Category Archives: change

Relationships instead of Church?

Read this article from Kathy Lynn  Grossman of USA TODAY, “Relationships Are the New Religion for Many,” and tell me what you think. This is good Jacob’s Well conversation.Easter PostCard jacob's well 2007

I think the article’s observations are right on, the conclusion isn’t.              [It really reminds me of some elements of our message  yesterday. (3.24.2013)]

My analysis says that “church” has failed to deliver value or relevance to people at their gatherings (worship services and more) for so many decades that we now have whole generations who have no idea that the church might actually have any. What people still have is the relationships that once found amazing, empowering, loving context in being church, and so they gather around those relationships instead. And for the most part “church/religion/the institution” continues to gather those who are left around nostalgia for what doesn’t connect.

How will we teach those looking for more that there is more when so few are trying to reclaim what church can be?

Notes taken while re-inventing church – 04

Take God seriously. Really seriously. Take your theology less so. 

Wedges, squares or more. It's still pizza.

Wedges, squares or more. It’s still pizza.

This is heresy to some of my doctrinally-oriented sisters and brothers, but I don’t consider myself dogmatically-handicapped, just conceptually-flexible. Here’s the deal: our theology only describes what we know and understand about God, it doesn’t prescribe what God has to be like.

A little humility is needed here. I was just reading the last four chapters of Job in preparation for preaching and was reminded by God’s booming voice coming out of the whirlwind that even in our most profound moments, we don’t know squat. At our best we reflect back, in our limited, human way, what we pick up from God.

The theological pizza can be sliced in more than one way; wedges, squares or more, it’s still pizza. That doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways or more faithful ways to understand and talk about God, it just means that none of them ARE God. They are all human constructs trying to capture to something that they can only point at.

So what does that mean?

  1. Don’t let your theology or theological traditions limit your experience with God. Expect God to mess with them; stretch them; make you rework them. If you don’t think this applies to you, you’ve parked the car of your faith journey while the world is flying by.
  2. Be open to other people’s experiences and expressions of God. Their ideas don’t have to be ‘right’ (nobody’s are, remember!) to be an authentic voice for their wrestlings with God right now, and for you to learn something from.
  3. Value your doubts and tough questions and experiences as God’s way of helping you do #4.
  4. KEEP GOD BIG! Theology is a box, not the thing itself. We need its categories and explanations to be able to deal with and talk about God, but we need to remember that God doesn’t, can’t ever fit in it. So take the initiative yourself to find the bigness of God that breaks your system. This may be painful but you’re on the way to a breakthrough, not a breakdown!

Notes taken while re-inventing church – 01

What is Leadership today?

It’s not looking at the report of Protestantism losing it’s lead while the religion of None swells its ranks and saying, “Oh no, what can we do to get them back?”

Leadership is asking, each and every day, “How can we be church today?” and then trying to be it.

Do you see it NOW? from church to not-church

Laurie Goodstein reported on the Pew Research findings in the 10/9 New York Times (read it here) that protestants no longer make up a majority of the US population. What’s more, it is a rapidly changing trend. And it isn’t because people are switching churches. They are simply opting out.

The clanging bells and flashing lights of this warning might just get our attention this time. So, in case you couldn’t see it, hear it coming before, well… business as usual is coming to an end. We are staring face to face with the fact that what churches are doing is connecting with and engaging fewer and fewer people every year. And it isn’t because God has changed. People simply have not been experiencing sufficient relevance or value in churches to make them orient their world around them.

It’s time to get out from behind the safety of our institutions and doctrinal checklists and start being what we tried to define, describe and defend. It’s time to be the church. It’s time to make mistakes, build less, love more. It’s time to stop worrying about the orthodoxy of what we believe and how we do things, and to start risking the extravagance of living out love no matter what it looks like.

Maybe people aren’t leaving the church because they don’t believe in God, in fact the study showed that only a minority of those who have given up on church have also given up on God. They are leaving because they don’t see the church being big enough to hold what they believe God is. So they have left hoping to get a peek of God out in the immensity of the rest of life.

In case you were wondering, it looks like the stop arm is descending from the semaphore. It isn’t when or if things really need to change; it is time. Time to let God be BIG again. So big that God bursts the seams of church and we go spilling out all over the place. Those places all those people are. Those places where God already is.

Folks, this article… the way I see it, it’s good news.

When will the world change?

We have been talking and thinking and dreaming and doing justice the last six weeks as Jacob’s Well. It has been interesting. I know people who have started some pretty admirable endeavors, one person told me he wants to quit his job and open a communal house as a long term shelter for homeless people. Many have done nothing. There is no judgement, there is learning and watching and wondering.  This is hard stuff and the changes that could happen, that should happen will take time – more than six weeks.

One thing I relearned during this time is just how the world is going to change. I truly believe that God wants the world to change, to better reflect God’s intentions, love, hope and righteousness than it does. But it isn’t going to change because we change it. Really, I mean it! The world needs to change, we are part of the change, BUT that change doesn’t happen because we get around to making it happen. The world changes when we let God change us.

Gandhi’s quote is famous, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is as true as it is profound. What it doesn’t say is that even that change isn’t made by us. The world needs to be changed, and it happens when we are changed, but that change needs to come from beyond us. We cannot comprehend the nature or the scope of the change, we do not have the will nor the patience to make it. We have to let God do it.

Jesus talked about those who give up their life for his sake would find it (Luke 9.24). Paul talked about dying and rising to Christ (Romans ch.6). But how does that happen? How do we let God change us. This is hard to answer because sooner or later we get to something that we do. The difference is that this isn’t a matter of continually trying to manipulate ourselves or the world, but of simple dwelling in God. Being still, listening for God anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes getting away from the world to hear, other times diving into the world to hear. And when we notice anything – even the something-almost-nothing (1 Kings 19.12), letting God know we are afraid and don’t know how. And asking God to remake our hearts to receive the change we cannot make ourselves.

It is good to have a community of people who walk along with you when you try to let change like this start happening in your life. And when our communities become holy places wide open to this happening in and among them, this world is going to get changed.

ENDING POVERTY: Step 3 Sharing what is beyond sufficiency

Most people share from their leftovers, that means they don’t share much. The definition of ‘enough’ tells us we still need more. If that’s true, what are we going to share? It ends up being what we won’t miss. A couple bucks in our wallet (I use my cash card anyway), the change in my pocket (it isn’t really worth much after all), or maybe something that will be advantageous at tax time. The world won’t survive off the leftovers of those who can’t distinguish their need from their greed. The purpose of recognizing what is sufficient is that is allows us to choose what to do with the rest of our bounty. God has the life-giving idea that we share it!

We may want what is beyond our sufficiency, but others need it. Preventable forms of poverty and the illness, injustice, lack of opportunity, education and hope that come from it are just that – preventable. We can change them!

Sharing what is beyond sufficiency is also key because it isn’t only others in need who stand to benefit from our abundance. There are times and situations when it is us who need to rely on the abundance God has provided for us through someone else. When that time comes I bet we really hope that those others have understood and embraced the truth of sufficiency. What’s the best way of making that happen? Learning and practicing how to share what is beyond sufficiency ourselves right now.

Sorry Jesus, We’re Just Not That Into You?

Stephanie of Jacob’s Well – one of my inveterate combers of cyberspace sending me stuff I should have on my radar – sent me this article from Emily Bennington of the Huffington Post this morning under her subject heading, “Why Jacob’s Well matters.”

There is a lot more to the “why it matters” debate than moral discourse, but it important and is probably a good place to start. Particularly for those who have given up on church, God, faith and (without a doubt) religion. God matters. Faith matters. Jacob’s Well and others who are willing to wade out into the waters before they have fully parted… let’s go. We’ve got real, hard, honest work to do – there is a lot of wilderness between us and the Promised Land.

Here’s the link to the article. Sorry Jesus, We’re Just Not That Into You?

Most of us aren’t here yet!

We believe this with all our hearts. It’s got two sides to it.

One – “Jacob’s Well is mostly made up of people who aren’t here…” Jacob’s Well isn’t for or about ‘us.’ It is about and for the people God has called, the people God has in mind when God said, “Let there be Jacob’s Well.”

Two – “Yet!” We expect them to come, or better yet, we expect to go to them. It is one thing for us to know we are incomplete, it is another to believe that God is at work to fulfill us and for us to live and act in that expectation.

What is so amazing about this is how this is coming to life within the community as we prepare to launch our second site. The night before the first preview service the Board and spouses met for a social dinner together (it is a whole other story about how we could possibly afford to do that the night before our first preview!) and while we were talking about the journey that has been Jacob’s Well our chair noted how close we had all become and how much we had done together that we loved and were proud of. And (this is the clincher) that if it were not for Jacob’s Well no one in that room would have known anyone else (spouses excepted…)

The next morning, about 45 minutes before the first service was to begin at Longfellow, we gathered for last minute details and prayer. Our Site Leader who has only been around for about six months made a similar comment. He noted that most of us haven’t known each other very long but we were all here because of God’s work in Jacob’s Well. He asked us to think forward six months when this circle would be vastly expanded with people we by then knew, loved and had shared significant experiences with, but right now we don’t even know exist. And just imagine what we will accomplish, be and reach with them as the next layer of who we are.

God’s vision for Jacob’s Well may have started in my mind and heart, but it is contagious and owned by so many other people now. That giving away and ownership by others is the fulfillment of a vision. That is why I get up each morning to help Jacob’s Well remain faithful to it. And it tells me to start listening for the next stage of that vision.

Speak to the Pilgrim

winding-roadBeing the pastor of a church that was created to reach people who have given up on or don’t like church, I have to speak differently. I can’t assume Bible or theological knowledge, and even more so, I can’t assume “buy in.” People are skeptics or at least questioning. And since we aren’t just trying to get a batch of those folks in and up to speed so that we can  move on this is a permanent, not temporary, mode.

Here’s the question I get asked and struggle with a lot: How do you create a worship experience, especially the teaching/preaching part, that meets the needs of those totally new and even outside faith, and those who are now in and ready for more? Can you speak to both at once?

My answer: Yes you can, and here’s how. The temptation, and even the downfall, of many established churches full of established believers is to speak to where people are in their faith, and that creates a split between the different places people are spiritually. Lyle Schaller says this is what we call “preaching to the choir.”  Think about it… faith is process, it is either growing and changing or dead. In reality there is little difference between the person who is new to faith and the one who has a long history. We all have a long, long way to go.

I aim at the movement of my target; flying, not sitting ducks. I don’t preach to where any one (seeker or believer, if you want to use that language) is, but to the movement within them. We are all on a winding road that takes attention, practice, skill and grace. None of us can see down the road too far, and it should never be an option to stay where we are right now.

Preach to the pilgrim, the sojourner, the learner, the restless within each person and yourself. That is what we all have in common, it binds us together, and it is the place that God’s Spirit is most at work.

I’d love to hear the reactions of people who hear my preaching. Is this a concern or a frustration for you? What works or doesn’t work for you? I’d love to hear!

Other preachers… what do you think?

We know SO much, not TOO much.

Here’s another thought that grew out of our Missing God series at Jacob’s Well. We miss God not because God isn’t there, and not just because we don’t know where to look, but because we eliminate certain places as potential “Godspots.” Among the many reasons for doing this, one is close-minded, and even anti-intellectual. It turns its back on parts of learning because they might distract or lead us astray. It fears knowing too much.

Herodotus knew this much...

Herodotus created this map 2500 years ago. It certainly isn’t too much knowledge from our perspective. It is just enough for the  next step of discovery.  Millennia later Copernicus and Galileo had other maps and many people thought they were trying to know too much. But it wasn’t too much, it was barely enough. It allowed them, and eventually us, to know the universe better and consequently understand our relationship with God better.

There are those who would say we know too much today. We look skeptically at the stories of the Bible. We know about other world religions and forms of spirituality and human wholeness which aren’t typically associated with Christianity. That threatens people who fear the disruption of their understanding of God.  It is too much knowledge from this perspective.

The threat isn’t too much knowledge, it is not enough knowledge to fully know God. When we refuse to learn about God from all areas of revelation we get an incomplete picture of God and end up worshiping an incomplete God.

We don’t know too much, but we do know so much that we have a chance of knowing God better than we have ever known God.