Okay I admit it, I am confused. Maybe a little more than that. I am stupefied and astounded at the strange conversations of American churches and Christians.

I read a lot of blogs. I catch the latest and greatest debates on hipster pastor Mark Driscoll’s Calvinism versus the Arminianism world; Rob Bell’s love heaven and Francis Chan’s rebuttal on hell; the Mayans’ Armageddon, and the left, right and Christ of political conversations in the Church.

“Who would Jesus vote for?” Wait, heaven is a democracy, right?

Every side has a scripture to back up their claims, every party adamant about their views. What I don’t hear much of as hot controversial discussions are what I consider the more important of Jesus’s last commands, namely, go, therefore, and make disciples among every people, tribe, tongue and race. I mean, they’re on the table, but hot topic? Nah, not really.

That won’t get your blood pumping, now will it?

It’s all a tough pill for me to swallow. Really? Is this what matters? Are these the conversations of a vibrant, growing church, or are they the products of the supposed post-Christian era of America?

Out of content, I know, but Death Cab For Cutie’s lyrics seem apt anyway: “It’s like a book elegantly bound but in a language that you can’t read just yet.” I sense the anthem of that lyrical melody sung to me by millions of western Christians, good-hearted and sincere, to be sure, just slightly skewed in my humble opinion.

Or worse, irrelevant and ridiculous. But can I really be that honest here?

Here’s the problem—and perhaps somewhat of a disclaimer for my contemplations: I grew up my adult life outside America. Though I was born and raised in a Christian home in Arizona, I was bit by the mission bug early in life. At age fifteen, I went on my first mission trip to Russia with Teen Mania Ministries. The following year, Hong Kong and China, followed by India. At age eighteen, I bought a one-way ticket to China, and pioneered the beginnings of a mission organization my wife and I established called Within Reach Global. So I have been out of the mix for a while, and the conversations of American Church relevancy have continued in my absence.

I speak fluent English, but I’m still struggling with my American. Especially American Christianese.

The flashing lights and big sound systems of churches in America always dazzle me. I am privy to them when I travel back to America to raise funds for Within Reach Global. I see the sexy graphics on the big screen, gaga over the sleek mic setups of well-dressed pastors, and cringe a bit at the mint church structures.

It’s all a bit too perfect for me. It’s all a tad too sterile. But, disclaimer: that’s just me.

I’m a little confused. I’m just trying to figure out if that is the kind of church that I should be planting in Southeast Asia.

A chicken scampers across the floor. Baby cries and grandma shouts. We’re doing church on the border of China and Vietnam in a small Yao village where one of our church plants is located. It’s new and raw and oh so wonderful. It’s just the way I like to do Church: with lots of background noise. The presence of God falls among a tribe that until recently had never even heard what a Jesus was. They fall in love with God. There are no lights and keynote presentations. The strumming of a guitar, slightly out of tune, and singing off key, permeates the village home.

I think the Holy Spirit can appreciate the bareness of this church. That’s not to say that he doesn’t appreciate the sincerity of believers in mid-size or mega churches as well. God loves worship in spirit and in truth, but I don’t think he’s overly concerned with brand of sound system or tech, quality of graphics and perfectly scheduled services.

“The perfect church service would have been one we were almost unaware of,” said C.S. Lewis. “Our attention would have been on God.” He also said something to the effect of “99% of all church services are but a feeble attempt at worship.” I tend to agree. We want God to show up in our services, but sometimes he is simply stifled by the program and time restraints.

Is it okay to question the validity of modern approach to Church life? Euripides thought so. “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.”

I don’t have an answer. This is more of a rant than anything. But in the end, I believe God is doing a redemptive salvation work in the nations that cannot be overlooked, and most certainly cannot be placed in perfect packaging with how-to instructions that we as humans often try to do.

Leave a comment


  1. Kathy Roeth

     /  06/03/2012

    Not all churches here spend their time in *church-speak*, but there is a great temptation stateside to be *seeker friendly*. I think this trend has not only sometimes turned eyes away from our Lord, but also turned our eyes away from those in need. God is not a bandaid. He is our Savior. We are not saved to *sit*. We are saved to do HIS work.

  2. Mike

     /  06/04/2012

    We are saved to do HIS work. – NO THIS IS WRONG! The work is the work of the Lord. We participate in it.

  3. Mike, I’m really not sure what you mean by that, if you agree with some aspects, or don’t agree at all. Fine either way, just wondering. God bless!

  4. Caleb Payne

     /  09/02/2012

    “Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”

    “I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.

    “This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like — even to India.” – St. Francis Xavier

    • Agreed Caleb (and St. Francis!), we are enamored by books and methods and theories for ministry, while not even rubbing shoulders with the lost. The church should be a hospital right? Why do people hanging out outside look and smell so sexy?

      But on the other hand, do you really think it’s true of our day what St. Francis says, “there is nobody to make them Christians?” We are saturated with Christianity, but too many of us have unwilling feet. A warm pew has about as much value as a warm toilet seat—if it’s still warm when I sit down, it makes me squirm a little.

  5. Caleb Payne

     /  09/03/2012

    St. Francis Xavier was writing from places in Asia that absolutely had no witness to the Gospel (As we have experienced ourselves). So, he did recognize that there are plenty people, who if only they caught the zeal of the Holy Spirit for mission, would readily get up and go, making disciples of all nations. The third part of his statement proves that he doesn’t believe there is nobody, just that there was nobody in the actual places he visited (i.e. Borneo) at that time. He was a true pioneer, just as you have been bro. I’m sure you’ve experienced this feeling standing in the midst of remote villagers who had no clue, “what a Jesus was.”

    A thought on “we are saturated with Christianity”: I think we are saturated with ideology, and at least not the type of Christianity that was embraced by those who said things like, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian) or “I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ” (St. Ignatius, also called Theophorus – the “God-bearer”). We’ve embraced more of an idea, than a real Person. If we are to embrace the Person, as did a few around the cross, then we might experience His agony, we might get dirty, or worse a little blood on us, we might even be accused by those who condemned Him and led away ourselves to be scourged and crucified. I think people are afraid to get dirty, and mission is certainly one way to get dirty. Unfortunately, we (in America) have in these days conformed “Christ” to our culture, and not our culture to Christ. That is why there is such a misconception of mission, because we don’t even know how to do it in our own homes.

    Some early churches did not even have pews. At St. Mary’s, with all the kneeling and standing we certainly do not let our seats get warm. One of my favorite parts of the Catholic Mass is when the priest or deacon says, “The Mass is ended – go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” The word “Mass” means “sending” or “mission.” Basically, Who we receive is Who we become to the world. We become the bread of life for the world, we become “God-bearers” – Theophori.

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