Category Archives: Why Believe?

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.

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 Best News in the World!

This past Sunday [Feb 15, 2009 worship series Relationship911 at Jacob’s Well] I had everyone read this passage aloud with me. Ephesians 5.1-2. It’s The Message paraphrase. I knew it was strong, but when I heard everyone read it together the power of it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Read these verses. Slowly. Repeat.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Ephesians 5.1-2 (The Message)

In the evening I led the spoken word part of the service at The Source in Stillwater and we read it together again and it was even clearer. How can anyone NOT want to be part of this guy Jesus’ movement? How can you NOT want to be loved by this God?

Okay, it is The Message paraphrase and if you read these verses in a straight translation they aren’t quite so inspiring. But I did some careful comparison. The paraphrase captures the heart of what the Greek is trying to say, but does so in a way that speaks to the hearts of people today.

We have the best news in the world!

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.