May 11, 2015

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Holiness Without Risk?

What if the biggest challenge to a life of holiness is simply comfort?

In 1 John 5 the Apostle says that the greatest testimony we have to offer the world about the lordship of Christ is for us to experience eternal life right now. The proof of Jesus being God and being king can be found in transformed lives that point to eternity. What a beautiful idea that is! We can experience Christ as Lord in such a profound way that people can see reflections of eternal glory in us today. John doesn’t use the words holiness or sanctification at all in this passage but this is a profound message about holiness. The end result of becoming more like Christ should indeed be that eternity is visible in us now.

Reflecting on that idea, of showing the world that Jesus truly is Lord, a disturbing thought popped up. If Jesus is Lord, if I truly want the world to see and know that, then I have to actually demonstrate that with my life. That means that Jesus must be Lord over every part of my life. I must show the world that Jesus is Lord over my finances, my body, my mind, my marriage, my calling, my relationships, my passions, my sexuality, every part of who I am. If Jesus is Lord of my life then my life is going to look radically different than the lives of those around me for whom Jesus is something very different.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to a life with Jesus as Lord over everything is simply comfort. For North American Christians this may in fact be the biggest hindrance we face in regards to God’s work to reshape us into his own image. When we are lords over our own lives through good jobs, adequate health care, safety, entertainment, leisure, freedom and self direction, then what need is there for Jesus to be Lord? Do I need a God of abundance when I have a 401K? Do I need God my healer when I have a hospital three minutes away? Do I need to be part of the Mission of God when I have chosen my own path for life?

Without risk there is no holiness. Without relying on God we will never look like Jesus. Without surrender of our plans, bodies, finances, relationships, and wills we cannot live like Jesus. Jesus, even though he is God, lived in obedience and submission to the Father. Everything Jesus did was a risk. He came to earth and was born as an infant to unwed peasants. He challenged the religious and military authorities around him. He risked suffering violence, being a social outcast, and even his own life for the sake of obedience.

If we live our lives free from risk, comfortable and safe, how will we ever be made like Jesus? Our comfortable lives do very little to testify to eternity. Instead they are a testament to humanity and modernity. The first confession we may need to make is to confess our love of comfort and our self reliance. Once we surrender those things then God can begin to remake us into the image of Jesus. But so long as we are lord of our lives we are not living testaments to Jesus as Lord.

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May 5, 2015

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Failure is the Key to Success – (Life in a Pioneer Church Part 4)

You may never be closer to success as when you are failing.

Do you ever find yourself scared of failure? That seems a silly question doesn’t it? All of us are scared of failure on one level or another. We have an adverse reaction to failure. Maybe it is a learned response from the pain of having ventured out with big dreams and experiencing loss instead of success. When we put the best of who we are out into the world and our plans don’t succeed it can feel like a deep rejection of who we are. A loss becomes something more in that instant, it becomes an attack on our identity. Our very view of ourselves and our worth can be changed.

The inherent problem of risk aversion for Christians is that following Christ is in itself an act of faith. Faith is always a risk. it is the belief in what we cannot see. Faith is taking action based on that which we cannot prove. If we are too scared to risk ourselves in this way, however, we never really discover what it means to have faith. We get stuck in a place that feels safe and comfortable.

One of the really important lessons we have learned as we have ventured out to live as a Pioneer Church (you can read more about it in posts 1 and 2 and 3) is how to fail well. Failure is a huge part of trying to cultivate life in a barren land. As a matter of fact, failure may be the most important thing you have to learn in order to succeed. We are equipping our people to be missionaries to our culture. We are trying to sow seeds in some very hard and rocky soil. So much of the seed we sow won’t bear fruit. That doesn’t mean we are failing, it just means we have to work the soil more, plant more seed, and keep doing the difficult work of cultivating. Over time we know seed will grow, life will emerge. We know it because the seed we are sowing is good seed. It is the best seed. We have absolute faith in that seed. We are willing to risk everything because of that seed.

Practically this has meant that we have given ourselves and our people permission to both dream and fail. We have rolled out new missional partnerships that have gone nowhere. We have rallied groups of people into intensive discipleship groups that have floundered. We have lost key leaders who weren’t ready to risk or accept failure. We have shut down programs that were working but had limited connection to our bigger vision. Over and over again we have experienced failures of various sort.

On the other hand, however, we have seen new life pop up in the most unexpected and incredible places. We have seen formerly comfortable congregants turn into amazing faithful kingdom risk takers. We have seen amazing, huge, God sized fruit burst forth in places none of us could have ever dreamed. None of this would have come about , however, if we weren’t willing to fail. If you are searching for breakthrough the place you may want to start looking are your failures. Are they rooted in incompetence, bad vision, or having not risked enough? Or are they faithful kingdom risks that show you are finally stepping out of the boat and following the voice of God?

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April 29, 2015

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The Rise of the Nones (Part 1) – A White People Problem

In the past past 20 years there has been a dramatic shift in our country. In 1990 when asked about religious affiliation 8% of our population identified as a “none” as in I have no religious affiliation. In 2012 that number had grown to over 19%. This is seismic shift that is changing everything we know and think about being the church in America.

James Emery White has written a helpful book called Rise of the Nones. In the book he looks at those who make up this rapidly growing group, why this group is growing so rapidly and how the church can engage in mission to this group. It is a worthwhile read for all those seeking to live out the mission of God in America. Over the next couple of weeks I will offer some reflections on ideas presented in the book.

Today I begin with a White People Problem. That isn’t what James describes it as, but I will be so bold as to use that label. If you look at the average profile of a “none” it is most likely a man, who’s liberal or moderate, a Democrat, not necessarily an atheist, thinks abortion and same se marriage should be legal, he’s young,  and he’s white. The rise of “nones” outside of western culture and outside of white culture in the US is considerably less or non-existent. So why is this a White Issue?

Not being a sociologist I can only offer some intuitive and experiential thoughts. I happy to be a white guy who knows Western White Culture pretty well, so I will take some stabs at to causation.

– Western culture is caught up in the myth of societal progress. This is rooted in our experience with enlightenment. Part of the myth of progress is the belief in humanity to have the ability to make the world a better place by its own work.

– White privilege is rearing its ugly head. Disillusionment with life, as often accompanies being privileged, has for some created a distrust of religion as necessary for happiness or as an answer to felt need.

– Our whole lives are about getting what we want, when we want it, how we want it. We have an expectation for life to follow our path and our plan. That doesn’t actually fit in very well with the cal to follow Jesus.

– We have been fed a dream that says that bigger is better, more is always the goal, and happiness is found in stuff. This has infiltrated much of our church culture and killed the effectiveness of our message and mission.

– When did Jesus ever track well with rich, educated, privileged people? Jesus found the best soil for his good news was among the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the powerless, and the forgotten. Most of the “nones” don’t actually fit that profile.

This book is an interesting discussion starter for so many of us in ministry. Being a Christian in the 21st Century necessitates that we live and think like missionaries. So we must exegete our culture to shape our mission and message. In the coming weeks I will explore further questions and ideas from the Rise of the Nones.

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April 13, 2015

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A Church Centered on Family instead of Pastors (Life in a Pioneer Church Part 3)

Being needed by others is a drug. It is addictive and intoxicating. When others rely upon you to make their lives work it changes how we view ourselves and the world. Certainly this is true in marriage and parenting, but it is also true in the church.

When I began to explore my call to ministry no one told me about the addictive side of being a spiritual leader. Being singled out as special, as being especially touched by God, it is the best drug I know. (Granted I haven’t exactly had a wide experience of pharmacological exploration.) There is this beast within each of us, an ugly and powerful gremlin we call ego. There are ways of starving this beast or feeding it. What no one tells you in seminary, what no one in the church likes to admit, is that being put  up on a spiritual pedestal and living as a spiritual lord is like feeding your ego anabolic steroids. It can be an addiction that becomes almost impossible to give up.

Having a pastor as a spiritual lord can also be a  comfortable place for the rest of the church. (In bad scenarios it can also be everyone’s worst nightmare.) It reinforces so many bad ideas that allow us to stay in a place of comfort. If some are special, chosen above all others, then we can put ourselves in a different category. If there is a spiritual lord who has a place of privilege, a special place where they alone hear from God, it absolves everyone else from listening to God. Instead they can just listen to the pastor. If the pastor has a vision then no one else need have one of their own.

Being pioneer church, a church that is bringing about life in uncultivated areas, requires a shift away from the pastor as spiritual lord model. It just doesn’t work. You have to decentralize power, vision, authority, and mission in order to do the difficult work of cultivating. A pioneer church is a family of missionaries, not church members following a charismatic leader.

The most joyous part of our shift to life as a pioneer church has been this shift to functioning as a family on mission. The first step in this journey was experiencing life as family together. This meant an inward focus before we could have an outward focus. We had to learn to love each other, share our lives, and own the work of being the church before we could go and plant seeds. It occurred to us that if we couldn’t care for and minister to each other in transformative ways we had little hope of doing so for those outside of our fellowship.

This shift has been life giving and enriching. Never before have I experienced such deep relationships and intimacy within the church. Never before have so many people felt like my family. Never before have my kids had so many people investing into their lives. Never before have I felt more loved for who I am rather than for being a provider of religious goods and services. Never before have I valued the gifts and calling of others in the church so much more than I do my own.

Jesus told his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I don’t think we take this very seriously. Instead we think Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples if you communicate it through a powerful and well planned worship service with the latest in technological flourishes.” Or we might say, “They will know you are my disciples if you have a well run organization with highly skilled professionals leading effective ministries.”

When Jesus came to change the world he did so by forming an unlikely family. He created an alternative way of living that was in and of itself the good news of the kingdom of God. It is time for us to return to the model of Christ and to set aside our own spiritual fiefdoms. So long as we build our churches around individuals we will never unlocked the true missional power of our churches.

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March 30, 2015

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Life in a Pioneer Church Part 2 – Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest – from Wikipedia, the author of all truth

Herbert Spencer first used the phrase – after reading Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species – in his Principles of Biology (1864), in which he drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones, writing, “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”[1]

A couple of weeks ago I began a series of blog posts chronicling our life at Duneland Community Church. (You can check out the first post here) We are a Pioneering Church – pushing out into new territory to help life grow and thrive were it has not. This is a hard life and we are learning new lessons all the time. One of the hardest realities of being this type of church is that in an effort to cultivate life in new places you go through a lot of death. At least that is what it feels like. Maybe grief is a better description than death.

As a Christian one of the most painful experiences is being pruned. It is very difficult to have God cut you back, time and time again, until you are strong enough to bear fruit. This is a process Jesus talks to his disciples about in John 15 as he is teaching them about abiding in him. Pruning is a necessary process in growing healthy plants. You have to consolidate the energy expended so that the plant grows strong before it tries to produce fruit.

This is so similar to the process of natural selection that Darwin first observed. Often times a traumatic event will shake up an ecosystem or an animal population, The population will be diminished, perhaps even dramatically. But in a generation or two that event will result in a stronger group, with better DNA, more ready to handle life in harsh environments,

Well it turns out that this process of natural selection or pruning happens regularly in the life of a Pioneer Church. As you push out into new territory it becomes far more challenging for the church family. Sometimes you invest your energies into missions that don’t succeed. You have to expect failure. Sometimes you cut off energy or resources from something that was being somewhat successful or very successful in a limited scope. People grow upset that you aren’t focusing on what they consider to be the most important things.

People will grow tired of being challenged to grow. This will be especially true if they aren’t connected in deep relationships to help foster that growth. Watching others engage in mission feels like judgment if you aren’t relationally connected to what is happening. They will seek out something new that makes them feel connected or valued for doing less.

Some people, who are healthy, wonderful, faithful, or growing, are just going to feel called to something different. Your mission won’t be there mission. With great sorrow and pain you will send them off with blessing to go thrive in different soil. The loss of their presence and support will feel like a small death, every time.

But in the end, as you take stock of those who are left, you find that you are stronger than ever. Your roots run deeper into the soil and your base is stronger than before. The herd has thinned out, but it has also gotten smarter and is bonded stronger. You feel like you have less to work with, but your faith has increased and God has used this to increase your capacity as well.

Life in a Pioneer Church is difficult because you have to learn to deal with failure and grief. But the benefit of all those difficulties and challenges is that you grow in your perseverance and faith. As it turns out those are the two key ingredients to bringing about life in new places.

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March 16, 2015

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Plunging into Grace – A Transformation Story

Imagine standing on top of the high dive for the first time. You are scared out of your mind, certain that all that awaits you below is certain death. Sure, you have seen others make this jump hundreds of times, but you are certain it will be the end of you. Your toes curl around the end of the platform, you are searching, racking your brain for a way out of this moment. You look back behind you and there are your friends. They are urging you on, jeering you, telling you to just jump. There is no way back. Resolved to go through with this ludicrous idea you step off the end of the platform and you are falling. Within an instant there is nothing but water, the rest of the world has disappeared. You sink quickly, lost in depths that have long terrified you. But then, just as quickly as you sink you are rising. You burst forth from the water and find that you are alive. Indeed you are alive, but you aren’t the same. Nothing could ever be the same again. Now you are truly alive.

high-dive

Late in the night on March 22, 1995 I stepped off of the high dive and plunged into the depths of grace for first time. It may have actually been early on the morning of the 23rd, it is so hard to remember the details of that week. This I know for certain, the whirlwind of God’s grace, his revival Spirit, touched down on Sunday night March 19 on the campus of Wheaton College. Unlike other storms it wasn’t broadcast in advance. In fact I was caught completely by surprise at its arrival. I was sitting in my dorm room playing cards with some friends. A friend walked into the room and said that he had just gotten a call from another guy on our floor saying that God was doing something powerful down at the World Evangelism Fellowship worship service. We were intrigued enough or maybe just bored enough to drop what we were doing and go check it out.

Stepping into Pierce Chapel that night the very breath I had to speak was taken from me. Walking into the work of God that was taking place rendered me speechless. The Spirit of God was thick, like stepping into a tropical rainforest. The air was heavy and alive. I just came in, sat down and shut up. I began to listen to other students confess their sins, I began to pray, I stood on the end of the high dive and began to look out at the world.

For three more nights, gathered for hours, staying up light into the night, praying with friends, singing, listening, wondering, marveling, trying to understand, I stood there at the end of the high dive, just looking out. Others were taking the plunge. They were dropping off the high dive with humility or cannonballing off with enthusiasm. But I just sat there. I didn’t know what else to do.

Finally, sometime in the middle of the night on Wednesday night, having sat still, not knowing what to do as the hurricane force winds of the Spirit changed the complexion of the world around me, I got up and got in line at a microphone. I don’t remember this part of the story, I don’t remember making a conscious choice at all. But soon I was there, standing at at microphone, in front of thousands of my closest friends. My toes curled around the edge of the board, I wasn’t sure if I could make the jump. I was sure death and judgement awaited me. But seeing no alternative I stepped off into the nothingness and began to fall.

I stood there and I began to talk about the real me. Much of my life up until that point had been lived in fear of discovery. I portrayed a certain image to the world of who I was. But I lived each day in fear that my parents, my friends, my teachers, and most of all God would find out who I really was. When they did I was sure it would end in rejection and pain. But as I spoke the truth about who I really was, plunging deeper and deeper into the dark waters, something began to happen. I began to rise, I broke through the surface and found that I had landed in the grace of God.

Coming out of this time of confession I was surrounded and embraced by my friends. Those were such good friends. We were so young, I was 18 at the time, none of us older than about 20, but they were dear to me. They prayed for me, they embraced me, they loved me. They had seen the real me, heard the worst that I had to offer and they loved me still. How much more did I discover the love of my Heavenly Father that night. That night he told me that he had loved me all along, fully aware of who I was. He had just been waiting for me to take the plunge into his grace and discover who he really was.

That week, 20 years ago now, changed the course of my life. Each day since has been an exploration of God’s grace. So now I spend my time encouraging others up onto the high dive, urging them to the edge, exhorting them to take the plunge and discover life anew.

March 4, 2015

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Life in a Pioneer Church

Pioneer – noun

1.a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others.
2. one who is first or among the earliest in any field of inquiry,enterprise, or progress:

pioneers in cancer research.
3. one of a group of foot soldiers detailed to make roads, dig intrenchments, etc., in advance of the main body.
4. Ecology. an organism that successfully establishes itself in a barren area, thus starting an ecological cycle of life.
Let me tell you about life in a Pioneer Church. I love all of these definitions of pioneers because they all tell a bit of the tale of life in a Pioneer Church. (This is the first of several posts I am writing on life at our church) The one I like the most is the definition from ecology. An organism that successfully establishes itself in a barren area, thus starting an ecological cycle of life. That is a wonderful perspective on the life we are enjoying together at Duneland Community Church. Newgrowth
It started about 4.5 years ago. When I arrived at DCC back in the fall of 2008 it was a triage situation. I came in to stop the bleeding and help the church get back on its feet. Two years in that bleeding had stopped, the church was starting to regain its strength, and we faced an important question. What type of church do we want to be? That question consumed most of the our focus for about a year. We wrestled with our view of the world, we prayed, we listened, we talked together, and we emerged with a clear vision. We are investing everything we have into becoming a church the other 2/3.
Who are the other 2/3? Well sociologists tell us that in the US about 2/3 of the population have no interest in stepping foot into a church building. As Alan Hirsch has said ,”No matter how sexy you are at your sexiest, they aren’t interested.” What must mission and church life look like in order to establish life in such a barren environment? How can we see kingdom life, the best life- abundant life, emerge in such a difficult and hostile environment? Well that is what we committed to trying to find out.
We committed to something really important in this process.  We are willing to fail in our efforts to be a church for the 2/3. We don’t have a Plan B. 
So 4.5 years later we are just beginning to see signs of life emerging in barren lands. One of our missional communities is cohosted by a wonderful couple, who are practicing Buddhists, and run the local coffee shop. At a joint Mardi Gras party we threw with them at their coffee shop one of our pastors found himself sitting at a table of teenagers, of various religious backgrounds, discussing all their spiritual questions. This was an incredible opportunity to speak truth and exhibit grace to a group that have little to no interest in ever stepping foot in the front door of our building. Such a scenario was unimaginable when this process began.
There is the guy who encountered our church because of an incident involving bowling shoes. (That is a great story) He arrived at an uncertain moment of his life, emerging from crisis. Now he has found a missional calling heading up our team of runners that are raising money for clean water projects in Africa. (Yeah Team World Vision!) To his own disbelief he will run the Chicago Marathon for the third time this year to support this work, he is in a leadership development huddle, and he is helping others find their mission. A church that was wounded, unhealthy, and without much life has now had over 2 dozen people run a marathon for clean water projects. That is bringing life to dry and arid land literally and metaphorically!
When an unfortunate incident took place at a local school involving youth, cell phones, and poor decisions, the school reached out to us to help provide some education and service opportunities for students. Why? Well we are the best known group in our community when it comes to fighting sex trafficking. People are well aware of our work with Free The Girls and our effort to educate our community about the local and global horrors of Human Trafficking. In a moment of uncertainty, in an area where no one knew had to proceed, they called upon the only pioneers they knew to help guide the way.
Much of what we have tried has failed. We have planted seeds that have been choked out by weeds, that have been eaten by birds, and some that emerged for a brief moment before dying out. But an all out commitment to pioneering is finally bringing about lasting growth in previously barren land. Each new sign of a life is a blessing of unimaginable joy. It is a testament to the faith, the sacrifice, and the endurance of a beautiful group of Pioneers. Life in a Pioneer Church is much harder than we believed it could be, but it is also far more rewarding than we ever imagined.

(Check back next week for part 2 of Life in an Pioneer Church)

January 20, 2015

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The Day My Faith Mattered

Ten years ago today the world as I knew it was shattered. It is a testament to my privileged and protected upbringing that some of what shattered that day remained in place until I was 28 years old. That day, however, changed everything about me. It reshaped my faith, it altered the course of my ministry, and it redefined my calling. (As I write about it, however, I do so with a serious caveat. My life was greatly effected by the death of a dear friend, but his death left behind a wife and three amazing daughters who lost far more than I did. I never focus on its impact on me without recognizing how insignificant its impact on me truly is in comparison. )

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOn January 20, 2005 I lost my dear friend, mentor, and pastor Raegan May. In the decade since then I have reflected on this defining moment of my life over and over again. Unsurprisingly God has used what could have been the worst moment I experienced and has reshaped it into the absolute bedrock of my faith and ministry. (5 years ago I wrote a letter to Raegan about his impact on me. You can read it here)

Until that day in NC when my place of refuge became a crime scene there were whole sections of scripture that had no relevance for my life. I would read the Psalms and hear the writers lament about loss, cry for the defeat of their enemies, or ask God for justice and the words would bounce off of me without meaning. Conceptually I understood the Psalmists perspectives, they just didn’t matter to me. The moment joy was ripped from me and replaced with anguish scripture came alive.

The faith that had sustained me for 28 years proved inadequate for what that day and the months and years that followed required of me. The faith of a privileged, healthy, well educated, comfortable pastor was replaced with something far realer. Thanks be to God! The faith that had brought me to that moment was woefully inadequate for the calling God had actually placed on my life. I needed more capacity, more transparency, more trust, and so much more Jesus than I had ever known.

Ten years ago today I found myself as a 28 year old youth pastor trying to wrestle with grief and anguish while also feeling 1923830_24113141011_9809_nspiritually responsible for a congregation of hundreds of people who just lost their spiritual leader in unthinkable circumstances. I no longer had the energy necessary to be a husband and father. So God stepped in and sustained me. I didn’t have the courage to be a messenger of tragedy to so many, so God strengthened me and gave me the words. I didn’t have the faith required to keep showing up day after day and sit in my office 8 feet from where my friend died and to kept grinding away at a job that had suddenly lost its joy. But each day God met me in that office and whispered his love for me. No part of me wanted the responsibility of preaching the Word of God each week in Raegan’s church, to Raegan’s people, standing in Raegan’s chancel, but each time I stood up in front of those people his Spirit took over. He spoke for me when I knew no words. His love flowed in and through me to give hope where I had so little.

Going through that season of loss shaped me for my calling in ways that 7 years of schooling and a lifetime of studying scripture never could. My faith mattered that day. In the face of death my faith was real. In a time of weakness God showed me His strength. Strange as it may seem, looking back on that day now, all I can feel is thankfulness. I am thankful for my friend Raegan who loved me and helped me to see the love of God in new ways. I am thankful for God’s grace that is still being poured out in abundance on an amazing family I dearly love. I am thankful for the pain. I can still access still if I want to, I can go back to those moments of shock and horror and feel now what I felt then. But doing so is tempered with love. God has demonstrated his love to me in such abundance since those days that I cannot remember the pain without remembering the joy.

So on this day of remembrance I give thanks. This is the day my faith became real to me. This is the day of Gods’ love sanctifying me through pain and loss. This is when the rest of my life, a glorious and blessed life, truly began. I miss my friend, I grieve for him still, but I know that he too is transformed now by God’s grace. Thanks be to God.

January 12, 2015

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25 Reasons to Stop Attending Church on Sunday Morning

I am the master of the obvious. I can tell you what has already happened almost instantly after it has happened. I am not sure that qualifies me as a prophet or merely as a person with 5 senses. So here goes, I am about to drop some knowledge on you. People are going to church far less than they used to. (By that I mean weekly morning worship services, I won’t get all pastoral on you and tell you that you can’t go to church, you are the church and that is part of our problem).

Are you stunned? If you are stunned it is probably because you only rarely show up to a worship service and therefore you have no idea, you show up occasionally and just think you only attend on the down weeks, or you go to a handful of megachurches who continue to grow inspite of or in cause of the decline of other places. (No snarkiness there, just being honest.)

After years of battling this reality I have decided that maybe my weekly attendance, as required by being paid to be present, should be curtailed. Maybe the take a year or two off, go once a month, or show up at Easter and Christmas folks have it right. Maybe I am the nut for wanting to be in worship with my church family as often a possible. So here are the best 25 reasons I can come up with for why you should stop going to church on Sunday Morning. (These may or may not be based on actual conversations with real life people)

25. Have you tried to get out of the house to church with multiple kids, dressed up, early on a weekend? it is stupid. It will take the Jesus right out of you.

24. NBC is now showing the English Premier League on Sunday mornings. You can now watch football before you watch football.

23. Every time I show up for a worship service they ask me for money.

22. You don’t like karaoke and modern worship is close enough.

21. Germs! People at church are always so friendly trying to shake your hand and give you hugs. Think of the germs people!

20. Other people’s kids – Sometimes you barely want to be around your own children.

19. Announcements – How often have you ever left a worship service thankful for announcements?

18. Joel Osteen – He is on t.v. in your home, he is always smiling, and he won’t call your house

17. Balance – Life is so busy, between soccer games, work, Bible Study, volunteering for your kids, hosting parties, and you know sleep and stuff, we all need some balance. If you start skipping church you can still keep doing all that other stuff.

16. Weight Loss – Church is always filled with donuts, pastries, muffins, and food that people want to give you. If we stop going to church we can eliminate at least one day a week at the gym and still break even.

15. Preachers – Over educated Jesus freaks who speak at you for 30 minutes at a time, need I say more?

14. You have a hard enough time living up to your mother’s expectations. So why add in the expectations of being part of a church family. All those expectations about caring for others, investing in their lives, serving, and praying, who needs that?

13. It is cold outside. Why leave your house?

12. it is beautiful outside. Why be stuck inside all morning when the weather is so nice.

11. It is cloudy. Clouds bum me out, I need to find something fun to do so I can feel better.

10. It is raining. (See reason 13 for more details)

9. Soccer matches – My child has a .0000008% chance of getting a $1500 a year scholarship to a Division 2 college, you have to make whatever sacrifices necessary to chase that dream.

8. Comfort! I don’t want to change who I am and the pastor is always challenging me to be more like Jesus. It makes me tired.

7. I’m an introvert. Church is made for extroverts, I mean there is even a time scheduled for greeting people. I hate that. I go to the bathroom or search through my purse the whole greeting time.

6. I’m an extrovert. I want to talk back to the preacher the whole time they are preaching. My spouse keeps telling me to stop making jokes about what the preacher says.

5. My spiritual life is private. God just wants me to be happy. He never says anything about being connected to others or sharing in communal life. At least I don’t think he said that. Or at a minimum I don’t want him to say that.

4. Netflix – How can you go to church when they just added all 7 seasons of Friends to Netflix? The weekend should be devoted to binge watching t.v. shows from the mid 90s

3. Jesus never went to church on a Sunday.

2. God is love, he will love me whether I go or not.

1. The Associate Pastor is preaching.

Of course this wouldn’t be complete without at least one reason to continue to gather with other believers in worship each week. Corporate worship is an anchor for community life, spiritual growth, and mission without which we grow comfortable in our own ways of thinking and living, regardless of how they line up with God’s desires for us.

January 2, 2015

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Less is More – The Theme for 2015

Years ago I realized that New Year’s Resolutions had a tendency to be counterproductive for my life. Too often I would make a resolution that felt like a black and white, either/or, decision and I would feel like a failure when I ultimately failed to hold to its absolute nature. Generally life change is an up and down reality for me, so I have, for the past decade or so, adopted themes for the year. Generally my themes have helped to guide my decisions and rhythms. Or at least that is what they are supposed to do.

My theme in 2014 ended up being “I am running”. This was a very literal theme as I spent the year training for a marathon, but it was a spiritual and emotional theme as well. I arrived at the end of 2014 feeling very much the same way I felt at the end of my marathon. I was spent, hurting, limping, and ready to rest. After a nice week off with my family and some good time reading and reflecting I am finally feeling whole again.

One of the biggest things God has taught me this past year is that he is the Lord of the Harvest. This is not a new truth to me, but I often have to prove something multiple times, in painful ways, before I realize just how true it is. Spiritual fruitfulness is a direct result of learning to remain in Christ. This is the lesson Jesus teaches his disciples in John 15. Apart from Christ they can not bear fruit. A kingdom harvest is only ever the result of God at work through us, We can not will it or make it happen by our own efforts, no matter how clever, extensive, or frantic they are. Kingdom breakthrough comes at God’s time, by God’s means, when his people are obedient and prepared.

The Word of God for me heading into 2015 is all about diving deeper into the power of abiding in Christ. The best way I know to name this is Less is More. So here are my goals for 2015. I am going to spend less time trying to be clever, stylish, witty, or impressive as a means of bringing about growth for our church. Instead I will point people increasingly towards the good news of Christ. I will trust more that the Cross is sufficient to change lives. I am going to spend less energy chasing people. I was deeply wounded on a personal level by people who left our church, simply gave up on church, or lived very distracted lives in 2014. My natural reaction to this type of pain is to chase new people or try to show those other people they were wrong. I will work really hard to not repeat this cycle this year, whatever may come. Instead I will spend more time with the absolutely committed and sold out members of our DCC family.

Finally, I am going to lead better and lead differently. I am trying to lead too many different aspects of our church. I am going to give up ownership of things that others can do and instead invest more heavily in the tasks that most require my specific attention. I will led our leaders more intentionally and work to empower and release them in mission. As part of this leadership shift I will also lead myself better. i will take better care of my body and soul and work less. That will show up mainly through some spiritual retreats and some time away by myself.

So here is to 2015. I am encouraged and excited about this New Year and all that God is going to do. I can’t wait until 2016 when I can look back at this year at the breakthrough God has brought and to simply give him the praise for it all. God is faithful and his word endures forever. Amen.

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