By: Joshua Woodlief
There I was in the airport, minding my own business, when God decides to open my spiritual eyes. It was most unexpected and sudden. As I began to see those around me my heart became heavy and overwhelmed. I began to see people, not as white, black, tall, short or any other physical attribute, but rather I saw them through a spiritual lens. I pray quite often that God will give me spiritual eyes; I did not expect it to happen in the airport.
As I sat there watching, there were many different types of people. Some people were in groups and others were obviously alone. People were rushing to get to their connecting flights. These individuals were rushing around making it a struggle for me to focus on anything substantial such as reading or playing solitaire. I know what you are thinking, "solitaire?". Solitaire in my opinion might be the greatest invention since the Chia pet and the much more popular Chia head. Anyways, back to the subject matter.
The individuals who were scampering about were not the ones who intrigued me, but rather it was the individuals who were standing and sitting in their business attire with laptops and PDA's out. As I began to observe their behavior I began to feel awkward. I saw business men and women who wanted to be noticed and appreciated so badly. They desired recognition and applause. I snooped on two individual's conversation about a presentation they were involved in later this week. They were obviously not on the same page. It sounded like two seven year olds fighting over the last lolly pop. Both wanted to be the chief and neither wanted to be the Indian. There were several men standing around in their suits talking on their cell phones. It was as if they were trying to trump the others volume level. They all wanted to be heard, not only by whomever they were speaking to, but those of us who were listening to their blabbing as well. Each one desired notoriety from us even though we did not even know their names.
Why are we this way? Why do we strive to have others notice us so badly that we are willing to go to the point of looking foolish to grab attention? Does this behavior have deeper spiritual implications? I believe so. At the core of all of us is a pursuit for love and adoration. The amazing revelation that came to me was that I am just like those people many days. I have the desire to be noticed. I desire people's attention. The only difference between me and those men wearing their thousand dollar suits is that I hate suits, ties and dress pants with a bitter, enraged passion. Sorry, I needed to vent for a moment.
So is their a remedy? Yes! We can see ourselves as pursued by a God that loves us more than our imaginations can even begin to dream. He is actively pursuing us when we care the least about him. I know in my life there are times when I do not feel God at all. Not just a feeling of loneliness; I mean it feels as if He has forgotten me. In these valleys, these times of perceived abandonment, I tend to pursue the applause of those that surround me. As a worship pastor, this is my great struggle. It is easy to feed on the applause and attention of an audience on Sunday morning. It is easy to feel superficially loved with the "great job today" and the "man, worship was great", but in the end I am left just as lonely and unsatisfied as ever. David found himself in a major valley when writing Psalm 63. He was running for his life and in a moment of loneliness he cried out to God, the God who satisfies. David proclaims to God that he is thirsty for His presence. Notice that he does not say that he is thirsty for water, food or any external means of sustenance. David was thirsty for the presence of God because only He brings true satisfaction.
This is my struggle and maybe yours as well. Are you in the business world and using your position to gain applause? Are you a pastor, like me, who is trying to gain others applause as a cheap substitute for what you truly need? We need to cry out in desperation, much like what David did in his lamenting Psalm 63. We must tell the father that we desire him more than the applause of others. When we stop trying to get ahead and we fall before the God who loves and pursues us, the applause and recognition of men seems shallow in comparison. May we see ourselves through spiritual eyes. May we drop the act around each other and accept ourselves despite what others think of us. Throw down your mask and walk free of the opinions of those who you try to impress. You are loved! You are accepted! May God teach us to put his opinion of us in a higher place than the opinions of those around us. And lastly, may we stop trying to be so impressive all the time and just be who we are in Christ. I pray that our God will begin to communicate hope to those places in you that need to feel accepted and loved.
By: Joshua Woodlief
This is written with much concern and care. I am frustrated. You will sense this as you read. I think that there are others that feel this way as well. I believe that for change and reformation to occur, people must rise up and share concern. I am going to try to remain sensitive, while conveying some very non-sensitive truths. I will come across very harshly when you first read this. I ask only that you see that I am passionate to see my generation reached with the teachings of Jesus, not religion. We as the church have so much untapped potential. I am very appalled at the current condition of the church. I am going to tell you why thousands of people my age are running from organized religion. You may not agree with what I say in this blog, but count on this; if the perceptions of my generation are not addressed, the church will cease to exist when this traditional generation of Christians dies. All of these opinions are not mine, but I do share most of them.
People respect Jesus. People, however, hate the church. I have talked with many people from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. They all respect and love the teachings of Jesus. They all hate organized religion or as we call it, church.
While most churches are forming committees and making processes my generation is seeking something different. I am disgusted that we still do church the way my grandfather did it. We get so caught up with following rules and forming systems that we do nothing. Do these rules bring life? Do they lead others into life? Do we even know why we follow these rules? Are we not bored yet with the same stuff that the church has been feeding us for years? One thing is for sure though; these rules and regulations do not reach emerging generations.
My main frustration is with this thing we call ministry. When did it become so easy to be a pastor? There are some, even many pastors that do it right, but where did the work ethic go? These "pastors" that teach on evangelism and discipleship don't lift a finger to reach those who need the teachings of Jesus. Are the people that we so "desperately" want to reach sitting there in our offices and churches as well? No! They are out living life alone and broken. So why do we not reach them? This is why. We have Christian meetings with Christians about Christian things that only Christians understand. We spend all of our time with Christians! What has it gained us? Who have we reached with our lack of initiative? Are you not sick of talking Christians into being Christians? I refuse to sit in one more meeting trying to convince a Christian to do something to reach the world around them. You see, we talk a lot, but we act very little. We do not even stop to ask hard questions about the culture that we live in so that we might know how to engage people. Christians are still doing outreach the same way my grandfather did in the 60's. These forms of evangelism for the most part do not work with my generation. There are hurting people out there, and it should shame us that they are asking where we are. We have forgotten those who need us the most.
I think we are still clinging to hopes that we are a Christian nation. We have clueless TV preachers that tell us that a great revival is coming and God is about to bring us prosperity. I have news for church leaders and religious people, America is no longer a Christian nation. We are post Christian. Everyone sees it but the Christians. We are blind to the fact that Christianity is not respected the way it once was. Emerging people think of Jesus and they have respect, but when they think of "Christian" they give a completely different response. We are to busy standing in our prestigious pulpits talking about how this country needs to return to its "Christian Roots" to see that this country is far from Christian. We are not returning.
We, the church, have become nothing more than a corporation in the eyes of the world; a republican supporting, homosexual hating, fundamentalist, rule following corporation. People no longer come to church and believe what the pastor says; in fact they doubt it because they see the powerless lives that most Christians live. They want to know why the Bible contains truth. We make blanket statements from our pulpits and in our conversations and throw in a couple of verses. That doesn't work anymore. Long gone are the days when the pastor says something and people just accept it.
We, the church, look nothing like Jesus. That is a definite "we". I am included in this bunch. I am appalled by my own hypocrisy most days. Gandhi once said, "I like your Jesus, but I do not like you Christians. Your Christians look nothing like your Christ." He also said one of the most profound statements that I have ever heard. It is "become the change you seek". This is why people are leaving church by the droves. They do not see people becoming the change that they preach about. You see, my generation knows that Jesus was about love, but Christians judge and belittle the "world" and do not show love even for other Christians. We do not know how to engage this new, free thinking generation because we do not care enough to stop and figure out how to. We just want them to think like us. They should conform. We will keep doing things how we have always done them. Who cares about the lost? We may not say this, but by our actions we validate the world's perception of us.
We, as Christians, are all about growing our "Christian bubble". What do I mean by the bubble? I mean Christian subculture. You know who I mean. It's the person who has only Christian friends, listens only to Christian music, wears neatly marketed Christian t-shirts that cheapen our beliefs, and has a Christian fish on their car beside the bumper sticker that reads "In case of rapture this car will be unmanned". They use cute little Christian sayings and clichés such as backsliding, prayer warrior, traveling mercies, and quiet time; none of which are anywhere in the Bible. They tell their children to only have Christian friends because the world might bring them down. Can you sense my disgust? If Jesus were here he would not spend time with any of these people. So why do we? Have we forsaken the teachings and life of Jesus and gone with our own methodologies? I think so. It is not about changed lives anymore. It is about growing our Christian bubble. Jesus would be with the prostitutes, homeless, widows, alcoholics and Muslims. He would forsake all of the self righteous people that we fill our churches with. But see, we expect emerging generations to come to us. We want them to conform to the way we are instead of conforming to them. I think Paul said something like "I become all things to all people that I might win the lost". Will we forever remain in our Christian bubble, or will we do what it takes to reach the lost? I can not take the lack of initiative anymore. I am sick of what they have fed me. I am full.
I want to assure you that it is not too late. We can reach this generation. We must make changes to do it. It is time for young leaders to rise up and voice their hearts cry. I only hope to be a part of this reformation. Our world is changing and I want to change with it. I want to be uncomfortable with standing still. My prayer for myself is the same that I will offer for you; that our God will break your heart for the hurting, oppressed and marginalized. I pray that you loose sleep as I have done when reflecting on the church. Let us all, young and old, stretch our minds and break out of our comfortable, safe lives and reach those who like Jesus, but hate the church.