I just gave up. I started marching in place, holding myself back and restricting myself to the limits of their understanding. Without realizing it, I'd begun to stunt my own growth in order to not lose people I cherished.
I'm not the guy who gets to go out
And do leisure stuff on a regular basis. I'm always looking for
better ways to minister and ways to make ministry better. I'm
not bragging, I'm just stating a fact that, while it seems that
life is passing me by, I realize that I have matured to a place
that I don't have to buy the latest CD, buy the latest clothes
or even see the latest movie. And, speaking of movies, I
recently watched, I Am Sam, a role for which Sean Penn was
nominated for Best Actor, I found myself riveted by the
relationship between Sam and his daughter played by Dakota
Fanning. This little girl really can act and I highly recommend
this picture as a must see. Anyway, I saw it a couple of months
ago at a friend's house and it disturbed me in a way that caused
me to evaluate my personal relationships with people as well as
my personal relationship with the church herself. I believe that
church is the place where I come to be empowered and uplifted.
The place where I come, with like minded believers, to
encourage, uplift, pray, exhort, stir up unto every good word
and work and then depart to serve. It ain't no joke for me. And
I don't like people messin' with my church worship experience.
But my worship experience is not and should not be limited to
the worship service. My experience should carry over into the
week where I share what helped me with everyone I come into
contact with. So, I should become what my pastor calls an agent
of transformation, meaning that, as an ambassador for Christ, I
should, in a very positive way, have some impact on the lives of
those I come in contact with. So, with that in mind, you're
probably thinking, “Why has he started talking about this movie,
and left us hanging?”
I question where we're going in our churches. Are we really teaching pure, unadulterated Word, or just making folks feel good Are we really challenging God's people to do better and think better and envision making real change in our communities? Have we just gotten lazy?
How come we're not bringing others along for the ride? Why are there no teenage preachers in the city where I live? Or, for that matter, no twentysomething preachers in the city where I live?
While I was watching this movie, and the relationship between father and daughter, I realized that there is a void here in Ourtown.
In the movie, I Am Sam, Sean Penn portrays a mentally handicapped father. For those of who have not seen this movie, I will not go into great detail, don't worry. But, it is clear who dad is and who daughter is. It is also clear that there is a bond of love between the two that puts your heart on your sleeve. Daddy reads a book to his young princess every night before she goes to bed. And, once she starts school, the tradition continues. However, there comes a point in the daughter's learning that she surpasses her father's mental capacity.
One evening, in usual tradition, Daddy is trying to read a new book to his princess, but is having trouble with some of the big words; and princess helps daddy pronounce those words. And, rather than sit there and watch daddy struggle, this young lady grabs another book that daddy can read stating, “This book's too hard, let's read this one.” To which daddy agrees.
Later on in the storyline,
the daughter has a class assignment to draw a picture of her
family. She draws a picture that makes your heart go out to both
of them, because she makes herself the adult and daddy the
child. She holds his hand, but clearly the roles are defined.
She will lead him, because he cannot lead her. And she begins to
hinder her own progress in school by not trying to learn and
holding herself back so that she has more in common with daddy
than just their mutual love for one another.
This is what's going on in many of our churches. There are people in this younger generation who have intellectually, emotionally and spiritually withdrawn from the black church. These youth and young adults have checked out, ignoring most everything that happens on Sunday morning short of socializing with one another and planning after-church activities. Their mental capacity, their level of understanding and sophistication, has long ago surpassed the hollow Jesus Is On The Mainline droning of many of our Sunday worships.
Youth tend to be more fearless than adults, who cling to tradition more out of fear than reverence. They often serve up their weekly offering of dusty crusty half-hearted praise out of rote and obligation, the fire and truthfulness of their praise having been long ago extinguished. Though seemingly unengaged, youth are nonetheless perceptive. The shallowness of much of adult praise and “worship” robs the Gospel of its authority and that truth fails to take root in the hearts of those among us who have simply moved beyond the trite comfort zone many adults insist on remaining in.
Let me clarify something here because I have no problem with tradition. I have a problem with tradition being the only way everything gets done. I love tradition. I love my church. I love good preaching. I love my Gospel music. I even love Jesus On The Mainline. But my world doesn't end there. My worship doesn't stop there. Who I am is not contained or limited to those boundaries. I am, indeed, all of those things. But God has also revealed so much more to me. So much of the richness of praise, the treasure of worship.
In I Am Sam, both characters are clearly father and daughter because he looks like an adult and she a young child, but in actuality they are the same age in brain capacity. While this little girl goes to school everyday and excels, there comes a point when she draws a picture of her and her father. In this picture, she makes herself the adult and her father the child. She is taking him by the hand and leading him. She understood that her father did not have the mental capacity to care of her, but because she loves him, she holds back her own progress in school and tries to hinder her own development. She stopped trying to learn for his sake. A pastor friend of mine in Houston reminded me that I came in to my last church knowing more and preaching longer than my pastor. It can be a bit intimidating to someone who should be teaching you to learn from you and to reach out to you for help when he needs it. My friend told me I had stopped trying to move ahead and go further at that church in order to stay in sync and keep pace with my pastor, which hurt me in more ways than I can fathom.
Keep Moving: Stop compromising yourself trying to appease insecure people.
The problem in I Am Sam
is that when somebody noticed what was going on, they called in
child services to remove the child from the guardianship of the
father. They all but deny the relationship even exists, which
would mean a mockery of this young lady's past experiences with
this guy she calls her father. She is attached to him. She loves
him more than anything in the world. He has been her stability,
her stronghold, but what she needed was someone who could help
her move into her future while still being able to acknowledge
Much as I loved it at my old church, much as I loved my pastor and my friends and my family and all the good things there were there, I perhaps loved them too much. Because, having failed in every single effort to progress there, to move forward there, I just gave up. I started marching in place, holding myself back and restricting myself to the limits of their understanding of scripture and worship. I started dumbing down my sermons and making things simpler and more bite-sized for them. I started avoiding the difficult songs and taught the easier songs because the others were too challenging.
Today, in many of our churches, no one can have new ideas or new concepts because it challenges what the established routines. But, doesn't the church know that God is a God of change? That, by definition, God's self-revelation is an orderly and progressive one.
God is in the business of being involved so that we can evolve. If something is going evolve, it's going to have to change. Take a different shape. Take a different process. Think different. Speak different. Minister different. Which then, would mean that we would have to be a different church. a changing church. A church where everybody has a voice and everyone has a chance and an opportunity to fit. Without realizing it, I'd begun to stunt my own growth in order to not lose people I cherished. In order to not seem strange or odd or frightening to them. In order to fit in more comfortably, I sang the same songs and preached the same sermons and taught the way they taught and spoke the way they spoke and avoided the more challenging themes or texts or songs because I knew it was too advanced for them. I diminished the work God had begun in me and traded that anointing in for the safety and comfort of community.
Ultimately, in the movie, the little girl was taken from her father and put into another home where she could prosper and still be able to have a relationship with her father. Ultimately, God moved me out of my former church so I could come to a house where I could be helped and pushed further to be better and see farther.
The next generation of ministry leaders cannot hold up their growth and their learning to pacify our lingering, nostalgic love affair with 1965. It is not fair to ask them to continue running the same old programs, and preaching the same sermons when they have questions of their own. Ideas and ideals of their own. Why not take the risk
Neil M. Brown
13 June 2005
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