Category Archives: “We Need Boring Christians”

The Radical Movement needs a Complementary Pastoral Movement

Radical Christianity, Western/Suburban-Style

Christianity Today has published an important essay by Matthew Lee Anderson on a movement of sorts now underway in American evangelicalism. Church leaders like David Platt, Kyle Idleman, Francis Chan, Shane Claiborne, and Stephen Furtick are calling for a radical commitment to the commands of Christ in their writing and preaching.

Their books are bestsellers.

And many of the churches they lead (or have recently led) are of the “mega-” variety.

Radical is marketable.

Now, radical is also quite biblical. My own preaching has comprised serious, hard calls to sacrificial discipleship. I am not interesting in calming down rhetoric emphasizing the totalizing demands of following Jesus.

But I have had some questions… and so has Matthew Lee Anderson.

I have written on the radical rhetoric before here at the blog:

The Un-Romance of Radical

“The Dangers of Radical Continued… Spiritualized Escapism”

And I also wrote a piece at Relevant Magazine called “We Need Boring Christians” (with an altered version appearing later in their print edition)

These posts and articles were my attempt at trying to think aloud about what made me nervous about the popular trend of “radical” Christianity, as well as what seemed good and true.

Anderson is doing the same thing, and I am impressed with his essay. He does not attack the “movement” of radical Christianity. But he does press some issues, including the awkwardness of the massive, megachurch platforms from which some of the movement’s leaders are promoting the cause. He also wonders about the standard feature of happy-ending narratives resulting from radical sacrifices without the inclusion of raw, sorrowful narratives… which are equally (and sometimes more) valid. And it seems a little suspicious that a faithful blue collar worker who rises every day to face the daily grind gets little attention.


Pastoring Radical

In this post, I would just like to say that calls to radical obedience from megachurch pulpits or from a bestselling paperback require a significant amount of pastoral care and wisdom that those mediums cannot provide.

I spent three years as a college pastor in Birmingham while David Platt was preaching through the material that coalesced into his book Radical. A lot of my pastoral energy was focused on the fallout of those challenging calls: self-righteousness associated with going on mission trips or working with the poor; attempts to implement strategies for engaging serious socio-economic issues in the city without guidance from folks who have been silently working in urban contexts for years; guilt experienced by those whose vocational interests lie in the medical profession, teaching, or accounting—but not overseas mission.

I don’t blame Platt for any of this, of course. And what a blessing to get to work with people whose passion for Christ have been ignited!

I am just wanting to reinforce the point that calls to radical Christianity require extensive pastoral guidance. The prophetic outcries of books rouse souls. Prophetic preaching from megachurch stages stir hearts. But the ignited flames need to be properly fueled and carefully directed, a task left not to authors and popular speakers, but to uncles, parents, Sunday School teachers, close friends, and yes: pastors.

So if there is indeed a radical movement, let’s also start a complementary movement of wise, practical mentoring and pastoring.


Collin Hansen on Place and Mobility

Readers familiar with Hopeful Realism will know that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the motivations behind our travel-oriented mission jaunts (the most recent reflection is here).  To be absolutely clear, in no way do I wish to provide justification for someone to just deny a call to embark for an exciting and difficult ministry.  The heart behind the “We Need Boring Christians” articles with Relevant is to offer a corrective to motivations sourced more in popular culture than in divine calling.  To do something epic and awesome is in the air.

"The Stay-Home Generation" by C. Hansen

Then again, mobility among young adults is decreasing.  In my circles as a former college pastor, overseas adventure was often the rave.  But Collin Hansen has been studying reports that mobility among young adults has actually decreased.  In a piece at The Gospel Coalition, he provides theological reflection on this sociological phenomenon.  In an economy that makes leaving home more bracing, he observes some redemptive treasures available to the “stay-home generation,” like the commitment to place and the daily experience of the (sometimes unexciting) relational ties at home that contribute so powerfully to our growth as Christians.

Check it out.  Worth the read….

Revisiting the “We Need Boring Christians” article with Relevant (part 2): STAGE OF LIFE

[This post continues a new series of reflections on my online and print articles with Relevant Magazine on missions, travel, and staying put.  Click here for the 1st post.]

Life-stage.  I am thinking a lot today about where we are in life and how that impacts our vocational thinking.  I remember as a zealous 20something looking with contempt on the settlers.  You know, the responsible, dull adults who had settled for the settled life.  The immobility of it all seemed so stifling.  The conversations seemed so… normal.

I got married.  I had a kid.  Another kid.  Another.  And yes, one more.  Four kids.  That’s 80 finger- and toenails that need cutting.  That’s 200 band-aids a year.  That’s 20 lbs. of cutlery, dishes, pots and pans to wash every day.  When you have kids, your stuff (you know—the possessions you need to be ready to forgo in an instant at Jesus’ call), it all stuff gets multiplied ad nauseam.  Moving requires more than a pickup.  My spirit cracked inside in 2006 when I realized in the heated moment of loading a 25′ U-Haul that I had more stuff than could fit in a 25′ U-Haul.

Having kids means you have to have a stroller.  Two of them—if you want to go off-road, you gotta have a “jogger stroller,” okay?  Don’t forget the baby bed, the baby furniture, the diaper-changing table… geez.  It really is too much.  Our baby-culture is surely partially sponsored by furniture, toy and baby retail companies.

But think about the bikes.  Bikes are necessary, right?  Remember all that bike-riding you did as a kid?  How free you felt with the wind whipping through your locks sailing down the street singing Bon Jovi or Michael Jackson (okay, that was my decade, maybe not yours)?  When you’re a parent, you can’t deprive that thrill and freedom of your kids, right?  But to let them have the freedom of those two wheels, you have to shell out more cash.  Even used bikes can be pricey.  So you need a job for buying things like strollers and bikes.  And for crying out loud, you need a garage or a shed or something for storing all the bikes and scooters.  But you need a bigger car to haul everyone around in with their bikes, which will share space with the car in the garage.  Of course, you will likely run over one of the bikes with the new car and have to replace it (the bike) and fix the car.  Better make sure the job is a good one… and hopefully one with good insurance since your kid is definitely going to go from bike to dirt at some point.

Clipping tiny toenails off squirming toes, cleaning the junk that leaked out of the diaper, pumping up bike tires, sweeping up the garage you keep the bikes in, making mac’n’cheese and then picking up the mac’n’cheese that splattered to the floor and cleaning all the plates the mac’n’cheese stained happy yellow before carting off some of the kids to soccer or gymnastics or church or a friend’s house, all the while trying to pay for your own house without faulting on the mortgage since you just bought a car and some bike… the settled life.

Pick up and move overseas?  Global missions?  Leave everything and move to the Sub-Sahara?  Jettison all the stuff?  Look, it’s not just generic stuff anymore.  Among the flotsam and jetsam is that red flyer tricycle with the dinging bell your toddler wobbled all over the driveway on, the stroller your baby used to fall asleep in on your neighborhood walks, the outdoor playset where your daughter got the arm-strength to be a champ in gymnastics….

Life-stage. It affects how we think vocationally.  And it should.

That does not mean that we cling to the stuff and squelch any calls to abandon the settled life.  Not that all the reasoning governing the developments above are justified.  But when you are 25 and unburdened with childcare, untrammelled by the need to buy hordes of mac’n’cheese and the pots and dishes to cook and serve them in, then it is easier to cast a wistful eye to the beckoning horizon.  And when those of us settlers trammelled and burdened by kids and boxed noodles look to the horizons, we often ache harder for an outbound flight than the 20something… we just lack the energy and freedom from responsibility to leap.

My wife and I leapt.  Seven months ago.  We moved overseas.  Not to the sub-Sahara, okay.  But we moved.  Hardest thing I have ever done. I am still wondering at times if it should have happened.


I saw a number of comments attached to the online article at Relevant expressing concerns that my words would allow folks to remain in their settled lives.  My hope is that those of us in the settled life would realize how noble that calling can be.  I also hope the article might call the unsettled to see more of the broader picture, the complexities and motives that need to be weighed for outward journeys to bear long-lasting fruit.  One of those complexities is life-stage.

I love my stage of life.  I am trammelled and burdened joyfully.  My wife and I are living the dream as parents.  It is, however, the most exhausting, most stressful, most anxious time of our lives heretofore.  It could be much worse.  The stage of life has brought marital strife for many, and a child with a serious illness can elevate the stress and anxiety to barely bearable levels (PB & WB: you are our heroes).

But here is what I am wondering in the midst of it all: What does faithfulness to Jesus and the Gospel look like for families with small children?  How do we think vocationally about this life-stage?  Does stage of life affect calling?  The vocational image of a young man or woman living solo in a slum was once my ideal.  Is that valid now?

What say you, dear readers?

Revisiting the “We Need Boring Christians” Article (part 1)


Six months ago published my article “We Need Boring Christians.”  They re-published it on the site in December—seems as though was one of the most shared articles on their site for 2011.  I had no idea the reception would be that strong.  I suppose a nerve was struck.

We Need Boring Christians

In this series of posts I am responding to the responders who added their comments in the discussion thread (I know, I am a little late!).  Relevant‘s forthcoming print edition for Mar/Apr will have a revision of the original article, so I am blogging about the whole concept to make sure I do not exclude myself from the conversations being generated.





A Complementary Voice vs. an Alternative Voice

First, it is important for us to distinguish between alternative and complementary voices.  An alternative voice is one you listen to instead of another.  A complementary voice is one you listen to alongside another.  My intention in these articles is to offer more of the latter than the former.  There are many solid voices out there calling for radical discipleship and global engagement.  Wonderful!  My message is not designed to replace those exhortations to set sail for distant shores.  My message is intended to harmonize more than create dissonance.  What I think I am adding to the mix is a call to sobriety about the grim realities of “the nations” we so easily generalize and romanticize.  I am also calling for some serious self-evaluation.  Plane tickets are easy to come by these days—so easy, in fact, that we often check our luggage before we check our motives.  Listen to the call to board, yes…

…as long as you are also listening out for the call to go back home.

More is coming….