Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Leaving vs Pursuing

Reading the reminder article posted by Jeff McQ at Losing My Religion: Re-Thinking Church today prompted me to understand something more clearly. Many folks want to know (whether it's the few how actually ask or the apparent many who ask others) what led the Kendall's to leave the church or more commonly "what happened"?

There IS a lot of discussion and exploration about alternative forms of gathering as the body of Christ these days. I'm afraid to say that in many instances some of what's driving folks to explore alternatives is the same thing that has fueled church hopping for decades. Someone get's their feelings hurt and shazaam, it's time to look for another church. It's often couched in all kinds of other surface reasons... we're just not being fed, or folks just never really reached out to us, or something similar. So there appears to be one group who are exploring alternative "church" types due to dissatisfaction with the "church" they were part of before.

Our experience has been very different. We love the friends and "stuff" that was going on at our "church". It was a great place with tons of amazing people and lots of cool events and programs. For us, following Jesus required us to leave the walls of what we had always known as "church" because we could no longer follow Him and stay there. Stuff He showed us about walking with Him and His Way made what we saw going on there in His name a stench to our nose. No one mistreated us. No one was ugly to us. No one chose the wrong color of carpet. We just could no longer stomach what was being done there as really about the Kingdom as much as about a kingdom. Not as much about persons as people. Reversals of parables and stories were showing up all over. The one was left for the 99. The mite was no longer mightier than the millions. The treasure was left covered up in the field so the previous pursuits of so much potential could be pursued. We could no longer stay where we were and pursue Christ because following Him was taking us outside the traditions and established ways of doing "church". Some would say we became disgruntled on some level, but having been in church work for decades this was no disgruntled church member leaving because his or her feelings were hurt. This was, "I'm not so sure 'church' is supposed to be what we've made it" and in order to follow Christ into exploring what He meant we had to remove ourselves from the addicting influence of the show.

The interesting thing is He has not allowed us to pursue another way of doing "church" but instead only Him. Because we are in Colorado, there is every a-typical opportunity for church around us. While we treasure every opportunity we have to gather with other Christ Followers, He has not taken us to a house church, a missional gathering, or any other form of a programmed event where people get together to be a "church". Don't get me wrong. We do purposefully seek out opportunities to be together with other Christ Followers. Dinners at the house seem to be the most common type, but any occasion to hang out with other Christ Followers is at the top of our list of stuff to do.

So, how about you? What led you to that new "church"... Christ or frustration?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Several have asked...

Several have asked and others want to know but don't ask. I'll answer anyway. The question is something like, "Why don't you go to church anymore?" While I won't spend time rehashing the journey that brought me to where I am (read the rest of the MyWalkBlog entries if you are interested in that), I'll instead answer the question for those who will to some degree admit they at least partially agree that "church" as we have always known it does not accomplish the mission that Christ left with His followers, but who would challenge that I should be "inside" applying what God has shown me as a fix for the "church". Today I was catching up on some blog reading and came across the following section of a post titled Is Deconstruction Enough? Wayne, being challenged whether he really wanted to be known as one of the guys who convinced people not to go to church on Sunday morning says as part of his response:
The reason church life grows stale is because we’re looking for institutional solutions, not relational ones. If we equip people to live loved of God and live as lovers of people, the church will spring up all around us. It probably won’t be contained in a specific meeting or building but will grow wild and free and bear fruit in the interconnection, collaboration, cooperation and submission of brothers and sisters who are being changed by Jesus. That can look like a hundred different things. But once I begin to describe some of those things, I know our tendency as humans to prefer replicating a model to following the Head! We love to construct things, not build up people. The New Testament points us to building up people in Christ and seeing what expression that takes. I don’t think it works the other way around. (emphasis mine)

And there you have in a nutshell my answer. I remember several years ago, when following God on my journey brought about some interesting developments in our own group. The church we were attending immediately wanted to find a way to replicate what was going on in our group through months of praying and following by putting together a handbook, having a training session, and watching the Spirit of God take that group exactly where we were headed because we were following God.

One of the key questions I remember the church leader asking after I told him our off-shoot groups followed no curriculum was "but how do we control what goes on in the groups." My response? "If you think you control the groups that meet on campus because they all meet at the same time each week and because you put approved curriculum in the leaders hands your nuts." Do you see it... "But once I begin to describe some of those things, our tendency as humans is to prefer replicating a model to following the Head!"

Other than the simple fact that Jesus, the Head, has not led me back to an institutionalized gathering, I'm confident that any attempt to change the institution, as others have suggested, from the inside out though it would be the result of a small group learning how to walk in intimacy with God, would be subjected to tendencies and efforts to replicate the model and not the following of the Head that truly brought about the change. Besides, ultimately, those who have "gotten it" begin to struggle with being inside the institution themselves and we all know how that "movement" would sit with those who lead the institutions.

Pursuing Christ Outside the Walls!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Counter Assumption

In his article, The Cult of Mac: Neuroscience shows Apple's impact on the brain is the same as religion, the author Skye Jethani cites research and opinion based on that research toward addressing what he sees as consumerism affecting the church.
"Apple is (as we've proven using neuroscience)...a religion. Not only that--it is a religion based on its communities. Without its core communities, Apple would die--it is already facing strong pressure as the brand simply is becoming too broad (losing) its magic. What's holding it all together is the hundreds if not thousands of communities across the world spreading the passion and creating the myths."

I was glad to see he came back and explored the opposite side of things... as he puts it "If brands have become religions, is the opposite also true? Have religions been reduced to brands?" Skye affirms that he does believe this to be true. I have to admit I was already thinking in this direction as I began his article (but then, that doesn't surprise those of you who know me, right?).

Could it be the same thing that makes humans in general vulnerable to consumerism in the first place is the same thing that contributed to the rise of a religion out of the relationship focus Jesus lived and taught while He walked the earth?

What's really intriguing about this study, and about Apple being dubbed "a religion", is more what it says about religion than it is an indictment on Apple or any other strong brand, right? Does the study show that people are generally pre-disposed to a system of belief about something? And, if so, could it suggest that when Jesus left the disciples without a religion per se, that in the absence of one, the people who by nature are predisposed to systemization rather than relationship, unknowingly began to layer the system, or religion, back onto that which Jesus spent three years striping away?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Not alone out here in the uttermost parts...

One of the interesting parts of my journey has been the initial isolation you feel when you begin the trek down a different path. The further I go down the path the more I come across others who are on the similar journeys. Today I discovered the blog of Jim Palmer. Just reading his current post, "you can't get there from here (or can you)", I found myself excited. One of the sentences that got me really excited was this one:
i don’t feel the need to cling to the label “Christian,” and i am okay with people who don’t think i am one.

I too have gone through a period where I was not quite sure what I had become and didn't know how to answer the question "are you a Christian"? I can say that the only folks I've come across who question my relationship to God are those who are typical church goers. Especially those with whom we attended church or served on their church staff at some point. Most think we've had some deep hurt from the church and have turned our backs on it. We get that blank look that comes after you tell them and it's obvious they are hoping we'll get over it at some point and return. But when you've had steak you can't settle for SPAM any longer when you don't have to.

On the other hand, when we come across unbelievers or others going down this same path we are on, we don't get those questions or the stares. And oddly enough, the unbelievers just notice something "different" about us and because we're not all "churchy" they actually open up and pour out their souls to us. The opposite of the reactions we used to get, and never noticed before because we were too church-strung, of the blank stare and obviously trying to think of an answer that allows them to slip away from the encounter never to have to see us again.

So, as Jim I don't cling to, and actually shy away from, the term "Christian" these days because of the association that it conjures in the mind of others. I've landed on the term Christ Follower. It's much more descriptive of where I am and where I am headed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Grow Spiritually = Active in Small Group and Still in Church

As I began to wake up from my years of Churchianity I began to really struggle with the rhetoric we hear week in and week out (or day in and day out if you are a really mature Christian -tongue in cheek-) about spiritual growth. In a recent article on his blog, David Landrith, pastor of the church I used to attend for quite some time and by all the standard measures of church success a highly successful place, kicked off an emphasis on getting everyone involved in a small group (amazing this is a whole article and they finally decided not to call it Sunday School... something they said would never change while I was there). In the article he makes note of the following (my excerpts with surrounding stuff removed)...
to grow spiritually...

the value of being in a small group...

...five times more likely to be active in church than those who attended worship service alone.  They also found that more than eight out of ten of the members who were active in a small group were still in church 5 years later.  However, only two of ten were still active in the church five years later if they attended worship services only.

The reality is that most life change occurs in a small group!

Note the beginning of the excerpts set up the premise that he's going to talk about spiritual growth. Then he quotes the president of LifeWay about the value of small groups and how going ensures you'll still be going five years down the road whereas those who only take a small dose each week were so much less likely to be as active.

So, what's wrong with this? Where's the growth, other than the number of folks filing through the doors each week of course? We are talking about growing spiritually, right?

So, here's the unquestioned assumption here not being challenged is "are those who are still involved five years later actually walking more like Christ (not do they go to church more often, tithe more, walk and talk like 'us')?" While I would submit there are a handful who truly live more like Jesus I would also submit it's not the small groups, or the worship services that changed those lives. In fact, I would submit that those lives would have been changed even apart from the millions of dollars it took to "make it happen" through weekly experiences at the church. Those individuals, given a genuine one on one relationship with another believer would have grown and saved "the kingdom" millions of dollars.

David, I don't know if you will read this or not. And I hope that, if you do, you won't be offended that I chose to blog about this rather than write a personal email. I sat and listened to your preaching for about a year and a half as I had begun to awake from my Churchianity. I heard the inner struggle you too were going through coming through in your own preaching. I heard you lament that you stayed awake at nights knowing the lack of impact all the weekly efforts were really making in the multitude surrounding you. Of all the churches I had been a part of and visited, Long Hollow seemed to have the most potential for turning the tide and throwing out the business-focused church growth questions and evaluators and trying to truly find a way to measure and evaluate personal spiritual growth. I hope God will continue to allow you to be tormented with those questions rather than, as it appears in this article, settling for the numbers=growth model which has paralyzed those who call themselves believers for decades. It was through torment like that I was awakened and realized God was doing something brand new and I wanted to be a part of it.

Let me challenge you to read the book Plan A. And There Is No Plan B. by Dwight Robertson. Specifically looking for the illustration about the man who invented the game of checkers. I believe churches, like the emperor of China in that illustration, would be offended that any believer would "ask for so little" as to invest themselves into two others, who would in turn invest themselves into two, who would eventually, the pattern continued, change the world. Why do we always have to find more productive ways of doing it ourselves when Jesus gave to us The Way and showed us how to do it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Projecting the familiar on to that we've not experienced

So as I cruise the Internet reading various blogs I continue to astounded and marvel at the pervasive habit of projecting the tenants of something with which we are familiar on to something we've never experienced.

Okay, guilty as charged. I too did this for a couple of decades. From the time I began to make my way into "full time ministry" I interpreted everything I read in the Bible through the filters of stuff I saw and understood around me. In other words, when I read "church" in the New Testament I projected what I saw a church to be in my culture and time onto what I read. Almost as if the Ephesian "church" looked and functioned just like First Church Anytown I was familiar with. They had Sunday School in the morning on Sundays right? Well, that's a little too simplistic but you get the idea. When I read "pastor" I projected what I had always known as a "pastor" back on to what I was reading. When I read Paul's letter to the church at Galatia I read it envisioning a group of people gathered on a certain day seated in orderly fashion where a designated person read the letter as part of the "service" being conducted. I envisioned a "pastor" speaking

That's a dangerous flaw in the way we read and study. I know, I know, that's why we do all that deep Bible study and ferret out the meanings and culture and history. But the fact remains, my impression of what the New Testament Christ Followers were like was tainted by my own experience. I knew nothing else.

Last year I began to escape the decades of filters that had for so long kept me from understanding the life and ministry of Jesus and what He left to his disciples. The mission He left them. Not the mission I was taught being projected back on to what He said at the end of Matthew, but more of what He was truly saying to them. Since then, my eyes have been opened to understand things from my reading that had before never quite connected. Now, the rationalizations I had made as to why something I read in the Bible didn't seem to fit with other stuff I read in the Bible began to no longer be necessary.

I'm anxious at some point to try once again to learn to read Greek and may attempt (yeah right) Hebrew. I'm wondering how much of what we read in a translation could be skewed by that which the translator is familiar with and takes on today's meaning rather than the meaning for which it was written. I know. I know. This is a Pandora's box. But nonetheless, one worth considering.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Cheap Immitation for Churchites

I for one am really tired of seeing the churchites have to "church-ize" everything. While I openly admit in my former years of churchianity I too might have flipped at this, but I quickly began to tire of all the copy cat stuff we keep seeing. It works for the "christian" stores as it gives them revenue. It works for the churchites as it affords them the opportunity to stay locked in the little bubbles of security they continue to build for themselves. So, would Jesus play Guitar Hero or Guitar Praise? Or, does it really matter? (I think not!) But, that said I am really tired of seeing these "kingdom" knock-offs all over the place. Would it be nice to see something original come out of the religion of Christianity? Seen Testamints?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Attending Meetings Does Not Equal Church

So today I came across several interesting blogs. One of which led me to lifestream.org - I continue to be amazed how prevalent this movement of God is. In fact, I remember around Feb or Mar of 2007 thinking I was the only one out here struggling with whether what I had come to know as "church" was really what Jesus meant for His followers to be doing. One of the watershed moments in the journey was looking around the room at a group of folks whom I had led in Bible study for several years after making the comment "You have to take personal responsibility for your own spiritual growth. Not your spouse, not me, not the pastor, or the church. But you reaching out to walk with Jesus day by day, moment by moment." What I noticed would best be described as the deer in headlights look from all but three faces. It was then I realized God was calling me to invest deeply in the three who understood. So, reading the lifestream.org blog/site today I found this comment:
Don't be tricked into thinking that just because you attend its meetings you are experiencing real body life. That only comes as God connects you with a handful of brothers and sisters with whom you can build close friendships and share the real ups and downs of this journey.

From Why I Don't Go to Church Anymore! by Wayne Jacobsen

There you go! Reflecting back after my own watershed moment, I remember the numerous times I or someone else would speak of walking in the Spirit and sensing the leadership of the Spirit to do, say, or whatever, and seeing those same looks. The funny thing was the family-ship that the group had. Probably the most unified group I've ever been a part of. Yet, the experience of being in touch with God through the Spirit mostly absent. I believe a vast majority of those "attending church" today, even those who experience a great "fellowship" of friends and having incredibly moving spiritual moments, are not experiencing a genuine, Spirit-led walk. In fact, the pastor of the church (deemed a highly successful and exploding church by all standards of ministry in today's mainstream understanding) we were attending at that point even said in the same message which prompted my comment about personal responsibility for one's own spiritual walk that he stayed awake at nights lamenting that over 90% of the folks who sat listening to him each week would spend eternity in hell.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Schizophrenia Not Allowed

One of the interesting realizations along my journey has been how schizophrenic the traditional views of God, His Word, and His Ways tends to become.One is the way we tend to look at the Old Testament and the New Testament in different ways. While there are more ways we look at the front and back of the Bible with differing views, this only deals with one particular aspect of our perception.

It occured to me that we tend to look at the Old Testament as stories holding truth about what we should and should not do as God's people, but we tend to look at the New Testament as primarily a record of what we should do. It's like we turn the magic page between old and new and the very nature of the complete story changes.

I remember one of the major themes of the Old Testament is the fickleness of the God's people. Story after story after story details how the people of God ride the roller coaster of loving God and following Him and then ignoring God and going their own way; or worse yet intermixing the ways of God with the ways of the God-less.

Wouldn't it make sense that this theme played out throughout the entire record of God's redeeming work? Or did that propensity for man going his own way magically disappear between Malachi and Matthew? I'm beginning to realize that the theme indeed continues as we see the closest followers of Jesus, after the resurrection, return to fishing where Jesus finds them and puts them back on the right path (sound like an Old Testament theme to you?). Then there's the page turn between John and Acts. The very first act in the "church age" was for the closest followers of Jesus to create the first nominating committee and "throw the dice" to determine who should replace Judas among the twelve. (I personally believe this was taking matters into their own hands as we later see God replace Judas with Paul; His work, His time, His way vs our work for Him, our way, our timing)

Where did the disciples see this method of determining the will of God? Do we have record of them sitting under a tree or beside a road with Jesus during the three years they were with him so they would know where to go and what to do? Some have challenged my interpretation by pointing out that Jesus was filled with the Spirit and was able to hear the voice of His Father that way, while the disciples at this point had not received the gift of the Spirit so they had to use another method. Again, I don't see Jesus instructing them to do that or showing them how in the record we have of His time with them.

I would cite more examples, but that would incite a riot here and I'm not after that. What I'm trying to do from this point forward is test everything I see in the New Testament (as well as the Old) against what I see Jesus doing and what I hear Jesus saying in the record of His time here among us. If there's a difference between what Jesus said and did, it leaves room for considering if that was something we've added to what Jesus and His Father intended.

So, to me, this thread of the fickleness of God's people continues throughout the story. So where are the turns back to the old ways? What events in Matthew-Revelation are the record of God's people returning to old ways instead of following the new way Jesus showed and left them? What pieces of an old way of life do we live out today because "it's in the New Testament" even though it's in there to show that even after Christ's sacrifice for us was fulfilled we still battle with the draw to our old ways of unbelief? At least I'm watching for those now as I read the New Testament too.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Unity in the Spirit

I had an unusual experience this week and it brought me to a greater appreciation for the concept of unity in the Spirit. When I look around and see all the disunity in what's supposed to be the communities of believers I see some managed unity, but nothing like this experience this week.

A God-appointment orchestrated via Facebook brought me back across a former high school mate, Steve Villanueva. While we each knew of each other during our high school years and that we both were involved in church, that was pretty much it as far as being friends.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="260" caption="We Have Been Lied To"]We Have Been Lied To[/caption]

We met at a local Macaroni Grill for about two hours. The first 10 minutes was about the formalities... where and what since high school. Then Steve told me he had a book that was published and was being released this month (We Have Been Lied To by Stephen Villanueva which is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target now, and Borders later this month). WOW! How cool is that.

As we continued to talk throughout lunch I was overwhelmed with how two guys, vaguely acquainted for four years over two decades ago could come together after barely knowing each other so long ago and having zero contact since could be so on the same page. I listened intently as he laid out the things God had been teaching and showing him. Recalling the same stories from Scripture with the revolutionary understanding which God had given me over the last couple of years. It was as if we had been hanging around with each other and heard the stories time after time so we were able to speak as one.

Then it hit me. I had always talked about the unity that should exist for believers because the same Spirit was alive in both, but never had I experienced it quite like this. I had even joked that the Spirit was not schizophrenic so when there was disunity one or the other was not led by the Spirit. Story for story, words lining up with words, experiences akin to the others. It was truly amazing.

Then I began to reflect on the work God had done to inspire the writing of the Bible into the amazing book of unity it is today and was further in awe of the moment.

If you are walking in the Spirit, then the Spirit in you should be in full agreement with the Spirit alive in another Christ Follower. Have you experienced a relationship/conversation like this? If not, wonder which Christ Follower is the one not consistently walking in and being led by the Spirit?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

There IS truth to be learned from Star Wars (and beyond!)

Anakin Skywalker... watching the final installment in our Star Wars epic watch-a-thon (several evenings through episode 1-6) a thought occurred to me...

(haha, check out this article I found looking for the picture to the right...)

Thinking of our brother Aaron Horton's now famous (with me anyway) quote:
No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what perspective you have in life, all of us can recognize a common theme emerging in the world. We see it in the stories we love, we see it in history, we see it in our own lives. There is beauty and innocence, interrupted by tragedy and sadness, followed by longing for rescue, and hope for a better day. We love the stories best where a hero comes along to set the world right and bring a new day to pass where we return to that place of beauty and innocence again…changed of course…but back home again. That story is older than the middle ages, the roman empire, or even the Bible. It is the story written on the very heart of God…woven into our lives because we were made in His image.

... I began to realize that if I believe what Paul talks about in Romans and understand that we were all created in the image of our father originally, only we've lost touch with it through our sinfulness...

... it becomes apparent that there WILL be hints of the character of God in all the stories even the fallen man tells. In the things we (mankind) hold to as ideals; love, peace, hope, etc., and the things we loathe; hate, lust, jealousy, even from a worldly perspective; we can see and point to God. Because God's image is "in our DNA" the hints of that image will be present in the work done by the creator's creation. WHOA!

That's why so many of the amazing quotes in movie after movie, book after book, song after song, etc. after etc. can point to the essence of real truth! Sometimes even more honest about it than we tend to be in our own religious lives:

Anakin Skywalker
"Mom, you said that the biggest problem in the universe is no one helps each other."

Qui-Gon Jinn
"Your focus determines your reality."

Anakin Skywalker
"Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden."

Qui-Gon Jinn
"Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel... don't think. Use your instincts."

"Jedi Masters don't go crazy -- they just get eccentric."

... just a few... many more there are! (sorry, could not resist)

I think the depth of Aaron's insight sunk in to a whole new level last night! All those stories which portray pieces of kingdom truth just askew from our naturalized man point of view.... hints of truth from the wrong foundation/perspective... Wow!

Press on!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mark 13:31

This was just interesting. Jesus said:
"Sky and earth will wear out..."

So we can't save the planet?

This set off a whole trail of thinking about the dirt we walk on. In college I wrote a paper on the responsibility of Christ Followers to show respect for everything that God created. Respecting something that belongs to someone else is one of those basic lessons which should have been taught to everyone at an early age (that may be a whole new post though...). And, there you go. The key... belongs to someone else. The American culture focuses a great deal on the concept of "ownership". Your house, your car, your land. But in truth, the vineyard still belongs to the true owner and we are all simply the farm hands left to care for the property of the true owner. We buy and sell, which further reinforces the illusion of ownership. Yet ultimately do we really believe the words which come from our mouths... "it all belongs to God"? By "believe" I mean do our actions and attitudes really show that we believe nothing "belongs" to us? What does that look like? How do we as Christ Followers live that reality in an "ownership", "buy and sell" focused society?

Have you ever observed someone clinging to something they deemed of value as the true owner, understanding its lack of value in the grand scheme of things, looked on shaking his or her head sympathetically?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Love God? Love the Church!... but which Church?!

Recently a Facebook friend posted an article on his blog and I posted the following comment. Before approving it, he kindly suggested it might make a great post on my own blog (and I think he preferred I moderate the backlash on my own space than him having to do it on his) so here it is...

Wrong targetBeing on my own journey of rediscovery into what Jesus truly intended for the life of a Christ Follower to be like has resulted in some pretty definitive ideas in this area. One patriarch in a church where we were on staff used to always say “Nothing succeeds like success.” He was right. But the question has become "what if you are successful at the wrong thing?" I found a photo last year of a target with two arrows on the outer edge one splitting the middle of the other. It illustrated what was occurring in my journey. What if all those years we’d been aiming at and hitting the wrong thing? What if, like the 2004 Olympic shooting saga of Matt Emmons, we knew we had hit the bullseye of the target but discover we lost the race because we hit the bullseye of the wrong target?

Out of my college and seminary days, and 30 years of church staff and denominational work I would have answered these folks very similar to how you outline above. However, what if the “church” as we know it has drifted decades and degrees from the course Jesus put the early Christ followers upon?

What if all the stuff we hold so near and dear is truly not that important to God and Christ? What if, once again and so often in the cyclic life of the human race, God showed us the path and we set off on part of it yet adding and adjusting along the way until the destination 2000 years later is far from what Jesus intended? Then, what if like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we fight to protect a religious way of life which was never intended.

Many of my wonderings drove me to a trip through the New Testament attempting to discover exactly and only exactly what Jesus said (and noticing what he did not say) about “church”. I was shocked by many things with this “no filters” approach. One of the amazing things was the fact that just about everyone except the religious leaders thought very highly of Jesus and what he was teaching. People genuinely liked Jesus. But, just like some of the comments we are seeing today, these same lovers of Jesus loathed the religious system which was being promoted by the religious leaders.

What if we were dinging the bullseye every day but the bullseye we were aiming at was totally the wrong target. What if, instead of the sinners being so messed up and unable to recognize the value of the organization we have created (uh oh, those will be fighting words I bet), they actually see the organization without all the religious bindings and have no interest in something so much like the world they already live in and thus want no part of that? What if they see Jesus more clearly than those who are bound by today’s religious teachings and are only in need of someone to guide them into The Way of the Kingdom which Jesus taught about? What if we are adhering to generations of religious stuff heaped back upon the simple and straightforward message of the Kingdom Jesus taught? Spend some time evaluating how much of what you do every week in the name of religion you can actually find record of Jesus teaching about or him physically taking part in while he was walking among us. If what you do is as important to the Kingdom as we tend to make it, would not Jesus have spent his three years walking among us hammering it home to his closest followers? Yet we have no record of him teaching or participating directly in much of what we hold so near and dear. What if God has chosen to raise up a new generation of those who follow The Way of His Kingdom and what if they must live so outside the walls of what we have always known as “church” because they cannot live the Kingdom life taught by Jesus inside the walls that exist today?

Now that you are likely fuming… go back and re-read his whole article page from top to bottom and see how many times “church” is mentioned verses how many times “Jesus” is mentioned. I love the “church” more than ever before, just not the one we created.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Involved in church's ministry = serving God?

Okay, so this just illustrates the point. It amazes me how easily we accept this rhetoric. At the big Shift event going on this week Kara Powell, the executive director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, had the following to say:
If there is one thing that everyone in youth ministry seems to be talking about it’s how to keep students following Christ after high school....

Her data reveals that 50% of high school students who had been deeply involved in a church’s youth ministry will not be serving God 18 months after graduation. And that’s not counting the many other high school students who are only going to church because their parents are forcing them.

She said this standing in front of a mountain of "youth resources" making the point that there are more resources available than ever before and yet students are walking away from God after High School. Then, she poses four critical questions for youth ministry. I'll only highlight one here:
4. How can we train students to feed themselves after graduation?

Doesn't that establish a bit of an oxymoron? On the one hand she laments that teens in alarming rates are not coming to church, then out of the other side of her mouth she prods how those same teens can be trained to feed themselves. If they are feeding themselves and out amongst the unbelievers but fellowshipping intentionally with believers in some manner isn't that awesome!? That is, unless someone has embraced the myth that dragging oneself to the table is synonymous with feeding oneself.

So, here are some questions that come to mind:

  1. If the churchites can keep them there, does it really mean they are growing and serving Christ?

  2. When exactly was it that attendance replaced personal contact (discipler to disciplee) to determine growth?

  3. Isn't it kind of presumptuous to assume that someone participating in a program is engaged personally?

  4. If the youth ministries we rabidly defend are doing their jobs maybe the teens are just the first new generation of self-sustaining Christ Followers going out into the world to fulfill the Great Commission. Maybe they get it that the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled hiding away, in-breeding in our super-structures.

Okay, like that was not jarring enough, this will be really unpopular. While it may not be at the forefront of the thinking of these "ministry professionals" I do believe an underlying concern they have is the realization of the lost revenue after the business has spent so many resources to raise up future foundational support. They know if they cannot keep them they cannot sustain the super-structures they built on "new believers" alone. How can I say such a thing? I just reflect on my own meetings applying formulas which divided the total giving (revenue) by the number in attendance to arrive at a per person figure which can be applied to the increase in attendance to get a increase in available funds to "grow the ministry".

Skye Jethani, the author of the article and managing editor of Leadership poses his own questions as he closes out the article:
48 year olds may not be leaving the church the way 18 year olds are, but are they really growing? Are we feeding them a Red Bull gospel? Are we teaching them to be self-feeders?

What is needed is a complete re-evaluation of what serving God truly means; a re-evaluation of what personal growth is; a re-evaluation of what the Church is. One of the most common concerns I've heard among staff members about believers or groups of believers feeding themselves is the issue of "control". Control only becomes an issue when the numbers become so big that personal involvement can no longer be maintained. This is when rules and structure become necessary. It amazes me that in statements like the ones in this articlt the writers look right past the obvious laying in front of them... isn't teaching church-goers to be self-feeders and expecting them to be dependent on the super-structure for food (I know, this is not what we say going to church is about, but really it's part of how the necessity of the institution is protected) a great oxymoron?

Where, O where is the outrage at statements such as this? (truth is, folks will be more outraged that I've said what I've said than they will that these speakers and writers have equalized serving God with going to church activites)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bursting the Christian Bubble -- The Cart Running Over the Horse

It appears that Dan Kimball, author of They Like Jesus But Not the Church, speaking live at the Shift conference shared some thoughts on "Bursting the Christian Bubble".
In an increasingly post-Christian culture fewer people have contact with real Christians. We’ve hidden ourselves in a Christian sub-culture bubble.

I would totally agree with the sub-culture bubble concept. We emerged from that bubble last February and ever since folks think we have backslidden (one of those sub-culture terms used to help protect the organization and keep people inside) and "lost our faith". In fact, just the opposite has happened since we purposefully stepped away from that social bubble which demanded way too much time for us to be out impacting the lives of those outside the bubble. In fact, a friend with whom we've become reacquainted with since returning to the Denver area, tells us about the stealth inquisitions she often undergoes from those in the church we formerly served on staff at while here. Yet not one of them has picked up the phone and called us to ask what's going on. Wonder if that means life outside the bubble is way weird to those inside.

In one of my first mywalkblog posts was The New 80/20, I reflected that "my time was so tied up in good things at church and in ministry [that] I spent little time engaging with people outside my church in the community or my even my own neighborhood."

Inevitably the cart gets before the horse and before too long the cart actually begins running the horse over and killing it. Of all the things I reflect back on of value during my years serving the organization it's the relationships with precious people that I am most fond of today. Those don't require the institution itself to exist. In fact, those relationship often thrived and were most founded from any time we spent apart from the bubble.

Now almost two years later I'm going to propose something that will be very unpopular to those inside their bubbles... I don't believe it's possible to have the organized institution which is called church without that bubble inevitably becoming a dominating reality. I'll concede that in some smaller communities in secluded areas where the "churches" themselves are small, I believe the bubble-syndrome is less likely to be as crippling to true Christ Followers. But that's where it stops. Even as those institutions increase in size it will require more resources to keep them going and ultimately there won't be enough time to serve Christ and their church any longer. (ouch... I can't believe I just said that) The very nature of the organizations we've created and called "church" (given, Christ established His Church as the global body of all who profess a faith in Him but I'm less inclined to say the establishments find ourselves slaves to today and call church are what He had in mind at all) will inevitably turn inward in focus and create a sub-culture of isolationism because of what they strive to be. Maybe that's why the disciples were scolded when they asked Jesus about having a position in His future organization.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Nature Illustrates True Life

Today I came across an article about a recent study at Exeter University citing how a significant majority of captive-bred carnivores reintroduced to the wild are unable to adapt and die. (Most Reintroduced Carnivores Die in the Wild.) It was very interesting and timely given one of this week's observations and revelations as I was reading Mark.

As my two readers (probably my mom and some obscure person who has nothing interesting to do) will know, last year I set out on my first "through the New Testament with filters of what I'd been told removed" to see what Jesus really did say and not say about "church". It was an amazing journey.

The turn from Acts to Romans was very interesting. To date the record which had been recorded was of the Apostles and Jesus' closest (Jewish) followers using the Law and Prophets in the attempt to convince other Jewish individuals who had also been raised from day one to expect a Messiah that Jesus whom they crucified was the Messiah they had spent their whole life expecting. Then, in Romans we see the clash of cultures. Paul obviously begins to wrestle with how to communicate with this new audience who was not raised with those expectations of a Messiah and truly have very little background in things which were givens in the Jewish culture. I was astonished as Paul began to explain that the evidence of our Creator was evident in everything around everyone which left those who had not heard without excuse. That reality began to grip me. For so many years I had been using things of nature to illustrate things of the Kingdom. As if the Kingdom should be grateful for how nature lent itself to help it's cause. But what I began to understand was that you can see God and His ways in the things of nature because that which is created is always a reflection of the one who did the creating. It prompted me to begin looking at things all around me a little differently.

The other day I was reading in Mark, I don't exactly remember where while I'm sitting here now, and read something that made me think about how cautious those who handle wild animal rescues are about creating too much dependence in those whom they are caring for because too much human contact will limit the chances for re-introduction back into the habitat to which they belong. In fact, it could cause their death. Suddenly it hit me. The institutions most "Christians" grew up in need to learn this lesson from nature. Most of those who claim to be Christians are not capable of surviving and growing on their own because the "rescuers" have over cared for them. There is little or no hope of the rescued being able to go back into their native environments and feed themselves so they can be interacting as those sent out. And the article was about those who were raised in captivity being so at risk being reintroduced to the wild. Sit back and think about that in relationship to how many children "raised in the church" struggle as they get older and find themselves "in the real world". Think about how ineffective individuals are in their workplace... especially comparing the tsunami of resources leveled every week at equipping them for ministry. I'd wager to say more resources leveraged weekly against "discipleship" than has ever been available in time and yet individuals have less influence on those around them than ever before.

Maybe we've just been bred to be addictively dependent on our care givers and cannot be reintroduced to the very place we are most needed. I know for Julie and I this has been a true struggle. Trying to find a way to thrive in relationships where we can do the most good but were encouraged most of our "Christian lives" to avoid often leaves us dumbfounded.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Love it!

He makes some good points:
Sometimes I wonder if we have so confused these two entities—the church and the institution—that our mission becomes the growth and advancement of the later rather than the former. When attendance at a church program is large we say, “the church is growing,” and when attendance is poor we say, “the church is failing.” But is that really accurate? Is the church growing or failing, or merely the institution? Can we even tell the difference anymore?


I would say the majority of those who use the term "church" cannot make the distinction or trust the listener to make the distinction when talking about it. It is truly sad, but most supposed Christ Followers today passionately invite people to church (institution with all it's social network and mission to grow the social network) with little real passion for the true bond which binds Christ Followers together. The social network is the bond unconsciously promoted with little knowledge or consciousness of the Spirit of Christ which truly binds those who believe together. Hence I call myself a Christ Follower now rather than Christian. When the definitions lose their meaning in the context of culture it's time for new words... especially when the words we use are so watered down and have lost their meaning like "church" today.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Operation De-tox - 365 days and counting

A year ago today was the day Julie and I began a process a writer calls de-toxing. Little did we realize how much in our life would be changing in that year. Little did we realize how much that would begin to realize how much more needed to change.

Since moving back to Colorado I had the opportunity to hang out with a guy named John White, US Coordinator for DAWN ministries. John's background is similar to my own in that he has religious oriented education and served for a number of years as a church staff member before his journey led him outside the walls of an established organizational structure and into this wild world where we now find ourselves. On my first occasion to hang out with John we both told our stories. It was very interesting when John indicated his own de-toxing experience has lasted for almost two decades so far. And here I was thinking we were "almost there."

So, here's some observations after a year of our own experience (side note... don't misread any one observation as a standalone... they all must be considered in light of and interdependent upon the others...):

  1. We are spiritually richer and deeper. I'm guessing due to the fact that we MUST feed ourselves and can't depend on spoon feeding that comes as "going with the flow" of the busy life inside the walls.

  2. We have missed the social comfort provided by the established organizational approach.

  3. More people matter. Having made a move during the first year of our de-tox experience it has become obvious to us how much we depended on the established organization to find and maintain friendships. After nearly five months of standing on our front porch longing for God's prompting to engage one of our neighbors I was delighted to finally have an extended conversation with someone on our street this last week. It was exhilarating! I never longed for relationships with those around me or those I'd encountered until my social crutch was removed. Maybe this phenomenon of having comfortable friendships was unique to Julie and I, but nonetheless we are so much more observant as to who God has placed us around and opportunities to engage them in conversation.

  4. Less seems to promote more. (Now before I go any further with this one and lest some say it wouldn't be the same for everyone, I have to say I agree. I've watched numerous folks "walk away from church" because they had a bad experience or found other things to entertain themselves.) I can't tell you the number of times during 22 years of "serving the church" either as a staff member, or a denominational employee and lay leader I heard the phrase "we need deeper Bible study." I won't say we've spent more time in "personal study" in the last year, but I can tell you we've spent more "as you are going" time learning and looking. Here's the biggee in this one... more impact on how we think and how we live. Almost like our spiritual lives were on auto-pilot before and we were free to be distracted by all the other stuff going on around us. Now we find we wrestle more often and more instantaneously, without requiring a sermon or song to prompt us with things like forgiveness, faith, hope, grace, and more.

  5. Relationships are still vital and valuable. I have a whole new understanding of the phrase "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together." This past year I realized I have always interpreted this statement in the context of what I have always known rather than interpreting what I've always known in the context of that statement.

  6. People think we've gone off the deep end. It's interesting to hear some of the "theories" circulating out there about why the Kendall's have "turned their backs on God." (I guess that's another thing that's been great about this experience... we truly are outside the rumor mill - even though we still hear some of the funny hypotheses.)

  7. We struggle more. This is not the "ah ha" some of our skeptical friends are hoping for related to our journey. And it goes hand in hand with the next observation.

  8. Greater sensitivity to God's prompting. Now if we can just be quicker and deeper in obedience. Hence the reason we struggle more.

  9. Seeing more people more like it appears Jesus and God see them. It's interesting on this side of things how much time and energy is spent trying to get the unchurched into church and then how much worry really exists about how much they might mess things up in there. So, lots of time is invested trying to turn those on the outside, who may come in, into little us-es. And often it's not the non-negotiable principles of The Way which we have to change. It's the social aspects that make us uncomfortable.

  10. Control. I still remember a conversation I had with a staff member about some amazing things that were happening outside the walls and how quickly, though there was a desire to mass produce what took months/years to slowly germinate, the issue of control entered into it. Since then I've been consistently amazed how much "control" is a key issue. And the truly humorous thing about it is how little control there truly is within the structure. Only the sense of control exists.

  11. We are not alone out here. Others precede us. Others are joining us out here. Some were never "in" but are out here ahead of us.

  12. I still need more de-toxing. I keep referring to "us" and "we".

So, as we enter our second year of de-toxing today I'm more committed than ever to figure out what it means that the Kingdom of Heaven/God is here... now! After about 22 years of focusing on Jesus as "the truth" I want to see why early followers called themselves "The Way." I want to learn to become more immediately sensitive to seeing God and His work all around me. I want to see more clearly and learn how to communicate the simple truth that God's testimony to Himself exists in everything alive around us. And, I want to do my best to be so on His agenda that all these ideas can change or turn on a dime so I can follow Him wherever and whenever.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sometimes a simple phrase can completely captivate me...

Jesus speaking to a crowd. He began with words about John the Baptist, whose followers had just left after bringing their imprisoned master's question about whether Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting. Then, he addressed those who had shrugged their shoulders at Jesus in several of the cities where he had worked the hardest. Then, it looks like he pauses, almost catching himself on the edge of sinning in his anger and talks to his Father. After that, a short and tender conclusion to his message which included this simple statement:
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. — somewhere between verse 28 & 30 in Matthew 11

What a great short descriptive sentence of Jesus' way of life. I think it's part of being exactly where the Father has for you to be, at exactly the appointed time He has for you to be there, and while there, doing what He brought you there to do. Nothing more. Nothing less. That's "life|simple"!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Out of Context: Tim Keel

There's a lot of talk and buzz these days about simple church. Numerous people and organizations are making a significant amount of money talking and teaching about it as the answer to getting more people to church. Yes, to church. Whatever they call it or however they organize it... church. Action and reaction. Pendulums go one way and swing back the other.

This quote was posted the other day on a blog I read occassionally.
In the modern world, we tend to reduce the complexity and diversity of the Scriptures to simple systems, even when our systems flatten the diversity and integrity of the biblical witness.

So now, there's already a reaction beginning to build on how the teaching of the church has been oversimplified. The pendulum swings are getting closer and closer together.

I find it amazing that my own back to the words of Jesus approach actually un-veiled a very simple message.
From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God’s kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God’s government, a good government!

Matthew 4:23

So, this brings us back to Mr. Keel's quote from the Out of the Ur blog and the position that churches have oversimplified the Bible. Perhaps as man, we tend to look for systems. Complex or simple, we need a system so we know what we do and do not have to do. So we can keep a little book about whether we've fulfilled our religious duty each week. I read somewhere that when relationships fail rules are required. God in the flesh required three years of life on life living with the twelve chosen to carry the message to the uttermost parts of the earth. Three years. Nearly 24/7/1095 (3x365).

I contend that Jesus' message was very simple. So simple in fact, he had to untrain them from the religious way of thinking so he could re-orient their thinking to the simplicity of the central theme of his message. More simple than the books and seminars on simple church have made it. I contend that Jesus continually showed the difference between living with the temporal things of the world at the center of your life and living a God-life with the Kingdom at the core. What we've built the systems around, simple or complex, are what I have discovered and call the contexts of which he took advantage to illustrate his simple message. His message can truly be applied to any context and illustrated by uncountable stories and realities (14 When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. 15 They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Romans 2).

I contend that our fallen and corrupt nature alone cannot allow us to understand the vast simplicity of what he taught, and, most importantly what he lived and showed us through how he lived. I contend that religious systems, in order to thrive, must propagate a system upon which they can be built. Jesus left no system. Here's a great quote I read yesterday:
What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism, has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straitjacket, often chocked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control; faith can trust. Control therefore may be good, but trust is better.

Houses That Change The World by Wolfgang Simson

And here's what Paul had to say about it in Romans:

What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. 28 We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade....

31 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it. Trusting God

Romans 3:27-28, 31

"Our lives get in step with God... by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does." That is the simplicity of living as a Christ Follower. That is the foundation upon which any sense of structure in the life of a Christ Follower should be built. Unfortunately, we've traded a visible structure (he goes to church, he teaches, he tithes, he serves) that looks like it has the right foundation for the true foundation itself (we respond to what God does). As long as what we see "looks right", according to the simple or the complex structure outlined by man, we assume the whole is in line with God. Unfortunately, what we have is people in step with checklists, and when those checklists happen to line up with what God is doing we're in line, but when they are out of line... so are those who follow them. Because we are focused on the list, on our own agendas, it seems simpler to follow that checklist than learn how to look intently for God, simpler to see a page of do's and don'ts than truly see God.

Think honestly for a moment. When was the last time you saw God, and responded to what you saw? I'm not talking about an emotional or intellectual response based on stimulus provided by another person. I'm talking about you seeing God up to something and responding. Sadly, I'm afraid few of those today who claim to be Christ Follower have ever seen God and responded to that glimpse apart from someone else's stimulus. God did not mean for it to be this way. It's not what Jesus showed his closest followers while here walking among them, and it's not what those follower's encouraged in the years immediately following Jesus' ascension.

Yes, since stepping away from the busy-ness of structure conscious religious life, which I used to think was the God-life, I've not "done" as much. However, waiting on and responding to what God is doing... I'm amazed at what I've seen God do. The life-change that was sadly missing from 100's of lives weekly invested in according to the checklists God allows me to see every time I simply follow Him. That's the complex simplicity of being a Christ Follower. I would re-write Mr Keel's quote thusly:

In the modern world, we tend to complicate and compartmentalize the simple message and example of the life of Jesus into formalized systems - complex and simple - even when those systems and their checklists become our focus rather than simply walking in step with God like his son showed us.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

But a mere shell of what it used to be...

Former shellI would guess one out of my one readers here already knows that I used to serve on staff at what churchites like to call a local body here in Aurora CO. For almost five years the pastor and I labored to "build the church". I drove by day before yesterday after dropping a friend off in the neighborhood. As I understand it, the group that meets there has changed quite a bit, and several times since we were there. The first thought that went through my mind, knowing what I do about the last fifteen years of it's history was what a shell it is of what it was before.

Outside of some external cosmetic updates, and some minor indoor remodeling efforts, today, eleven years later the place still looks just like it did when Julie and I arrived there almost fifteen years ago. To those passing by, nothing but the weekly quote sign changes, cars come in and go out, and the language congregation meeting there has changed. Other than that, it's the same place it used to be.

And yet, as I processed these thoughts it occurred to me that it was a mere shell back then, looking just as it does today. What was different was the community that gathered in that shell. A community of people who were living out what they believed to be the Kingdom life. A life which required them to spend consistent time inside the walls of the shell and then "go out" to try to bring others inside.

Since those days there have been several generations of community gathering there with some long standing threads connecting all the generations. Some of the relationships which germinated inside those walls continue today. Geography has changed over the decade and more, the shell itself has not, I wonder how many of the lives which were part of the community through those decades are different today... or if they are merely living out the motions they parroted in another empty shell?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

UGH! No wonder people look at "us" the way they do.

This quote was in an article used to bait me by my good friend Andrew. It worked. The article is in the Tennessean titled "Church brands draw members: Faiths market themselves by taking on names that define their beliefs, message"
And for a new church, he added, brands like McDonald's are the competition.

My response: Perhaps you are "selling" the wrong thing then!