Category Archives: precarious

Baby Jesus with a full set of teeth

dangersignOn Sunday, Dec. 14, at Jacob’s Well I was exploring what it meant that the magi (or kings or wisemen) – a bunch of outsiders – knew that “the king of the Jews” had been born, but no one inside knew it.  [Read Matthew 2] Interesting… in fact Herod not only didn’t know, but when he caught wind of the possibility he used that information to try to stop it.

I commented that, at its worst, the church does the same thing. The institutional church is humanity’s plot to acknowledge God, because it can’t do otherwise, but to de-claw and render God harmless. It doesn’t want God upsetting what it has going.

Then I shared that it is the hope of Jacob’s Well, and the need for every person who is part of it, to make sure that God is allowed to be dangerous. To let the pregnancy of God’s advent turn our world upsidedown and never leave things the same.

The infant Jesus is a beautiful and gentle sign, but it is important to remember that he had a full set of teeth. He meant and still means business. We want to be the kind of church that lets God be dangerous.

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“Building” – A verb, not a noun for churches!

A blog I check out periodically called “Struggles with Faith” had a great posting that echoes our thinking at Jacob’s Well (see my April 2 post, “Irresistible Revolution – 2“) about the purpose of a building and WHO, not WHAT, the real ‘church’ is.  “Struggles'” posting is “Is God Done with the Church?”  Here is the link,

Two thoughts that it triggered in me that I want to add to Precarious Pastor are:

1. From both a conceptual and a practical perspective it may not make sense for churches – that is, communities who gather as a body to follow Christ – to have buildings.  Let the bricks & mortar of the temple continue to be the flesh &  blood of the sons and daughters of God.  (John 2.12-22)  I’ll throw this notion out to whoever is listening… er, reading… I’m sure to make someone mad with this…

To have a building should be the exception, not the norm.

Only churches who cannot meet the daily needs of their ministry through shared spaces should ‘resort’ to having their own.  The situation today is clearly the opposite.  Having a building is the norm and, in fact, legitimizes the church (or perhaps ‘the institution’).   I’d love to hear a congregation say, “Well, i’m afraid we’re going to have to do it… I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to build something.”

2. Churches should be 7 day a week communities.  (Anyone hear echoes of Lyle Schaller’s 1992 book, “The Seven-Day-A-Week Church”?) But the point isn’t to use your building 7 days a week (although if you have a building, I suppose you would feel like you need to in order to justify it.  Therefore go back to point #1).  The point is that the church (i.e. the people!) should be the church everyday, everywhere.  Those that claim that community as their checkpoint of growing towards God should see themselves as such all day, every day.  Not just half days on Sunday.

“Building” should be what churches do, not what they have.  A verb, not a noun.  Building faith, building character, building community, building bridges, building lives.  Building a building?  Only when you’ve exhausted all other options.

Sailing anyone?

Sail to Sunset

Sailing is at least as deep as life…

I long ago learned two things. My most powerful ministries will come from one of two places… my deepest hurts and my deepest passions. I can talk about the hurts some other time, right now I’m into passions! Sailing is a biggy for me and my ability to use it to connect with people and to connect people to the real stuff of life, the world and faith has been one of the most treasured things I get to do.

Interested in an adventure? We will have a Jacob’s Well trip sailing the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior Friday, June 20-Sunday, June 22 (arrive anytime on Thursday, June 19). You don’t need any previous sailing experience, or to be a Jacob’s Well person to come along – just to be interested in an experience of a lifetime.

See a video teaser and find more information HERE.

Beyond the Crazy and the Anti

Scary Jesus (Picture by Ryan Kelly, printed in the City Pages.)

Boy, people who think God matters and are willing to cast aside the mindsets that are so deeply set, like the twin ruts a tractor leaves on a muddy road, sure have a big job ahead of them. But before I get into that I say welcome back to any readers… it has been a LONG time since I’ve posted here… My only excuse, and my least favorite, is being too busy. Everyday brings great stuff to me that I want to blog on… and the month passes by.

Back to the tire ruts.

The Twin Cities free distribution newspaper City Pages has a cover story in their most recent issue (March 5, 2008) called “Jesus Weekend: When teens encounter Christ, all hell breaks loose,” by Matt Snyders.  It is no surprise that an edgy, urban newspaper geared towards the young professionals would be willing to be looking for a potshot or two about religion.  What this article represents is the antagonism towards organized religion that most of the younger generations (can I say most people under 60?!?)  That is the one tire rut.

The other is what they are reacting to.  The conservative, save your soul attitude that is so prevalent in Christian circles.  The article is about a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) weekend retreat.

As a new church that is trying to re-invent church to be authentic to what Jesus said and did, and to who people truly are today, I don’t want to fall into either of these well worn ruts.  In fact I would hope to help people out of each.  Can we represent a reason for people to climb out of their cynicism of what it means to be a community that seeks to follow Jesus?  Can we help people escape easy answers, formulaic ways of being recognizably ‘Christian’ or ‘saved’ in order to live the messy and lifelong pursuit of knowing and reflecting God?  I think so.  But the ruts are so deep, that it is hard to let people know we aren’t in one or the other, or to keep people from insisting that if we aren’t in their rut, then we are automatically in the other one.

I don’t want to just be in between the ruts, I want to leave them behind.  UnLearn them.  Rise beyond them.

Let me give credit to those I’m reacting to… Matt Snyder did a good job in his article. He was willing to experience it all and didn’t take sniper shots from the safety of his office.  He also was willing to acknowledge the good that came from the weekend.  His last paragraph, if nothing else, concedes this.  And his skepticism is well-founded.

TEC is also the means of good people intending to do good things.  They are taking time, energy and money to deal with a generation of young people who, in so many ways, have lost their rudders.  They do some good work and are not the only ones who aren’t perfect.  Until we have replaced their efforts it is hardly fair for us to say they shouldn’t be doing what they feel is right.  No one is forced to go (except perhaps someone sent by a consenting parent.)

That said, let us find ways to live out this calling where God matters with relevance and honesty.

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…

Which is the greater danger?

Heresy or Blind Compliance

Which way

Last Sunday, in talking about what it means to know Jesus, I talked about the ways it happens. There are a few obvious choices; like worship, the Bible, prayer, community.  But I offered a small stretch in ‘nature,’ saying that God wove patterns into creation that remind us of God’s truths for us.  Often these expressions capture God’s truth better than our words.  Then I took it a step further and offered that we get to know Jesus through ‘other writings and teachings.’  I said that something doesn’t have to be stamped ‘Christian’ to teach what God wants us to know.  Indeed, it could be far from God’s truth and still bear have the label.

I expected some phone calls and emails for that and was pleasantly surprised that all I got was a few thanks for saying it.  It is very consistent with our Jacob’s Well core values, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but it may just mean no one was listening…

God’s truth is what lies behind and in all that exists.  As such it is so big we can’t hide it forever.  It oozes out of every pore in our world, often especially where we least expect it.  That doesn’t mean that all things are good or helpful.  Much is not.  What is so important is that we don’t need to be afraid.  We can look and learn anywhere and everywhere.  Let Christ be the filter.  Trust the Spirit to guide us, and to rescue us from our errors.  Keeping ‘in the box’ of Christian teaching has certainly never prevented heresy in the past.

The point isn’t that Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, humanism, etc. is right or wrong, but rather that God is so big that God’s truth can’t be hidden forever.  Different cultures, perspectives, languages, eras will inevitably express and hide God’s truth in ways that are novel to us.  Don’t be afraid, that’s the key.  Be humble, admit mistakes, don’t try to justify what isn’t working and keep the heart of the Bible at the heart of your searching.

Decisive, but not Devisive

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The same conversation as sparked my last entry also ventured into this topic which is very key for us at Jacob’s Well. We don’t just need a new kind of church for the sake of relevance, but because the church has become so polarized here in the United States. Whole denominations decide what and how they will do things not based on their core values and theology, but in order to not be confused with churches they don’t agree with (and feel threatened by – that’s another story).

Something I think my ‘mainline’ tradition has been missing is decisiveness. That is, ‘Why follow Jesus?’ What does it matter, what difference does it make? We associate the decisiveness of faith – a core message of the Gospel, God does make a difference – with the way some very fundamentalist churches have played it out; only being concerned with ‘saving souls,’ with drawing lines of who is ‘Christian’ and who is not. We don’t want to define whom loves by excluding people (homosexuals, non-born-again’s, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, other denominations, etc) so we don’t talk about what it is that God calls us to at all. We just talk around it, we make it ‘easy’ and that is different than making it the greatest and biggest investment of our lives. We also haven’t found ways to articulate how God might be at work in other faiths and other lifestyles that are ‘foreign’ to us without gutting what is decisive about our faith. We’ve left ‘decisiveness’ to others, but it doesn’t belong to them alone, it belongs to all who seek to ‘take up their cross’ and follow Jesus.

It is time to claim decisiveness back. We can affirm the decisiveness of our faith without creating unnecessary devisiveness. We don’t have to decide whether Buddhists will go to hell or heaven, whether homosexuality is a sin or not. Face it, God hasn’t asked our opinion on these issues and God hasn’t asked us to judge each other. Rather, to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4.15), witness to what God has shown us (1 Peter 2.9) and let those seeds take root in people’s lives trusting God’s Spirit to be at work (Matthew 13). To be honest about our own need for forgiveness, redemption and transformation (1 Corinthians 15.9-10).

We can be decisive – we have the greatest news and the greatest relationship in the world that changes us whether we want it to or not – without being devisive – our job is to let people know they too are children of God, not how much God has judged them,

This is a precarious position to hold, and I’ve been taken to task for it before. What I find so compellingly Christ-like about it is that it depends of God’s power of transforming our lives and forgiving our mistakes rather than our ability to conform people to what we think they should be like to be “Christian.”

One of our core values at is to Focus on the mission that unites, not details that divide – We value unity and diversity.” This holy balancing act is a good example of that value and I see it happening at Jacob’s Well.