The Great Evangelical Disconnect from Real Life

Several years ago, at a church I no longer attend, I heard a sermon about how much God loves us and what that means for societal conformity. The young pastor, who couldn’t have been more than 30, talked about how Christians can’t get hung up on appearances or on what other people think. He talked about how it does not matter if you have gray hair or you’re overweight. He said that the world’s standards aren’t our standards, so we can ignore those standards, because only God’s standards matter.

I remember walking out of that church afterwards furious because I just heard a pastor lie to a couple thousand people.

It’s not that he was wrong about what God thinks of us. God isn’t put off by your wrinkles. He doesn’t judge you by whether or not your clothes are out of fashion or you drive a rustbucket car. Really, those conditions are not preventing Him from loving and saving you.

BUT…

The world cares. It cares massively about those issues the pastor said don’t matter. And the last time I checked, Christians still must live in that world.

Reader Brian sent a link that intersects with something I planned to write today in this vein, so perhaps the following will provide a nice setup for that post, which will now come later.

Over at The Gospel Coalition, Cameron Cole wrote “Busy All the Time: Over-Scheduled Children and the Freedom of the Gospel.” Cole’s words sound familiar, like something I heard from a young pastor many years ago.

The setup, as is evident from the title, deals with Christian parents who are melting down because they cannot manage jumping through all the hoops needed to make their children exceptional:

The vocabulary of fear and obligation dominates expressions I hear from parents when they lament over their child’s busyness. “Well, we have to do an ACT prep class, or else . . . we have to take a full load of AP classes or else . . . we have to play a sport to round out that college resume . . . Johnny has to be an Eagle Scout . . . we have to attend every event at the church.” This attitude suggests they face certain condemnation if they deviate from the cultural norms. Fear looms over the possibility a child may not maximize every minute of every day in the name of resume optimization and ultimate human development.

Furthermore, parents reveal a fear of inadequacy as they guide their children. On one hand they feel as if they are failing to maintain an intimate family unit, because their family runs ragged. Conversely, they feel damned if they do not provide their child with every advantage to achieve success in high school and beyond. It is as if they live cursed: either deny your child the opportunity of future success or board a non-stop treadmill.

Later on, Cole provides “the answer”:

Christ has set his followers free from social mandates. Parents can begin their escape from this high-pressured frenzy of over-scheduling by first embracing the counter-cultural nature of following Jesus and living in response to the gospel. A follower of Christ has been freed from any obligation except that blessed call to follow and obey Christ and his Word. Given the freedom from the law, which Christ has won for his people, Christian parents can say, “No! No! No!” to travel baseball, math tutors, ACT prep, personal trainers, and so on. Parents can call into question every activity because there is no obligation to conform to cultural expectations.

The godly solution from Cole’s perspective? Raise a spiritual middle finger to what the world wants because what the world wants does not matter. At all. Now go live free and stop helping your child work toward success in the world.

The only problem with that thinking, which was written by a youth pastor pursuing professional, paid ministry, is that it completely ignores the reality that the world has a set of rules, and you either play by them or fail.

If Cole hasn’t noticed, the world systems and structures are getting more punishing each year. I overheard a job recruiter say, “Don’t bother to walk into a company today looking for work if you have gray hair. You will not only not be hired, no one will even talk to you.” (I noted this recently in this post.)

It’s not just issues seasoned adults face, either. Employers DO consider which college young people attended when interviewing them for jobs. Getting into those better colleges means jumping through some outrageous hoops just to get noticed amid a sea of clamoring kids loaded with exceptional accomplishments. For some elite colleges, the ones that open almost any HR department door, you practically need to have won a Nobel Peace Prize at 16 by founding a worldwide humanitarian organization to be considered for admission.

Crazy at the college level only? Last year, my son was denied entry into National Honor Society at his middle school because he did not participate in enough community service projects. He was 12 at the time. When I was 12, I’m not sure I knew what a community service project was.

What does any of that have to do with salvation? Not a thing. In this, every pastor saying don’t worry about it is absolutely correct.

But every pastor who blows this off for other realms of life is not thinking about what people must do to live day to day.

I’ve talked to Christian people who made tough decisions about work and life. When they were younger, they came home from work right after the clock struck 5, because Christian leaders told them they should not try to climb the corporate ladder and instead focus on the family. Those people listened to the leaders. So they blew off the after-work martini with the movers and shakers in the company. They didn’t work 60-hour weeks. They put away the company notebook computer and didn’t open it when they got home.

And what they found when they got to 45 is that they never advanced in their company. They never got entrenched in the system. Never got an entry in the boss’s Rolodex. And when the hammer eventually came down, they were the one let go, not the guy who put in the long hours, blew off his family, sucked up to the big wigs, and got entrenched in a corner office, pretty much immune from pink slips and pain.

I hear Walmart is hiring greeters.

When most paid, professional pastors talk about the work world, they’re talking about something they don’t know. At all. They give advice based upon their own experiences growing up Christian, going to some small Christian college, some even smaller Christian seminary, and then they tell everyone else, This is how life works.

Except it’s not like that. Outside the bubble those folks live in, it’s far harder.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell does an excellent job noting what the stakes are and what must be done to achieve them. I think everyone should read that book and pay special attention to the chapter on professional hockey players. What Gladwell writes between the lines, and what it means for us, is startling.

In what can only be one of the oddest statistical anomalies—on the surface—the large majority of NHL hockey players have birthdays within the first three months of the year. How is this?

Junior hockey leagues tend to follow a yearly promotion schedule for kids based on a January–December calendar. As a result, those born earlier in a year have a slight, but real, maturity advantage. The kid born in January is a bit more mature for his group than the peer born in December of the same year. That small maturity advantage means the older kid may be slightly larger or faster. Which gets him noticed more regularly for inclusion in special programs that bolster his skills. Which means he later is more likely to be accepted onto an elite team. Which means he plays tougher opponents. Which means he develops deeper skills. Which means he gets a scholarship to a college dominant in hockey. Which gets him noticed by the pros.

All because of his birth date. This is why most pro hockey players are born in the first three months of the year.

At every step, all that was essential was a slight advantage, which led to greater opportunities that compounded over time. It’s the difference between becoming a pro and being that guy who now skates in the adult league at his local rink, dreaming of what might have been.

Is it unfair? Well, actually it is. But it’s real. It’s life.

Christians can choose not to play by the world’s rules. We then get a church with real people dealing with real outcomes of real decisions they made about real life, often informed by their Christian faith.

The major disconnect here is that the American Church is absolutely unprepared to deal with the consequences of those who raise a middle finger to the world’s way of working. Because those people who do opt out don’t get all the benefits of those who play by the world’s rules. And those benefits this side of heaven are real.

Now we can be all spiritual and say that the guy who jumped through all the hoops and did things the world’s way neglected his family and his spiritual life and may spend eternity in hell. I’m not sure how it is we can find comfort in that, but some people do use such rationalization as a justification for their choices to opt out of the world system.

But a lot of Christians who decided to opt out now find themselves marginalized. Where is the Church when you’re an unemployed 48-year-old, with a bachelor’s degree from an average college (or, heaven forbid, a Christian one), no evidence of career climbing intent, and you can’t find meaningful work to feed your family?

Will the Church take care of you? Will the Church provide you that elusive job?

And what about your kid? You elected to say no to all that hoop-jumping for him because you are not under the law and Christ put an end to all that striving. Is your kid’s community college degree going to equip him with what he needs to compete? Because it IS a competition out there. Will he get noticed in the résumé slush pile filled with 2,000 other applicants, perused by a hiring manager tasked with differentiating one faceless candidate from another?

You know what Cameron Cole thinks. What do you think?

I’m not writing this to be a contrarian or a scold. I’m writing this because I’m sick of professional Christian leaders who give people bad advice because they don’t know what is happening outside the Christian cocoon.

Jobless men, keep going...Worse, I’m sick of seeing well-intentioned Christians who abide by all the things they are told by those leaders only to find that there is a price to pay at the end that is staggeringly tough to accept—and with no one to help them in the aftermath.

Worst of all, I’m sick of seeing the individual forced to suck up the outcome and not the institution that compels the decision. Telling individuals to raise the middle finger is easy. Working to change the broken world systems, which is what Christian leaders and Christian institutions used to do, is far harder.

What is Cameron Cole doing as a youth pastor to work with local colleges to find a more sane approach to admissions that doesn’t force parents and kids to drown in busyness? I can forecast the answer: Nothing. Because Cole thinks none of that really matters in the spiritual schema anyway.

Folks, this is where we are. It’s both unreal and real. It’s a major disconnect in which the stakes are people’s livelihoods and lives. And for those people who listened and rejected the hoops just like they were told to, it can be a daily question of How did I end up in this terrible place, and with no one who will help me or my family?

Can Jesus change systems? Can Jesus alter social structures? True believers know He can.

But He won’t if the Church plays silly games and pretends those systems and structures don’t exist or aren’t worth addressing.

by Dan Edelen

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21 Comments

  1. Posted January 13, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Dan, thank you so much for being willing to burst the bubble. I am, to use an American expression, so doggone tired of Christians who live in an entirely manufactured (un)reality and then go about their lives trying to drag others into their fantasy La La Land. Christians should have a more realistic view of the world than anyone else, for crying out loud!

    • Posted January 13, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      Rob,

      I will add that this is on The Gospel Coalition site that would otherwise not support a fundamentalist bunker mentality, yet the Cole response (at its core) is exactly that, though couched in terms of Christian freedom rather than societal disengagement. Unbelievable!

      I’m so frustrated with church leaders with a national stage who do not lead. And leading sometimes means speaking out regarding the emperor’s new clothes. What we get here instead is dad telling the outspoken child not to make trouble with the emperor and his people. By avoiding confrontation with power structures, Christians adopt a bunker mentality by default, with a silence that is deafening. Christians of the 19th and early 20th centuries were not afraid to call society and power structures on the carpet. Today, we avoid this by asking the individual rather than the intstitution to manufacture a response, often wholly inadequate and utterly un-Christian, because of institutional cowardice or compromise.

      We cannot keep doing that. Heck, non-Christians see through that in an instant! Why can’t we?

      • Posted January 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        Dan, I can only nod in agreement. (Well, I can also scream “Preach it!” at the top of my lungs…)

        Polarisation seems to come into play at every turn. There are many who accommodate society and power structures, with the tactic you outline being one of the favourites. There are plenty more who call out society in a lunatic, foaming-at-the-mouth, Obama-is-the-Antichrist-and-Pope-Francis-is-the-devil’s-tool kind of way.

        Where are the voices of those who live firmly in the real world but who determinedly proclaim the reality of the kingdom and are willing to call out the hypocrisy and foolishness of the world, not out of a desire to make their own name great but out of love for God’s world and a passionate desire to see His name known in all its glorious truth?

      • Cameron Cole
        Posted January 13, 2014 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

        I normally ignore responses like this, but I figured I’d have a little fun with your article in reply to my TGC post today. A few considerations. While I’ll admit the tone, mischaracterizations, and extreme reaction of yours did initially make my blood-boil, I’ve calmed down and would like to engage in constructive Christian dialogue:

        (1) I think it may be helpful for you to understand the context in which I work. While you characterize my mentality as a “fundamentalist bunker mentality”, and I presume you think I work in a Christian-subculture where we send kids to Christian colleges and encourage homeschooling. In the 600 students who’ve gone through our youth program in the last eight years, I have had more kids go to Ivy League schools than Christian colleges and I’ve had one home-schooler. You rightfully acknowledge that Christians want to hide from the world, thinking somehow they can protect their kids from evil. I think that thinking is pitifully misguided in the world, in which we live. That does not characterize my mentality in the slightest. Heck, we intentionally don’t listen to Christian music in the van on mission trips to send a message to kids that we are Christians, we can engage the world, and we don’t have to shrink into our “Christian world.”

        Here’s my problem: the only thing so many families recognize is the systems of the world. That’s the only consideration. They are blindly doing what they “think” is expected without in any way considering what God is calling them to. If your child has incredible athletic gifting and God has called him or her to shoot for the Olympics (as I said in the TGC article), then FANTASTIC! Go for it! Do the 20 hours of swim practice per week. Should every kid do their best in school? Absolutely. Kids need to be able to think, work hard, and be outstanding employees in the working world. Do eight year old girls need AAU basketball teams and speed and agility coaches? No, that’s absurd and thoughtless. But that is a norm in many suburban settings. People compulsively buy into this treadmill without giving any thought to why they are doing it. They compromise their families and their kids’ mental health without giving ten seconds of thought into why they are there.

        (2) You talk about the great benefits this side of heaven of operating operating within and excelling in the systems. I’ve played this game. I went to a Top 25 university. I finished in three years. I had a masters degree and published research by the time I was 22. Did I benefit from the rigorous academic training? Absolutely. But I had no concept of what it meant to follow Jesus, and I was utterly miserable. After coming alive to Christ and the Gospel, I died to the ten year master plan that I was a slave to, all of which doing something that I thought would be very impressive. I found a new way in following the Good Shepherd. I was alive and free for the first time. After being led into the business world for three years, where I had a successful stint with a tech start-up company, I felt called into youth ministry. Each step- both the secular and ministry- has been an utter blessing. And it has been a blessing because I have walked with Christ in those environments. I am simply trying to encourage parents to prayerfully consider what their family is called to, for less or for more. I think we can agree that this is a good practice for families. You can be realistic about the world and follow Jesus simultaneously.

        (3) My biggest criticism of your comments would be that I interpret an underlying fear that many educated parents have that their child may…..God forbid….don’t let it ever get this bad….be middle class!!!!!! Dear Lord, please don’t let them…..live in….a rental house or an apartment!!! Oh no!!! I’m being playful and serious at the same time. You talk a lot about the assurances of getting into a good college and being equipped to operate in the world. I think much of what drives the over-scheduling is this terror that a child will be miserable if they live in a lower-middle class setting. I’ve been miserable in affluence, very content in a upper middle class setting, and satisfied as a lower middle class person, as well. I think satisfaction comes in following the Good Shepherd, not in career success or material comfort. That’s an idol that has to be confronted in this argument.

        • Posted January 14, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

          Cameron,

          Thank you for responding. I hope my following response further details what is at stake and puts a spin on it you may not be considering, but is very real.

          This parental fear that is driving many people, even Christians, used to be about being seen as a super-parent. It was very much a one-upmanship thing and rooted in pride and good ol’ American competition (and encouraged by the Church in some regards as an extension of the Protestant Work Ethic and God’s proof of blessing). But I believe it is transitioning into something else, something more primal and fearful. And that fear is not without merit.

          America used to be a three-class country. It is gradually becoming a two-class country. The middle class is hurting. The 2008 financial meltdown has driven this home to many middle class people, as they lost jobs and could not replace them, watching their standard of living erode. The erosion continues with each job report. Even rich people are saying that the middle class is being lied to, that jobs are not being created by the rich, and that the technology the rich have made their money from will only continue to displace workers and erode the job market.

          It used to be pride that drove the crazy busyness you wrote about, but now middle class parents are realizing that they may actually outlive their money. Who then will care for them?

          The answer for these parents is their children. But the 2008 financial meltdown is teaching us that many adult college graduates are not sustaining incomes their parents once generated. In fact, many college graduates are moving back into their parents’ home. Parents of younger children are noting this, and it has them afraid because they see that unless their kid grabs that brass ring, they may end up supporting a kid who will not be able to support them when they get old and infirm.

          This is a very real fear that continues to become more clear as the jobless “recovery” limps on. Having a child that succeeds is not only a feather in the parents’ cap, it is now a hedge of protection against a very scary future.

          Here’s where the American Church comes in.

          When the disciples noticed the very real need of the hungry multitude, they went to Jesus and told him. Jesus’ response to them was startling: “You feed them.” Of course, they panicked at first. But then they trusted the Lord, did what He said, took on a seemingly impossible task, and the Lord worked a miracle through their obedience.

          At one point, the Church took care of the widow and the aged. When the Hellenists noted to the apostles that their widows were being ignored, the apostles didn’t write off their concern or tell them they were making an idol of their expectation. The apostles dealt with it be enacting a practical response.

          The Church used to be the source of care. The Church used to take care of its own.

          But today, I think people know that if they have a need, the Church will most likely say to them, Go pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and remember that God helps those who help themselves. It’s as if Jesus is saying to the Church, “You feed them,” and the Church is replying, “Nah, Lord, you do it instead.”

          I think many Evangelicals know this. They know that the Church will not help them or care for them. For a while, they looked to the government to take over the Church’s role, but with the government limping along, making one mistake after another, people now know they can’t rely on the government to take care of them either. The only hope they have is their kids. So God help them if their children can’t do the job.

          The Church in America seems blind to this on several levels. It isn’t doing anything to change its response to the Lord. Instead, it seems to be in a perpetual state of denial or purposeful ignorance of the problems. Who will take care of me when I am old? is a real, genuine question. Is the Church ready to take on that question with a solid answer? We can say the Lord will provide, but the Lord has chosen to provide through His Church. That’s the model. If the Church doesn’t do the job, will the Lord take up the slack?

          I’ll take up some of your other comments in a different reply…

        • Posted January 14, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

          Cameron,

          The Evangelical Church adopts a “fundamentalist bunker mentality” when its leaders toy around with the symptoms of problems and don’t get to the root. They don’t get to the root because they haven’t thought out better responses. Or they’re just lazy. Seeing a problem and tossing it back at the people experiencing the problem is not a solution; it’s an evasion. In the end, that evasion takes on its own kind of “bunker mentality.”

          I purposefully chose the title I did for my post because Francis Schaeffer once referred to a Great Evangelical Disaster. Evangelicals who once revered Schaeffer’s brand of full assault on intractable social problems have stopped thinking along the lines of their old hero. They, and we, have all gotten lazy.

          In this case of parental fears driving busyness, we can throw the problem back on the parents and tell them the solution is for them to change alone OR we can launch a full assault on the system that is creating the problem. The former is easy, but the latter is not.

          But whose are we? Did the Church in Rome stand by and say, “Gee, there are a lot of sick people living in Rome who have no one to care for them. Let’s go around and tell them they need to take better care of themselves”? No, they didn’t blanch in the face of a massive issue. They did something real to help the sick. Historians are now stating that this is a major reason the Church in Rome grew so quickly.

          If someone is going to be a church leader, then lead. Leaders take on tough problems. They don’t throw those problems back onto the people suffering from them.

        • Posted January 14, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

          Cameron,

          Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to excuse fearful people, just trying to note that we shouldn’t write off their fears so easily.

          I know you are not familiar with my blog, but I’ve written about societal issue extensively, and I do not give anyone a free pass. When George Barna reported that Evangelical parents were more concerned that their kids graduate from an elite college than follow Jesus, I skewered that damnable concern. How foolish! You will not get an argument from me trying to justify wrong thinking that puts anything above the Lord.

          But I also know there is an underclass of Christians today who are sitting silently in the pew and wondering what happened to their life. These are not self-centered people. In fact, many of them are extremely devoted believers who once had a ministry dream, only to watch it dry up. Many times, what made that dream die was opposition from the Church.

          While I’m glad for all those Christians who can share your testimony, I know many who can’t. We don’t ask them to get up on Sunday mornings and share. We don’t want to hear stories of people who tried and failed unless there’s a happy ending attached. Some solid Christian people are still waiting for their happy ending, and until they get one, the Church doesn’t really want to hear from them. How sad.

          You know what’s the worst part of that? Many of those people have the boldest solutions to the intractable problems. They’re the ones who have interesting ideas for taking on systems and structures. It’s just that they can’t get Church leaders to listen and to get behind them with the support they need to actually make that idea come to life. So they sit, hoping their blessing will come one day.

          It’s great that sometimes all the pieces fall into place for some people. But for others, that’s not always the case. Why? I don’t know. I don’t understand what God is doing in some people’s cases. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out well, despite every that person tries. Or doesn’t try, if they go into “waiting on the Lord” mode. All I know is that those people are often made to sit silently. Or else they slink off some day and people in the Church ask, “Hey, what happened to that guy? You know, him,” and everyone knows who is being discussed but they can’t remember his name and have no idea what happened to him.

          I don’t want to be the person who can’t remember that guy. Because Jesus is concerned about him—and about the dream He put into him.

  2. Posted January 13, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I once worked in an office that primarily hired men (an their wives) from the local seminary. At a time, beside myself and the boss, I was not a seminary student and only loosely affiliated with the sponsoring church. I would debate with them often, but my biggest fear was watching them come out of Christian schools, go into an obscure, non-accredited Christian College, and then on to an isolated fundamentalist Christian Seminary. These young men were training to be Pastors – and had little to NO life experience outside of the bubble.

    On the other hand – I was a former addict, saved in jail, and lived a pretty colorful existence previous to my conversion. I almost took the seminary/pastor plunge myself.

    Did it make me better or worse? Not sure – but I know that when the Christian bubble busts and there are no more congregations to pay the pastoral salaries – I can still work as a social worker, hard-laborer, or fast food manager…because I have done more than just learn to be an exegete.

    Hopefully – Christ will call more out of this trap as he did I.

  3. Oengus
    Posted January 13, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Dire Dan: “Working to change the broken world systems, which is what Christian leaders and Christian institutions used to do, is far harder.”

    I am even more dire than you, Dan. The system we have in this country is corrupt, from top to bottom. It’s taken years and years for it to get this bad. It cannot be redeemed or fixed. Merely voting for one of the two letters “R” or “D” on election day isn’t going to change any of it. And it is heading now in only one direction: worse.

    Merely preaching from the pulpit against the “structural evils” isn’t going to cut it. I am sorry to say it but to really make any real change will require something more like a bloody revolution, or several states seceding from the rotten mess, or an “Oliver Cromwell” figure riding in and arresting everyone in Congress, along with plenty of corporate CEOs and lawyers.

    But will any of this happen? My guess is that it won’t. Instead, we are facing a future of both slavery and penury, something not dissimilar to Panem as described in the Hunger Games stories, where the centralized authoritarian government lords it over us.

    • Posted January 14, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Oengus,

      We usually see eye to eye, but I think you may be too dire on this.

      The people behind the systems are open to one more type of correction than just revolution. They don’t stand up to scorn. Being made to look bad is anathema to them.

      I think that we can avoid revolution if we continue to make broken systems and the people behind them look bad. They do respond, and most often positively, to scorn when they are legitimately trapped. They hate bad press. The court of public opinion still matters to them.

      I think Christians can make inroads against systems this way.

      You may say that Christians are already critical of some societal problems and it has gotten us nowhere. You’d be right.

      But targeting scorn is an art that we are not practicing well. We need to get smarter with how we use it.

      But more than anything we have to offer something beyond the scorn, and this is not what we have been doing.

      Point out the problem in the system, make it look bad. Make the people who made it bad look bad because of what they did.

      Then offer to help fix the problem.

      That last part is where I think we are failing in the equation. And we’re failing because we have not worked out the solutions, only pointed out the problems.

      I don’t think it has to come to revolution. I don’t think we are too far gone yet.

      But one day, scorn may no longer work, not even when fixes are offered along with the scorn.

  4. Heartspeak
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    Dan, Cameron,

    I’m glad that you are in dialogue. It sounds to me like Cameron has a pretty good balance and concept which I would endorse. It is ALL about listening to the Master, Hearing what He has to say to us and following through with obedience by faith. I suspect neither of you would disagree.

    The world changers were changers because they obeyed God and used what they were given to carry out what they heard.

    I just spent an hour reading 170 comments on another blog from pastors and leaders lamenting the sad state of the north american church. That there is dialogue is promising and hopeful to me. But it won’t be the panacea we would all prefer to see. Elijah lamented that only he was still faithful to God when in truth there were 4000 who had not bent the knee to Baal. Although 4000 is not insignificant, it was puny when the population of Israel was considered at that time.

    Our brief sojourn in a Pax Americana is coming to an end. God IS stirring His people, those who are the true worshippers. God’s people will live in and among this culture. They will hear His voice and they will live their lives in obedience to Him. Some will thrive and rise to be movers and changers. Some will live in penury and poverty. None will live with regrets

    • Posted January 14, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Heartspeak,

      My great concern for the American Church is that in an effort to look good and be appealing to everyone, it gags its prophets and chains its movers and shakers. I’m not seeing Evangelicalism creating a new generation in the mode of Francis Schaeffer, Abraham Kuyper, William Wilberforce, and others like them. Evangelicalism creates Christian celebrities but not Christian statesmen and thinkers.

      How we change this trend is a question that has bothered me for a long time.

  5. Swithun Dobson
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    1. If we are talking about the problems of the present system then we need to learn and preach (effectively) Economics. In particular we need to lay bare the evils of fiat money and central banking: the root cause of most of the present malaise; the commercial banking cartel is only a symptom. You can do worse than read Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. Further attacking both corporate and social welfare equally. Liberals attack corporate welfare and “conservatives” attack social welfare. This will hopefully provide political will to change the system.

    2. Given the system, how ought the church help both the jobless and retired members. Saving church offerings doesn’t cut it due to rampant inflation. As such a church investment fund of sorts could be appropriate: low/medium risk fund looking at the the long term rather than the short which could fund outgoings for individual members. Current incomings could pay for it but it would be better to plan and make something out of the incomes. The church also could run an effectively for profit business and use the profits for these expenses.

    The above would be mostly for the retired although prior to this financial advice such that they can sort out their own finances so they need not church funds. Further remind everyone the “retirement” is a distinctly modern phenomenon.

    For the jobless encourage networking amongst church members i.e. spend more time together. Then if there are opportunities for work experience in a field or a job then they’ll know about it. It may also be necessary to set in the minds of the unemployed realistic expectations: this is particularly a problem with the younger generation.

    3. Finally I’m not entirely sure that formal qualifications matter nearly as much as you claim. I’m no expert in HR but qualifications tend to get your first job but thereafter your work experience is more important. Although I do acknowledge there are problems for the older worker though in this regard. Even so when it comes to children, at least in the UK. All you generally need is A-levels to attend university and GCSEs can be set privately. As such up and till the age of effectively 16 an alternative educative route is possible which doesn’t require the hardcore parenting. Moreover it is my understanding that UK and US universities will interview non-standardly educated children. David Friedman’s, son of Milton, daughter was home educated with no formal qualifications and was entered on a college course based on what books she’d read. She is a daughter of a professor but this is far from atypical for situations of this type.

    • Posted January 14, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Swithun,

      Sometimes I have ideas for fixing problems, and sometimes I don’t.

      But you noted something in your comment that gets forgotten. It doesn’t all come down to you or to me but to us.

      I don’t think the American Church operates as the Body of Christ. I think it operates like a badly run, top-down corporation. Our model is wrong, but we expect it to deliver results like we see in the Book of Acts. How foolish!

      The best answer for anything is for the Church to work as a Body with Christ as the Head. Any problem is addressable if we do this. In fact, the working together in community may be its own answer to several of the problems facing us. You mentioned economics and such, but that becomes less of an issue when the Church is a real community. It doesn’t matter which economic system is dominant, a unified community of believers can work within it so long as they work together.

      We’re just not there. The sad part is that we need to be there–now! We still think “every man for himself,” and that will never us get to where we need to be as a Church.

  6. ccinnova
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I was out of work for several years, and I turned to my church’s pastoral care department for financial assistance after my unemployment benefits ran out and I exhausted my savings. They helped a few times, but the director eventually cut me off, expressed irritation with me and seemed to think something was wrong with me. I’ve since found out I wasn’t the only one she treated that way. It pains me to say this, but I wasn’t sorry to see her go when she retired last year.

    Several others, both within and outside my church, told me I needed to get more serious about my job search. What do they think I was doing, sitting around the house and watching TV? I lost count of how many resumes I sent out and how many applications I filled out, not only for positions similar to the one I previously held but positions that would be considered beneath me, including fast-food restaurants. (A note on the latter: I might have had a better chance at getting such a job in this area if I spoke Spanish.)

    I finally found a job doing something that a high school graduate, or even a reasonably intelligent dropout, could do, and at a pay rate much less than I previously made. And yes, I hold a bachelor’s degree from a top-notch state university, but that doesn’t matter a lot in a town where master’s degree holders are a dime a dozen.

    • Posted January 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      ccinnova,

      Several years ago, my wife and I were both out of work at once. Needless to say, this was worrying. But I had tithed monthly for many years at our church, which amounted to a tidy sum. In addition, the pastor and I went back to when he was just a small group leader.

      Out of curiosity, I asked the pastor one day about all the money I had given, wondering if the church would help should our job searches go long and we got behind on a rent payment or something similar. He then told me they would not help pay. Not even a dime. And this in a church that routinely spent tons of money helping the poor in distant city neighborhoods.

      But, evidently, not one of their own.

      Needless to say, that was a wakeup call to me.

  7. ccinnova
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I attended high school in the mid-1970′s and was involved in the band, a foreign language club and my church youth group. That, plus a high class ranking and strong SAT scores, was enough to gain admittance to the top-notch state university from which I eventually graduated. The education world has become so much more competitive I doubt I’d even be considered if I were to apply today.

  8. michael langford
    Posted January 14, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    You turned up on Tumblr, so I followed the link, read your about…I was sort of with you until you started quoting Malcolm Gladwell. Not a very credible writer, doesn’t help your argument. If you are into agrarian living, I’m surprised that you don’t list Wendell Berry as one of your favorites; he’s a major influence on most young/middle-aged farming folk.
    I’m impressed that you read books other than the Bible, at least. The Christian church fails as you say because it’s pastors know little about reality, but also because the church has become a political institution. The Southern Baptists accomplished that in the 80′s, when they threw in with the Republicans. Gandhi said it best, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. They are not much like your Christ.”

    • Posted January 15, 2014 at 12:06 am | Permalink

      Michael,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Any group needs its internal reflection. The American Church is no worse than any other group when it comes to pointing out problems in “that other house” while its own house is a mess.

      Liberals, conservatives, atheists, Christians…every group needs to fix its own house before it goes off and tries to correct everyone else’s. (With that in mind, the Gandhi quote comes back home to roost.) Fact is, hardly anyone of any group is picking the logs out of their own eyes, instead concentrating on another group’s speck.

      If I recall correctly, Jesus said something along those lines. ;-)

      Perhaps if some folks out there put down their latest book that only confirms what they already have convinced themselves of and instead read the Bible, maybe they’d read that passage about logs and specks, and then maybe they’d say, “Let that start with me.”

      Maybe then we’d ALL be a lot more humble.

  9. Posted January 15, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Freakonomics has a segment where they deconstruct the rat race so many parents have entered to ensure their kids will excel. There’s some twin studies in there that suggest that how well-educated a child gets, and his future job success, have almost everything to do with nature, not nurture. The kids whose futures include high educational performance followed by a high-powered job are the kids whose parents bestowed on them whatever genes are required to perform well. The hamster wheel of kid-improvement that people jump on when their children are in middle school (or even earlier) is almost completely beside the point.

    People are mistaking correlation for causation. The frantic schedules are not helping anything.

    All those kids getting run ragged to guarantee success would have succeeded just the same, for the most part, had their parents just quietly given them an average amount of prep for the college and workplace.

    And the ones who didn’t succeed just weren’t cut from the right cloth, and no amount of cajoling, threatening, or conditioning at the onset of puberty would have changed that.

    The system is broken, and probably always will be. When you said:

    “Will the Church take care of you? Will the Church provide you that elusive job?”

    It’s certainly not enough to simply say, “Jesus frees us from the Law, so you can go ahead and rest from all your striving.” But I might aim in a slightly different direction if I was making the critique.

    The Church certainly can take care of people, but what Jesus did that so radically answers the world’s trashed ethic of success is to set up a new kind of community & social organism- One in which the weak are given priority, the humble exalted, the meek the inheritors of the land, mountains flattened, valleys raised up, the poor in spirit are vindicated.

    Now, the question is, does the church teach this as if Jesus actually wants it to be true on earth as it is in heaven? Is it expecting/demanding that a different, Jesus-shaped collective will come forth, functioning like a life-form, one with an ethic of union in Christ, not competition-driven, one that knows the place for the weak, the average, the mediocre, and those whose resume got thrown in the trash can? One far different from the world’s ethic of “take what you can while you can, so you can be the best?” Or are we just keeping the exact same ethic and priority as the world, and slapping a Bible verse on it to make it more spiritual?

    Has the “get saved, be good” message pretty much overwhelmed all that Sermon on the Mount stuff?

    • Posted January 15, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      Nate,

      I don’t agree with the Freakonomics interpretation. I just don’t see their point playing out in reality.

      Now it may be true that the kids who were going to succeed anyway didn’t need all the “help,” but I disagree for everyone else. I would say that Gladwell disputes strongly that notion that the average can’t become elite. His chapter in Outliers on 10,000 hours and year-round school rebuts the Freakonomics contention.

      We agree that the Kingdom upends the social order. However, it seems that what is happening today is that it is the middle being upended, with the poor gaining along with the rich. I’m not sure that’s what Jesus intended.

      Also agree that we like to laminate our faith over the top of what our actual behavior is as justification for how we live. Welcome to America!

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