Banking on God: Crisis, Part 5


The picture of dark daysSo here we are a month later at the penultimate post in this series. Today, I’ll be expanding some of the general ideas I discussed yesterday, while adding practical ways we can address crises better as a body of believers.

In times of darkness, we must be Spirit-led, radical thinkers who take chances that flow against the status quo’s stream. Truth is, the status quo got us into many of the troubles we face as Americans, as no one wished to buck the system to make things better. Too often, though we say we love the rugged individualist, the strongest voices for godly change are the ones we shout down fervently. Remember: they stoned the prophets, but the prophets were right.

Here are a few ideas I believe we must seriously consider in our churches if we are to prevail and be a shining, countercultural light for Christ in dark times.

Healthcare is troubling issue because fewer and fewer people can afford it, yet none of us is immune to entropy. The early Church made its name in Rome by caring for the sick. Most of the world’s hospitals were founded by Christians. Yet Christian leaders today seem utterly flummoxed by the issue, preferring to ignore it even while their congregations suffer.

I had a taste of this Easter Sunday when one of the key members of my church’s worship team was laid out by a condition easily treated by a physician. The problem? He couldn’t afford to see the doctor and get the prescription medicine he needed that would have enabled him to join us!

For this reason, I believe that churches need to start stepping up to the healthcare plate. Many communities are home to retired doctors. No reason exists that a church (or a communion of churches) could not approach these retired doctors and offer to pay them a stipend to look after those people in the church who lack healthcare options. A retired doctor could see the sick on a Saturday for a few hours. House calls are even possible. This kind of thing is easily set up.

To be even more radical, why can’t a series of churches in a community band together with local politicians to have the entire community buy the services of an actively practicing doctor—or three or four? We pay for fire departments and police, why not community doctors? Keep it local by keeping the county and state out. That keeps if from becoming a big government initiative while continuing to benefit an entire community. With most office visits handleable by general practitioners, there’s no reason why this can’t work. Why then are we not pursuing it?

For funding such an idea, or any other benevolence fund, most of us, as I noted yesterday, could get by fine without 75 percent of what we own. The early Church divested itself of all sorts of extra goods, including houses, but we seem loathe to give up even the smallest thing. Just how stingy are we? Look at how many families are failing around us and see how the cultivation of our island (every family for itself) mentality has damaged even our church families.

We need to get some sense about how we spend our money. When we’re starving, we can’t eat an iPod.We spend millions on junk, yet what really lasts escapes us. God will judge our generosity some day. Are we feeding Christ by feeding the hungry or are we simply out to feed our own desires? Which one makes us sheep and which makes us goats?

We Christians will collectively spend umpteen millions of dollars each year on Christian conferences that we attend and then forget about a month later. Imagine what we could do if we channeled that money to worthy preparation and stopped our fixation with one religious high after another. Could we strategize new ways of living and fund those initiatives?

Take housing, for instance. A coalition of churches could buy older apartment buildings, rehab them, and offer housing to those who fall prey to bad times. We had a family in our church lose a home to fire just a couple weeks ago and another family offered the use of the home they just left. That’s one way to go. Or a couple churches working together could buy up foreclosed or auctioned properties and rehab them for families. Or they could work deals with families who are moving to donate their old homes. Heck, that’s even a tax writeoff! These are all readily workable ideas.

We need to re-explore Christian communities. I’ve written before that I believe it a wise thing for a group of Christian families to buy available land, build their houses together on that land, have a common meeting building, farm the land, and maintain some percentage of common purse for use when tough times hit. Or a couple families could build condo-type houses with common areas linking two homes. Or we could work to rent out apartments together in the same building. We are not limited here if we set aside our faulty ideals on what it means to be well-off!

Food is big issue, too. Dark times almost always mean less food. I was in the store today and was shocked at how prices continue to rise either outright or through what I like to call “packaging fraud.” (Your half gallon container of ice cream is now 1.75 quarts, or even 1.5 quarts. I noticed today that packs of cheese that were once half a pound are now six ounces. Same price, but no fanfare on the smaller size. I consider that fraud, frankly.)

How do we deal with the problem of food? We grow our own.

I catch a lot of flack from naysayers on this, but if we have a backyard and we’re not growing food on it, we’re wasting our property. We can’t keep relying on others to feed us. It’s time that we Christians started assuming leadership on the back to basics of growing and making our own food. No excuses here, either. If I, the world’s worst “black thumb,” can grow food in raised beds on my property, you can, too. I have a fruit orchard, also. No reason why you can’t, either. And it’s far cheaper to grow food ourselves and preserve it than it is to buy from big food conglomerates. Tastes better as well.

Every family in our churches should be growing food. End of story. And for those with bigger properties, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and cows can supply meat. (I’m exploring that for my family even now.) Those people who have more resources for food production can assists those with less. Folks, this is about survival.

As for other skills, your church directory should list not only the basics like a phone number and address, but the skills and talents of each person listed. Someone got car fixing skills? Time to use them to the bettering of everyone in the church. Who sews well? Who can teach others sewing? Who has legal training? We need to know this. Every ability should be noted and made open for use. People who can pay should. Those who can’t should try as best they can to, yet that inability to pay should not keep them from getting services from their brethren. People with plumbing skills should be fixing plumbing in the homes of people in the church. Same for electricians, accountants, and whatever other skill is needed. We need to start depending on each other and living up to real community, even if it hurts. Again, the days of our privacy are gone. The government already knows everything about you, so privacy is a myth anyway. Our churches need what we have to give, money, skills, and all. Time to pony it all up.

Jobs are a big issue. Those people in the congregation who can make hiring and firing decisions need to understand that they should be hiring their out-of-work brethren. For those people in our churches who can train others in worthwhile work, they need to do it now, not wait till bad times come. An out-of-work person in a church is everyone’s responsibility. You can tell how loving and godly a church is by how well they meet the needs of their weakest members. And nothing in our society renders people weaker than being out of work. If our churches are filled with out-of-work people, then we’re not living up to the high calling of Christ. Jobs training, networking leads, anything that works we should be exploring. Absolutely no excuses on this, either.

Churches need to be working with local businesses to ensure them that they can provide ethical employees. Our churches should be able to go to any local business and say that the people in that church will make the best employees because they are godly, moral, ethical people who will do a company right. If we can’t say that, then we fooling ourselves concerning our discipleship programs. Church leaders need to be able to make that promise and fulfill it. They should cultivate relationships with community business leaders that will ensure that, even in down times, their congregants will have work.

As you can see, this takes on an alternative economy kind of thinking after a while. Underground economies exist all over the planet, but we suburbanites do a lousy job of creating our own. We need to learn how to barter and exchange outside the system. One day, off the grid and outside the system may be our only means of surviving. We better start planning those means now.

Why aren’t we training our children to survive? For all our obsession with homeschooling, how many homeschoolers are teaching real survival skills like animal husbandry, power generation, farming, and the like? Knowing Latin won’t fill an empty stomach. Our kids need to know how to live like the pioneers of old if they are to live in the days to come. (We adults also need that wisdom, too, though I suspect too many of us spent our precious time learning how to play video games or memorizing sports stats and not enough learning how to sex chickens.) Who in our churches can teach the next generation how to do these things? We need to identify them. And if we can’t identify those people, then we need to drop all the other junk we’re doing and start teaching ourselves those skills.

Our churches need to learn what real persecution looks like, too. How is the Church persecuted in other countries? We need to know how those persecuted churches survive. What happens if we have our church building taken away? How do we keep meeting? How does an underground church work? Our church leaders should stop assuming that tomorrow will be all milk and honey and start finding ways to test-run persecution. Break your church up into house churches for a while and see where the pressure points and weaknesses are. Who are the leaders of the church? Who will run things if the pastor or elders get taken out? How are we training people to assume leadership roles? This is basic discipleship training! How are we living it out?

Do we have prayer meetings in our churches going on all the time? Why not? Dark times call for serious prayer. Why are all the old ladies filling our prayer meetings? Why are all the able-bodied men camped out watching sports? What a waste! Are we serious or not? I’ll tell you, we’ll be serious when we lose our houses or can’t put food on the table. But by then, it may be too late.

Bad days call for fasting and repentance. I read all sorts of headlines about the dire economy, but I hear no Christian leaders calling for repentance, fasting, and prayer because of it. Why not? How badly do we want to be caught unawares? I don’t wish to be and I don’t want my church to be, either. Are we serious people or are we dancing when we should be preparing for winter? Dance when the stockpile is in place, but not before.

I could go on and on here, but I think the time has come to wrap this up.

I ask again, How serious are we? When did we Christians get so “fluffy”? Tough times call for tough people and brave ideas with committed follow-through. Good times won’t always be here, yet we act like they’ll last forever. How foolish we are when we, of all people, know how things will end, yet we are not prepared for that Day!

In the next post, I’ll wrap up the “Banking on God” series. Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

A Bag Full of Wet Tribbles


A couple weeks back SF Gate columnist Mark Morford wrote an op/ed piece called “American Kids, Dumber than Dirt” in which he quotes a longtime teacher friend as saying that kids today are stupid to the point of verging on inert:

It’s gotten so bad that, as my friend nears retirement, he says he is very seriously considering moving out of the country so as to escape what he sees will be the surefire collapse of functioning American society in the next handful of years due to the absolutely irrefutable destruction, the shocking — and nearly hopeless — dumb-ification of the American brain. It is just that bad.

I know that I’m perpetually saddened (yet oddly amused) by what people don’t know. And that’s not in some kind of snobbish way. Watching a high school graduate grossly mis-tally a simple three item receipt from a restaurant makes me wonder how such a lapse can exist.

You long-time readers know that I have a degree in Christian Education and know all the educational theorists. You know that I homeschooled up until this fall. You also know my child is in public school right now. You know that I believe that no educational system is perfect.

But as much handwringing goes on today about education, I keep returning to one inescapable truth:

Kids are only as smart as their parents are.

The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and in most cases today, a lot closer to the trunk than some would like. A classroom (and a home?) full of dunces...But when it comes right down to it, smart parents have smart kids—no matter what kind of education (public, private, or homeschooled) their children receive—because the parents themselves value education and pursue it in their own lives.

If the parents of a child are about as sharp as a bag of wet tribbles, then how can we expect the child to exceed the parent? That rarely, if ever, happens.

We expect most homeschoolers to be winners of spelling and geography bees, but look at the parents in those cases. They’re engineers, scientists, academics—the national brain trust, in other words. The only way they’re going to turn out a dim bulb is if they give birth to a brain-damaged kid. And even then, that’s going to be the brightest brain-damaged child of the lot.

But even when it comes to homsechooling, the weak link in the chain is the parent. A parent with smarts that rate a 6 on a scale of 10 is probably not going to teach their kids to a level 8 or higher. Why? Because that parent will be uncomfortable exceeding his or her own knowledge. This leads to what is known as the law of diminishing returns.

Parents are never going to feel adequate to teach their kids to the limits of their parental smarts—ever. That truth wipes out most distinctions of public, private, and homeschool. As much as a we’ve castigated public schooling, smart parents who put their kids in public school are not going to turn around when that kid is eighteen and find a numbskull. This truth works in the opposite, as well. If parents can barely tally three lines on a restaurant bill, why should we expect their children to? Yet we’re perpetually astonished by the seeming ignorance of youth today.

“But Dan,” you say, “isn’t your blog about the Church in America? How does this fit with your theme?”

If we wonder why the youth of today can’t theologize their way out of a damp paper bag, we have to look at the parents.

Christian parents suffer from a few maladies that make them inadequate to the task of teaching their children about the Lord:

  1. They’ve been told that they are inadequate for the job… – This same instructor superiority afflicts parents in all types of learning environments. The educational elites turned up their noses at the bourgeois attempts of parents to teach their own children and slapped their knuckles with a mighty big ruler in the process. And just as it afflicts the public and private school systems, it afflicts Christian education.
  2. …so as a result, parents have abandoned their role in education – This is not only the parents’ fault for being weak-willed and lazy in their children’s Christian education, but also the willingness of most church people to treat the educational staff at their churches like divine oracles who can do no wrong. Worse, those so-called oracles believe the hype and even fan it into flame. That’s got to stop, on all counts.
  3. We’ve made the Faith either too complex or too rudimentary. – It seems we can’t find the balance. We either make the faith into an intellectual exercise of splitting infralapsarian and amyraldian hairs (or whatever esoteric argument floats your ark) or we make it a brain-dead exercise in being nice to people. Well, shame on us—all of us. So parents think they either have to possess a seminary degree or else they think they can skate because there’s nothing to “this Christianity thing.” Either mentality jumps the educational tracks.

So how do we get parents into the right mindset and smarts-set to do this important job?

  1. We emphasize the importance of the work—and our willingness to help. It seems to me that part of the problem of Christian education today stems from either asking for the world of parents or asking nothing at all. We need to find a solid middle ground. But more than that, churches need to understand that they must partner with parents to ensure the next generation gets some theological smarts. Not by being condescending. Not by dumping all the load on parents. Not by pointing a rifle at anyone’s head. But by walking alongside parents and helping them learn how to teach their own kids. (I’ve long contended this should be the primary role of the youth minister!) The Christian education conducted by the church should always be viewed as a gap-filler, not as the primary source of education. That’s the parents’ job.
  2. We teach the parents what they need to know. As I’ve noted, kids will only be as smart as the parents. If the parents can’t grasp the atonement or what it means to die to self, there’s not a chance their kids will. If the parents won’t talk about those topics outside church (where the greatest growth occurs), their kids won’t hear it. Churches, this is your core emphasis in Christian Ed: Instilling a solid Christian worldview and theology in your adults, particularly those adults with children.
  3. We set attainable educational goals. Every child the age of seven should know why it was necessary for Jesus to come. That should be right on their lips if asked. Littler ones should at least know who Jesus is. A solid Christian curriculum should not only repeat the basics at every age level, but also add onto the previous age level. There’s no reason our teens can’t be asked the differences between the different views on the atonement. Or to explain covenant theology. Or to be able to stand up and expound a rational pneumatology. (In my Lutheran catechism, I got a one hour grilling on theology in a private session with the pastor and youth leader.) But to get there, set appropriate, attainable goals.
  4. We work to counter culture. Our society is in the brink of disaster with our busyness. Sadly, modern Evangelicalism contributes to our harried schedules by adding more and more things we MUST do that, in the end, aren’t necessary. Educating the next generation about the Lord is about as necessary as it gets. Getting your kid into a time-intensive soccer program that will score them a spot in an Ivy League college DOES NOT MATTER ETERNALLY. Yet this is what too many Christian parents want. A recent Barna poll, one of the most disturbing I ever saw, showed that Evangelical parents thought getting their kids into elite colleges outweighed whether those same kids knew Jesus Christ or not. God help us! We have to start demolishing these strongholds that entrap us if we’re to be a vital Church.
  5. We stop the school choice derangement syndrome. Homeschooling parents must desist in their schismatic, judgmental, and outright wicked accusations against non-homeschooling parents. This is not just an issue of “secular” education. If we wish to utterly negate the truths of the Gospel in front of our children and nullify Christlikeness in them, then by all means, let all sides on the school choice issue treat each other like vermin. That’ll teach the little ones the right people to hate and for the correct reasons. We all know that’s why Jesus came, right?

So yeah, it IS all about the parents. If we want smart kids, we better make smart parents. And there’s no better time to start on that path than today.