From a “What?” Church to a “How?” Church

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QuestionWas reading Jack Towe’s astute comments in his post today, “Mature Christians.” He notes that he has been a part of 16 churches in his long life, but while most of them sought to answer the what? questions of Christianity, none of them talked about the how? questions.

I know Jack from a ministry he used to run in Cincinnati. He saw that a bunch of old buildingsĀ  in decent shape sat unused. He worked to buy them, fix them up, and give them to people who had no decent housing. For a couple years, I was one of those who helped Jack prep buildings for use.

Jack always was concerned for actually living out the faith and not simply knowing about it.

The issue of churches that focus on what? instead of how? is a huge one. Questions of what? are baby-step questions. They’re the basics of the Faith: What did Jesus say? What was the purpose of His coming? What are folks supposed to do once they become Christians?

What? questions are easy. Milk.

But how? questions are harder because how? takes the what? and tries to make it applicable and functional in life. Unfortunately for most churches and the Christians in them, going from what? to how? is a little like Evel Knievel’s jump across the Snake River Canyon. It seems possible, but the execution grossly underdelivers and leaves everyone a little embarrassed.

I’ve written before that authenticity issues plague the Church in America, a problem that has led to a mass exodus of 18-35ers craving more practical sense and expression to their interactions with the world.

I know what I am to do as a Christian, but how do I do those things?

How am I supposed to feed the poor when I work an 80 hour a week job?

How do I heal the sick in Jesus’ name?

I’d like to visit prisoners in jail, but how am I supposed to do this when I have young children and I’m caring for two increasingly enfeebled parents?

How do I overcome the reality that I’m bored with the Bible? How do I even confess that without feeling like I’m an awful person?

The sermon on Sunday said that God accepts us as we are and we should not be worried about appearances, yet my company is handing out pink slips to people who look old. How do I keep my job and yet not concern myself with my appearance?

How am I supposed to be used of God when I’ve suffered from depression for years and sometimes find it hard even to get out of bed in the morning?

How do I know that moment when someone is ready to come to Christ?

I’ve had seven jobs in six cities in nine years. How do I find lasting fellowship with other believers?

How?

The dearth of how? answers arises, in part, from a clergy that’s out of touch with real life. The professional minister doesn’t always realize what life is like for “real” people. I read a book several years ago called Making Room for Life by Randy Frazee that was both excellent and terrible. Randy proposed this idea of Hebrew Time and how we should construct our lives around it, carving out space for other people and real life. Randy’s ideas were fantastic, but they were burdened by one simple truth: while they worked excellently for a professional, salaried minister (which Randy was), they completely collapsed when applied to a second-shift laborer. Or someone who lived in the country. Or someone who was caring for an enfeebled parent. Or…

The disconnect between what paid, professional clergy think is possible in life and what “real” people experience could not be greater, yet sermon after sermon on Sundays in churches nationwide will avoid the question of how? by assuming that everyone not only knows how, but can implement the answers to what? questions with ease. Yet my experience is that most churches that easily answer what? can never provide answers to how? that go beyond the preconceptions of professional clergy, who look at themselves as perfectly representative people when they are anything but.

The other problem with how? is that the answers to it are not simple. Nor are they always one-size-fits-all. Sadly, we’ve structured our churches to reach seekers primarily, so most of our solutions to life are baby-step what? answers. In truth, we haven’t much thought about answering the how? questions of life.

But how? is where life IS and remains that place where we must abide. Sticking to pat answers simply isn’t Christian. Jesus never offered pat answers. His always came from left field and rocked people’s worlds. They were the “unanswers.” They took people down pathways they never envisioned and answered questions people didn’t know they had in ways they had never explored.

Why should the Church, which supposedly reflects the assembly of the Body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit, be so incapable of generating answers to how? in the way that Jesus did? If anything, that’s what we should be known for! That’s the very authenticity young people are dying to find.

But where are the great thinkers in Christianity today, especially among Evangelicals? Who out there is answering the harsh questions of everyday living with life-infused answers that not only provide real solutions, but which also shake us up while offering us peace?

How do I live out Christian faith?

More than anything, I would like to see fewer Christian leaders telling me what I should be doing and far more helping me achieve what I should be doing, despite my circumstances.

I think that many people now struggle with how they can live as practicing, worldchanging Christians in a down economy that has them scrambling for decent jobs all the time. I have yet to see a Christian leader tackle that subject, yet issues of work possibly create more how? questions than anything else in a person’s life.

Christian leaders, the questions of how? and how best to answer them are the most important questions in people’s lives. Start offering possible solutions. This means wrestling with tough issues. You’re a leader for a reason, so stop running away from the hard questions and start being that leader. Model what it means to take the answers to what? questions and make them answer how? questions in a practical way. This is what leaders do. They blaze a trail. Now blaze it.

And even if you aren’t a leader but have been around life long enough to answer how? questions, for heaven’s sake, DO NOT HIDE YOUR INSIGHTS UNDER A BUSHEL. The Church of Jesus MUST answer how? questions. If you have experience, share it. Who knows how many people might benefit? We are a body, and what one body part knows can serve a different part!

Christian maturity isn’t knowing all the answers to the what? questions of life. It’s more about the how? in the day-to-day. Successfully answering how? is the difference between just being in the race and actually finishing it.