How many words? When is it due? What’s the topic?
Everything starts with questions. Even this blog assignment. We often can’t even start without asking questions.
And yet …
So often The Church is scared to death of questions. Especially too many questions. We are told that asking too many questions smacks of doubt or lack of faith. And so, so often, we keep our mouths shut. We sit back and smile and nod and pretend we believe what is being said. Hell, when it comes to preaching, we aren’t even given the CHANCE to ask questions! “Sit down, shut up and you may learn something,” is often the subtle mantra that is being conveyed.
While this makes no sense in most contexts, it is especially frustrating when it comes to religion — and, dare I say, at least one of the reasons younger people are leaving worship.
When we consider that we are called to model Jesus in our life, it is ironic that questioning is so verboten. His whole ministry was about answering questions! The very foundation of HIS preaching begins time and time again by answering a question. “Dear teacher …” was not something Jesus was scared of, and neither should we be.
But somewhere along the way, we got defensive or scared or freaked out by people asking questions. I think your questions have actually been put on your heart BY God. God WANTS us to question, to probe, to go deeper. That is what happens in any relationship that has value. God sees our questions as a sign that we want to know God better. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed that you have questions. Celebrate it! When people ask questions it means they are engaged, connected and not bored to tears!
Find a place where you feel safe asking questions. In fact, I would go so far as to say, if you find yourself in a faith community that doesn’t allow for questions (or gets defensive, or try to shame you or guilt you for asking those questions …) get outta there! There is no reason you should be made to feel less than because you are asking questions about God, Jesus and your faith. If anything, I think it is a sign of deeper faith!
At AfterHours, I don’t even preach any more. I lead a discussion. I facilitate a dialogue where every voice matters. I think we have moved beyond the time when, more often than not, an old/middle-aged, white, straight, man has “all the answers.” That day is past … whether the old/middle-aged, white, straight, men want to acknowledge it or not. (This old/middle-aged, white, straight male is choosing to acknowledge it.) Every voice matters. The Church must find a way to make space for the many voices that make up the body of the Church. Different people ask different questions … and they need to be asked.
And as much as we don’t want to admit it, the days of “Because I said it, that’s why” is just not going to cut it any more.
This new model (which is really an ancient model, see Luke 2:45-50, Luke 10:25, etc.) will also require more from those showing up. Members of faith communities have to get comfortable asking questions and not just sitting passively. We all have to get more comfortable wrestling with hard things and be willing to hear answers that might make us uncomfortable. In short: We will have to learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Faith leaders don’t think you are off the hook either. The days are winding down where preachers can have our neat, perfect little power points that are set to music and (more often than not), are really just public note cards. Gone are the days where you can have a bunch of memes pulled off Pinterest and call it a sermon. Now preachers will have to actually be able to think on their feet. They have to be able to be in a living, breathing dialogue with give and take and the possibility that (wait for it) THEY MIGHT NOT HAVE THE ANSWER. THAT is going to come crashing into many pastors’ comfort zones in a big way.
Our dialogue section of AfterHours is often a hot mess. I will usually open and say my piece for eight to 12 minutes, and during that time I am not afraid of saying I don’t know. Then I will turn it over to those who gathered together, offering them a couple questions. This is when we go without a net. And yes, sometimes it can be a train wreck. People go off on tangents. People go too long. There are often tears and laughter. Many times, by the end, we have more questions than answers — and often more questions than when we started. AND THAT’S OK. The Kingdom of God is not a pristine museum. It is triage in a M.A.S.H. unit. People are broken and hurting … and more often than not, that is where we will find God.
I think certainty and satisfaction are moving targets and unattainable goals. I also think the first time a “certainty” dissolves for someone who was so certain about his or her faith, that is when the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. They throw the baby out with the bathwater and walk away from their faith completely. That breaks my heart, There is a middle way (if there wasn’t I wouldn’t be in ministry). We have to help people understand that there are multiple ways to find the sacred and that asking hard questions is one of the ways to a deeper understanding of the nature and substance of God.
So, while I don’t think every church in the nation is going to throw out their traditional model of preaching, I would encourage faith communities to make space for the asking of questions, to let go of the fear of not knowing and to find a way to be more comfortable in the mystery and messiness that is our faith. And get to know God more deeply in the process.
And become more like Jesus.
Who knows, it might be as easy as grabbing a Bible, grabbing some friends, and grabbing some beers and shooting out an invitation to your pastor.
You might be surprised by the response.
Rev. Jerry Herships (@jerryherships) is the founder of AfterHours Denver, a faith community that meets in bar and helps feed over 700 homeless a week in metro Denver. His book, LAST CALL: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus is available on Amazon.com or thru www.jerryherships.com.