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Sunday, January 8, 2012

On the words "friend" and "agenda"

            A few times when explaining what church as Jesus taught his disciples, in comparison to what believers in this culture now mean by the term, the idea comes up that words like “church”, “preach”, “apostle”, “pastor”, and the meal/Lord’s Supper/Love Feast, etc. meant very different things to the early believers then than what the terms mean now, and that the change in meaning over the centuries did and does not change what Jesus and the writers of the books of the New Testament meant then. 

            That, though, is different from a word changing in meaning in our own day.  I have been realizing over the past few weeks that the meaning of the word “friend” has significantly changed.  For those who ignore what is happening on TV, or specifically commercials selling alcoholic products, one might pass over the commercial for 1800 featuring the 30 to 40 year old Italian-American looking man in a suit making some subtly cynical, but clever comments on a subject.  In one, he speaks about everyone having 762 virtual friends, but that he isn’t sharing his tequila with 762 other people.  In short, he is making a point; the meaning of the word “friend” has changed, and for some of us who are older (and I’m plenty well older than the actor in the commercial), this is an unpleasant realization.  It took me a while to even sign up for Facebook, and for a year, the only people I have invited as “friends” are people who are my friends in the former meaning of the word.  Recently, I have broken down and submitted to the new Facebook definition of the word, which is anyone who will approve my friend request.  The computer makes suggestions.  Many of those persons are people who, if I was in the same area, would be my friends in the former sense of the word, and may become friends over time, via this communication medium, even though they live far away.  One gets a few names that, after seeing their sites, don’t exactly fit.  Overall, the computer has really not given that many errant suggestions.

            One problem is that I don’t have a word to replace what I used to mean by the word “friend”.  That’s part of the kicker in the tequila commercial—other people don’t, either. 

            One of my recent discussions brought up another word that can be misunderstood.  This word is “agenda”.  I probably wouldn’t bring this up; if it wasn’t that I have a story from about a decade that revolves around the word “agenda.”

            In the late 1990’s, I spent some time concentrating on giving some of my time to honor Jesus on a certain secular private college.  Approximately 25 years before, the college was in poor financial and academic shape, so the college hired a man who was a respected educator in that state.  It so happened, that he is a believer, who is part of a traditional denomination which is known for everyone being quite stoic.  To that effect, one of the things he did was to invite a certain Christian parachurch organization which works with junior high and high school kids, to teach about their program.  This, over the years, has attracted more than a secular school’s normal share of Christian students.  Also, where this college is geographically in its city is such as to limit the college’s growth, so that over time it not just stabilized, but became a somewhat elite college, in the sense that, at the time I was around there, the average liberal arts college accepted students from the top 51% of high school grads, and this school was accepting students from the top 21%, and was crawling up about another percent a year.  In other words, this college had an unusually large amount of students who really desired to live for Jesus, and had an intellectually above average student body.

            They had two evangelical student groups, who were about as far different as they could be.  One, which supposedly emphasizes the importance of leadership, had an adult leader who was by trade an attorney, came on campus two evenings per week when school was in session, and he controlled their meetings.  Further, this organization emphasized an evangelistic technique which most of us believers know, if it did work at a point in time, had worn out many years previously.  On the other hand, it might not have been a student organization at all if it wasn’t for having an attorney volunteer his time, in that the college saw no need for more student organizations, but as a private college probably didn’t want to spend precious funds to have a court fight that they just might lose.  This organization had a few students who were involved with it.

            The other student organization had almost all the Christian students involved with it, including some from the small one.  They had an adult staff person who was just a couple of years out of college himself, and he lived within walking distance to campus.  When he found that there were places on campus he couldn’t get to without a student ID, he signed up for a class, and now, in the administration’s eyes, he was part of the college, unlike the attorney.  While he was the supposed leader of this campus’ chapter of an international student organization, he did his leading day by day.  If one went to their meetings, the students shared in leading these.  Maybe once per term, he would actually speak at a meeting.

            The students in this group, which because of the features I described made up 10 to 15% of the students, planned a special event made to be a kind of soft sell evangelistic thing to the other students.  They planned it out to happen about two weeks before final exams, which would make it the last special event of the term before everyone had to crack down on final projects, papers, and the exams.  This was a difficult school, and those last two weeks, the whole school was quiet as a library (ok, except for music department, and art people running machine shop equipment).  I wish we in the church could always do things as well as this, but few of us are that talented.

            The point of this is that the third time they did this, Mike, the organization’s staffer, made one of his rare speeches to the students one week before the event.  I am sure he knew that, this time, one of the students, who prior to faith in Jesus had a high school and first year of college social life that was described by the phrase “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” would climax the evening telling his story of coming to follow Jesus.

The main phrase Mike would use in his short talk was, “We have an agenda.”  In our culture, that phrase is used with derision, that the person isn’t dealing with people directly.  Mike was pointing out that while everyone desired to follow Jesus, and do this event such that it was enjoyable for all, it wasn’t being done just to be enjoyable, so to do this overt presentation of the message of Jesus, was really the point, even if it would end the use of this method to contact others in the college.

            As humans, we all have agendas.  Some of them are basic.  I like to eat, sleep where it is comfortable, and have freedom.  It would be nice to have enough money to occasionally do something for fun, but if it’s a choice between obtaining money unethically and having fun, or living to follow Jesus and not, I’ll take the latter.  Maybe I have agendas that I don’t realize.  I realize that I’ve been hurt my fellow believers, maybe intentionally, but probably not, for their attempting to run their programs.  I am not upset with those persons, BUT I highly encourage others to not throw money at helping such things continue. 

            I read in some book about simple churches that one leader broke them up into three groups.  One of the groups, which the writer labeled as the least effective, was one made up of older believers, who maybe had either more training or education or experience with western traditional church, and understood in detail why they came to not be part of that system.  That writer is probably right, and, unfortunately, I fall into that category.  Understanding that doesn’t make me younger or less doctrinally knowledgeable or any other quality that the writer said makes for growing simple churches.  As I see it, is like cheering louder or less in front of my TV doesn’t make my favorite team play better, worse, or different.  All I can do is attempt to live to honor Jesus with my life, and know I do so imperfectly, and not dwell on the imperfection, and keep going.

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