Thursday, November 18, 2010

Going Northeast

We have started a new blog about our church planting ministry in the Northeast. Keep up to date with the latest updates about us at that blog!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Boiling It Down to a Few Key Convictions

Notwithstanding my past posts and my past ministry experiences, I do recognize that God is in a variety of forms from the micro-church to the mega-church, from the organic to the organizational, and from the simple to the complex. Both extremes serve, in some ways, as critiques of each other, yet at this moment in church history, only in the complete picture of the both/are we able to clearly see the Kingdom.

I have become, however, committed to the following convictions which I believe apply across the board:

It is vitally important the church understands what it really means to be the church.

Church is not, at its essence, a place where certain things happen.

Church is, at its essence, God’s people/family on God’s mission.

Church is, in the broadest sense, all of Christ’s followers from throughout history and from all corners of the earth.

Church is, in its simplest form, plural for “Christ-follower.”

Church, as we have all experienced it, is not as healthy as God intended.

Every Christ-follower has contributed to the unhealthiness of the church because we are all, on some level, spiritually unhealthy.

Every Christ-follower who comes to experience himself/herself as God’s loved child is released to love other Christ-followers and to radiate God’s love to other humans.

The church is best described and understood by using family imagery, not business imagery.

Christ-followers should increasingly meet and act together within the context of their component family units instead of assuming that it is always best to segregate parents from their children.

Disciple-making and church-planting methodology must be flexible enough to penetrate urban and rural contexts, not merely suburban contexts, if the overall church of North America is to experience long-term future growth.

Every Christ-follower is a missionary to the culture in which he or she lives.

The church grows as the good news of the kingdom spreads like a viral infection.

In order to accomplish its mission, the church needs small, efficient “special forces” to accompany its large and impressive “armored personnel carriers” and “aircraft carriers.”

Friday, September 04, 2009

Reflecting (On) What's Wrong, Part 20

For the past six months, I’ve been posting reflections on a journey that I have been on for nearly two decades to find out what’s wrong with the church. It is not as negative and critical as it may sound at first. Here it is outlined in one post, with links to the text of each entry.

I sense that I'm getting ready to turn a page and move on to a new "day" in the months and years ahead. Writing this down has been clarifying and helpful to me. I hope it can be useful in some ways to others on the journey as well.



1. Generational Issues

2. Cultural Issues

3. Theological Issues

4. Personal Issues

Another Note


Redefining My Identity

Reducing Church to Its Relational Essence

Reducing Church to Its Relational Essence, Continued

Restructuring Life

Releasing Ourselves from Labels

More Thoughts on Reducing Church to Its Relational Essence

Recognizing Family As the Primary Image of Church

Family As Primary Image of Church, Continued

A Spiritual Experience

So Few Real Spiritual Experiences

An Illustration

"These are the last words I have to say. That's why this took so long to write. There will be other words some other day. But that's the story of my life." --Famous Last Words by Billy Joel

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reflecting (On) What's Wrong, Part 19

Pat's Story (Illustrating Comments in Last Post)

I can think of one dramatic example of us longing for that power and not finding it present during my time in Las Vegas. It is the story of Pat. Pat and his wife showed up at our large gathering early on in our house church transition. They were there during the period when we devoted much of our larger gathering times to casting the vision for simple church and encouraging everyone to join one or start one.

Pat and his wife came with a community already attached, so to speak. He and a dozen or so others had been Christ-followers together for awhile. They had gone through the tragic death of their spiritual mentor and were looking for new guidance.

Birthing of a House Church

Shortly after they started attending our larger gathering, Pat approached me and said that they were ready to become a house church. He invited me to join them the following week to help them get started. I went to the humble trailer where Pat and his wife lived, and was amazed at what I experienced. A community of people were gathered together. Many of them were facing difficult life issues: health problems, addictions, job and financial problems, and relational problems. Yet they were already functioning as a healthy church community, spontaneously practicing many of the one another commands of the New Testament. In essence, this was a group of rather unhealthy individuals who, when they all got together, formed a relatively healthy church community. I came to enjoy meeting with them.

I began to spend time with Pat outside of the community meetings, training him with what I knew of disciple-making and organic church planting. We met regularly at a coffee shop and went through the Greenhouse organic church planting training. He ate it up and soaked it in like few people I had worked with.

One week, Pat pleasantly surprised me when he began sharing with me that he was having some conversations with other people in his neighborhood about coming to the church at his house and about following Christ. I remember thinking that Pat was really much better at this stuff than I was or than many of our other people were, but he didn’t even know it. It just came natural to him.

Unexpected Tragedy

Then something amazing happened. I got a phone call one day that Pat had been rushed to the hospital after having a severe seizure. He was only in his mid-twenties, so this was an unexpected development. My wife and I and many others spent the next several weeks visiting Pat at the hospital and providing support for those in his community.

To make a long story short, it turned out Pat had suffered a massive stroke. It was doubtful for awhile whether he would survive. Many of us joined together in fervently praying for his recovery. The days and weeks dragged by and Pat did survive and get physically better, but mentally he never progressed past the stage of a five-year-old.

I remember one day after Pat had been moved out of the hospital into a rehab facility. A couple of simple church planting mentors of mine were visiting from Colorado. I told them the story of Pat, recounting all of the details. I asked if they would come to the rehab facility and pray over him with me. These were men who, based on my experience in the past, knew how to pray in such a way that sometimes rather interesting things would happen.

Begging God for Pat

So we invaded that rehab facility, so to speak, that evening. We surrounded Pat and prayed fervently over him. We prayed for his recovery. We prayed for his mental and physical health. We prayed for his wife. We prayed for the spiritual community that surrounded Pat and the potential growing and multiplying community around him.

I walked out of that rehab facility that night confident that Pat would soon be restored to full health, and that he would continue to spark a church planting movement among a needy group of people that I myself was ill equipped to reach.

But sadly, that is not what happened. This is not a story with a glorious ending in which I get to be one of the heroes of the faith. Pat never got much better than he was that day.

Not a Fairy Tale Ending

Sadly, many months later, he and his wife ended up divorcing as a result of the complications of this entire ordeal. Custody of Pat, who couldn’t take care of himself, ended up going to his mother, a woman who struggled with alcoholism. Eventually, I could not even find a way to get ahold of Pat. The community that met at his house struggled and gradually dissolved as a result of a couple of years of the turmoil that resulted from these events.

I usually don’t get into spiritual warfare language, because I just think some Christians throw that language around carelessly and naively. But that was one time when if the power of God had showed up, it would have been rather Acts-like in its impact. Yet something evil showed up instead, and it wreaked havoc.

Pat has some skeletons in his closet. I am not trying to say that some of what happened to him and his community wasn’t self-inflicted. To a degree, it was. Yet this story left me wonderfully aware of how church growth, church multiplication, and disciple-making movements all are really spawned only by acts of God, not by acts of men or acts of Greg. And when, for whatever reason in his sovereignty He chooses not to act, the results do not come.

Alarmed, bothered, frustrated, scared & jolted

Pray more about this, we must. We must beg God to show up in power as He has at moments throughout history to spawn movements of multiplication in His kingdom. Otherwise, we will settle for imitation results that we know how to produce, such as filling seats at entertaining Christian events and taking the glory for it.

We need to get alarmed, bothered, frustrated, scared, and jolted to our cores that the power once experienced by Christ’s followers is largely absent from the North American church today. I need to be more bothered that I have only occasionally experienced anything divine, and that my life is dry and stale as a result. We need to beg God to do something in our time.

It Is Easier . . .

It is easier to find a Christian band we like and let their music move us.

It is easier to find a Christian author we like and read everything he has written and enjoy it immensely.

It is easier to find a preacher we like and sit on our butts for a half hour every Sunday until we die and be inspired by his words (even though we have heard it all before).

It is easier to build impressive church buildings in the suburbs, watch them grow with new attenders, and ignore the fact that churches in the inner city and rural countryside are shrinking and closing at a greater rate than our suburban churches are swelling.

It’s easier to create emotional experiences, go a little crazy on occasion, and call that God’s power than it is to admit that we are really starving for it and can’t seem to evoke it by our efforts to do so.

It is Harder . . .

It is harder to beg God to move with power, and deal with the fact that the power is only trickling these days for some reason. This is a problem we have as the church. We must be honest about what is happening around us and get busy begging God to move in power, however and whenever he wishes.

We've Seen This Before

This seemed to be the story of the New Testament as well. For four hundred years there had been no prophet in Israel. Yet the religious leaders of the day would probably tell you things were going well. They had synagogue worship. The religious leaders enjoyed power and prosperity, and there was plenty of “success” to focus upon. But not until God showed up in power through his son (the Jesus story in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and through His spirit (the church’s story in Acts) did real kingdom growth occur. The times seem very similar here in North America.

Pat’s story, and a few other similar experiences, taught me this.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reflecting (On) What's Wrong, Part 18

So Few Real Spiritual Experiences

I’ve attended over 2000 church services in my life. I’ve probably listened to another two to three hundred sermon recordings. I’ve attended dozens of conferences and retreats on church-related and spiritual issues. I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree form a Bible college and seminary. I went to Sunday school throughout my childhood. I’ve attended more Bible studies, small groups, and other church functions than I can recall.

And yet I can count the real spiritual experiences I have had on my fingers.

They are memorable moments that led to real transformation in my life. They came at unexpected moments: sitting on a plane returning from a missions trip, in a room I didn’t know existed at a conference center in New Mexico, at a worship rally at a youth conference where I was supposed to be a youth leader but ended up being a receiver, in a quiet church office with five other guys early one Friday morning. And perhaps a few others.

We need powerful moments of real spiritual experience I have come to believe. One of the problems with the church is that we don’t really experience God more often.

Spiritual Experiences or Emotional Highs?

Some cynics, like myself, may be reading this and thinking that these were just emotional highs, mountain top experiences, that really were no more God than any other day of my life. Perhaps you are right. But I’m not so sure. I have also had emotional highs. I haven’t counted all of those in what I am now talking about. But regardless of how one categories what I am describing, I think it is right to say that the church has a problem in that we, as her people, have far too seldom encounters with the Almighty, and that we have far too little of His power showing up in our lives.

In 30-some years of nearly weekly church attendance, dozens of conferences, dozens of retreats, etc., I can count on my fingers the times I have really felt the power of God move. Whether it was my emotions or the real thing doesn’t matter for the purposes of these writings. I’m just saying its rare. And that is in many ways another aspect of the problem with the church.

It Was Very Different Back in the Day

This is in stark contrast to what we read happening in the book of Acts. God’s power would show up seemingly out of nowhere all the time. And that is what led to amazing things. Not human effort. A simple reading of the book of Acts reveals this.

It all started with the famous Acts 2, “Day of Pentecost” scene when a group of Christ-followers were huddling, or should we say hiding, when “suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house were the were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled wit the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Usually when those verses are read, everyone automatically jumps to their own denominational theological interpretation of what they mean. But regardless of which view you take on what exactly was happening, the bottom line is that God’s power blew into town seemingly out of nowhere, and before anybody could even figure out what had happened (“amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’”) three thousand people began Christ followers as a result. Three thousand people in one day! God’s power showed up and amazing things happened.

And it did not stop there. Those three thousand lived transformed lives. And I don’t just mean they sinned less. They changed their whole idea of living. They “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and man wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common, selling their possession and good, they gave to everyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Let me suggest that it is just as amazing, probably more amazing in fact, that these three thousand people changed their lifestyle like this than it was that they began Christ-followers on the same day. They got together, hung out, listened to their leaders, sold their extra stuff and gave the money away to those in need, met in each others’ homes and ate, hung out in larger groups in the temple courts, etc. All of this because God’s power blew into town seemingly out of nowhere.

Could it happen in our world today?

Over and Over in Acts

This story line is repeated over and over again in the book of Acts. The Jewish leaders persecute the Christ-followers, which forces them to separate from each other and scatter to other cities and other regions. But then God’s power shows up wherever they land, and communities of believers are born all over the ancient world.

A royal official from a then prosperous place called Ethiopia is riding a chariot, reading an Old Testament scroll, trying to figure out what the heck it is talking about, when suddenly God’s power blows in, this time in the form of a guy named Philip who is literally sent up to the chariot, and the next thing you know, an Ethiopian official becomes a Christ-follower. We don’t read the rest of the story, but the church is soon born in Ethiopia, one can bet. It all started when God mysteriously sent Philip to a chariot, and the mysteriously whisked him away afterwards.

A nasty, evil, savage church persecuter (who later called himself the worst of sinners) is on a mission to shut down a church and harm some Christ followers. As he travels on the course of this evil mission, the power of God blows in from seemingly nowhere in the form of a blinding light. The blinging light and the voice of God strikes the agent of evil. A few years later, after some supernatural training, this same guy shows up transformed into the greatest missionary of all time, and makes disciples and plants churches all the way from Jerusalem and Europe, sending the church on its eventual track west that will bring it to someday to the United States and, if we could trace our faith history back far enough, probably led to the eventual conversion of this author and of most of these readers. It all started when God’s power blew in unexpectedly through a blinding light from the sky.

A somewhat racist Christ-follower had a mysterious dream, trance, vision, something, one day when he got a little too hungry on a hot afternoon. Through that experience, God blew into town mysteriously and told the man to give up his racism and get the picture that God loves all people. At about the same time, a person of another race, who had been seeking God in his own incomplete way, got a mysterious gust of God’s power that prompted him to send for the recovering racist. The result was a Roman official’s household became a house church in a prominent Roman city, and the gospel again began to spread in an unexpected place. It all started when God’s power blew onto a rooftop unexpectedly and mysteriously.

A missionary team has a strategy mapped out and a trip planned. Then a vision in the night convinces them to go the opposite direction. I could go on and on.

The book of Acts is concentrated with stories of God’s power mysteriously and unexpectedly showing up, and the result being the church spreading and people becoming Christ followers. I could write about many more. Constantly, the power of God moved, and that led to church growth, church planting, and disciple-making, etc etc.

Where Did That Power Go?

That’s what we miss in today’s world. We have plenty of theology, plenty of strategy, plenty of methodology, but we could use some power from on high, some Pentecost wind, some instantaneous miraculous healings, some blinding lights from heaven, some dramatic rescues, some unexplained visions, some people mysteriously disappearing from the side of chariots, etc. We are missing the key ingredient to mission in our current existence.

We miss that power when it is not present.

More on this in the next post, including a true story from my years in Vegas that, sadly, illustrates what happens when that kind of power does NOT show up. I wish I knew why.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Reflecting (On) What's Wrong, Part 17

A Spiritual Experience

I decided to move to Las Vegas at the beginning of 1999. But the decision really dated back to October of 1998. I had traveled from my home in New York to a conference in New Mexico. I met up with a few of my college friends who had already moved to Vegas. They were there with some others they had met since moving to Vegas. We hung out and renewed our friendship, which had become long-distance. I met for the first time some others from Vegas who would later become good friends. The conference was all about reaching Generation X and postmodern culture. Some of it was great. Some of it was so-so. But our time together was meaningful.

One evening, just before a main session started, the group from Las Vegas passed by where I was sitting and invited me to join them. They were ditching the session to go find a quiet corner to pray and process the conference. On a whim, I left with them and we searched out some quiet corner of the retreat center. What we found surprised us. The room we had been in for our main sessions was not the largest room at the complex. We stumbled across a larger room, which was really a formal sanctuary with ornate windows, an elaborate stage, and seating for hundreds. It had been closed off during our conference. We turned on some lights and ventured in. We made our way to the dimly light stage and began talking about various subjects. One person began playing the piano as the rest of us listened. After an hour or so of causal catching up and reflection, someone suggested we gather in a circle in pray. So we did. We ended up forming a circle in a different way that what I was used to. I’m not sure why. We all ended up laying down on our backs on the stage. Our heads were all centered into the circle, with our feet facing away from the circle. If you were looking down on us from the ceilend, then our heads would have formed circle. Again, there was no real reason or premeditation behind this, it is just what we did for some reasons. We began praying together, as we stared up at the ceiling in that beautiful dimly light New Mexico sanctuary, miles away from civilization. I can’t remember all of the details of the prayer time that followed. I don’t even remember how long it lasted, though I suspect it was much longer than I then realized. Probably at least a couple of hours. Something powerful happened. Something mysterious. We all had a very similar experience of the presence of God. Words on on a blog cannot describe it with any degree of accuracy. But it was powerful. It was real. It was a spiritual experience. God met us that night in that room. After the powerful prayer time ended, we all sat in quiet awe for another long period of time. Two or three would huddle together and talk about what had just happened. After an hour or so, we went out for a late night snack at a local restaurant and continued to process together what we had experienced. It was vibrant and life-giving and refreshing and real.

Trying to Capture the Experience on Paper

The next day I boarded an airplane to fly back to New York. Everyone else in the group boarded a van to drive back to Las Vegas. As the plane took off, I pulled out a spiral bound notebook and began writing, in detail, my memory of exactly what happened in that room that night. I wrote and wrote and wrote. The plane landed in Chicago. I made my connection to another flight onto New York. Again, I pulled out my notebook and continued writing everything I could remember about that experience. I did not want to lose any of it. I wanted to have it to share with my wife when I got back to New York. I wanted to have it to share years later with anyone who asked about it. I wanted to have it to read over and over and reflect on what happened, and try to figure out what it was and what it meant and how I might possibly experience something like it again someday. I filled page after page in that notebook as I recounted each detail of the experience.

Eventually, I was exhausted. I placed the spiral bound notebook in the pocket in the seat in front of me on the plane, and drifted off to sleep for the final portion of my flight. I awoke as we made our final descent into Laguardia Airport. I was excited as I thought about my wife, who I hadan’t seen in several days, greeting me at the airport. I couldn’t wait to go out to dinner with her and recount my experience and unpack what it meant together with her.

Left Behind

She greeted me at the end of the jetway. We walked together to the car as I began to explain what had happened. When we got to a restaurant, I reached into my carry on bag to pull out my notebook and share my experience with her. But it wasn’t there. I couldn’t believe it. I had left the notebook in the seat pocket on the airplane.

For those who don’t know me, this is very out of character for me. I have my faults, but this isn’t one of them. I don’t lose things very often at all. I don’t even consider taking out that insurance on a cell phone when I buy it, because I’ve never lost one. I can only think of once or twice in my life that I have lost my car keys, and they turned up pretty quickly both times. I just don’t normally lose things or leave things behind. I’m too detail oriented most of the time. But this time, in my excitement and exuberance over my spiritual experience, I had done just that. I left my notebook behind. And it contained my precious memories of a most profound experience.

I called the airline in a panic and explained what had happened. I told them the notebook was unreplaceable and must be found. I gave them my flight number and seat number and asked them to help. They said they would check with the plane cleaners and see if they found any such notebook. You probably can figure out what happened. I never heard back from the airline. And when I called back to check, nobody had turned in any spiral bound notebooks from that flight. It was never found.

Losing the Notebook Was Part of the Experience

Sure, I could have tried to rewrite it all. But it would have been hard to have reproduced the detail that I had while sitting uninterrupted on those flights. It would have taken some amazing concentration. Somehow I knew that losing the notebook was really part of the experience. I sensed that I really wasn’t supposed to have that notebook. I wasn’t really supposed to capture the details of that evening on paper and then read it over and over again and share it with everyone I knew and dissect it and examine it and work to figure it out. That is, of course, what I wanted to do. But I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t supposed to put this experience under a microscope and figure it out. It was what it was. It was an amazing gift. But it happened and it was over. It wasn’t to be figured out.

A few days later, I shared the experience with someone else I respected. He sat and listened attentively and respectfully, which I appreciated. I even threw in the part about losing the notebook, which he immediately understood as being totally out of character for me. His reaction was interesting. He just said he was very happy for me, because I had had a spiritual experience . . . I had met God through an experience, not through my intellect, for one of the few times in my life. He expressed how fortunate I was, because some people are never able to experience such a thing. I wasn’t so sure that was the reaction I was looking for, but looking back, it was a keen observation.

Even as I write these words, I wonder if my computer will soon crash and take away this rehashing of that night! I doubt it, though, because the details of the night have long faded from my memory and were not well described here.

I moved to Las Vegas in early 1999, partially as a result of that experience in New Mexico. I was already thinking about making such a move, but that experience seemed to confirm in some ways my contemplation of such a move.

Contrast to the Usual Days of the Journey

There have been no other nights in my life quite like that night in New Mexico. I can think of a few other experiences that were profound enough that I might put them in the category of spiritual experiences. But they can easily be counted on my fingers. There haven’t been many. In my next post, I'll contrast that experience with the "normal" and routine days of my spiritual journey to date.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Reflecting (On) What's Wrong, Part 16

Recognizing the Problem

Always in a Hurry, Until . . .

Over eight years ago, I turned thirty years old. Turning thirty years old kind of freaked me out. I guess I still thought of myself as just barely being twenty. Then I was thirty. A few seconds after turning thirty, I was closer to being forty than being twenty. I am sure those who are much older than me are disgusted by me thinking this way about being thirty. But for me, this was the first time in my life that I found myself not being in a hurry to get to the next stage. When I was a kid in elementary school, I wanted to be older. I couldn’t wait to get to middle school. Then I couldn’t to get to high school. Then I couldn’t wait to drive a car. Then, once I could drive, I couln’t wait to go off to college and enjoy freedom. Then I got to college and thought how great it would be to have my own place and my own income. I couldn’t wait to get out. Then I couldn’t wait to get married. I was ready for that next stage. I couldn’t wait to move up to higher responsibility once I started working. I was always just dying to get to the next phase, from the time I was a little kid to the time I was, suddenly, turning thirty.

Now I wasn’t in a hurry any more. I wasn’t looking forward to being forty or fifty or sixty or seventy. And for some reason, once I didn’t care to get on to what was next, time finally started flying. How ironic.

Reflecting on My Need to Change

But I also had other anxieties attached to my thirtieth birthday. My life was in a place where I needed to change some things. Even though I had worked as a pastor and done many outward “good deeds” throughout my life, I was beginning to realize just how selfish I really was. My marriage could have been better if I wasn't so focused on receiving instead of giving. My friendships were good, but could have been much deeper if I were focused on giving instead of getting. Parenting made me aware of how little energy and attention I really could give away to someone else before I needed my own space and time to recharge. It was really a bit startling. Of course, ministry, was another such thing. To really succeed at it, I needed to be able to give lots and live quite selflessly. And I really believed that this was the Christ-like way to live: giving to my wife, my kids, my friends, my church. Giving my time, my energy, my attention, generously and without expecting to always get something back in return. I realized the selfish intentions behind even my “good acts” for the first thirty years of my life, and I decided with noblest intentions that the next thirty plus years of my life needed to be focused more on giving than taking. I was ready to embrace being an adult and start focusing every minute of every day on giving instead of taking.

But it didn’t work. Every year or so I would revisit those thoughts (usually right around my birthday) and re-commit to the same thing. As I write this, I’m thrity-eight. Although I am a more giving person than I was at age thrity, I am nowhere close to what I set out to do. I’m still selfish and can only give a very small percentage of my time, attention, and energy to those around me before I feel the need to do something to re-charge myself --- to get something!

The experiences I have just described are what led me to realize that the real problem with the church is me. Or, should I say, the problem with the church is us. I am not healthy. We are not healthy. I really cannot give myself away to others, at least not for long. I can preach and teach about taking up my cross, about laying down my life, about loving others at all costs. But in the end, its more rhetoric than it is reality.

Words of Wisdom

I shared this frustration of mine with a trusted mentor at one point in my early thirties. His answer surprised me. He already knew my dilemma. He told me that there is no way I can do it. I can’t give myself away like I wanted to with my second set of thirty years. He told me to focus on getting instead! But to focus on receiving from God, not from any other source. And that only then would I have the emotional, spiritual, and physical energy to ever become a more giving person. He shared with me in depth about this. It helped me relax and receive. Over time, relaxing and receiving made me a little more generous and giving. That was an interesting lesson to learn.

But I’m still humbled that I must admit that the road of my journey to find out what is wrong with the church has led to a mirror. I am what is wrong with the church. Sure, the church has generational problems. Sure it has cultural issues to sift through. Sure it has a huge theological problem in that it doesn’t even know who it is. But more central to its troubles is my own brokenness. And yours. And all of theirs. The problem with the church is me.

I have shared those thoughts on occasion when teaching or preaching. I always follow up my confession by inviting the audience to share in my blame. I tell them that if they are considering taking me out behind the building, hiring a hit man, and doing away with me in order to rid the earth of the church’s problems once and for all, that they should realize that I’m speaking on behalf of us all. I’m being a little bit falsely humble when I say the problem with the church is me. The problem is really us. My brokenness corrupts her. And yours. And all of ours, through space and time. We aren’t giving enough. We don’t give away our energy, our attention, our ability, our money, our love. And we can’t do it. We just are not that healthy.

As my trusted mentor instructed me, the same goes for us. We cannot do it. We cannot just force ourselves to be more giving, more generous, more loving. We have to focus on receiving, but on receiving from one source, the love of God. Only then will we relax and be healthy enough to gradually become more loving, more giving, more generous. Then maybe it won’t be quite so dramatically obvious that something is wrong with the church. Then maybe the world will notice more that something is right with the church. Maybe something -- something beyond my ability to conjure up -- will shine through and those who are really watching will notice.

Maybe then you and I -- and all the others who are the church, and then even some who are not just yet -- maybe then we will all find our way home.