Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Branded Blog Tour: The Q&A With Tim Sinclair

If you haven't yet read Branded Blog Tour: The Basics, please start there first.  This is a Q&A I had with the author regarding my concerns with several of the suggestions made in chapter 13 of the book, Branded.  My words will be in plain font, his will be italicized.  I hope you find the discussion interesting. I certainly enjoyed participating in it and am thankful to Tim Sinclair for his willingness to interact.

He prefaced his return email by stating, "Anything in life, when taken to an extreme, can be harmful...and the same goes for many of the "white board" ideas expressed in Branded. It is possible for any of these thoughts to be taken out of context, used to the point of detriment, or implemented by people who might not be "ready." However, the "What If?" section is solely intended to push people out of their religious ruts. To encourage thinking beyond what has become simply traditional and toward what is strictly biblical. As I stated in the book, all of these will not apply to each individual reader. Most likely, just one or two will. But my hope is that the exercise of thinking these things through will inspire people to act and not just be.

My dad, grandfather, and uncle each are (or were) I have great respect for the local church, as well as an intimate understanding of what is involved in ministry. I didn't intend to imply that people should stop going to church, or stop tithing, or stop reading their Bibles...but thought it helpful to give people permission to occasionally do so when the situation called for it. You've no doubt read the story in Matthew 12 about Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Jesus told the Pharisees, essentially, "Look, there are times when the immediate needs of people, right now, must be addressed - regardless of the law."

Now, to answer your specific questions...

Before we move onto the specific questions, I'd like to respond to the above. My issue comes from the mixing of what is merely traditional with that which is strictly Biblical.  It is Biblical to connect weekly with a church body, it is Biblical to support your church via offerings, and it is certainly Biblical to read your Bible daily.  There are times when that does not or cannot apply but the implication that it's mere tradition and not strictly Biblical is a problem for me.>

On to the questions (Note: These questions are taken from Branded, chapter 13)>>

2. What if we created our own, personal churches for the next month?

I became a Christian as an adult. I have been in the legalistic Go-To-Church-Every-Time-The-Door-Is-Open-So-You-Can-Check-Off-A-Box church and think I may understand what you're trying to say here. Church can become a routine where we go, sit, leave, and feel good about ourselves. While I love some of the specific suggestions you share in this section, I believe they would tend to cause a person or family to become detached from their church family. Those who would tend to take this kind of advice would typically be those who are not involved in serving on Sunday morning themselves (or they would hinder the ability of the church to serve by being gone for a month). When this happens (and I see it happen all the time), it is so easy for doubts and discontent to sneak in until eventually, they either leave their church family to find a new one or they leave the church altogether. I don't see this as being healthy for the person, the church body, or the "branding" of Christianity. We need each other and we're stronger together.

I am now the Senior Pastor's wife in a Church-Is-Important-For-Encouragement-And-We-Don't-Function-As-Well-Without-You-But-If-Your-Kid-Has-A-Show-Or-Your-Camping-With-The-Family-We-Understand-And-Need-To-Do-The-Same-Ourselves-Sometimes kind of church. We only have service on Sunday morning (with various small groups throughout the week). This is so that Christians have time to do exactly what you're promoting within this section- live life with your friends and family and neighbors, build relationships outside our comfort zones, be "Jesus with skin on". I love when you encourage "No agenda, no plan, just love." Amen, Amen, Amen! But isn't this something we can do better within the context of our local church family than on our own?

The encouragement here was to drastically and proactively look for ways to be the church, rather than simply go to one. Does everyone have a problem in this area? No. But my experience has been that many do. We tend to rest on the idea that our churches are going to do all of our ministry for us. It's easy to feel like we're answering God's call on our lives when we attend a church with lots of programs and ministry teams, regardless of whether we're an active part of them or not. I am of course not suggesting that we bail on meeting together as a body of believers, but am simply implying that something radical might be necessary to force us out of potential spiritual complacency.

We need permission to keep our eyes and our options open when it comes to how God might be leading us to reach out to those around us...even if that means missing church every once in awhile. (As an aside, if it's "okay" in your church for someone to not be there because of a family vacation or a child's activity, why would it not be okay to miss a Sunday periodically in order to seek out friends or loved ones who need to see God's love? Isn't that far more important than Disney?)>
Uh, it is fine and it happens all the time. I do it myself when the opportunity arises. We're in agreement with everything you said above. My concern was in the suggestion to be your own church for a month, not in giving ">permission to keep our eyes and our options open when it comes to how God might be leading us to reach out to those around us...even if that means missing church every once in awhile." I know from personal experience that the longer I am away from my church family, the more detached and discouraged I can become. The difficulties and the annoyances of a church family become bigger, and it's easier to choose to "go it on my own".  I need the connection and encouragement of my Christian family, I need the lyrics from the music that renews my soul, I need me some church. Sunday morning is partially about me in that I need to be refueled and refreshed (often in the act of ministering or serving others) so that I can then be the church.  (Obviously it's all ultimately about God.)  In my experience, a month is a long time and I wonder how many would still be being the church and not just being nice. Can't we be the church within the church as well?  It's not all about sharing our faith (although I understand this was the focus of your book), we are also to encourage and support and minister to one another.

4. What if we didn't write our tithe checks this week?

This one felt like a sucker punch. The world as a whole tends to view "religion" as out for your money. It becomes difficult to ever talk about money within the church context. Here's the problem with this- it takes money to run anything in this world. You want toilet paper in the church bathroom? Yeah, guess what? That costs money. You want to do outreach to the homeless? Food ministry? A community center for young adults? Money.

I'd love to be all idealistic when it comes to this but the reality is that ministry costs money and the Bible does talk about giving offerings to the church weekly and caring well for your elders. I shouldn't have to feel guilty that I want my husband to actually receive his paycheck so that we can pay our bills and feed our children and see a movie now and then with the same friends you suggest we build relationships with. My husband and the church members who work with finances should not have to struggle to pay the church bills and be forced to make payment arrangements after the pastors' salaries and every extra in every ministry budget has been cut because someone suggested that not writing our tithe checks this week would not be "forsaking our respective churches". In an independent church, where every bill or payroll is supported by the offering taken on Sunday morning, it most definitely would. Having to call and make arrangements for the church to pay her bills is not good marketing and this suggestion merely increases that likelihood. As a church with many new believers for whom giving to the church is a tough concept to begin with (again, I became a Christian as an adult, it was tough for me too), this suggestion ruined the book for me. It's neither Biblical nor helpful in meeting the stated purpose of the book- marketing Jesus well. Instead it's harmful to those who are pouring their lives into attempting to do just that. It's hard to be "Jesus with skin on" when your time is sucked up by merely trying to make it financially day to day (and this is without fancy buildings, high salaries, or coffee bars).

Since I work for a ministry myself, I completely understand your concerns here. Yes, the world runs on money...and the Bible calls us to give our first fruits to God's work. Those who choose to be a part of a church with bills and staff and a building absolutely ought to be committed to helping pay for those expenses. However, again, I think we need permission to be open to God's leading in this area.

For example, several years ago a young man I was mentoring had his bike stolen. The son of a single mom, he needed his bike to get to school each day and his family didn't have the money to buy him a new one. In the interest of forging a better relationship with this Jr. High student and his mom, my wife and I decided to write them a check for a new bicycle. Did it affect our tithe to our church that week? Yes. Was it the right thing to do anyway? Was it "God's work?" I think it was. While I certainly can't speak for everyone in ministry, I can't imagine a pastor telling someone who financially supports his church, "I know there was an immediate and pressing need right in front of you, but you really should have given that money to me instead.">

I don't think any pastor worth his salt would consider it giving money to him. Has my husband ever told someone not to give their offering?  Actually, yeah, he has.  But to make a blanket statement in a book rather than a case by case basis is irresponsible, in my opinion.  I think we too quickly jump to taking the cost out of our offering rather than actually sacrificing for it, giving "over and above" our offerings as mentioned in the Bible.  And I really wish the "open to God's leading part" was present in the book.>>
Money is such a sensitive topic and those reading don't know me personally, so I'm afraid this section will across poorly.  We're not in ministry for money (hahahaha!) and I'm not after everyone's money but being in a church where we are doing pretty well in every area but finances, this got under my skin. If we want to re-brand Christianity, paying our bills and being faithful to care for our church family should be a part.>>>

6. What if we adopted a no-health-related-prayer-requests rule for a time?

Again, I think I understand your intent in this section. You mention these as sometimes superficial and you're encouraging us to share requests about our struggles and our sin. I appreciate this but I just happened to read it the day I discovered a friend of mine had breast cancer, as I was laying in bed reading due to an as yet undiagnosed health issue that has me extremely discouraged. My real struggles and temptations are health related. I'm realizing as I re-read that this is probably just a minor disagreement I would have overlooked had I not already been feeling distraught over the other two.

I think most people will agree that somewhat superficial health concerns (NOT cancer and the like) can often be the "default" when we're sharing our prayer requests. Instituting a so-called ban on health-related prayer requests for a week or two would simply force us to think beyond the obvious. It's not to say that health is not important...rather it's to say that our other, more intimate struggles are important too. It's really easy to focus on health needs because, primarily, they're out of our control. It's much tougher to admit, "I'm struggling with lust right now," because we're completely at fault for that. Refusing to admit our flaws is a huge problem in the church today, and my intent was to stimulate conversations that weren't as "fluffy" as they can sometimes be.>
Agreed.  Although I think we can go deeper even in the health issues.  My health problem is out of my control somewhat (I am learning what I can and cannot eat) but my struggles with anger and discouragement due to this is not. I understand your point though and agree completely, let's be real and let's ask for prayer for those things in which we really need prayer.

17. What if we didn't read our Bibles every day?

This one left me flabbergasted. I've never had anyone tell me they were struggling with reading their Bible too much. Once again, I think I can see where you're coming from because you talk about being bogged down in a routine and checking the little box. But to say "Are we simply pacifying our own guilt with a ritual that doesn't actually benefit us?" is, in my opinion, walking a pretty fine line. If your point is to encourage people to get out of a Bible reading rut or reading merely for the sake of reading, why not encourage them to try new things in their reading time? Audio Bibles, book studies, chronological readings, shorter passages, longer passages, a different translation-whatever. But as the Bible is clear that it is by the Word we are fed and encouraged and able to handle the stresses of life, I'm not quite sure where encouraging someone not to read it would be in any way helpful. And I know myself, just give me an excuse not to read, especially when I'm discouraged or angry or most in need of actually reading it.

The ideas you mentioned in this section are great, but to encourage people to set aside their food to get to work doesn't make sense. You must feed yourself in order to have the strength to run the race. I can't say I've ever fed myself too much Bible, much too often it's the other way around.

You're right, most people don't struggle with reading the Bible in excess...but it's not the amount of time that I'm challenging here. It's the routine of doing the same thing at the same time every single day, forever. Eventually, even the most disciplined people can start to get burned out. We gloss over what we're supposed to be learning for the sake of simply finishing. Many of the most accomplished musicians in the world, while they spend much time practicing and refining their skills, also take breaks - sometimes for days at a time. They get out of the studio and do something that allows their brains to work in a different way for a bit. Not only does it offer new perspective and energy right then, but it also helps make their rehearsal times in the future that much more effective. Are these artists still disciplined? Are they still committed to their art or craft? Are they still passionate? Of course.

This is one of those "what ifs" that isn't a permanent thing at all. It's simply an encouragement to do what it takes for an individual to be effective. If that means not checking the box next to your "required" reading for the day and doing something else God-honoring instead, so be it. Obviously, for those who are struggling to regularly read their Bible, this idea would do them no good at all. They have no rut to break out of. But, for others, I think it could be incredibly beneficial.>

I guess we run in different crowds.  I don't know the same thing same time everyday, reading in a rut people and I still don't understand encouraging people not to read their Bible.  The more I read, the less I understand but the more I know.  When I'm in a rut, the last thing I want to do is read my Bible but it's usually the one thing I need to do most.>

21. What if every church in America was open to the public seven days a week? What if they offered basketball or karate or fitness classes? What if they built an indoor playground for moms and their kids? What if they set aside land for hiking or skating or running? What if they offered it all for free?

I literally laughed out loud when I read this. And how in the world are we supposed to do this and offer it all for free when people are creating their own churches and not giving their offerings?

The outreach to the homeless, the food ministry and the young adult community center mentioned in my response to #4 are all things that people in our church family have a passion and a heart for right now and would love to do. The only thing stopping us? Money. And yeah, I know, if God wants it to happen He can work despite the lack of finances. But often He chooses to work through people. And I have to ask, how exactly do we do #21 if we're doing #2 and #4? I would love, love, love to do this. My husband has a passion for this and has actually done a lot of the groundwork for this. We want to serve our communities in out of the box ways. We want to live our lives as Christians and not be tied down to merely church on Sunday and the trappings of religion. But the truth is that many of these suggestions I've listed actually make it more difficult for the church as a whole to do the very things your book recommends.

Hopefully, in light of what I've already said about #2 and #4, this one makes more sense. However, you focused on the word "free" in my questions. And, while that would be wonderful, it's certainly not always possible. The indoor playground for moms and kids would have an initial expense, but if you charge a dollar or two for every admission or put a donation box on the door, there's no reason it couldn't pay for itself over time.

I guess it saddens me to drive around town and see giant church buildings sitting completely empty Monday through Saturday. Saying that we don't have the money to do it any other way is a flimsy excuse. If a church already has a gym, it costs little to no money to set aside "open gym" times for community basketball or volleyball. There's no expense in having people from the congregation lead free karate or fitness classes for people in the area. Opening your doors to be a polling place is free. Collecting food, water, and toiletries for families in need throughout the week doesn't cost anything either. Hosting a rollerblading/rollerskating night in the parking lot is free too. Churches who have acres of open land (like my dad's church in Austin, Texas) can make that available for picnics or hiking or kite flying at no expense. MOPS is a great program, run by volunteers.The list could go on and on. The bottom line is that there are options, and most churches haven't even begun to explore them.>
Yep, we definitely run in different crowds. ;-)  No giant church buildings here and no gyms but we do our best to use what we have.  We're far from perfect and could do a lot more but we do quite a bit of this type of thing on church property, in individual homes, and at the public beach. What we'd like to do is on a much grander scale and does involve money.  We'll see what happens, my husband has a pretty creative mind when it comes to working outside the box with these things.>

I hope some of this has shown you my heart behind the suggestions in Branded. And while we may not agree completely on all of them, I trust that we both understand how desperate the situation is. I think the discussion is healthy, and I'm trusting that these types of dialogues will spur many to share Jesus in ways that they might not have thought of otherwise.

Thanks again for your passion on this issue. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and reading your review.>>
My husband has a phrase he sometimes uses (frequently referring to me!), "Your baggage is showing."  We all have it.  Our own personal experiences in life leave us with a certain perspective from which we view life.  You mentioned this in your book when you stated that "...the lens through which we look at life affects everything we do.  It affects how we spend our time, how we spend our money, what we wear, what we drive, who our friends are, and even what we believe (and why we believe it)." It also affects how we write a book.  And how we read that same book.>>

Although we are both Christians who both understand the bad marketing that Christianity is currently presenting to the world, we see these suggested solutions through different lenses.  It would seem that you see through the world of large churches and career Christians who live the life "religious". I see the world though smaller churches whose hearts may be desperate for God but who are still learning what in the world it means to live and "market" Christ in a messy world.  We're too easily caught up in to this or that solution when the true one really is to be found in the opening pages of your book- "being personally branded by Christ...recognizing our own unique situations, talents, abilities- and then effectively use them to reach people within our individual spheres of influence."


Again, thank you for your willingness to have this discussion!>


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