Sunday, February 04, 2007

Substance vs Style

Maybe we're turning the corner -- maybe not!

The most recent issue of Leadership Journal featured a few interesting snippets showing that the days where style outranks substance may be ending. In an article titled, "Youth Ministry Gets Serious," Sam O'Neal pointed out that research shows many of today's teens want substance rather than entertainment and shallow teaching. According to O'Neal, the emphasis on "Jesus Light" left teens unable to differentiate between gospel and the pop-culture box they received it in. In addition, Time magazine reported some churches are now focusing more on teaching. Good! It is about time. The article gave two examples of youth groups that grew numerically and spiritually because they emphasized strong biblical teaching including doses of doctrine and adult mentoring.

I wonder if the fact that youth ministry in the late twentieth century existed by presenting "Jesus Light" has any relationship to the lack of spiritual hunger or depth in today's younger baby boomer or older Gen-x crowd. Hmmm!

The same Leadership issue also contained feedback from Tony Morgan's blog ( Stuart Briscoe, now 75 years of age, said, "We don't need to make truth relevant. We need to show and explain and apply it in all its Spirit-empowered relevance and see transformation happen." Briscoe also pointed to Europe and our own nation's founding documents. Nearly every European village and city is filled with chapels, cathedrals, or churches but they are empty. The present generation has nearly abandoned the American founding documents by trying to reinterpret them to make them relevant. Briscoe wrote, "Those who built the cathedrals and wrote the founding documents were not seeking to be 'relevant'; they were showing the relevance of an unchanging truth to those who needed to know it." Truth is always relevant! But I think we've so reinterpreted the truth to make it acceptable that it is no longer relevant. Further, once it becomes irrelevant it dies.

Now lest you think this is simply the meandering cogitations of a couple of old fogeys who no longer know what is happening or going on, as some of my readers sometimes do, I want to remind you that Briscoe has been a "with it" observer and participant in churches for 55 years. Furthermore, Leadership cited a reader 50 years Briscoe's junior (that makes him 25 for those of you educated in the new math) saying, "Stuart said (more eloquently than I ever could) pretty much what I have been thinking. Then the writer asked, "[Is there] anything a church has done before some company in the marketplace has done it?"

In a sidebar in an article entitled, "We Aren't About the Weekends," Bob Roberts had this to say, "I'm unlearning ... the assumption that 'Christian' is defined primarily as acknowledging a moment of conversion. Becoming a follower of Jesus depends on what happens after that."

Having said all of that, let me make one thing perfectly clear. Christians need to get past "style" and focus on "substance." When I say substance, I don't mean simply the learning of facts and information. There is some of that, to be sure. Christians need an understanding of doctrine, biblical history, and Scripture's moral teaching. Accumulating those things in one's overheated brain means nothing, however, if the individual is unable to use or apply them. If knowledge is accumulated for the sake of knowledge, that's wrong! But doing just for the sake of doing is just as wrong! Why? Because it is uninformed and ends up being a shotgun approach. James wrote, "Faith without works is dead." I can say, "Knowledge without application is dead!" I've been judged as "too academic" because I believe Christians should learn more than "the milk of the Word." But I believer greater understanding should lead to greater action!

Think about it!