Donald Miller is frustrated with Christian education...

Sometimes I think Donald Miller doesn’t like Christian educators. Personally, I really like Donald Miller. I don't always agree with him, but I appreciate the fact that he asks good questions and makes good observations. Ironically, I probably appreciate these things because I am a Christian educator.

I recently attended Miller’s Storyline Conference in Portland, Oregon. It was my birthday present from my wife. So I was bummed to find out the keynote speaker didn’t like what I do. Yet, in his defense, Miller never said he didn't like Christian educators per se. Miller said that he viewed church as a school program from which we never graduated, and that's a bad thing.

Why does he see the church this way? Because we follow an academic model. We discuss ideas, but we don't do much stuff (when Donald Miller describes "stuff," I don't think potluck suppers count).

It's Time to Graduate

Why this emphasis on doing stuff? Remember, the setting for the Storyline Conference was downtown Portland. Portland has real needs: homelessness, shops featuring products that would make the vast majority of my native state of Oklahoma blush, and a variety of "orientations" (both sexual and otherwise). This diversity makes Portland an intriguing place to hang out, but it also means that the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are real. So little wonder Donald Miller hasn't much patience with an educational model that never graduates students. Portland, Oregon needs graduates, badly. But then again, so does my current home state of Texas, which boasts a variety of seminaries, but hosts broken people so numerous that the church overlooks or can't reach.

So although Miller didn’t necessarily mention the idea of graduation during each session, I think graduation was the major theme of the Portland conference: graduate by getting a vision and then going somewhere to actualize it. Miller encouraged us to find where our God-given passions intersect with a real need, and then get to work! Okay, Donald Miller, point well taken.

The Theme of Graduation in Miller's Movie

The conference’s first night included a screening of a rough cut version of Miller’s new movie, Blue Like Jazz. The movie was originally put on hold because of a lack of funding, but then crowdsourcing provided the needed resources through an organization called Kickstarter.

The setting for Miller’s Blue Like Jazz is Reed College, and the protagonist is a Christian student whose faith has been challenged both intellectually (by his experiences at Reed) and practically (by disappointments with his home church). I can’t offer a review of the film because a) I only saw a rough cut, and some of the movie was difficult to follow for technical reasons, and b) I didn’t stay to watch the entire film because of said technical difficulties. However, if Miller wants all of us to graduate, then making a movie about a college student who must navigate certain faith challenges makes sense.

By the way, if you liked the movie Facing the Giants you probably won’t like Blue Like Jazz. Miller’s movie includes situations that will make some conservative viewers uncomfortable (but I won’t say more because, first, I don’t want to make this a movie review, and second, I don’t want to give too much of the movie away).