Archive for January, 2015

More People than Meetings

Posted on: January 29th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen No Comments

openwindowThe best conversations I’ve had with people who’ve been reading FINDING CHURCH is when God has allowed them to get a glimpse of a wider world than they were previously seeing. I love that. We tend to subtly alter the passions God has given us for substitutes that don’t provide the same reality. God is at work in us all the time, but because it doesn’t fit neatly into the boxes we’ve been trained to respect, we often miss it. Here’s an exchange I had this week as someone as God was sharpening their focus on the things he cares most about:

Now almost 40 years later I have found myself withering in the institutional meetings and longing for home meetings again—and pressing my husband to do something! But he hasn’t sensed any leading from the Lord, and he’s learned not to do an Ishmael-thing (by forcing his own efforts). So as I’ve struggled the past four years the Lord showed me that the “meeting” wasn’t the answer, I began to ask him to teach me his ways. It has been very much as you described in your book! I can’t tell you how many times over the past 2 years after I’ve felt particularly low and alone and telling the Lord how much I miss him in his Body, that he has provided true Christian fellowship – church – in unexpected ways.

For example, I couldn’t find anyone to go with me to an artist reception in a close town, so I sadly went alone – only to find that the artist who is from Hong Kong, is a believer, and we enjoyed a time of sweet fellowship. I drove home crying and thanking the Lord! I teach English for free, and one of my students has come to the Lord. There are times when we pray or share, and I have again enjoyed his church. The widow across the street, I discovered, sits in her house and reads her Bible. She said she doesn’t go to church because the people are unloving. We have been meeting on Monday mornings to study the Bible together. She told my next door neighbor, and that lady prayed to surrender to the Lord in my living room. I don’t personally get a whole lot out of my little neighborhood study, but I have realized that this gathering too is his church.

I think that your book confirmed that we are where the Lord wants us, though I still wish we had “meetings!” Not meetings like we have today that are so programmed, but free Holy Spirit led meetings. Yet as you wrote, this too would become stagnant after a while. So I had to laugh, as much as I disagree with not having set meetings, I see that the Lord has brought us to a kind of fluid church exactly as you described!

My response: And I’m not as opposed to regular meetings as you might think. Where they facilitate what God is doing in a given area and stay true to him they can be quite effective. It’s just not what God is asking of us in this season. But we’ve never been lonely either. God has provided his connection to the family wherever we have been and like you have had some of the most serendipitous contacts when we least expected them. It has given us a fuller appreciation for his body than we ever knew attending the same meetings every week with the same people. Now we gather with his body all the time in the sense that our lives are known and the conversations of life go on throughout the week in ways we find exhilarating. It’s the best of a functional extended family where people share, help, encourage, serve, care, edify, admonish each other with joy…

Thanks for answering my questions. I find it so wonderful – yet perplexing! Through the struggle to find His church I sense His leading through it all. I wanted to share that the morning after I had finished reading your book and had written you, I was talking to the Lord as I have for the past six years since we left the congregation and saying, “Lord You’re the one who gave me this desire for Christian meetings…”

But this time He gave me a gentle correction: It wasn’t for meetings, but for My people.

Sigh.

Now I understand how His desire He placed in me for His people, had gradually morphed into a desire for meetings. Your book was His instrument to get me back on track. You have greatly helped me in giving language to communicate what He has been up to in our life.

When our focus shifts from finding a meeting to attend to loving the people God puts before you each day, we’ll find ourselves connecting in wonderful ways to the church God is building in your corner of the world. That doesn’t mean we can’t love people we go to meetings with, it’s just that in time the attending the meeting becomes more important than loving the people, almost always. I find now that my conversations with people and exploring life together with prayer, service, discovery, and love fulfill every desire I had for his church in the world and fulfills all the Scriptures about what his body is living in the world.

The Church Didn’t Begin With Jesus?

Posted on: January 20th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 3 Comments

questionmarkIt’s one of the strangest teachings I’ve heard about the church, that it didn’t begin with Jesus and thus we can’t look to his example for what the church should be like, but rather begin with Paul. They think Jesus’ words were only for first-century Jews living under the law and discount his example for us. Here’s how Gary asked the question in a recent email:

I didn’t think I could feel this way about a “Christian” book anymore. Definition without dogma, so difficult to do! I can’t read it in one setting; it’s too far reaching. Spectacular comes to mind. Invigorating.

I had a realization recently in response to one of your thoughts, “Maybe Jesus gave us all we need to know to experience Church as He is building it”. I realized that we were taught a few things that conflict with that: that the “church-age” began when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit and that Paul was more the founder of church-life thru revelation of Jesus Christ than Jesus Himself was. That’s why Paul’s writings have a lot of “intentional-meeting-support-stuff” in them: Do you see this as a conflict?

When you suggested that maybe Jesus lived-out all we have need to see to live as the Church, I had a hmmmm–that’s interesting? And a hmmmm, that changes a lot!

I’ve heard and taught a lot of things fulfilled in the finished work of Jesus Christ but, establishing a picture of “church-life” is not one of them. That idea is a big deal. There’s a big difference between looking predominantly at Paul’s life as founder thru Jesus’ revelation, and Jesus as founder & practitioner of disciple making in His earthly life & ministry.

RESPONSE
I’ll be honest. I’ve heard people say that the church did not begin until Pentecost, but I’m unconvinced of the hermeneutic involved. I don’t know why people wish to make that distinction. Jesus brought the kingdom and the church is the fruit of that kingdom. If we focus on Paul’s language about church without the reality of the kingdom we’ll end up with the human-managed institutions we do today. I don’t divorce what Jesus said or did as our example for the life of his church, which is his family and his bride. Why would we?

Of those I know who espouse that view they are looking to negate the influence of Jesus in deference to Paul. That doesn’t make sense to me. Jesus is the Founder, the Cornerstone, the Head. Why wouldn’t he be our chief example, and Paul the one showing us how it fleshed out in the early decades of the church taking shape.?

I don’t think there is “a lot” in Paul of intentional-meeting-support stuff. Maybe more than Jesus talked of it, but there still isn’t much. There is far more about relationship and his example in Acts is about dialog not monolog. Honestly there’s nothing in the Gospels or Acts that commend our mini-concert, mini-lecture institutions that use the tools of conformity to help administrate a transformative based community. There’s the conflict. We can have elders, gatherings, support, and care, without our human-engineered systems if people learn to live in him and respond to the will of the Head.

If anyone can help me see a good reason to skip Jesus and go to Paul for an understanding of the church, I’d be all ears. But as of yet I haven’t heard that case in any way that makes sense to the story of Scripture and the person of Christ. So, yes, I see a lot of conflict if we skip the example of Jesus in deference to Paul. But maybe that’s what we’ve been doing for two thousand years, neglecting the example of Christ and trying to follow our interpretations of Paul’s words instead.

So Many Questions…

Posted on: January 15th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 3 Comments

tribaliveA couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by the Pittsburgh Tribune about Finding Church and had a long and delightful conversation with the reporter. Her article appeared a few days ago and you can read it here. I love the content, but the presentation left me a bit disturbed. I have not used the title “pastor” for over 35 years and it pegs my Yuck Meter. And I wouldn’t have positioned it as so hostile to Christianity, but newspapers sell conflict. I do agree, however, that Christianity often disfigures the image of Christ even if it doesn’t intend to, but I certainly wouldn’t make it the headline.
But I love the content of this piece and hope it invites others into more spacious places of God’s light and love.

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.

Ashley’s Amazing Day in Rio

Posted on: January 5th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen No Comments

bridedancethmbThe church of Jesus Christ is not a meeting to attend, but a worldwide family you belong to, and God can give expression to her however and whenever he desires.  Ashley wrote me last week to share her experience of how easily God can do that, even when we’re not expecting it:

God has used your writings and podcast to help me find the real him for the last year and bit. After 20 years of church filled with rules, regulations, and guilt the freedom I have found in his truth and life is more than I can say. I am writing to share how Yahweh used your book to connect New Zealand to Brazil. A kiwi by birth, I am currently in Rio de Janeiro.

Yesterday we did a tour of Rio with a guide I found on TripAdvisor. We start driving and asks about us our lives, if we have children etc. We ask the same questions back and he says he has a daughter who is nearly two but not talking and he is a little worried, now at this point I get a little vibe because I am a speech pathologist by profession but we just keep going with the conversation.

Then we are driving around and he asks us what religion we are, I say my husband is Muslim and I am Christian. He looks at me sideways while driving and asks if I am Catholic or Protestant. Knowing that this is a strongly Catholic county I am wary but tell him I am Protestant. He smiles and says he is too. Asks what denomination I am, I say Baptist but not freaky full on Baptist, he just laughs and says he goes to a Protestant fellowship in the city. End of conversation.

We go see the big Jesus statue, walk around, chat generally and then walk back to the car. He begins to talk again about God and how things are changing for him, he has read a lot of books and my husband laughed and said “Ashley has been doing exactly the same”. He then goes on to tell me that he had just finished a book that has changed how he feels about church, so I ask, “It’s not by Wayne Jacobsen is it?” He says yes and I swear I could have fallen over. I tell him that’s the same guy who God used to start my journey to finding the real him and I had read the same book.

We start laughing and hugging and exchanging thoughts on grace and freedom and how much bigger God is than we ever imagined, his love and compassion and how he plans and organises things we couldn’t have done ourselves. He fills me in on how he has felt like the odd one out as although his church is supportive they have told him that he is always the one looking the opposite direction from everyone else.

We talk like that for about half an hour as we tour the city, with my husband laughing and saying, “that’s exactly what Ashley has been saying.” He fills us in on how he sees God now, how his life has changed. It’s nothing short of magical. He is encouraged to know he’s not alone, that his family is even in New Zealand, he encourages me to stay strong and keep going in the faith and this journey. We both feel part of something so huge and wonderful its ridiculous.

Then (after checking with my husband and find he’s happy for me to offer) I tell him what I do for a living, that I help children and families who have trouble talking and I would be happy to meet his little one and assess her and give them some tips if I can be any help. He immediately calls his wife and she is hesitant as she is busy getting ready for New Year’s Eve but agrees. So after our last tourist stop we travel across the city to the real Rio, to an apartment block where I meet his wife and beautiful daughter. I assess her and we discuss strategies and write down recommendations.

Then we all bundle back into the car and I get to have cuddles with little one while Mum and dad chat away in Portuguese in the front. After a while our guide says he must tell me what his wife was saying. She said she knows that God knows her and her worries and answers the prayers she doesn’t even pray. She has been very worried for her little one and knows that God organised for me to come to help them.  We talk more about how much we are loved, how God works out these amazing things half way across the world. Generally just share the joy of the miracle.

So thank you for your books, podcasts, and generally just pointing to say for others to find a Father who’s love reaches across oceans. Keep it up!

Yes, it is an amazing day filled with grace and connection. But look at the courage it took for the driver to engage a conversation about “religion,” and for the couple to answer honestly. Look at how Ashley and her husband continue the conversation rather than just stay to their “tourist activities.”  Then look at the generosity that Ashley and her husband offer to help with their young daughter. Yes, God does some extraordinary things but it is not without people taking part—risking the conversations, pursuing the subjects of faith, and caring for each other even when the day had a different agenda.  I love how God connects this family around the world, whether it is for long-term friendships, or just for one amazing day!

Where Can I Find Such a Group?

Posted on: January 2nd, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 2 Comments

questionmark

The new year begins and I have a backlog of email from so many people regarding Finding Church.  I’m blessed it is finding its way into a lot of people’s reading time and that it is resonating with people so deeply who have felt for a long time that nagging suspicion that something is missing in the way we view and practice “church” in our day.  In the end it is not something we go to or something to do, the church is the reality of Father’s family as it unfolds in the world we live in.

Diana’s question below is like many I get. We’ve been so enculturated to see the church as an established group to find, rather than as a reality we find our way into.  Looking for a group that buys into these priorities can be frustrating, but keeping our eyes open for people God wants us to love can bear fruit every day even when there isn’t even a group yet to go to.  Here’s what she asked and how I responded:

Diana:  I’m a Christian that is fed up with church in general and would love to be involved with a group of brothers and sisters in Christ who want to fellowship and just love on each other—living loved, being loved. I just don’t know how to go about finding a group like that. I’m not very outgoing and tend to be shy around others until I get to know them. I just thought maybe you could give me some tips on how to find a group in my area.

My response:  Diana, I understand your desire to find a group already living out these realities, but that isn’t always easy to do. If you can find one, that would be wonderful, but it rarely happens. Think people not groups. It doesn’t take long for groups to become engaged with meetings, doctrine, and leadership issues instead of simply loving. Who has God put in front of you that he wants you to love today? Take an interest in them. Invite them into your life by meeting them for coffee or lunch. As you learn to live in his love and extend that love to others, you’ll end up with people around you on a better journey.

Looking for others to provide what we want doesn’t take us down as good a road as looking for people to love. It’s in giving not in receiving that we find life. I hope that helps. God knows the fellowship that will fulfill your heart. Trust him to bring it to you, as you simply love the people he has already put around you, at work, in your neighborhood, or a chance meeting in a store. Who do you already know that could use a conversation or a hug today?

Diane responded:

I just wanted you to know that what you said makes perfect sense…that’s the way I’ve carried out my life, but when you’re repeatedly told you have to be in church, you start to believe that your the one doing something wrong. I’m so grateful that God has put you in my path, if for no other reason than to confirm what I’ve always believed–you can win people to the lord by just loving them

My response:  It’s a great way to live even if others can’t see it. Going against the flow is never easy but it is so personally enriching.