By Jeremy | September 15, 2011
[Ed. note: published in the October 2011 issues of Tristate Voice and Love Express.]
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.â€ â€“ 2 Chronicles 7:14
What if the antidote to a self-obsessed, hyper-branded, me-first culture isnâ€™t more mega-ministries?
What if itâ€™s not customer service desks in church lobbies catering to consumer-driven church shoppers? Â What if arena preachers and sub-culture rock bands fuel the look-at-me virus rather than compel us to look at Him?Â What if, rather than stem the tide, churches have become propelled by it?
In the last thirty years, American evangelicalism has manufactured more larger-than-life personalities, corporate marketing, and self-improvement hype than ever before.
We parallel a cultural narcissism that accelerates at a dizzying rate â€“ 140 characters at a time on Twitter and elsewhere.
What if the Church became countercultural instead?Â What if churches and church leaders embraced a dose of old-fashioned humility?
Like the humility described in the oft-quoted passage from 2 Chronicles 7:14 promising national forgiveness and healing.Â The kind marked by associating less with logos and egos, and more with a God who calls and brands us as his own.
Often overlooked in the Chronicles passage is the conditional nature of its promise.Â Forgiveness and healing are not guarantees â€“ even when we pray and seek his face and turn from wickedness.
The underlying condition: church people who HUMBLE themselves, exchanging their names and brands for His, seek His face rather than promoting theirs, and turn from wickedness, including cultural obsessions with self.
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our nationâ€™s history, New York City glimpsed what this kind of humility looks like.
The gathering to commemorate 9/11 was simple.Â Reaching Out: A Sacred AssemblyÂ was organized in six weeks by a visionary associate pastor from a neighborhood church in Manhattanâ€™s lower east side, and a team of selfless volunteers.Â Three years earlier, just after his ordination, he envisioned his congregation and others in the neighborhood uniting as one Church to lift up one Jesus in their shared community.
As they would reach out to each other, Pastor Louis Carlo of Abounding Grace Ministries reasoned, in humility they could reach up to heaven and out to their neighbors.
He let the vision germinate for two years, then presented it to his senior pastor and three neighborhood colleagues in the fall of 2010.Â Two prayer and worship gatherings followed.Â The third was overdue.
On July 28, Pastor Lou and a friend were praying in an otherwise empty, seldom used amphitheater at East River Park along the FDR Drive.Â He left with a sense that the next Reaching Out prayer and worship gathering should be there, where church people could gather in a public space and declare with one voice the Lordship of Jesus and His selfless love for New York.
He was also persuaded to invite other churches from the city, not just his neighborhood, and to convene on the eve of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Some members of his team called the idea insane, because how could any right-minded pastor expect to produce a citywide event in six weeks, when four and a half of those vacation-filled weeks were in August?Â His response: if one man or ministry couldnâ€™t pull it off, then maybe God would be glorified.
Undaunted, he led, and the pieces fell in place.Â Neighborhood, city, and even national ministries embraced the eventâ€™s nameless, faceless vision.Â Sixty ministries showed up, and thirty-five ministers â€“ many of them â€œlegendsâ€ within evangelical Christendom â€“ led prayer, read scriptures, and reflected from the platform.Â They were given the pulpit for 60, 120, or 180 seconds.Â Almost all of them stayed on time.Â Not one of them was introduced.
In their obscurity, Godâ€™s name and face was the only one that mattered.
What if the antidote to cultural narcissism is a Church that reflects and promotes Christ alone?
Imagine the possibilities.
- Jeremy Del Rio is trying to figure out what this kind of humility looks like. He still blogs (â€œin pursuit of authenticityâ€) atÂ JeremyDelRio.comÂ and tweets @JeremyDelRio. For info on future Reaching Out gatherings, visitÂ reachingoutnyc.com.
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