Five assumptions that might tickle the bone of contention

Every Cell Leader, if they are engaged with their fellow cell members, is going to run up against opposition. Not necessarily antagonism, but the natural opposition people feel when Jesus calls them to follow, even more when He leads them to form  a community centered around Him. It’s supernatural, not the natural to which they are accustomed. They aren’t being “bad,” they are entering the cell deeply influenced by large societal forces and their whole history.  They bring assumptions that immediately pressure the cell for conformity. They are not likely to automatically change their minds and habits to conform to our vision of what following Jesus is all about!  It is understandable opposition. (Besides, the society might be more “conformed” to Jesus than the church, sometimes!). Stimulating dialogue should ensue.

Good cells do not require good chips. But it helps.

One of the blessings of my work is the luxury of having stimulating dialogue all the time (often with chips involved!). Sometimes I am in the midst of a fascinating “issue,” but often I am just sorting out the intricate issues of being a Jesus-follower in an ever-changing, ever-falling world. In the past few weeks, I have had some deep conversations that have me thinking about the main issues we face when we try to form cells.

As a result, I have some “proverbs” forming in my mind that speak to the regular issues I discuss with people as they try to make sense of life in Christ as a cell. Here are five assumptions I think cell leaders should have when they are doing their work of nururing a circle of people coming to know Jesus and coming to know how to live as the body of Christ. Here goes:

Knowing things and knowing ourselves is more about being known than processing data.

Wisdom is revealed and received more than extracted from precedent or “the research.” When I say that, I mean that wisdom resides with God and is primarily revealed in Jesus. Nevertheless, a lot of people expect to discover God by endless data processing, since that’s what we do. Processing means progressing to them.

As a result, many people will assume that more knowledge means more progress, and progress is what we are all about. If the cell does not provide data, they may not think they are getting anywhere. If you bring up the Bible, they may be nervous, because the Bible is old data. They think that the present state of science, democracy and probably capitalism, is much smarter than everyone who ever lived before; humankind has progressed. They are also likely to think that the future will be even better; they might feel like they’ll be left behind if they attach to Jesus .

Christians certainly believe we are coming to a good end, so we like progress. And we believe individuals and societies can and should get better. But we know God has always known better; knowing God in every era is knowing better, and being known by God as God promotes our discovery of our eternity is best of all.

Blindly applying the latest “best practices” may flip vulnerable people “out of the frying pan and into the fire. “

People often tell me I will be on the wrong side of history if I don’t adapt to what’s coming around. I am trying to be adaptable. Last night I actually suspected I might be TOO adaptable. Students from Ohio came to the meeting and thought they had arrived at a different spiritual planet! One of them said, “I think one of my friends went to a church like this, once,” as if they visited Sea World and saw whales doing tricks. I like to be on the edge of what is next, not “out of this world.” We need to reach into what is coming and reach back into what was.

However, we don’t need to blindly adopt whatever the scientists and pseudo-scientists invented in the last 100-500 years, certainly not the last 50 years, certainly not what the latest movement popularizes as best practices — as if that should be a new normal.  As my mom said, “Just because someone is popular does not make them good” — that might have been Jesus, not Mom, not sure.  When the bandwagon crashes, the most vulnerable get most hurt.

We must not underestimate just how unwilling most of us are to suffer.

There is a lot of pressure to make being ourselves feel good and to never suffer being disliked, disrespected or disabled. Dis is becoming a forbidden syllable. (And don’t dis me because I said so!) We are not supposed to experience dis-ease, dis-comfort, or dis-appointment. If you are the cell leader that perpetrates any dis there may be instant dis-tance. Don’t be afraid, just keep talking about it.

Some things about us are not going to change this side of the age to come. We can be comforted, happy and stable, but we might not be perfect or perfectly related. Being saved is better than being perfect. Being who one is and letting God accept us and change us is better than demanding that society (or the church) supply a perfect environment for our perfect life.

Expressions of faith change over time to match an era and its needs, but that’s not improving the faith, that’s just being clear.

We Jesus-followers have always adapted to whatever society we are in, most of the time for good, sometimes with spectacularly wrong results.  In the US we tend to have rich people arguments, assuming the whole world is like us (or would like to be!).  In the Congo, our brothers and sisters are debating something else.

My basic thought about everything is, “What provides for redemption?” Not, “How can I make my religion adaptable to what’s happening now?” I’m not ashamed of Jesus. God does not need updating, as if he were a style. But, at the same time, love speaks the language of the loved one.

Being chosen is the beginning of freedom.

Most people seem to think that choice is the end of freedom. For instance: if Libyans get democracy, everything will be fine (just like it is here!). I don’t think many people consciously think this, but they act like they believe that endless choices, like consumer choices, make them human. Human rights is often a discussion of “choice.”

I agree that having rights is sure better than being dominated! But I hasten to add that the philosophy of choice is also a domination system, and being free from conforming to it is my right in Christ. Having many or few choices does not make me more human and certainly not more spiritually free.

This is a tricky argument to have while munching on a cookie during a cell meeting. But it will undoubtedly come up, because a lot of people think morality is about rights. Since Christians are all for morality, then we must be about rights. It is surprising to people when we go deeper than that and talk about how losing our right to be “free” of God has given us freedom to be our true selves back in relationship with God.

All this over chips?

How many giant issues can one pastor fit on a page? Thanks for getting this far. My life feels like a lot of giant issues squashed into a little brain — my days have been full of stimulating conversations that can’t get finished in a short amount of time.  It is also like a cell — full of fascinating people with more issues to consider than there is time in a meeting.

Any help you can give in how to state redemptive truths positively and not just join the flame-throwers on the net, in the Congress and on TV will be appreciated.

8 thoughts on “Five assumptions that might tickle the bone of contention

  1. Thanks so much for articulating these, Rod. The 2 that resonated with me the most were:

    +I don’t think we can underestimate just how unwilling most of us are to suffer.
    +Being chosen is the beginning of freedom.

    I feel like these issue come up in cell and relationships time and time again — and sometimes I think I’m a lot better at “suffering” or the freedom of being “chosen” than I actually am. I think they all would make great proverbs and they feel prophetic for the particular place we are at right now with our cells as a Network. Looking forward to talking about them more.

  2. thanks for squashing some big issues into that blog… this is helpful material to consider when figuring out how to talk about the “big” issues.

  3. I often find myself reminding my cell that our meeting every Thursday night is a very countercultural thing. I want them to know they are taking a step toward Jesus simply by showing up. I love this post because it is naming some of the ways that following Jesus is countercultural while recognizing that we will inevitably be influenced by this world. It is an ever present tension at the heart of my cell meetings lately.

  4. You’ve posed some very important issues here, Rod, and I don’t think it’s coincidental that they were raised within the context of a dialogues.

    Dialogue is just one of many forms of communication. As Christians, we could make pronouncements about our faith in many ways – by writing a newspaper, creating blog, standing on a street corner and bellowing the truth, etc.. All of these would be forms of expression and attempts to communicate, but none involve dialogue. By definition, dialogue requires that two parties communicate their ideas in a way that is intelligible to both. It presupposes a common language. Without mutual intelligibility, there is no dialogue at all, but a series of pronouncements that at best results in misunderstandings and at worst renders the speaker absolutely incoherent to the listener.

    Christians often assume that because their beliefs or teachings are true for everyone, then they must be intelligible to everyone. But as Christians, we’re part of a story that has its own language (the language of the people of God). As Stanley Hauerwas has argued, we can only really understand ourselves and our place in that story if we are trained in the language of the Church. To that end, we must share this language if we hope to have a fruitful dialogue with other Christians. Our language reinforces our awareness that we are part of a common story.

    It gets much more complicated when you’re talking about facilitating a dialogue between Christians and non-Christians (for instance, people we invite to our cells). As Christians, we share a common story (and thus a common language) with other Christians. But non-Christians understand themselves in terms of a different story – America, capitalism, postmodernism, drug addition, physicial and emotional violence, or any number of other narratives. In any case, many of the things we believe and the actions we take as Christians only make sense within the context of the Christian narrative. To paraphrase Hauerwas again: the lives we lead as Christians are incoherent if the God that we believe in does not exist.

    So how do we explain the ideas you’ve listed to those who don’t share our language? Well, I think you provide an answer when you observe that, “love speaks the language of the loved one.” The story (and therefore the language) of our faith may be incoherent when we try to dialogue with non-Christians, but love can be our common language. Maybe the really fruitful dialogues don’t begin with words at all. Maybe we make ourselves most intelligible to the secular world (or visitors to our cells) when we commit ourselves to following the Word. In doing so, we will necessarily live lives centered on love and focused on God; lives that are so compelling that they witness to the truth. Our whole lives, indeed our whole story, is one of the most articulate and compelling statements possible in God’s dialogue with the World. “Love speaks the language of the loved one,” because love is a language in itself. It is a language that we as Christians believe is intelligible to any person, no matter what their story.

  5. I like that you brought proverbs to the table as the method of addressing the forceful societal assumptions. That’s a deliciously ancient and spiritual Jesus way of inciting dialogue- in a blog, which is a nice recognizably current-to-the-day delivery method. I don’t have any other pointers I just wanted to say I like what you’ve done here.

  6. Rod, I am so glad you are paying such close attention. Sometimes I’m not even sure what you are talking about (in this post & elsewhere), but I have grown to trust that God honors your heart for the church and gives you the eyes to see & even start to make sense out of things I don’t even notice (yet). As a new cell leader, I am just beginning to sense the undercurrents in my cell. Thank you for naming some of the things I might watch for. Love, Liz

    1. Liz, I actually went back and tried to make what I wrote a bit more intelligible after you so graciously assumed it was your comprehension and not my poor communicating that was the problem 🙂

Leave a Reply