It's been a few weeks since I attended the Q Conference here in Austin. If you don't know, the Q Conference is a TED-inspired gathering of thought leaders in the Christian world who come to hear from a variety of voices--both in- and outside the Christian realm--who have something to show or teach us as leaders of those who follow Christ.
My experience of the conference was quite different from most, or so I gather from blog posts and conversations with others who attended. While there were many great moments and some truly fascinating presenters (special kudos to Shane Hipps, Alan Hirsch, and John Burke, for example), the conference left me with a lingering and uneasy dissonance. Over the last two weeks, the dissonance has settled out into two general critiques, not of the event so much as of the state of the American church in general. I'll list them here as general observations:
* We're still far too detached from and scared of the culture we live in. So many of the presentations at Q focused on a wide assortment of techniques and strategies and ideas for ways Christians can "engage the culture." But we fail to see that the problem isn't our strategies; it's where we're standing. We Christians talk about culture as something that is "over there," while we stand "over here" in our self-protective Christian safety zone and poke and prod the "culture" with a stick like some kind of wild animal we strongly suspect to be rabid and a little put off with us besides. You want to follow Jesus? Leave your culture and get into theirs. Simple? Yes. Messy? You bet. Courageous? Is there any other Way?
* We (apparently) aren't yet willing to really step out of our comfort zone and listen to people who have things to say that the church needs to hear. The speakers were great, but in my opinion they were largely pretty safe choices. Ted Haggard and his wife were the one clear exception to this. But I didn't hear anything that I would say was really "out of the box"; that really challenged my paradigm or forced me to ask questions I tend to avoid. Where for example, was the voice of church leaders from the 3rd world, who are in many cases suffering under conditions of extreme poverty, disease and religious persecution? What might they have to say to the church in the West? Where was the voice of the gay community, to tell us how the message of the gospel, as we have presented it to them, has actually impacted them and their capacity to believe in a God who loves them? Where was the voice of the Muslim leader to tell us how the church in the West looks to their eyes? Where even was the voice of our Catholic brothers and sisters in the faith? What amazing learning we are missing out on, it seems to me.
Again, there were some great moments at Q, and many truly brilliant people offering their gifts. But isn't true leadership about inspiring one another to live beyond our sated comfort zones, and the willingness to really listen and learn from those who do not see the world as we do?
1 day ago