Jim & Casper Go To College
November 17, 2008, 11:48 am
Filed under: college ministry, conference, denomination, friends

In keeping with my “blogging a week after stuff happens” schedule, I wanted to mention the annual fall conference for the network of collegiate ministries I work with.  We had college students from all over Washington, Oregon, and Northern Idaho, descending on the nearly non-existent town of Antelope, Oregon.  Actually, it’s more accurate to say that you go to the nearly non-existent town of Antelope, Oregon, and then you go another 15 miles down dirt roads into the wilderness.  It’s way way out of the way . . . apparently it’s a perfect place for a cult compound, if you’re an Indian guru.  But it’s also a great place for a Young Life Retreat Center.

We had the pleasure of being joined at this conference by my friends Jim Henderson and Matt Casper, co-authors of the book Jim & Casper Go To Church.  If you haven’t heard about it, here’s the gross over-simplification: a former pastor (Jim) and an atheist (Casper) become friends, and attend a bunch of the best known churches in USAmerica, along with a few you’d never hear of if they didn’t write about them.  Given my denominational affiliation, we knew it was a bit of a risk to bring them in, but one that was well worth it.  We believe that it’s more important now than ever before to understand the nature of the Church, especially if we’re going to get better at fulfilling our calling.  Jim and Casper were there to help us understand how and what we communicate to people who we would consider “outsiders” when it comes to church.

There were four sessions – each of which included about a 20-30 talk time by Jim and Casper, and close to an hour of Q & A.  There were a TON of questions, and some really good dialogue.  Now, I know Jim and Matt, and I’ve been able to see them do their thing a few times, so much of this was familiar to me.  But Matt also shared from some writing that he’s been doing recently.  In particular, he talked about having recently attended a big pastors conference, which had all the current rock star preachers there.  His review of that event was not that hot.  He made what I think to be a profound summary, though – he said something like this: “I went to this big thing to see the people that are supposedly the best at what they do, and basically what I got there was exactly what I had been expecting.  How to build a bigger church, a flashier church, a more recognizable brand.  But when I read the founder of your movement, the thing that sticks out the most to me was that he always did the unexpected – they expected him to fight, and he gave up; they expected him to play along with the religious system, and told them they were wrong, etc.  If you’re trying so hard to be like the person who did the unexpected all the time, why do I always get exactly what I expect out of you?”

That was one of multiple gems from the lips of someone who likes Jesus a lot, but doesn’t believe he’s God.

Jim also provided some helpful moments that several of the students mentioned to me later.  During one of the Q & A times, a student asked a question that had a few of our Christian code words in there – something about “hearing the call of God.”  Before letting Matt attempt an answer, he stopped, and said, “So Matt, when you hear that, it’s not about actually hearing an audible voice from God, it’s more like an inner sense of direction.  Does that make sense?”  That little moment of Jim having to translate for Matt demonstrated in real time for the students how much we use insider language, and the difficulty we can create for ourselves and others when talking about faith.

Jim and Matt, of course, both have a great sense of humor, and it was fun to hang out with them between sessions.  The students knew that this wasn’t a typical sort of “spiritual high” retreat, and that they were being asked to submit themselves to some discomfort, but they responded really well to it.  It was a good time, and hopefully one that will help the students more readily understand and engage their friends who don’t share their faith.


2 Comments so far
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sad I missed it

Comment by petey*crowder

Good post. When I was in Albuquerque, I hired spies from the “I like Jesus, but do not attend church” crowd to tell me their likes and dislikes about local churches, including ours. This is along the same lines of what I heard. I has caused me to deconstruct and rethink the mode and models of our gatherings for several years. Though I do not pretend to have all the answers, many things are becoming clearer–mostly, and despite what the church growth elite tell us, it looks like Jesus and the first disciples DID produce a reproducible model for making disciples.

Comment by jack

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