A Church of Dogs and Rabbits

July 28, 2014

Rabbits are fickle creatures.

My wife and I have found this out the hard way. This September my wife and I will celebrate our ninth anniversary. Since nearly day-one of our marriage, she has harped on me about getting a dog. Now, initially I resisted because my childhood dog died the week that we got married, and I was simply devastated. Yet, after a few years I slowly started coming around to the thought of having a dog.

I love dogs. I love walking them. I love the way they are happiest showing and being shown affection. I love playing and wrestling with dogs. I am a dog guy. So—after years of resisting, this fall my wife and I finally made the decision to get a dog. We did our research to find a breed that would fit our living conditions and work schedules. We found a store that had the particular breed from a local breeder that wasn’t a puppy mill, and once a month trekked to the store to see if there was a litter.

There never was.

Not quite to the same frequency of being bugged for a dog—but close—my wife often referenced how much she would love having a rabbit. Like the dog, I often shot down the suggestion of having a rabbit. Yet, on one brisk day in November all of that changed. Perhaps it was the on-going monthly disappointment of not getting a puppy. Maybe it was an overly elevated desire to be “hero-husband” on a Tuesday. Or rather, perhaps it was because I was offered a rabbit for just 15 dollars… in either case, we bought a bunny.

I brought the rabbit home and instantly fell in love. She was cute. She did adorable little kick-flips. She was even house-broke. But we have noticed one giant problem in our 9 months of being bunny owners—she is not a dog.

This is problematic—especially when we are conditioned to relate to dogs, not rabbits. I try to play with her and she wants nothing to do with me. I roll a ball past her and she ignores it. I try to pet her and she scampers off. I try to get her to cuddle with me like a lap-dog and she actually bites me. And because of our relentless attempts to treat her like a dog, she has come to resent and resist me all-the-more.

No matter how much I’d like her to be, our rabbit is not a dog. Perhaps the only thing crazier than this thought is my incessant insistence that treating her like a dog will eventually cause her to act like one. My rabbit is a rabbit.

This comedic flawed behavior that my wife and I exhibit is tragically the same that I see in the Church.

Countless studies have been conducted and theories have been postulated as to the decline of the Western Church—particularly in America among millennials. This weekend I was at a conference on evangelism, composed largely of Baby Boomers—well-meaning folks who love Jesus and desperately want my generation to have the same love that they do—yet, their worldview of modernism leaves them bewildered and frustrated with millennial post-moderns.

When given the opportunity, they voiced complaints and frustrations of why twenty and thirty-somethings could not live into the same expression of the faith that they had. More often than not, these complaints ended up being declarations that the “fault” laid with us post-modern pagans.

These lovely Christ-followers were dog-people perplexed by a generation of rabbits.

The dog-culture of the Church is one of Navigators, Romans' Roads, and Evangelism Explosion... a culture of having every jot-and-tittle figured out... a culture of "build it, and they will come." A rabbit-culture within the Church is one that craves dialogue over monologue... a culture that is comfortable living in the tension... a culture of a lived theology.

This trend is not unique to the conference that I participated in. Missiologist Alan Hirsch spoke of the stark reality that the existing model of “church” can, at best, “only reach a maximum of 40 percent of the American population”—a caveat of the population that are the proverbial “dog-people.” Hirsch goes on to say that “this is a problem because 95 percent of American churches are using a model that even if successful will reach less than half the population.”

But what about the 60 percent? What about the growing generation of rabbits? Shall the church continue to treat rabbits as if they are dogs thinking that given enough time and repetition these bunnies will eventually learn to sit, heel, fetch, and perhaps even roll over?

If history is any indication, this isn’t the case.

In the book unChristian, David Kinnaman writes that “many of these young people actually went through a time when they were searching for faith. They were probing the Christian faith, trying it on for size, but they couldn’t get past some of the mental, emotional, or spiritual barriers… so they gave up.” Simply put, rabbits cannot become dogs… and that’s okay.

I believe that there are bright days ahead for the Church. I believe that revival is coming and God is raising a new generation of leaders—but I also believe that it’s a shift from dog-to-rabbit. I believe the words God spoke in Isaiah 43:18-19 are words that our leaders need to heed to today. “Don’t remember the prior thing, don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I am doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?”

Can we say that we recognize the “new thing” that God is doing in our midst?

This does not diminish the things that God once did. This does not devalue those who are dog-people. But if we are to turn the corner, the Church needs to be imaginative in embracing the reality that the God of the “rabbits” is the same God of the “dogs” and that perhaps a rabbit way of doing things is God’s mean of doing His “new thing” in the Church.

After all, they are pretty cute and cuddly.

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