Currently » 06

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currently
Reading | As a Ph.D. student I read an awful lot now. And so it’s really difficult to pinpoint one book that I’m currently reading at the moment. You can check out what I’ve been reading on Goodreads if you’re really curious. There are, however two books I read a few weeks ago for a class that I absolutely loved and would recommend: Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ and Manfred Steger’s Globalization: A Very Short Introduction. These books paint an interesting picture of the challenge of globalization in culture at large, and when paired together the Church as a whole.

Loving | I cannot get enough of Volcano Choir’s latest album Repave. Seriously. It’s good. Just check it out on Spotify. A Bonus listen that I’ve been loving the past couple of days is Hillsong United’s Remix Project called The White Album.

Looking Forward To | VACATION! I’m looking forward to a week of vacation along the Gulf Coast, away from the frigid temperatures that has been a tough winter. I’m also looking forward to spending a couple of days in New Orleans with Tracy to celebrate our 12th anniversary. After planting a church in which I did a horrible job of caring for myself in a proper rhythm of Sabbath, I am learning how to step away and trust that God is ultimately in control. I once heard it said that Sabbath time is a revolutionary challenge to the violence of overwork. Or as Chris Hedges put it in his book Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America, “When we ignore the Sabbath we destroy that which we should be working to achieve.” May this vacation be a stark and solid reminder of that for me and my family.

Challenged By | As a husband, a dad to a 20-month little girl, pastor, a full-time Ph.D. student, and a man who pursues perhaps too many interests, I am challenged with finding ways to balance everything well. I find there are weeks when I’m successful in one area and fall short in another. I am thankful for the grace I receive when I fall short and at the same time I am challenged by that grace. It is the grace I receive that pushes me to find a greater balance in life.

Twelve Years Ago…

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twelve years ago

Twelve years ago she walked down the aisle. I cried.
Twelve years ago she said, ‘I do.’ I cried.
Twelve years ago tornado sirens rang out in the middle of our wedding ceremony…

I can’t believe we’ve been married for twelve years. I always thought that those people who had been married for a decade or more were old people… and now… here we are… we’re those people. (What happens when we hit 20 or 30 or heaven forbid 50 years?!)

It’s hard to believe it’s been this long but at the same time we’ve lived a lot of life together these past twelve years. Four cross-country moves, pastoring in six different churches from California to Chicago to Central Illinois, heartache and pain, death threats and burnout, side-splitting laughter and smiles that last so long they hurt your cheeks–and you forget what you were even talking about in the first place–long conversations that last deep into the night, sharing our dreams, our hopes, our desires for what it is that God has for us in this life together.

It’s funny, because all of this, this life that we’ve built together, strangely resembles our wedding day. Like when the tornado sirens went off and the two of us looked at Neal wondering what on earth we were going to do? Was he going to keep going? Was he going to stop and direct everyone to take cover? Were we going to finish this thing in the basement? Instead, he pressed on with a steadfast determination as if to say, “Nothing, absolutely nothing will come between you two… certainly not some siren raging on a few hundred yards away!” He set a tone that day in our ceremony, a tone that I think we’ve followed every day since. In the midst of whatever surrounds us, in the midst of whatever looks to consume us or overtake us, nothing, absolutely nothing will come between us.

As Uncle Bob closed out the ceremony he gave us this charge from Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

This has been our passage of grace for twelve years, and the grace of God really has been the center of our marriage hasn’t it? I like how Buechner puts it, “The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.’”

I guess I’d never really thought much about how our wedding day has resembled our life together until just recently. And I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I knew then what I know now about everything we’ve faced together, I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t want another person by my side to walk through the perils and joys this life has to offer. Here’s to another 12 years and beyond, if we’re so lucky… Happy anniversary my little pimento loaf.

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Fundraising Partners are more than bags of money

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Church Planting
This post has been republished by the Exponential Network.
——

One of the greatest fears of the church planter is running out of money before the new church is self-sufficient. This is especially true for the urban church planter. When I started the journey towards church planting I consistently found myself up against the suburban church planting model which allows for the new church to be completely self-sufficient in 3 years, including the 6 month ramp-up period for the church planter to move into the community and launch a new church. The realities of the city are much different than that of a suburban community, in fact I was told on a couple of occasions from other urban planters that it would take at least 5 years before you could become a self-sufficient church. Although they were well meaning, this only helped to stress me out making the ticking financial clock sound louder and louder with each passing month. (If you’re thinking about urban planting you will definitely need more than 3 years to become self-sufficient… unless through a miraculous act of God the community that is assembled are already tremendously generous!)

The fear of dwindling money can serve to create a scarcity mentality making you see your fundraising partners solely as bags of money. When I started IKON, I had 22 different churches partnering with me financially to make this possible. Twenty-two different churches from all across the country banded together behind the vision of IKON and generously supported nothing more than a dream. Now that’s a pretty remarkable collection of churches and by no means the norm, however it created several challenges for me that I was unprepared for.

Some things I realized:

  1. Churches want a return on their investment. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they expect hundreds of baptisms/conversions in the span of a few months. (Although this may very well be a metric they’re hoping for–don’t leave this unspoken.) Usually what churches are looking for is connectivity. They’re looking for a relationship that goes beyond sending money every month/quarter/year. They want their connection with your church plant to be something that helps their own people grow by exposing them to something new/different. This means they will more than likely want to send teams of people your way to help out in some way… a short-term missions trip of sorts.

    I did a horrible job with this. In all honesty, I saw this as more of a burden than anything positive. I consistently viewed these offers of help as taking away opportunities for growth from the people of IKON. So I did everything I could to steer clear of the asks and instead of finding a win, separated IKON from opportunity.

    Here’s the reality that I should have strived for. I should have seen this as a wonderful opportunity for the people of IKON to mingle and interact with other like-minded Christians from around the country. I should have seen this as an opportunity for these churches to help me ingrain the DNA of service I so desperately wanted for IKON. One missions trip could have ingrained more into the life of IKON than a series of sermons on the topic. Why? Because it would have been flesh and blood examples right in front of their eyes. This was a huge missed opportunity on my part.

    What I needed was a plan, and that’s exactly what I lacked. If you’re a church planter, you need a plan for short-term missions trips coming to you. If you’re an organization, you need to help the church planter develop a plan. If you’re a supporting church you need to ask the church planter what their plan is. Here are three things I’d recommend be a part of your plan:

    • Make your intentions to the missions team known: I want you to exemplify service to this church. You are here not only to serve us but be examples for us to look to.
    • Create opportunities for your people to serve alongside the missions team. Don’t simply let the missions team serve and then interact relationally with your people in the evening. There needs to be co-serving and co-mingling.
    • Make sure that you have created a missions trip template. What will all missions trips look like? You can create options for the teams to choose from, but you need to make sure that you’re not planning every trip that comes in. Bonus point: Develop relationships with organizations in the city that your people are serving in. When missions teams come to the city, have them set up a time to serve that organization on your behalf. This will save you time and increase your relationship with local organizations.
    • Have someone from your church lead the missions team on a tour of the city before they serve the city or your church. This will give them a great deal of context. (What better way to develop passion for the city in a member of your own community than to have the share about the city!)

    There are certainly other criteria to add into this list, but at least this gives you a starting point.

    Perhaps a question for you to ask yourself: If you wouldn’t want the DNA of the particular church to be a part of your own church community, then do you really want them to be financial partners with you? If you don’t want the people of a particular church to interact with your own church community, then do you really want the to be financial partners with you? These questions may help you in locating the right partners…

  2. Churches want regular communication. This should be a “duh” statement. I would say that I did a decent job with this at first but as the rigors of the church came into play it became increasingly difficult to stay on top of. In fact, it simply became just another “thing” on my to-do list. I’d recommend passing this off to someone from your church to do well. Remember that churches want to share with their people exciting stories of what God is doing in other parts of the country. They are trying to expand their congregations outlook beyond their own local community.
  3. Churches want what’s best for you. If you’re partnering with the right churches, those that share the same DNA as you, then you can rest assured that they want what’s best for you. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help where you’re struggling. Partnering churches want to be more than bags of money, they want to be a resource for you. I wish I would have realized this and known what to ask for when we were struggling with various things. Unfortunately I realized this a bit too late. It was in our last year that I asked one of our partner churches to help us clarify and better communicate our core values. It was a tremendous experience and a wonderful help to us, unfortunately I waited a little too long.

    Your partner churches are established churches that are doing some things right, highlight for yourself what it is that you think they are doing really well and ask them to help you when the time is right. Do you have partner churches that have a tremendous volunteer culture? Then ask them to help you develop that. Do you have partner churches that are knocking it out of the park when it comes to evangelism or arts or music or preaching or discipleship? Then ask them to help you develop this within your own community. This can happen in a variety of ways. Don’t think you have it all figured out because you’re a church planter… you need help and a lot of it. Partner churches can be the greatest resource you have at your disposal. Don’t leave it unused on the side of the road.

  4. Fundraising partners are more than bags of money. They are valuable relationships that can help you in myriad ways. Expand your vision, expand your horizons, expand your understanding of partnership and the scarcity mentality you’re wrestling with will soon be replaced with an vision of abundance because you’ll have more than you ever thought possible.

What is the measure of a Man?

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This poem by Anis Mojgani, ‘For Those Who Can Still Ride on Airplanes’ is one of my favorite pieces of poetry. It is both beautiful and disturbing. Having seen Anis perform this twice in person is remarkable, listening to it over and over again on Vimeo still leaves me speechless. Somehow with his turn of phrase he is able to encapsulate all the questions that surround the question, “What is the measure of a man?”

Rob Bell says, ‘Go to AA’

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Rob Bell
Hanging out on Rob Bell’s Live Stream page is a special book event he did at the Viper Room in Los Angeles last year. The replay includes nearly an hour of Q + A from the audience and some interesting gems in Rob Bell-ian fashion.

One gem in particular stood out to me and caused me some pause. Near the beginning of the replay Bell talks about his early days in ministry and a formative experience with a recovering alcoholic in his congregation who suggested to Bell, “Church should be like an A.A. meeting.” Bell decides to see this for himself. So, he enters into the sacred space of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to experience the vivid transparency, the brokenness, the struggle of the men and women in the room. Bell resonated with the A.A. meeting and agreed with the man, ‘this is what the church should be like,’ and that’s what he strove to create with Mars Hill in Grand Rapids.

This is a beautiful story–an ideological story–but a beautiful one nonetheless. In fact, due to Bell’s engaging communicative fashion it’s extremely inspirational in the telling. So inspirational that I believe there will be a cadre of undercover pastors and church planters visiting A.A. meetings in their neighboring towns and cities to see exactly what it is that Rob Bell is talking about. And that’s unfortunate.

As someone who worked for a couple of years in a drug and alcohol rehab center as a Residential Counselor, I can tell you from first-hand experience that an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is not what the church needs to be like, because it already is like that.

Let’s not be so quick to idealize/idolize Alcoholics Anonymous.

Now before I go any further, for the sake of clarification, A.A. is an amazing organization, and it’s spin-off groups (Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, etc) have created an environment where life transformation happens because of vulnerability and transparency. But the same can also be said of the church. Yes, it’s true. The church, despite its flaws, actually has many bright spots of life transformation. But here’s the kicker: A.A. is full of people, just like the church is full of people. And people aren’t very good letting you in on their secrets. And in an A.A. meeting there is just as much showmanship, lying, secrecy, pride, arrogance (read: the dark side of humanity) as there is in the church.

Now let me state for the record: I’m not bashing Rob Bell and I’m not bashing Alcoholics Anonymous. That is not the point of this post. The point is for you Mr/Mrs Church Planter/Pastor/Church Leader. Let’s not look at A.A. as the next great model for how the church should do small groups or relationship in general. The model is not the secret ingredient for life transformation. Rather, it is in the people. It is a group of people who are simply willing to be vulnerable with one another. A people who are willing to trust, a people who are willing to forgive, a people who are willing to own their own junk, that is the key. I have seen this happen in A.A. and, yes, I have even seen this in the church.

Here’s the kicker. If this is what you want in your church community, then model it–embody it. Don’t spy on an A.A. meeting, don’t be a spectator to people’s pain and brokenness (in a place you have no business being in the first place). Instead, be the one to take the first step in your own church community. You want to see it happen, then make it happen. Going to an A.A. meeting won’t accomplish that for you. And if it doesn’t work, hey at least you tried… and in the process you didn’t destroy someone else’s safe space.

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Don’t Let Go of Your Vision

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Vision
This post has been republished by the Exponential Network.
——
One of the hardest things about closing down a church, especially the church you started, is trudging through the list of regrets. Let me tell you, the list will be long and the water can get really deep… don’t sit in the regrets for too long.

As I’ve reflected on my experience as a church planter I have done my best to stay away from regret and instead focus on what I can learn. It is a fine line however, and a difficult one to navigate. One area I’m attempting to navigate away from regret is this: Don’t Let Go of Your Vision.

I spent several years preparing to plant a church. Included in that preparation were numerous sleepless nights filled with prayer, years of conversation, a multitude of exciting dreams and visions, hopes, possibilities, plans, all of which culminated in a beautiful vision for a different kind of church. This vision, I believed, was inspired by God.*

When we finally arrived in San Francisco, I worked it out so that I could have 14 months of prep-time before the official public launch. (Typically organizations give you a 6-month ramp up period for this, don’t be afraid to negotiate what you feel is necessary, it will more than likely require extra fundraising on your part. It did for me, but it was definitely worth it. Refer back to the post To Partner or not to Partner.) I spent the first 6 months exegeting the city, learning as much as I could about our neighborhood through demographic studies, listening to the values and belief systems of our neighbors, listening to their hopes and dreams, and even hearing their stories of abuse and pain from previous religious experiences. It was an invaluable time to simply listen. I used this time of listening to confirm and re-work portions of the vision until I felt comfortable that this was what God was calling me to do/lead. (This was all done sans-team, by the way. I hadn’t yet hired anyone to join the team.)

The first test of the vision was casual conversation. People would ask, “So, what do you do?” to which I would respond, “Starting a non-profit.” (I didn’t want to get bogged down in a conversation about the evils of the Church or Christianity in general, I simply wanted to test run the vision.) “Really,” they would respond with intrigue, “tell me more about it.” This was my opening to cast the vision, to communicate gospel-oriented values and see if there was any traction. Time after time after time the vision was met with tremendous acceptance, specifically from non-Christians. “I would love to be a part of something like that!” Was typically the response.

As an aside, shortly after we launched I had a similar conversation with someone about the vision of IKON only this time I wasn’t using “non-profit” language. Instead I referred to what we were doing as “church”. Her response was fascinating: “That sounds so amazing. I would really love to find a community and be a part of something like that. I just don’t want anything to do with the Jesus part. Maybe, I’ll start a secular version of that!” The vision really struck a chord with the heartbeat of San Francisco. God had been working on this vision in me for years, and I was the steward for that vision.

The vision that we started with however, was not the vision we ended with. And this is perhaps one of my greatest regrets. (Again, trying to toe the line between regret and reflection is a very difficult walk.) Shortly after launch, I began to loosen my grip on the vision. I invited others from within the church to give input into the vision. No longer was I casting vision, instead I began looking for affirmation. I think it’s fair to say that this switch was the result of insecurity–where it came from I still do not know (Tracy, my wife says it was Spiritual Warfare). As a result, the vision became murky and muddy. So we changed it. And not just a piece of it, but wholesale changed the vision of the church. If you want to confuse people, if you want to see people leave your church that had bought in to what they thought it was about, if you want to see two different groups work for two different things, then changing your vision 6 months in is a good way to experience that. Eventually, we changed the vision again… and then again. This really led to a great deal of confusion in our church.

Insecurity is one of the greatest deterrents for the church planter. Somehow, insecurity not only infiltrated my mind, but rushed in with a vengeance and captured my heart. There are myriad internal and external relationships and pressures that I’ve identified which led to these insecurities, as well as my own junk that I have since dealt with. It was this insecurity that led me to to look for affirmation… an affirmation that never really came. At every turn I didn’t find the affirmation I sought, but rather different people looking to have their own, very different preferences included into the overarching vision.

Important note: When you start leading from your insecurities, you’re really not leading you’re simply jerking them around.

As a church planter (and even as a pastor) this is a big challenge to overcome. I believe every pastor deals with insecurity to some degree, all the time. And really, how could you not? You’re being told how awesome you are at one turn and how terrible you are at another… constantly. Everything from your preaching to your style of dress is seemingly under constant scrutiny, it’s enough to make you go mad. It’s easy to begin jerking people around on the insecurity roller coaster when that’s the only ride you can see. There are three things I wish I would have done/recognized early on that would have helped prevent insecurity.

  1. You need a person. Identify a close confidant. Now let me say, I had a coach, in fact at one point I had 5 coaches for various things, but a coach is not a close confidant. That’s not their role. They are there to push you, kick you in the teeth when you need it, and expose you to truths that you’re not paying attention to. But they’re not a pastoral type of figure for you. A coach, although essential, is not what I’m talking about. You need a person, your person, who is walking down a similar road. I’m not talking about a mentor either. I’m suggesting that you need a friend who is also a church planter, perhaps in a different part of the country, that you make it a point to talk to each other regularly about what you’re experiencing and going through. There is no one that will understand what you’re going through more than another church planter. Networks are great, network meetings are great, network phone calls are great… but you need one person not 4. One person you can count on, one person you can dump some stuff on, and one person who will pray for you about your junk… and at the same time you are that person for them. It’s a give-give relationship, a life-bringing, life-giving relationship. I wish I would have recognized how important this was early on. I eventually found that person in the desert… seriously, he literally lives in a desert. It changed a lot of things for me, unfortunately it was a bit too late for IKON. This is vital for you to identify sooner rather than later.
  2. Identify the source… and then cut it off. It’s important to take a step back and reflect, and when you find yourself wrestling with insecurity the same feels even more necessary. So, take a step back, go away for a retreat or just lock yourself in the closet for a couple of hours and think through where the source of insecurity is coming from. Is it from an individual? (In my experience this is the most likely case.) Once you’ve identified the source of your insecurity, then you need to figure out why it/him/her has this kind of power over you… and then cut it off. I found that at one point insecurity was growing in me because of a feedback loop that was out of control. I had invited a team of people to give feedback on the Sunday messages, however, for various reasons–and perhaps insecurities on their own part–the feedback loop became damaging. So, I shut it down for a season before re-opening it in a different format and way. It allowed me the space to find solid ground once again and move forward. So, identify the source and cut it off… this is a lot harder when it comes to people. Especially if that person is on your staff team.
  3. Don’t Forget Your Daily Affirmations. This video: Daily Affirmation is really important to integrate into your life. No, seriously it is. Have you watched it yet? Well do it now.**

Don’t let go of your vision. Remember that if you did the work, if you listened well to both God and your city, the vision is something that God has placed on your heart to lead. Don’t be so quick to let go of it, instead hold tightly and see what God actually has in store…***

* I’m not using the phrase “inspired by God” in the same way as I would use it to describe Scripture.

** Now of course I’m not completely serious, but remember humor is a great way to deal with your insecurities… if anything it gives you a brief mental respite.

*** Some of you read this whole thing and got really frustrated because I didn’t mention things like prayer, or turn to God, or read the Bible, or journal… basic spiritual disciplines. Well, let me just say that if a church planter (or pastor) is not doing those things, if we cannot assume those as the basics that undergird everything then we have greater problems as a church than insecurity. Can’t we move past the basics for a change?

Currently » 05

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currently
Reading | I’m currently tearing through Chuck Palahniuk’s newest book Doomed. It is the second book of the Damned Triology detailing the epic journey of Madison Spencer, a thirteen year old girl who believes she died tragically of a marijuana overdose. Damned chronicles young Madison’s journey through the afterlife and the gross details of hell’s landscape before coming face to face with the Devil himself. Doomed is the second installment of her journey as a trapped soul on earth.
Palahniuk, began this trilogy as an attempt to come to terms with his mother’s death from breast cancer. And although the novels teem with black-hearted satire, in many respects the pages drip with encouragement inspiring us to rethink or even demystify death by stepping outside of life and prodding it from the other side.

Loving | I’m loving the fall weather, the changing of leaves, the necessity of hooded sweatshirts, and the promise of nights around the firepit with our neighbors and a bottle of wine.

Looking Forward To | This weekend I’m heading to Albany, New York with a team to help lead worship and support a new church plant our church is helping get started, Christ Church Albany.

Challenged By | The pace of life in the Midwest is vastly different than I’d become accustomed to. I am currently being challenged to slow down, to allow decisions to percolate longer before implementing them, and to pay more attention to the long game instead of the short term gains.

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Lighten Up!

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Journaling
This post has been republished by the Exponential Network
——

A journal is extremely useful… especially if you use it, and use it well. Meaning, it’s not just a place to capture your thoughts and experiences in the moment but something to come back to and reflect upon down the road. It’s a tool that can help you see marked change and transformation in your life, or just how much you haven’t changed. It can even be a tool to show you how much of a tool you were and continue to be…

Recently I’ve been reading through my journal entries for 2011 and 2012 (the last two of four years spent on the ground in San Francisco as a church planter/pastor type), I’ve been shocked at just how hard I was on myself. I mean, really hard (and that feels like an understatement.) They say that there’s no greater critic than oneself and although I’ve certainly lived up to that standard I couldn’t help but step back from my journals and say, “Dude, lighten up!”

Every church planter, every pastor knows that receiving criticism is a big part of the job, from “your sermon sucked,” to the people that want to critique minute details of your theology, to those that are offended you would suggest such a thing, to those that just want to harp on how you dress. Criticism is ever present, and as a lead pastor/church planter I received more criticism than I ever expected (it gave me a newfound respect for the senior pastors I’d worked for in the past). Nary a day went by that I didn’t have to deal with one form of criticism or another from congregants to staff to our venue through email, phone calls, text messages, or in-person ambushes… and that’s not a fun space to occupy. The worst part of it, however, is coming home and doing it to yourself all over again–hijacking the personal/sacred space of your journal to beat yourself up even more harshly.

I wish I could go back a few years and tell myself to lighten up, to not be so hard on myself, whether it was a failed sermon illustration or continually berating myself for my perceived lack of devotion to Jesus (which was borne out of owning overly unfair and harsh criticism from others). So, church planter/pastor here’s something I learned along the way, Stop fighting yourself. Stop beating yourself up. In fact, it reminds me of the scene in Fight Club (I am Jack’s Smirking Revenge) where Jack starts to beat himself up in his bosses office; that’s sort of what we’re doing to ourselves. We take enough body shots throughout the day from others, we don’t need to go home and continue the pounding. Stop fighting yourself; stop abusing yourself.

I know it’s easier said than done. I know that the weight and pressure you’re under is unbearable at times, especially when we continually remind ourselves: “I have to answer to God for this church someday…” And although that is true, can I just say that it is a completely unfair standard of perfection to place on your shoulders alone. There are a lot of others that have to answer for this church someday, not just you alone. All God asks of us is to be faithful: “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

So recapture your personal/sacred space. Recapture your head space and lighten up. Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re doing just fine. Continue to be faithful and let God be God in the church he’s called you to lead.

Patriotism and the Church

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the partisan church

These words were penned by CS Lewis in 1942 in his work The Screwtape Letters, a fictional account of how the underworld works to subvert the Church and the Christian witness in our world through patriotism and a partisan spirit:

“If your patient can be induced to become a conscientious objector he will find himself one of a small, vocal, organized, and unpopular society, and the effects of this, on one so new to Christianity, will almost certainly be good. But only almost certainly. Your best plan would be to attempt a sudden, confused, emotional crisis from which he might emerge as an uneasy convert to patriotism.
Let him begin by treating Patriotism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent argument it can produce in favor of the war-effort. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours–and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours.”

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

Lewis was writing in England at the height of World War II as a groundswell of patriotism began infecting the church in England. These words, written over 70 years ago, are more timely than ever for the church in America, especially in regards to the partisan spirit that has overwhelmed our national discourse. In many corners of our USAmerican society the Church has become not only a mouthpiece for a particular political party, but has become the coveted “base” to which politicians look to secure their nomination and re-election bids. This marriage between the Church and a political party has neutered our prophetic witness, rendering the values and principles of the Kingdom of God silent in our society. This is perhaps the greatest tragedy.

Before his death at the end of World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer posed this question for us to ponder:
“Do we believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, or do we believe in the eternal mission of France [America]? One can’t be a Christian and a nationalist at the same time.”

May we, the Church, come to believe that the Sermon on the Mount is greater than the US Constitution.

Mourning Our Collective Lack of Imagination

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Dream
What happened to our collective imagination?

I’ve read some remarkable stories of the Church being the Church throughout history, taking risks, and changing the world they inhabit. I’ve read of churches standing up to their elected and un-elected officials to challenge and thwart injustice. I’ve read of churches being secretive and subversive in atheistic countries working to not only reveal the God who is already present but to care for people and love their neighbors in beautifully sacrificial ways. I’ve read of churches working against the status quo to topple the entities that perpetuate a standard of evil no one has before noticed; who, with a spark of imagination, stepped up to ignite movements that not only announced the Kingdom but ignited something truly transformational in their context because of Jesus.

Yet somehow with the proliferation of social media as a deafening megaphone of personal success and victory, these stories feel few and far between in our present day American Church context. Why?

Have we somehow managed to short-circuit the collective imagination of the American Church? Have we somehow managed to short-circuit the collective imagination of our local communities?

Has the pendulum swung so completely to the other side that we land square in the realm of the individual versus the potential of the community? Have the egotistical needs/desires of the one truly outweighed the hopes and dreams of the many?

Robert Orben, the former speech writer for President Gerald Ford, once remarked: “We have enough people who tell it like it is, now we could use a few who tell us like it can be.” I wonder if we have lent our ear to the realist, to the deconstructionist, the devil’s advocate for a bit too long. I wonder if our collective voice has become one of pessimism and despair, pushing so hard against the grain of what is happening in the Church that doesn’t fit our personal preference/style that we we have flattened our imaginations. The Church has become the great piñata of late.

Where has our wonder gone, Church? Where has our wonder of God vanished to (or been banished to)? Have we stashed our collective imaginations and the power of the Holy Spirit working through us to accomplish all that we could ever ask or dream, off to the side in order to experience a more comfortable existence? When did safety and security become our priority? And when did the Church become the safety zone?

Our collective imagination, that imagination that once challenged us to take risks and step out in faith has been drained from our hearts and relegated to the jungle of the streets while we watch it dry up from the comfort of our seats. Why are we okay with this?

It’s past time for us to once again engage our imagination, to enlist our imaginations into what God is doing all around us and begin dreaming about what could be possible when we partner with him to bring heaven to earth.