This gathering represented the third and concluding year for the "Wesleyan Holiness Study Project" -- a cooperative effort that brought together theologians, pastors, and leaders from ten denominations which stand in the Wesleyan tradition.
Our afternoon (keynote) speaker was George Barna --
He began by emphasizing that his research has convinced him that by-and-large:
- Americans do not understand holiness.
- Americans do not desire holiness.
- Americans do not pursue holiness.
- There is a "remnant" who gets it, wants it, and seeks it.
- Together, we can foster a hunger for holiness.
This is the current spiritual environment in America, despite the witness of scriptures such as Lev. 19:2, "Be holy because I am holy."
When first asked to contribute to the holiness project, the following grabbed his attention:
"...the essence of holiness is Christ--likeness" (Holiness Manifesto draft).
Surprizingly, there was virtually NO research out there on the topic of holiness. From a statistician's perspective, this usually indicates that no one gives a rip about the topic.
Despite this prior lack of interest, a 1000-person samply (i.e. survey) was conducted by Barna of average American adults. The findings:
- 50% know somebody they believe to be "holy."
- 21% believe that they are holy.
- 73% say it is possible for someone to become holy (regardless of their past).
- 35% believe God expects them to become holy.
Barna then went on to share the...
10 Top Reasons why Americans are NOT obsessed with holiness:
- We are ignorant of its meaning (top answer: 21% don't know what it means. Relatd to the connection between 'holiness' and the 'Holy' Spirit, most people don't believe the Holy Spirit is personal, but rather a 'symbol' of God's power and presence, etc.
- We are distracted and seduced by the enemy of holiness (note: many people do not believe in a personal devil -- thus, there is no enemy of God). The average adult spends 6 hours per day absorbing the media (e.g. music, movies, TV). This statistic does NOT include online porn, gambling, etc. Parents today are increasingly abdicating the raising of their children to the "culture."
- Holiness fosters a need for continual repentance. 80% of prayer is spent telling God what we want from him, rather than listening to him, enjoying him, etc. Less than 1 out of 10 adults practice fasting. We are also addicted to 'cheap grace.' A mindset has developed and emerged: there is NO absolute standard God has for me, there are only 'suggestions'.
- Introduces accountability for the bearing of spiritual fruit (i.e. evidence of transformation). Roughly 1 out of 4 believe a person must be in a community of faith in order to become a mature Christian. Churches are by-and-large NOT in touch with how their people are maturing in their faith. In part, this is because they are measuring things other than this (e.g. attendance, conversions, # of groups) -- "you will become what you measure."
- It embraces a biblical worldview. Only 9% of Americans have a biblical worldview. Only 13% believe the bible is the course of absolute moral truth.
- It's an open-ended process, not a closed-ended (i.e. fulfilled) destination. Only 1 in 6 say their faith is #1 in their life.
- Holiness places others above oneself. Less than 4 out of 10 say they commit personal time to making the world a better place. Most believers do not believe they are responsible to share their faith with others.
- One must recognize that God, not us, is in control. Less than 1 out of 10 born-again households tithe. 1/3 of all born-again Christians believe that Jesus committed sins. And here is the priority of how people choose to see themselves today: 1- as an individual; 2- as a family member; 3- as a citizen; 4- as a consumer; 5- as an employee; 6- as a follower of Jesus Christ.
- One admits that the difficulties in life are valuable. Most Americans do not see hardship as an opportunity for growth.
- Success is obedience. Success is NOT linked to one's relationship with God -- it's not the way Americans think.
This IS hope, however. There ARE spiritual-remnant people out there...
THESE are the "Revolutionaries".
Who are these Revolutionaries?
- People who place God first in their life.
- People who want more of God, not less.
- People who will do whatever it takes.
- People who are taking responsibility for their spirituality.
- People who want to BE the church, not simply go to church.
- They are NOT anti-church, isolated believers, a 'cult', etc.
The Magnitude of the Revolution:
- Depends how you measure it. There are simply not many people INSIDE churches who meet the criteria of revolutionaries.
- More than 20 million adults presently.
- Growing -- more expected on ongoing basis.
7 Passions of a Revolutionary*:
- Intimate worship.
- Faith-based conversations.
- Intentional spiritual growth.
- Resource investment.
- Spiritual friendships.
- Family faith.
* Barna explains each of these in his book, Revolution.
Barna then explained that most revolutionaries had a life-changing experience that transformed them into passionate followers of Jesus, but were discouraged by church leaders who did not share their passion. Rather than encouraging these revolutionaries to run with their dreams and pursue their passion (for the lost, the kingdom, etc), they were commonly told to "get on board with what WE are doing." Although many tried, they eventually left their traditional churches and aligned themselves with what Barna identifies as...
- House church
- Home school
- Marketplace group
- Prayer group
- Short term missions
- Christian arts
- Spiritual disciplines
- New models emerging all the time!
How can we support these pioneers, these revolutionaries?
Revolutionaries and Holiness: How Should We Respond?
- We CANNOT be all things to all people. We must be willing to make strategic decisions. Invest in our strengths.
- Change comes from modeled behavior. People are watching us. We must not squander this opportunity/responsibility.
- Behavior follows beliefs.
- We are incapable of appropriate chang without the power of God working in us.
- You get what you measure. If you measure attendance, that's what you'll get. We must measure what matters.
- Brokenness and submission to God -- FAR TOO FEW understand or practice this.
Personal note: it was encouraging to see so many pastors and leaders from holiness denominations being so open to what Barna shared. And when viewed in concert with what Kevin Mannoia had shared earlier (i.e. holiness flowing simply from our spending time "with" Jesus), it seemed that the heart of the holiness message we have been working to articulate actually stands quite nicely in solidarity with much of what characterizes the revolutionaries that Barna spoke of. If we succeed in fostering a hunger for holiness within our congregations that reflects the tenants of the Manifesto we developed, strategic partnerships with these 'revolutionaries' will undoubtedly take place in carrying on the ministry of Jesus in our world.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.