic uncertainty

1. Loss of company loyalty/ long-term security - see "B"
2. Difficulties for recent grads, younger generations in general - see "G"
3. General economic anxiety in politics, media, culture
4. Tendency to not go to church if can't contribute financially

D. Busyness/Loss of Sabbath - "Sunday is the new Saturday"

1. More who work on Sundays
2. Competition with sports and recreation
3. Only day for sleep/relaxation/chores

E. Consumerism and debt

1. Elevated expectations for standard of living
2. False security in possessions, purchasing
3. All driven by the idolatry of commercial consumerism - Hours of advertising vs
hours in church. What do we really live for?

F.  Pluralism, lack of moral center

1. Church is no longer the "go to" moral authority - one voice among many
2. Rejection of institutions - replaced by commercial consumerism, "cult of the self."
3. Consumerism offers no moral authority. Vacuum that is filled by "whatever is
right in our own eyes" - a splintering effect. No longer sees value in
spiritual community.

G. Failure/distrust of institutions

1. Church, other institutions viewed with suspicion or outright contempt
2. What we experience as stability and welcoming sanctuary is often seen as repressive, exclusive fortress
3. Vacuum of larger narratives to unite - splintering, isolating

H. Changing family structures/ gender roles

1. Two parents working outside the home
2. Cumulative effects of higher divorce, single parenting
3. Loosening of gender roles - including spiritual leadership of family

I.  Earlier exposure for children to adult life

1. Physical changes earlier
2. Exposure to violence, sex in the media - especially Internet issues
3. Harsher social realities at younger ages
4. Faith brought into question by more, at earlier ages

J. National climate of anxiety and partisan conflict - carries over into church

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Matrix and Freedom

The Matrix and Freedom

In the movie The Matrix, a young man named Neo learns that what he thought was the real world is actually a computer-generated virtual reality. The real world turns out to be a barren wasteland that has been decimated by an apocalyptic war between human and machines.

Freed from his virtual enslavement, Neo voluntarily re-enters The Matrix and works toward liberating the human race from this "prison of the mind". Back inside, he learns how to deconstruct the virtual reality around him. He becomes aware that many of the rules he once thought to be absolute can be bent or outright broken.

Neo uses this awareness to move through The Matrix in startling ways. He defies gravity, dodges bullets, and eventually learns to manipulate the appearance of the virtual reality from the inside. These feats are made possible by his ability to distinguish what is absolute from what only seems absolute.
Christian freedom is not unlike the freedom that Neo experiences. We might not be enslaved in a virtual reality, but we do lead lives that are governed by rules and categories that we have created. These structures and limitations often seem absolute, but many are not.

For Neo, the key to freedom was knowing that the world around him was virtual, created by a computer program. For us, the key is knowing the difference between what God has ordered and what humans have ordered. When we understand this distinction, we can begin to deconstruct all the structures and rules we have created, consciously and unconsciously.

Seeing the world more as it really is, and less as we have constructed it to be, we are freed to pursue the way of Christ. This deconstructed view of the world can allow us to move through and serve the complex matrix of human society in ways that are just as amazing as Neo's reality-bending heroics in The Matrix.

Of course, there is nothing new about this notion of Christian freedom. Throughout history, followers of Christ have sought release from the boundedness of human structures and rules. The Matrix analogy merely renews this tradition of faithful deconstruction for a new digital generation.