Categotry Archives: church

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Thoughts on Leaving: What I Left, and What I Didn’t

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Categories: church, food for thought

My good blogger friend Kathy wrote a very insightful post this week called “leaving church to save our souls.” It’s not often I find someone who not only “gets it” but expresses “it” so well–especially considering this came from a pastor. πŸ™‚ (I’m so used to getting subtle guilt trips from pastors, but that’s another blog post.)

Anyway, this post did what it was meant to do–it got me thinking. Β I know this whole blog is basically about my journey out of institutional Christianity, so it might seem a bit redundant to do a post about “leaving.” πŸ™‚ Β But as I progress on this journey of faith, I seem to gain more perspective and more of a vocabulary to express what I think and feel. Β So I felt a(nother) blog post processing these thoughts was in order.

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What Does Mission Really Look Like? (part 2)

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Categories: church, missional, Tags: , , ,

First of all…Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers. πŸ™‚

In my previous post, I began rambling about my re-thinking of what mission is, and what it really can look like in the Biblical sense. I talked about how I think we need to get back to the basics with this idea, stripping off the ulterior motives and getting back to something closer to what Jesus modeled for us. (If you need more detail, read the last post to get caught up.)

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A Fresh Coat of Paint on a Broken Machine (part 2)

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, food for thought


In my previous post, I revisited the story of the man who kept ordering chocolate shakes at a fast food joint, and kept receiving vanilla ones. When he complained to the teenage cashier at the counter, all the teenager could say was, “I pushed the chocolate button.” I used this story to talk about ways that the church is doing a similar thing with our “tried-and-true” methods. Although many of them aren’t working anymore, instead of finding new methods that do work, we keep splashing new coats of paint on our broken machines, trying to make them attractive and “relevant” again.

I’ve been thinking about this particularly with regard to how the church usually looks at mission, evangelism and “church planting” (a term not actually found in the Bible), perhaps because I now consider myself to be on a mission, and I don’t want to follow the ruts in the road. I’ve never been quick to do something a certain way simply because an “expert” says that’s how it ought to be done. (Maybe you folks who have read this blog the past couple of years didn’t realize this.) πŸ™‚
Anyhow, without putting too fine a point on it, it seems like the typical formula for church planting goes something like this (with a few variations here and there):
  1. A core group of people gathers or gets sent out from an existing church entity, for the express purpose of starting a new church.
  2. The new church begins to meet and spread the word about their existence.
  3. Believers in the area who know the new pastors, or are for some reason “between churches,” begin to hook up with the new entity.
  4. Overall success for the new church plant is measured by growth in attendance.
Now, am I the only one who sees a problem with this formula? The key to the weakness is in point 3: believers start coming to the new church plant. This isn’t a bad thing inherently, but it points to the deeper problem: that our church planting system is primarily based on transfer growth. If you look at the actual numbers, it seems like most of the time church plants aren’t very effective in drawing many non-believers into relationship with Christ. Rather, we’re primarily drawing existing believers from other places, creating competing entities. Yet we will regard these new church plants as successful simply because we are getting consistent numbers on Sunday mornings.
This is what I mean by a broken machine. The machine still runs, but we’re producing vanilla shakes and simply imagining that they are chocolate, rather than taking a hard look at why our growth is primarily transfer growth–why we’re not getting the results.
Now, to be fair, many church plants truly desire to be missional, and many of them do a lot of community-oriented things in an attempt to reach non-believers in their area. Many times they are working very hard, and that should be respected. It’s just that, in my opinion, the model itself is flawed, as evidenced by the fact that most of what we’re attracting by it is existing Christians. In terms of growing the church, isn’t really growth if we’re just shuffling our own people around. (When businesses do that kind of thing with their books to inflate their profits, they get in trouble for it.)
So why is it that this model seems to attract mainly other Christians? I think it’s for the same reasons that our existing institutions aren’t attracting non-believers. Our culture is changed, and the church in its current form is seen as less and less relevant. In fact, I think overall our current church planting methods are having the opposite effect of what mission ought to do: we’re drawing plenty of our own numbers while repelling a majority of non-Christians.
If non-believers are staying away from our institutional entities (as well as an increasing number of believers, for that matter), why in the world would we think we’d draw more non-believers simply by adding more institutions? And yet, we keep on blindly pushing that chocolate button, hoping against hope that maybe this time the shake will come out chocolate.
See my point?
Now, I’m not trying to be disagreeable or to slam church planters or evangelism in general. I applaud those who have this passion. I am not about to rip the “Great Commission” out of the Scriptures; it’s there, and it should be taken seriously. But in any other context other than church, when a particular model no longer works effectively, we change the model. It really ought to be that simple. The fact that we have such a hard time re-thinking our models and methods simply proves that we have far more sacred cows in our pantheons than we’re willing to admit.
The fact is, if you look at our current church planting methods, they actually reflect corporate business models more than they do the Scriptures themselves. We tend to treat new churches like new franchises. That’s why when people start coming to them, we automatically register them as successful–because it looks like were getting “customers.” We don’t have any regard for whether the people coming through our doors are believers or non-believers; a warm body is a warm body. We’re judging our success by the wrong criteria entirely.
In the early days of the church, growing the church was admittedly a little more cut-and-tried, simply because there were so many people who had never heard the gospel. When Paul or folks like him began a new church gathering, it usually started with two or three people going into a new town, and talking to people until a few became believers–and then those new believers would start meeting together. Today, our challenge is a little different; today, especially in America, we’re hard-pressed to find people who haven’t heard the gospel. The problem is, many non-believers haven’t just heard the gospel–they’ve heard a watered-down, hypocrisy-laden version of it, which can make it all the more difficult to reach them. We need a method that speaks to these issues, rather than ignoring them. We need to stop spinning our wheels and start looking for tangible ways for the mission of Christ to regain traction in our culture. And that starts by ADMITTING that we have a broken machine, and that what we are doing is not working.
Do I claim to have a new model that works? Nope. πŸ™‚ As usual, I’m just the guy pointing out what’s wrong. But like I said–that’s where change begins: by acknowledging what is wrong. I can tell you that these are questions burning in my soul, that are deeply informing my own search. I know that whatever community eventually forms around our efforts in the arts scene, the last thing I want to do is wake up one morning to discover I’ve created yet another Christian ghetto. I’d rather not do anything if that’s where it’s headed. I’d rather take it slow, listening to the heartbeat of our community and learning from the mistakes of our past, allowing the needs of the community around us to inform what the mission looks like, rather than following some sort of formula. I guess what I’m saying is that whatever this is going to look like, it’s more important that we make a positive difference than that we simply start some carbon-copy entity that people can see and measure and brag about.
True success isn’t found on paper. It’s found in human hearts.
That’s what I think, anyway. πŸ™‚

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A Fresh Coat of Paint on a Broken Machine

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Categories: Broken machine, church, food for thought, Things that Will Probably Get Me In Trouble


Near the very beginning of this here blog, I wrote a couple of posts about The Chocolate Button. I related a story I read once in a newsletter about a man who asked for a chocolate shake in a fast food restaurant, and received a vanilla one. He returned to the counter, and the teenager helping him proceeded to pour him another shake from the machine–this time, also vanilla. When the man continued to come back two and three times complaining that his shake was not chocolate, all the teenager could say was, “But I pushed the chocolate button!” His logic could not move past basic procedures–he seemed unable to rationalize that something was wrong with the machine.

I used this story as an analogy for the institutional church system, and years later, it seems to me like it’s still appropriate. How many times, and in how many ways, do we Christians keep doing the same things over and over again in the name of Christ, church and evangelism, not realizing that we’re bearing little or no fruit from our efforts, and when someone asks why we’re doing it, we say, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it!” Frankly, it comes from the same kind of mindlessness as the teenager who kept pushing the chocolate button. At some point, someone needs to speak up and admit that the machine is broken–otherwise, we’ll spend from now till Jesus comes spewing out vanilla shakes and magically believing that they’re actually chocolate.
But that’s not the worst of it.
I worked in McDonald’s as a teenager (which is perhaps why the chocolate shake story is so funny to me), but I can tell you, when I go into a McDonald’s today, the whole thing is different. Yeah, it’s still a bit of an assembly line, but the way they prepare food, the procedures, even the machinery is vastly different from when I worked there five or twenty-six years ago. What I’m trying to say is–even McDonald’s keeps up with the times. They employ new technologies, they offer new products, they replace their old machines with new ones. Even if their teenage employees sometimes don’t use their brains, the higher-ups seem to know when it’s time to change.
But what about the church?
You know, I think there are a lot of people out there who are sincerely trying to renovate. You can spot them because they’re the ones who use catch words like “relevant” and “real” to express what they are doing in church. I’ve used those words quite often myself. But I still have to take issue with a lot of what we’re passing off as “relevant”, because in fact, it’s not very relevant at all. If you look at how we “do church”, at the heart we’re practicing the same methods we’ve practiced for centuries. I’m talking specifically about things that really have no backing in Scripture–they’re not necessarily BAD things, just things we do in a certain manner because we’ve ALWAYS done them that way.
The problem is, when those things stop bearing fruit, and we keep on doing them for the sake of our tradition, we lose sight of what we’re here for in the first place. We’re not here to perfect our practices–we’re here to partake in the mission of Christ. The mission of Christ is to help as many people as possible become partakers in the redemption Christ has offered us all, but what we’ve done is basically reduce that mission to trying to get people to come to our gig, hoping that in the process they will “get it.” To put it another way, instead of genuinely reaching out to people where they are at, we seem to spend most of our time simply gussying up our practices, hoping to make them attractive to people. We might try to use different words to make them sound more hip and “relevant”, but in the end we’re just splashing a fresh coat of paint on a broken machine.
Now, I realize I might make a lot of traditional folks angry with words like these; let me be clear–I’m not dissing the traditions of the church in and of themselves. Many of our ancient practices carry deep meaning–especially those deeply rooted in Scripture–and I respect them and draw from them like any believer should. What I’m saying is that preserving traditions and fulfilling the mission of Christ are not necessarily synonymous. When we are reaching out to a generation that has no grid for the value of our traditions, we have to learn to think like they think–not try to get them to think like we think. (Especially when the way we think has in so many ways become mindless–see analogy above.) We cannot hope to convince anyone of the value of an ancient tradition unless we can help that person make contact with Christ in the here and now–right where that person lives. Christ is not kept in the past. His mission continues in the present, and that’s where we must live, too.
The bottom line, imho, is that there are a lot of methods we still use–in how/when we meet, how we evangelize, and many other things–that if we would open our eyes, we’d see they just plain aren’t working anymore. I’ve spent a lot of time personally looking at some of these methods, and when I can’t even find a solid Scriptural basis for many of them, I have to ask why we’re still doing it that way when it’s obvious we’re not getting results. This driving question has informed my own journey for several years, and is continuing to inform my journey into mission today. And for anyone who truly wants to partake meaningfully in the mission of Christ–that is, they want to bear fruit, not just belong to something–I think these questions have to be asked.
It’s gone way beyond whether the chocolate button still works. It’s time for some new technology entirely.
I’m actually going somewhere specific with all this–this was just groundwork. πŸ™‚ More in the next post.

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What’s More Important

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Categories: church, Meanderings (look it up), moments of truth


I think that at the heart of my journey out of institutional forms of church is a true desire to focus on what really matters–the heart and soul of my faith, the things that really make this engine run, so to speak. I think this desire has really set my course for many years. And as I gradually became less and less focused on the institutions surrounding Christianity, and more focused on the heart of faith, I began to see just how many times and in how many ways I’d majored on the minors–focused so much energy and placed so much importance on things that really weren’t all that important in the greater scheme of things.

What’s bad about that is that when you put all your attention on things that aren’t that important, you end up neglecting the more important things. It’s so easy get so consumed with getting everything right in the meeting, or keeping everyone happy in the community, that we forget about things like doing good to others, or building the character of Christ in ourselves, or encouraging our brothers and sisters in their own lives. Not that that stuff didn’t happen–but given the fact that all the other baggage was attached, it sometimes got lost in the shuffle.
Now that all those pressures are off, it’s like in so many ways the fog has cleared, and it’s easier to see from moment to moment what is more important–not just in the doings of church, but in the walk of faith, in general.
  • Is it more important to stage a “successful” event, or is it more important that people draw closer to God within the event?
  • Is it more important to be “right” (that is, to win the argument), or is it more important to live at peace?
  • Is it more important to follow procedure, or is it more important to be led by the Spirit?
  • Is it more important to use convincing words to describe your faith, or is it more important to demonstrate that faith through consistent action?
  • Is it more important to defend your rights, or is it more important to guard your heart?
  • Is it more important to busy ourselves with our preparations, or is it more important to sit at His feet? (Luke 10:38-42)
These, and just a few others, are things that are far more clear to me now that I am no longer carrying the burden of an institution on my own shoulders. I can now see that the people of the Church are a higher priority than the events and activities of the “church”, and I can make better choices with that priority in place. For example, during the entire 18 months I was helping with worship at my friends’ church plant, to the extent that I was involved in leadership decisions, I found that I consistently chose in favor of the people over the presentation–a total “180” for me from a few years ago.
I guess I’m pondering this because in the recovery process from getting flooded out last week, I’m also faced with some decisions regarding the apartment management company and what I feel they are responsible for–and to what extent I want to fight for it. I am still riled up when I feel something is unjust, or when I feel a sense of loss…but where in times past the need to protect myself and my “stuff” would utterly consume me, I have a different perspective nowadays. I realize that above all else, I need to guard my own soul, and that no fight for my “rights” is worth nursing animosity in my heart or jeopardizing my spiritual well-being. Considering that I have suffered a great deal of loss in so many ways in my life, and considering that loss is a bit of a sore spot with me–I think that’s progress. πŸ™‚
I believe this change in perspective for me is due in part to my clearer perspective as a “deconstructed” Christian. Because my vision is no longer clouded with things that aren’t that important, I am able to see more clearly what’s more important. That’s what I think, anyway. πŸ™‚

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The In Between

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Categories: church, Meanderings (look it up)


It’s now the fourth Sunday morning since I concluded my position helping out with worship at my friends’ congregation…and although I’m enjoying the break, I find that surprisingly, I miss the routine somewhat. Even though my heart is ultimately drawn to a different form of expression (which is why that assignment wasn’t permanent), there’s something I miss about the weekly act of getting together.

That might seem a bit surprising, even contradictory, to those who have been following this blog for awhile, after all I’ve said here about institutional church and all. But when I look back, I realize that when I started this blog, I was leading a house church–which was still a regular weekly gathering. So this is really the first time since I started the blog that I’ve been without a regular gathering of the community of faith, institutional or not. That’s why it feels different to me. It’s this in-between place, between the types of community that I’ve been part of, and the one I will be part of.
The truth is, when you write a blog like this one, you tend to get baked into the same pie with others who might sound like you. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s sometimes assumed by the type of blog I write that (along with other misconceptions) I don’t believe in the gathering of the church in general, simply because I don’t promote the institutional forms of gathering. It’s assumed that I have some sort of doctrinal belief that Christians ought to stay home on Sundays and never do anything organized.
But if you have read the blog closely, and not through a set of mental filters, you’ll realize that isn’t true. I’ve never said we shouldn’t gather. The Scripture says not to forsake the assembling together; I haven’t torn that page from my Bible, and neither should you. Of course we’re supposed to get together. No–my issue has never been whether that should happen, but what it should look like. I don’t believe it’s appropriate to use that “don’t forsake the assembling” passage to guilt people into attending the form of church you think is best. I do believe it’s appropriate, even necessary, to keep that Scripture in our hearts, to let it guide us into community with one another, whatever that community looks like. I don’t think a gathering has to be institutional in order to fulfill the mandate to assemble. Hopefully that makes sense.
That being said, because of the blog, I’ve obviously become friends with a lot of people who are Christ-followers but aren’t currently engaged in a regular gathering with other believers. Some of these folks have been “outsiders” for several years, others for a few months. Some of them even believe it’s okay not to belong to a community, and have no plans to be in one. Many others, though, express a sense of loneliness and loss, because they actually want to be in community–they just feel sort of exiled because they can’t in good conscience belong to any of the traditional forms of gathering taking place around them. (That longing is actually what’s drawn many of us into the blogosphere, because at least we can find someone else online who has an inkling of what we’re feeling–and that’s actually drawn some of us into a sort of pseudo-community.)
For me, on the issue of gathering or not gathering, I actually don’t take a hard-line approach either way–and there’s one huge reason why. The answer is the title of this blog post: The In Between.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned along this journey, it is to take the factor of time into account. Faith and belief and practice are not on/off switches; God is interacting with all of us on a timeline, and we are all in between different points on that line. So how I see the world and the church today might change over time, as God changes my perspective through my interaction with Him, with others, and with the world. Same with you; same with anyone else.
What’s more–I believe God interacts with the church herself over time, and I believe the church right now is undergoing a huge “in between” moment. I think that’s why there are so many Christians right now who are having serious doubts and disillusionments about the form of church we’ve all been brought up with. But I don’t think it’s time to draw up doctrinal statements about whether or not we should “go to church” on Sundays just because a lot of people are feeling differently about it. I think we need to ride it out and see what God reveals over time. We’re not at a stopping point here; we’re in the In Between. I think we’re in the process of stripping off the extra baggage so we can rediscover what true community is like–but I don’t think we’re there yet, and I don’t trust anyone right now who claims to have a clear handle on it. Just because it looks a certain way now doesn’t mean it will look that way in a few years. It’s just too early to draw a clear conclusion on a lot of things.
So where am I at on the timeline? I’m fairly confident that the church, and the institution that has grown up around the church, are not one and the same–so I obviously don’t buy into the claim that Sunday morning gathering is the only way and method to assemble together. In other words, I’ve spent a lot of time the past few years getting a clearer understanding of what true community is not. πŸ™‚ I’m now in a personal “in between” place, having released both my house church in Tulsa and the church where I was helping out with worship here, so I am in a position to re-discover, as it were. I see before me the seeds of a new community of faith–and a fresh expression of community–which I’ll probably elaborate on in future posts. I’m not in a huge hurry to form anything; rather, I want to look and listen, and see what is already forming around us, and be part of that. I still believe that we should gather; I’m just patient about exploring what that can look like–because I understand a lot more about the timeline.
For now, though, I’m in the In Between–just like so many of us are.

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So I Guess Now I’m a Demographic

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Categories: church, food for thought

A few days ago, I posted this rant about a book that defends the institutional church structures, essentially addressing the growing “problem” of people leaving the institutions. A quote from the book near the end of it concludes that we should just basically bite the bullet, go back, be faithful, and be quiet.

Now, to be fair, I haven’t read the book, only some quotes posted by a blogger who is apparently in favor of it…so my rant wasn’t about the book itself, but about the quotes from the book. (I probably won’t read the book, either, at least right now, because I’m too busy actually engaged in things that matter to come down off the wall and debate.) So this isn’t a continuation of the rant, nor is it really to bash the book. Rather, I’ve just been thinking that the fact that books are now actually being written about this issue highlights two important points:

  1. This trend of people leaving institutional church (without necessarily leaving their faith) is now apparently a large enough groundswell that people feel compelled to write books to counter it.
  2. As one who has left, I am apparently now part of a new demographic the institutional church is now targeting–right along with the unbeliever and the prodigal. I am part of the target market now. (This is a new experience for me–I’m used to being on the side of the targeters, not the targeted.)

In other words, this has apparently become a significant enough “problem” that it’s attracting attention among institutional leaders and thinkers; yet their response thus far seems to be not to soul-search to find out what’s causing the exodus, but rather to try and stem the tide itself by trying to convince the leavers to return.

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In Praise of the Institutions?

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Categories: church, Meanderings (look it up), Rantings

Yesterday, I came across a book review on a blog that got me stirred up about institutional church issues like I haven’t been in a long time. The book is Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, written by the same guys who wrote Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be).

Now I haven’t read either book, so it would definitely be unfair for me to issue an actual review of something I haven’t read. But the blogger posted some select quotes from the book, and that was enough to get me started. πŸ™‚ Here is just a tidbit from the book:

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Experience Is a Teacher: An Email Dialog with a Reader

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, moments of truth

A few days ago, I received an email from someone checking out some of my older blog posts, and I felt our email conversation might benefit others. I am a few years down the road on my journey from when I started processing all this stuff, but as I wrote this brother back, I almost felt like it was a synopsis of the last couple of years of blogging. With his permission, I’m reposting the conversation, withholding the name for privacy’s sake.

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What Do You Think About Anne Rice?

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Categories: church, food for thought

Anne Rice, the Interview with the Vampire author who in recent years became known for her faith in Christ, raised quite a ruckus on her Facebook page Wednesday by her reununciation of Christianity. Huffington Post reports on it here, but here’s just a tidbit of what she said:

“I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat….I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

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