Category Archives: church

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.

IMPACT!

We’re trying to increase our income at Jacob’s Well right now. Frankly, if we don’t we’ll have to do some serious cutting. I’m not worried about it, I have the sense that the community is ready to respond and the initial contacts I’ve had with people have borne that out. But this situation has forced me to think long and hard about the whole ‘money raising’ side of the church. It is awkward, easily manipulative and insincere. When I am asking people to increase their giving I have the possible double motives of trying to cover my own salary and maintain the church that I am familiar with. I.e., ask others to sacrifice so I don’t have to.

Some good hard wrestling and guidance by other very smart and ‘in it for the longhaul’ Jacob’s Well folks have taken me beyond that. Now I realize that it is all about impact (beyond all the also true statements of the spiritually benefits of learning generosity and gratitude to God). It is so hard to keep articulating the vision over and against the need, that is the purpose over and against paying the light bill. But what I’ve discovered is that giving to the church isn’t paying salaries, buying or renting buildings, it isn’t purchasing materials or anything else, it is resourcing the church to have impact.

We want our churches to have impact – in our lives, our communities and in the world. When we give money (or anything) to a church that uses it responsibly, we are resourcing it for impact. You do not pay a salary, you provide a highly trained (hopefully), passionate and hard-working person to go to work and make things happen; to equip leaders, to prepare contexts for growing in faith, for changing lives, for unleashing the faith of others. Things that God wants to have happen and aren’t going to happen by people who are busy with their own occupations, worlds of knowledge and expertise and homes and families.

Who doesn’t want their church to have more impact than it does already? Who doesn’t understand that an organization that has the people and resources to make things happen is going to have that sort of impact? Who doesn’t realize that this takes investment, and that God’s gift of our wealth is what gives us the ability to make that happen.

Don’t apologize for seeking to prepare your church for impact. And don’t expect your church to have it if you are not investing in it aggressively with all that God has given you: your time, your ability, your money.

Dreams come true!

You might think this is crazy, but I’ve fantasized about this for years and yesterday it happened! I’m in the office and the phone rings and there is a woman on the other end. [If you’re thinking this is a sexual fantasy… get your mind out of the gutter! 🙂 ] She tells me she lives close to our church and is only working part-time but can’t get enough hours. She is really short of money for rent, feeding her kids, paying bills, etc. some friend of hers told her Jacob’s Well was a church that could help her work out her finances.

Okay, so here’s the deal. We need help with our finances at Jacob’s Well! We are running a deficit every month in this recession are getting within a hair’s breadth of having to cut back on staff or something (don’t worry staff… you won’t find out about lay offs in my blog – I promise!).  So I tell her that and inform her right away that we don’t have money to hand out. However, we do take managing our money really seriously and do a lot of work with people in establishing budgets and dealing with debt. I was ready to hear the ‘click’ on the other end as she hung up. But no, she cuts me off and says she isn’t looking for money. She was calling in hopes of finding help so she could learn how to better live on the money she has. Wow… I just sat there. Finally I came to and told her I could have someone call her who could help and she was  thrilled.

Why is this so cool? One, somehow the word is out that we believe our money is a spiritual issue and that we really want to help people manage their money so it isn’t managing them and getting between them and God. And that person shared that message with another person. I’ve worked in churches a long time. I have dealt with more people who walked in the door or called on the phone  looking for financial help than I can count, but I have NEVER had this happen before.

Two, if that wasn’t enough… I was already on the phone and had to put that person on hold to take this woman’s call. The person I put on hold was the person who runs our budgeting and debt workshops. I talk to him maybe once every 2 months on the phone. Within 5 minutes I had them connected.

Okay God… maybe it is worth working this hard. I guess I can doubt myself once in a while, but maybe I don’t have to doubt you so often. You are making things happen. Thanks for the glimpse. I need it!

God exists, but does God do anything?

Okay, one of the driving factors for me to start a new church (read the Jacob’s Well story here) was that I didn’t want to have to choose between the existing options. This is true in nearly every aspect of the life of the church, but the one I am writing about here is the real and active presence of God. On the one-side you have people who see God everywhere. God is responsible for all the good stuff that has happened to them, and for getting them out of all the bad stuff. Strangely, this God wasn’t responsible for the bad stuff The precarious walk between the optionsin their lives, except for helping good stuff come from it. But this God is often seen behind the bad stuff that happens to other people as a sign of judgment on them. This is deus ex machina, the game playing God. Sorry, can’t do it.

On the other side is a tradition that has rationalized God so thoroughly that God has (as in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) disappeared in a puff of logic. God still exists, and is a wonderful force for good in the universe, but any suggestion of just where or when makes people very uncomfortable very fast. I guess I’m looking for more.

So, I don’t want to choose between those two options. I feel like God is an active force in my life and in our world, but I’ll be the first to admit that it is pretty difficult to pin it down. It is a faith thing. My experience with God can be very compelling for me, but it is for me. You need to have your own experiences that are compelling for you.

When churches just get good at being churches (which is quite possible) and lose the active sense of God – a real, credible, respectable and inspired sense – they are in danger of losing their soul. It may as well be another club that offers good things for life; not the stuff that changes life by turning it upside down and inside out. By the way, an active God doesn’t just turn people’s lives upside down and inside out, but does that to churches too! So I asked the Jacob’s Well Board, which is responsible for the well-being of our community, to spend some time thinking about how God is active in their lives. I gave them each a composition book and asked them to start keeping track of where God was showing up.

They were pretty good sports about it, it seems. But I admit it isn’t an easy assignment. Not as hard as making our budget balance, but pretty hard. It is going to take some thinking, and soul searching. I know that I have to spend a fair amount of time just thinking about what it means that God is active in my life before I start writing where God is actually there. But that’s me. And I’m hopelessly cerebral and skeptical and all that fun stuff that constipates faith.

So there is God Sighting #1.  My intellectual approach to life has had its veneer irreparably cracked to let God in. God did it. God does it. My heart knows God and teaches my head. It may not seem like a lot to you, but it is pretty clearly God’s work to me.

More Active God Coming… the dump truck of affirmation, and the desperation of Haiti. Stay tuned.

Oh, and thanks for reading – I’d appreciate comments.


Finding a church that meets my needs

Shopping Cart or part of the Body of Christ?For those looking for a church, or trying to decide if they are part of the right one or not, this is the question. “Does this church meet my needs.” It’s the right question, we just don’t understand what it means. We move into church life looking for music and a style of worship we like, programs that are about what we want them to be, good stuff for our kids (if we have them), a theology we agree with, people we would want to hang out with, and probably one that fits in our schedules.

Let me go on the record and say that I understand this. I’m not against this attitude. It is natural. It is the ‘looking for something’ part of people that gives a church the chance to say, “Let us help you with what you are looking for.” But it is also something that a church has to help people redefine sooner or later or we are all in trouble, unhappy and unsatisfied.

We should always be looking for a church that meets our needs, what we have to understand as we grow in spiritual maturity is that our needs need to change from things that fill us up, to things that we can do. It is the job of a church to help people see and begin to experience that they need their church because in and through it they can exercise their gifts. Our need is to be a functioning part of the Body of Christ, not a shopping cart. That we don’t get what we want (a theology and worship style I like), but what we need. That is, where faith is challenged, where we’re led to a deeper understanding of God’s role in our life and our role in the community and the world.

At Jacob’s Well when we tell people they can come as they are, we don’t just mean in jeans and t-shirts. We don’t just mean with your recovery, financial, relational, personal and whatever-al other issues. We mean as a consumer. Bring it. We’ll let it encounter God and see if that isn’t one more thing from which God will free you.

Hypocrisy

There is only one way to not be a hypocrite.

Quit claiming you aren’t one.

We are all hypocrites, it’s unavoidable. No one lives up to everything they believe in, practices everything they preach, or orders their life around all their values. Let’s be honest and quit pretending we’re perfect. Then when we aren’t spending all that time and energy in deception, denial and guilt we can actually start doing something about our dissatisfaction with being that way.

I am the pastor of a church FULL of hypocrites. We just try to be honest about it. I think it’s a great vision for a church.

Spong and “church alumni”

The former Episcopalian Bishop of the Newark Diocese is on to something. I was listening to an MPR Midmorning interview with him that Melissa – another of my media gleaners – passed on to me. Brilliant and honest man. He takes people who Jacob’s Well was created to reach seriously: people who recognize and value the dimensions of life that are commonly referred to as ‘spiritual’ but who don’t consider themselves religious.

We learned early on that one of the best descriptors of Jacob’s Well likely candidates is “given up on church.” John Shelby Spong uses the term “church alumni.” That is so poignant it hurts. People who started in or tried the church and ‘graduated’ from it. They may have been hurt or burned by it. Just bored or uninspired. But for many the sophistication of the rest of their life outstripped what the church presented and how it expected them to adopt their “Christian” identity.

There is so much more that they have never been awakened to.  Christ followers are life time learners who had best always admit that there is more that they don’t understand than that they do. That their doubts are really just peeks through the cracks of their present understanding towards something that might be deeper, truer, more authentic to the human/divine experience.

Like with any organization, alumni are a powerful force. It is a pity to cut them loose and not utilize their strength. At one level or another, Jacob’s Well seeks to be a powerful alumni organization that reconnects them and their current lives with all the assets, experiences, hurts, worries and needs they have accumulated. I like this. Thanks Bishop Spong. I’ve got to dig into some more of your books.

Listen to the interview HERE.

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?

“The Beginning is Near”

The indomitable Jacob’s Well “Get the Word Out” people keep coming up with more ideas about how to let their neighbors know they’ve got something they want to share. So to spread the news about Jacob’s Well expanding to the Longfellow neighborhood in south Minneapolis they started building these ‘snowfellows’ all over the place. Each holding the placard, “The Beginning is Near” and our web address.

I guess we aren’t a fire and brimstone church. We think that God is more promise and hope. And we think that is equally or even more so transforming than its gloom and doom cousin. We expect glimmers of the kingdom to appear all around us. In the joy and wonder of life, and in the pain and problems of life. We hold on to the crazy Jesus idea that nothing keeps God out.

So the end… who knows, I suppose it is always just around the corner. But the beginning… ahhhh… the beginning, it is upon us. Preach it snowfellows!

Maybe the name of this post should have been “Evangelism we can live with.”

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.