Archive for the ‘Finding Your Way Out’ Category

Sometimes It’s Right Under Your Nose

Posted on: September 20th, 2016 by Wayne Jacobsen 2 Comments

I realize her experience does not speak for all congregations, but it does speak for many. Performance and guilt so easily replace love and grace, even if they still talk about love and grace. This is from an email I got a few weeks ago:

I also would like to thank you for sharing your journey as your podcasts and books, especially Finding Church, have been such a relief for me. I have a somewhat amusing story to share about how Father led me to you. I had been unable to attend ‘church’ for a few years for health reasons and discovered that I grew closer to Father than ever before during that time away. When I recovered I spent years struggling with the “yuk” factor as I searched endlessly for a local church congregation.

It seemed every time I went to church it was as if a big wedge was driven between me and Father. I’d find myself automatically back in “performance mode” and hyper focused on all of my behaviors (not surprising as I have found in my personal adventures that most well-meaning sermons while mentioning the word “grace” go right into a lecture on sin, doing the devil’s dirty work for him, and missing the forest for the trees when it comes to the Cross). It felt like I had just spent years digging out of a grave to freedom only to have dirt shoveled back over me each time I entered a church building. (but) I still assumed God must want all of His children in a local church and spent years searching for a congregation and praying and waiting for God to choose the ‘right church’ for me and my family (all the while struggling with guilt, pressure and judgment from church goers).

Long story short, I finally was getting so weary and burned out and confused in this ‘church search’ that I felt at the end of my rope with the subject and let Father know it. I told Him wherever He told me to go I would go, even if I felt sick to my stomach the entire time…that the choice was entirely up to Him and I needed His answer fast. Well, it was then that He led me to realize that He hadn’t been ignoring my question the whole time but answering it. I started to realize that I had never been “out” of His church, and I was where He wanted me to be the entire time I was searching. I was so busy assuming what Father must want that I was blinded to any other possibility.

Soon He led me to your books and podcasts as further confirmation, and I was so relieved to find out I wasn’t all alone and that so many others had gone before me and experienced so many of the same challenges. I praise Him that I have FINALLLY ‘found church’, bringing me the peace I was so desperate to find, and for people like you who openly share their journey.

What Do You Do When You Can’t Play the Game Any Longer?

Posted on: September 30th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen No Comments

Ellen was part of a legalistic congregation and even though she could jump through the hoops she never felt like it brought her closer to God. Then she discovered that God was not someone she had to perform for, but one who loved her even in the most difficult times. That simple discovery suddenly made her religious practices seem irrelevant, and sometimes incredibly hurtful to others. Now she’s caught between two worlds, a love growing in her heart and a religious institution at odds with that journey.

If you missed my blog post of her email to me early this week at Lifestream.org, you can read it here. It is a story of great discovery and honesty and made all the more fascinating because it is still unfolding.

One Couple’s Transition

Posted on: April 24th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 2 Comments

openwindowI spent a couple of hours with Josh Packard yesterday, recording over 70 minutes of our conversation about his research into those who have given up on the congregational model of Christian community and yet continue with a vibrancy of faith that finds community with others and meaningful ways to touch the world. His book, Church Refugees will be out June 1 and our conversations will air in early May at The God Journey.

The way people come to that point are vast and varied. I always find it encouraging to see how people are navigating that reality and especially how couples work it out together. This is an encouraging story that Susan shared with me about the journey she and her husband are on. I share it with their permission:

My husband and I find ourselves in a place we never imagined, but somehow we are filled with such gratitude. You have played some part in that.

My husband, Kevin, had been feeling for some time something was missing at “church”. He felt a gnawing ache for more – more community, deeper intimacy, less programs and more relationships. One Sunday morning as I was getting ready for church, I noticed that he wasn’t getting dressed. When I asked him what he was doing, he responded, “I am taking a break to figure things out.” That break turned out to be a two year experience and continues today. To say it has been painful would be an understatement, but God is bringing beauty from broken places.

I, on the other hand, continued my church driven life, singing on the praise team, teaching Bible Study, being there whenever the doors were opened and even when they weren’t. I loved the “church” and couldn’t imagine my life apart from it. The idea was unfathomable. Doing church alone was difficult but watching the pain in my husband was even worse. That pain only intensified when no one from our church pursued him or even called for those two years.

Six months ago on one of our evening walks, Kevin said in passing, “I would hate for anyone to go through this. I wish I had it figured out. Perhaps it would be a little easier if I wasn’t doing it alone.” It was at that moment I heard his heart and made a decision to leave our church of 15 years to be with him.

Coincidentally (not), we had already pre-ordered a copy of Finding Church from your ministry. When it arrived, we went away for a couple of days to the mountains and read it to one another. We cried, we scratched our heads, and we laughed. But most of all, we felt hope.

Wayne, we are seeing more and more that life with Christ is organic, not clinical or institutional. It can’t be manufactured because it is living and breathing and it involves people. When we do try to sanitize or control it, it has no life.

We are still on the journey of finding the church that before us – our neighbors with the two precious little boys and a newborn, our grown children, our friends. We now have more time to be available for what is really important – people. I am happy to say that the greatest relationship that has developed is between Kevin and me. We have found a deeper love for one another and have enjoyed our weekends reading, hiking, drinking coffee, and sharing our hearts. Leaving church was one of the most painful things we have ever done, but the beauty of the life we are living blows me away. We are trusting God to lead us and are excited about our todays and our tomorrows.

Thank you for writing Finding Church and thank you for all the time you invest in people as you travel the country, allowing them to ask questions, being there for conversation not for a lecture. I have been the blessed recipient of your time when you visited Charlotte, NC

This is a real story of two people finding their way to greater life and light. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t smooth. Neither forced the other to do what wasn’t in their heart to do, but love and connection drew them into decisions that not only enhanced their relationship to each other, but also to a beauty of life they never knew existed. Following the road less traveled, is never easy and hardly ever without pain, but no one who has moved from being programmed in a system to connecting with God and people more relationally ever regrets the pain that was part of that journey. Living free, even though it takes some time to find our legs as we learn to live differently is always worth it!

Is Church Attendance Mandatory?

Posted on: March 9th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 12 Comments

moodyOn Saturday I was a guest on Moody Radio’s Up For Debate radio show discussing “Is Church Attendance Mandatory?” (Yes, you can still listen to it on their website or by podcast.) It was a difficult show to do because the host seemed reticent to let a conversation happen among the three of us and my fellow-guest kept throwing proof texts out without really listening. But I guess the question demonstrated that anyway. There are so many problems with a question like, “Is Church Attendance Mandatory?” Why is church about attendance at all. It’s a family not a meeting and there are many ways to assembling with others in our hearts is far more important than sitting in a meeting together. And since the new covenant is about doing what we do out of love, why the mandatory language at all?

Those who seek to make “church” attendance an obligation do so on the basis that we all need to live under authority of some leader to hold us accountable and to discipline us when we go astray. The man on the show with me even tried to say the leaders should intervene and met out discipline if a father gets upset with his child. Really? That’s what “leaders” are for, to meddle in personal affairs, punish people who don’t conform and decide who is a true believer and who is not? Why do they cling so tightly to a distorted interpretation of Hebrews 10:25 as the prooftext for their position and ignore Mark 10:42, Hebrews 8:10-11, or I John 2:27, which are unequivocal in denying these “leaders’ the very authority they demand for themselves? (Texts quoted below)

I’m sorry, that’s not a “church” I want any part of.

Look I get the problem. There’s a declining market for our religious institutions and that scares the willies out of those whose livelihood depends on the business model that undergirds it. I remember the things I used to defend when my income was derived from a local congregation. It obscures your thinking more than you know. But to double-down on the mandatory card is to ignore the reality of the Incarnation, the nature of the new creation, and the identity of his church growing in the world. If whatever we call “church” is not as engaging as Jesus was on the planet, then maybe we’re not talking about his church. You don’t have to obligate people to that.

But I was most shocked at the quotation the host used at the end to justify her position: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the church for his mother.” This has got to be the stupidest thing ever said by one of the early church fathers, Cyprian of Carthage who died around 258 AD. He may have said some other wonderful things, but by this time he was the Bishop of Carthage and struggling to enforce “church” authority over others. His statement has always bothered me because if we as God’s children are his church then how can we be our own mother? The church cannot be our mother if it is our siblings, with Christ as it’s head. It perhaps would be better said that we cannot have God as Father without having Jesus as our head! I’d go with that.

As far as I know Cyprian’s statement is one of the first that redefined the church from an “us” to an “it.” And “it” is over us as a mother demanding our obedience and conformity. And who is the “it” that Cyprian refers to? It is the Pope who sits on the Chair of St. Peter The whole quote from Cyprian’s treatise, The Unity of the Church (De unitate ecclesiae) says: “if a man deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, does he think that he is in the Church?” (iv.); “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother; . . . he who gathereth elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ” (vi.); “nor is there any other home to believers but the one Church” (ix.).

Only 250 years since Christ was here and the freedom of the new creation had been fully crushed by the institution that dared to call itself “the church.” And it is even more distressing that a Protestant in our day would appeal to that quote, since it’s context is that the Chair of Peter is the “it.” They are already out of compliance of the mandatory allegiance to which the statement alludes. And when Protestants claim the same conformity to their systems

Wow! Only 250 years since Christ was here and the freedom of the new creation had been fully crushed by the institution that calls itself “church.” And yet that mentality undergirds our protestant “churches” as much as it does the Roman “church”. If you don’t come to our meetings and join our membership you are excluded from Christ and his salvation. How can one know God as Father and end up so far afield? And why would they be so convinced of it that they would damn any who disagree with them?

Isn’t our life in Christ demonstrated by the fruits of his Spirit borne in the way we love and treat others rather than submitting to the demands of those who have no understanding of the importance of the Incarnation itself, or the work of the cross?

That freedom is worth fighting for. It is worth risking the anger and judgment of those who seek to steal that freedom to make it clear that you follow Jesus by following Jesus, not by following anyone who says you have to follow them to follow Jesus.

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Mark 10:42-43 Jesus said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.”

Hebrews 8: I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

I John 2:27: You do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Awakening In A Different World

Posted on: March 5th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 5 Comments

openwindowIn the last blog, A Pharisectomy in Progress Julie shared about being so disoriented in the process of learning to live in the new creation. It IS very disorienting when you discover that the way you’ve been living our faith has not more deeply engaged you to the Father of affection. But it is a marvelous process to awaken out of the frustration and futility of the old creation and begin to hope for something new and real, even if you can’t quite gasp it yet. It is hard for many not to rush back into their old performance mode when they begin to feel insecure at the lack of activity. It is like detoxing from religious thinking and religious obligation that seeks to earn what Father has already made a gift.

I appreciated Julie writing and many others who have responded to that blog and the many it has encouraged. Anne, a friend of mine from the UK tried to respond, but for some reason her comment wouldn’t post on the blog. She asked if I’d post it for her, but instead of adding it as a comment, I wanted to make it it’s own entry so people wouldn’t miss it. Anne also wrote, The Church Rising, in an earlier posting. One of the great joys of this journey is watching brothers and sisters who’ve been through this process encourage others who are having the same questions they wrestled with earlier. This encouragement is an amazing gift that the bride shares as she takes shape in the world.

Dear Julie (and so many others who are in this process),

How you are feeling, what you have experienced is wonderful and aweful and freeing and disorientating and so many other feelings all rolled up into one big “WHAT THE ___(fill in the current acceptable Christian expletive)___!” of pain and confusion and delivery.

I utterly get your email to Wayne. As will so many others who have listened to “The God Journey” who have read Finding Church, who have suddenly found there is something SO MUCH MORE than living in a cliched “Christian” stepford world. When you suddenly find out that performance in that world is not going to cut it anymore, that unless you are performing your fingernails off every second of every minute of every hour of every day and most nights, you are just not going to make the grade expected of you… everything in that world starts collapsing and you start seeing the ugly, sad, cringing little god/wizard behind all the levers and pulleys that had kept you enthralled for so many years. God?! Where is God, surely he is not this pathetic creature you suddenly see before you? The not so great and terrible wizard of Christendom?

When I began to understand grace and grasp it was no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, I had this part explained to me in good theological terms as my “Concept of God” being a little off! HA! In my opinion it was more than a little off. It was way off to the right (or left) and tethered there by those who had sought, however intentioned, to keep me under control of whatever sort. I dont blame them now, I feel incredible compassion for those who have been fobbed off with a lie for generations, and so put so much effort and energy into trying to do the fobbing off themselves, when I am sure they had the same scream from the inside saying “ABUNDANT LIFE!!??!!?? THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING MORE” but had to get back on the hamster wheel because. well they just had to.

I felt the same exasperation as you, having also been the “good christian girl”, having the christian flesh taped onto rebellious bones so that it looked good, worship leader, pastors assistant, children’s worker, name it claim it gab it and grab it, it was all there, but like Paul I suddenly had this “awe filled” revelation of the utter DUNG that this was… so now what!!
But worse that that, if this god I had had thrust down my christian throat for all these years was a lie then where was the truth? If God wasn’t a parody of the wizard of Oz then who was he…?

You have experienced a birthing, a messy, painful, bloody battle of moving from one reality to another and it can be a long labour (especially when like many of us you have spent 30 odd years in an old and tatty womb) and an utterly disorientating time when you hit a world that is NOTHING like the world you left behind, where LOVE saturates the air you suddenly have to breath, and it seems to take forever to get the gunk of the old world out of your airways and lungs.

The Holy Spirit is the midwife, the Doctor, the specialist in bringing to birth the new creature in Christ, and as you begin to breath in this Kingdom, as your airways become clear and the life and love of the God of this Kingdom flood your being, you will BECOME so aware of your belovedness, so completely enthralled with Him, He is your beloved and you are His…

I know it seems impossible that the above is true when you are in the grip of the transition and it still seems dark, But the true God of wonder and Mystery is a master of this birthing, and He will bring you through into the abundant life that he always meant you to have, into the true uniqueness of your new creation self in Christ, beloved and whole and glorious… I promise, because I know Him now to be True as do so many others here.

One day you will pick up your Bible again. and as you start journalling again you will be astounded at what comes from your pen (or keyboard) as this new life leaps out onto pages of written words. As Wayne, says, RELAX beloved, the true and real God of our very existence has this and will bring you through. Although every birthing is different, for me, on a practical level I had to make time, make space to allow myself to go deep, to discover who this new creature was, and to discover who this God was who loved her. And. He. Was. Faithful to the uttermost—he will also be for you.

Paul is my mentor in this, He got it!

Rom 11:33. Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God….36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things….

Paul got the boundless endlessness that there is IN Christ. While we skirt the edges of what there is available IN Him he cries out for us to just dive right in. He is not standing aloof checking us for mucky shoes or dirt under our fingernails, he is down on his knees at our level hugging us close capturing our hearts and pulling us into the very centre of his Being. Oh the depth of the riches and of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God.

He continually breaks my heart with his beauty and mends it again with his grace and compassion and mercy so it is bigger and brighter and utterly inhabited by Him. Then he does it again.

Eph 3:8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

Dive in Beloved, Dive in. His riches are unsearchable.

Matt’s Painful Journey to Life

Posted on: January 9th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 1 Comment

steepleI often receive links to blogs where pastors accuse those of leaving the congregation as being selfish and rebellious, taking the easy way out instead of remaining committed to the church in their locality.  I get why they feel that way but demanding that people keep attending out of obligation alone may point to their own frustration with a failing model.  Leaving is rarely easy, rarely done for selfish reasons and almost always was a choice of last resort after exhausting every hope of the congregation becoming more spiritually vital.  It’s far easier just to keep going through the motions and not suffer the judgment of close friends and family. But the unrelenting call to experience the life of the new creation even if it has to go beyond the borders of institutional Christianity as they’ve known it causes people to make choices that are difficult and painful.  The process of discovering a more authentic life in Christ can be arduous and painful, but the fruit of doing so yields such incredible fruit that no one who finds it ever regrets the process.

Here is Matt’s story, which he sent me last week.  It underlines the points I’ve made above and I hope encourages others to follow their heart rather than to stay faithful to a process that is doing more to undermine their hungers.  If you too are exhausted by the performance treadmill and hopeful that there is a vibrancy of faith and community still available today risk the road less traveled.  It may be difficult and even painful but in time it will yield the fruit of righteousness:

I met you a couple years ago at a gathering shortly after an incredibly painful transition out of full-time ministry. I was the disheveled and disillusioned guy with dark circles enveloping bloodshot eyes void of any sparkle or life. My wife and I had very recently crashed and burned after years of perpetual sprinting on the hamster wheel of religious service, sacrifice and performance. For months we had wrestled with God and each other over the traditions, beliefs and duties that were driving us to exhaustion and despair. Desperate to find rest and regain our physical and emotional health, we made the excruciating decision to resign, leave the congregation, and pursue the healing and restoration our family needed. We had little idea the backlash this would cause, or how long and agonizing a season of sorrow it would usher into our lives. For months we struggled to stay afloat in a turbulent sea of pain, loss and separation. I thought I understood the difficulties our transition might bring, but in the end discovered that nothing could prepare us for the intense swirl of shame, judgment and confusion that would hang over our lives like a thick, dark fog.

But little by little the fog began to dissipate and the winds died down. As the months went by, we discovered that on the other side of deep, searing pain can be healing, freedom and new insights in life. One of the greatest gifts in our lives has been a small circle of friends that has walked with us down this dark road. Having experienced the same downward spiral that religious performance produces, these amazing fellow travelers have dolled out the love, acceptance and empathy we so needed, but that is so difficult to find in the scale-balancing systems of hierarchal institutions. These friendships have proven to be what we all needed to heal and move forward. He has been so faithful to walk us through the fire and deep waters into a place of new abundance. In 20 plus years of faithful Sunday service calisthenics, my wife and I never experienced the freedom, rest, and authentic friendships we now enjoy. I never knew Sunday mornings could be such a joy, or relationships could be so free. Wrestling through our hopes and fears together has been such good therapy, and we are learning to treasure and enjoy one another just as we truly are, warts and all, good and bad, deeply loved even in the midst of our immaturity and crap. This level of relationship has birthed a level of courage and transparency I didn’t know I possessed and had never experienced before. It can be scary and stretching, but together we are learning how to live in peace—as beloved sons, safe at rest in the Father’s house, instead of exhausted slaves, fearfully working to earn our keep in the field.

Throughout this process I have discovered how important new “language” has been in my transformation. Fresh language has been so pivotal in breaking down the confusion caused by old and unhelpful patterns and maps deeply ingrained in my head. Wayne this is, in my opinion, the greatest gift you possess… language! You are a new creation wordsmith with an uncanny ability to thread together words and phrases that assist in the pulling apart of old, stale, perform-to-earn paradigms that keep us in bondage. For those of us who grew up in religious institutions, there is so much old, out-of-date and untrue Christianese stored away in the attics of our conscience. Deeply embedded into our spiritual DNA through years of repetitive religious training, these dogmas and disciplines are filed in our brains as “good and necessary” even as they hold us back and rob our freedom. They are unconscious laws that govern our actions, beckoning us to continue striving, earning, and performing in old covenant autopilot when our birthright is to live in the freedom and rest provided by Jesus through His New Covenant. This is why new language is so important to moving forward. You can’t pour new wine into an old wineskin and you can’t walk in new, ever-increasing life with old, irrelevant and expired language permeating the airwaves between your ears.

Your podcast and books had been such a breath of fresh air in the dust cloud. The language you were using was so different and life giving. We were leading a few programs in a charismatic fellowship when the leaders asked us to help build, direct and teach in a ministry school modeled after the one in Redding (this was all the rage back in 2008). We had done well in business ventures along the way and made the decision to put business on hold and make the leap to full time ministry. This was a dream come true for me. My wife’s business and entrepreneurial skills were a perfect match for building a ministry school. My training as an art director and writer were great for building a marketing campaign, advertisements, teaching and curriculum. We poured our lives into the school for five years, meeting wonderful people and enjoying great experiences and opportunities. But it eventually took its toll on us. We were exhausted, and after much wrestling, knew this season had ended and it was time to move on.

After the crash, I was depressed, disillusioned, and struggling to know what to do vocationally. We had owned businesses, but quite frankly thought that I had left that all behind – promoted into a higher “spiritual calling” of preaching, teaching and discipleship. It was a moral crisis for me to leave the high calling of “changing the world for Jesus” and go back to “secular” work. But you’ve got to pay the bills. Unfortunately the market isn’t real hot for 43-year old graphic designers who have been in ministry the last five years. Eventually I was hired by a young company to do graphic design and was promoted to Art Director after a few months. My wife took several months off to heal emotionally. She eventually got back involved with real estate investment and a business that she learned about in the transition from ministry. After 18 months, we decided that I’d leave my firm to focus on our businesses as well. So far, it’s been a great decision.

After years of driven, hyper Christian activity, we are learning to find rest in the joy and struggles of family, authentic relationships and meaningful conversation.