Archive for May, 2015

Not a New Problem

Posted on: May 27th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 1 Comment

gfoxA friend from New Zealand sent me these quotes from George Fox’s Autobiography, published in 1650. Isn’t it amazing that the same things than plagued Jesus’ family then, still do today? What else could we expect when the priority of the kingdom is lost to humanity’s insatiable need for power and money?

“I was sent of the Lord God of heaven and earth to preach freely, and to bring people off from these outward temples made with hands, which God dwelleth not in; that they might know their bodies to become the temples of God and of Christ; and to draw people off from all their superstitious ceremonies, traditions, and doctrines of men; and from all the world’s hireling teachers, that take tithes and great wages, preaching for hire, and divining for money, whom God and Christ never sent, as themselves confess when they say they have never heard God’s voice nor Christ’s voice.

I exhorted the people to come off all these things, directing them to the Spirit and grace of God in themselves, and to the Light of Jesus in their own hearts; that they might come to know Christ, their free teacher, to bring them salvation and to open the Scriptures to them. I directed them from the darkness to the Light, and to the grace of God, that would teach them, and bring them salvation; to the Spirit of God in their inward parts, which would be a free teacher unto them.

… and when I heard the bell toll to call people together to the steeple-house, it struck at my life, for it was just like a market bell, to gather people together, that the priest might set forth his wares for sale. Oh, the vast sums of money that are gotten by the trade they make of selling Scriptures, and by preaching..”

George Fox: An Autobiography, 1650

I realize not all pastors are mercenary like this, especially in smaller congregations where they really care for people. But so many of our pastor-prenuers have let the money and success control the message, drawing dependency to themselves rather than on Christ.

But almost all of our steeple-houses today could use a fresh reminder that God does not live in buildings made with hands, but in the heart where he can lead and guide us all into his reality

Blown Stereotypes and the Doorway Into a Larger Church

Posted on: May 15th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 7 Comments

churchrefugeesI love being wrong, especially about things like this.

I had asked if I was willing to meet with some Southern California pastors who had been reading my book Finding Church, and wanted to discuss it along with Church Refugees, and the latest research by Dr. Josh Packard on “The Dones,” those who no longer participate in the traditional congregation but continue on a passionate walk with Jesus and more relational connections with others.

He said he thought he could pull together twenty or so. I told him I would be gloriously surprised if he could find five who were up for that kind of conversation. I know how resistant some pastors groups have been to both the books they wanted to discuss and had spent the day before with a young man whose family became a “Done” about a year ago after an incredibly manipulative confrontation with one of the staff and no one was willing to talk about it in a way that could bring healing. Now he is being vilified by his former pastor and members of his family who still attend that fellowship for leaving. His faith and integrity have both been questioned because they would not submit to “the authority of their leaders”. When he asked the pastor, an old friend, if they could just get together and reconnect, he was told he could only do so at a meeting of all the elders.

So imagine my surprise when the next day I showed up and there were over twenty pastors who wanted to have this conversation. I was also told another fifteen wanted to come, but couldn’t because of scheduling conflicts. I was dumbfounded, not only by their interest, but by their understanding and appreciation for those who felt the need to move on from their congregations even if that means they didn’t join another one. Not a hostile voice was raised in the five hours we were and some of them even hinted they have considered being done with it all, too.

We talked about Jesus’ desire that all of his followers be brought into unity and that love and respect would help put us in that place rather than animosity and suspicion. At one point I was asked, “If we know someone who is done, how would you recommend we interact with them?”

I love the question and had never been asked that before. I suggested that they just love them like a friend. If you loved them before, why wouldn’t you love them now? Treat them as a peer in the faith, interested in their journey, without the agenda to win them back to your own congregation.

When I arrived home I had received an email from one of the men in that meeting. After he left he called one of his former leaders whom he now recognized was a Done and invited he and his wife out for coffee. They did it while I was driving home and the pastor told me they had a great time. They didn’t discuss “church”, but what God was doing in their lives. What a great takeaway from our time! God wants more connection, not less, and we dare not let the walls of our institutions keep us from the engagements that build up his kingdom in the world.

This is what that pastor wrote me the next day, “I greatly appreciate the call that God has on your life. God, through you has spurned me to love more. How do I “love and respect” more? How do I reach out, love and affirm others where they are? I am eager to jump in this conversation at a different level and in whatever way God wants. There is so much healing that God wants to do—including in myself. There is one body under One Kingdom.”

Did you feel the heaven and earth move a little this week? My heart trembled when I read his words. This is the stuff of the kingdom, not flying across continents to do something great for God, but sitting down with a relationship that got separated and putting Jesus at the center of it rather than how we view church.
I love that. If that’s the conversation we end up in, then God’s purposes will be well served.

Bridging the Divide with Love

Posted on: May 8th, 2015 by Wayne Jacobsen 1 Comment

There are many Christians who believe you have to attend a local, organized congregation to be part of Jesus’ church in the world. There are others whose hunger for “something more” has led them outside those congregations when they felt their passion was being stifled by the conformity-based dynamics any institution needs to survive. The tension between these two groups has always been pronounced. Often the first group condemns the second for bitterness and abandoning the “church”, and the second group accuses the first of being legalistic or trapped in a destructive system.

What’s often at stake, however, are just people hurting from the loss of friendship and proximity. When we lose our need for everyone else to do it the way we do, we can find our way back into the tenderness and love that marks Christ’s church in all it expressions. I love this email I got the other day from Jenny (not her real name) and I loved how fear and threat so easily turned to honesty and affection when a bit of compassion was mixed in:

I didn’t realize how the life I live is centered on self reliance. I am beginning to identify more clearly how destructive this behavior has been. It has limited me in experiencing God’s love for me.

I received an email from a woman that I had participated with in ministry. I wrote her back. She called a couple of weeks later. We had an enjoyable conversation. She invited me to lunch and I joyfully accepted. There was nothing in the dialog over the phone that would have prepared me for what I encountered that afternoon over lunch. About 30 seconds into our conversation the condemnation began. Initially, I wanted to bite and momentarily imagined one sarcastic verbal blow that would render her speechless! That is until I noticed someone very familiar in the woman I was listening to sitting across the table from me. I heard myself.

What astonished me was my response. It was as if I had imaginary tape over my mouth. I was silent when the accusations didn’t fit. I nodded and quietly said, “I know” when she seemed right on target. Within a few minutes of listening to her I recognized I not only had the capacity to confront someone in that manner, but had done so more times than I would like to admit. I could dress it up to appear honorable, smile and sound caring, but it was disapproval nonetheless with the intent to control another human being. Unexpectedly the climate seemed to change, she admitted that she missed me. When the tape came off, the me I least expected responded. I told her I was sad that my not being in the congregation was hurting her. She expressed fear that I would get lost on my journey. I reassured her if I’m lost HE will find me. She said she didn’t want me to leave the church. I assured her that I remained part of the church. I shared with her how grateful I am for all I have learned while serving within the congregation including our friendship. I told her I loved her and felt it deeply.

I have experienced sorrow since then. The kind of sorrow that comes with repentance. I trust that God is changing me and it will take time. I have spent most of my life working toward making positive changes. Self reliance and introspection can be grueling work. My need to control actually escalated in that process, but I didn’t see it. I simply masked my controlling behavior more creatively. I had become self-centered under the guise of sacrificial love. It has helped relaxing in his love. My anxiety is decreasing. I feared I would become irresponsible if I relaxed, but actually the opposite appears to be happening. I am more observant to what God has right in front of me. I am beginning to experience adventure with the heart of a child in the process. I like that.

Don’t you love the self-discovery that rose out of a situation where loving each other was more important than getting the other person to see their point of view. What could have ended in more pain and anger actually found its way into a generous conversation and a reconnection of friends. When we give up our imagined right to control another human being, we can find our way back to friendship and connection.

We need more of that across these issues that divide us. That’s especially true of how we view church and how we engage it, whether it is inside institutional forms or outside of them in more relational connections. That’s why Jesus told us if we could just love others in the same way we are loved by him the whole world will know that wee belong to him. Without that kind of love the church has no presence in the world.

The Growing Conversation About “The “Dones”

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

emptypewsI’ve known about it for the past twenty ears, but it is only recently coming on the radar screens of the national media. It is being tagged “The Rise of the Dones,” the number of people who no longer find the local congregations helpful to their faith and yet maintain a resilient passion for Jesus and his kingdom. Dr. Josh Packard will have a new book out on June 1 called, Church Refugees, which unpacks his research into this phenomenon. He was also a guest on my God Journey podcast last week, and we’ll follow up with part two this Friday.

Next week I will be meeting with a group of pastors in San Dimas, CA who want to talk about this trend and what it means for church life. They have read my book, Finding Church, and resonate with many of its themes and want to know how it might help more traditional congregations rethink their mission and their priorities.

I also came across this article today, Regarding the “Done with Church Buzz”, which grants a helpful perspective for those who are worried about those who no longer participate in a traditional congregation.

Though I don’t like the designation “Dones”, it is catching on in the media and thus will become a marketing tool soon enough and then another label in “us versus them” dualistic paradigm too many people are trapped in. As grateful as I am that we’re talking about a broader view of his church than human institutions can replicate, my prayer is that the conversation shifts from the “going to church”/”not going to church” designations, to embracing a wider reality that includes all of us who seek to be his reflection in the world. His church is a growing family who are learning to live in the love and affection of an awesome Father and to treat others accordingly.

Don’t glory in your church attendance, and certainly don’t glory in being a “Done.” Let’s realize that those designations mean nothing. The only thing that matters is the new creation and how we love one another even though we may live in different expressions of that family. For too long we’ve changed the language of God’s kingdom, for a preoccupation with human systems we’ve called churches, whether or not they reflect his glory or incubate his community. We need less preoccupation with “church” and far more on Jesus and his kingdom.