We Had a Choice, and We Chose…


(Back in August 2006, I wrote a post entitled The Real American Christian “Either/Or. If you haven’t read that post, please do. Today’s post riffs on the ideas found in that post.)

I had an opportunity to drive to see my youngest brother in Illinois before he left to do linguistics field work and data collection in Alaska. My middle brother and his family joined me on the trek west. Having attended a local Bible college, that brother has volunteered as a youth minister at his church for so long that he’s into his second generation of teens.We talked about many topics on the drive to Carbondale.


While discussing the state of the Church today, he made the following statement:

If you take a look at the average Evangelical Christian family in this country, they may talk about choosing to follow Jesus, but they didn’t. They chose money. That explains everything.

George Barna, the pollster who routinely looks at the state of the American Church, has noted that Evangelicals are more concerned that their kids get into elite colleges than that those same children follow Jesus Christ. The reasoning for that seems obvious. Graduating from an elite college means a higher-paying job.


Yesterday, I made this comment about men:

I want to believe that a man can work a sixty-hour week, spend quality time with his wife and kids, be involved in his community, find time for leisure, and still be an effective disciple of Jesus Christ. The kind of man who prays big prayers and knows God intimately for those prayers. The kind of man who readily leads many others to his Savior and disciples those same people to maturity. I want to believe, but I don’t know any men like that.


I’m not saying that a man like I describe can’t have an earnest desire to serve the Lord. But I question the ability to follow through on that desire. It’s a case of allegiance. Two masters; which will the average 9-to-5’er (or 8-to-6’er, as the case is today) serve?

Every survey out there on the state of the Church in 2008 notes drop-offs in attendance, participation in activities, and general involvement. The Church in this country is in poor shape. We have more megachurches than ever before and less spiritual health.

Meanwhile, the lost are proceeding to hell in an endless stream.

Who is actually doing the work of the ministry today? It’s a handful of people, mostly full-time Christian workers. It’s hard not to look at the way we do ministry in America 2008 and not see that most of us have stepped out of the ministry role Jesus commended of us and handed it off to someone else accompanied by a small envelope filled with a few bucks “earnest” money. That passes for active ministry in most people’s lives.

And why not? We’re making the big bucks. Why not farm out our responsibility to someone else? It’s The American Way™!

But it’s not Jesus’ way.

As I noted yesterday, I want to believe that the average Christian man working a middle management job in some cubicle in Conglomo Corporation can make a difference for Christ. But I don’t see it. Hey, Bob, have you met the new guy in HR?I see that same man’s large suburban tract home, his boat, his trips to Disneyworld, his 401k account, but I don’t see any impact for the Kingdom. Not when all the accounts are tallied and the bill comes due. Yet this passes for acceptable Evangelical living in America 2008.

When asked if he would deny Christ, I’m sure that man would vehemently say no. And yet he appears to every day because in all the things that matter he’ll never choose Jesus. He’ll choose comfort. He’ll take the money and run. And he’ll make darned sure his kids can take the money and run, too, even if that means Jesus ends up the also-ran in his children’s lives.

I don’t want to think that it’s all about the Benjamins, yet it seems like it is. I know that I have difficult decisions to make in that regard, decisions I didn’t ever think that I—or any other man my age—would need to make. Perhaps our concessions to our Industrialized Age have forced our hands. Maybe no middle ground exists any longer. It just may be that all we can do is fall into line or else wind up scavenging for food from the neighborhood dump. Who wouldn’t want to avoid that fate?

And so we made our choice.

The Real American Christian “Either/Or”


Yesterday, I promised that the last few posts here before I go on break for a month would be incendiary. Thus begins the fire…

Those familiar with Cerulean Sanctum know that one of my pet peeves is making Christianity into a set of “either/or” dichotomies. One of my favorites to skewer is the classic “Doctrine or Good Works” silliness that seems to be the hallmark of great swatches of the Godblogosphere. In fact, I would say that “Doctrine or _______” is the classic formula for most of these false dichotomies.

But as I get older, one true “either/or” emerges as so unyieldingly true that it functions as the bellweather of what we in America consider right and good. Unfortunately, I believe we fall on the wrong side of the either/or.

In recent days, there have been two great posts over at The Thinklings, one of the first blogs I linked to here at Cerulean Sanctum. The first includes a quote from Soren Kierkegaard on Christian scholarship:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

The second post discusses all the “young dudes” and quotes a well-known pastor on how the Church in America can’t live without them:

The problem in the church today is just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickafied church boys. 60% of Christians are chicks and the 40% that are dudes are still sort of…chicks. It’s just sad.

We’re looking around going, How come we’re not innovative? Cause all the innovative dudes are home watching football or they’re out making money or climbing a mountain or shooting a gun or working on their truck. They look at the church like that’s a nice thing for women and children. So the question is if you want to be innovative: How do you get young men? All this nonsense on how to grow the church. One issue: young men. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. They’re going to get married, make money, make babies, build companies, buy real estate. They’re going to make the culture of the future. If you get the young men you win the war, you get everything. You get the families, the women, the children, the money, the business, you get everything. If you don’t get the young men you get nothing.

At first glance, they seem unrelated. But that’s only because we’re missing the true “either/or” here.

Jesus makes that dichotomy clearer:

Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.
—John 6:27a ESV

The “either/or” I’m talking about here is money or ministry.

When we wonder why the Church in America is so ineffective compared with the Church in other nations of the world, the reason can be summed up simply: we chose money over ministry.

Many Christian writers have lamented the increasing loss of men in our churches. We’ve got books seeking to explain why men are bored with church. Great minds wrestle with the malaise that’s settled over the typical Christian male in America. Not that I’m a “great mind,” but I’ve talked about this in great detail, too. (See the post category “Men” in the sidebar.)

This is where Kierkegaard comes in. We talk and talk and talk about ministry, but we don’t do any (at least not much that amounts to anything like what you see in China or South America right now), for no other reason than it forces us to decide the question of money or ministry. So we numb ourselves to the reality of what the Bible repeatedly says on this issue because if we come to the conclusion that ministry comes first, our neat little Christian American world straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting MUST come to a crashing end. Or as Soren so ably notes: “My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?”

The easy choice...To the “dude” mentioned in the other quote above, choosing ministry first means an end to the fast track to the corporate boardroom. It means obscurity and lack of earthly success and worldly power. It means no bestselling book on how it was done MY WAY. It means no pneumatic, bleach-blonde trophy wife; no McMansion; no 401k; no vacation home in the Bahamas; no outrageously fast sports car or freeway-churning, Mini-Cooper-consuming, 4×4 SUV; and it means a whole lot less of everything that America has come to stand for in the beginning of this new millennium.

Choosing ministry scrambles everything that “prominent pastor” wants to leverage. The hotshot young men he claims he wants so badly will be boat anchors in his church because they already made the choice and money came up the winner. Sure, these young dudes may conjure up some business-variant church program that will look good for a couple years in the church before it sinks, fruitless, into oblivion, but then what?

The real men who chose ministry? Few limelighters want them. Ministry isn’t sexy. It looks bad on a résumé. The world considers Christian ministry and thinks, What a massive waste of time.

Sadly, that’s what 99.9 percent of Christian men in America think, too. And it’s one of the reasons they’re bored, and why the Church is so ineffective.

The man who chooses money first MUST spend all his waking moments doing everything he can to ensure the steady supply of money comes in. What ministry can he possibly do? Something’s gotta give and it’s the ministry.

It’s not all the men’s fault, either. The juxtaposition of Christianity and shopping that seems so natural in the lives of so many Christian women has much to explain why Christian men chose money first. You can’t read a blog by Christian women and not stumble upon the criteria they use to judge a man to be a proper Christian husband, the first being—always—that he be a good provider.

But when did being a provider get the “good” modifier? And what determines “good”? Is that the difference between a no-name handbag from WalMart versus one from Saks with a Versace label on it? To butcher the title of a famous novel, the devil may wear Prada, but so do a lot of Christian women.

It’s hard to avoid the strange Evangelical definition of manhood we’ve developed. Evangelicals affirm that men are called to be the prophets, priests and kings of their household, but a lot of Christian women have tended to de-emphasize the prophet aspect of it to focus on the king—or perhaps that should be “captain of industry,” instead. Yet what soul-stirring, repentance-laden prophetic message can be expected from a man who’s always thinking, How can I make more money so my wife can buy more of the stuff that makes her happy?

The best blog entry of 2006 goes to Michael Spencer over at Internet Monk. In fact, I would go so far as to say that his post “American Idolatry: The Good Life” is the single best blog post I’ve read in five years of blog reading. There is NO HOPE for the Church in America if we don’t start saying yes to ministry and no to money. God’s taken His Spirit elsewhere, and not only do we not realize it, we simply substituted Him for whatever our money could buy. (Although that’s been tried before—unsuccessfully: Acts 8:18-24.)

Now you might find this odd in light of last week’s posts, but honestly, I’m not immune to this problem. I freely admit that I’m trapped in the middle of this either/or. It eats at me day and night. What scares me is that for all those Christians who choose ministry over money, they won’t find support from other American Christians because other Christians can’t understand their rejection of money. That’s primarily because those others don’t have their hearts and minds focused on eternity. They’re focused on the moment because, in their own view, Christ simply isn’t compelling enough to warrant so extreme a response.

But the response is EXTREME. It means death. The cross says, Now here you die, here and now. All your desires, all your hopes, all of you. It also means real life. Have we tasted it?

We talk about counting the cost. It’s great talk. Everyone feels good talking about it because it sounds spiritual, makes us look devout, and smacks of ministry. But then, as Kierkegaard so ably notes, we go back to our cushy, monied lives, look in the mirror, and then immediately forget what we look like.

But God knows.

God help us.

“Unshackling the American Church”—The Complete Series


For anyone seeking the complete list of posts in the "Unshackling the American Church" Series, I present the following links:

“Unshackling the American Church” Series Announcement

Unshackling the American Church: The Tyranny of Modernism

Unshackling the American Church: The Sacramental

Unshackling the American Church: Fraternitas

Unshackling the American Church: Treasuring the Creator’s Handiwork

Unshackling the American Church: Cultivating Essential Beauty

Unshackling the American Church: Mammon

I pray these bless you as you seek to stay true to what God values.