Why the Pew Survey Fails Before it Begins

Last week, Pew published the results of a survey on why Americans either go to church or stay home. A summery of the study, written by Jeremy Weber, appeared on Christianity Today’s website. A full write-up on the study can be found on the website for the Pew Forum.

In the study, Pew asked 4,729 people the reasons they either attend church or do not attend church. The full results are indeed interesting but not overly surprising. In the survey respondents were given possible reasons for attending or not attending church and they were asked to respond to each by ranking it “very important, somewhat important, or not important.”

Because the possible reasons were given, and the respondents simply had to rank each one, I don’t see anything too surprising in the findings. For example, the top three reasons that were given as “very important” reasons for not attending church:

I practice my faith in other way: 37%

I am not a believer: 28%

No reason is “very important”: 26%


Slightly more interesting were the reasons that church-goes listed as “very important” reasons that they do attend church. The top three included:

To become closer to God: 81%

So children will have moral foundation: 69%

To make me a better person: 68%


In fact what most shocked me about the survey wasn’t the results but the reasons that were given as choices- especially in the “Why I go to church” section of the survey. Out of the ten choices given, all ten could be argued as ego-centric. Meaning, they are all about “me.” They are all about what I get, how I feel, how it affects me and how it affects my family.

There are no reasons that point directly to glorifying God or serving others.

But that’s exactly what we see in the church in Act 2:42-47. The church in Jerusalem met together, they “went to church” in other words, for three reasons. I think we see these three reasons in these verses and I also think that these should (key word “should”) be the same reasons we continue to meet together as the church.

  1. They met together be grow closer to God. Here Acts and the Pew survey are in agreement. Acts 2:42 says that the believers devoted themselves “to the apostles’ teaching” (which means both hearing the teaching but also doing what was taught), “the breaking of bread” (which can be fellowship but also the fellowship of Communion), and “to prayer.” All of three are actions that help us grow closer to God. They were, and still are, reasons to go to church.
  2. They met together to glorify God. While this is second on the list, it is not second in importance. As Christians all parts of our lives should be lived to bring glory to God- attending church not excluded. In Acts 2:43 it says they were in awe and wonders and signs were taking place, which leads them in 2:47 to praise God. These early believers met together to praise and glorify God for the wonders and signs that were taking place and for the number of people coming to salvation day by day. Glorifying God should be the most important thing in our lives as Christians and should be the most important reason we gather together to as the church. However, nowhere in the Pew survey is glorifying God a possible reason for church attendance.
  3. They met together to serve. Verses 44-46 speak of the way that serving occurred in the Jerusalem church. They served one another, and I think it’s clear they also served those outside the church, by monetary support in times of need. They served one another, and, again, those outside the church through hospitality and joy. They served and loved one another in truly selfless ways. But in the Pew survey, there is nothing about serving. There is nothing about serving one another inside of the church as brothers and sisters in Christ and nothing about serving those outside of the church in the love of Christ.

This is why I think the Pew survey fails before it begins. The respondents were only able to rank the reasons given by the researchers. I hope the researchers were doing their best, but they missed the biblical reasons for meeting together as the church and therefore presented reasons that only reinforced the ego-centric model of modern Western Christianity.

Let us work to reject that ego-centric model that makes attending church and following Jesus all about me and return to the model of the early church. Then, perhaps, we will also see wonders and glorify God as we see people coming to salvation day after day.

Beautiful to the Bridegroom

This week I wrote an article that is appearing in the Baptist Standard. You can follow the link below and read it there.

https://www.baptiststandard.com/opinion/voices/church-beautiful-bridegroom/

 

When Selfless Love and Selfish Love Fall on the Same Day

Today is Ash Wednesday. Today is also Valentine’s Day.

There may not be two more opposite emphases celebrated on the same day. Each one celebrates love, but two different kinds of love. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent- a 40 day preparation for Easter. Lent is often celebrated by fasting from something as a symbolic way to enter into the suffering of Christ and as a way to prepare for the joy of Easter. Ash Wednesday, Lent, Good Friday, and Easter are all about selfless love. The selfless love of Jesus who went to the cross to bring the forgiveness of sins.

Valentine’s Day, in our culture, has become symbolic of selfish love. Love shown by the buying of stuff- teddy bears, candy, and expensive dinners. This way of celebrating Valentine’s Day actually brings out the worst of “love.” It celebrates a kind of love that is needy, a kind of love that finds its fulfillment in materialism, and a kind of love that is given and received based on what it gets in return.

Jesus said there is no love greater than the love that causes someone to lay down their life for someone else (John 15:13). In other words the greatest love is selfless love. The greatest love is Ash Wednesday love, not Valentine’s Day love.

Today, let’s bridge the gap between Ash Wednesday love and Valentine’s Day love. Before you give that teddy bear and candy, and before you go out to that expensive dinner, first give yourself. Show Ash Wednesday love by setting aside yourself, laying down your life, and getting rid of any agenda.

Practice selfless love. Practice Ash Wednesday love.

2018 Theme(s)

I can’t believe that is almost February 2018 already. I also can’t believe I haven’t written since November. Usually in January I write about my theme for the year. In 2017 the theme was “review.” In 2016 the theme was “bravery” and in 2015 it was “doubt.”

Looking back on those themes, the themes from 2015 and 2016 really did define my year. In 2015, I went through a period where God worked in my heart to redefine my calling. Looking back at my blogs from 2015, I find a process of working through hurt, confusion, and doubt about what God was trying to do in my life.

In 2016, the theme of bravery led me to do some things that are not naturally characteristic of me. I wrote about humility, I stepped out and did some teaching, and (most importantly) I sent a resume to a church in a town I’d never heard of, in a part of Texas I’d never really visited. Then I watched how God worked and put me and my family together with the perfect church to pastor and lead. All because sometimes faith takes some bravery.

Last year my theme was “review.” I wrote that I wanted to reexamine, relearn, reengage with some authors I have in library and with some of the ideas that I spent time writing about on this blog. Ideas of how we should structure church and work in ministry today. Last year, however, was a hard year on bloggers. The news and the world was consumed with politics and that’s not a world that I want to enter as a blogger. So, many of my posts last year were reviews, just book reviews. I wrote about eight different books over 2017. Maybe last year’s theme didn’t turn out the way that I envisioned.

But what about this year? What about 2018?

To be honest I haven’t settled on a theme yet. But I do have some concepts that have been churring in my heart and mind. Perhaps this year I won’t have one theme but several.

Sow. One of Jesus’ most famous stories is about sowing. You can read it in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23. In the story the farmer scatters seeds far and wide- all the way from the road to the field. The farmer knows that nothing will grow if he doesn’t sow, and while we might see him as wasteful (letting seeds fall on the road, the rocky soil, and among the thorns) the principle is that we sow far and wide. One of my themes for the year is to sow far and wide and lead the church to sow far and wide. And in doing we will trust God for the fruit.

Productivity. On a more personal level, I’m realizing more and more the speed of life. It’s easy to let days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years (the fact that I haven’t written since November is exhibit number 1). There are things I want to get done (personally, professionally, with my family, spiritually) that I know can be accomplished if I spend time wisely and productively.

Contemplation. This is the balance to productivity. There is a danger in measuring oneself simply on production. There has to be balance in working and resting, giving and  refilling, production and contemplation.

Those are the ideas in my mind as we begin a new year. I’m excited to see how the year unfolds and how these themes play into the journey.

How Do We Think? (A Book Review)

We’re always being told what to think, but not how to think- enter Alan Jacobs.

how to think coverPolarization is the mark of our current social, political, and religious environments. I don’t know if there’s another time where so many people are on opposite extremes of so many different issues- from healthcare, to gun control, to climate change, to foreign policy, and many more. It is into this extreme environment that Alan Jacobs speaks a word of calmness, clarity and, yes, even grace through his newest book How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.

Jacob’s book is, both, timely and important because he does what the title of the book says- he advises the reader on how to think, not what to think. Through a book that is both well researched, and in a style that is deep and engaging, Jacobs invites the reader to examine the influences and prejudices inherent in our thinking.

My main takeaway from the book is two-fold. First, is the realization that we believe that the things we think, and the positions we take are true, or else we would not be holding those ideas. And because we believe them to be true, we naturally listen to others who confirm what we hold to be true. Even if we are truly not sure what we think about an issue, we will gravitate toward others who are unsure and hold those with a defined position as suspicious. What Jacobs rightly notes is that when we are faced with another idea, although we may find that idea repulsive, instead of labeling only the idea repulsive, we label the one who holds the idea as repulsive- or what Jacobs borrows from Susan Harding and calls the “repugnant cultural other.” Jacobs’ main goal in the book is to show that the “RCO” is indeed a human being and realize that we might, under different circumstances, hold the same view that we find repulsive.

Second, there is a deceptive argument that promotes eliminating emotions, both positive and negative, collectively called biases and, instead, use pure reason. Jacobs notes, however, that reason alone is an “insufficient guide” because our biases actually help us navigate through life because without them “the cognitive demands of having to assess every single situation would be so great as to paralyze us” (86). Feelings and biases actually help us make quick decisions when we cannot stop and rationally assess every situation or decision on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis. He warns, however, that we want our biases to be the right biases and that begins by “learning to think with the best people, and not to think with the worst” (87).

These are my top two takeaways but there are many other things that I could note that are interesting. Overall Jacobs writes a fascinating book and it may be one that I routinely give away to graduating seniors and college students. My most telling endorsement is that when I finished the book, I was glad I read it.

I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for this review.

Heavy on “What” but Light on “How”

9781601429537I was immediately drawn into this book. In the preface, Erwin McManus reveals that while he was writing The Last Arrow: Save Nothing For the Next Life, he had cancer but did not know it. He admits that writing a book about living without fear and regret became a prophetic word to himself as he edited the book under the cloud of his diagnosis.

In the body of the book, McManus uses the story of Elisha and King Joash in 2 Kings 13:14-19 and the image of striking arrows as the jumping off point to talk about we can live a life where we hold nothing back. McManus rightfully reminds us, “You have one life to use everything you have been entrusted with, so you might as well save nothing for the next life” (30).

In the subsequent chapters McManus speaks to ideas like letting go of the past, recognizing that other people depend on your life and knowing what we want out of life. He speaks to these ideas with the familiar interlacing of personal stories and biblical illustrations.

One of the issues I have with “pop” Christian books, and The Last Arrow falls into this category, is that it is hard for the reader to relate to many of the personal stories of the author. I’ve never had a conversation with a billionaire. I’ve never been to war-torn Syria. I’ve never been disinvited to speak at a large conference. It’s not to say that the reader cannot gain insights from the life experience of the author but that life experience has to be translatable to the life experience of the reader and at times McManus’ life experience doesn’t translate well.

That brings me to the one main critique I have of The Last Arrow: it is heavy on the “what” but light on the “how.” I think the main ideas McManus presents are right and true but in order to engage more readers and move those readers to a lasting change in the way they live their lives, it would be helpful if McManus spent more time explaining how we find great people with which to surround ourselves. Or how do we discover who we are? Or how do we know what parts of our pasts we need to set on fire, like Elisha did? Readers that see this weakness can fill in the gaps themselves as they work through the book’s ideas and their implications.

Overall, however, the book was an engaging read and one that if you’ve read other of McManus’ books, I think you’ll appreciate. I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

A Missing Defining Event

This week is the sixteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I was a sophomore in high school in 2001 and while it will probably be the defining moment in my lifetime (I pray nothing worse takes its place) this is the first year that my oldest child really learned about the attacks (he’s in third grade). So Monday night my wife and I were telling our third grader a little about what we remember of that day.

My thoughts went from 9/11 to the other defining events in my life (so far). The first real world events I remember are Operation Desert Storm and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. I remember seeing video of explosions lighting up the night sky as the air portion of Desert Storm began. I also remember the sci-fi looking F-117 Nighthawk stealth bomber.

I thought about the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. I remember the way the building looked and the heartbreaking picture of the firefighter holding a lifeless baby pulled from the rubble.

Columbine was also a defining event. I was in junior high in 1999. I remember the news coverage and the images of SWAT teams escorting students from the building with their hands on top of the their heads.

Now that I sit here, I think about the first World Trade Center bombing, the bombing at the Atlanta olympics, and the Boston Marathon bombing.

And I wonder, are there any positive defining moments in my lifetime? Are there any events that stand out that cause me to say, “I’m proud that happened during my lifetime?”

Sure there are proud moments in response to these tragedies, as people come together to help one another, but I’m not sure there is a positive defining event.

At least not yet. But I am hopeful. Maybe it’s naive but I believe there is still time- I’m only 31 after all. I don’t believe that my lifetime has to be defined by bombings, shootings, terrorist attacks, and wars. My lifetime can be defined by something more; it can be defined by something positive; it can be defined by something God-inspired.

Jesus said in John 14:12-14 that followers of Jesus will be able to do even greater things (greater works) than Jesus because Jesus will have accomplished his mission and sent the Holy Spirit to live within us. Jesus was one man who taught twelve, who taught thousands, who taught millions, who taught billions. Estimates are that there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world.

With 2.2 billion Christians, how is there not a defining God-inspired event in my lifetime? God is moving in the world. There are stories of how God is moving in China and in the Middle East. There was the rise in the worship movements and Pentecostalism in South America. But there hasn’t been a “Pentecost” in my lifetime. There hasn’t been a “Great Awakening” in my lifetime. There hasn’t been a “Jesus Movement” in my lifetime.

Why?

Maybe we are the plants growing in the shallow rocky soil or growing up amidst the choking thorns of worry, riches, and pleasures of life. Maybe it’s because we Christians can’t seem to stop fighting among ourselves as we keep calling out “heretics” for their specks while ignoring our own logs. Maybe it’s because we are lazy. Maybe it’s because God desires us to be desperate but we are too content with our iPhones and Netflix. Maybe it’s because we keep looking for someone else to do something when God is calling each one of us.

I’ve been wary of the term revival, as it’s used now, because it’s been equated with a return to a religio-social-cultural-political ideal that never really existed. There can be no return to a reality that never was.

What we need are people and churches who are inspired to do God-inspired things. We don’t need to look into the past but gaze into the future and have God inspire us to do a greater work.

Maybe then in 30, 40, or 50 years the defining moment in my lifetime will be a God-movement or a God-event and not more of the same.