Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ted Haggard and Al Gore

The challenge of communicating any vision is getting your listener to properly translate your words into the same mental picture that you see. If I spend all my energy painting an image of an apple for you, but somehow you think I’m describing an orange, then I’ve not done my job as a communicator.

I feel this way as I try to explain what I mean by the Church of the Future. I don’t have concrete examples in the same way as if I were telling you about the Church As We Know It. When you hear me use the word, “church,” you already have a prejudice toward the topic. So I search for other means to be understood.

Take the recent Green Revolution, for example. There is a section of our population that believes with all their heart that the earth is on a collision course with disaster because of the damaging effects of global, man-made pollution. Now my point is not to judge the belief, but to point out why the movement may be viewed with skepticism.

As a believer in global warming, if you try to convince me of your argument with anger and manipulation, you’re going to lose me. If fear is going to be your primary means and you get me scared that the sky gonna fall, I might bite, but how is that different than the Y2K craze ten years ago? I will change temporarily, but what happens when I don’t feel the same urgency a few years later?

In addition, I will further doubt the validity of your claims if your movement only looks like a means to make economic advancement by selling me products labeled “green.” And I am especially offended if those “green” products turn out to be inferior. You don’t look authentic in my eyes. You become yet another charlatan, nothing more than a facsimile of the hack preachers that give the Church As We Know It a bad name.

My point is not to forge an opinion about the Green Revolution, but rather to point out why I think it will end up with the same reputation as the Church As We Know It. It’s building itself on a foundation of fear and not love.

The Church of the Future will not need to make you afraid. It will recognize you are already full of fear. It will not need your money, so it won’t make you feel guilty about what you do with it. It will believe you are capable of blessing others and doesn’t assume that if you do as you please, that the natural outcome will be wrong. It believes your motivation comes from the divine transformation called rebirth, regeneration or a handful of other big theological terms.

One reason I recommend not going to the Church As You Know It on Sunday mornings is to give yourself a chance to step away from it and get a different perspective. It allows you to see the forest and not just the trees. It might allow you to understand why you feel so bored, so pent up, and frustrated.

You might see what I see.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Waking Up And Smelling The Coffee

So how long do you think you can put up with it?

Some are capable of doing it their whole life. They seem to go through life content and happy with it all, never really seeming to be bothered too much. It leaves you wondering if they are just shallow people who don’t have the courage to look any deeper than the study guide, or if you are just simply a bad person caught up in a cycle of discontent that feels like a slow boat to no fun.

But again, this is not about them. No one else is your concern right now. This is about you and first finding the answer to your questions. Vision should lead to Clarity, and Clarity brings about Perspective. And once you possess all three, you are better equipped to find a beneficial answer than a destructive one.

I didn’t always think this way and I certainly wasn’t trained to think this way. It was all about God first, others second and me third. This little mantra is easy to recite and assists in getting a leader’s point across, but catch phrases like this one used to communicate a complex idea will eventually be taken out of context. It’s a fast food truth; simple, easy and convenient, but certainly not very nourishing.

If my most personal concerns fall at the bottom of that list of three, and if I am led to believe that getting those out of order will result in wanton hedonism and a narcissistic life, I will be ill-equipped to address the desperate condition in which my inner life has developed.

The ability to put others first is an essential life skill in any relationship. Display it as Deference or Selflessness, and you will, in no doubt, be well liked. But this can only be expressed from a position of security, and in knowing your own heart well.

If your biggest concern in leaving The Church As We Know It is what your kids will think, you are admitting that that the primary reason you take them to church is out of fear.

Fear is an insidious motivator, effective mainly in preventing mishap, but not very valuable when it comes to the role of inspiration. Your fear of water might keep you from ever having a drowning accident, but it sure won’t help you learn how to swim.

You may think you are putting them first by wanting them involved in spiritually related activities, but if your faith is shriveling up inside you, what makes you think theirs won’t end up in the same condition when they get older. Maybe their crisis will happen in half the time yours did. You went to Sunday School when you were their age. How’s that working for you?

You are nothing more than a dead man until your faith comes alive.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Who Wants Pancakes?

So how’d you do this last Sunday?

I know, I know. It was a big hurdle of mine for some time, but I eventually got over it when I allowed my faith to grow a bit and realize the absurdity of my objection.

Do I really believe that the spiritual fate of my children rests in the hands of their Sunday School teacher?

You would think so if you saw how I wrestled with the question, “What about the kids?” when it came to the consideration of leaving the Church As We Know It. What would the kids think if you stopped going on Sunday?

Maybe they would think the same as you.

Would they enjoy being home as a family together, getting to make a big breakfast that you normally would never have time to do because you are rushing everyone to get dressed and get in the van so you can get to church and color?

Believe it or not, your kids get more definition from you about God, faith and the meaning of life than any other source of input. Yes, more than friends, MTV or the Internet. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, or that they may put up a fight against you, but hold your ground and don’t yield your role as parent in the equation.

Taking your kids to Sunday School or Youth Group is fine and dandy and certainly there can be positive influence there, but these two things are way down on the list of importance when it comes to the key source of impact.

Kids pick up more than you know, and certainly more than you want them to. Once while driving I was listening to the Christian porn station with my very young daughter buckled in her car seat in the back. She asked, “Daddy, do we have to listen to the angry man again?” She discerned more about the message than I could have ever imagined. Yes, we switched stations and turned on music, and no, I don’t subject her to the angry man again.

You might need to give your kids more credit. In their innocence, they are capable of detecting righteousness without pretense that you as an adult have learned to express gracefully. Do they see Mommy and Daddy putting on a face for church that they don’t see any other time during the week? If so, this should terrify you more than the thought of not going on Sunday.

Your kids are little people. They are not extensions of you. They have minds of their own and will eventually make their own decisions apart from you. Are you reinforcing a sense of insecurity in them because of your own fears about what is required for faith? And when they get older, will they understand what freedom and liberty looks like because of you, or in spite of you?

It is for freedom that we were set free.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The alarm is going off, and you're tempted to hit snooze...

Guilt pretty much ruled the day for you yesterday. You went through all the motions as usual; kids in minivan, kids to Sunday School, sit through 56 min of information, kids out of Sunday School, kids to lunch, kids back home…meanwhile your head is swimming with so much disillusionment, and now add the dutiful Christmas element to it for another few weeks….yikes, it’s too much to think about. Thankfully there’s football on when you get home.

All this ambivalence, where is it going to lead? Is this as good as its going to get? Is there any real hope of transformation that you can expect? If so, what’s going to change?

You are.

Yes, you are the one that will have to change, and it might cost you more than you ever know. And if your faith is of any real importance to you, as I think it is, you are capable of doing what is necessary to return to a vibrant, meaningful expression of that faith that will leave you dangerous in the eyes of many. And I mean that in a good way.

The first step toward your revolution of liberty is to quit demanding the Church As You Know It to be any different than it is. Stop letting it be the focus of your attention. The problem does not lie with it, and neither does the answer. You will not change the institution. You are capable, however, of changing the trajectory of your own path.

The Church As We Know It is full of people for whom the system works. There is no need to get those folk to answer your questions that they aren’t even asking themselves. It would be unfair to expect them to. Instead, focus on what you believe you wish you could do.

Start by not going on Sunday mornings.

If you are serious about getting your faith back, you have to be willing to confront the barriers that are keeping you from it. The system of Sunday church is killing your inner life. Why in the world would you want to keep beating your head against that wall?

Let me repeat: This is not an indictment against the Church As We Know It. I am not pointing any fingers at It. It is a wake up call to you, and you alone. This decision is not controlled by anyone else, but it has everything to do with you and whether or not you have the balls to step up and address what is going on inside your soul.

Remember when you came to a decision about faith, and how you feared many of your friends and family would not understand as you resolved to make God a central part of your life and worldview? Remember feeling resolutely you were going to have to cut against the grain and leave a few folk mad at you?

Same song, second verse.

Faith always runs the risk of being misunderstood, even when expressed in the best of intentions. Some will understand and some will not. Deal with it and get over it. Just be willing to contend with the fallout as a result, knowing that clarity may not emerge until a later time.

It’s time to take it back, my friend. And its not just your life that depends on it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Little Engine That Couldn't

It’s Wednesday. You tolerate going, but she likes attending, and since she’s a stay-at-home mom, she relishes any kind of adult interaction she can get. At least this week, the group meets at your house, which means you get to watch all the kids in the basement. This is somehow preferable for an hour and a half than discussing the thoughts of man that has sold millions of books, even though you aren’t sure you agree with him, but what are your options at this point?

The Life Group, Family Group, Connection Group, or whatever it’s called, doesn’t provide you with any life, or sense of family or even much connection with other people. And yet to voice this leaves you feeling like you have a scarlet letter on your sweatshirt that is not mistaken for the college you attended. These are nice people. They have nice kids. They all seem very responsible. So why don’t you want to meet with them?

It’s not that these folk are bad or have anything wrong with them; it’s just that, it’s boring as hell.

And you hate this feeling. You wish it would go away. You aren’t a judgmental person, which makes it worse that you see it this way. Why can’t you fall in line, get with the program, stop being rebellious and self centered? It is working for so many other people, just not for you.

And so you feel trapped, stuck, with no alternative except to go along with the flow, which would be fine if there was an actual flow. Instead, you feel stuck in an eddy, spinning back and in and around, getting nowhere, only dizzy in the process.

You try harder. You remember the little choo-choo train illustration from your college days. You were always taught that Facts are the engine that pulls the Faith car and Feelings tag along like the caboose. You must be speeding downhill backward, because all you seem to have are feelings, ones that appear to be leading toward a train wreck. You fear you will be another spiritual casualty along the tracks of life.

So where do you turn? Who do you talk to? The pastor doesn’t get it. He’ll feel threatened that you don’t like him if you admit your boredom. Your wife, try as she may, does not understand the core of your dilemma. And while other guys may concur, they still seem out of touch with their own soul that they fail to identify what you are getting at.

Your only logical conclusion: They are right. You are wrong. They are in. You are out. They are fine. You are alone.

And this is where I beg to differ.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Can I Really Sing of Your Love Forever?

If I were to guess, you’re about 39 years old, give or take a few. You have a couple of kids, small little rugrats, and you love being their dad. Your wife is a great mom and life companion. You share similar values but are different enough to make it interesting and humorous. You have the usual squabbles like everyone else, but you love her dearly.

You have a decent career oriented job. You feel challenged, sort of, but the pay is good, so you can’t complain. You’ve had a few offers to go elsewhere, but you’ve turned them down because of family priorities. Kids are happy, wife is happy; no sense in uprooting everyone for your ego. Besides her folks live nearby and watch the kids often, so you and your bride get regular time away. Can’t put a price tag on that, can you?

But you can’t put your finger on it. With all this going for you, why does it still gnaw at you at 3am, after tossing and turning too long? You’re too tired to get up, but too awake to stay in bed. You don’t want to read, late night TV only leads to more senselessness. What is the answer to this persistent question…

…why am I so bored?

And it’s most evident on Sunday morning. You’re a good dad, so you get the kids fed, dressed and in the car while your wife gets ready. At church you take them to their respective classrooms and leave them with eager, wonderful people who give you no reason to worry about their well-being, and you and your wife enter the flow of people into the large theatre and settle in for the next 56 minutes.

She knows something is wrong, because you have this tell-tale signal of rubbing your eyes that give an indication you want to stab them out with a fork in order to divert your attention to something engaging. You sing, sort of. You shake hands with people around you. You actually shut off your phone per her request so you aren’t tempted to text someone else who feels the same way you do. You listen as best you can, even though your mind wanders. You leave your tithe in the collection plate. And next thing you know, your 56 minutes is up.

So you shuffle out of the theatre, saying hi to a few folk on the way back to pick up your kids. They hand you their coloring sheet. The teacher gives a hug and a farewell. You buckle the kids in the back of the minivan, turn on Prairie Home Companion and listen to Garrison Keillor while you wait on your wife to fill her tank with social interaction.

When the bee is finished verbally pollinating the ears of the other familiar flowers, she gets in the car and informs you of the other families that are meeting at the latest child centered food and entertainment bonanza and asks if you would like to join them. “Of course” is the expected reply, and you pull out of the parking lot as the radio changes from NPR to Veggie Tales.

On arrival, mom suggests that dad take the kids right away to the playground while she orders the food, so you find the other dads at the ball pit with the same marching orders. You talk a little Favre and hope you can get home in time to watch the second half. In the meantime, its time to eat, so you begin the process of corralling the children and redirect their attention toward lunch. Once all the other parents clue in to their children’s restlessness, you all agree to disperse and say goodbye for another week.

And you wonder if you’re the only one that feels the way you do.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Two Old Stocks, Please

Here’s another reason I will never be invited back to speak at the Church As We Know It. I’m not burning these bridges on purpose, or maybe deep in my subconscious I really am, but feel I’m only trying to speak about what makes sense to me now more than ever. Also, I’m not trying to be contrarian for the sake of stirring up controversy. I just look at the practice of my faith in a very different light now.

At the risk of burning in theological hell for this one, I’m really puzzled about the use of bible language to describe the future of church movements. Is it really a good thing to refer to our gatherings as “Acts 29” models, or as “New Testament” churches? Is it best to define what the future needs by going backward instead of forward?

No, I don’t hate the Bible. Just follow me for a few more paragraphs.

I’m not sure why I didn’t think about this in seminary, or in my years of being a part of the Church As We Know It. Maybe it was because I was too close to it all to see how I might be worshiping a sacred cow all because of a culturally held value, instead of a faith-based one. But I have to keep coming back to the words that were recorded of Jesus when he told his followers, “greater things than these you will do, if you have faith in me.” My question that is begged from this statement is: How will looking to recreate what has already happened lead to a movement any greater than the one we are trying to imitate?

Many of us yearn for awakening. We seek a movement and like to feel we are a part of the next wave that will roll like the tide and change the course of history. I know, I’ve been a part of it, and in some ways, still want it to and believe it can happen. I was convinced that the Passion Movement was going to usher in a cataclysmic event that would affirm Bill Bright’s vision of seeing spiritual awakening in his lifetime. But I was still looking backward, not forward.

Notre Dame Football is a case in point. Guys my age think about the Fighting Irish much differently than the 17-year old high school recruit looking to play football in college. It’s the older folk that want to get their school back in the National Championship hunt by speaking in terms of tradition, core values and past successes. Talented Prep Star doesn’t relate. He’s looking ahead, not behind. Why spend his abilities on a school that seems irrelevant to where he’s going?

We’ve done the same with the Future Pastors. They are the young men and women who show talent, leadership and vision, but instead of giving the keys of the Church of the Future to them, we want them to take over something of ours instead of creating something of their own. And when they don’t show an interest, we mark it up to the flaws in the generation.

Could be the problem lies with us.

Like it or not, Current Pastor, people like this are the future, and they are the ones that are going to replace you.

Both you and Notre Dame are going to have to contend with the future of your existence. Are you going to build a future or continue to create a world that looks like your past? If I were you, I would seriously take a look at the defensiveness my words are stirring up in you. I’m not talking about being relevant or dumbing down the message or diluting the Truth. If that is all you can see of this post, either I’m not being clear or we need to have a few beers together so I can explain what I mean further.

I’ll buy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We used to have to walk to school uphill, both ways....

Over the years I’ve read several books on the subject of spiritual awakening. The topic has always been of high interest to me, for reasons I can’t take the time to fully explain here, but I am drawn by fascination to the process of how and why social change occurs. Every author has his or her reasons, or solutions, but there seems to be one common thread woven through most writing to which I am familiar. Most everything I’ve ever read about spiritual awakening describes the process in terms of returning, or getting things back to the way they should be.

You can find works written about how to take our cities back for the glory of God, or for those who are interested in returning America back to Christ, or how to get our world back on the right track. In each case, the operative word is “back.”

Why not forward?

The wisdom of Solomon led him to propose this idea years ago. “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” I believe he recognized that in every generation, there is a tendency to think backward instead of forward. We do so because of personal experience. We’ve seen the past, but we’ve not seen the future.

But this kind of perspective requires very little faith. Faith is the essence of what is unseen, not what is seen. It takes less faith to look upon what once was and think it should be the norm. As I described in a previous post, I saw leaders who wanted me to recreate the Jesus Movement of the 70’s by telling stories in such a way that assumed they should be normative for my generation. All it created was a bunch of frustrated students.

This is why Solomon chides us to stay away from looking back on the good old days with anything other than fondness. It’s one thing to enjoy history, collecting antiques, and eating breakfast at Cracker Barrel, but when that affection turns into an obsession to remake the future in that image, it’s a good sign that faith is starting to erode.

Future Pastor, this is why I believe in you so much. I don’t want to become Bobby Bowden or Joe Paw. They are both legends in their field, but they are relics because the game has changed significantly. I know there will come a time I need to get out of your way and turn the reins over to you to lead your generation according to the vision you have that is instigated by your faith.

I love Al Pacino’s speech in the locker room scene of the film, Any Given Sunday, where he stands in front of his team at halftime and with the cadence of a gospel preacher, paints a picture of what it will take to win the ballgame. At one point in the speech he tells them clearly, “Now I can’t do it for you...” which is how I feel about finding the Church of the Future.

Future Pastor, you have a better opportunity to move forward than I because you have less of a past than I do. I can lead you, inspire you and walk a while with you, but it’s up to you to see what the future can be by faith. Trust what you envision. The old days were fine, and old guys like me will always look at them differently than you will, and that’s why you will change the world, not me.

Monday, November 02, 2009

He's an Unidentified Flying Object...

It will be interesting to see how this generation of students will look back on their faith development 30 years from now. I wonder if they will feel the need to react or adapt with as much vigor as my generation.

I was spiritually raised in a post-Jesus-Movement era by leaders who experienced the awakening first hand. If I could narrow down what I got from them, it was built around the importance of having people pray a prayer of salvation. This was the cornerstone upon which all other components of my faith were laid. If I didn’t have a story to tell about how I witnessed to the person I met in line at the post office in 90 seconds, I felt a little less than whole.

It was commonplace to hear unbelievable illustrations about countless people in that day that were deciding to wake up, abandon their life of sex, drugs and rock and roll and follow Jesus. The stories were fascinating, and to a young college student, inspiring, but there was one major problem; they were told out of context.

The Jesus Movement happened in a unique period of time which, depending on who you cite, began sometime in the late 60’s and effectively was played out within ten years. I do not deny its historical importance and my point is not to criticize it. I am only trying to make sense of the shift that has come since then.

I believe a common yearning in every generation throughout the ages is to see society correct its course away from decline and redirect it toward goodness. I think most of us would agree that in any case, a reduction in crime, a shift in the divorce rate, lower teen pregnancies and greater charitable giving would be preferable. The Jesus Movement was one of those historic times that presented an answer to which many, especially young people, responded.

But I was handed the Jesus Movement ethos as normative, without realizing that the circumstance for it had already passed. My leaders were not aware either, and continued to tell their 15 year old stories, wanting me to replicate their experience. I tried for quite some time, until I discovered we weren’t in the 70’s any longer.

What I have kept with me on my journey toward the future is that same desire to see spiritual awakening occur in a new generation. How it will come about, however, is a whole new ballgame.

Awakening implies a transition from a state of unconscious slumber to one of conscious awareness. I physically underwent that shift this morning around 5am, when I no longer was asleep, to getting up out of bed, making a cup of coffee and typing this post. Does this same changeover occur spiritually? I believe so, and here’s why I think that way.

It has to do with why so many people leaving the Church As We Know It.

The last 30 years after the Jesus Movement has allowed a person like me to become aware of how I have been asleep. I am awakening to find what is not working, and to seeing what needs to be done, and eventually toward what could be, if only I stop looking for results that happened in the past. We can’t recreate the Jesus Movement, or the Student Volunteer Movement or the First and Second Great Awakenings, nor should we. It’s time to wake up to a brand new day, one with new mercies and new beginnings.

I would be willing to guess that the reason you read this blog is because the topics about which I choose to write are connecting with you in some way, that they arouse your spirit and make you ponder whether or not you are stirring from your sleep also.

Future Pastor, lets look ahead, not behind. Let the past inspire us, but not limit us. I’ll continue this vein of thought soon…

Friday, September 25, 2009

What are you so mad about?

Now that I am years along in my exodus from the Church As We Know It, I can say that I have gotten to the point now where I can say that what I experience on a day to day basis is normal and no longer reactive. This is a good place to be, because it helps free me from the one thing I did not want to become, and that is angry.

In my experience, Anger was a sanctioned, justifiable evangelical vice that shaped me slowly, much like a steady flow of water makes it mark along it river banks. Over time it has an enormous effect, though at the time it was never really evident. But eventually I came to realize its constant force, and that it would take great effort to recover from it.

Running the risk of hyperbole, as a young man of faith, it seems like everyone I listened to, most every source of teaching, felt like it was motivated by some kind of anger. God was angry at what a lousy follower I was. He was angry that I didn’t read the Bible enough. He was certainly pissed that I was not more concerned for the unsaved or that I didn’t give enough money.

I learned all this from those who spoke for Him. They were quick to remind of all these shortcomings, and usually with a sense of anger in their voice. Therefore if God was mad, then that gave license to be the deliverer of the Good News in a very livid way. Even last night, on my way home from work, foolishly tuning into my Christian porn radio station (porn is any medium where its power is a promise of something it can’t deliver), the preacher was boldly defending your right to attack people doctrinally. Yes, attack was the word he used. Some easily accept this premise. My spirit rejects it.

I reject it because of what I believe the nature of anger is meant to do. It is a reaction. Not a motivation. This is why I believe the Scripture is descriptive of God being slow to anger. It’s also why we are to never discipline children in anger, or let the sun go down on our anger. Anger reacts, but to what does it lead us to do?

Love, on the other hand, is a motivation. It acts. It doesn’t react.

So the anger I absorbed from the pulpit, I have now come to see it as a reaction of shortsighted men. Were they really speaking for God, or were they aware that without their anger, they would find themselves powerless, out of control, and maybe even deeper, fearful that they were going to be punished by the God they were attempting to serve?

No, I am not one of those that pick and choose the verses out of the Bible he wants to believe. The anger of God is evident throughout the Whole Story, but maybe we are inclined to preach that way because it is that with which we are most familiar. The lack of love experienced leads to a lack of love expressed.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Francis Schaeffer, Toby Keith and Me

Years ago I read a little book by Francis Schaeffer titled Escape from Reason. It’s a comparatively thin paperback, which is probably why I felt I should attempt reading something by Schaeffer. In it he drew a timeline describing how a cultural change will unfold. On the one lefthand extreme of the line he started with the works of the writers and philosophers, and how we tend to see ideas written and espoused long before we see actual cultural change occur. These folks are labeled extremists and often pegged as weird, since their thoughts are just too far away from the norm.

Next from the philosophers, are the artists and musicians, whose work will also start to reflect a desire for societal change. Often theirs may be reactionary or angry, but their yearning will become much more accessible, because their efforts are visual and auditory, and not just in written word form. I am old enough to remember war songs from the Vietnam era, and also now today in the Iraq conflict. While there are the occasional Toby Keith “boot in the ass” songs that express support, art will generally make its voice known in opposition and there is a reason for that.

While not its only role, good art raises questions. It makes you think and ponder what lies beyond, to what could or should be. Artists are artists for a reason. They don’t always fit in. They march to a beat of a different drum. They think differently. It’s this mentality that allows them to be known by labels such as starving or strange. Their thoughts are not like everyone else’s.

The third point in Schaeffer’s continuum is the general public. Eventually norms or mores start to shift due to enough impetus from the leading edge, and social change starts to become mainstream. Our last presidential election was an example of this. The use of the key words, Hope and Change, merely helped seal the deal that had been brewing for several years. The status quo was not working for enough people and a swing occurred.

The final place Schaeffer says that change will come is in the area of theology or the Church, which makes sense, because the theologians are the keepers of orthodoxy and tradition, which is not a bad thing, because in our world that had embraced the phrase “thinking out of the box” for everything from food prep to redesigned floor sanitation devices (a broom still works fine for me), we lose the place for ideas that don’t budge easily.

All this is to explain why I believe I grew restless with the Church As We Know It. It is my natural inclination to think ahead and ask, “How can I do better?” It really is as much a curse as it is a gift, because it makes it hard for me to shut my mind off and rest. Take this morning, for example. What am I inclined to do when I wake up at 5am and can’t go back to sleep? I step out on my patio with my laptop and I write thoughts like these. I wish I could just watch a movie or even go back to bed, but the fire in my bones always smolders and it won’t let me.

This is why Schaeffer’s time line makes sense to me. I am pulled far more by the thinking on philosophical/artistic side than I am the theological side. I lived in a world for many years that required me to sell a never changing product that I myself wasn’t even using, and it had nothing to with whether I believed in God or not, but it had everything to do with how that faith was expressed. Once it became clear to me that this cursed gift I hold needed to somehow be set free, I could live with new found joy and sense of place.

It is with this realization that I will probably never fit back into the Church As We Know It ever again. Knowing this, I no longer feel the need to look back into the tunnel and curse my darkness, but now look forward to open waters and blue skies again.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Riding the Storm Out

My friend Bill wrote me an encouraging email yesterday, expressing his thanks for our friendship and what he referred to as my life outside of what is the church norm. I often feel misunderstood for my move away from the Church As We Know It, and that’s one of my top fears as a communicator, but to hear someone say that the direction I am taking now makes sense to them, that’s a pretty good feeling.

For so long my writing on this blog has been wrapped up in what I am not doing, about what I don’t believe any longer, and reasons why I stopped going to the Church As We Know It. I recently decided that I wanted to steer away from a negative stance to more of a positive one. I had no idea how hard it would be to generate thoughts accordingly.

Regular readers have noticed a lack of posting, and I have to admit that I feel I have very little to say in my new found theme. As a writer it makes me feel inadequate, and I in turn call myself into question, wondering if I really do have anything to say about the Church of the Future.

To lend myself a break, I would guess any true explorer experienced the same vague uncertainty. Pioneers, settlers, astronauts, scientists, entrepreneurs; the list could go on. The one difference in most of these is that what I am exploring has nothing to do with geography and everything to do with an inner journey. They mapped out the frontier, I am still charting my own heart.

I went to the State Fair last night to hear REO Speedwagon, a band I cut my rock-n-roll teeth on in the 70’s. It’s been several years, so I don’t know what triggered this thought, but I asked myself, “Why do I feel so free here?”

It had less to do with the freedom that I could enjoy the music with a cold one in my hand and not fret about being seen by someone at church who would report me back to an elder or other church member and call my integrity into question and recite a scripture about me making someone stumble and me not being concerned about giving an appearance of evil and that I should make a commitment to never drink in public or if I was in full maturity to never touch the stuff ever again…Whew.

No, I was simply enjoying a wash of freedom, of being glad I am alive, of reliving the sapling memories of my teen years, of holding on to today, and not grasping at tomorrow, of the preference I have for this kind of presence of soul.

And this is a sign of what I am looking for as I search for the Church of the Future, that I just might be on the right trail.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

When Lewis and Clark were sent out to explore the west, they kept a journal of their experiences and regularly sent word back to President Jefferson regarding what they were finding. Those who love history may find themselves jealous of this kind of adventure, asking what it would be like to explore the frontier again.

This past weekend, while waiting for Public Enemies to show, a preview for Where The Wild Things Are rolled through. I remembered reading this book to my both my kids when they were young, but now that they are at the age of not wanting to be seen in public with me, I didn’t have a good excuse to plan to see this movie.

Filmmakers are savvier these days, because they know that the key to making a movie for kids is to interest, not only the children, but also the parent who will be spending the time and money to take them. Toy Story made me laugh more than my two little ones.

The hook, it seems to me, in the preview of Where The Wild Things Are is the word adventure. It appeared over and over again, appealing to every child’s fantasy of being a part of something wild and exciting. Scenes of bravery, battle and heroic quest imagined through the eyes of a pajama wearing boy. I leaned over to Karen and said, “This is not a kid’s movie. It’s for their parents.

Every adult was once a child, and some things we never grow out of, and I believe adventure is one of those urges. But like most longings, we fail to see the true meaning of their fulfillment. Hitchhiking across country, having an affair or playing the craps table may sound and even feel thrilling, but what is left at the end of the exploit?

Is there a frontier any longer? GoogleEarth can take us anywhere on the planet, and its not likely that you or I are going on a space mission any time soon. So where is adventure? Where are the new places to explore? Where do we go from here?

Maybe it has nothing to do with a physical destination, but more about taking a step of faith? Lewis and Clark had the Great Northwest to find, but it also took faith on their part to go there, to believe there was something out there to find, and that it was worth the risk to do so.

Over the last few years, faith has taken me on an adventure of both physical and personal discoveries. A restaurant exists now because of my faith. The Church of the Future is in better view, but more importantly, I have discovered myself more deeply. Terra Incognita has now become Terra Firma.

Now faith is being assured of what you hope for, and certain of what you don’t see…

Monday, June 22, 2009

Most changes aren't permanent, but Change is

It dawned on me that I haven’t posted here in a month, and I realized why. I have less to say in this riff.

My Watchman blog has had much to do with processing a part of my story that in many ways has been reactive. I sensed a need to make a drastic change, and with that came an onslaught of reaction, reaction that required much thought and justification, if you will. I needed constant reassurance that what I was doing was OK, and since I had very few voices providing that, I had to look within to sort it all out.

Writing from this posture came easy, but I believe as a writer, I need to push myself to bring new thoughts.

According to my Gallup Strength Finder profile, one of my strengths is Futurist. My guide told me this is one of the more rare strengths on the grid, and that maybe one in a hundred have this. In Gallup fashion, I want to lean into that strength more. I want to see if I can provide more forward images of what I see ahead, and not just speak from where I’ve been. This may take time, and I may not be able to post as often as I have, but I will see what I come up with.

I am contributing to a new blog called CommuitasCollective.com. You can point your RSS reader to The Survivor page. My stuff will be there a couple times a month.

Thanks for reading. Who knew this little thing would turn into what it has become.

Power to the Pastors. You’re gonna get the Church back.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Go Back, Jack, Do It Again

Continuing to ponder the rift between my old life and new, I wonder if I will ever be able to live without a pull backward to that former way of living I have since rejected?

My life took a radical turn the summer after my senior year in college. It was that point where I decided I believed in God, and that something would be required of me in order to make my lifestyle congruent with that belief. So in a form I was very familiar, I prayed a formal prayer to indicate that decision. I immediately felt a strong sense of relief.

The relief came, I think, not so much as a result of feeling the love of God or a rush of freedom of soul, but instead from looking at it from the standpoint of being on the right side now. I was now saved. I was not quite sure what that was going to mean, but at least I was safe.

Now these many years later, I’m still unpacking the results of that decision.

That decision led me to think and believe and choose a path that made perfect sense even as short as five years ago, but now it has led me to a very different expression today. I no longer make my living from that belief. I don’t go to church. I don’t make music any longer and lead people in singing. Many who knew me in those days would look at my life now and assume I have given up on that decision. But I have to say it’s quite the opposite.

I’ve spent a significant amount of energy wondering what it would have been like if I had made that decision under better circumstances, under kinder, more loving and graceful leadership. How better adjusted would I be today if I wasn’t raised with a fearful view of God, or a cause and effect relationship with the Bible? My assumption was, I would have been better off.

And maybe I would, but I don’t get a do over on that one. All I’ve got is a move over. I am asking my past to step aside, to move over and allow for new works of grace to take its rightful place over the more restrictive patterns that was offered me.

I can’t change what I was given, but I can change what I give away. I met a pissed off Jesus, but I can introduce you to a more loving one. I was led to believe my attendance in a group of people in one location on Sunday morning was crucial for my behavior to remain moral. Now I can offer a different idea for what a day of rest could be.

I was given a picture of awakening being painted with broad strokes on a canvas of church attendance and political involvement. I can now give out a belief that awakening implies slumber, and that the soul may not even be aware it is asleep.

Even though I like where I am and where I am going, the invitation to go backward is always standing. The past always beckons us to think that better days were behind us. Cracker Barrel has built a pretty good business plan on this idea. But the problem is, we can’t go back, nor should we. The past is safe, but it grows stale. The soul may survive on day old rations, but it will be unable to thrive without new life and new faith.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Is it possible?

Continued from before I believe much of what Jesus did in his mission here on earth was largely unseen, and mysterious. I do believe in a spiritual realm that we cannot see, and the obscure references to Jesus passing judgment on the gates of hell are odd and hard to grasp. While these ideas are not without merit or importance, I try and put my attention on what I can understand and communicate. I can posit an idea or two about heaven and hell, but I am living on earth here and now, and feel I can speak a little more clearly about the latter. With all the words of Jesus we have recorded, if I can take the liberty to summarize all he said in one little phrase, it would be these three words: "You are free." Its because freedom in the reason He set us free. Freedom to do right. Freedom to do good. Freedom to believe that I am free. I just didn't experienced a whole lot of that when I was immersed in church culture. Freedom was something to be feared. One guy told me that he would rather err on the side of law than on the side of grace. He explained that if he was to wander, at least he would be far enough away from being accused of being loose or immoral. Discipline would keep him safer from sinning than would the risks of freedom. I didn't get the logic of his idea. If I'm going to err, I'm going to err. Does it matter which side of the line I fall? Jesus' call to freedom releases me to follow what he pointed to as the Greatest Commandment. Do I love well? Would God and others say I do? If not, why not? I think we get too hung up on trying to find a specific blueprint of what Jesus wants me to do and less aware of what He hopes we will do. Consider the things Jesus never did. He never was married, never had kids, never owned a house, all three of which many men today do. Instead of trying to figure out what Jesus would do as a husband, father, or homeowner, is it too much of a stretch to imagine him asking, "What would you do?" My dad was a man of deep faith, and it affected how he lived and how he raised me. His biggest legacy was instilling a belief that he was behind me in whatever I did. Is it possible that Jesus is trying to do the same? I think my dad and Jesus were trying to tell me the same thing... ...you are free.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Yes, I do

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts for someone who is in full time ministry and wanting out?

Yes, I do.

It's a big decision to make, one that took me several years. It's a decision that contains multiple layers, and each of them require some serious thought and consideration. Doing so is a revealing process, as it will lead you to motives you may not have been aware of.

Your first point of clarity is knowing why you want to get out. Are you bored? Are you disillusioned, maybe tired of being broke, or are you just fed up with the assholes in your church? These reasons need exploration, and that search needs to be done with a trusted voice who will let you talk it out completely with out judgment. I try my best to be objective, even though I made the choice to leave, I'm smart enough to know that my decision is not the right one for everyone else. Who knows, you may just need a good vacation in order to feel better about your lot in life. But I would doubt it.

A second layer to peel back is knowing where you want to go. Leaving is one thing, having a destination is another. I left because I had a compelling notion to start something new, completely unrelated to what I did before. It pulled me out, and forward. Even though many would not understand, it gave me a justification that I could rely on and defend in my own soul, which is essential, because there will likely be many lonely days ahead once you launch out.

A third aspect of which to be aware is what other people think. The good spiritual answer is that we are only supposed to care about what God thinks, but if you have helped people in their faith development, that is not something to be taken lightly. You will need to be able to communicate to these folks why you are making the shift. You can't just leave and expect them to fully understand without giving them a reason why. People will have to make their own choice about what they think about your decision, but how you consider them is yours.

I know this oversimplifies it, but I wanted to acknowledge your question and say that leaving vocational ministry is not the end of the world, despite what you may have been led to believe. I was always beat over the head with the verses on perseverance, and diligence and how if you take your hand from the plow, you are not fit for the Kingdom. These can be easily taken out of context and made to apply to your vocation and not your deepest soul. Leaving your ministry position may be the very thing to put you back on track toward renewing your faith. I know it did for me.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Feeling Bad For Not Feeling Bad

Easter morning. The day all good Evangelicals and other Christian types meet to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The focal point of belief, the reason for our forgiveness, the cause that changed history. So why again this year, am I having a difficult time not making a bigger deal out of it? Why am I fine sitting in my morning chair, enjoying a quiet house, reflecting on my week, and savoring a rich cup of coffee? I think it has something to do with not feeling bad any more. Back when I was a good Evangelical, there was a point of view I completely bought into that I am only now starting to unpack and question why. This sentiment was expressed so commonly, especially in every other worship song I sang and led, I adopted it as if it was my intended lot in life. Let's just call it the identity of desperation. The one song that embodied this idea as good as any was the one titled, "Breathe." The simple lyrics of "I'm lost without you; I'm desperate for you." rolled off my lips like bailouts out of Washington. I loved this song. I thought it was so brave and courageous to sing this kind of passion, until I came to a discovery a few years down the road. I think the main reason I connected with it was because I was depressed. I felt horrible about myself, my place in life and what the future might not hold. In fact, I am starting to realize that much of my spiritual identity was built around that condition, and now that I am no longer depressed, I am redefining my faith accordingly. And I wonder if I'm not alone. Part of the reason I don't want to go back to the Church As I Knew It is that it helped reinforce my feeling bad and I don't feel a need to return to that place in my life again. Maybe I am, but don't feel like I'm trying to lay blame on Church or anyone other than myself, because ultimately I am the one responsible for the maintenance of my spirit. What got me thinking about this more were all the little Facebook profile updates I see from my friends expressing their sentiments about Easter. Sentiments that once made perfect sense now seems so foreign to how I view Christ and what His life represents. Honestly, I don't feel like a wretch anymore. I don't feel desperate any longer. I feel free and empowered. I don't rise each morning with the need to read the Bible and have it remind me of all that I am doing wrong. I don't need a weekly sermon to reinforce the darkness of my depression with a general assumption that I am nothing more than a man in need of a Savior. I guess I want to keep moving forward to better places and there are too many voices around me proclaiming their sin and shame and not enough living in freedom and power. I don't claim to know what God is thinking all the time, but if the image of Him as Father is accurate, would I want my kids calling me at all hours of the day to recount all the ways they let me down and to remind me of what bad children they are? If indeed He is risen, I'm pretty sure He's going to stay that way, and I'm going to do my best to do the same. Happy Easter.
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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Now, what was it you wanted me to do?

It was called horse sense where I grew up, but you might know it as common sense or savvy or gumption, but it is a quality that indicated the ability to see the obvious and call a spade a spade. Folks that didn’t have it were labeled as thick, or dense or just plain dumb. It seems there are more and more spades today that are not being labeled as such. Take this oft used statistic, for example. Research shows that there is very little difference in the morality, if you want to call it that, between people who proclaim to have faith in Christianity and those who don’t. Divorce rates are the same, teen pregnancies are similar. Christians seem to have just as many affairs and who know what other kinds of problems. Why is this? There is a religious segment that would say its just old fashioned sin that needs to be repented of. This group has been pounding the drum loudly that all our social ills are an indication that America is being punished for these sins and the solution is that we simply need to stop what they are doing and turn back to God. Let’s say that’s true. How does that happen? This was the line of thinking I was handed in my early faith development. It was more like the sentiment of Nike than anything supernatural. The Sunday preacher would open the Bible and point out all the behavior that we, the struggling followers, should avoid, and we were expected to “just do it.” Nothing really mattered other than raw obedience, and since nothing ever changed, this gave the preacher job security, who would continue the same browbeating week in and week out. Why didn’t this work, and by work I mean results in any kind of change in social or personal behavior? I would venture to say that we had no idea of what we were to become. There was no Ideal, if you will, to look toward and emulate. And without an Ideal, we are left with whatever we see around us. And if the majority of people I know are getting a divorce, why should I expect to be any different? When the going gets tough in marriage, why not jump ship? What really keeps me wanting to make it work? You might say Jesus is that Ideal and that he should be the example for all our dilemmas. But I’m not sure that was the main point of his short lived earthly presence. Jesus wasn’t married. He doesn’t live next door. He didn’t play basketball. He didn’t drive a car or have use of the Internet. There is so much we do today that he never did. WWJD can only go so far. Could it be the Ideal is much closer to us than the example of one who lived in a far away culture hundreds of years ago? To be continued...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What you make of it

I find interesting the CNN article on the decline of Christianity in America. I’ve heard and read a few takes on these results, ranging from defensiveness to indifference. I personally don’t put too much stock in polls after my senior year stats professor told us that you can say anything you want with statistics, depending on how you report the data. But I have seen what may affirm these findings, at least among the small cross-section of people I know.

Over the years I’ve witnessed a number of folks, me included, who have drifted away from the practice of their faith in the form of the Church As We Know It. It ranges from one end of just not going to church, to the other extreme of rejecting God and faith entirely. Call it disillusionment or crisis of belief, bottom line is that Church just isn’t working for them.

I know everyone has their own stories, complicated as they may be, but if I were to simplify why I believe this shift is taking place, it is the tension that exists between what is Real and what is Ideal.

As children growing up in church, our elders presented the idea of God to us the best way they saw fit. I remember learning bible stories on a flannegraph, a novel little method on which Noah or Daniel or Solomon were cut out of cloth and placed on an easel covered with flannel. The teacher interpreted the stories of these men to us in terms a little child could understand.

But as we grew older, some of us never saw our faith mature past those stories. Noah might have been the nice man who obeyed God and built the ark to save the animals, but what do we do when we start contending with the God who destroyed the world in his wrath? Or when we realize The Wisest Man in the World was also the man Who Slept With Lots of Women? I understand why this angle was left out of first grade bible curriculum.

One option is just to jettison it all over board and adopt a position of indifference, cynicism or further still, hostility. It is too conflicting to see religious leaders rail against homosexuals when your best friend is gay. To be stuck in the middle between the church culture that you question and your non religious family may leave you with no place to stand. It's easier to just side with one or the other.

This is what I mean by the Real and the Ideal. What we hope for, long for and dream about gets juxtaposed with the way it really is. If God is Love, why does it seem there is so much anger among those who say they speak for Him? If the primary image of God in the New Testament is Father, why did dad leave mom? What does all this dissonance mean?

I think it means we are stuck in a fallen place. I think it means we need men and women who will hold fast to the Ideal and not let the Real defeat them. It means we have to decide if which of the two will get the best of us.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Overcoming Writer's Block

I apologize if this seems self serving, but I found it helpful as a writing exercise, I decided to try another 25.

1. I’m afraid I may have a reaction to caffeine that affects my sleep in a weird way, so I have been off caffeine for a month.

2. I‘ve taught myself a number of skills over the years, and I easily forget that this is a uniqueness to my personality. I assume that since certain things come easily to me, they should be just as easy to someone else.

3. I eat better and less now that I am immersed in the creation of food. Instead of being tempted to eat, I have a greater respect for what I eat.

4. I would rather spend money on memory making rather than acquiring possessions. If I were given $500 to spend, I’d take a weekend trip over buying a flat panel plasma TV.

5. I don’t understand the appeal of traveling on a cruise ship. My idea of a cruise is taking a canoe into the Boundary Waters for a week.

6. The food I am embarrassed to admit that I like: Crunchy Cheetos.

7. I am not afraid of heights, but snakes still creep me out.

8. If I win the lottery, and no longer have to worry about income, I would build a workshop to mill lumber and craft furniture in the winter, and grow a massive market garden in the spring, summer and fall.

9. I like teaching others about things I enjoy.

10. The guitar solo in Blue Collar Man by Tommy Shaw made me want to learn how to play guitar.

11. The concert I am embarrassed to admit I wish I could have seen: Kiss.

12. I’ve recently learned how to not wear a watch.

13. I own and have read the hardback versions of all the Tom Clancy novels.

14. I grew cherry tomatoes in a 3x3 plywood box that I made when I was 10. And I wonder why I eventually became a chef.

15. I actually like cleaning stuff. I think it makes me feel in control of my environment.

16. I brought home a beagle last year for my wife’s Valentine’s Day gift. It’s the single smartest decision I have ever made.

17. I decided not to play football my sophomore and junior year of high school. Years later, I look back on the resolve to make that kind of decision at a young age and wonder where that inner strength came from.

18. I collect old signs and hang them on my outdoor patio. I’m not sure why.

19. One criterion that I use in choosing a book to read is, will it make me think?

20. In my late 30’s, I went through a season of depression, and one beacon of light during that time was seeing Blue Man Group in Las Vegas. After the show, I wasn’t sure what I had just witnessed, but I was convinced it was something important. I later realized they were telling me to pursue my dream.

21. In my college years, I memorized a countless number of bible verses and could quote them word perfect. To this day I don’t know if the motivation to do that was virtuous or not.

22. I went to a high school that utilized corporal punishment, in other words, I got my ass beat with a wooden paddle when I got out of line. This will shape your worldview.

23. I am drawn toward people who know where their pain comes from.

24. I wish men still wore hats. I’d wear one now, but I’d hate to draw that kind of attention to myself.

25. I’ve worn Levi’s 560 jeans for fifteen years, simply because I don’t like to think about what I will wear. I know my size, so when I need a new pair, I don’t even have to try it on in the store. I like this kind of stability.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

25 little known and seldom sought facts about me

I'm usually not into these meme things or being tagged, but since I've had some writer's block, I thought this might be a good exercise to get me moving on this blog again. Here are 25 things about me.

1. I am a morning person and do my best work in the AM. I get drowsy in the afternoon and can fall asleep very quickly. I’ve recently fallen asleep at a stoplight, only to be wakened by a honking horn. That’s a scary feeling.

2. I take out and put in my right contact lens first, then the left, always, every time.

3. My default lunch is an apple, a chunk of blue cheese, pepperoni and crackers.

4. Disorder makes me uptight. When I sense chaos in the kitchen at work, one of my first reactions is to stop and get the workspace organized. Clutter is unsettling to me.

5. I love to travel. My first big trip was to Bermuda at age 10. Since then I’ve had the chance to spend enough time to taste the food and culture in Mexico City, Nairobi, Kampala, London, Glasgow, Leeds, Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest, Beijing, Xi’an, and Bangkok.

6. I am obsessively creative, which makes it very hard to lie around and watch movies or TV or participate in activities with no outcome. I prefer going to the cinema over watching DVD’s at home because there are less distractions there.

7. I will throw out or give away perfectly good items because I don’t like having to create a place for them. I do this with clothing regularly. As you can guess, I have a small closet space.

8. I can make food that people enjoy and are willing to pay for. I dream of making music that is playable in front of a paying audience.

9. I’ve learned how to listen before I speak. I am secure enough in what I believe to let you have your say. I listen to Rush Limbaugh and NPR because I find them interesting.

10. If I could have three channels on cable, I would subscribe to The Food Network, The Travel Channel and that one that has the show on how things are made.

11. I feed wild birds. I hang bird feeders outside my front window and watch the colorful birds stop by. My favorites are the yellow finches, which turn bright yellow in the winter. I have a reason for doing this that I won’t put here.

12. I am a persistent person and don’t give up very easily. This enabled me to endure the long, long process of opening an original restaurant, and watch it become successful.

13. I collect friends. To do so, I stay in touch with people. Before facebook and email, I did this by letter writing. I kept stationary and note cards in my desk, along with stamps, so I could jot a quick note. I wrote several per week in college.

14. I miss my dad, who passed away about 3 ½ yrs ago. My first thought of grief when I learned that he died, was that he will never see bread&cup, that he would never get to sit at my bar so I could serve him a pint, and hear him say how proud he was of me.

15. I don’t like politics, not because I don’t find it interesting, but because I hate the polarizing effect that it has on people involved in it. I can’t watch cable news shows because they wear me out. Occasionally I tune into the BBC news. At least that guy doesn’t seem angry about everything.

16. I am fascinated by process, of how things are made or created. I recently went out to a farm to watch a steer slaughtered, from the kill, to drawing and quartering, all because I want to know more about where your food originates.

17. I brew my own beer. Again, this has as much to do with process as it does with a mighty fine finished product that I can be proud of.

18. I’ve run three marathons so far, and will probably do one again eventually. I haven’t committed to one lately because I don’t like to start what I can’t finish. This is the whole reason I started running as a sophomore in college. I would never need a gym, or weights or a team of people to pull together. A decent pair of shoes and motivation would be the essentials, and I figured I could probably come up with both of those, even if I was poor.

19. I love playing craps and blackjack, and have a system I rarely deviate from when at the table. I never reach back in the pocket for more money if I lost what I started, which was literally in the first 15 minutes of a session with some friends in Vegas. I spent the next three hours in the coffee shop reading the paper while they kept winning. That day sucked.

20. The reason I finally gave in to the hair loss and shaved my head, was as a result of seeing Andre Agassi playing tennis years ago, who went from long hair to no hair. I thought if he could do it, so could I.

21. My closest brush with fame was sitting two rows behind Bono, The Edge and Larry at church in San Francisco one Sunday morning in 1988.

22. Too many choices wear me out, which is why I don’t like restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory, where the menu resembles a Rand McNally road atlas. Give me two or three options about anything, and I’m OK with it.

23. I think I figured out why I listen to jazz so much. It’s because when I hear it, I imagine what it might feel like to be a player in the band. See #8.

24. I don’t pretend to understand the grief process, but I have learned that when I come across a friend sitting alone in the ashes, the best thing to do is just sit down with him and keep my mouth shut.

25. I consider myself a learner and hope to spend the rest of my life educating myself.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wednesday Night is Ladies Night

Dear Current Pastor,

Ever wonder if doing church in the way that you commonly know it is most effective? Do you ever sense that there might be a better way? Let me offer you some advice that won’t cost you a dime, and will save you the cost of a trip to the South Barrington Headquarters for the annual pep talk.

Implement a cover charge for your Sunday Services.

Think about it this way. Anything that is worth something has a cost associated with it. Gasoline isn’t free. Movies aren’t free. Tickets to concerts now can cost over a hundred dollars. Why should your Church As You Know It be any different?

Oh sure, you have the tithe, but you and I both know that only about 20 percent of your people foot the bill for the rest of the freeloaders. Have you made it too easy for folks to get in, get out and get on with their life? Would anything change if you had to give the usher five or ten bucks just to get in the door?

Yes, I’m serious.

Your church is a production just like any other business or entertainment endeavor. You are dispensing a product that costs you and your team time and money every week, yet you don’t expect every person to bear any cost whatsoever. This seems out of sorts with a basic principle of cost/benefit analysis. If your people are benefiting from your work, and they aren’t paying for it, who’s the smarter one of the two?

See, if you charge a cover, and your services are really that powerful and life changing, you’re going to get people to shell out the cover charge, no problem. People bitch about rising ticket prices at the theater, but they still go don’t they? Hollywood only needs to worry when people stop going to movies.

And the same for you. If you charge a cover at church, and no one wants to pay it, then Supply and Demand proves to be right once again. If there is no demand for what you supply, then maybe its time to take a closer look and ask why?