Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barna Survey Results...

Thanks to Bill Reichart over at Provocative Church who reported about a new survey completed by George Barna's organization.

Here's an excerpt from the report:

"People were more than 50% more likely to say that their church’s congregation is their most significant group than to say that God represents their most important personal connection. That certainly reflects the interpersonal comfort that millions of people have developed at their church, but also indicates that people may have forgotten the ultimate reason for belonging to a Christian church."

The author of more than three-dozen books about faith, culture and lifestyles also noted that most Americans - even a large majority of born again Christians - struggle to think of God as a living partner in their life. "There’s an intellectual and even theological assent to the notion that God is real, He’s alive, He influences their life, and that they owe their eternal security to Him," Barna commented. "But when you get people at ease, rather than in a religious setting or in a theological context, and explore the relationships that define and direct their life, the born again public does not seem to share much intimacy with God. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Christians could get this Easter is a deeper or renewed sense of connection with God, and a passionate determination to make more of the opportunity they have to know and be known by the living God." (emphases mine)

These are some disturbing and intriguing results. As I stopped to consider how I would have answered that survey, I really wasn't sure. I guess a lot would depend on how the questions were worded. If I thought that God was included in the group that the questioner was asking about, I think that I would have probably pointed to Him as my most vital relationship, but I also think that it would be easy to separate God from consideration in the question.

Personally, there probably isn't anyone that I talk to more than God. I'm really not bragging (trust me, I have no room to brag), but I have found that I have a constant stream headed His direction.

I remember one time I was angry at God and had determined that I wasn't going to talk to Him. Then I caught myself blathering on and on just like always. My mad self reminded my talkative self that we weren't talking to God, to which my talkative self replied, "Says you!"

Still, I understand the disconnect that many born-again, evangelical Christians experience. So often that conversation seems one-sided. So often our experience as born-again evangelicals is vastly different from the experiences of those that we read about in the Bible. Where is the power that we are supposed to have? Why aren't we changing the world? Why does it so often seem like when we pray we are talking to ourselves? WHY DO WE LOOK SO MUCH LIKE THE WORLD?

Oh boy. I'm afraid that the answers to those questions probably won't fit into one sentence - probably not even one blog post... written by someone really clever, who is really in touch with God, and has figured out that whole "walking on water" thing. (Er, in case you were wondering, that's NOT me.)

But where do we start to unravel this puzzle? Perhaps Barna's comment is a good starting place: "the born again public does not seem to share much intimacy with God."

Intimacy with God. That's a tough one. I have been a Christian for 20 years this month (happy birthday to me!) and I have yet to achieve a lasting, utterly fulfilling, truly deep CONSISTENT AND ENDURING friendship with God. I have had moments of it, caught the briefest fragrance of it during different seasons, but it is something that has eluded me. How does someone become a friend of God? How do you achieve that place of deepest intimacy where God speaks with you face to face as He did with Moses and Abraham?

Certainly it must involve spending time with God in prayer and in Bible study. That seems assured, but there are people who do these things religiously and are no more intimate with God than I am with the wife that I don't have. (The Pharisees of Jesus' time come to mind.) There must be more to it than that.

Of course, I have also experienced God by doing acts of charity and evangelism. This also seems a reasonable course, but then again there are many altruistic folks out there who are not in any kind of relationship with God and many evangelistic practitioners that don't seem to have a particular depth of relationship with God.

Perhaps another factor in this whole problem is our culture's addiction to entertainment, materialism, and hedonism. These things seem to cause more distraction than benefit. How many church folks wouldn't dream of missing the ACC basketball tournament, and wouldn't think twice about missing church to go? How many Christians allow work to become so all-consuming that they sacrifice prayer time or devotional or even family time to it? How many believers would rather spend 3 hours watching TV than 1 hour praying and reading the Bible? Our lives are so filled with stuff and activity that there is no time for us to be still enough to hear God's voice in our lives. When we do sit still we either fall asleep or can't focus our thoughts because our minds are over-stimulated.

One other key was also raised by Barna: "people may have forgotten the ultimate reason for belonging to a Christian church." We aren't supposed to go to church to develop business connections. We aren't supposed to go to church to meet boys or girls. We aren't supposed to go to church to do our religious duty for the week. Church is all about worshiping God and experiencing Him through the interactions that we have with each other, the songs that we sing, the prayers that we offer, and the messages that we hear. Yet I fear that worshiping God has taken a back seat to all of the other stuff going on.

Of course, I could push it a little further and suggest that the ultimate reason for being a human, let alone a Christian, at all is to worship God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
(or as brother Piper says, "Man's chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.")

We are saved to set us free from the bondages that keep us from fulfilling our purpose in life. It is time that we took full advantage of the grace afforded to us by Jesus' death and resurrection and pursue the enjoyment of God as we were created to do.


Wade Huntsinger said...

Wow, that's a lot of thinking and much information. I do agree that perhaps we have the wrong idea about church. Church to me is 7 days a week, but there are those times in which we come together and worship together. You gave me a lot to think on.

dp said...

Excellent post. There's so much there. Let me pick out one part to comment on:

"Perhaps another factor in this whole problem is our culture's addiction to entertainment, materialism, and hedonism."

I believe that materialism/greed is so interwoven in our society that we don't even recognize it. When's the last time you heard a sermon on greed? When's the last time there's been an altar call to repent of selfishness and materialism? Sure, we can all point to sexual sins as something to repent from...that's an easy one. But we don't even see our own materialism as a big stumbling block.

Here's one thing God pointed out in my life...and I'm not free from it yet. I am addicted to ease. Yep...I want everything to be easy. It's all about me. The line in the grocery store should be short. Cars shouldn't drive too fast or too slow around me. I want easy exercise. Easy meals. Easy job. Cleaning should be easy.

When it comes down to it, materialism, hedonism, entertainment, and ease all comes down to basic selfishness, which is in direct conflict with everything that Christ taught. It ain't about us once we've been bought.

Jonathan said...

OUCH! I've officially been nailed on my own blog! Good one DP, and man am I guilty of that one. I whine to God all the time about how HARD everything is and "Why does everything have to be such an almighty challenge?"

Anonymous said...

Don’t believe one optimistic word from any public figure about the economy or humanity in general. They are all part of the problem. Its like a game of Monopoly. In America, the richest 1% now hold 1/2 OF ALL UNITED STATES WEALTH. Unlike ‘lesser’ estimates, this includes all stocks, bonds, cash, and material assets held by America’s richest 1%. Even that filthy pig Oprah acknowledged that it was at about 50% in 2006. Naturally, she put her own ‘humanitarian’ spin on it. Calling attention to her own ‘good will’. WHAT A DISGUSTING HYPOCRITE SLOB. THE RICHEST 1% HAVE LITERALLY MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. Don’t fall for any of their ‘humanitarian’ CRAP. ITS A SHAM. THESE PEOPLE ARE CAUSING THE SAME PROBLEMS THEY PRETEND TO CARE ABOUT. Ask any professor of economics. Money does not grow on trees. The government can’t just print up more on a whim. At any given time, there is a relative limit to the wealth within ANY economy of ANY size. So when too much wealth accumulates at the top, the middle class slip further into debt and the lower class further into poverty. A similar rule applies worldwide. The world’s richest 1% now own over 40% of ALL WORLD WEALTH. This is EVEN AFTER you account for all of this ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS from celebrities and executives. ITS A SHAM. As they get richer and richer, less wealth is left circulating beneath them. This is the single greatest underlying cause for the current US recession. The middle class can no longer afford to sustain their share of the economy. Their wealth has been gradually transfered to the richest 1%. One way or another, we suffer because of their incredible greed. We are talking about TRILLIONS of dollars which have been transfered FROM US TO THEM. All over a period of about 27 years. Thats Reaganomics for you. The wealth does not ‘trickle down’ as we were told it would. It just accumulates at the top. Shrinking the middle class and expanding the lower class. Causing a domino effect of socio-economic problems. But the rich will never stop. They just keep getting richer. Leaving even less of the pie for the other 99% of us to share. At the same time, they throw back a few tax deductible crumbs and call themselves ‘humanitarians’. Cashing in on the PR and getting even richer the following year. IT CAN’T WORK THIS WAY. Their bogus efforts to make the world a better place can not possibly succeed. Any 'humanitarian' progress made in one area will be lost in another. EVERY SINGLE TIME. IT ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK THIS WAY. This is going to end just like a game of Monopoly. The current US recession will drag on for years and lead into the worst US depression of all time. The richest 1% will live like royalty while the rest of us fight over jobs, food, and gasoline. So don’t fall for any of this PR CRAP from Hollywood, Pro Sports, and Wall Street PIGS. ITS A SHAM. Remember: They are filthy rich EVEN AFTER their tax deductible contributions. Greedy pigs. Now, we are headed for the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time. Crime, poverty, and suicide will skyrocket. SEND A “THANK YOU” NOTE TO YOUR FAVORITE MILLIONAIRE. ITS THEIR FAULT. I’m not discounting other factors like China, sub-prime, or gas prices. But all of those factors combined still pale in comparison to that HUGE transfer of wealth to the rich. Anyway, those other factors are all related and further aggrivated because of GREED. If it weren’t for the OBSCENE distribution of wealth within our country, there never would have been such a market for sub-prime to begin with. Which by the way, was another trick whipped up by greedy bankers and executives. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. The credit industry has been ENDORSED by people like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGenerous, Dr Phil, and many other celebrities. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. Now, there are commercial ties between nearly every industry and every public figure. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for their ‘good will’ BS. ITS A LIE. If you fall for it, then you’re a fool. If you see any real difference between the moral character of a celebrity, politician, attorney, or executive, then you’re a fool. No offense fellow citizens. But we have been mislead by nearly every public figure. WAKE UP PEOPLE. THEIR GOAL IS TO WIN THE GAME. The 1% club will always say or do whatever it takes to get as rich as possible. Without the slightest regard for anything or anyone but themselves. Reaganomics. Their idea. Loans from China. Their idea. NAFTA. Their idea. Outsourcing. Their idea. Sub-prime. Their idea. High energy prices. Their idea. Obscene health care charges. Their idea. The commercial lobbyist. Their idea. The multi-million dollar lawsuit. Their idea. The multi-million dollar endorsement deal. Their idea. $200 cell phone bills. Their idea. $200 basketball shoes. Their idea. $30 late fees. Their idea. $30 NSF fees. Their idea. $20 DVDs. Their idea. Subliminal advertising. Their idea. Brainwash plots on TV. Their idea. Vioxx, and Celebrex. Their idea. The MASSIVE campaign to turn every American into a brainwashed, credit card, pharmaceutical, love-sick, celebrity junkie. Their idea. All of the above shrink the middle class, concentrate the world’s wealth and resources, create a dominoe effect of socio-economic problems, and wreak havok on society. All of which have been CREATED AND ENDORSED by celebrities, athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, attorneys, and politicians. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for any of their ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS. ITS A SHAM. NOTHING BUT TAX DEDUCTIBLE PR CRAP. In many cases, the 'charitable' contribution is almost entirely offset. Not to mention the opportunity to plug their name, image, product, and 'good will' all at once. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. These filthy pigs even have the nerve to throw a fit and spin up a misleading defense with regard to 'federal tax revenue'. ITS A SHAM. THEY SCREWED UP THE EQUATION TO BEGIN WITH. If the middle and lower classes had a greater share of the pie, they could easily cover a greater share of the federal tax revenue. They are held down in many ways because of greed. Wages remain stagnant for millions because the executives, celebrities, athletes, attorneys, and entrepreneurs, are paid millions. They over-sell, over-charge, under-pay, outsource, cut jobs, and benefits to increase their bottom line. As their profits rise, so do the stock values. Which are owned primarily by the richest 5%. As more United States wealth rises to the top, the middle and lower classes inevitably suffer. This reduces the potential tax reveue drawn from those brackets. At the same time, it wreaks havok on middle and lower class communities and increases the need for financial aid. Not to mention the spike in crime because of it. There is a dominoe effect to consider. IT CAN'T WORK THIS WAY. But our leaders refuse to acknowledge this. Instead they come up with one trick after another to milk the system and screw the majority. These decisions are heavily influensed by the 1% club. Every year, billions of federal tax dollars are diverted behind the scenes back to the rich and their respective industries. Loans from China have been necessary to compensate in part, for the red ink and multi-trillion dollar transfer of wealth to the rich. At the same time, the feds have been pushing more financial burden onto the states who push them lower onto the cities. Again, the hardship is felt more by the majority and less by the 1% club. The rich prefer to live in exclusive areas or upper class communities. They get the best of everything. Reliable city services, new schools, freshly paved roads, upscale parks, ect. The middle and lower class communities get little or nothing without a local tax increase. Which, they usually can't afford. So the red ink flows followed by service cuts and lay-offs. All because of the OBSCENE distribution of bottom line wealth in this country. So when people forgive the rich for their incredible greed and then praise them for paying a greater share of the FEDERAL income taxes, its like nails on a chalk board. I can not accept any theory that our economy would suffer in any way with a more reasonable distribution of wealth. Afterall, it was more reasonable 30 years ago. Before Reaganomics came along. Before GREED became such an epidemic. Before we had an army of over-paid executives, bankers, celebrities, athletes, attorneys, investors, entrepreneurs, developers, and sold-out politicians to kiss their asses. As a nation, we were in much better shape. Strong middle class, free and clear assets, lower crime rate, more widespread prosperity, stable job market, lower deficit, ect. Our economy as a whole was much more stable and prosperous for the majority. WITHOUT LOANS FROM CHINA. Now, we have a more obscene distribution of bottom line wealth than ever before. We have a sold-out government, crumbling infrastructure, energy crisis, home forclosure epidemic, 13 figure national deficit, and 12 figure annual shortfall. The cost of living is higher than ever before. Most people can't even afford basic health care. ALL BECAUSE OF GREED. I really don't blame the 2nd -5th percentiles in general. No economy could ever function without some reasonable scale of personal wealth and income. But it can't be allowed to run wild like a mad dog. ALBERT EINSTEIN TRIED TO MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND. UNBRIDLED CAPITALISM ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK. TOP HEAVY ECONOMIES ALWAYS COLLAPSE. Bottom line: The richest 1% will soon tank the largest economy in the world. It will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The American dream will be shattered. and thats just the beginning. Greed will eventually tank every major economy in the world. Causing millions to suffer and die. Oprah, Angelina, Brad, Bono, and Bill are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE HUMANITARIAN. EXTREME WEALTH MAKES WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. WITHOUT WORLD PROSPERITY, THERE WILL NEVER BE WORLD PEACE OR ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL. Of course, the rich will throw a fit and call me a madman.. Of course, they will jump to small minded conclusions about 'jealousy', 'envy', or 'socialism'. Of course, their ignorant fans will do the same. You have to expect that. But I speak the truth. If you don’t believe me, then copy this entry and run it by any professor of economics or socio-economics. Then tell a friend. Call the local radio station. Re-post this entry or put it in your own words. Be one of the first to predict the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time and explain its cause. WE ARE IN BIG TROUBLE.

Jonathan said...

You really should start a blog! Did you breathe when you wrote that? I'm tired just reading it!

I'm not sure what that has to do with this post, but thanks for sharing.

There is no doubt that there are big problems in our country. Greed has become a huge factor, and I fear that God is going to judge it soon. I pray that repentance comes first. I have a weird mixture of optimism and pessimism about the chances of that...