Okay I admit it, I am confused. Maybe a little more than that. I am stupefied and astounded at the strange conversations of American churches and Christians.

I read a lot of blogs. I catch the latest and greatest debates on hipster pastor Mark Driscoll’s Calvinism versus the Arminianism world; Rob Bell’s love heaven and Francis Chan’s rebuttal on hell; the Mayans’ Armageddon, and the left, right and Christ of political conversations in the Church.

“Who would Jesus vote for?” Wait, heaven is a democracy, right?

Every side has a scripture to back up their claims, every party adamant about their views. What I don’t hear much of as hot controversial discussions are what I consider the more important of Jesus’s last commands, namely, go, therefore, and make disciples among every people, tribe, tongue and race. I mean, they’re on the table, but hot topic? Nah, not really.

That won’t get your blood pumping, now will it?

It’s all a tough pill for me to swallow. Really? Is this what matters? Are these the conversations of a vibrant, growing church, or are they the products of the supposed post-Christian era of America?

Out of context, I know, but Death Cab For Cutie’s lyrics seem apt anyway: “It’s like a book elegantly bound but in a language that you can’t read just yet.” I sense the anthem of that lyrical melody sung to me by millions of western Christians, good-hearted and sincere, to be sure, just slightly skewed in my humble opinion.

Or worse, irrelevant and ridiculous. But can I really be that honest here?

Here’s the problem—and perhaps somewhat of a disclaimer for my contemplations: I grew up my adult life outside America. Though I was born and raised in a Christian home in Arizona, I was bit by the mission bug early in life. At age fifteen, I went on my first mission trip to Russia with Teen Mania Ministries. The following year, Hong Kong and China, followed by India. At age eighteen, I bought a one-way ticket to China, and pioneered the beginnings of a mission organization my wife and I established called Within Reach Global. So I have been out of the mix for a while, and the conversations of American Church relevancy have continued in my absence.

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I speak fluent English, but I’m still struggling with my American. Especially American Christianese.

The flashing lights and big sound systems of churches in America always dazzle me. I am privy to them when I travel back to America to raise funds for Within Reach Global. I see the sexy graphics on the big screen, gaga over the sleek mic setups of well-dressed pastors, and cringe a bit at the mint church structures.

It’s all a bit too perfect for me. It’s all a tad too sterile. But, disclaimer: that’s just me.

I’m a little confused. I’m just trying to figure out if that is the kind of church that I should be planting in Southeast Asia.

A chicken scampers across the floor. Baby cries and grandma shouts. We’re doing church on the border of China and Vietnam in a small Yao village where one of our church plants is located. It’s new and raw and oh so wonderful. It’s just the way I like to do Church: with lots of background noise. The presence of God falls among a tribe that until recently had never even heard what a Jesus was. They fall in love with God. There are no lights and keynote presentations. The strumming of a guitar, slightly out of tune, and singing off key, permeates the village home.

I think the Holy Spirit can appreciate the bareness of this church. That’s not to say that he doesn’t appreciate the sincerity of believers in mid-size or mega churches as well. God loves worship in spirit and in truth, but I don’t think he’s overly concerned with brand of sound system or tech, quality of graphics and perfectly scheduled services.

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“The perfect church service would have been one we were almost unaware of,” said C.S. Lewis. “Our attention would have been on God.” He also said something to the effect of “99% of all church services are but a feeble attempt at worship.” I tend to agree. We want God to show up in our services, but sometimes he is simply stifled by the program and time restraints.

Is it okay to question the validity of modern approach to Church life? Euripides thought so. “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.”

I don’t have an answer. This is more of a rant than anything. But in the end, I believe God is doing a redemptive salvation work in the nations that cannot be overlooked, and most certainly cannot be placed in perfect packaging with how-to instructions that we as humans often try to do.

David Joannes
Founder/President at Within Reach Global
David Joannes is the co-founder and president of Within Reach Global, Inc, which serves the advance of the Gospel in some of Southeast Asia’s most difficult places. He is the author of The Space Between Memories: Recollections from a 21st Century Missionary. David has a love for language, culture, and creative writing, and for the last 20 years, he has witnessed God’s Kingdom established in forgotten parts of the globe. David lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Lorna, and their daughter, Cara.
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