Category Archives: change

Leap of Faith

Jacob’s Well started a second service on its 1st anniversary.  That was Sept.2007, and the service is at 6 on Sunday evening.  All our study pointed at this as the time to do it.  It’s great, but poorly attended.  We didn’t launch it right, we pushed it, but only in the context of what we are already did that has tons of momentum.  Now it is time to relaunch it.

Since we don’t have unused money, resources, time or people to do the launch, there was only one option.  Use who we have already to launch it.  This not only gives us a several hundred person launch team, it reminds us why we are here in the first place – to be about what God is up to. That keeps us on target and helps us keep out of reach of the grasp of institutionalism.

So we are suspending our popular 10:30 am service for the 4 weeks before Easter to be about one, and only one thing as a community for those weeks.  Getting a couple 100 new people to Jacob’s Well for whom the 6 pm service will be normative.

I don’t know of any church who has ever done this, but I think it is a noble experiment that has to at least teach us to never do it again.  We will accompany the switch with a heavy dose of advertising in the area and a major push on getting out into the community to meet people, as well as encouraging everyone to invite others during this month.

That’s the short intro to it all.  See the COUNTDOWN on our website (upper right).  It is ticking down the moments  until we start the second venue on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.


Reading the Bible today


I’ve had some great conversations with some folks lately. I am continually impressed with the questions and depth of personal investment people have in what they are struggling with. Most who meet me to talk over a cup of coffee or an email are thinking about faith, and one of the regular themes is the Bible. How do we understand, use, believe that book?

Clearly the way the Bible has been treated as an “inerrant and infallible” writing come from God isn’t working anymore. Is the Bible less than it once was? Or is it less to us than it is among some churches who cling to those claims? Wrong question!

Truth has a different role today. In a world that is as pluralistic as ours and where assumptions are not just challenged everyday, but dumped on their head, authority and absolutes just aren’t what they once were. Frankly, I think the Bible is becoming more alive and, theologically speaking, is becoming more powerful as it steps down from its ivory tower and starts living with us. Are there rumblings of Jesus in that statement?!?! Hope so…

Jacob’s Well was founded on the conviction that the Bible is not only relevant, but it is foundational. THE writing among many writings that have true spiritual strength. But it isn’t an instruction book. It’s truth is mined, not just spread like frosting. It’s truth is contingent on our willingness and ability to subject ourselves to it, and to bring our lives into the story. Indeed, without application to our lives there is no truth there at all. Just writing. Or as I like to say, the ‘book’ itself, white pages with black (or red, ugh… I am not a fan of red-letter Bibles… another blog…) is the dead word of God. The living word of God is embracing the people behind and before the story; the telling of the story around the fire at night 1000’s of years ago, the gradual recording of it, the editing, the compiling, the translation, the reading, the interpreting, the sharing of it. This on-going process is where inspiration happens, every step of the way. God’s word is alive when, and only when, humanity and humans engage and wrestle with the writing this way.

That means the Bible is contextual.  This is not its weakness but it’s strength and we live in a world today that is willing and able to see that!  I contend that it is comprised of universal truths (as far as human words speaking from particular contexts can express them) and the application of those truths. Our task, to read and apply the truths, and to learn from the application of truths (not to mimic them). That puts us in the messy situation of deciding which is which, but what about living by faith isn’t messy?

I read Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed (, when I have time (he writes a lot!). A week or so ago he blogged the notes below that are very interesting. They talk(in ‘theologian-speak’) about what Jacob’s Well is built on. These are six points that he believes characterize the emerging church’ s relationship with the Bible and “the Story” of what the Bible is pointing to. He seems to think they are healthy trends. I’d add that they are both healthy and inevitable. Deal with them! Interestingly they come from both sides, i.e. they show how post-modern culture is putting ‘religion’ in its place to make room for the Real World, and also putting ‘modernism’ in its place to make room for the Story. Here they are:

1. De-throning science as the sole Story.
2. En-throning a subjectivity as part of the real Story.
3. Embracing a local story as part of the real Story.
4. Epistemic (that means ‘intellectual’) humility about what one concludes from the Bible.
5. Acceptance of myth and fiction as capable of truth-telling. (I really love this one! Watch for a worship series on this before too long!)
6. Admission of cultural influence on all texts, even the Bible.

Any comments from wrestlers? Or from people who think we’re not supposed to be wrestling? I’d love to hear from either… just gives me another thing to wrestle with.

Guiding Authentic Spiritual Growth

I looked at the last post [“Which is the greater danger?  Heresy or Blind Compliance”] and I had to say, “Let people make mistakes.”  I completely agree with the concept of letting people take ownership of their faith even though they will and do make mistakes.  And that ownership only happens when people learn for themselves.  But that word “for” is a big one.  It is “for themselves” not “by themselves.”

That means I don’t think it is helpful or responsible to let people wallow around in sloppy thinking or fall prey to deceptive thinking.  It happens too easily.

I’m going to start sketching out a formula for what I try to do, and I hope others will add comments and ideas and raise up examples that others have come up with.

One – Pray – The is a holy process that God’s Spirit is involved with.  It starts here, grows here and ends here.

Two – Scripture – Model a balanced approach to reading the Bible (primarily) and other writings.

Three – Vision – Supply vision for the purpose of faith and what it means to be a Christ follower in your context.

Four – Groups – Create and support opportunities for individualized learning and conversation.  Give general guidance to these experiences, but don’t manage them.

Five – Service – Encourage and give opportunities to people to practice what they believe.

Six – Listen – Leaders learn from what the larger body is discerning.  This allows the body to mature spiritually.

Start process over…

This was just a quick shot at the process… It is an inexact process and certainly full of holes.  Help me with them.  But then… maybe the holes are the faith part…

Spiritual Manipulation

I had a great conversation yesterday with a ‘jacob’s-well-checker-outer.’ He represents people whom I love to talk to because they are searching and critically discerning at the same time. They bring hope and skepticism to the table simultaneously. I see a lot of me reflected in such people.

One of the things we talked about is the danger of manipulation of people by religious organizations. There are certainly enough examples of it – Jonestown in Guyana comes to mind, but that is the extreme. The danger of manipulation comes from people allowing another person to tell them what to do or think. What happens at church can certainly fall into that category; people come looking for a ‘Word from God,’ and the leaders, often a pastor, offers to supply that Word.

Do I manipulate people? I want to say no, and I can confidently say that I never do it intentionally for purposes that are self serving, but that is where I have to ask just what the difference is between manipulation and inspiration. It is the church’s job to open people’s hearts, to lead them places they wouldn’t go otherwise, to touch their emotions. Is that manipulation? Is the difference between inspiration and manipulation the motivation behind it? After all, to manipulate literally means to alter something manually, with an intentional act. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t try to create that nexus between God and people andso that something happen there.

In my message tomorrow as part of our High Definition Living series I am talking about “God’s HD Signal” (forgive the comparison…). God’s ‘signal’ or message is different from others because of how much ‘bandwidth’ it holds, that is, how comprehensive it is in addressing all aspects of our lives. I’ll mention Jesus’ Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength.” God wants to get into every nook & cranny of us, and make us different.

I don’t want people to ever feel manipulated, but I do want people to feel moved – by God, through me, and the music, the community, the environment, everything. I guess we need to demonstrate transparency, ask people to not be passive receivers but to engage in the process, to test out what they experience at Jacob’s Well. And I need people to trust me. I know that I need to earn that trust. I don’t expect it to be given me just because I am ‘the pastor’ or the person up front. If anything, I see those things as barriers to gaining people’s trust because it removes me from their experience. I also need to ask people to risk. To be willing to be vulnerable to God’s work through our worship experiences and other places in their lives – not to turn off their brains or to live in a fantasy world, but to dare to see and experience things in a way in which they aren’t in control.

Wisconsin Dells

If you are in southwestern Wisconsin, by any chance, I’ll be keynoting a conference at the Kalahari Resort & Conference Center on Saturday, Nov 3 (9am-3pm). The conference is sponsored by the South Central Wisconsin Synod of the ELCA and is about helping congregations make the transition to attracting and keeping new generations who aren’t going to church right now. The title is actually “Are You Ready for What’s Next Growing Life-Giving Communities of Faith.More info.

I’ll paint the picture of the need for congregations to get out of ‘business as usual’ mode, but focus my time on laying out the paradigm of relevance and value needed and how it can be done in a way that can be contextualized. I’ll also be leading a breakout session called “From Unchurched to 2nd Time Visitor” to help congregations develop a heart and a strategy to reach and keep new people.

BONUS: Nate Bergengren and the band will be along as well. They will lead the opening and closing worship experiences and also provide a breakout session about how they understand and use music to reach people and connect people with the message of our worship service and each week and bring people into the presence of God. This won’t be just talk, they’ll show you! Many other breakout sessions by area church leaders will also be available. (Click ‘more info’ above.)

Anyone of any church background or non-background is welcome and I’m sure you can just show up, but I’d advise registering with the church office at or 608.270.0201. Hey, $20 will get you in and buy your lunch!

Building the Well

Jacob’s Well Well

The discussion about the form of a covenantal relationship between a person and a specific church (often packaged as ‘membership’) has stirred up a lot of talk.  I’m not surprised. This definitely needs rethinking and experimenting.  If you know of other churches doing this in innovative ways (that seem to be working or not) get me connected.  I’d like to learn from them.

I believe that as we grow in faith we move from being ‘at church’ to get our fill, and on through being involved to make sure the community delivers what I like, to the realization that I am there to not only meet my needs and preferences, but to build it for God’s purposes and so that others can receive what I have received.  Okay, a long, run-on sentence.  But those are important points and steps.

I like the idea that the bricks and mortar of Jacob’s Well are made of flesh and blood.  We are a community, not a building.  A movement, not an institution.  Yes, that is a strange and oblique reference to Christ, but I what really mean is that WE are Jacob’s Well.

Becoming part of the Well should be a process, not a moment.  It is about learning the vision, throwing your weight behind it and helping it to happen and evolve.  It is learning and engaging, not signing and accepting.  Perhaps it is a process that isn’t static.  Something that people reaffirm yearly.

One thing I know for sure, cf Michelle’s comments to “Who wants to be a member?”, is that there is no special status conferred by this step of commitment to the vision of jacob’s well;  such as availability to baptism (yikes!  that chases grace right out of the sanctuary!), the expectation of giving, serving, (heavens… we’ll take anyone’s money or help!), or getting on a mailing list (we try to keep in touch with anyone who might feel that jacob’s well could add something to their life.)  However the process of choosing to build the well with your own flesh and blood would be a time to help people discern what it means to give generously and sacrificially, to serve in ways that reflect who they are and serve God’s vision for this community, to move from anonymity to identification,  etc.

How do we do it?  I’ve been a church professional forever… one of my liabilities.  I try to get out of the box and sometimes I do, but often I just swap boxes.  Examine the role and importance of commitment, and tell me how you read this.   Thanks!

Don’t be a dip, be a brick

Okay, so that is a pretty flippant title, and probably not what we will say – even at Jacob’s Well, but I wanted to give you the sense of what I’m thinking.  Below is copy that is in our Sunday Paper (that is what we call the handout at our gatherings on Sunday.)


the Well

Been drinking from the Well for a while?  Figure you might have something to contribute to making sure the well is full for others?  Then it is time to not just be dipping from it, it’s time to help build the well.

Mark your calendars now.  On Saturday, November 10, 9-noon (wake up food and beverages, and childcare up to age 10 provided) we will have a special experience for people who want to do more than just dip, they want to build!

This is for everyone.  Whether you’ve only been coming for a few weeks but know this is home, or whether you were here when Jacob’s Well was just an idea.  Does this sound like membership?  Probably, but it isn’t about getting your name on the roles, it is ‘honest, real, thinking and casual’ like the rest of Jacob’s Well.  We think it is the next step you’re thirsty for!

Happy Birthday, Spirit Garage!


10 years old this weekend!

Back in 1997 when no one I knew had any idea how to start a new church in a dense, urban, eccentric neighborhood of people who were disillusioned by church, a few people had a vision and a few were crazy enough to try it.  Spirit Garage was born in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis.  They pioneered trails that many of us, years later, have followed without having to bushwhack.  The emergent church of today has a debt of gratitude to the leadership and larger community of Spirit Garage!  No, they haven’t found all the answers, but they broke the ice, they said it was possible, they had fun, the gave legitimacy to what many were afraid to express and try.  And 10 years later they are still here.

This Sunday at 10:30 they will celebrate at their venue, the Music Box Theatre, the life they have had over these years.  But if I know them as well as I think I do, they will really be celebrating the life they hope to embody in the years to come!

So, go get your oil changed and consider it a toast to Spirit Garage.  I tip my radiator cap to Rob Norris-Weber, Ryan Torma and John Kerns (Kernsy) and the many mechanics who keep the community tuned up.

And while you are at it, send them a donation to build the next decade with!

Spirit Garage – the church with the really big door
4100 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55409 

Note: Spirit Garage is sort of our sister congregation.  They were started as an outreach ministry of the same congregation that birthed Jacob’s Well, Bethlehem Lutheran Church.   Hats off to them too, this is a great day celebrating their vision having come to life.  Spirit Garage continues to be an arm of Bethlehem, but with complete creative and organizational autonomy.  Jacob’s Well is an independent congregation (they didn’t want us anymore… 😦 )

Being Christian is not a good thing anymore! KNOW THIS STUDY

Kinnamon’s ‘UnChristian’The Barna Group has just published a study that we all need to pay attention to.  I first heard about this research from Brian McLaren a year and a half ago and it helped me focus the shaping of Jacob’s Well.  This study of 16-29 year olds shows how this generation, more than any preceeding generation is not only uninvolved and uninterested in Christianity, but actually views Christianity and the church as a negative.  The subtleties are important, but the overall trend cannot be ignored.

A good question (and I’d like to see some conversation around this) is whether it is even worth trying to convince the “given up” (a Jacob’s Well term) generations that our language, structures and traditions need to be picked up, or is it time to invent new modes of being church and move on?  It is a little hard to ignore the comparison to the controversy among the Apostles (Acts 15) over whether Gentiles should have to be circumcised or not… whether nonChristians should have to learn to like organ music (an ironic comparison, sorry), whether new believers with new questions of God should have to confess faith in ancient creeds that were answers to ancient questions…

You can read a great summary of this in the Sept 24 The Barna ReportIf you are a church learner, subscribe to this!

Kinnaman’s book UnChristian is the full report of the study.  I’ll blog a review when I finish it.

“Deep” & “Shallow”


Okay, here is another one I’ve heard recently and has been reported to me by other church leaders trying to transition congregations into more intentional, discipleship oriented directions. “When will we get into deep teaching?” Operative term here is “deep.” I’ve asked people what they mean by this, and pretty much across the board they mean ‘heavy duty Bible Study’; a sermon that just keeps digging away at the text and unpacks its meaning.

I don’t disagree, there is something very deep about that, and being a bit of an insufferable academic myself, I can and do get into it. But to me the real meaning of deep isn’t only how far we get into the text, but how far we let the text get into us. If we keep learning and learning, but don’t spend time living out what we have learned, then ultimately that was all pretty shallow.

I believe in digging into the message of Jesus, exploring how to apply it, practicing that, and then letting that whet our appetite for more learning – either because what we have tasted made us hungry for even more, or because trying to implement it into our lives made us realize how much more we need to know.

One of the dangers of the church, and one of the reasons the church has lost relevance and value for younger generations, is that believing has been a head thing, not a life thing. Going to church or Bible studies are important, but it doesn’t make us look more like Christ or change the world.