All Too Easy

popcorn

It’s about time we all admit that the popcorn button has failed us.

It used to be that making popcorn at home was a difficult endeavor.  You had two options; invest in a machine that looked like a miniature city from a Buck Rogers episode or Jiffy Pop.  The late 70’s were a bleak time for both finances and the 25th century, so most families took the second option; which also involved mom risking an extremity while holding the foil pan over an open burner.

Then along came the microwave… and microwave popcorn.

In the history of entertainment, the pairing of these two items ranks just slightly below the combination of pizza parlors and coin operated video games.  With Microwave popcorn you could start popping the corn at 8:58 on Friday night and be eating the corn before Luke Duke slid across the hood of the General Lee at 9:01.

Then came the popcorn button…

Before the button you needed a popcorn monitor standing in the kitchen (but not directly in front of the microwave) listening for the telltale “slowing of the pops” as the package dictated, this being more art than science.  The popcorn feature purportedly allowed you to put the bag in the oven, press the button, leave, then return to freshly popped goodness.

What you actually return to is a smoking bag of carbon that reeks like someone just rubbed out a cigar butt in Orville Redenbacher’s hair.

The popcorn button was supposed to make things so easy that you could walk away from the machine, but it so poorly delivered on it’s promises that we actually walked away from the button.  This of course makes me consider other failures.

If you read the statistics, the Christian church is facing a crisis: Young adults who grew up in the church, walk out the door after they graduate high school and don’t come back.  Researchers have spent the better part of the last decade probing the “why” behind the crisis and they reveal a lot of contributing factors.

It’s easy to blame the young people because they’re the ones walking away.  They shouldn’t be right? These are the kids who were born into a church with a youth pastor.  They eagerly anticipated getting into youth group where they could get “dynamic teaching” and “uptempo music”.  They went on retreats and missions trips.  These are the small groups kids, the kids that slept at our houses, the kids we got onto facebook for.  These are the kids we made it easy for.

…and maybe that’s the problem.

Whenever there’s a problem with “followers” you have to start by looking at leaders.  For the past 20 years we’ve been trying to make church easier for people.  While I’m not convinced that that was a bad thing, I am convinced we forgot about the blurry line between “attending church” and “being a christian”.  See a church that’s “easy to attend” has a hard time convincing people that “being a christian” is actually difficult.  A Christ focused church eventually has to preach about suffering, serving, self sacrifice, etc… qualities essential to following Jesus.  When those sermons are preached, going to church is no longer easy.

As a youth pastor, I learned that adolescents didn’t yet grasp the difference between fun and entertainment.  I’d always get asked, “Is the missions trip going to be fun?” In time I recognized that I was actually being asked, “Will I enjoy this enough for it to be worth my time?” My response eventually became, “It isn’t going to be very entertaining, it’s gonna be hard, you’ll probably vomit, sleep on a floor, go days without showering, you’ll definitely  eat a gang of beans and rice, AND it’ll be the most fun you’ve ever had… but it won’t be easy.

Entertainment is passive, cheap, and easy because someone else is doing the work. Fun is active, costly, and hard because it takes effort.  The Christian life is passive, cheap, and easy.  Living in Christ is work; costly and hard.  I spent years calling people to a “christian life” when I was supposed to be teaching them how to live IN Christ.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work hard to demonstrate the Gospel’s relevance to young people, because the incarnation was a mission of relevance.  I’m not saying that we set up obstacles (terrible music & appalling sermons) to the Gospel, because Jesus said that his burden would be light.

I am saying that we aren’t supposed to be making the Gospel any easier, by…

…explaining away “what Jesus said” with “what he meant”.
…having an answer for every question.
…pretending that sin isn’t pleasurable for a season.
…behaving as if graduation is an expiration date for ministry.

Because he knew what they would face when he was no longer with them, Jesus spent his time describing how costly discipleship would be for his followers.   He let discipleship be as hard as it was, and until we see it as our mission to do the same we’ll continue convincing people that following Jesus is easy…

…and when they finally realize it’s not, they’ll continue to walk away from the buttons we worked so hard to get them to push.

8 Responses to “All Too Easy”

  1. Sharon O January 19, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Great writing. I loved it and I could even hear you as you were writing or rather as I was reading it. I miss your teaching. take care

  2. Suzy January 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    I agree John! I know I rely on Christ more through pain and suffering! No more easy button thank you, it is such a false god for our children and ourselves!

  3. Nicholas January 20, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    I think you did a pretty good job of calling it out as it was when I was in the youth group. While I sometimes felt as if I was being told I was being an idiot a lot(in a much more tactful way) I have grown to realize that I was being an idiot(in the truest form). I don’t know if it was the ease of life that sin brought to my life that led to my lack of church participation. I mean life seemed a lot harder without a purpose. After leaving high-school it seemed like there was less of a family to go visit at church.I think that while most places offer fellowship and purpose it is hard to connect for most people. I don’t even talk to anyone from high-school. We all moved, switched churches, went to college, and in all these places while fellowship was offered many people do not feel as welcome or understood as they once were. Which is funny since we are all growing and how well can we understand ourselves. For me it just felt like everyone had a new agenda and the string that held us together was severed. And without that support I don’t know a single person who can hold it together. Maybe I just lack integrity.

    • Jon January 20, 2011 at 10:33 am #

      I think we all lack integrity… I’m pretty sure the Gospel is more about being restored than getting it right. We’re all idiots, it’s whether or not there are “homes” for idiots to be restored in. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of “homes” for people once they enter the life stage after high school. Success here is probably found in walking with people from the time they leave your house until they get to their new home.

      Proud of you bro. Always have been, always will be.

  4. Nicholas January 20, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    I typed that on my phone. So ignore the poor grammar and lack of punctuation.

  5. Todd trowbridge January 20, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    Jon! You just put into words everything I have been wrestling with.
    Blessings on you as you call kids to following Jesus. I seriously thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  6. Courtney January 20, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Good words John and so true! On the popcorn side, I still like to make popcorn in a pan (or pot) with a little oil on the bottom. That’s how we made it growing up, although you have to shake it every 30 sec. But it is the best. Unless of course you are my Dad and decide to just put oil and wait on the few kernels to pop before adding the rest. That will cause a kitchen fire and the curtains to catch fire, and a 9 year old screaming in the hallway (that would be me). Anyway word to the wise. Thanks again for the post

  7. Mike Maxwell January 27, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    Jon, so true….my Pastor used to say you can stand in the garage all day long but it doesn’t make you a “car”….and standing in church on Sunday doesn’t make a Christian. F. Frangipane points out that Jesus immediately went into the desert to be tempted and had to overcome temptation before his ministry had power. Holiness precedes power…but holiness takes work (and the baptism of the Spirit) which is why the American Church is so full of people standing in church on Sunday who are struggling for joy in a country where we have more than any other country. We NEED personal revival.

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