Monday, December 22, 2008

Hooking up with Jesus

Coming off a comment by Les on the last post, I began thinking about intimacy as it pertains to faith.

Intimacy is a polarized experience. It can be both terrifying and indescribably settling. The fear of being known so vulnerably is balanced by the peacefulness of knowing the vulnerability is safe with another person.

Intimacy with God was a concept that was tossed about in The Church As We Know It as some type of holy grail that was easily accessible and achievable by certain practices of bible reading, prayer and singing an inordinate amount of songs that were composed of language that bordered on sensual.

Toward the end of my days as a professional minister, I began reconsidering the use of this kind of language in public expressions of worship. Now that I am a few miles outside of town, those thoughts are reinforced.

When you are intimate with someone, you keep certain things between just you and that person. Personal secrets and nicknames are kept closely guarded. We save our most intimate expressions of affection for our most intimate moments, that is, when you and that person are alone and no one else is around.

This kind of intimacy is expressed in the imagery of Revelation, which says that God would give a token of affection to those who endure suffering for His sake. The token would be a small white stone upon which a name was written. This name would be secret and only known to the person to whom the stone was given. Thus the name is a way of honoring the relationship and serves as a reminder of that shared intimacy.

Sex was supposed to provide two people with this kind of intimacy, but our culture seems to think this is an old fashioned notion. When we take a personal, private matter and turn it into a public one, to use the common vernacular, someone gets fucked. Pleasure is had, but intimacy is tossed out the window. And this is the real tragedy.

I run the risk of making a gross comparison, but it appears to me that a similar experience developed along the way in our public expressions of worship. Good worship was often rated by how good it felt and not so much about a deep abiding faith in God. It felt really good at that point in time to sing those songs, but am I able to experience even greater pleasures of God when I am outside the public setting?

One thing Revelation did not say, but I imply, is that I doubt no one is going to be turning their name on that white stone into a top 10 worship song.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A parallel universe

Dear Future Pastor,

One of the most enlightening decisions I have made in the last three years is to distance my faith from the culture that has been created by it.

While I would hesitate from turning my experience into a step-by-step handbook, I will offer to you how I think it has helped me, and if you find some kind of inspiration in it, all the better.

For years I was immersed in a parallel culture, one that glided alongside a similarly functioning secular one, only smaller in scope. Like any tribe or people group, my religious culture had a language, values, mores and traditions that made perfect sense while I lived among it, but now that I have moved to another place, I look back and scratch my head at certain former ways of carrying on with life.

I pulled out some old “worship” CD’s today and listened to what I was captured by a mere few years ago. The songs I considered cutting edge seem so different now that I am outside the culture that created them. Please don’t hear me saying that they are bad, inferior or that I have somehow become enlightened and superior in judgment over them. It’s just that I have a different point of view.

As the music played, I recalled with fondness some of lyrics that I sang and even wrote, but asked myself why they don’t hold the same meaning now. I believe it’s because I have learned to speak a different language now, and vernacular of the religious culture doesn’t translate very easily into my new life.

The Church as We Know It holds its own language in reverence. But does your average outsider have a category for terms like King of Kings and Lord of Lords or Lamb of God or I want to touch You, I want You to hold me, I need to feel your arms around me, draw near and caress me with Your embrace?

Now that I am an outsider, these don’t seem to make as much sense to me, either.

Future Pastor, I’m not trying to throw you into confusion, but you will have to take into serious consideration these kinds of changes you will inevitably face if you decide to take seriously becoming a pastor of The Church of the Future.

Guilt is one of those paths you will likely have to walk. Prepare to ask yourself, Am I doing the right thing? Am I walking away from the core of my faith? Am I abandoning orthodoxy? Am I ashamed of the gospel or even my profession? I went through a season having to answer these questions. But I eventually have come to accept the wrestling match with guilt as a part of the process of becoming who I was made to be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Exit 432

Dear Future Pastor,

The last two weeks have left me with very little reserve to draw upon. My 20th century guilt was trying to convince me that it had to do with my lack of discipline or being a part of the Church As We Know It, but I knew better. I now refer to it as reality.

All this brought me to my day off work wondering what I should do about it. I had a thought to visit the Holy Family Chapel along Interstate 80 between here and Omaha. Perched upon a hill overlooking the Platte Valley, this mysterious looking edifice always invokes in me the question, “What is that thing?”

I made my way northeast along the ribbon of highway and found the exit leading down the dirt road to the quaint little sanctuary. My lack of knowledge of this place produced a little anxiety, as does anything dedicated as holy. I’m sure some passersby might have seen it as a glorified Stuckey’s to be checked off their cross country travelogue, but for me it felt somewhat ominous.

This is what I like about the Catholics. They have tried to keep the Sacred at arms length, treat it with reverence and maintain that division between it and all that is secular. They erect sanctuaries and cathedrals and monasteries and recite liturgies as a means to remind them that God is Other and I am Ordinary. The evangelicals, on the other hand, tear the veil, blunder in, and make everything familiar.

Regardless of position, all of us have to admit our tendency to slump into a complacent course. The liturgist must overcome it as well as the non-traditionalist. It is hard to keep fresh when it comes to spiritual direction.

Which is why I think my visit to Holy Family Chapel was meaningful. It was different. It was off the beaten path. It caught me off guard, and I needed that.

As I drove away, my spirit felt relieved and like a reflex I considered coming back again soon. But Something suggested otherwise. As I mulled over the rationale, I concluded that my need was not met by my visit to the Chapel itself, but mostly out of an age old Truth.

If you seek Me, you will find Me.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hope and Change

As I’ve said before, I try to keep my political opinions out of this blog, as I know how polarizing politics can be. It’s not that I don’t hold firm beliefs, it’s just that my thoughts about the spiritual life may not ever get heard if I interject what I think about politics.

I will comment on Tuesday’s election in light of an observation I have made before. It is the word; Transcendence.

This time in history reminds us even more of this need.

Why else do we gather in stadiums with 80,000 other sports fans to watch 11 guys try and get a leather ball across a particular line on a grass field?

Why do we wait in line for hours and camp out for tickets for a show to be reminded that I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For?

And why would a kid need off work so he and some buds can drive 10 hours to stand in a sea of humanity in Chicago’s Grant Park on a Tuesday Night in November?


And Barak Obama is helping a generation with this need.

The other major headlines are nothing to rally around. The gravitational pull of the economy, national security, and healthcare concerns are enough for the average citizen to feel the downward pressure of the extra weight. This added burden demands relief, and transcendent moments like Tuesday nights decision provide that liberation.

To transcend is to rise above, to be lifted up and over all that is ordinary and become distinct. And to many, Barak Obama is their means of transcendence.. He has brought a majority of people up and above the current state of mind about this country. He has lifted spirits and attitudes. He has campaigned on two simple words: Hope and Change. The nationwide response to both signals a yearning for transcendence.

To borrow a phrase from film, The Incredibles, if everyone is special, then no one is. In a culture of self-fulfillment, it is not enough to feel good about me. I need to feel great about something greater. I need to rise above, and I need help doing so.

Good luck, President-elect Obama. Lead strong. Lead us well.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

You. Happier?

Here’s a thought I’ve been ruminating lately. With the mortgage crisis front and center in all the news and talk, it makes me wonder if the average person has any idea why it came about?

Most are able to blame Wall Street fat cats, and the Republicans and Democrats are trading shots at each other, contending that their opponent is somehow the culprit, but what about the consumer? Where does the consumer fit into the picture?

Everyday I get a raft of credit card applications in the mail, in effect begging me to apply for their card and receive their low interest rate or their unbeatable balance transfer offer. And everyday I run them through the shredder. And everyday I see why it was so easy for us to get into this current financial quagmire.

Fault the lender for being so tempting, but also fault the borrower for not being wiser. The Serpent made the offer of the apple, but Adam and Eve went against their instructions and took the first bite. Both got punished. If I am living beyond my means, regardless if the government or my neighbor can’t do so, that still doesn’t make it right.

The latest ad campaign from Best Buy includes a slogan that reads, “You. Happier.” I am teaching my daughter to mock things like this. How stupid does Best Buy think I am, that they believe that me buying a stupid flat panel TV is going to have any bearing on me being happier? What do they take me for?

Well I guess they take me for the average American, who is in consumptive debt up to their eyeballs, who doesn’t have the wherewithal to recognize a lie from a good deal.

I wonder if we as a consumptive society will every get fed up to the point that advertising strategies like Best Buy will actually backfire and have a negative effect on their sales? Will we ever come to our senses long enough to feel offended by a statement, “You. Happier?”

And once we get through this mortgage mess, will we really ever learn a lesson from it?

Something tells me to not hold my breath.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cart before the Horse

Future Pastor, back to your question about how often the Church of the Future would, or should, gather.

I believe this question is irrelevant, or at least too early at this point in our discussion. The inquiry is seems more concerned with function, not fruitfulness. We should first want to concern ourselves with what exactly are we wanting to create.

I planted a few apple trees in my back yard, about seven years ago, and every year at this time my daughter asks me when the apples are going to be ready. I shamefully tell her that yet again we don’t have apples to pick, to which she quickly asks, “How come?”

“It’s hard to say.”

“Be fruitful and multiply” was the original freedom given to us as human beings, and I believe that process is implicit in all living organisms. Everything around us is fitted with the ability, or at least the longing, to grow and leave behind a reproduction of itself. So when it comes to your desire for expanding the Church of The Future, do you have in mind what you want the fruit to look like? What you envision is what you will reproduce.

I know what good apples look like, but what shows up on my trees isn’t that. But if scrawny, infested or shriveled was the standard, then I would consider myself successful every year.

If qualities like attendance, giving, or volunteering are going to be used as the sign of good fruit, your approach will take on a certain method, looking much like the existing plan of the Church As We Know It. But if you want to see greater faith, more genuine love, and an empowered, hopeful demonstration, then worrying about how often you need to get together will take a back seat in lieu of leading and inspiring these ideals.

Future Pastor, we need to examine and see if the Current Orchard is producing the right type of fruit. Once we deal with that, we can start figuring out methods and procedures.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Trends or the Blowing of the Wind?

One of the hardest things for a leader to discern is the difference between the development of a trend and a the moving of the Spirit.

When I was in student ministry, we were constantly trying to reinvent ourselves in an attempt to stay ahead of the ever changing curve of the student population. I was directly involved in it for 18 years and saw a significant shift during those times.

Smaller to Larger

I watched the explosion of mega campus groups, primarily in the south, but in places like Waco and College Station emerged a much sought after phenomenon. It started from something called a “bible study,” usually a handful of students and a leader seeking to be used to reach their campus, and in a short time it transforms into a weekly gathering of thousands. God is given credit for an amazing outpouring.

The Worship Band

When I started at the University of Nebraska, worship bands were unheard of. Ours was the first that emerged. Being a frontrunner gave me several opportunities to speak out about the role that worship would play in transforming our campuses. Within a few years, it was the exception for any fellowship to not have some type of band, regardless of how small. What would have been sufficient for an acoustic guitar now demanded that plus drums, bass and a sound system. All for 20 kids.

The Kurt Cobain effect

His death, from my perspective, ushered in a season of angst where it became vogue to project little hope. To be positive was to be shallow. To not live in a constant state of questioning meant you weren’t authentic. Candles and couches snuck in during this season. We wanted to be closer to God this way.

Larger to Smaller

Toward the end of my tenure, the glory from the larger groups seemed to fade. Like Moses' diminishing glow beneath the veil, something was changing, and we weren’t really sure why. Do we blame it on God or the generation?

In each of these expressions, I look back and ask myself if I was following and forming a sociological trend, or if I was really in touch with the Spirit of God and what He desired for us. Answer: I may never know.

I see a similar wave building, and look on it differently now as an outsider and not as one shrouded by his culture he has helped create. It is the Inward to Outward display. I predict the next wave is going to move away from the inward, contemplative worship and teaching expression to a more outward focus of social issues and ministry. Could the next “worship band” be the ministry who has the best trips to help Hurricane Ike victims or the coolest soup kitchen outreach?

I don’t mean to sound cynical, but as a watchman I want to recognize what lies in the outer reaches of the landscape. If I am to awaken others to respond to what I see, I don’t want to be guilty of crying “wolf.”

Monday, September 01, 2008

Politics and Religion

I try to keep my political opinions to myself and keep them out of this blog. Religion is enough to think and worry about for me right now. I can’t imagine trying to do justice to both.

I know many families have the general rule, when they get together, of no talk of either politics or religion. They both cause the same trouble and lead to the same arguments. It’s because religion and politics don’t mix very well. Just ask Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant Magazine. Who would have thought that being invited to say a prayer at this year’s DNC would cause such a ruckus? It’s a prayer, crying out loud.

I have to admit that when I saw Rick Warren throw himself into the political arena by hosting a debate at his church, I was a bit worried that he might yet become another evangelical leader seduced by the power that politics provides. The only reason he got the opportunity to do that was because he has power in the religious arena. Selling millions of books gets you noticed.

I’m not saying people of faith shouldn’t be involved politically. All I ask and hope for is that they don’t make the same mistakes in politics as has happened in the Church As We Know It.

People on the Right, or the Left or In The Church have this in common; they have the tendency to act as if their worldview is iron clad and has no holes.

You will never hear James Carville, Sean Hannity and The Bible Answer Man allude to any kind of doubt or question or uncertainty with whatever position they are defending.

I just wish for once, in the midst of all the hype and spin, that I could hear some honest struggle. Tension exists between the Left and Right, but seldom can we talk about the tension within.

It always bugged me as a young man of growing faith that I could never get an answer from a person in clergical authority that was not in the form of chapter and verse defenses. I would walk away feeling I was wrong and he was right, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

I guess I carry that same suspicion into this election season. I seldom find people on either side politically who are fully committed to their cause that can tell me anything they are concerned about in their own position.

Future Pastor, as you feel the need to become more politically active, don’t be quick to proclaim certainty without humility. State your beliefs, and do so with an awareness that your position will always be held in tension with others around you. Be gracious to those who misunderstand you. It’s more important to love well than to be right.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


What is it about the State Fair that seems to attract a need to put any kind of food imaginable on a stick? I ashamedly admit that my daughter and I sampled several on-a-stick foods last night. Let’s see, we had pizza-on-a-stick, fried twinkie-on-a-stick, frozen chocolate covered banana-on-a-stick, corn dog-on-a-stick, and a fried peach-on-a-stick. Most of it was odd in the mouth, but I figured that since our State Fair is destined for the archives, I should create a memory with my girl before its too late. Not sure exactly what that memory might be, but we logged it anyway.

As we sat on a bench along Main Street, behind the DockDogs showcase and across from the Allis Chalmers farm implement dealer, I watched the Full Gospel Business Men’s little portable trailer with the question stenciled in big, bold letters on three sides, “Are you going to heaven?” Inside it were two elderly gentlemen, probably my dad’s age, not doing much other than sitting. Below the painted question was the sentence, “Two questions will reveal your fate.”

Maybe it struck me as funny, but there was something freakish about their set up. So much so that I had a mental wrestling match with my conscience about whether I should go over and talk to the two old gents. Now in retrospect I realize I chickened out, but I think I was afraid they might think I was not saved, since I still have an earring and all. But shame on me for judging them, right?

In a way, I wish I was like those guys. In the time that it took to eat a Texas Tater, I saw two people stop by their booth. That’s two more than I would have ever imagined them getting a chance to speak with, but again, there is my judgment getting in the way. They seemed kind enough, smiling in conversation to both parties. Who knows what they talked about. I assume it about going to heaven, since that’s what their booth was all about.

The cool thing is that these old guys are just putting it out there as they see fit. I assume it was their faith that motivated the effort. I bet they believe they are doing the Lord’s work.

What it did was make me miss my dad. I’m not sure he would have manned a booth like that, but he did have faith that was simple,, and I really miss it. I wonder if every generation gets to a point of looking back and realizing that progress hasn’t always gotten us to a better point?

I think I'll scrap my Bible-on-a-stick idea.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Come sit with us

Enjoyed a serendipitous moment at El Toro last night. Two old friends whom we hadn’t seen in quite some time arrived soon after we were seated. They were able to buck the waiting line and join us. Our conversation sparked my thoughts before sunrise this morning.

Since our relationship with them centered around church attendance, it was no wonder that the conversation eventually ended up there. Add their names to the list of folks who are not quite sure where the Church As We Know It is sailing.

One frustration the wife expressed was how much time is spent on slogging through issues like the role of women in ministry. “Why are we STILL debating this issue?” was her frustrated question. How will this help us really love other people well?

I understand the One Side believes it is a fundamental question that must be theologically rooted and doctrinally sound, but what I think it doesn’t realize is that the Other Side doesn’t really care.

To borrow a term from Thomas Friedman, the world is flattening, and so should the Church As We Know It. Hierarchies are diminishing because we don’t need them as much anymore. Organizational structure is not as necessary as it once was, in large part because you and I possess the tools powerful enough to arrange and communicate with as many people as we need.

If the Church As We Know It stays caught in this eddy of orchestration, the rest of the culture will float on by and it won’t wait for Her to catch up. In Her attempts at remaining doctrinally pure, She is becoming irrelevant to the very people She thinks She needs to help. Little does She know that they have a lot to teach Her.

The Wise Man once wrote that it is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Tension will always exist between two seemingly opposite issues, but the Church As We Know It needs to tighten up the slack a little bit.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Does prayer work?

I approach this question differently now than I would have before. When I was in the business of dispensing religious goods and services, I would have taken a defensive stance that had no doubt been influenced by a Western, scientific point of view. I walk a different path now.

Asking if something works, one needs to be aware if the presuppositions are coming from a mechanical bias. Similar to purchasing a car, the buyer wants to know if all the features do what they are supposed to do. Does the engine run? Does the AC cool? Will the transmission shift? All these questions are fair and reasonable.

But a relationship with an automobile is different than one with a living, dynamic, organic being. And I believe we have melded the two ideas together so that there is no division any more.

Our culture has blurred our distinctions of mechanism and relationship. Marriage is a prime example. The current version not cutting it for you? Trade the old partner in for a new sportier model. Take the shiny one out for a sex drive and put it through all the gears. I don’t know; this one’s just not working for me.

What person wants to be treated that way? Certainly not the one to which I am married.

Relationships are not products to be purchased or commodities to be exchanged. I don’t buy low and sell high. The same rules do not apply

So if I want to know if prayer works, I need to first honestly determine whether or not I am buying it as a product. If the merchandise of prayer is not getting me what I want, I should be allowed to trade it in or take it back for a refund, shouldn’t I? According to that line of logic, I say absolutely. But this is where one must take account of a fundamental paradigm.

Our quest for answers and resolution has jeopardized our ability to adequately understand the Divine. God as a Person will be comprehended differently than God as a Brand.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ezekiel 7:10

When someone reads my story, I always find myself wondering if it will be seen as anything other than that.

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I am in the process of reinventing myself. Among the biggest adjustments I’ve made in the last three years, changing careers and changing what I think about church are the most predominant. I often wonder if my writing is seen as assumption that everyone should do as I have done and quit church and start a business.

Only if you feel you have to.

I don’t recommend any kind of personal change unless there is a deep sense that you should. Don’t try and answer questions that you feel no need to ask. Don’t assume that what I have gone through is what you need to do also

I made these changes because I couldn’t sleep at night. I took the risk because I felt Boredom rake itself through my soul like fingernails on a chalkboard. I didn’t do this because I read that it’s the next trend in reaching pre-ex-postmoderns. I did it because I wanted to thrive, not just survive.

I did it because being faithful no longer meant doing the same thing and just keep plodding along. The Sameness drained me of faith instead of having the opposite effect. My heritage put a high value on being consistent. This is a fine quality, but where is it supposed to take me?

One motive in being consistent in my faith practices was to look like the other guy, but it came at the expense of being myself. I am getting this back once again, and I am liking what I see.

In my effort to be like the other guy, I memorized gazillions of Bible verses that I could quote at the drop of a hat. Many were obscure, strange little passages that made me look smart. Let it be known that I don’t discount that practice. It’s just that it came at a time in my life that I used it for something a little less noble than what it appeared.

One of those thoughts that I memorized years ago still sticks with me. It’s a story about Peter bitching to Jesus about his buddy John. Peter was probably like me, craving attention and needing to be seen by the Lord as someone who is worthwhile. Jesus described Peter’s fate in not-so glowing terms, which got him a little ticked. Peter pointed the finger to John and wanted to know from Jesus what would happen to him, too.

This is where I would revert to word-for-word recitation of the passage for fear of getting it wrong and thereby being passed over for the next round of promotions. But my faith rests in the Author, not the Recital. This has made all the difference in the world in my absorption of the Idea.

Jesus told Peter to not worry about the other guy. His outcome is going to be different than yours, not because I like him better or because you are thick headed and need to suffer more grief. No, his life will not be the same because fairness isn’t the point. Doling out the same goods to every person on earth is not going to matter. What matters is the faith you possess and do you express it in love.

Friday, August 01, 2008

In Remembrance

I've made some bad decisions in life, and depending on their degree of severity, the impact of those choices linger long after the action is complete.

But I’ve also made a few good decisions along the way, ones that I don’t regret, but am glad I did so. One is buying my wife a dog for Valentine’s Day. Even though I should have done it years ago, it was a great move. I think I may be nominated for Husband of the Year.

Seriously, this time of year reminds me that I did the right thing about three years ago as my dad was in the hospital recovering from surgery to repair the damage sustain to his hip due to a fall. Since dad had difficulty hearing, I decided to write him a letter of thanks, expressing appreciation for how he lived his life and the example he set for me. Writing allows me to craft words into a message, and I wanted him to know how proud I am being his son.

Little did I know, those would be the last words I would ever get to communicate to him. He passed away a very short time later, due to complications from the surgery. When we arrived soon after his passing, I saw the letter next to his bed. Mom told me about reading it to him. I was so glad I took the time to say what I did.

I’ve decided to print the letter here, as much as a reminder to me to act on those little promptings I get once in a while. Many of you knew my dad and you know what he was like. He was what some refer to as a “hinge generation.” He refused to pass on the family traits that were given to him by his father. Though he was yelled at as a boy, he never treated me that way. Growing up poor, he never wanted me to go without, but neither did he give me everything I wanted. He is a man that grows larger in my eyes with each passing year of his death.

Funny how I remember this, but my very first thought when I knew he was gone was that he would never see my restaurant. I would never be able to slide a pint across the bar and watch him be proud. It’s been almost three years now, and while I don’t have that opportunity, I do have the letter, and I think the latter is the more important one.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Dear Dad,

I wasn’t sure when I would be able to talk with you on the phone, but I figured I might be able to better express some things in words on paper than in voice. I am so sorry you broke your leg and are holed up in the hospital. It sounds like you have a good amount of support around you, and for that I am very thankful.

I just wanted to say how proud I am that you are my Dad. Of all the things I have learned from you over the years, the fact that you are not a bitter man is of high importance to me. Karen was imagining you saying after the fall, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t done that.” She, too, has watched your response to life’s ups and downs with grace and style.

Often friends of yours will comment to me about what a great spirit you have within you. They tell me how positive you are, how you always have a kind word to say and a gentle graciousness in your demeanor. I smile with pride as they tell me these things, knowing it could be different, but you have chosen not to let the harshness of life affect you. I remember watching Ray over the years become colder. You have not done that. That is a wonderful gift, more than you know.

I know the days ahead may be uncertain, but I stand with you and what needs to be done. However we can help, we will. Whatever decision needs to be made, so be it. That’s another lesson you and Mom have taught me. Complaining won’t change things, but the right attitude will.

My prayers for you include a regular request that the Heavenly Father’s presence would be very near to you. I know He is proud of you, your life and contribution you have made as a result of your faith. I have aimed high as a result. Hope you get well soon.



Monday, July 21, 2008

Runnin down a dream

"Yeah runnin' down a dream That never would come to me Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads I'm runnin' down a dream"

I was singing these and other familiar lyrics last night with 15,999 of my closest friends as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, armed with their six stringed axes, held the crowd hostage from the stage and transported all of us back to 1979.

I love rock and roll.

It was the riffs of Tommy Shaw and Joe Satriani that did it for me. Still to this day, when Blue Collar Man comes on the radio, I always have to bump the volume a few ticks, regardless of who is in the car.

Music was the first dream I really seriously pondered doing. Those sounds the artist could generate from the instrument were the same ones in my head. I thought it must be an incredible satisfaction to have the ability to deliver the song from mental concept to aural reality.

So I took a stab at it. In college I bought a guitar and started learning to play.

Growing up in the community of faith that I did, there wasn’t a high value placed on any kind of technical virtuosity, as it was seen as a distraction from a focus on God by drawing attention to the performer. Musicians I knew, myself included, carried a confliction of guilt, which influenced our attitude toward getting better. If there was no place to perform well in the Church As We Know It, why work at improving?

So I had to allow other artists to do that for me and this is what I recognized at last night’s show.

Steve Winwood started the ball rolling with his rhythm and blues style of tunes. Several times I closed my eyes and envisioned myself playing what I was hearing. My guitar was in his hands and he was playing it for me.

Then Petty and company take the stage, bigger than life. In an instant, I was 17 again and had the chance to make a different decision about music. There was no guilt, no worry about whether or not it was about God or musician. All that was lost as all of us in the arena transcended the ordinary via the extraordinary sound generated by these qualified players.

I often wonder how my life would look different if I hadn’t had that yoke placed on my neck. Would I be a musician instead of a restaurateur? I know it’s a moot point, but I can’t help it. So instead I have to allow others to play the music for me, and who knows, maybe its arrogant of me to think that I could have been that good.

But it’s a hard question not to ask.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Would Jesus drink Coke or Pepsi?

It was great to see two college friends, Jeff and Tena, as they stopped in on their way to Minnesota. It seems however and whenever you meet people, if it occurs at the heart level, it’s always easy to pick up where you left off. Such was the case in our visit yesterday.

We talked about our jobs, kids, and the increasingly visited subject as you age; health. But eventually the topic came to our career change, and we dove down from there.

“How did you do it?” “How did you know?” “How long did it take to get going?” “Where did you start?” The questions all had the same theme.

That theme is faith.

I recalled to them the day I realized I was telling 15 year old stories to my students. There was nothing fresh, nothing current, and nothing that indicated my faith was growing. I was only maintaining it, and not doing a very good job at that. This is how I knew something needed to change.

People in my tradition refer to having a “calling” to describe how they got into their vocational path. I know many who go back to a childhood experience and believed God told them to be a missionary, and they are living that out to this day. I don’t discount this kind of encounter. Sometime I wish mine were so certain.

There was a time when the WWJD (What would Jesus do) idea was in vogue. The assumption was that if Jesus were in my shoes, he would do things differently than I would normally do, and the challenge lay in determining what choices he would make.

There seemed to be a problem with the WWJD scheme. The situations were mostly moral in nature. What would Jesus do? He wouldn’t not go to church or be late to work or cheat on his homework. He wouldn’t steal or look at porn or feel up his girlfriend. Nor would he go 60 in a 55 or, depending on your denomination, drink caffeine or eat red meat.

If Jesus lived to be 45 instead of 33, what would he do to combat midlife crisis?

Changing the career direction of my life was not some kind of act of moral obedience to a divine command. It seems a whole lot more ordinary than that. It wasn’t so much about trying to figure out what Jesus would do if he was me, but more like him asking me what would I do.

I can’t picture Jesus owning a restaurant, but I do believe he is interested in my faith being alive.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is everything as you expected?

It seems like I am having epiphanies on a regular basis as of late. Maybe epiphany is a too strong a word. Realization might be more apt. This would make sense if you understood how different my life is now than just a short time ago.

In my years as a pastor on the university campus, I always carried this stigma of feeling like a ginsu knife salesman. Sure I was free to be there with my wares, but did anyone really want what I was selling? I never really felt a part of the community as a whole. Even though administrators might give lip service to the value of religious groups, I always got the feeling that our presence was obligatory at best.

I’ve flogged myself with the bible passage about being in the world but not of it whenever I confronted this feeling of disconnect and assumed I was supposed to revel in my lack of being accepted by folks with whom I interacted. This world is not our home after all and we should be glad that we feel rejected.

But I was never good at this disparity in my vocation as ministry. On the one hand I had the need to feel good about my work and yet on the other I knew my significance should rest in something deeper than that. I never knew how much this affected my self esteem while I was in the midst of it, but now that my day to day life is just the opposite, the contrast is startling.

Now I get to meet people everyday who have somehow heard about my work and come to find me. I don’t have to get up in the morning wondering if I will have a place to meet and gather in or be in threat of being shut down because I am too loud or because we were double booked with another preferable group. No, I have a little spot out of which I get a deep sense of satisfaction, not unlike some of the best days in campus ministry.

I guess what I am saying is that I love what I do today as much as I loved the best parts about collegiate ministry. Some might look at me and think the two are somehow different. It might appear that I have fallen in love with the things of this world and have taken my hand from the proverbial plough. Could I be guilty of giving up eternal for temporal ones by giving up the guitar and taking up the chef knife?

Maybe its not you I’m cooking for.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Let me ask you two questions...

I spent many years in the university community and would always come across the perennial discussions of faith and belief, and even this morning as I was looking at a bulletin board at a campus coffee house, there again was another flyer announcing a meeting to discuss the accuracy of the Bible and the textual errancy that exists and the problems that it creates and so on. But I find there is always something missing in these kinds of debates.

The Bible refers to our having a mind, soul and body, interpreted by many as being a kind of Trinity to man’s existence. I have no problem with that kind of categorization. Where my problem comes in is when you try and split those apart and consider them as separate entities, independent of one another.

Arguments about the Bible are almost always intellectual, and we cite all the rational reasons why we should believe one way or another, but we do so without consideration to our whole being. We are not just walking brains. We are living, breathing stories of humanity. This is why I do not make a good Evangelical.

One of my favorite encounters as a campus pastor was about a two month stretch of interacting with folks from the Campus Free Thought Society, formerly known as the Campus Atheists, but they changed their name since they felt that was too restricting. I’m not sure how the initial meeting was initiated, but one evening several of their group and a few of my friends met at a coffee house to discuss our points of view.

There must have been 15 of us, all packed tightly in a circle so as to hear each other over the din. There was the usual bit of chit chat at the onset, but when it started to get a little awkward as everyone became aware that no one was in charge of moving the discussion forward, I decided to jump in.

My first question seemed to surprise everyone, because it was not aimed at finding out our differences. Instead, I asked the group to cite any church or religious experience they may have had growing up.

That’s all it took to get the party started.

To my surprise, everyone had something to say, and further, everyone had something heartbreaking to tell. Stories of abuse, neglect, disillusionment, abandonment, all from parents or church people. People who should have been trustworthy were not, and the results were sitting in a circle clutching coffee mugs.

This scene is one example why I was always uncomfortable with my Evangelical heritage. I hated to argue and defend a point. Intellectual arguments act as shields behind which we hide and toss spears of attack. I couldn’t put a finger on it at the time, but I see now what I am more comfortable with is finding out what you and I have in common over how you and I differ in belief. Commonality in our stories lead to trust, which is something these young people in the circle had very little of.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Play that saxaphone, man, play it!

I grew up in the Evangelical tradition. By virtue of that fact, I have little bits of hardwiring in my brain that have been operating accordingly. It might be like a programmer trying to figure out why the computer is running a bit sluggish, only to discover that there are a few lines of FORTRAN code trying to communicate to the rest of the current operating system. The programmer is not sure how to delete or translate those lines, nor is sure he should. Right now, he is more consumed with finding out how that code got in its place. The bigger my world gets, the smaller my previous beliefs seems. And those beliefs will always be with me regardless. I can ignore them, but I can’t discard or trade them in, no matter how hard I try. My evangelical tradition taught me to be certain. We were right and everyone else was wrong. And it was our job as evangelicals to proclaim that truth at every opportunity. Why else would we be labeled “evangelical?” Evangelism was the centerpiece of party. My problem was, I just was never good at it. There was never any room for doubt. I remember one famous Oklahoma preacher who was known for his sermon on “The Wheat and the Tares.” I probably heard it a half a dozen times at camps or some kind of revival meeting. His text was taken from the words of Jesus comparing believers and non with the mixing of wheat-looking weeds growing among wheat stalks in a field. His main point was that you may look like one, but that doesn’t mean you really are one, and one way of knowing if you aren’t one is if you doubt all the time, so come down front, pray this prayer and be sure today that you are going to heaven. That pretty much sums up my Evangelical faith experience. Are you wheat or are you not? Have you prayed the prayer or have you not? Are you in or are you out? I’m now embracing that there is a whole lot more. I don’t want to be guilty of what I see in the stories of others who are coming to similar crossroads. Seems the common response is to scrap the whole thing in exchange for something a little more harmonious. But instead, I want to hang on to the tension that this past creates in me. As a musician, I know there is no music without tension. Without the force between the peg and the bridge, the guitar string lies flat. But crank the knob a few turns and the wire starts to move toward something that sounds in tune. John Coltrane was master of creating and manipulating tension in jazz, and as a result became a polarizing force among music critics and fans in the sixties. One man’s brilliance was another man’s cacophony. I fell into the later category when I first stumbled upon his music. Yet the more I understood what he was doing, the easier I could find the pleasure in the sounds of his saxophone. I would be embarrassed to try and describe how I feel as I listen and absorb his signature album, A Love Supreme. For me there exists a similar tension in the themes of Scripture, and I am currently trying to pluck the notes between heaven and hell, between free will and predestination, of Liberal and Conservative, of Evangelicalism and the rest of the world. Thanks for your encouragement to keep writing.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Out of the Woods

I feel as if I am running out of things to say on this blog, which may be an indication that my original intent has reached its end. I wrote to chronicle my transition away from a being a pastor as my vocation, into seeing if I can become one that serves the same function, only without getting paid to do so.

It has been three years now since I made the shift and I can safely say that I am out of the transition. It’s kind of like when I decided to cooperate with my genes and shave my head. It took I would guess six months before I could look in the mirror and not do a double take. But over time, the drastic change became normal and now to look at old pictures of me with hair seems nostalgic.

So much in my life has changed, and I could fill several pages detailing the difference, but instead I write this morning about what has stayed the same. It is this one thing that has been with me over 27 years. I remember it well.

It was fall of 1980 and I was leaving the locker room of my high school, otherwise known as The Swamp, when a random comment spoken by a fellow teammate acted like a virus infecting my brain, “You better get your shit together with God” he said. From that point on I could almost hear the virus growing.

That one statement started me thinking about God and his place in my life. It was usually when I was alone, mostly late at night, lying in bed, that an awareness of God started to form. It was something I could not shake or run from. It was always there.

I eventually acted on the prompting and decided to take it seriously. That was in June of 1981. It altered the course of my entire life.

I was no longer resisting that quiet voice. I was now able to listen. And this is the constant that is still with me as I reach into the midpoint of my forties.

What I have found in this three years is that much of my spiritual identity was formed by external factors and not that still, quiet voice. In my early development, it was the spiritual practices or disciplines that defined me. Eventually, it was my community of faith and the security it provided. Soon I was engulfed by an entire culture and never even realized it.

Now, as I have separated myself from all those actions and activities, I get back to that one simple persistent beacon. Oddly enough, it has not been easy. It was easier to trust my place in the Church As I Knew It, and all my duties and obligations, than my position now.

Maybe this is the topic of the next series of writings.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Forty Five

They say you are only as old as you feel, and I do feel older these days as the joints creak a little more and the legs seem stiffer after sitting for a long period of time. But I still have a hard time thinking of myself as forty five. There seems to be this ideal age in my mind that exists somewhere back between 25 and 35 and that’s where I assume I live. One betrayer that reminds me I’m not that young is old photos. I have never thought of myself as skinny, but who was that thin kid in those pictures from 25 years ago? But this isn’t a moaning session. It struck me a few days ago as I watch younger kids at the mall why I’m glad I’m not walking in their shoes any longer. I’m not sure who to accurately cite on this quotation, but some noted woman once said she would rather have her 50 year old mind than your 21 year old body. And today I concur with that. Age allows a certain surrender and acceptance of reality that is no longer elusive; it is downright impossible. I realized 15 years ago that I didn’t need hair to feel good about myself, and since my genes were helping me out with that discovery, I gave in and shaved it all off. The time saved, the ease of getting ready in the morning, the twenty bucks spent on the trimmer I still use, I’d say that was a pretty good trade. I have to admit that the transition was made easier once I saw that I have a BlueMan quality melon, and seeing Andre Agassi showing up at Wimbledon with a buzz cut. I don’t need tanned skin any longer, which is a good thing since I go straight from pale to red in a high humidity. In my twenties I tried bucking the system and tried out a tanning bed at the YMCA I worked at. I think I still see the damage from that foolish stunt. I don’t need a six-pack, like so many advertisers tell me. I have one hidden behind the twenty extra pounds I carry. Since I know its there, why do I need to show it off to you? That wouldn’t be prudent. No, what I have found as I get older is that I need less that is physical and more that is immaterial. As the body digresses, the aging process aids me in this realization. All the years I spent worrying about how I looked were lost to being concerned with how I lived and how well I loved others. Accepting the inevitability of this physical decline can make way for a whole new outlook on life and a freedom to enjoy it. I’m starting to see more why my dad could tell me, “Son, these are my best days.” Even while oxygen assisted his breathing and even though his body was soon to resign from its duties, he had calmness in his spirit and contentment in his demeanor. He knew what was really important. All else was superfluous.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are you like me?

Future Pastor, the more you understand the basic needs people have, the more patient you will be when they behave out of sorts. Remember that folks aren’t so much stupid as they are short sighted. Since every behavior has a goal attached to it, it would do you well to know what that goal might be.

Consider this: I think we all have two basic questions needing answers as we enter into any kind of community. We want to know if this group is made up of people who are LIKE me and secondly, we want to know if they are FOR me.

If you are inviting people into community, into sharing life more closely, new people want to know if they have anything in common with the others they are meeting. It shouldn’t take long in basic conversation to find whether or not you have something to talk about. You know how painful it is when two or more people have nothing to say to each other.

So why does someone like that stick around? Why does the weirdo keep coming back to hang out with you and your people? It might be due to the second question. If could be that he senses that you are for him.

It’s not enough to have something in common with others, which makes relationships much easier to enjoy and maintain. No, you and I need to feel that others have our back, and that regardless of what happens, these friends won’t leave us when the going gets tough.

I find this thought in the Genesis story of Adam’s life before Eve. The account says that he was created after the animals, and was given the task of giving names to every creature that he sees. This is pure speculation, but where my mind goes in reading this is to wonder what Adam must have thought after assigning a label to the 9000th beast. I put in his head, “There is no creature here that is LIKE me. Lion, tiger, and giraffe aren’t like me. Neither is the elephant or the parrot. This monkey, kinda maybe, but nothing here like me.”

As the story goes, along comes Eve. After his experience with the all other species, if I were Adam, I’d be thinking, “Finally, here is one LIKE me! Here is one in which I am in common. This is one who walks like I do, talks like I do...”

And soon later, the pair not only find that they have that mutual connection, but they have the opportunity for be FOR one another A partner and mate with which each can be naked and not ashamed.

I believe herein lies the answer to enduring community. We are all on a search for people who will stand with us and not leave us, who will support, encourage and always be there for us. Having something in common is secondary to knowing that we have a place and that we belong.

Future Pastor, people are looking to you, asking of the Church of the Future, “Is there anyone here LIKE me?” and more importantly, “Is anyone here FOR me?”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I wouldn't do it that way

I’ve felt the need to reflect on my criticism of the Church As We Know It since it is the target of many of my blog entries lately. I want to know if I am guilty of the very things I am trying to point out. What prompted this reflection have been the conversations I’ve followed over the release of the recent Willow Creek study, REVEAL, which as I understand is a long, hard look at their own way of doing church.

My first exposure to WC was around 1994 when I went to one of their church leadership conferences. Many of us caught the virus then and returned home with it and as a result, unknowingly infected everything we touched. Worship services were overhauled. Print material was tweaked. All of a sudden stage lighting found a place in the budget. Even the clothing people wore on stage seemed to matter. It all made perfect sense back then.

Willow later implemented the Leadership Summit, of which I attended several. They always carried a spirit of quality and thoughtfulness. Each year Bill Hybels would devote an entire session to sharing leadership lessons, both successes and failures that their team has learned. It always seemed authentic even though later I knew I would never be trying to take the Church As We Know It in the direction they were going.

We are losing what we could call a “common narrative” these days. There is less and less that we in the West seem to agree upon. We are united around very little. Tom Brokaw calls the WWII generation “The Greatest Generation” because there was a common thread that wove them together. Adversity seems to do that to people (remember what it felt like after 9/11?) But with prosperity comes disillusionment, and that is nowhere more clear than in The Church As We Know It.

When our plans succeed, we may find that we never really knew what it was for which we were hoping. Willow succeeded, so to speak, and now seems to be reassessing what it is they are after. I credit them for that, even though their answers may not be mine. I am united with them in something bigger than method or practice. Faith holds a higher calling.

Every now and then, as my business grows and develops, I have to come back to this short song by the White Stripes, Little Room, and remind myself what in the world I’m doing when success comes my way.

Well you're in your little room and you're working on something good but if it's really good you're gonna need a bigger room and when you're in the bigger room you might not know what to do you might have to think of how you got started in your little room

© White Stripes, 2001 from the album, White Blood Cells

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thank you, Dad

Sipping coffee out under the patio and enjoying the pleasant sound and smell of rain at dawn, I remembered today is Father's Day. I had an impulse to call my dad and wish him well, but in a similar way a phantom pain strikes an amputee, I knew I would not have that joy since Dad has since passed on nearly three years now. I've repeated it many times, and posted it here a few, but good stories can be retold over again, and I do so once more today. I feel that sharing it is a way I can tell my dad thanks for the life that he lived and the impact he had on me. ------------------------------------------ It took a while, as it does for most youth, to realize that the vistas of the world I was seeing was a direct result of the shoulders I was standing on. I thought in order to matter in the world, you had to go out and conquer it. But what I have learned from my dad, the man named Jack Shinn, I now believe that it’s just the opposite. You make a difference by simply letting the world come to you, and then offering blessing to each and every person that comes your way. From time to time, I would make it back to Route 2 Box 162, sometimes bringing university students with me to visit the farm and experience the country life. Without exception, every person I brought there was greeted by my Dad with a hug and a kind word. Sometimes those students would later tell me how much that meant to them. Dad seemed to think that it may be the only hug they got, so he would offer it. It didn’t matter the color of their skin or how long there hair was, they got the same attention. You make a difference by letting the world come to you and offer blessing to each and every person that comes your way. As I got older, this lesson became more and more evident. People would say to me how much they appreciated Dad’s smile or sense of humor or offering a piece of candy. They remarked how positive he always was, how willing he was to help out. In his latter years, he dealt with much physical pain, but you would only know it through the grimace on his face. He never complained about it and never allowed it to rule his spirit. No summary, however, would be complete without the story I have told many, many times. It’s a story that encapsulates his life and what he valued most. It’s a story that happened when I was about 12 years old, but I didn’t hear it until nearly 20 years later. The story takes place at Route 2 Box 162 Bartlesville. With very few kids around my age, I had to learn how to entertain myself. Dad helped that effort by buying me a little Yamaha 80cc Dirt bike. That motorcycle provided me countless hours of fun. With 26 acres to my discretion, one would think that would be plenty of space for a 12 year old boy to ride. But for some reason, I decided to include the front and back lawn in that 26 acres. As you can imagine, motorcycle tires are not kind to growing grass, and it didn’t take long before a nice little path was worn around the front of the house, to the back of the house, then out to the pasture. Round and round I would go, living in my mind the adventure of being a world-champion racer, or being chased by bad guys. This path was pretty unsightly, given that it was visible to everyone that passed on the road out front. One time a neighbor had stopped by to visit and he asked Dad this question. “Jack, how come you let your son tear up the yard like that? Why don’t you make him keep out in the pasture?” Now this was a pretty logical question given the amount of land we owned, but my Dad’s wisdom sometimes defied logic. To know my Dad was to know what a deep reservoir he was. Even though he was a man of few words, he was also a man of countless thoughts and musings. In these past few days, I have read many of those thoughts recorded in the margins of his Bible. I believe what set my Dad apart was his ability to look at his choices and side with that which was of most importance. In other words, he had his priorities right. He responded to the neighbor by saying. “The grass will come back” he said, “but the boy won’t.” Now if you drive by Route 2 Box 162 today, you will see the grass has come back. The boy lives in Lincoln, Nebraska in a home of his own, with two kids of his own. He hopes to be the kind of man Jack Shinn was, a man who hopes that as the world comes to him, that he will offer blessing to each and every person that comes his way. We will miss you, Dad

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bow your head and repeat after me...

My friend Leslie was telling me this week how he liked to find hot button issues with people and purposefully push them, just because he liked to see their response. He confessed that he tries not to do that any longer, but that the temptation is still there.

It’s like setting a trap for an animal out in the open light. You don’t even have to disguise it or be subtle. Just ask a question about politics, the environment or religion and watch him fall into the hole. 10 minutes later, the person has worked himself into a fury and all you did was make an inquiry.

I admit I like doing that too. Granted, it is a prideful tendency to exert that kind of conversational control, but it is a heck of a lot of fun and you can just ask forgiveness later if you feel guilty enough about it.

So, if you are a bad person like Leslie and me, and have someone in mind who is doesn’t listen very well and is evangelically oriented, try this one next time,

"How did people find faith before the advent of the sinner’s prayer?”

This is good bait to draw out all kinds of presuppositions and reveal layers of dependence on tradition and practice that the Church As We Know It has relied upon that is not rooted in faith.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Fear of Happiness

May is such a permissive month, just by virtue of her name. After a long season of winter, May is the first opportunity, day or night, that being comfortably outdoors is an option. May nights are the best, especially in a full moon, since the soft glowing orb sits low in the southern horizon here in my state. May brings more blue flowers than any other. Pulmonaria, catmint and a blue salvia appropriately called “May Night” all give the garden a soothing effect. Working so many hours in the restaurant, it can be easy to overlook the fleeting gifts like these. So to avoid that, I have purposed to take a few minutes each day to be more observant and lie in my hammock. Strung up between the 30yr old ash tree and the ever-growing-obsolete playfort, I kick off my kitchen clogs and stretch out. And most days, I fall asleep immediately. After only a few days of this practice, I discovered an anxiety creeping into my thoughts. Where would this be coming from? Our business is going very well. The garden is responding as it should to slow rising temperatures and occasional rains. The southern breeze felt as if God himself were sending it just for my pleasure and to cap it off, no artist could mimic the simple contrast of blue and white in the sky. Why so anxious? Everything around me at that moment was fragile. Prosperity, seasonal beauty, and a settled soul. These conditions could turn on a dime. Our business could get sued or a tornado could come through and wipe out our little urban oasis. I, or anyone I love, could get sick or worse, in an accident. Nothing I hold is very secure. Could it be that I am more comfortable being depressed than happy? I don’t want to be disappointed, nor do I want to be hurt, so I opt for a vantage point closer to the bottom of the canyon instead of ever working to climb higher to get a better view. This way, if the rock slide comes, I won’t be swept away from my desire to enjoy something more beautiful. I’ll still find myself at the same low place. I just won’t be as disappointed. Beth Orton sums up the logic of the fear of happiness in this line. “If I never saw the sunshine, I wouldn’t mind the rain.” Fear not. Hope you have a great Memorial Day Weekend.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Business of Church

Maria caught my intention in her comment on the last entry. My five questions were meant to reveal how we have adopted, as she worded it, an attractional model of church. Marketing has become such an ingrained aspect of our culture that it is difficult to imagine doing any new venture without it.

The Church as We Know It has probably formed more of its ideas about doing church from the business world than it has from the Bible, although most of its leaders would probably deny it. Take it down to core questions like, “How will people find us?” reveal more of a product mentality than a spiritual one. But websites and logos are plastered all over our clothing, our food, our transportation and entertainment, they are hard to ignore, and ever harder to imagine life without them.

Even the boys over at ChurchMarketingSucks are using the same marketing tools they loathe to promote their own deal. We hate the church marketing itself, but we don’t mind you putting an ad and logo to promote what we are doing on your website. Future Pastor, this is not new thinking. It’s more sofas and candles and Starbucks coffee in the foyer.

We started a restaurant about nine months ago; we did so without an ad campaign. The newspaper folks found us, the direct marketers came calling, the “creative ad teams” stopped in, all with their schpeal about how important it is to get your name out there right away. According to them, we had a crucial window of time that may get away from us if we weren’t careful.

But we were convinced that if we did our job well, which was to give people food that they really enjoyed and not just settled for, then the customer would take the place of an expensive ad in the Friday dining section. So far that had stood true.

Future Pastor, this advice might sound like a dangerous proposition, but give people a church they want. You and I have been told that church is not about what people want, but about what they need. I believe they are one in the same.

The Gospel is supposed to offer peace. Will the Future Church do the same?

The Gospel is not burdensome, but will the Church of the Future make it so?

The Gospel is good news, and good news usually travels fast. Will your church impede it?

Give people the real deal, Future Pastor, and you won’t need to even worry about a cool logo.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

So you want a revolution?

It’s extremely hard to try and communicate to people what the Church of the Future will look like, since in most part it is still in the future. Usually what you come up with in conversation about new models are nothing more than a former model with candles and sofas.

If you are serious about revolution, you need to get serious about getting back to a fundamental essence of what church should be about. We are trapped by our familiarity and it will take more than a conference on how create cool postmodern churches to break us free.

Many of us are in agreement that the Church is not about a building. We got over that one about 25 or so years ago as the new wave of congregations started meeting in schools and even a few gigs way out on the edge met in clubs or bars. So lets keep pushing the envelope.

As you think about the kind of Future Church you want to be, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can it exist without a website?
  2. Can people know who we are without a logo?
  3. Can it grow without a billboard or some kind of signage?
  4. Can people find us without a phone number?
  5. Can we be effective without printed material?

Future Pastor, I’ll expound on these later, but first I’d like to know what you think.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stories without numbers

I remember reading a book several years ago in my other life about how to free yourself from the seduction of success in vocational ministry. It was no different than most every other person I’ve heard giving advice to guys in midlife pastoral crisis. “Don’t focus on numerical statistics.” “God is more concerned with the inward, not the outward.” “Stay faithful.” And so on…

But despite knowing all the right answers, ask any pastor, any one you choose about how his or her church is doing and you will get the same kind of answer, something along these lines:

“We had over 100 for the first time…”

“We have added 40 new families this year”

“50 people prayed to receive Christ…”

No matter how hard you try, numbers are hard to get away from when communicating anything about the condition of the Church As We Know It.

Is there anything wrong with this? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure, but Future Pastor, I would like to issue you a thought to consider. Can you take a different approach?

Next time someone asks you about your church, tell stories without numbers attached. Resist the temptation to define what you do with statistics. Watch how difficult this is to do.

It’s difficult because 99 times out of 100 the person asking the question wants to know how many you have attending. It’s the only point of reference we are accustomed to giving, and the only one we are accustomed to hearing.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Is that what they're calling it now?

I can always tell when my first generation Greek neighbors are arguing. Their tone is elevated, their speech more rapid, and they always speak in Greek. To do so requires less thought. It comes naturally.

Greek is the language of their heart.

Language is a funny subject. What are words but symbols to convey meaning? I don’t know how it happens, but over time, (and sometimes right before our very eyes) meaning becomes understood and accepted by the masses and before you know it, you’ve adopted into your vocabulary a new word, or an old one with new meaning,

Take the restaurant Hooter’s, for example. Known for their hot wings, a sports bar theme and female servers that have at least one physical quality in common, our culture has deemed it OK to have a place with a name corresponding to female breasts. We can call the place “Hooter’s” but couldn’t get away with calling it “Titties.”

But who’s to say that in four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years from now, the word “Titties” won’t have different meaning? This happened with the word “suck.” My first recollection of the use of that word was at basketball games during college. It was usually in conjunction with a referee’s bad call against our team. Some half (or completely) drunk guy would yell, “Hey ref, you suck!” or “That call sucks…” I’m not na├»ve enough to think that the he was implying a reference to a vacuum cleaner.

But before long, the crowd embraced the phrase and it became a chant across the student section in the arena. One side would yell, “Hey ref….” and the other section of students would return with “…you suck!” Over time, the term became innocuous and nobody really thought about what it meant.

In my other life, I once remember hearing a guy use nearly half a sermon to explain why nothing should ever “suck” to a Christ follower and how all good people need to strike that word as an option. Afterward, nearly every student I talked with asked, “What was that guy’s deal?” He was not tuned into the heart language of his audience, and was applying a law of language that never needed to be enforced.

My point is this; words are what they are because of the meaning WE give to them.

Don’t get hung up on how people talk or the words they use; don’t try and change the way they speak. Don’t have an unwritten glossary of words that are unacceptable and cannot be used. Remember to listen to the heart speak and not just the words. Sometimes to focus only on the words that are being said is the quickest way to misunderstand what a person is trying to say.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Too Small a Thing

I always look with interest when I see college students trying to pull together all the other Christians on their campus for a combined event, usually involving singing songs and listening to a well noted speaker.

I find it interesting because I devoted much of my energy during my time on campus toward that kind of expression. I was looking for a manifestation of God’s awakening and assumed it would take this form. My paradigm expected to measure spiritual activity by how many people who agreed with each other to come to an event.

Boy was I shortsighted.

How limited I was to think that I would be satisfied if I had a certain number of kids showing up to sing and appear to be really into my gig.

Let’s say in the unlikely event that I had every student who professed faith to come to my meeting held in the largest venue on campus. Play along and envision thousands singing the same songs, raising their hands in unity, swooning over the dynamic talk given by the hip communicator. Do you see it? Have you been to something like this?

What does it prove?

Future Pastor, this is what I mean when I say that it’s too small a thing to expect that attendance means anything in your quest for seeing real awakening and the ushering in of the Church of the Future. We default to this kind of thinking because it is easy to measure for reports and newsletters. Financial supporters and Boards of Directors feel better about their organization when they see lots of people showing up, but don’t be seduced by this. Look for real, authentic change. You will know it when you see it.

Position yourself to be free from numerical expectation put on you by superiors who don’t get it. Wait and watch for the evidence of what genuine awakening really means; men and women who are awake, not just at your meeting. Greet those who look groggy from the slumber of disbelief. Look for those opening their eyes to restored relationships and how to love well. These kinds of people may or may not show up at your meeting, but they will change their world.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Green Pastor

Future Pastor, beware of the New Morality as you lead toward the Church of the Future. You will recognize it because it has some of the same characteristics of the morality as The Church As We Know It. The “Green Movement” has taken us by storm. Many point to An Inconvenient Truth as the tipping point for the gale of environmental concern, but its origin is not as important to grasp as is its spirit. I’m old enough to remember the long gas lines in the seventies and the Ecology Now stickers we put on our school notebooks. We were taught to conserve and pick up litter along the side of the roads. We were given slogans like, “Don’t mess with Texas” and “Don’t lay that trash on Oklahoma.” Cars were being built small and more fuel efficient as to get 40 to 50 MPG. So the Al Gore thing is not new to me. Neither is the judgment that is easily passed on today by well meaning proponents of a better environment. Not using squiggly light bulbs feels a lot like not having a Quiet Time. The choice to serve coffee in Styrofoam instead of paper can elicit a response similar to not going to church on a regular basis. We will always get this kind of feeling whenever a movement is based in fear and not in love. Remember that we preserve the earth because we love the earth, not because we are afraid it will burn up. We seek renewable energy because we love the next generation and hope to leave it with a better prospect for its future. Fear won’t lead us very far. What happens when you aren’t afraid anymore? Fear got us the Ford Fiesta and the Chevy Chevette, but we once we got over the fear of no more gasoline, we returned to our ways in a few years and got back to the big machines like the Hummer H3. I have squiggly light bulbs in every socket in my house. I recycle glass and aluminum. I compost. I try to consume less and conserve more. But I want to do so in a spirit of abundance and not shame. I don’t shake my finger at the person in the store buying a pack of incandescent bulbs. The Church As We Know It gave us that kind of evangelism. It was more concerned about staying out of hell than it was in living an abundant life. The environmental movement runs the risk of being guilty of the same thing. We can do better.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

It's not about me, It's all about You...

One role we have as Future Pastors is to lead people to freedom. To do this we need to be able to reveal the hindrances in thinking. Ask a churched person the question, “what’s your favorite book?” And nine times out of ten the really spiritual ones will answer with a condition, “Well, of course the Bible, but after that it’s…” Why do we answer that way? I think it has to do with the basic assumptions of the Church As We Know It. We assume that if we don’t say that indeed the Bible is of utmost importance, then we will somehow slip into mediocrity and eventually become an atheist, leave our wife, or worse yet, stop reading the Bible. There are some things that should just be a given. Most normal people you and I know practice some form of hygiene on a regular basis, so it’s the unusual case that we would have to remind a guy to shave and shower. If I have to ask the majority of people I know if they took a bath today, at some point I would wonder what kind of upbringing they had. In the same way it makes sense to me to just assume certain basic things about our faith and let those beliefs rest as the foundation and build from there. But when the Church As We Know It needs songs to constantly remind itself that its not about me and its all about God, it shows that it is operating out of the basic assumption that we don’t know the difference. It’s as if the Church As We Know It is full of people who don’t routinely take a shower and must always be told to do so. Future Pastor, people have been shackled too long with the belief that their greatest desire is to wander away from God. Lead them away from that assumption. Remind them they are a New Creation. And encourage them to write better songs.