Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another Loss

About two years or so ago I was involved in a project to create a resource that would help 'stuck' churches get 'unstuck'. Simply put, we were trying to replicate the work an expensive consultant might do with a tool church leaders could use to do it themselves. It was a really good idea and we made great strides with things like clarifying your purpose, identifying your strengths, creating motivational imagery and more. Then it came to the most crucial piece of all, moving ineffective leaders out and putting effective leaders in. At this point the project came to a crashing halt.

Once again we ran into the immutable truth that an organization of any sort cannot thrive with poor leadership. Not only that, but poor leaders that refuse to see themselves as part of the problem won't proactively move out of the way. To make matters worse in a church setting poor leadership will actually drive out those who have good leadership skills thereby denying the church options. Since church is a volunteer organization those with strong leadership skills will only stay for so long under bad leaders before they pack up and go on to another church. Any church unwilling to move bad leaders out of position and allow good leaders to take their place will suffer the loss of good leaders until there aren't any left. It won't be long until such a church collapses and dies.

This isn't just theory. It has happened once again. A strong leader with a heart for his church and a willingness to give time and abundant resources resigned from leadership in his church this week. After a three year struggle to get the Pastor to do something resembling leading...anything...he finally threw in the towel. This wasn't a man who sat in the seats every Sunday complaining and doing nothing. He was active in leadership, provided lots of resources, sought the aid and counsel of many outside experts, encouraged the Pastor and was constantly seeking ways to make the church an effective member of the community. Many churches would pay to have this sort of enthusiastic and talented leadership. This man's church, more pointedly, his pastor, refused almost all the help offered and worse. One of the few proactive things the pastor did was to call the people the man was seeking counsel from and tell them not to meet with him!

That is actively bad leadership. Sadly, this sort of behavior is repeated time and again in churches. I wish it were an isolated incident, but I'm sure that it's not. So, perhaps a bit quixotic, I forge ahead trying to find out how we can get bad leaders out of leadership and invite strong leaders in for the sake of revitalizing churches. It may just be an impossible dream.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


I'm in St. Louis at Intervarsity's Urbana Conference. It's a work thing hosting a booth about our various mission opportunities. Although I'm here for work, it's personally rewarding to be surrounded by 20,000 college aged young people excited about mission work. Once again, it is the younger generation leading the way. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know one of my main concerns is that the Christian church spends too much time sitting around in our buildings and not enough time out doing what Jesus asked us to do.

A word about the mission work of the church is in order. When it comes to disaster response around the world, none do it better or more efficiently than Christian missions organizations. Much of the meaningful recovery work after Katrina and Rita was done...and continues to be done...by Christian churches and organizations. The relief and aid I've seen in South and Central America and Africa by indigenous and visiting Christians is truly inspirational.

There's a sense of adventure and purpose when it comes to missions. Going out to help others is energizing. Making a difference in the lives of others gives a sense of purpose to our lives. I believe churches that aren't fully engaged in a variety of missions (and I don't mean giving money to others doing missions) are cheating those who attend those churches out of the full measure of the Christian experience. And mission doesn't have to involve traveling to far away lands. It can be helping a neighbor. It can be hosting a small group and inviting your friends. To me, mission is a fancy word for caring about other people and doing something to help them.

This help is driven by our faith in and love for Jesus Christ. He's done it all for us and, out of overwhelming gratitude, we do for others. Not to gain God's favor, but because we already have it. This should drive us out of our buildings to address the pain and suffering in this world. Not just when it's dramatic, like after a hurricane, but in every little situation where the love of Christ can make a difference.

I'm going to enjoy this week.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Yeast Infection

I was reading Matthew chapter 16 this morning. It's not new to me. I've read it countless times over the years. But this morning something stopped me. Jesus warned his follower to beware the yeast of the Pharisees. Again, not a new verse to me. But this time I stopped to think about just what the yeast of the Pharisees actually is.

This warning is tucked in with a harsh rebuke to the Pharisees for giving their own rules the same weight as the word of God. It dawned on me that much of the Christian church today has a terrible yeast infection. We've built a fortress of rules and doctrines that we claim are rooted in scripture. These man made rules often carry as much or more weight than the actual scriptures. These rules keep the people inside feeling very self-righteous and those on the outside feeling very rejected. If that sounds familiar, it's because the church of today is almost a mirror image of the Pharisaical culture of Jesus' day.

We haven't been vigilant and the result is the yeast of the Pharisees is folded into our Christian culture so completely that we don't even recognize all the places into which it's crept. From our buildings to our classes to our worship services to our seminaries it's amazing how much we look like those Jesus railed against and accused of being the blind leading the blind. Will we ever wake up and realize just what kind of ditch we've fallen into? I sure hope so.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I Have This Question

This morning I was struck with a question. What can we do to reverse the decline of the Christian church in America? I believe revival is a work of the Holy Spirit. However, I also believe that people can actively seek and pursue revival. I'm talking about revival of a scale that will rank up there with the historical revivals since the birth of the church.

I posed this question to my friend Thom Schultz and he had a really insightful response. He's attending a church outreach convention and listening to church leaders talk amongst themselves. His observation is there's a lot of pride among pastors. They continue to pursue old and ineffective ways of doing church but think all is well. Essentially, they're the band on the deck of the Titanic playing away as the ship sinks (my comment not Thom's). Thom has lots of great thoughts on the decline of the church on his blog. You should check it out.

How would you answer the question? What can we do to reverse the decline of the Christian church in America? I know this, we can't keep doing what we've been doing unless we're content to watch the church slowly slip into the dark night of irrelevance in our country.

FINAL NOTE: This post is about the Christian church in America NOT Christians. Those who follow Christ will always be a vibrant, dynamic force in this world. The Church, that is the body of Christ, will always thrive, grow and change lives. Is the pride, arrogance and lethargy of the American church pushing the Church to some other place in the world? If it is, how do we bring about revival here?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Must We Reinvent?

I've been back in the Chicago area for the past few days. I say back because this is where I spent nearly 30 years doing ministry at various churches. Got the chance yesterday to return to the church where I served for over 12 years. It was so wonderful to see all the people again. It was great to enjoy a familiar worship service. It was shocking to see how old people are getting while I'm sure I'm not aging a bit!

The sad part of the visit was having the sense that the church is now in decline. The attendance is down and the energy seems to be dwindling. Sadder still is that I'm not surprised. Churches seem to have an arc. They rise as a new church with lots of energy and excitement. They do things that are edgy and reach a whole new population of people that had come to expect the same old thing from church. Then, slowly, over time they become entrenched in what they're doing. They get comfortable and the people who come week in and week out get comfortable. The energy fades, the edginess becomes threatening and goes away.

Two things happen to churches like this. They slowly die while holding annual events to remember how awesome they once were or they get an infusion of leadership that reinvents the church for a new era. The third thing that happens is new, edgy, energetic churches pop-up in the area drawing people who are still interested in ministry that takes them places and gives them an opportunity to make a difference. But that's not happening to the existing church so I'll stick with my theory that there are only two things that can happen. Death or reinvention. Both are painful. So my question is this...if your church is going to go through a protracted period of pain ending in it being dead or different and you could choose which it would be, which would you choose?

It's okay to choose dead, by the way. It gives definition to how you move forward. As with any dying thing you do things to provide comfort...anesthetic, some pillows, gentle music, soothing words and maybe a hospice nurse to empty the bedpan. In other words, keep doing things that won't upset the patient. Things they're familiar with. Things that don't cause any exercise or raise in blood pressure. No sudden moves and maybe Jeopardy playing quietly in the background.

Should you choose reinvention that sets a whole different course. It will probably necessitate a complete change in leadership. It will require a full review of everything that's currently being done and a ruthless elimination of things that aren't creating energy, enthusiasm and attraction to those who've yet to know Jesus Christ. It demands a willingness to see most of the people in the seats right now get upset and go elsewhere. That's okay because there are a lot of churches providing comfy pillows, an IV drip of morphine and the aforementioned Jeopardy playing softly in the background. Those who stay are the seedbed of edgy, relevant, powerful ministry.

There's the answer to the question posed in the title. We must reinvent or we die. Those are the only two options. And, as always, the choice belongs to those leading the church.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why My Idea Won't Work

The call to action I shared earlier this week is based on a very optimistic view of the Christian church. As critical as I often am on this blog, I'm a hopeless optimist when it comes to the church. I really believe that Christians can get their act together, cooperate with each other, share the love of Jesus with the world in ways that are winsome and bring about real change. My idea about every church starting a school is predicated on the idea that churches would be willing to allow full and open discussions from all different viewpoints knowing that some may never choose to become Christ followers. I envision the establishment of an educational opportunity where free thinking and vigorous debate might take place.

The public schools are no longer such a place. Certain topics are completely off limits. Free thinking and reasoned debate that honors and respects all opinions has been banished from our schools and has set-up an adversarial environment for those who hold conservative Christian and political views. I'd love it if the church could establish safe havens where real learning could take place.

The reason my idea won't work is because most churches still see themselves as obligated to convince people that they must become Christian. So most churches will never consent to starting a school that doesn't have evangelizing children and their families as it's main purpose. I, on the other hand, believe that if Christians follow Christ's lead, serving everyone, loving everyone, praying for everyone, that many will be eager to know more about this Jesus they follow. And if they're not eager and never become eager, that's okay. We still love them and serve them and pray for them...because Jesus loves them and calls us to follow his lead.

So, as much as I'm thoroughly frustrated with the public school system believing it has become it's own secular religious institution, to have churches establish schools that will be just as hard-headed in the other direction would be fruitless. I'm left to wonder if there's any way to restore sanity and balance to the way we educate our children. And I hope we can figure it out before it's too late.

It may already be...

Monday, October 05, 2009

Let Me Clarify

My last post was a call to action driven by frustration with the collapse of public education and the viciously anti-Christian agenda among the educational elites of this country. Please don't see it as an attack against teachers. My daughter is completing her student teaching semester right now and will be, Lord willing, an elementary school teacher next year.

My call to action was for churches to start schools in their communities. Schools that find a way to offer a free education to children in the community, in part to drive the public schools out of business...or change their ways. Here's where the clarification comes in. I'm not urging Christian churches to start Christian schools. I'm not inviting Christians to flee the culture and hide in a cocoon of all-Christian security. Far from it!

I believe the Christian church has retreated from the culture far too often for far too long. What I'm calling the church to do is launch real, regular, effective schools that return to the roots of what public education was meant to be...and was in this country...less than 100 years ago. Schools that invite but don't force children to pray. Schools that engage in open honest discussion about the different ideas about how the world was created. Schools that embrace the traditional core studies of science, math, reading, social studies, languages, etc. Schools that are open to anyone who wants to come to school...Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, atheist...for a quality education. Quality that's driven by the love of Jesus Christ in a way that is winsome, loving and accepting.

This kind of movement to offer effective schools built on a solid foundation of Christian morals and standards would stir a revolution in this country. Last night our Pastor preached about the early church and the accusation leveled against Paul, Silas and Timothy that they were "turning the world upside down." He asked if that charge was still being leveled against Christians today. Sadly, we have to admit that, in this country, it's not.

So what if we launched an alternative school movement that directly confronted the corrupt culture of public education? What if we re-engaged the culture right at the heart of it by reclaiming the education of our children? What if we did it in a way that was open to all and was genuinely effective? Would that turn the world upside down? Would that meet stiff, angry, violent opposition?

I can guess...but let's just do it and find out. Who's with me?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Call To Action - NOW!

The rapid descent into abject depravity in this country is truly beginning to alarm me. The current administration in Washington is embracing people and policies that are in stark opposition to traditional Christian values. I'm particularly concerned about our schools.

I saw first hand the negative influence public schools have on the morality of our children when I was in youth ministry working with kids who were primarily public school students. I'm not going to recount the stories here, but I hope you trust that I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that there is an organized effort to indoctrinate our children into a culture of tolerance of anything and everything with no filter as to whether or not those things conform to any historic moral standard.

Many well-meaning, but horribly uninformed Christian parents have argued in favor of the public school system through the years. But I'm here to tell you that public schools are the lynch pin in the moral collapse of our society. And it's the result of a decades long intentional effort by people determined to strip any identifiable Judeo-Christian moral foundation out of the educational system. If you doubt this, wake up and start doing some homework. The institutionalized corruption of our children's minds is an ongoing campaign that is gathering steam.

Read this article first, then tell me that at the federal level they aren't committed to destroying the moral fiber of our society as historically understood by a Christian culture.

It is time for the Christian Church in America to take action. Every single Christian Church should open a school. Regardless of cost and whether you can accommodate 10 students or 1000 students it's time to reclaim the founders original intention for public education. We need to offer FREE alternatives to the corrupt public school system. Whatever it takes...volunteer moms and dads as teachers, creating our own curriculum and resources, supporting homeschoolers by opening our buildings for them to use for special events.

I'm dead serious about this. We can no longer send our precious children to spend the largest part of their days in places that sing praises and chants to the President, applaud homosexuality as one of several acceptable lifestyles, promote other religions as equal to or superior to Christianity, denigrate or outright deny the fact that God created the universe in favor of a flawed theory of evolution as absolute truth and all but ignore the basic skills they should be teaching.

It occurs to me this morning that if the church really wants to reclaim it's place in this culture and become relevant again, it's time to take back our children. Not for an hour a week in Sunday School. But 30 hours a week providing a classical education rooted in truth and founded on historic Christian morality. It should be our goal to put public schools out of business.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Sunday I was in the Chicago area and had the chance to visit the church I've often written about here. The one that is small, dying and poorly led by an incompetent pastor. I wasn't disappointed. The service was awful. The music was dated and not very well presented. The sermon was nearly unintelligible and there were about 35 people in the seats.

I was there mostly out of curiosity and because I was the guest of my friend who desperately wants the church to grow. But I wondered why the other folks were there. There truly was nothing appealing about the church. And with enough seats for over 200 the 35 or so people scattered about made the place feel like a mortuary. The most amazing thing is that morning they welcomed six new people into membership.

Why, I kept asking myself, would people join this church? Why is anyone coming? Part of the answer is that the new members are really just transferring from another church where they don't like the pastor and the direction that church is taking. Others are die hard Lutherans who will hang in there until the church dies.

Is that a good enough reason for a church to exist? To provide a comfortable place for complacent old people to gather and where disgruntled Christians can retreat. I truly find nothing in scripture or the life of Jesus or the record of the early church that indicates church should ever serve those purposes. Yet there are many across the American landscape that are plodding along in ways very similar to the church I visited Sunday.


Monday, August 31, 2009

On the Road Again

I'm in the airport at Nashville on a layover as I head to Philadelphia. Still amazed at the decision the ELCA made and watching as the rest of Lutheranism in America strives to distance themselves even further from the ELCA.

Sometimes my travels provide the opportunity for thoughtful reflection on all things church. If such inspiration hits, I'll be sure to share it. For now I'm just enjoying another afternoon in an airport!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Voting on the Truth

I mentioned in my post on the disastrous decision of the ELCA last week that I'd say more about putting God's Word and his truth to a vote. Hey, we're a democratic nation and that's what we do, right? Voting gives us a sense of empowerment as we participate in our own governance. It's a great privilege to have a say in who represents us and the ballot box should, ultimately, hold them accountable to those they represent. But here's the problem when it comes to the church...God isn't our representative.

God is the sovereign Lord, Creator and Owner of the universe. All of heaven and earth are His. That includes all that we possess, even our very bodies. How, then, can we subject the maker and owner of our bodies and all of heaven and earth to a democratic vote? Is it just me, or is that concept ludicrous on the face of it. Yet, in denomination after denomination we see votes being taken to validate or invalidate the core truths of Scripture.

Don't get me wrong. I think there are most certainly things that an assembled body of believers can vote on. Church budgets, building renovations, hiring and firing staff, missions contributions, and the list goes on. The same kind of accountability we ostensibly have with our elected officials can be exercised over volunteer leadership in the church. It's when the democratic vote runs amok that the whole system starts to tumble down. It's when we begin to use our vote for the purpose of giving ourselves favors that the inevitable slide into anarchy has begun.

A dear friend of mine, Harry Wendt, has worked passionately against Biblical illiteracy around the world for most of his 79 years. He's still working tirelessly through his Crossways! ministry to see a true understanding of scripture continue to spread. Recently he sent me some wonderful papers he's written. In one he offers this quote from Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor written in 1787:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the worlds greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1. From bondage to spiritual faith;
2. From spiritual faith to great courage;
3. From courage to liberty;
4. From liberty to abundance;
5. From abundance to complacency;
6. From complacency to apathy;
7. From apathy to dependence;
8. From dependence back into bondage "

I would propose a paraphrase of this very insightful quote that applies to the church going back to the first century church described in the book of Acts. It goes something like this:

A church body is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of organization. A church will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves a different sort of truth than that found in Scripture. From that moment on, the majority always votes for a god who makes them comfortable, never confronts their sinful nature, never challenges them to put their resources to the service of the poor, naked, imprisoned, hungry or homeless and never asks them to endure hardship or peril in his name. The result is that every organized church will finally collapse due to loose morals, a weak grasp of Biblical truth and a surrender to the loudest voices of public opinion. This is always followed by dissolution and division.

The average span of an effective church organization is about 500 years. The last such great disruption in church history was the Reformation most notably triggered by Martin Luther. I believe we are in another such upheaval now. It goes something like this:

1. From zeal to explosive growth;
2. From explosive growth to great opposition;
3. From great opposition to social acceptance;
4. From social acceptance to comfort;
5. From comfort to complacency;
6. From complacency to cultural integration;
7. From cultural integration to scriptural relativism;
8. From scriptural relativism to collapse
9. From collapse to reformation

When we reach the point of putting God's truth to a vote according to what makes us comfortable or even makes sense to us we are very near the end of the cycle. I pray the new day of Reformation comes quickly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wit's End

Stories like this one make me so angry I can't see straight. My only consolation is that God is holding these people accountable for what they're doing in his name.

Self Destruction

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America took a page from the Episcopal playbook over the weekend voting to allow gay and lesbian clergy to serve in their churches. This triggers the heart-wrenching process for hundreds of churches across the U.S. of having to decide whether or not to leave the denomination. No matter what decision churches make there will be a traumatic process of losing members, hurt feelings, and, most tragic of all, those who'll leave church all together connecting this stupidity to Christian faith.

Yes, I said stupidity. For decades now several protestant denominations have pretty much abandoned the teaching of the Bible. They've opted instead for the pursuit of a social justice, feel good, self-help, mushy "God is your friend who would never confront your rebellious sinful lifestyle" kind of approach to faith. This has led to all sorts of behavior being overlooked...or worse, sanctioned...by church leadership.

Loving, serving and caring about others comes straight out of an intimate knowledge of God's Word and being surrendered to His Holy Spirit. Trying to manufacture that outside of Biblical understanding and being anchored on a bedrock foundation of truth leads to the kind of foolishness the Lutherans fell into last week (foolishness toward which they've been sliding for years). There's nothing unloving about holding people accountable to a standard. There's nothing unloving about saying that God sets the standard for human behavior to which all of us should strive.

I have a sister who has consistently made extremely poor relationship choices since she was a teenager. I'm convinced she has a history of having been abused as a child. She's the most loving, caring, considerate person you could ever meet. However, for whatever reason, she has no standards when it comes to relationships and over and over and over and over for the past 30+ years she's repeated the same painful mistakes. Never, at any time have I given her the impression that she's making good choices. Never have I considered applauding her choices. On the contrary, I have chastised her, spoken harshly to her, been critical of her choices and given her advice on other options she could pursue that would result in her achieving health and becoming able to make healthy choices ultimately getting her what she really wants, a truly healthy relationship. I've never once stopped loving her or caring about her so deeply that it makes my heart ache.

If, instead, I chose to demonstrate my love for her by telling her all her bad, hurtful choices are now okay by me and she should pursue them with gusto, it wouldn't make my heart hurt any less. In fact it would make it worse because I would now be complicit in her self-destructive behavior.

She called me yesterday and opened the door, yet again, for me to speak directly and honestly about my opinions regarding her choices. Toward the end I apologized if I took a harsh tone. She said that's what she needed to hear and knew that I loved her and was speaking truth to her. She wasn't looking for license to keep going on the same path. She was looking for someone to confirm that she had a hand in her current situation and that there was hope for a better life if she'd pursue a healthier path built on a foundation of truth.

Telling someone that their wrong behavior is okay doesn't make it okay. The homosexual community has, for years, been screaming at the church that accepting their lifestyle is the only thing that will demonstrate that we truly love them. Yet another denomination has buckled under the onslaught. Purporting to demonstrate love for people by changing the fundamental definition of right and wrong is actually among the most destructive things we can do. And putting God's Word to a vote...well, that's a topic for another time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

For There Is Now, Therefore...

For all of my life, and well before, the church in America has often defined itself by listing what Christians can't do or shouldn't do. I grew up and served most of my adult life in a denomination that had an impressive set of written and unwritten rules by which to live. All the while they proclaimed that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. But that wasn't how it worked day to day.

What was really communicated was that you had to have a right understanding of baptism or your salvation wasn't certain. You had to properly understand communion or you were taking it to your own damnation. It was a denomination steeped in education, which is great, unless people start to believe that you have to understand the Bible properly in order to be saved...which many people came to believe. Throughout the church we have somehow communicated that there is a personal performance component to salvation.

"Don't drink, don't dance, don't go to movies, don't play cards, don't, don't, don't and if you do, God will not be happy with you."

Translation - God is a stern parent constantly looking to catch you with your hand in the cookie jar and making sure you eat your broccoli. As I began to really read the Bible and ask lots of questions the book of Romans became more and more precious to me. Ultimately Romans 8:1 rose up as my most favorite verse. "For there is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

How often is that message communicated in church? No condemnation. Or as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you."

What do you think might happen to a church that loves people into a relationship with Jesus proclaiming forgiveness of sins, freedom from oppression, sight for the blind, release for the captives, the abundance of the Lord's favor and the assurance that when you are in a relationship with Jesus THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION? I think it would shock people who grew up in churches proclaiming "There is now 'NO'"!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The End of Denominational Christianity

It's a dream, I know, but one that seems to be getting closer to being reality. I promised to post last night on what I heard at the Celebrate Recovery Leadership Summit at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. Sorry for the delay. Yesterday Pastor John Pollard made the whole conference for me.

He spoke most pointedly to the nearly 400 senior pastors among the 3600 participants in the conference. He told them that it was time to take off the masks, start getting real with the people in the seats and become the church Jesus intended. A church that is real, loving, accepting and serving all those broken, hurting, lost and desperate people out there. In short, a church that is anchored in recovery because everyone is broken and suffering under the burden of their hurts, hang-ups and habits. If church isn't a place where you can bring these things to find healing in the arms of Christ, what hope is there?

It was so great to hear a pastor who gets it. I've been getting messages from multiple sources over the past week that tells me the Body of Christ is reforming itself outside the traditional denominational constraints. Not only that, but this reforming is happening around the concept that we're to be serving and loving the outcasts, rejects and invisible. Imagine that...a church that actually serves as the hands and feet of Jesus operating from a place humility and grace.

I'm afraid to hope...but here I go again getting optimistic about the future of the church in America.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No Surprises...Unfortunately

Last week we wrapped up another summer season of our domestic mission trips. As is always the case, most of the problems at camp were generated by adults. These are Christian adults who have intentionally agreed to participate in an event targeted to impact teens and serve other people.

Yet there are always those who complain about being uncomfortable, complain about the food, complain that the work is too hard or not hard enough or below their skill level or doesn't require all the tools they brought along or...

Don't get me wrong. I'm not that upset with the adults who don't get it. I'm more upset with churches that have somehow given people the impression that they're entitled to comfort. How can you go on a mission trip serving those in desperate need and not expect to be uncomfortable unless you've embraced a version of Christian faith that is, for the most part, about you and your needs? It seems to me that far too many people have heard a message that God exists to take care of them. Often in high style.

If you want to be challenged to change this I highly recommend the book "Your God is Too Safe" by Mark Buchanan. He does a great job of helping us understand the malaise that's pervasive in the western church.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Another Perspective

A good friend of mine is going through some struggles with our church. He's been pretty deep into a leadership role. That's often where pain and frustration happens at church. When you get "behind the curtain" and start dealing with all the real people involved in leadership. I was always cautious never to let a new Christian into a position of leadership at my church. The deeper you get the more dangerous it can be to your faith!

So my friend has discovered this book that's been out a few years now titled, "So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore". It's written by a couple of pastors under a single pseudonym. Because of my history in the church and my avid search for a better way to do church, I'm going to be reading the book with him. I'll be blogging about the thoughts I have on it.

I invite you to consider reading it, too. If you do, I'd love it if you would comment here and let me know what you think. I also found a website with a lot of podcasts by these two guys. I don't know if I'll have time to listen to these, but some of the topics are just interesting enough that I might.

Anyway, the overall frustration with the way church is done in Western culture is spawning a lot of interesting conversations. It's irritating to traditionalists but I think this is important as the church continues through it's new reformation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cowardly Lion

Sorry for the delay in getting to this third of three posts on the Wizard of Oz theme. The Cowardly Lion lacked courage. Although he was born to be King of the Jungle, his lack of courage caused him to hide in fear rather than claiming his rightful place. When it came to intimidating young girls he was all roar and bluster at first but quickly dissolved to tears at the first challenge.

How is it the Church, the Bride of Christ, has become such a pitiful laughingstock in the U.S.? It seems increasingly that church is most often the place where women gather and men occasionally stop by. How have we missed the truth that we are children of the King? We have been declared co-heirs with Christ. That makes us royalty. But like the Cowardly Lion we choose not to live in that reality.

How can the church better communicate to all those who follow Christ the nature of their true identity? How do we overcome the lies and help Christians live fully convinced of their God-given place? The answer isn't in better sermons or more inspirational worship services. I'm convinced that confidence comes from experience. The church must provide opportunities for people to experience the reality of being children of the King. In my opinion this means regular and challenging opportunities to serve others. Service to others has the power to change lives.

When given the challenge to attack the fortress of the wicked witch the Lion rose to the occasion and his life was changed. Ain't it the truth, ain't it the truth!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Okay, so I wasn't intending to do a little mini-series on Dorothy's three traveling companions. But this morning I woke up with another thought on the struggles of the Christian church in America that could be illustrated with the Scarecrow. And, yes, a Cowardly Lion analogy has also come to mind...but you'll have to wait for that one.

The Scarecrow lacked a brain. Or, at least he thought he did. I won't go down the rabbit trail of how you can think you don't have a brain if you don't have a brain. Anyway, one of my frustrations with the church in America for decades now has been the utter Biblical illiteracy of the people in the seats. In a country with such an immense educational system and a Sunday School system in most denominations that is very well developed, why do we have so many people who are so ignorant when it comes to the Word of God? What has the church done to "teach" people that reading the Bible isn't a matter of life and death?

In my humble opinion we've inadvertently communicated that Biblical knowledge is the bailiwick of the pastors. No need for you to dig deep into scripture because there's someone who's taking care of that as their full time job. It's so ingrained in our culture now that even when pastors, in sheer frustration, beg, plead and cajole their people to read the Bible only a handful actually do. Bible classes are poorly attended and those who do come still aren't really digging into scripture like it was the best meal they'd ever experienced.

I'm convinced that until people become intimately familiar with the Bible itself...not books about the Bible, or study courses, or Christian fiction but the actual Bible...we'll continue to hear the theological equivalent of "if I only had a brain" from those who call themselves Christians.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tin Man

Just a few days ago I returned from Scotland where I attended the British Open golf tournament. Now I'm visiting locations for our community service events on the East coast. I've had a lot of time in planes and cars. Inevitably my mind turns to the church. Sometimes it's personal...like why did I leave church work and should I go back to it. Sometimes it's reflections on what the church does and why.

Over the last couple of weeks I've finished the book Wicked upon which the smash Broadway musical was based. There's a surprising bit of conversation in the book about religion and belief. There's very little about the tin man.

But the story of the tin man is that he didn't have a heart. Have you ever felt empty inside? Purposeless? Today I got to thinking about the role the church plays in dealing with this. Did you know that scripture tells us that the role of church leadership is to equip the saints for ministry? Then I got to thinking that in most churches the leadership hoards the ministry instead of equipping others and giving it away. I finally put the two together. Maybe all those people in the seats on Sundays who are listless and unmotivated aren't being equipped for ministry. Maybe they lack the heart because no one in leadership is uncovering, nurturing and encouraging the gifts God's given them. Maybe we in church leadership aren't following Biblical counsel and are cheating all those people out of the chance of living full and fulfilling lives.

Maybe we're holding on to the tin man's heart and it's time to give it back to him.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Frustrating As Always

Had the chance today to read another persons review of a dying church that I've been trying to help. Pretty much the same assessment as I've had. The church isn't welcoming, the services are muddled and confusing, the music is poorly done and...this is my addition...the pastor really doesn't care.

How can anyone take money from people to lead a congregation and truly not care about what happens to the church and still sleep at night? I truly don't get it. He seems like a nice guy, but the reality of what he's doing is devastating this church. But he keeps cashing the checks. Worse, the church keeps paying his salary and benefits.

I don't know what's worst of all, a congregation that won't hold their pastor accountable or a pastor who seriously couldn't care less the church he leads is going down the toilet.

P.S. I'm headed out of the country for a week so won't be posting, most likely.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The King is Dead

In case you hadn't noticed, Michael Jackson, The King of Pop died suddenly at the age of 50 on June 25th. I thought I'd mention it because you may have missed the worldwide media frenzy, the tweets that temporarily shutdown Twitter or the overwhelming surge in sales of anything having to do with Jacko.

I'm fifty myself born just nine days before Michael in August of 1958. I really enjoy his music and thought he was a very special talent. My daughter is crazy about him which her 20 something friends don't really get. I get it because my friends didn't get it when the death of Elvis rocked my world in 1977. But this post isn't about Michael or Elvis. It's about a world that worships and idolizes frail, broken, sinful human beings. We keep looking for the divine in other human beings. It's a natural urge we humans have because we know there's something better than ourselves. Our Creator built it into us to look for Him.

But while nearly all the world was trying to catch a last glimpse of the greatness of Michael Jackson, thousands of people across the U.S. were truly reflecting the glory of the true King, Jesus Christ. If you're hungry for the divine and you want to see what people filled with the Holy Spirit look like, I invite you to take a look at any of the Workcamps or Weeks of Hope happening right now across the country.

Young men and women are giving up a part of their summers and a substantial amount of money to help elderly, disabled and disadvantaged people they've never met in communities they've never been to before. They're sleeping on classroom floors, eating cafeteria food and working in rain, heat and humidity. All of this because they're followers of Jesus Christ. Bit by bit, little by little they're changing lives and making a world of difference. Just tonight some of them are being so deeply affected by the experience that it's redirecting their lives.

I doubt any of these people will get a gigantic memorial service at Staples Center when their lives come to an end. But if you're looking for the truly divine skip the pop icons and take a look at people living out their faith with genuine passion and commitment. That's the church at her best and you'll never find better.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Real Thing

In just a couple of hours I'll board a plane for Utah. Next week I'm leading a Workcamp for my company serving the Ute Nation in northern Utah. It's the highlight of my year to be able to work with Christian teens making a real difference in the lives of people in need.

One of the things I like most about this work is that we're not doing street theater or handing out tracts. We're actually impacting the lives of people by meeting their basic needs. That kind of thinking really upsets a lot of people who believe the most basic need is eternal salvation. In my experience people who don't have secure shelter, sufficient food or a bed to sleep in aren't much impressed with your concern for their eternity. When you help people because you love Jesus it may make them curious to know this same Jesus...or it may not. That's not really the point.

We help because Christ calls us to the task. We demonstrate love to these people and expect nothing in return. We put our faith into action, not as a recruitment tool or a sales gimmick, but out of genuine concern for the least of these. At the end of the day I'm more concerned about lives touched than a salvation body count. It's all about motivation and I truly believe people can tell the difference.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Departure

For all my readers who have their own blogs or websites I just wanted to take a moment and let you know about an amazing free advertising service I found. It really is free and you'll have the opportunity to drive traffic to your website or blog. And if you're serious about sharing your thoughts with the world, as I am, you really should check it out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

When Hollywood Gets it Right

I'm up late watching Sister Act on TBS. There's a lot to admire in this movie. The underlying theme of a church being revitalized by a woman from the "outside" is very moving. It also reveals the prevailing world view that many Christians isolate themselves hiding from the real world behind walls and prayer.

It's an older movie, but that opinion is still strong in our culture. Church doesn't really have anything to do with real life. We Christians are responsible for some of that perception. In my experience organized religion, as a rule, takes so very long to catch-up with the culture. Centuries ago the church was the cultural center of the world. All the best art, music, literature and more came directly from the church. Some of the finest beer in the world is brewed in monasteries.

I believe the reflective, prayerful, holy life can, in fact coexist and even more, effectively interact with the culture. We can get outside the walls and make a huge difference in the neighborhoods right around us. And beyond.

It doesn't just happen in the movies. And today it's more urgent than ever that we find a way make a real impact in the name of Jesus.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Helping No One

Today I was once again reminded why I started this blog in the first place. There are just so many churches out there being led by people who lack leadership skills. Granted, leading is hard. Leaders have to rally the troops. Leaders have to exercise discipline, both personally and corporately. Leaders must confront individual wrongdoing for the sake of the integrity of the larger ministry.

There are far too many people in church leadership (pastors) who lack the requisite skills to deal head-on with uncomfortable situations. Fear of offending folks or causing people to leave the church ends up crippling a pastor's ability to accomplish good ministry. We settle for mediocre, or worse, as long as no feathers are ruffled.

The truth is that when a pastor refuses to confront blatant misbehavior and allows people to continue as if nothing was out of order no one is helped. The person engaged in reckless and destructive behavior is enabled. People affected by the behavior are wounded. People watching the behavior and lack of any action are confused. Eventually the whole mess collapses while people claim there was nothing they could do.

Good leaders take action that is appropriate, timely and well considered. Rarely will you find difficult situations going unaddressed in a healthy church.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Praise for a Friend

One of my best friends from college is the senior pastor of a church in Illinois. I stopped by to visit him today as we headed back to Colorado following my mother-in-law's funeral. I have to say I'm consistently impressed with his church and the way in which he's leading.

The church is developing new locations with new formats and my friend, Mark, is raising up pastoral leadership from within the congregation. No fewer than three men are currently pursuing ordination while they lead ministries within the church. They've developed a cool little coffee shop area on the main floor, they have an awesome video producer (who also happens to have come out of my youth ministry) and so much more. They put on a clinic for people in the neighborhood offering simple exams, and more.

There's a dynamism to the place and I credit pastoral leadership for this. He's casting a big vision for how this church can truly make a difference. It's hard work and it pushes the comfort level of staff and members alike. But real ministry is seldom easy. It's fun to visit places where they're mostly getting it right.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Moving to the Front of the Room

I haven't blogged in a bit because my Mother-in-Law died last Friday and my wife and I are on an unexpected trip to Chicago. It's been an interesting few days as we've navigated through the traditional rituals surrounding death in this culture.

As strong believers in Jesus Christ both my wife and I find this to be a time of great joy as her mother was struggling with dementia and has been steadily losing her capacity to remember anything for the last few years. Her sudden and unexpected death from a perforated bowel was such a blessing and a release from the slow death from Alzheimer's that we were expecting. That and our certain knowledge that she's been released from this temporal life of pain to an eternal life of freedom in God's amazing presence made for more celebration than mourning.

Lots of people...even fellow Christians...don't quite get that. How can you be okay with the death of a parent? The simple truth is that none of us gets out of this existence alive, physically anyway. We will all die. It struck me more this time than any other, that we're all moving to the front of the room. (For those who've not attended any funerals, the front of the room is occupied by the dead body in the casket!)

If scripture is true, those who truly know Jesus are actually longing for the day when they get to the front of the room. There's an anxious longing to be shed of this body and to get on with eternity free from the pain and oppression of sin we experience here.

I wonder if the church were doing a better job of expressing the joy, peace and freedom that is ours both in this life and in the life after this one if there wouldn't be more people excited about moving to the front of the room. If we were really living out the incredible life Jesus accomplished for us on the cross there might be more celebrating and less mourning when our faithful loved ones make the transition from this life to the next. Churches should be full of people living out the victorious life regardless of physical circumstances and eagerly awaiting their turn at the front of the room. Since that's not usually the case, I'm left to wonder...yet again...if those who lead our churches are doing all they can to help us fully grasp this truth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A New Season of Hope

It's that time of year again. The time when I get the chance to gather with nearly 100 college aged young men and women preparing to serve as Group Workcamp and Week of Hope staff in locations all across the country. These dedicated Christians will facilitate life-changing mission trips for over 21,000 teens and their adult leaders. Putting faith into action as they coordinate lodging, supplies, programs and more all focused on connecting people to Jesus.

Hundreds of homes will be repaired. Thousands of lives will be touched. Ministries, non-profits and social agencies will be flush with volunteers moved to action by their faith. All this work and the impact it will make is being accomplished by around 1300 church youth groups. With similar organizations doing the same type of work the number of churches involved in this kind of domestic mission is probably over 5000. This gives me hope as we engage young people in actively living their faith. Now imagine doubling or tripling that number! Then imagine that it wasn't just for a week or just in the summer.

There are so many great things happening and great opportunities for the church to truly make a difference in this American culture. At this time of year I am always most hopeful that the Spirit's fire will spread and the church will rise to it's holy calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Spirituality or Christianity

With this post I am almost certainly going to offend someone. In a recent post I asked for people to let me know about ministries they considered radically effective so that I could highlight them. For the record the near-silence in response did not inspire a great deal of hope in me. Either no one is reading this blog or those who are reading have no knowledge of a radically effective church.

It was near silence because the one response I did get was from my youngest sister's fiancee. He's a really great guy and I'm thrilled for my sister and him as they plan their wedding. They're great together and lots of fun to hang out with. The church he encouraged me to look into is Mile Hi Church in Denver. When I checked it out I found a church that is certainly steeped in spirituality. It's not a Christian church but it claims a membership of over 20,000 people. If you dig into their pages you'll find that they have a great respect for Jesus and even declare his divinity...in the same way that all of us are divine. I'm not sure how they deal with Jesus' declaration, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." Herein lies the problem.

We are all spiritual beings. We are all hard wired by our Creator to know that something bigger than us exists. Most seek this "higher power" and the truth of God's existence is reflected in every religion on the face of the earth. But when we embrace all expressions of faith as equally valid we render none of them valid...including Christianity. Since each world religion presents a worldview and a view of humanity that contain elements that are diametrically opposed to the other world religions it simply cannot be true that all of them are right.

Now, most of us hate conflict and rancor. The declaration of Christ that he is Lord and the only path to the Father is problematic for many people. It makes Christianity seem exclusive when it's not. Christ's death on the cross paid the price for the sin of all humankind that has separated us from our Creator. The Christian Church is open to everyone and should reflect the love and acceptance of Jesus to all people regardless of color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else.

Pay close attention here. The Christian Church does not, can not and should not accept all belief systems, wrong thinking, sinful behavior masquerading as lifestyle choices, or any of the myriad of mistaken thoughts and ideologies embraced by spiritually seeking people. We love the people and confront untruth with truth. Mile Hi Church seems to be a place that happily embraces truth, untruth, half-truth, sin, rebellion and ignorance all the while calling it enlightenment. And many, many people flock to have their ears tickled by this.

I write this blog for the sole purpose of challenging the Christian Church to wake-up, get real with both speaking the truth of Jesus and sharing the love of Jesus without reservation, without limits and without fear. Radically effective churches find a way to be fully engaged in their communities with every member of those communities while standing firmly rooted in the truth of scripture. The whole truth embraced unapologetically. That will upset some. So be it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Check Out the Resources --->

The links on the right side of the page includes some things I thought might be helpful. If you're looking for ideas to grow your church attendance, there's a link for that. If you're struggling financially and looking for a Christian based resource to get out of debt, there's a link for that. If you find help here, I'd love to know about it.

A Summer in the Park

This isn't what you think. Two Rivers Church in Des Moines, Iowa has a great program during the summer. They show up at one of the most dangerous city parks that's off the beaten path and have a weekly cookout. They also run a Vacation Bible School program with the help from other churches like Rechurch where our daughter attends. These are the sorts of things that radically effective churches do. Where's the most dangerous city park in your town?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Looking for Great Examples

I realize I've invested a lot of time on this blog exposing the weaknesses and poor performance of the Christian Church. There's no shortage of excellent examples to support these criticisms. There are also great things Christians do in our world. Some of them do it with their churches and some do it in spite of their churches!

I'm looking for stories of churches getting it right. If you know a church that's truly, radically effective (see my earlier post for the definition) I'd love to highlight them here. I'm working to drive more traffic to this blog and hope to become a strong voice encouraging the church to do much better than it's ever done.

Additionally, if you're looking for an effective church to join eventually we can build a network of churches around the country and let you know where they are. That's an ambitious goal, but I don't want to just rail against what the church is doing wrong but, as my subtitle says, reimagine how it could be.

Please share your applause for churches getting it right!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Radically Effective Ministry

I'll start with a disclaimer here. This ministry started out of Saddleback Church, the wildly successful and groundbreaking ministry launched by Rick Warren. One of the great benefits of being a megachurch is that so many people find that reason enough to take you seriously. The various ministries of your church can become their own brands. Such has happened at Saddleback with Simply Youth Ministry and with the ministry I'm highlighting today, Celebrate Recovery.

This amazing ministry anchored in the traditional 12 steps of recovery has exploded around the world and is helping millions of people deal with their addictions. In Celebrate Recovery language, their hurts, habits and hangups. This ministry is now planted in churches and is reaching communities of people who might never have otherwise set foot in a church. That's another mark of radical effectiveness, do ministry for people whether they join your church or not.

If you're interested in learning more about recovery from addictions check out Recovering Life, my musings on the process of recovery.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Speaking of Doing It Right

A Church here in Loveland, Colorado sponsors a day of service every spring. This year over 1300 people repaired over 100 homes in a single day. This is the kind of thing that makes a community impact. They call it Project One and it got the attention of the local press making front page news. Radically effective churches do these sorts of things.

Monday, May 11, 2009


This friend of mine who heads up an incredible charity and is one of my most cherished mentors had this brilliant idea. As with most ideas it's stunning in its simplicity. In response to the desire of some in a Bible class he teaches to put their faith into action he proposed this concept. Laundromats.

Often the people who go to laundromats are in transitional housing or in a transitional place in their lives. He suggested going on Sunday morning because the people who are in the laundromat on Sunday morning are most likely the target audience of the church...the unchurched. Bring along a pot of coffee, a box of doughnuts and rolls of quarters. When people come in to do their laundry you jump up and offer to buy, placing quarters in the machine. Then go back and sit down.

Naturally the person will be curious and ask why you did that. Your simple response is "because I love Jesus." That's all. When it's time to dry the clothes you pay again. Offer coffee and doughnuts to the person and any of their children. If they want to talk, engage in conversation. But let them start it.

The next week show up again. After a few weeks you'll start to get to know the regulars. Soon, you can tell them you're out of quarters but you have a washer and dryer at home they can use for free and their kids, if any, can play and watch TV at your house. Over time this kind of service will make a difference in these people's lives and they'll be open to hearing about this Jesus who you follow. Even if they never become that curious you still serve because you love Jesus.

What did I tell you? Brilliant, simple, powerful.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Radically Effective

Okay, I promised a post specifically defining what a radically effective church might look like. Instead of pointing to any individual church here's a set of standards that I would consider the marks of a radically effective church.

1 - Regularly serves the immediate community. By immediate community I mean being directly engaged in the lives of the people living within a one mile radius of your church building. By regularly serving I mean that everyone within one mile of your church knows you exist because at some point within the last three months someone from your church has served the people. Service could be mowing lawns, washing dishes, repairing plumbing, providing babysitting at no charge, delivering meals, in some way attending to the real, physical needs of those close to your church.

2 - Provides resources to others. By others I mean people who are not members of your church or, for that matter, even necessarily Christian. God has blessed the church with buildings, computers, copiers, kitchens, etc. Invite those who could use those resources to use them. This could be in a structured way like hosting homeless folks one or more nights a week or opening an employment support center. It could be in an unstructured way like allowing folks to use the space for family reunions or birthday parties. Do this without charging a fee for use or for maintenance. And don't freak out if the kitchen utensils aren't put away in the right drawers.

3 - Serve the larger community. The larger community is defined as the city or county where your church is located. Service could be training and equipping members to be after school tutors for the public schools or assistant coaches. You might adopt a road and keep it clean. Visit local nursing homes. Plan an annual community-wide home repair event.

4 - Lovingly receive everyone. Receiving everyone is not accepting their sinful behavior, bad theology, or destructive life choices. It is being winsome and invitational so that the curious, hurting, angry, wounded, belligerent, and lost people can find the love of Christ in ways that they will eventually hear the truth of Christ and ultimately know the salvation of Christ.

5 - Anchor everything in the Word. The service of a radically effective church is driven exclusively out of the Word of God. Engage people in deep Bible study that ignites a passion to respond to all God has accomplished for us through Jesus Christ. Challenge those who claim to be Christian to get into the Word thoroughly, regularly and fervently. Build a culture soaked in the Word seven days a week.

Each of these five points can be expanded with all the many details needed to make these things happen. Every church striving to be radically effective will work out their own ways to accomplish these five things. You may notice I didn't say anything about great sermons, killer music or impressive worship services. In my humble opinion there are many, many churches already providing those things while still completely missing out on being radically effective. So maybe those elements aren't crucial to achieve what I'm talking about.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you would define radical effectiveness.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Don't Get Me Wrong

I still think the Church (notice the capital C) is God's body on earth. The Church is comprised of all those who follow Christ. I just think that churches in America aren't necessarily truly the Church. That confuses those who are standing on the outside of it all. They think places that call themselves "church" are all representatives of Jesus Christ. Consequently I have a burning desire to challenge all churches to truly reflect Jesus in their communities.

Why Is It So Hard?

If you've gone back through the archives on this blog you have a glimpse of my frustration with the way church gets done. There are certainly success stories out there but they are rare. That may seem harsh, but keep in mind that there are 300,000+ Christian churches in this country. Places like Willow Creek and Saddle Back rise to the top when you talk about making a meaningful impact. There are certainly many others but is the number 1,000? 5,000? Are there 30,000 revolutionary, life-changing, radically effective churches out there? That would be 10% of all churches in the country.

Think about that. If just ten percent of all churches were radically, revolutionarily effective in impacting their communities and changing lives that would be 30,000 churches. Now follow me here...there are fewer than 2000 cities with a population of 10,000 people or more (that includes the giant cities like New York and Los Angeles). But if there are roughly 300,000,000 people in the U.S. and there were 30,000 radically effective Christian churches in this country each church could serve a community of 10,000 people and we would be serving the entire U.S. population. How hard is that? Well, if the average weekly attendance of a radically effective, life-changing church is 500 people, over the course of a year each of those attenders would have to directly touch the lives of 20 people. Is each person attending your church directly affecting the lives of 20 people in your community?

Based on the way this country is going and the declaration of Newsweek that Christianity is pretty much over in the U.S. I'm going to hazard a guess that there aren't 30,000 radically effective churches in this country. In fact, I'm going out on a limb to say that there might not even be 3,000 radically effective churches. Maybe I should say more about what I consider to be radically effective. That's a topic for another post. In any case, if less than ten percent of our churches are making a genuine difference in their communities and it could be as little as one percent, I'm left to wonder what makes being effective so hard? I welcome your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Fish Stinks From the Head Down

It's been a good long time since I posted here. I must admit that I originally started this blog as a way to share my frustration with the seeming ineptitude of the Christian church. I had a lot to say at the beginning but eventually felt like I was tilting at windmills. Not only that, but I'm pretty sure very few people were reading my blog.

Now I'm on Twitter and Facebook and linked to all sorts of people so I figured it's time to get back to blogging. I hold no great hope that what I have to say will revolutionize the church as we know it, but I'd sure love to play a part in the conversation. Plus, I've have a fresh experience that is so typical of the problems so many churches face.

My best friend has spent the better part of two years serving as a volunteer leader at his church. It's a small Lutheran church in suburban Chicago that has struggled with really bad pastoral situations for well over 10 years. Frankly, it's a wonder the place is still open. Anyway, my friend is quite comfortable financially and has a heart to help this church. He's not satisfied to only throw money at the problems so he took a key leadership role, as well.

He sought my advice and even brought me in to consult with the pastor and other staff. I had the chance to preach there last year. I've regularly advised my friend by phone. However, it's now becoming apparent that the new pastor either lacks the ability or the interest to revitalize this church. I'm not here to air all the concerns...there's really not room. But a firm conviction of mine has, once again, been reinforced.

"The fish stinks from the head down!" It truly doesn't matter how many dedicated volunteers, enthusiastic supporters or tenacious long-time members a church has. A pastor sets the course for a church. A pastor who lacks vision, enthusiasm, a good work ethic, integrity, etc. will surely bring a church to its' knees and...eventually...to its' death. I'm an eternal optimist, but I'm ready to concede that it is the rare church that can overcome a bad pastor. Especially if that pastor refuses to leave gracefully. He will stay on to close the doors or will trigger a battle that will tear the church apart. Why is this so? If I could answer that question I would launch a crusade to save all the churches suffering under bad pastoral leadership.