jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

church for the lactose intolerant

Many of my closest friends can’t stand church. Because of this they simply do not go to church. I recognize that there are some issues that each of them could address in each of their lives that would potentially help them overcome their various distastes for the ol’ Sunday Morning Worship Service. And from time to time I have challenged some of my friends to consider such things. However, I think that their disdain for church has as much or more potential in revealing problems with our concept of church than revealing their individual issues.

Paul bemoaned the fact that he could only give the believers at Corinth spiritual milk and not spiritual meat, being ‘infants in Christ’ as they were (and that they could not even handle the milk!–see 1 Cor 3:1-3). However, what I am encountering among my friends is something that seems a little different. There is a common, underlying spiritual hunger that I encounter in each of them. This hunger is for meat, not milk. In fact, they typically seem to have an aversion to spiritual milk. It seems that they are lactose intolerant.

I see the same recurring cycle in their lives. They are isolated from anything that allows them to pursue the filling of the spiritual void in their ‘belly.’ Every so often, when the pangs in their gut get impossibly wrenching, when they recognize that the malnourishment of their soul might ‘take their life,’ they decide to go give church a try again. They suspect that maybe something has changed at church, or perhaps something has changed in them, and that maybe ‘things will be different now.’ However, it’s not very long into the church service that their hopes are dispelled. Nothing has changed at church and nothing has changed in them. They cannot relate to all the church-speak that comes out of people’s mouths, they cannot relate to the music, they cannot relate to the pagentry (we have a lot of big churches here!), they cannot relate to the cliches (“Can we just give the Lord a handclap of praise?!”), and they cannot relate to the ‘agenda’ that is assumed by those that are ‘putting on’ the service. In the end, they leave frustrated that they ever thought things might be different and vow that they will not make the same mistake again. Unfortunately, the lack of spiritual food to feed on in the world will mean that they will be back in a few months. And most unfortunately, they will probably find little to eat.

I know that not all churches are this way. But I suspect that many are. I know that some of these dynamics are created in this queer town with all of its churches and all of its church leaders. But I suspect that it can be found in other towns too. I know that some of what I pick up on is more prevalent within the large congregations here that I am most in touch with. But I suspect that there are some little churches that do the same thing. At times I have suspected that as much as 80-90% of the junk we do and talk about in church is not only without spiritual sustenance, but is in fact offensive in the sight of God. Obviously I cannot back that up. But I wonder how we can look the ‘crucified God’ in the eyes and explain why we are so out of touch with our own sin; so out of touch with other people’s pain; and so out of touch with His blood which can heal them both?

15 comments on “church for the lactose intolerant

  1. Tom Rosson
    April 3, 2008

    Jon, trust me on this. The size of the church, nor the median age of the attendees does not make the difference. I’ve been to small churches and church made up on young adults that demonstrate the same symptoms that you have described.

    The reach certain segments of society, we need special approaches in the church services. Unfortunately, as many changes as some churches make, things still stay the same.

    And perhaps it would be smarter to get your unchurched friends involved in a cell group (house meeting) with a bible study before introducing them to your church.

  2. Don
    April 3, 2008

    This is a serious issue in men’s ministries. I took a look at this when reviewing David Murrow’s book Why Men Hate Going to Church.

  3. The Boyds
    April 3, 2008

    What you describe here is very familiar. Back when I lived in Cleveland I remember being in a similar state for a period of time. For me this whole dilemma was addressed in Dr. Moore’s prophecy to the COG in 1996. (I posted the videos on youtube back in February)

    Looking back, I was starving and in the center of God’s will. During that time God taught me to receive spiritual meat from Him personally. This was essential for my future ministry ministering to military personnel in Egypt, Kuwait & Iraq. Often times I was the only chaplain in those locations and if I had not been through the experience of famine, years before, I would not have been able to give meat to the hungry. And let me tell you, when people are killing people in war and are seeing their friends killed, spiritual milk just won’t do.

    Often times we don’t ask, “What is God doing in all of this?” God calls us to be a part of His solution not to continue the problems that we are suffering through. If we are really honest, we are often times just focusing on our need, just like the people who are feeding us milk. They are giving us what they like… what they see as “good stuff.”

    Maybe both groups are guilty of the same sin of neglecting the needs of those who come after them. What if people on both sides of this problem are following their our own agenda and God is on a completely different agenda?

  4. m.d. mcmullin
    April 3, 2008

    Are you suggesting that some of the churches in Cleveland haven given people gas or painful diarrhea?

    It is a bit discouraging to think many church people are fine with getting milk once a week, but there are others who are not a part of the “Christian subculture” who desire something more.

  5. jason
    April 3, 2008

    ok Jon. You win. Two days two posts this is unheard of for me.

    I feel your frustration, but I dont understand what is the specific root of it. Is the style of church wrong? or is this disconnection from a lack of true spiritual food or from the way the food is packaged.

    Let me give you a perspective of frustration as well. It has become very popular to bash churches in our generation. In a recent response you referred to the church as the “queen” or bride of Christ. Is this the way we should treat her? The church is not perfect, but it has played a major role in my life and I suspect in yours and your friends as well. There are many (aside from your friends) who feel the church is inadequate, yet as a pastor no one wants to talk to me about it. They talk to others, make posts or let their lack of support/attendance share their opinion.
    I guess from the other side of the pulpit, it is difficult to deal with people who recognize weakness in churches yet will not engage the church to bring change. So many people come to church with a disdain for what is happening but still give the handshake and smile and “we love you pastor” speech it makes it hard to know who’s with you and who’s against you. Atleast until you hear of their sunday lunch conversation or read their blog and find out any cliche’s are a slap in the face to God.
    In my opinion, people who only talk about problems but wont be a part of the solution need to digest the “milk” for a while.

  6. Jonathan Stone
    April 4, 2008

    Tom, I’m curious to know your opinion about something. Do you see much difference between how this ‘dynamic’ gets expressed in the USA and how it gets expressed in Germany (or any other international field you have a history with)?

  7. Jonathan Stone
    April 4, 2008

    Don, thanks for reminding me of this book. I have wanted to read about before, but never did, and then forgot it existed.

    Matt, great point…and very great perspective. It’s kind of hard for me to completely get my mind around what it would be like to be ministering to soldiers in Egypt, Kuwait, & Iraq! But certainly I can imagine that in that context you figure out real quick that tacit words of encouragement just won’t cut it. I too have had some serious deserts! Now I find myself in Cleveland. Some people hate Cleveland, but I love it here. So, I’m currently in one of the most fulfilling seasons of ministry that I have ever had. So, it might sound funny, but my deserts have prepared me to thrive in this desert! I really appreciate your thoughts!

    Mike, ha! Perhaps the analogy breaks down when we start talking about spiritual gas! Or maybe not! And yes, I find it discouraging too.

  8. Jonathan Stone
    April 4, 2008

    Jason, you won’t make it three days three posts tomorrow!

    Thanks for the challenging ‘other perspective.’ Except for the conversation on homosexuality (which was incredible!) almost every person that has commented on this blog is a CoG minister, and most, like myself, either have or are pastoring a church or have been on or are on the pastoral staff at a church. That’s why a good bit of the discussion tends to focus on the relationship between pastors and administrators. I would also say that you will not have hard time finding sympathizers for your frustrations. Because of the reality behind the frustrations you shared I can tell you that being the ‘lead’ person in charge of even a very small group of people is the single hardest thing that I have ever done! I would also say that I don’t want to ‘add weight’ to the load that you or anyone else is carrying for the rest of us.

    Since we are member and pastor we represent the equivalent of pastor and administrator in most of the conversations that I take part in other parts of the blogosphere. What is different here is that you have taken the time to come and read and join the conversation. And that’s awesome! However, there are no administrators that are yet willing to do this. There’s a very controversial discussion board that has an infamous reputation among the CoG administration. Travis Johnson recently mentioned that an administrator publicly made the statement that he had never visited the board, as if that was something to brag about. Travis went on to mention that either we are going to engage these problems or we are going to continue to be driven apart. So, you’re right, this must be engaged by both sides.

    (I should make a qualifier here. In the case of our particular church I have spoken with both you and our ‘lead pastor’ about several of my friends. Pastor knows that our current format just isn’t going to work for them–I can’t remember if you and I talked specifically about that or not. But Pastor and you have given me the blessing to launch out with these guys in whatever way the Lord leads, and with no strings attached, because all of us just want to see them make peace with God. So, I wanted to say that because others reading this will not have that background and might misunderstand what we’re wrestling with here and what we’re not wrestling with.)

    Practically speaking I think that creating a network of bloggers within the church, as well as some discussion boards, would be a great opportunity to build a huge amount of social capital among the members of a church the size of ours. It would also create the space for that engagement from members that you said you would like to see. But it will be a full time job for someone, which means we would have to really get behind it! I would love to sit down with you and Pastor and talk about that sometime if you’re interested!

    As far as the queen goes, you’re using my words against me…you tricky little devil! Seriously though, I know I will be doubted on this, but I honestly believe that the church will become the most glorious thing on earth before the Lord returns. But I also believe that the church is currently in a very deep slumber! And my honest motivation (read this if you haven’t already) is to wake that sleeping giant up. And you’re exactly right, it won’t happen by reviving the top and letting that bleed down! It will happen when those of us sitting in the pews catch a vision for who all of us are called to be!

    Also, I’m not at our church just because Emily grew up there. We have committed ourselves there because we believe that our church is committed to becoming a church that is fanatically missional. One of the first things that Pastor did when he came was do a very extensive gifts/strengths analysis on the congregation (and it wasn’t easy getting all of those filled out!) What we learned was that we had administrators and educators out the wazzu, but had very little in terms of evangelism and discipleship. So, we committed ourselves to working on our weakness. Now we have a discipleship/evangelism pastor and team, and one heck of a passionate and diverse set of outreaches that have grown out of that. We have literally turned our weakness into one of our strengths! That happened when I was in Cleveland before. And that’s when I committed myself to Westmore.

    I think that one of the challenges that faces us now as a church (and maybe this is our new weakest point) is creating connectivity within such a large congregation. People today will not ‘buy in’ if there’s not authentic connectivity that they can experience AND participate in. I think every large church faces this. And I don’t think that we’re particularly bad on it, especially if you compare us to other similarly sized churches. But if it’s our next challenge or weakest point then I say we hit it head on!

    The very strong language I used about ‘us’ being ‘out of touch’ with people’s pain and our own sin and talking about junk that is without sustenance (even offensive to God) is part of a long journey that I have been on as a minister. It’s a confession about things that the Lord has confronted in MY life. In some ways I feel that the Church (big C) owes the world an apology. I know that that might offend some other ministers, but I cannot apologize for that. However, I can work on choosing my words a little more wisely, and making sure that people are more aware of the amount of personal responsibility I feel in it.

    Finally, I would say that this journey in ministry, followed by being ‘dislocated from the system’ of traditional ministry has caused me to wake up to something that I alluded to earlier. That is, the fact that the real ‘meat’ of ministry will come from the grassroots, that the people need to be awakened to the fact that we are all ‘ministers.’ (Perhaps Don can chime in on this!) That’s why I love the fact that Carl approaches church planting the way he does, seeing all of us as church planters. We were talking about that in CPX last night. I believe that I am ‘planting a church’ at my middle school. Jesus ministered ‘outside the gates.’ And it’s all of us (the members) who are going outside the gates every day. The staff of a church the size of ours is bogged down in all of complex set of duties and dynamics that are demanded to keep ourselves going. And we’re glad that they are doing that! How would we make it otherwise? So, I believe that any significant advancement in ministry will not grow out of the staff, but out of the laity. However, it will require the staff to ‘pull/call/summon’ those ministries out of the hearts of a comfortable and content set of American Christians who, like all of us American Christians, have become overly complacent on using church to fill our own needs–and in that sense we are indeed ‘stuck on milk.’

  9. Tom Rosson
    April 4, 2008

    Jon, this “dynamic” is true across national boundaries. In the church plant or pioneer phase, the ministry seems to be more “culturally relevant” or else it cannot survive. However, as time goes on the church stays with what was successful in the past without noticing the changing environment. Subsequently, they don’t make the necessary changes to stay on the cutting edge.

    Germany is just as shaped by postmodernism as the States, if not more so. I don’t hear much about “emergent” churches. But is clear that some churches “get it” while others are stuck in the past. And if 1973 comes back again, they’ll be in great shape to reap the harvest.

  10. Don
    April 4, 2008

    Tom: Germany is the birthplace of modernity, so it German isn’t “postmodern,” no place is.

  11. Tom Rosson
    April 4, 2008

    Don, there are actually many Germans who would be classified as modernists in their approached. But the general trend here is certainly going postmodern, even though Germany is hardly the melting pot of the USA. I was thinking about German philosophers who turned away from traditional modernist philosophy, e.g., Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein — who have really shaped the landscape here.

  12. Don
    April 4, 2008

    Tom: thanks much for your response.

    I tend to look at things from a historical perspective rather than a philosophical one. Sometimes that includes family history as well.

    A little off topic, but I’d be interested in your thoughts on this item.

  13. Jonathan Stone
    April 4, 2008

    Interesting Don. CPM’s are one of expression that I have in mind when I mentioned the awakening of the laity in my response to Jason.

  14. jason
    April 4, 2008

    Jon- your words are like a syren who draws this weary sailor to come closer than he should (ha2)so here goes #3.(in as many days none the less)

    I repented last night. I took your blog too personally. Maybe I was supposed to but I should have worded my response differently. I know you are committed to our body, our fellowship, our “queen”. My comments sounded like I was attacking you and they shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.

    I know Travis, and I knwo the infamous website and I know the official you speak of in your response. I also recognize the fact that there are some serious needs in our church (local and international)that need to be reorganized. The dynamics of our leadership (local and international) should always be in a state of refocus to match the model of Jesus. Im just too impatient. I recognize the problem today and expect others to recognize and correct by tomorrow. (at 9am on my desk). Having said that, I think your blog is good. It starts dialogue. (with non-bloggers like me) It evokes emotions (with those who take their work too personally like I do)and it calls leadership to evaluate motives and methods behand all actions. Thanks jon, Lets keep talking.

  15. Jonathan Stone
    April 4, 2008

    Jason, I did not know that my “triple dog dare you” approach would have such an irresistable quality. I hope you do not feel like you crashed into the cliffs!

    Thanks for your transparency. I was not sure if you were ‘being defensive’ or not. So, perhaps you felt more defensive than you sounded. I genuninely appreacieated the ‘challenging perspective,’ and I knew that if I really had offended you that we would quickly work it out, not just because we’re friends, but because you’re one of the most sincere, humble, tender-hearted persons I know. Really!

    I can see that it would be hard not to take some of the things I said personally. I’m glad you were as transparent as you were. It helps me consider my words more. Let me echo something I said in my first response by sharing some personal history.

    I grew up in church and never knew the Lord. My path led me into some pretty serious trouble and some very deep bondage. When I finally came to know the Lord nearly twelve years ago I knew nothing of ‘church-speak.’ I had lost all of that in my long foray in the world. As I grew in the Lord and was launched into ministry I recognized one day that this had somehow gotten flipped upside down along the way. I was suddenly fluent in ‘christianese’ but could not ‘speak the language’ of some of my closest friends, and in order to relate to them I felt like I had to ‘check my beliefs’ at the door. I felt like a real butt (I try not to cuss in public ;). I felt hypocritical, duplicitous…like a schizophrenic! I was deeply grieved by this, and asked the Lord to help me bridge these two identities in my soul, to help me become whole, to help me find the courage to be the person I was created to be. The Lord is NOWHERE NEAR being done with this work in me, but He has kept me slowly moving along in it.

    A big part of the genesis of the Lord answering that prayer was revealing to me how much of my words and overall approach to ministry was a product of contemporary Christendom, and not useful in the Kingdom. Those cliches and things I mentioned were things that I saw myself doing, and it was that myself as well as that overall Christendom culture that I had in mind when I was writing about them, not our church. Because I have seen these things in my own life and ministry I do recognize them at times in our church. But I never presume that they are necessarily a bad thing for us. I trust you guys on staff immensely, and I trust the Lord to help us wrestle with anything that needs to change.

    Thanks again brother. And yes, lets keep talking. Who knows maybe you will top 3 posts in 3 days on here VERY soon! ; )

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2008 by in faith, missional.
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