Thursday, January 26, 2006

Looking for a Crisis

For many years one of the prevailing philosophies of Christian ministry in North America has been that of “meeting peoples’ needs.” It is a fine strategy except for one problem: Do people always know what they need?

Local church pastor Mark Labberton relates the following encounter:
A man once appeared at my office door asking for some bullet points on Christianity to help make sense of the dinner conversations he was having with his wife, a recent convert. He made it clear he was very busy, very successful, and didn’t really have time to study her beliefs – just bullet points, now, please.
It would have been easy to hand him a book or pamphlet. That can be good. But instead, I said, “I can see you are a very busy, successful person, so I don’t think that this is a good idea.” “Why,” he asked, frustrated. “Because,” I said, “if I were to give you the bullet points, and you were to really understand them, they have a way of working into a person’s life so significantly that your life could really get messed up. You would have to rethink the meaning of success, of time, of family, of everything, really. I don’t think you want to do that, do you?”
It was an effort to raise his thirst, not to give him answers. In his case, it worked.
-- “Pastor of Desperation”; Leadership, Winter 2006, p. 130.

Labberton notes two phenomena we see throughout the Bible. First, God doesn’t always (or even usually?) give people what they ask for. He notes that “Jesus’ ministry draws the desperate, not the satisfied. And once drawn, Jesus doesn’t necessarily give them what they think they need. ‘My son, your sins are forgiven,’ was not what the paralytic had in mind as his pallet was being lowered.” And second, “When needs are met and people are satisfied, they forget God.”

This raises a fascinating and profound question, “Which are we trying to do? Satisfy people’s needs or intensify their hunger?”

I recall reading (I’ve forgotten the source) that one of the functions of preaching is to “create a crisis in the listeners’ minds/hearts by showing the gap between where they are and where God calls/invites them to be.” Now that sounds kind of negative, doesn’t it? But what if you substitute the word “hunger” for “crisis”? That makes it a lot more appealing, doesn’t it? Wait a minute, you say! Isn’t the church supposed to satisfy peoples’ spiritual hunger, not create it? Listen carefully, friends. The answer is, No. It is God who satisfies our spiritual hunger. It is Kingdom living that satisfies our spiritual hunger. The church points us, leads us, encourages us, and equips us to satisfy our hunger through God. But the church will never fill us.

Anyone feel up for a crisis?


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