Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Check Your Brain At The Door

Does this really happen in churches?

Can I say that my interpretation of this is not that people are stupid, quite the opposite actually. I think a majority of the people in our pews are quite intelligent. I had a guy once that was laity in my church where I was leading a Bible Study that tried to look at old stories that we had always heard in new ways. The purpose was to really challenge our understanding of scripture, God, faith, etc... This dude, we'll call him the Fonz, was an awesome older gent. He knew more Old Testament stories and chronology that I did after a Religion degree and a Masters Degree from Divinity School. That's not saying I'm dumb, but he had the memory of an elephant and he was passionate about the bible and the OT specifically.

He didn't check his brain at the door, but he did refuse to challenge his beliefs of his literal and traditional understanding of the OT scriptures. It was a constant debate between him (representing the traditional understanding of say the creation story), and me (representing the views of the bible study material that the group picked to challenge us). I don't blame the Fonz at all for not challenging his held beliefs, I think the problem is that growing up the church(es) he was a part of made him check his critical thinking skills at the door (represented here by the brain).

I use him as an example of a bigger problem I've encountered in Christians. The Fonz was awesome! He was one of those RARE people that you could sit and debate with for an hour and then you could walk out of the room with him and talk lovingly about our families and lives like nothing had just happened. But I've found that kind of person is RARE!

I've been thinking, If I were to start a "church" ( I use that term loosely because I don't think anything I would want to start would look anything like what most of us think of as "church"), It would be centered around teaching people to think critically about the bible and their faith from the ground up! That means beginning with kids! I know they haven't developed critical thinking skills yet, but how would you prepare them? How would you get them ready to use those critical thinking skills in "church" when they DO develop. I think that teaching children would look a LOT different than the programs we see in churches today!

I say this to point out that somewhere along the way, I'm not sure where exactly, people stopped applying critical thinking skills to their faith. They stopped asking questions! Being critical (I mean that in the most academic sense of the word) about what they were being taught in church somehow became taboo. It's almost like after the leaders of the reformation era died, no one stepped up (or at least it was few people) to take their place and to continue to challenge the Church and her teachings. Where is our Martin Luther? Where is our Roger Williams? Where's our Ulrich Zwingli and John Knox? Could I be one? Not sure! Will you be one????

Graphics by ASBO


  1. Justin, check this guys' blog out. It is truly the "other side" of the church...


  2. Awesome ideas J. Critical thinking -- where is that in "our" church these days? I always asked Mom the questions from the backseat of the car on the way home. I vividly remember gaining the guts to ask right about the time we got to your current place from ABC. But, if asking was encouraged, oh where could my faith be now?

    Luke is 4. Amber is 2. Can't you get this thing going before they get too mixed up? I know you are young. I pray (like right now) that you have great mentors.

    So go - like now. j/k - well, sorta. You & A are gifted in so many ways.

  3. Hey Justin... I really like this post.. great comments... exp. on how and what we should be teaching children in the church... I mean... we spend so much time trying to entertain them and keep them pacified that they really do not catch onto anything worth meaning- and as a fellow youth pastor I can honestly say from experience- that they reach youth group and if we teach them something of meaning- challenging their faith- we are failing in our jobs- but if we entertain them we are doing a great job and people are happy- how long can the entertaining go on? Where are the Martin Luthers' and the Roger Williams' of our day?- Not doing anything because they are too "happy" in the church that they do not know that they even have something worth challenging... I hate to see so many youth leave the church for college and once there their faith gets challenged for the first time and is found lacking- and we complain that there are too many falling away from the church in college, we ask what can we do?... I think the answer is right in front of us...

  4. Lawrence,
    Well said my friend. That's one of the reasons that I totally revamped my youth ministry (and even overall ministry philosophy) from the event-based to a relational-based ministry. A ministry that encourages them, and to an extent, forces them to engage in critical thinking in order to get something out of it because I was there to "Teach" (in the truest sense of the word, not just impart knowledge), and true learning is often overshadowed by entertainment and "events". Not that having "events" aren't important; they can help form community...but a majority of the "events" I now believe should be of a missional nature. Specifically, mission experiences that inform the learning and that put actions to the things that we are teaching. the foundation however was relational...that's where it started and that's where it all came back to because a lot of that "teaching" or "challenging them to think about their faith" happens outside of the prescribed "Youth time". It happens in conversations...not just with the youth minister, but also with each other! It's a slow process, but it produces a deeper faith...and the youth aren't just coming to be entertained, they are coming because of the sense of community and because of their hunger.

    I'm not saying that this is the end-all 100% correct approach, and should always be challneged and not used as a template for youth ministry. However, It has worked for me and my ministries, and I've been doing that type of ministry for the last 6 years. They are finally having books out about it now. some good ones are: "A new kind of Youth Ministry"(Folmsbee) and "the Godbearing Life" (Dean and Foster)

    So I agree with you completely. I think that we need to tackle this idea of teaching critical thinking skills not just when they develop the skills (middle schoolish on average), but finding a way to naturally lead into this from the cradle up in a more organic and holistic idea of Christian Education in our churches!

    Thanks for commenting, and thanks for reading! I see you've got a lot going on at the creek from your blog! Good luck, and feel free to jump into discussion at any time. I value your opinion!!!
    peace and love