Family Matters and the Frustrating Church

famfightFamily reunions are a funny thing.  They create this bizarre mix of emotions that only occur in a family setting.  It is this tumultuous emotional churning of happiness and frustration, anger and joy that induces both laughter and temple rubbing.  Families make us feel the full spectrum of emotions, and they do so for one simple reason.

They matter to us.

The things we feel the deepest are felt so deeply because they matter.  The things that cause us the most joy and the things that cause us the most sorrow matter.  The things that cause us to soar to the heights of happiness and the things that make our bodies vibrate with anger do so because they are important to us.  If they did not matter, we would never – we could never – feel them on this same level.

For me that perfectly describes my feelings about my church at this moment.

I write this for those of you who go to church with me and for those of you may feel the same way about your own church at this very moment.  The single greatest source of concern, stress, and frustration in my life at this very moment is my church.  To be honest, there are moments that it is so frustrating and stress inducing to think about, that I wish I could just give it up and walk away from it all.

But I never could – it matters too much to me.

In the past couple of years our church has hemorrhaged people – going from a church pushing 150 to a church that struggles to break 60-70 each week.  It has cost me my career and changed the direction of my life.  It has affected me greatly, and I feel it deeply.  As our church dies, I feel like I die along with it.  The reasons people give for leaving have covered not liking the music, not liking the children’s ministry, not liking the preaching, personal conflicts, and wide variety of others.  The issues are hard to specify, making them hard to address – and it eats my lunch every time I think about it.  It stresses me, depresses me, frustrates me, and, at times, enrages me. But here is the funny thing, when I think of all of those negative things that the state of my own church makes me feel – it makes me think of one thing:

Family reunions and the turbulent landslide of emotions that can accompany them.

Do you know why what is happening in my church makes me feel that way?  I think it is because it matters so much to me.  It has to be, because only things that matter so deeply can make us feel so deeply.  What is the church if it is not family?  What is a family if it is not willing to stick it out in the toughest of times?  How can either survive if we so easily forsake them, so quickly give up on them, so rarely practice forgiveness, so often shy away from reconciliation, and so rarely pitch in?

I have to ask myself this question about my relationship with my own church – If it truly matters to me, then what kind of commitment am I willing to make to help this relationship work?  If I am truly being honest, I have to admit that there are definitely times when I have allowed those emotions to hinder my ability to lead and to worship.  I have utilized them as excuses for not serving.  In doing those things, I have become a part of the problem.

To my church, I say I am sorry; but I also say – you matter to me.  Even in the midst of the dizzying array of things I feel about you right now – you matter so immensely to me. You are my family even when I feel distant from you. You are kin to me.  It seems strange to say, but I am grateful for the frustration, the heartache, and the fear.  Those are all evidences of this strangely deep and beautiful connection I have with you.

I think it is a tragedy that so many people experience these feelings and so easily leave a church.  It is, I think a horrible precedent and so far from what the church is meant to be.If only we could open our eyes to the reality that these things we feel – good and bad combined – are all normal things for a family.  They are, in fact, symptoms of the reality that we matter to one another. We should not fear or flee these feelings.  We should embrace them, face them, and let them serve as a reminder of the deep deep connection we share with one another.

You are all my family – crazy aunts, obnoxious uncles, boisterous brothers, and all the rest.  It is a bond that I could not break if I tried, and I wouldn’t want to.

You matter to me.

Microblog: Sheep and Goats

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I miss blogging on a regular basis but find myself less than inspired to dive too deep into a subject right now.  So, in lieu of the grandiose, I am going to experiment with micro-blogging.  These will just be short posts, a few sentences or single statement, on what I am thinking and/or questioning right now.  Mini-thoughts are all I am capable of lately.

The hope is that the discussion then becomes the real meat of the content.  Sooo, don’t hold back on the comments….

Thought for the day:

Christians who declare other people as “Christian” or “Un-Christian” because they believe and/or think differently on a topic are counter to the Kingdom.  Matthew 25 – There are going to be some surprises regarding who is “in” and who is “out”. Thinking about how right you are and how wrong they are seems a bit more out than in to me.

I’m pretty sure Dan Haseltine is in though…

My Job Is Harder Than Yours

I'm more stressed than you... na na na na boo boo!

I’m more stressed than you… na na na na boo boo!

I was a full-time pastor for the past 15-years.  Within the last 2-months I dropped to part-time at the church and accepted a full-time position at a small business owned by a good friend.  As a full-time pastor, I remember many a days when I longed for one of those easy secular jobs that didn’t come with the stress of full-time pastoral ministry.  I remember thinking how no one understood just how hard my job was and how mentally and emotionally draining it could be at times.  Recently, I have seen many a post and/or links to posts from pastoral friends of mine referencing how little respect or understanding people have for how hard  their pastor(s) work and just how much stress there is on them and their families.  I don’t wholeheartedly disagree with these posts – but I fear that, in some way, they show how disconnected the pastoral office can (at times) be from their parishioners.

Funny how a little perspective changes everything.

In the past 2-months, I have learned something about jobs that I had forgotten.  Be it pastoral ministry, neurosurgery, emergency services, or flipping burgers – every job has its blessings and its curses.  My fear is that when we, as pastors, begin to believe that our job is somehow harder, more stressful, more time-consuming than those of the people we pastor, we distance ourselves from both reality and the people.  Pastors, we are not the only people who lose sleep over our jobs.  Even worse is when we begin to believe the lie that somehow our job is more important.  Pastoring from a position of power and exceptionalism is a dangerous, scary thing.  As a pastor, I am not better than you.  My job is not harder than yours.  My life is not more stressful than yours.

I truly believe every pastor should take a 6-8 week sabbatical to work a “secular” job and gain a little perspective.

The other thing I have heard and read a lot of lately is just how undedicated many pastors feel their church members are to their local church.  We preach and write about how people’s lives have become too busy with jobs, sports, school events, PTA meetings, and other extracurriculars and how all these things are a sign of spiritual weakness and lack of religious fervor.  Of course, we do this after making announcements about the fellowship supper, mid-week prayer meeting, planning committee, youth fundraiser, trunk-or-treat, small groups, Sunday school, and missions rally that we want you all to attend.  I think you see the problem with that.

Apparently church busy-ness is a different and better thing than our regular busy-ness.  (Read my thoughts on simplifying church)

(I wonder how Pharisitical it is to demand such dedication to the thing we call “church”.  Has “church” become the new “law” – the new legalism in some way? Do this or be labeled a heretic/blasphemer/insert insult here) – Just thinking out loud as I write.

It just seems to me that it is very easy, as a pastor to be out of touch with the reality of people’s lives.

I know I will offend quite a few pastor friends who read this – but I am writing this from a place of conviction myself.  I want to be a better pastor – and for me that means opening my eyes to realities.  It is REAL that my stress is not more real than that of the people I pastor.  It is REAL that church can often be the biggest time drain for people.  It is REAL that it is H.A.R.D. to make it to a 7:00pm church event when you don’t get home until 6:00pm.  It is REAL that choosing to be at a kid’s soccer game over the church work day is not a sign of spiritual deficiency.

For me a large part of being an effective pastor is keeping in touch with those realities.  It is respecting the lives of the people I pastor – the difficulties they face, the decisions they have to struggle with, the sacrifices they regularly make.  I can’t do that when my view of myself is elevated and out of whack.  I can’t do that when my definition of church is out of line with scripture.  I want to lead from a place of humility and vulnerability – walking amongst the people I pastor as one of them.  Really, that’s all I am –  a fellow disciple journeying with them.  My job just happens to be as a pastor.

Well, at least one of my jobs…

Room to Wrestle

Baa, baa, blah, blah, blah

Baa, baa, blah, blah, blah

There are times when I feel like a black sheep…or more like a black sheep wrestler.  You could call me Mutton Chops.

I feel this way not because I am a self gratifying, wild living, fast and furious rebel – but because I struggle with what I believe.  I have an ongoing conflict between my heart and my head, my experience and my tradition.  It is a struggle that has produced more questions than answers in my faith.  It is a battle that at times makes me feel very different, even very alone in my faith.

Yes, I have faith – but I also have doubts.

I also have convictions – but I also wonder why and if they are the right ones.

There are even huge sections of scripture that I struggle to understand and spiritual things that I find very hard to believe.

The black sheep feelings come because I often feel like I have no forum to openly explore.  Often, the very act of questioning is perceived as a lack of faith.  Wondering about long held convictions is seen as godlessness.  There are things I want to blog on, but fear the backlash – questions I want to ask, but fearful of the repercussions they might generate.  In essence, I often feel like rather than being a place where I can work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), the church can be a place of confinement, where my exploration is limited by boundaries that we just do not cross.  There are questions we just do not ask.

There’s no room to wrestle.

For the past couple of weeks The History Channel has been airing their mini-series, “The Bible”.  It is bringing to life the stories of both the Old and New Testaments, and for many people, it is bringing up some very deep hard questions.  An old friend from high-school posted on Facebook this week asking the question, “Ho w could people worship a God who orders his followers to do some of these things?”  There are lots of those directives in scripture that are just hard to understand:

The genocide of the Amalekites (men, women, children, animals) in 1 Samuel 15.

The destruction of the Midianites and the enslavement (possible sexual enslavement) of their young girls.

The sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11.

The application of the death penalty for everything from homosexuality, to dishonoring your parents, from sorcery to losing your virginity.

And there are many, MANY more.

These things are HARD.  Yet the response is often to flippantly write them off as God being God, his ways are higher than ours, and after all, who are we to question God?  Either that or we write them off as Old Testament revelations that have been superseded by the revelation of God in the person of Jesus.  Can’t we at least understand how that may seem contradictory – that the God who never changes was like this but is now like this? (Even now some of you are reading my questions as my answers)

If we are being completely honest we have to admit that at times the Bible seems contradictory, at times God seems to be more wrath than love, and at times the Bible seems out of touch with modern society.  At the very least, I would hope that we can at least agree that at times the Bible can be hard to understand and a real stumbling block to many people who want to believe in the goodness of God.  And if we can agree to that – then maybe we can allow people to ask those questions, to struggle with those concepts without calling into question their faith.

And think about what we do – we use things like historical cultural relevance and New Testament revelation to write off parts of scripture that we don’t want to apply to us, but refuse to extend that same grace to people struggling to make sense of the world they live in.  For instance, in my church (The Church of the Nazarene), we ordain and support (at least in theory) women in pastoral leadership.  We do this despite Paul’s very literal and blatant directives to NOT do this.  (1 Timothy 2:11-121 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-9)

He also writes that women should be silent in church, not cut their hair, and pray with their heads covered. (1 Corinthians 11:5-6)

But we write those things off – saying that they were either only specific to the church he was writing to and/or culturally relevant in his era.  I have no problem with that application, but I struggle to understand why it is good and right to do it for this topic because it supports what believe, but not to allow the application of this same filter to topics that we historically do not support.

Bring up homosexuality and the historical context of Paul’s teachings – and look out – WWIII is underway.  It is, after all, an abomination of the worst kind.  You just can’t have that conversation without people making assumptions about who you are and what you believe.  Again, people read questions as answers.

It applies to evolution and creation theories, to absolute truth, to the authority of scripture, to – well to a multitude of topics. There are countless tough questions that scripture just does not give cut and dry answers for but that tradition demands we accept a common answer to.  There are scriptures that we cling to, and scriptures we reject.  There are passages we read culture into, and passages that we refute the importance of cultural relevancy.  And yet, there are some topics we do not broach, some questions we do not ask, and some conversations that we just do not have.

My problem with all of this is not the questioning, it is the lack of wrestling room within the church.  Often, when a tough question is posed the church declares that the person posing it refutes the authority of scripture and defensive walls go up.  When a person expresses serious doubts about what they have been taught to believe because what they see and experience are in conflict with the application of the scripture as dictated by the church they are called faithless and more walls go up.  As wall after wall is erected, the “wrassling” room disappears.

You apparently are allowed to work out your salvation with fear and trembling only as long as the trembling doesn’t shake things up too much.  Take away the room to wrestle with these things, view faith, theology, and tradition as static, and you soon find people bashing their heads against the walls that confine them.  Do that enough and 1 of 2 things happen.  Either people conform, or they quit fighting it and go the other way.  No wonder people are leaving the church in droves – their heads are hurting!  Worse than that, we launch attacks over the walls we built.  We label people heretics and false prophets. We question their faith to the point of even questioning their salvation.  Listen…

I can believe in the authority of scripture, yet struggle to understand its application.

I can wonder if truth is deeper than details and not be heretical.

I can believe God is love and yet wonder where that love is sometimes.

I can have incredible amounts of faith, and equal amounts of doubt at the same time.

Doubt is not the absence of faith, and faith does not put an end to questioning.  Instead, the two work in cooperation, stretching us, challenging us, taking us places that we never dreamed possible.  Real faith withstands the hard questions. Doubt can lead to deeper seeking and intimate encounters with Christ (see Thomas).  Together they can open doors and create gateways instead of erecting barriers.

We (the church) do it because we just want to defend what we believe, we want to defend God, and because we want to proclaim our own “rightness”.  We think that we have it figured out and are just helping the lost and blind find the right way.  It seems to me that Jesus encountered some people like this in his journeys – religious leaders who proclaimed that they knew how to best read, interpret, and apply scripture and that their interpretations applied to everyone.  I also seem to remember that Jesus’ anger and rebuke is saved, not for the ungodly, but for these religious men.  He told them repeatedly, “you have believed this, but i tell you THIS…” They must have been shocked, appalled, offended by the notion that they had been challenged.

I bet they wanted to kill him.

I’ve been reading Rob Bell’s newest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About GodI know, I know, he’s a gay loving heretic – so write this off if you must – but he writes about this struggle between conviction and humility, between faith and doubt:

“…conviction and humility, like faith and doubt, are not opposites; they’re dance partners. It’s possible to hold your faith with open hands, living with great conviction and yet at the same time humbly admitting that your knowledge and perspective will always be limited.”

He sees this struggle as a dance of sorts.  I don’t think it is always that beautiful.  I think sometimes the conflict within us gets downright messy.  I think sometimes it leads to severe brokenness and pain as we what we have learned comes into conflict with what we are learning and when what we know is challenged by what we don’t.  I can only speak for myself, but every time I have engaged in this spiritual struggle, I end up all the better for it.  Luckily for me, I have found people of faith who are open to my struggles, who speak wisdom and truth while also practicing patience and tolerance.  The struggle often leads to breaking me down – but good things can come from brokenness.

Brokenness and struggle breeds humility, tolerance, peace, and ultimately, the growth of God’s love in my heart. Trust me, I am not “there” yet, but I know who I was and see who I am becoming through these struggles.  I like who I am becoming.

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Let’s Wrassle!

The dance imagery is beautiful, but this black sheep often needs less of a dance floor and more of a wrestling ring.  My hope is that the church can blow out the walls for people like me.  That they can pad the floors with patience and rope off the ring with grace. That they can allow the Holy Spirit to ref the match while they cheer for those of us working out our salvation with fear and trembling.  Give us space, not constraints.  Make everything open for questioning and trust that God is big enough to take it.  Let people wrestle with him and be forever changed by those encounters (ala Jacob)  Let’s tear down some walls and erect some wrestling rings.  Can you smell what I’m cooking? (see what I did there)

Do you think they make tights for wrestling black sheep?  I would look awesome in them…

The Church Machine

My last post got me thinking of Rube Goldberg machines.  Ever heard of a Rube Goldberg machine?  It is an overly elaborate machine that is designed to do a very simple task.  (Check out this OK Go video for an awesome example… I’ll wait for you…

Oh, your back!  Awesome right?  As amazing as it is, I can’t help but feel the church has become one gigantic Rube Goldberg machine.  It is an excess of moving parts, a mind-boggling glut of functions, and a dizzying array of intricacies all aimed at accomplishing a few very simple things.  According to Acts 2, the early church devoted themselves to, ” the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” – basically, learning together, sharing life, taking communion, and prayer.  Simple.

What if church were just that?  Simple.

I can use a lot of words describe the average American church today, but “simple” would not be one of them.  If your church is like mine, and like most, you have some form of the following: children’s ministry, youth ministry, college ministry, couples ministry, singles ministry, counseling ministries, senior adult ministry, compassionate ministries, social committees, building committees, ushers/greeting teams, boards, outreach teams, sunday school, small groups, missions teams, and possibly more. Each of these area need people – lots of people to lead, direct, and staff them.  They need resources – lots of resources like money, supplies, rooms, and equipment to make them happen.  They require time – lots of time invested by leaders, volunteers, and participants. These are the cogs, pistons, belts, and hoses that make the machine run.

The machine gets built with the best intentions.

It gets built because we think the machine will spread the Gospel better than an individual can.

It gets built because we think the machine will care for the needy better than a lone woman.

It gets built because we think the machine will better relate to a specific age/interest group than a single man.

It gets built because we think the machine will more efficiently teach and disciple a child than a parent who is still trying to figure it all out themselves.

It gets built because we think machines make tasks and life easier.  But does it?

It gets built because we think the machine is the bigger, and bigger is better.  But is it?

Let’s think about those last two for now.  Does the machine make life easier in the church?  When everything is functioning, the machine hums and all is well. But machines take parts, and parts wear out.  What happens when the parts start to break down?  What happens when resources run dry?

In the machine mentality of church success is measured by the output of the machine.  For instance, we tend to measure a “successful output” in Sunday School by attendance.  As part of the machine, I want to feel like the machine is successful, so I have to show up for Sunday School.  And small groups.  And the missions rally.  And the men’s Bible study.  And the school tutoring program.  And volunteer at VBS.  And…. And… And… It can lead to a feeling that you are constantly giving your all to keep the machine running.  And when other people don’t pull their weight, the pressure is just turned up.  That feeling can suck the life right out of your lungs, and even to a deflated/defeated attitude towards the church.  So much for coming weary but finding rest.

No wonder the “parts” wear down.  And when they wear down they need to be replaced.  What happens if there is no replacement part – no one  to fill in? The machine ceases to function at full efficiency, overburdening other parts, and like a chain of dominoes – well, more like an infectious disease – the burn-out passes from part to part.  The machine breaks down.  The break down takes maintenance.  The maintenance takes more time, more resources, more people.

All that then – well, what happens when the church down the street builds a bigger better machine – flashier, with more bells and whistles?  Big churches often get bigger for just this reason.  It is a simple fact that in America, the churches that are growing are growing not because of reaching the lost – but because of church migration – people leaving one church for another.  They grow because their increasing resources help create better, more efficient machines.  With a massive inventory of interchangeable parts, they can better weather the wearing out process that break-down the smaller machines.  And the parts come from the failing churches, just causing them to fail even more. 

And what about the other reasons we build the machine?  Is it really the responsibility of the church to disciple my kids and mentor my teenage daughter?  Does sharing the Gospel with my neighbor require a church led program? Do I need a church team to organize my volunteering with an after-school program, buying a lunch for a homeless man, or lending a listening ear to the hurting coworker I see everyday?  How does a massive machine for the masses help reach your next door neighbor?  Big things can’t go where little things are needed.

The book of James says that faith without works is dead.  Could we say that works produced solely by the machine may not always be faith?  On the contrary, might it be that relying on the machine to do these things for us creates lazy faith?  Could it be that in some ways, the functions of the machine give us excuses for not carrying out these functions on our own?  What if church has become a machine that carries out functions the church was never designed to do? When a church fails at these functions, it feels like a failure.  But is it a failure if that is not what the church was purposed to do?

Let’s go back to that Acts 2 description – Learn – Live – Eat- Pray.  What if those are the functions the church is supposed to have?  Would that change how we define success?

So here’s where I am.  What if church were simple?  A place where people simply:

  • LEARNED TOGETHER – Be it by preaching, teaching, discussion, or a combination of all these – they studied the word together, grappling with it as a community.
  • SHARED LIFE TOGETHER – Laughing, crying, growing, healing, sharing, rebuking, celebrating, lifting – This is not just about hanging out.  This is about discipleship.  After all, Jesus didn’t create disciples in a classroom.  He created them by intimately sharing life with them.  Crazy thought – but maybe even different generations, races, economies, interests, etc. can even share life together.  Whoa…
  • BROKE BREAD TOGETHER – We all like to eat, but this is about the eucharist, taking communion.  This is about remembering we are centered in Christ.  It also is about being united in Him.  Families share their stories around the dinner table, uniting them as family.  Sharing communion together is a reminder of our family’s greatest story.
  • PRAYED TOGETHER – Together acknowledging the sovereignty of God, confessing our sins, thanking Him for his blessings, and laying our petitions before him.

And that’s it.  What if that were church?  No boards or committees, no programs and teams – just those four things.  How could we fail if that is what we did?  I would think anyone could do that well.  And as we do these things together, it just might transform the way we live to the point that each individual member took seriously his/her call to personally give, share, and disciple others.

Personal responsibility – what is that?

I know here are tons of questions. Pastors? Tithing? Missions?  Questions that at best can keep us from dreaming, and at worse keep us from acting because of complacency and fear.  I get fear.  I am a 15-year youth pastor veteran.  A simple church costs me a job.  However, I seem to remember something about not having a spirit of timidity being in some book I read (wink wink, nod nod)

I also think there are tons of answers to be discovered.

Can you build it better?

Can you build it better?

Any good engineer building a machine uses the K.I.S.S. principle. “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.  In other words, the simpler machine, the less likely it is to fail and the more efficiently it functions.  A simple machine has fewer points of failure and the ability to withstand the test of time.  Consider the wheel and the mousetrap – try as you will – they are hard to improve on and still do what they were designed to.  They are no Rube Goldberg machine.  They are simple.

Learning, living, eating, and praying together.  Each member investing him/herself not into the functioning of the machine, rather into the transforming the world they find themselves in (schools, neighborhood, workplace, etc.)  What form that takes is only  limited by imagination.

Seems freeing to me.  I could like simple – just don’t call me stupid.

Cubs Fans & The Church

leaving-arrivingThere are lots of things I don’t fully understand.  I don’t quite get women, soccer, or people who are Cubs fans in southern Illinois.  Having spent pretty much my entire life in church, you would think it would be one thing I do get.  On the contrary, the more time I spend in the church, the more things I find that bewilder me.  Don’t get me wrong, flaws and all, I love the church – there are just lots of things about the church that perplex me.  More and more,some of the biggest things that befuddle me are the reasons many people give for leaving one church to go to another.

Here are a few of the common reasons I have heard over the years – along with what confuses me about them…

1) “I just don’t feel connected” or the alternative “We just don’t have any real friends here” – People long for meaningful relationships.  I get that; and the church can and should be a great place for forming deep bonds with people.  What confuses me is really made up of two things:

  • What Have You Done To Make It Happen? It seems a lot of church people need codling.  They want to feel pampered and fawned over,  they want to feel desired.  So, as long as people are inviting them out after church, or inviting them over to their home – all is good.  But what do they do on their own to make it happen?  We want the church to be responsible for everything for us.  Feed us spiritually.  Create opportunities for us to serve.  Evangelize our communities.  And yes, we even want the church to build relationships for us.  If you feel disconnected in your church, do yourself a favor and take some initiative.  Invite some people to your home or out to dinner.  YOU work on building some relationships instead of requiring the church to do it for you.
  • Homogenization – One of the primary contributors to this reason of leaving is a lack of people in a given church that share age, experience, economic level, and interests.  Again, I get that it is easier to have friends that are more like us, but is that necessarily better?  And – in the church – is that really what community looks like?  I’ve heard young families say that they need other young families for support; and I’ve heard older couples talk about how they wish they had more people their age to relate to.  Can’t we learn from each other?  Shouldn’t the church be a place where infinite diversity is celebrated because of the infinite unity we find in Christ?  Shouldn’t it be  place where we learn from one another – where young mothers are mentored by those who have been there, and tired saints find energy in the exuberance of the youth?  Wouldn’t the church be glorious if it was a place where toes and fingers, elbows and armpits, ears and eyes, rumps and knuckles, all came together to truly function as one body.  (That’s a scriptural reference in case you missed it)

2) “There is too much drama!” or “I just don’t get along with…” – Other people can be hard to get along with, even in the church.  People make mistakes, fail, fall short of expectations, or are just outright mean.  Feelings get hurt and relationships crumble leading to one or both of the parties leaving the church.  I understand that drama happens in the church – this is a place where imperfections are being ironed out.  Occasionally those imperfections rear their head and conflict ensues.  What I don’t get is why leave?  We preach a message of peace and forgiveness, grace and mercy, loving enemies and overcoming trials.  We love to hear it – but putting it into practice is another thing.  I get that it is easier to tuck tail and run, or even that it feels like leaving may be the “high-road”- but again, is it the right way to handle conflict in the church?  Wouldn’t it be more in keeping with what we SAY we believe if you stayed and figured out how to heal?

3)  “This church is lacking X” or “I like a church that does Y – I truly believe this one stems from how we choose a church in the first place.  We are looking for a place that serves us – that meets our needs.  That’s one reason why some big churches get bigger.  They are turn-key houses – no work needed on your part – guaranteed to have what you need! Some people want a vibrant youth or children’s ministry, or maybe a dynamic pastor.  Some may want age or gender specific groups, while others may desire more service opportunities.  Unless a church’s attendance is astronomical, they just can’t be and/or do everything.  So, people stick around until they can’t take it, or until their needs change, and then move onto the next place that offers up what they want.  The hardest thing for me is to then see these same people begin to HELP in those areas in their new church.  This argument extends to music as well – because no matter what anyone says, the traditional verse contemporary argument comes down to T-A-S-T-E.  Three thoughts:

  • BE THE SOLUTION – If you see a need in your church, help fill it.    I know, some of you are thinking, but what if I’m not called/equipped to serve there?  Well, if it is something you value and desire for your church you either need to re-examine this “call” that you have, or at least find a way you can help on some level.  Leaving just makes the problem worse!  Don’t be a part of the problem – be a part of the solution!
  • THE CHURCH DOES NOT EXIST FOR YOU – The purpose of the church is not to provide for every one of your needs. It is not the church’s job to live out your faith.  It is yours!  It truly worries me that people want the church to BE and DO everything for them.  The expectation has become that the church exists to disciple our kids, serve our communities, feed us spiritually, evangelize the lost, and thirty other things I don’t feel like writing.  For many, if the church doesn’t plan it – then it doesn’t happen.  Let me remind you a few of things about church.  It is not about you.  It is not about what you get out of it. It is ALL about Jesus, about worshiping him, and worship is not about what we get, but about what we give.
  • THE MUSIC – REALLY??? – Music is a taste issue, plain and simple.  Don’t give the standard arguments – “the theology in the hymns is just not present in the new music” or “those hymns just don’t speak in a way that captivates me.”  In two seconds I could take you to multiple examples on each side that fly in the face of those arguments.  Music is about taste, taste is about our desires, and worship is about neither of those two things.  We do about 4-5 songs each week in our church or about 30-minutes worth of music.  Why people would turn their back on friends and family because of 4 songs once a week is something I can’t fathom.  I would imagine those outside the church wouldn’t get it either.

4) “This place just feels dead”An aging church can feel that way, and that truly is a shame.  I have felt that way about churches I have been in before.  I have felt that way about the church I am in.  I can vibe with wanting to be a part of something with more energy and life.  But isn’t it God’s nature to breathe life into dry bones?  Isn’t it God’s modus operandi to create new from the old?  Aren’t we a resurrection people? And aren’t we people of hope?  When we came back to our current church, it felt lifeless to us.  My wife and I talked about leaving, but after prayer, felt hopeful about the future here, and committed to be a part of God’s plan of hope for this church.  We may not be quite there yet – but I see God creating new life from these old ashes.  Remember though – God is creating NEW, not restoring the old.  The glory days may be dead and gone, but I have a feeling this new life will be rich and full!  Be people of HOPE in the churches you are!  Speak words of HOPE when you talk about the church!  And if your church feels dead – then be the opposite of that in your times of worship together.  Hoot, holler, and share testimonies – celebrate the new work that is coming, expect great things from your God, and then roll up your sleeves and pitch in! FYI Change can happen slowly in churches, so you might want to stock up on patience while you are replenishing your hope supplies…

Listen, I am not letting the church off the hook here.  When people are leaving, those who stay need to really evaluate what they are doing, and things more often than not NEED to change.  We live in a world where little value is given to personal responsibility, and where, as a result, the church has become this elaborate machine of programs and committees set up to meet the desires/needs of the people.  I only hope that those considering leaving one “machine” for another, first be as introspective as the church should be.  What would happen if you stayed?  What would happen if you changed?

I need to take back what I said about Cubs fans – I respect ’em.  They never give up the hope that their day is coming.  They cheer thecubs-goat-logoir team on game after game, no matter what the outcome.  Sure, their hearts break with each loss – but their committment never waivers.  104 years without a championship and yet try to get one of them to switch to another team – unthinkable!  Thank God for those type of people in our church – for those who never gave up hope, who became part of the solution and pitched in to help in God’s work to breathe new life into the dry bones of this body.  We miss those who leave – but thank God for those who stay!

Oh, and so I feel better about myself – GO CARDS!

I Just Threw Up In My Mouth A Little Bit

This is a repost of a facebook note I posted last year (2010) after hearing a presentation from a noted Christian University president.  I am planning on transferring my facebook notes over to the blog anyway – and this one seems to fit in line with my last few posts…

We’ve all had that experience before – and I know this isn’t pleasant to talk about – but we all know the feeling. You see, smell, or experience something so disgusting, so putrid, so horrible, that it makes you nauseous enough that you actually throw up, just a little bit, into your own mouth. Now I know this is strange (it’s not the first time that accusation has been leveled against me); but I did some research on nausea and vomiting and found something interesting. These bodily response can serve as a sort of defense mechanism for our bodies.

In short, if the body sense a threat – be it through taste, touch, sight, or smell – it may involuntarily move to defend itself by purging the contents of the stomach. The act of vomiting removes toxins, parasites, and/or bacteria that may have been ingested. Think about what tends to make us sick – foul smells, decaying flesh, rotten food, blood or other bodily excretions. All these can contain any number of agents that pose a threat to our health. The body senses the possibility of illness, and responds by purging itself.

So after all that you have got to be thinking – “Thanks for spoiling breakfast! Why in the world must you share this on facebook?” Well, I’m glad you asked. I said all that to set up this…

A couple of weeks ago I heard the president of one of the top Christian universities in the country give a recruiting message to a group of “church” people. He was extolling the virtues of sending their kids to a Christian school and listing the top reasons why it would be beneficial for their kids to attend his school. He was trying to make the point that his school was a place where kids could be “sheltered” from the evil influence of the world around them (that’s a whole different note)…when he shared this story…

(What follows is a paraphrase – except for the last line which is a direct quote)

…Like the other day, my wife and I were spending the day together in Chicago, when two young men came strolling towards us – they couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18 years old – and they were holding hands. “It made me want to throw up.”

Now to be honest, I was only partially listening at that point, but that last line snapped me to attention and sent a shiver down my spine.

The issue of homosexuality is a tough one for the church – but not the issue I want to address in this note. Here is the issue for me…

The only instances I can think of in the Bible where God gets so sickened by man that he wants to throw up is in response to the actions of the people who have dedicated their lives to following him. Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat – scripture is clear – God detests sin. But his abhorrence of sin does not lead to him be sickened by the sinner — instead it draws out his grace, mercy, and love. It draws it out to the point that he is moved to a compassionate and passionate response of self-sacrifice.

In essence – God sees people who need him – people who the “righteous” may look at and call disgusting because of the way they live – and He is moved to show them love. Instead of purging them – he brings them in. If you have been in church, you have heard it before – but he welcomes the diseased, the broken, the tax collector, and the thief. He extends love and grace to the prostitute and shares a glass of water with the adultress.

It bothers me that the story was shared by the university president. It bothers me that a room full of righteous “holiness” people applauded. Even moreso, it bothers me that that day, I think God looked down on us – people who name themselves after His Son – and he got a little nauseous.

If nausea and vomiting are defense mechanisms – here are a couple of questions for you and me to ponder:

1) If vomiting is a defense mechanism – what are we defending? Is our mission to defend or to welcome? To protect or to give?

2) If nausea is a defense mechanism – isn’t it convicting that the only thing God sees the need to defend his church from is us? (Doesn’t it seem strange that for all the church says and does to protect itself – it doesn’t usually crumble from the outside in, but from the inside out?)

3) What then should be our response?

We are all sinners saved by grace – everyone of us.

I know in posting this here, some of you may read it who have a different belief structure than me – maybe even some of you who just despise the church. To you, I just say I am sorry – things like the quote from the university president do not represent the church I love nor the God I know.

To everyone else I just say – live without defense. The church does not need defending. God does not need defending. The funny thing about defense is that it ends up offending. A defensive attitude, a gag reflex, is offensive – both to those who do not consider themselve a Christian – and to our God Himself.

I’ve heard it said that the best way to overcome that feeling of nauseousness is to lower your head, close your eyes, and take long, slow deep breaths.. to breathe deep. I leave you with that thought to ponder along with the lyrics from one of my favorite songs… Peace be with you…

Politicians, morticians, Philistines, homophobes
Skinheads, Dead heads, tax evaders, street kids
Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim wits
Blue collars, white collars, war mongers, peace nicks

Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, drop outs
Friendless, homeless, penniless and depressed
Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens
Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God

Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slum lords
Dead-beats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics
Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life
Misogynists, monogamists, philanthropists, blacks and whites

Police, obese, lawyers, and government
Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects
Atheists, Scientists, racists, sadists
Photographers, biographers, artists, pornographers

Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thespians
The disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers
Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and juries
Long hair, no hair, everybody everywhere!

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God