Discerning statistics does not equal listening to human beings.
Several months ago the phone in the office rang. A group with which I am familiar hired a service to conduct a survey. Maybe you have fielded such a call. After the first couple of questions I realized how either the questions contained certain ambiguities or the possible options failed to accurately capture the response I would have preferred. I imagine the questioner would have preferred me just answer without commentary on the quality of the questions.
The results of surveys built in this particular fashion appear designed for a particular outcome. Statistical surveys provide a quick, if not impulsive, glimpse into a particular subject.
It would be better to have a conversation.
Conversations Are Better
Christian churches began scrambling when statistics came out that more and more people were refusing to identify with a particular religious tradition. Statisticians, if not sociologists, dubbed them the Nones. Further research uncovered a group that once participated in the Christian Tradition. Their stories indicated they were more Done than None.
It would be easy to proof text a passage from 1 John, ‘they went out from us but were not of us.” Maybe it applies.
But, if you take a hard look at John’s circular letter one discovers a particular rule of life, a particular way of living that evidences a peculiarly Jesus-y form. We immediately consider those to have left to let go of Jesus. When I listen to the stories of the Nones and Dones, I find less vitriol about Jesus and more disdain for habits and practices that appear less like Jesus to be the motivation to exit the Building.
Yes, some wind their explanations through lengthy philosophical investigations. But when you listen carefully to how they order their lives, what values they find most compelling to live by, they sound an awful lot like they are driven by an agenda of Jesus and the Kingdom. What appears to have ruptured their relationship with the Church is less a worldly tug than a system that often seems to care more about itself than others.
Recently I shared a brief email exchange with someone wondering about how it was they had participated in and with a group that prefer torture to blessing their enemies, cutting aid to the mentally ill to bearing one another’s burdens, and on I could go. The quick retort separates Kingdom from Country. However, what you allow as acceptable for your Country eventually shows up in your vision of Kingdom.
Today on the podcast I share a conversation with my friend Rob Davis. Rob is certainly a None. He may well be Done. It would be a mistake to think his story does not represent hundreds and thousands of others. The easy thing to do is to move on, to chalk these stories up to people easily dissatisfied, people who are simply contrarians, an illustration of some strains of the Last Days.
What if we stopped drawing our own conclusions long enough to listen, to really listen? Scot McKnight wrote a series on his blog before moving to Patheos. In long form blog posts McKnight described the way conversations once worked and believed how much better we would be if we could re-learn how to have those conversations today.
The failure to listen evidences a tone deafness to critique that just might be helpful to all of us who lead Christian churches, and those who really want to continue in a tradition where the Church is always being converted to Jesus.
Take a listen. Think about it. Share your thoughts in the comments.
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