Monday, July 25, 2005

Getting on the Cluetrain and being ourselves

I'll confess that I am a fan of the Purpose Driven Life. I've enjoyed watching it arouse the ire across the spectrum -- from stodgy old mainline church practitioners who feel threatened by its immense popularity ("it's shallow" they say); from spiritual life advocates who worry about the "drivenness" of the title ("when can we be still and know that God is God"); from my paleoorthodox bretheren who critique the minutae of the book (and rightly so, but they forget that they could also find just as many things to critique in the writings of Spurgeon, Calvin, and Edwards -- any writer, if you look deep enough, has serious flaws -- that is why Scripture is our rule and guide for life, not the writings of men).

Sure, the book is flawed, but it has a lot commend it.

My issue is not with the book -- it is with the people who read the book (and the Purpose Driven Church) as a mandate to become a cookie-cutter of Saddleback church. Too many churches look for the "golden key" in a series of programs or a series of tricks. Too many churches take too seriously the concept of demographic marketing ("we have to find out what appeals to X population, and then do everything we can to make that appeal").

Anytime a church makes an appeal to a demographic more important than faithfulness to Christ, there is a problem. CS Lewis taught me (particularly in his great book The Great Divorce) that we are capable of making idols out of anything -- even good methodology.

That's why I find Evelyn Rodriguez' blog so interesting -- she is a branding guru, but she is sensitive to this issue. She demonstrates over and over again that branding isn't about controlling the conversation, it is about engaging the conversation as the authentic person that you really are. Her latest post "Signature Voices, And Perhaps What I Learned About Branding While Strolling Galleries" provides a vivid illustration of this from the art world -- each artist has a distinctive voice -- and so long as they remain true to that voice, they are distinguished and compelling and we listen.

In this same post, she directs us to the Cluetrain Manifesto, a 95 Theses to the corporate world. Again, the theme is authenticity and being yourself -- genuinely engaging in the conversation without concentrating on massive amounts of spin. Too often, we talk about Evangelism and Transformation as though it were some kind of technique that if we just mastered, people would come through our doors.

Yet the key thing expressed here is that we find our unique voice -- even if that voice is one of traditional music. Even if that voice is one of art and movies and books as illustration of timeless truth. Voice has nothing to do with the content of the truth, but merely the way in which we present it. The truths of scripture will remain timeless and rock-solid, but each of us will see application of that truth in a slightly different way -- and part of our calling is to tell the stories to one another.

For instance -- It is a timeless truth that God created the heavens and the earth. It is a timeless truth that "The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, and night after night they display knowledge." however Thomas Kinkade will shed light on this truth differently than the astrophysicist. And a good walk through the woods, with your ears attuned to the cadences of the cicadas, the sudden burst of flight from a bird, and the gentle rustle of wind through the leaves, will make my heart sing "gloria in excelsis deo" in yet a different way. (add to the list all the panolpy of artists and people who have reflected glory in so many different ways)

The point being, we each have been given calling and gifting by God to accomplish what we were created to do -- Bring Him glory. Yes we work this out in community under the authority of scripture and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but ultimately, we have a voice that is uniquely ours -- let us find it, and not try to steal someone else's.