Some more thoughts on the Jesus Movement

Since my previous blog posts on this topic, I’ve had some interesting discussions, online and in real life, with people whose experiences during that time were far more positive than mine. Putting that together with discussions that I’ve had over the years with pastors and leaders about how to be better prepared for the “next Jesus Movement”, here are some things I’ve been mulling over, in no particular order of importance:

People are far more important than things.

Chuck Smith was willing, if necessary, to sacrifice the church carpet in order that hippies would feel welcome. What are we willing to sacrifice? What if it was our church’s elaborate sound systems, multi-media, and smoke machines? What if it was wasn’t so much things but our church programs? What if, for example, in order to reach a certain subculture, we needed to welcome large families with children of all ages into our church services, instead of practicing age segregation?

Before and during the Jesus Movement, it seems like we spent a lot more time at church.

On Sundays, we went to Sunday School, and then the morning service. Later, we went to the evening service, followed by youth group or an “afterglow service”. The evening service was more informal, and “testimonies” were an exciting part of it. When my father was pastoring in Big Bear, he formed what he called a “combo” (a sort of precursor to worship bands) that practiced Sunday afternoons and then led the singing during the evening service, which was soon filled with young people.

But church and related Christian activities didn’t just fill our Sundays. There was Tuesday night prayer meeting and Wednesday night Bible study. In Big Bear, a young couple from our church held a youth Bible Study (I was too young to attend) that literally overflowed their home one night a week. Once we moved, many of our Friday nights were youth nights at church. The Bible Rap met on a different night. Spending five or more hours at church on Sundays, and three evenings a week at church or related activities was not at all unusual.

Would we be willing to prioritize our time like that today? Which of our current activities would we be willing to sacrifice? How important do we believe it is to assemble together as the Body of Christ? Are we gathering now to pray for the next Jesus Movement?

The “Jesus People” were enthusiastic about personal evangelism.

That enthusiasm was so catching that weird, shy, social misfit me handed out tracts and “Jesus Papers” at school, took part in a door-to-door witnessing campaign, and tagged along with other people sharing their faith. I knew kids who “went out witnessing” at least once a week.

What are we doing? What are we willing to do?

Testimonies are powerful.

The reason many of the Jesus People so eagerly talked about Jesus is because He was active in their lives. We may not all have dramatic initial conversion stories but our lives should be stories of ongoing conversion as we follow Jesus and allow Him to change us.

I have a lot of theories as to why so many of the kids that I knew “fell away”, and there might be almost as many reasons as there are kids, but I think a lot of it has to do with relationship — not just relationship with God but with His people.

During the roughest parts of my life, including the times in which my relationship with God was truly faltering, there were people who stood in the gap for me — people who prayed for me and loved me even when I was not the nicest person.

New converts need discipling and mentoring. Jesus gave us the example — the crowds that gathered about Him came and went, but He continually taught and equipped the twelve disciples. Eleven of them went out and changed the world.

Who are we pouring our lives into?

It’s usually not a good idea to give new converts a platform or leadership role.

In fact, the Bible warns against this. Common sense tells us that a teacher should be catechized, instructed, and taught how to teach, and a leader should likewise be taught and mentored. Jesus’ disciples didn’t just “go to school” for three years; they lived and ate and ministered with the perfect Rabbi — God incarnate — for three years.

Christianity is extremely “incarnational”.

God became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus resurrected bodily, and still exists in bodily form. We believe in our own bodily resurrection, and thus we should believe that our bodies, and what we do with them, truly matter.

When I was an evangelical, I gradually became both puzzled and amused at how disembodied our worship was. We would sing “let incense arise” without incense. We would sing “Come let us worship and bow down” without bowing, and “let us kneel before the Lord our God” without kneeling. Somehow we thought we were doing these things without actually doing them, and supposedly what our bodies actually were doing wasn’t so important. People got annoyed at me if I brought up this disconnect.

As human beings, we are not spirits inhabiting bodies, but both body and spirit. As those whom Christ has bought with a price, we are one with Him and one with His Body. It is a mystery to be sure. But our faith, our worship, our obedience, everything we do — it needs to involve all of us. We aren’t disembodied spirits worshipping God merely in some spiritual sense. We are living sacrifices, and our bodies belong to the One who saved us. Holiness involves our entire being.

That’s how we need to live.

Faith Journey | Crisis in 11th grade

My junior year of high school was a bleak, discouraging time indeed. It seemed as if everything converged together to make my life sad and difficult.

I started the school year while still recovering from a serious illness, during which my weight had dropped to 80 pounds. My mother’s neuromuscular disease progressed to the frightening point that she was bedridden, and I lived with the dread of losing her. In the middle of that already difficult school year, my father changed churches, which meant another move. I stayed with a dear friend during the week to finish out the school year, and my father picked me up every Friday so that we could spend weekends together as a family.

But there was more.

As I’ve blogged in the past:

Back then, and for… many years afterward, I was hiding a deep dark secret, one so deep and so dark that I could only cope by refusing to think about it, by pretending it away. That didn’t work well. As a teenager, I was filled with the constant, overwhelming sense that there was something very much wrong with me, but I had no idea what — and I never connected that sense with the hidden burden I carried. Fear, shame, and secrecy had become a way of life for me. So had a form of denial so profound that it was almost as if I’d created an alternative reality for myself…

One of my former teachers, Mr. Bottaro would often stop me on campus and ask how I was doing. He never believed my polite responses or automatic answers. “No, really,” he would insist, his eyes trying to search mine for the truth. “Come up to my room and see me,” he would urge, no matter what I answered. I knew he saw…something.

Finally I decided to take him up on his offer. I would sit in front of him, let him look in my eyes, and tell him that there was something terribly, seriously wrong with me but I was too afraid to try to think about it. Surely he would be able to figure it out. That was my plan, anyway, to beg him to help me, when I arrived on campus early one morning. I was on my way to his classroom when another teacher stopped me with devastating news.

Mr. Bottaro was dead of a massive heart attack.

For much of that school year, I felt as if I was drifting along in somewhat of a foggy stupor. I felt on the outs with God, to the extent that I actually tried to make up my own religion, one with an impersonal god. Needless to say, I found nothing remotely comforting about my pretend construct.

When my despair seemed overwhelming, God would send me rays of light in the midst of my discouragement. My father was a loving, accepting, and reassuring constant in my life during that tumultuous time, kind of like a Rock of Gibraltar, only far more comforting. Plus, I had some truly wonderful friends. One of my classmates was Catholic, and I met a young priest from her parish who came on campus at lunch time just to hang out with some of the students. His kindness and compassion — and the fact that he looked like a kid himself — left a huge impression on me. And I couldn’t ignore the fact that no other pastor or youth pastor was visiting our campus.

But the youth pastor at our new church, and his wife, loved me — they loved our entire youth group deeply and personally — despite my sometimes off-putting and prickly ways. In fact, they are still dear friends to this day.

Somehow I survived that year. I went to summer camp, re-dedicated my life to Christ as so many of us did, and went on to have a wonderful senior year of high school, my only year at a private Christian school.

But I was still carrying around deep, hidden wounds, as much as I tried to ignore them away. The idea of trying to get help had died with Mr. Bottaro.

“Jesus Revolution” — some thoughts

This post is an edited version of my comments to a recent Facebook discussion of the movie.

I just watched the movie last night. Yes, it seemed well done and compelling, and it filled me with nostalgia, but there were some areas where I wish they had been more accurate.

I’m not sure why they chose to cast Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee as decades older than they actually were, and I thought this added a kind of weird dimension to the story. Chuck Smith was only 40 at the time, and he wasn’t some cranky old boring guy. Lonnie was a kid, not someone who was so much older than most of the hippies that he seemed like a has-been himself, or some weird hanger-on who, instead of acting his age, was trying to pretend he was still cool.

So I found that aspect a bit jarring and distracting. I left the movie trying to figure out what the main message or even the main story was. Was it that Lonnie had issues with pride and tried to take over? Was it the “theatrics”, that things would have all been fine if they had just stuck to the Bible and left out the healing stuff? Was it that God can use anyone, from brand new converts with major issues to elderly, boring preachers? Or was the real story the romance between Greg Laurie and Cathe, and the “Jesus Revolution” was just a backdrop to that?

I was a a young teenager during the early 1970’s, and I was hugely impacted by the Jesus Movement. It was an exciting time. But I saw most if not all of the hippie kids “fall away” afterwards. I think one of the big reasons is because — as the movie showed — so much was based on feelings and finding a replacement for drugs. So many kids I knew would go on and on about “getting high on Jesus” or about how the music made them feel, or about how Jesus was the most far-out guru ever. Also, many of the well-meaning Christians who ministered to the hippies ended up catering to them, changing church to attract and suit them, watering down the gospel, and not emphasizing the need for all believers to walk out a lifestyle of repentance, and to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Once the “high” wore off, many of these hippies simply went on their hippy ways. The root causes of their rebellion and lack of purpose had never been fully addressed. For every Greg Laurie who managed to make it despite being thrust into leadership as an unqualified, unschooled, newbie convert kid, there were all sorts of similar stories where the kid crashed and burned and took a bunch of other kids down with him.

The huge “falling away” after the Jesus Movement shook a lot of us to our very core. It took me until later adulthood to realize how much a truncated version of the gospel, a focus on emotionalism, and a lack of emphasis on spiritual growth and maturity played a role in that.

I think sin was not, as a whole, addressed enough during that time. And it was a major issue. Promiscuity among the hippies was far more extreme than in the youth of today. The Bible describes rebellion as a “sin of witchcraft”, yet this sin was rarely preached against and was often coddled if not encouraged. (For example, rather than modeling respect for elders, some Christians adopted and encouraged the hippie’s lack of respect.) Many hippies survived on the streets through panhandling, thievery, drug dealing, and even prostitution — suffice it to say that sin was rampant. The mistake of many who wanted to attract hippies is that they presented a false view of Christianity. It’s not all about replacing the cross with a dove, or about cool music that makes you feel good, or about feeling accepted just the way you are. It’s not about turning church services into something that is “culturally relevant” and makes us feel good.

Deny yourself. Take up your cross daily. Be holy as Jesus is holy. His way is narrow.

The Epistles warn the church leaders not to be too quick to lay hands on someone and have them step into leadership and ministry. The story of Lonnie Frisbee should serve as a cautionary tale, only the movie didn’t tell the whole story. This young kid may have been able to attract a crowd and God may have used him, but he disqualified himself when it came to ministry. He divorced his wife and eventually died of AIDS. His story, because of his popularity and influence, is dramatic. But he’s not the only one thrust into some sort of limelight he couldn’t handle, while living a double life, and who never gained the victory over sin that is possible for those who, day after day, walk in the humble repentance and self-denial required of us.

Unfortunately, the movie didn’t offer itself as a cautionary tale. I’m not sure what message we were supposed to take away from it. Yes, it was a trip down memory lane for people like me (although I would have preferred more of that rather than the romance — perhaps the movie is really Greg Laurie’s “love letter” to his wife?) but I’m not sure what young people of today are supposed to take away — other than that churches need to change and embrace their culture, rather than requiring anything of the young people themselves. And I’m not sure that is a good message for these times… or any times.

Edited to add:

While most of the “Jesus People” that I knew left their Christian life, that was obviously not what happened to everyone. This article is one of many that describes what a huge impact the Jesus Movement still has to this day.

Faith Journey | Summer Camps

Summer camp — and also winter camp, but to a lesser extent — became a huge part of my life beginning after 8th grade. My father had joined some of his pastor friends to organize dynamic youth camps for young people and these men, as well as friendships I made, had a powerful impact on my life.

My brother and some of his friends went away for a week at the high school camp and came back dramatically changed. Kids found Christ, gave up smoking and drugs, and insisted their lives had been completely transformed. One Sunday night at church, we had “camp echoes”, and each kid shared their testimony. It was electrifying! I couldn’t wait for my turn at camp a few weeks later.

It didn’t disappoint. Hardly any kids from our church went, but the experience was wonderful. I left feeling revived and “on fire for Jesus”, ready to bring Christ — and the Jesus Movement! — to my junior high school. (Considering I was a weird, easily intimidated shy kid, this was pretty amazing.)

Some of the high school kids with the dramatic testimonies joined the hippie group I wrote about previously. All of them started coming to church regularly. Unfortunately, a number of them “backslid” to one degree or another once school started back up in the Fall.

Even though my “re-dedications to Christ” didn’t always stick very well for very long, at least not with the same fervor and intensity, the time spent at camp shaped me in significant ways. I still remember some of the sermons and Bible studies. Thousand Pines and Forest Home hold myriads of memories for me, some quite serious, and sone quite amusing. I wouldn’t have traded those summer weeks or winter weekends for anything.

The prayer chapels at both camps truly were “holy ground”. And one of the pinnacle worship experiences of my entire life took place at Thousand Pines. I can’t imagine what my faith journey would have been like without those camps.

Faith Journey | The Jesus Movement

The year that I was 13 was a significant year indeed. (See the two blog posts before this one.) I came back from a summer in Europe to my father’s new pastorate, which meant seemingly everything in my life had changed. Returning to America after spending time in Germany had felt disorienting before, but now I was dealing with a new home in an unfamiliar town. I didn’t know anyone, and I missed our small mountain community and our cozy little home on the lake.

It was 1971, and it didn’t take long for the Jesus Movement to find us again. (My father had already held youth-oriented evening church services in our previous church, and they had become quite popular.) Soon a few ragtag hippie-types were meeting with my father, peppering him with questions, and begging to be taught by him. “He knows the actual Greek!” one of them enthused to me.

These kids had dramatic conversion stories: almost all of them had been “into something”, like drugs or eastern religions or promiscuous sex or all three, before coming to Christ. It was a truly exciting time, to the point that some people were sure we were observing the end times revival.

Eventually I got caught up with this group of new converts who had somehow found my dad. They were intense! For awhile, it seemed as if we had two youth groups, our regular bunch of typical kids and the “spiritual” semi-ex-hippy group who wanted only to study the Bible, sing choruses, and have deep discussions. When the two factions got together, it was awkward indeed.

I guess we weren’t intense enough at our church because our hippy friends invited my older brother and me to what was supposedly just a Bible Study — only we called it a “Bible Rap” because it was the early 70’s and that’s how we talked. It consisted of a bunch of us sitting around on the floor in a beautiful little Episcopal church, with one of the most breathtaking carved wooden crucifixes I’ve ever seen.

As far as I could tell, there wasn’t any real leadership within this group. We met weekly and, maybe once every few months, some older guy showed up who everybody seemed to hold in respect, if not awe. There was talk of trying to emulate the “New Testament Church” which, to this bunch at least, bore a strange resemblance to hippies sitting around singing “Happy in the Lord”, talking about the end times, reading the Bible, telling our testimonies, and complaining about people who we thought didn’t measure up spiritually. But gradually there seemed less emphasis on sharing our unschooled interpretations of the Bible, and more on being baptized with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.

Around the same time, people in the group became extremely judgmental and legalistic. “Rebukes” were common: I got fussed when I referred to a boy as “cute”, for example.

I remember being surrounded by older girls (I was probably the youngest kid, by at least a couple years, who attended) and they were demanding that I confess the SECRET SIN in my life, because there had to be some, it was obvious, or my spiritual experiences would match theirs exactly, and I would speak in tongues. I remember week after week of confessing everything that I could think of, like being “lazy” (undiagnosed inattentive ADHD) at school, having a “messy” room, etc., etc. The weekly interrogation sessions were only one aspect of how controlling and pushy and borderline abusive this group had become.

I went on a quest to be “baptized in the Holy Spirit“ — to be slain in the Spirit and speak in tongues — and I went to meeting after meeting and event after event, wherever I heard that “the Spirit was moving” and I had a way of getting there. (My mother patiently drove me to a number of these.) I would go forward and, inevitably, almost everyone around me would fall down and speak in tongues, but nothing ever happened to me.

Eventually I missed one of the Bible Raps, but something that night got my brother all upset, to the point that he and his girlfriend were convinced that they had observed demonic activity. We never returned.

My experiences during that time were mixed, with lots of excitement, but also seeing what seemed good at first — like the Bible Rap — fizzling out or turning into something negative. My view of “church” was both challenged and, in retrospect, strengthened. Summer camps, youth rallies, and the enthusiasm of so many new converts galvanized my faith. Shy little me handed out “Jesus Papers” at my junior high school, carried around a cool looking Bible, and even started a weekly Bible study that met before school. (Talk about the blind leading the blind…)

Eventually, by the time I reached high school, one by one, the “Bible Rap” kids started “falling away”. It was a sad, discouraging thing to watch, made all the more so because of painful things in my personal life. My faith walk during those years became one of lukewarmness, pain, and even doubt — punctuated by times of renewal and re-dedication. It was definitely a roller-coaster ride.

Even years later, I would miss those first few Bible Raps that I attended, before things got weird— when we sat around on the floor, filled with youthful zeal, gazing at a beautiful giant crucifix and earnestly pouring our hearts out to God.