Monday, December 15, 2014

Leaving Church

I am a pastor and I am ready to leave church.  My words fail me: frustrated, apathetic, uninspired, irrelevant, disillusioned, meaningless, formulaic, contrived, empty, directionless, impotent, ineffectual, disconnected, pointless, dissonant...

Honestly, what the hell are we doing?  Say what you will, but I'm pretty sure when Jesus said the Kingdom of God has come near he didn't mean spend an hour in worship, attend a small group, or volunteer for a service project. I am so sick of the disconnect between our religious activities and our every day lives.  We talk and talk about discipleship, mission, and outreach but we devote all of our time, money, and resources to programs or services that either placate nominal Christians or keep them spiritually immature or co-dependent.

Seriously how many worship services, small groups, or service projects do we have to attend before we are ready to go out into the big bad world with all of the "lost," "unchurched," "sinners?"  How much "fellowship" or "devotion" time is necessary before we can muster enough courage to be friends with a non-Christian, to have dinner with a neighbor, or to stand up for the vulnerable?

I am sorry but getting people to "go to church" was never the plan.  God didn't come to grow a congregation or to employ vocational ministers, He came to transform all of creation. Through His life, death, and resurrection Jesus was and is making all things new, and through his life, death, and resurrection He has invited others to do the same.

The church was never the goal nor was it intended to be the location for or provider of religious goods and services.  The church was and will always be those messy people who believe and behave in such a way that souls are reborn, hearts are mended, relationships are reconciled, and lives are restored.

I never guessed I'd have to leave the church in order to be the church.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jelly, Jam, and Preservation

On Monday I had breakfast with Jim Yost missionary to Papua, Indonesia.  He's devoted a lifetime to following Jesus wherever he might lead.  From the Jungle to the city, Jim and his family have sought to live at the intersection of what God was doing in their personal lives and what he was doing in the world.  Jim embodies the simplicity of the life lived with God.  From his perspective, life and faith are simple, "listen to the Father then do what he says."

Jim's faith formula is complicated: Step 1 - listen; Step 2 - respond; Step 3 - repeat steps 1 and 2.

Nearly four decades later, Jim and his family have seen and experienced the miraculous.  The fruit of their faithfulness can be measured in the 10's, the 100's, and the 1000's.

I on the other hand have a formula that's more concerned with preserving fruit than producing it.  My faith formula is like the jelly of the month club.  I take a little Jesus, mix it with some self-interest and personal security, and let it simmer over the low heat of my half-hearted devotion.

Listening to God and doing what he says seems a little too simplistic and risky to me. I think I prefer know it's that fruit we can and seal and spread on our bland lives when we crave a little flavor. Jim Yost may have a stand full of fruit, but I have a pantry full of fruit preserves (I just hope mine doesn't expire).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mo Money!

The mainline church is dying in America because of one simple reason.  The reason ain't culture.  It ain't pluralism.  It ain't New Atheism, or any of the other excuses church leaders propose.  The simple answer is the church is dying because of money.  Some say money makes the world go round but in the church it makes the church go down.  Behind the smoke and mirrors of Sunday worship, children's programs, youth retreats, and heart-wrenching short-term mission trips is money.  Make no mistake about it the church in America is an institution and like most institutions it has become more obsessed with its survival than its mission.  As an institution, the church has accumulated and developed all the accoutrements an institution needs to exist.  It needs professionally trained managers, systems and programs that encourage conformity and the status quo, a pacified constituency adverse to risk and devoted to safety, and a prevailing message that equates success with serving the needs and the "mission" of the institution.  But above all else an institution needs money and this need drives nearly every decision whether explicit or implicit.  Herein lies the problem and why the institutional church is dying.  Jesus and his mission is all that God will accept as the impetus for the church, its form, and its function.  To reduce the Kingdom of God coming near to a building, a budget, or a brand is to reduce the work of God in Christ to a late night comedy skit long forgotten, "Mo Money!  Mo Money!  Mo Money!"