October is a month for a “small group immersion” for the two churches I serve. It is the second time this year we’ve had this kind of experience. As many who read this already know too well, it is difficult to get folks to commit to the 30+ week studies that were more common in years past. Today, it seems the magic number is 6 as the majority of small group studies and resources are published in 6-lesson units. What this says about our society and collective attention span is for another day…
My caffeinated God-talk that I generally have with folks in small groups is going to need a few extra shots of espresso this month because I somehow managed to find myself facilitating 3 small groups over the next 5 weeks. More challenging is the divergent nature of the three studies: Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel; The Reason for God by Timothy Keller; and, Revelation – Unraveling God’s Message of Hope by Ben Witherington.
I began my prep work on the studies in August…more than once asking how in the world I got myself into this. The answer was simple: I love getting to know folks in small group settings and it is especially rewarding to see people’s lives changed – sometimes drastically – by the experience.
Over the past several weeks as I’ve read and re-read the materials, I realized the largest part of my prep work was preparing myself for the crunky questions that studies about nominal Christianity, doubts and objections to Christianity and the Book of the Revelation will always generate. You know them…we’ve all asked them (though, maybe not out loud):
· What does it mean to have a relationship with God or Jesus? I’ve always thought knowing about them was enough.
· If God is so good, why does God allow such bad things to happen? Especially to the faithful?
· Isn’t the Bible mostly myth? Why should I pay attention to a piece of literature written by people who believed the heavens were a dome of fabric stretched from horizon to horizon, holding back waters on the other side? [Genesis 1:6-7]
· What does it mean when we say, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”?
There are many more crunky questions, but these give you an idea. In the event you may not have ‘crunky’ in your lexicon, I like one of the definitions in the online Urban Dictionary. According to that source, ‘crunky’ is a combination of grungy, clunky, and funky.
These questions are grungy in that there are rarely any nice, neat answers. The answers tend to have sharp edges and rough surfaces. They are clunky because they are also often oversized, awkward to explain, and difficult to transport from one person to another. Finally, they are funky because they can do funky things to relationships, teachings received much earlier in life, and all unquestioned assumptions regarding faith, life, death, scripture, etc. Crunky.
In nearly 30 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve observed many mainline Christians (including pastors), given the choice, will avoid crunky questions at all costs. Usually this is because their previous experience with such questions included inadequate and/or dysfunctional conversations and answers. Sadly, when we avoid these crunky questions, we don’t allow ourselves to wander into the spiritual territory that is most likely to grow our faith and transform our lives assuring ourselves that faith need not grow and our lives need not change.
Here’s the problem…or, at least, my problem…I sometimes forget crunky questions have crunky answers. I occasionally fall into the trap of thinking my job is to come up with a concise, comforting, non-abrasive, salve-like answer. Experience has shown me, time and time again, that those kinds of answers only further crunk-ify the original question and, perhaps, my relationship with the questioner. And so, as I prepped for these studies, I developed a new mantra: Embrace the crunk…lean into the crunk…become the crunk! Never run away from the crunky…you only rob yourself and others of opportunities to grow and change into the likeness of Christ.
Your crunky prayers for me in the coming weeks, as always, are appreciated.