What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?

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Some time ago, I received a question via private Facebook message that made me stop and ponder.  The person said something like, “I think I might be in an unhealthy church environment right now.  But before I leave, how am I supposed to know what a ‘healthy’ church looks like?”  I answered her question the best I could at the time.  However, I still found myself pondering that important question.  I even threw it out at our local pastor’s prayer group.  I dare say that their response was very similar to my own.  As I was, they were caught a bit off guard by such a simple but direct question.

I think the hesitance of a seasoned pastor to quickly answer this question is caused by the need to reflect on past experiences and current situations.  As we reflect and evaluate, we find ourselves asking more questions like: What is the Biblical definition of a healthy church?  What does “healthy” look like? And probably the most important question for each of us, “Is my church healthy?”

I will be the very first to say that I certainly do not have all the answers.  However, I am willing to ask the hard questions and I am willing to wrestle with answering them.  I think there is definite value in the wrestling and reflecting.  So… in my wrestling and reflecting this is what I have come up with so far.  I have tried to keep my thoughts as simple and concise as possible.

Here are my reflections on what a healthy church looks like:

  • A healthy church is centered around authentic relationships that have real depth. These relationships extend beyond Sunday mornings.  Authentic relationships require time, trust, love, communication and grace.
  • A healthy church practices discipleship and realizes that discipleship is much more than a sermon, class, or a program. Authentic discipleship requires authentic relationships.  I like to say, real discipleship happens when “life rubs up against life.”  This is how Jesus did discipleship.
  • A healthy church experiences organic evangelism.  Organic evangelism happens because the Christians who make up the church are maturing and are naturally reaching out to those around them.  This is not because of a top notch evangelism campaign or a flashy church sign, it is simply natural.  Keep in mind, this growth does not need to be explosive -and it is probably better if it is not.  Some of the best church growth is… s-l-o-w.  That large oak tree in your back yard did not get there over night, -but the weeds around it may have.  Think about that.
  • A healthy church has a plurality of New Testament leadership.  Call them elders, deacons, or just “the leadership team.”  The label that is used does not matter.  What matters is: there is more than one or two of them, they are clearly biblically qualified, are gifted to be elders, take the role very seriously, are in authentic relationship with each other and are accountable to each other.  BTW, you cannot be accountable to someone you are not in authentic transparent relationship with.
  • A healthy church is diverse.  Diverse in its people. Diverse in age.  Diverse in opinions.  Diverse in experience. Diverse in it’s creativity.  And diverse in the expressions of the people who form the church.  God made us all different; if he wanted us all to be the same, he would have made us robots.  I believe a healthy church celebrates the diversity of its people rather than forcing everyone to be the same.
  • A healthy church is governed by Grace AND Truth.  If all we focus on is the grace of God, then “anything goes” and our sin nature reigns. If all we focus on is the law and rules, we become legalistic pharisees who are constantly casting stones at each other. I have seen both extremes and neither one is healthy or God honoring.  However, if we allow the Holy Spirit to govern us by grace AND truth a beautiful thing happens.  -We begin to be transformed into who God created us to be. The theological termed used to describe this process is called “sanctification.”  Sanctification naturally happens in healthy churches as well as healthy people.
  • And obviously, a healthy church is a group of people who are in relationship with God.  Meaning than that prayer, the Word and worship are practical parts of their everyday lives and continuously steer them along the journey of following Jesus.

 

What does “Real Freedom” look like?

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“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  -Jesus

While Jesus has never let me down on this “journey to freedom,” He has led me down some unplanned paths over mountains, through valleys and across rivers that I thought were absolutely impassable. And so, I have discovered this elusive thing called “freedom” to a greater extent -in the most unexpected places.  I am often pleasantly surprised when I catch a glimpse of what lies on the other side of the hill I have been climbing.  You think you are “free,” and then He takes you to that new place that He has never shown you because you were not ready to see it yet.  -Before “that moment,” you could not yet handle the experience and you did not have the capacity to truly appreciate it.  Just a few years before you would have sped over the crest of that hilltop -not fully appreciating the view and perspective He wanted you to see at that beautiful summit.

But now, you stop at the top of the hill and you inhale a deep breath. You take in God’s wonderful scenery and you appreciate the majesty of it all.  You savor all of the new insights that you gain from that view. -And then, from this view you are reminded that there are countless others who are struggling down their own paths to freedom and you feel a great sense of responsibility to help them.  So it is with the Kingdom of God.

So what does true freedom look like? Freedom from child abuse, alcohol & drug abuse, spousal abuse, divorce, obesity, a traumatic health event, a soured romantic relationship, sexual abuse, dysfunctional family relationships, spiritual abuse, abandonment… and I know I have to be leaving dozens of others off this list.  Freedom has many perspectives; it all depends on the chains that are binding us…

All of these wounding agents have at least two commonalities that link every single one of us together. -Regardless of where our place is in society, we all get wounded and we all need healing.  The “sickness of sin” has infected us all.  We all need freedom.

So what does freedom look like???  Well, I can tell you this: it is NOT a magic pill, a magic prayer to Jesus or a single session with a counselor, therapist or even your pastor.  IT’S JUST NOT THAT! And if someone tells you that, even with a well-meaning heart, they are simply wrong. Freedom is not found in those places. -At least not in those places alone.

To my wife and I, freedom has been a process. Though at times I desperately searched for the fast forward button to speed up that process, it simply was not there.  Real freedom is a godly phenomenon that takes place over time. Freedom has been a process of time and relationships for us.  And when I say relationships, I mean with common everyday people that God put in our lives. Some relationships are very short lived, -and some are long.  But regardless, as we follow Jesus on this search for freedom, He will lead us down paths that intersect with just the right people.  And sometimes we have no clue what is actually happening. -While we are busy focusing on the ordinary, the Spirit of God is working on the extraordinary the entire time.  You see, God knows that we need each other.

Then… that moment comes when we realize that we are indeed becoming more -and more free… We find ourselves experiencing a level of freedom that we never even knew existed.  We smile, a few tears roll down our checks and we think to ourselves, “This must be what ‘Real Freedom’ looks like.”

Why Should I Forgive?

Forgiveness is much more about YOU -than whoever hurt you.

The act of forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent. I have witnessed countless people refuse to forgive. In turn, I have watched those same people repeatedly tear their own wounds open, time and again.  Forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent and allows the healing process to begin and continue. It is the well medicated bandage that is placed on a wound that has been properly cleaned and dressed.

Forgiveness is also the antidote for the infection of bitterness. I have witnessed bitterness eat people up like a vicious emotional and spiritual infection, causing even more damage than the initial wound. We have all heard stories where a person would get a small cut on a finger or toe and not treat it properly. Then infection set in. As a result, death and decay set in. The tissue around the “small” wound begins to rot away. If the infection is never properly addressed and treated, limb or life can be lost. Forgiveness is the much needed antiseptic treatment for deeply infected emotional wounds. While unthinkable to some victims, forgiveness is the ONLY way the pain will ever begin to subside.

In addition, forgiveness protects relationships. Some of the most miserable people I have met are bitter people who refuse to forgive. They become hard, calloused and simply difficult to be around. While they remain steadfast in the reasoning that justifies their bitterness, the fruit that it bears makes it very difficult for them to actively participate in healthy relationships. No one wants to be around them. Bitterness hinders and corrupts healthy relationships.

Forgiveness is NOT simply giving the offender a “pass” on their misbehavior and looking the other way. Forgiveness is God’s blueprint for enabling us to heal and begin the path towards emotional, spiritual and even physical health and happiness.  This is exactly why Jesus responded “seventy times seven,” when he was asked how often we should be willing to forgive each other.

Healthy living is impossible without forgiveness.

What Some Christians Have in Common with the Ancient Greeks and Trojans

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Am I writing a blog post that compares modern day christians to the pagan Greeks and Trojans who worshiped false mythological gods?  Why yes, I sure am.

Last night, my wife and I watched the movie “Troy” for the fist time.   For various reasons, we are not typically drawn to movies like this, but due to boredom, sleeplessness and curiosity we decided to watch it.  I found it intriguing when I noticed a few similarities between some of today’s christians and the ancient Greeks and Trojans -as portrayed in the movie.  Here is what I observed:

-Buildings, statues and other objects were held in very high regard and often worshiped as the gods themselves.

-There was no concept of “personal relationship” with the pagan gods; therefore determining the “god’s will” was simply a guess made by the priests, often with catastrophic consequences.

-The rulers used the gods to manipulate the armies and people in order to get what they wanted; more power, treasure and territory.

-When something bad happened because of the leader’s own stupidity, selfishness or poor leadership abilities, it was explained by saying, “It was the will of the gods.”

-Terrible things occurred, -and was justified in the gods’ name.

I am sure I am missing a few other similarities.  I was not actively looking for them while watching the movie. These are just the glaring ones that I remember as I reflect for a few moments.

If this post unsettles you a bit, good.  Maybe it will cause you to think about how people in today’s culture view Christians.  Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  This means that His Kingdom looks nothing like our pagan worldly kingdoms.  If what we sometimes call “God’s Kingdom” can be so easily compared to “pagan kingdoms,” perhaps we need to stop, reflect and ask God to search our hearts in order to make a few adjustments.  -After all, we are called to be DIFFERENT.

As always, I would love to hear your comments.

Why I Almost… left the Church

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I almost left the church, the “established” church that is….  And sometimes, I still feel like leaving the church.  There, I said it.  Yes, Eric Starkey: husband, father, devout Christian and maybe most relevant to this post, “pastor” has seriously considered leaving the church, or at least “the church” as we know it.

Why???

I guess the answers to that question are both simple and complicated.  I am hesitant to publicly share many of my thoughts on this subject because I fear that I will offend friends.  Nevertheless, I feel this post might be a valuable exercise for me to write -and for you to read.  Perhaps if we wrestle with a few of these “reasons” you and I both might be better for it.  And perhaps, the Church could be better for it.  With that being said, I want to make it clear that my goal is not to insult or take cheap shots at anyone or any local church. My goal is to transparently share why I sometimes find myself nearing that point where I want to say, “Enough is enough!”

  • I got burned out.  I entered the ministry at age eighteen; I preached for the first time on Sunday morning at nineteen and experienced early “success.”  Sometimes I believe that early “success” was actually a “curse.” From that point forward, it was full speed ahead and no looking back.  I put the Church and ministry before everything –and I mean everything.  After doing that for over fifteen years, the inevitable finally… happened: I burned out.  I am surprised I lasted as long as I did.  I often wonder why someone did not stop me earlier.  Many people in many different churches had opportunities to grab me and put their arm around me and say, “Eric, slow down.  You have your whole life ahead of you.  Slow down and enjoy your college years.  Slow down and enjoy your young family.  Slow down and enjoy life.”  Very few people offered me that wise caution and still fewer leaders ever did.  Honestly, I cannot think of any other pastors who ever advised me to slow my pace.  It was not until “I” put on the brakes (at God’s prompting) that I finally got that message –independent of anyone within the Church.
  • I got incredibly frustrated with many of the people in the Church.  Religious people, legalistic people, “super-spiritual” people, mean people, hypocrites, needy people, manipulative people, leaders who worry more about themselves than the people who they are leading, highly educated people who are illiterate to the simplest Biblical Truths, insecure people, etc.  Everywhere I turned (in the Church) there seemed to always be someone who met one or more of the aforementioned descriptions.  These people sucked the passion, energy and life right out of me.
  • I began to notice the lack of authentic relationships in the church.  There is so much that could be said here but I want to keep this post short.  Let me just say that most churches that I have been a part of have shallow relationships with various undercurrents running through them.  Church leadership is more about politics than shepherding.  If you doubt my observation, just watch what happens when controversy or disagreements arise. Church relationships often (not always, but often) have little depth and are disposable   *This is not a loose accusation that I am making. I make it after eighteen years of being heavily involved in various local churches.
  • I am not comfortable inviting my un-churched friends to church.  Approximately four years ago, my wife and I made a commitment to purposely start living our lives OUTSIDE the walls of church buildings.  Part of this commitment was to begin building relationships with people who did not attend a church.  As we have slowly made this transition, we have realized that we are not comfortable inviting our un-churched friends to church with us.
  • Much of the contemporary Church is “dumbing down” the Gospel. In our efforts to grow and attract people to our churches, we have watered down and “dumbed down” the Gospel to where “following Jesus” is not following Jesus. We have forgotten what it means to “take up our crosses.”  We have made it too easy. We have made it too simple.  Sometimes I think we may even insult the intelligence of un-churched people when they attend our churches. Don’t talk to un-churched people like they are stupid. Share Truth! Challenge people! Preach the Gospel!  Teach the Word! That is what the people are there for; that is what they desperately need. Challenge them; that is what will cause them to see their need for Christ and authentic Christian community.
  • I have not gotten anything out of many of the church services I have attended.  Sorry, I am just being honest.  When we extricate authentic relationships and dumb down the Gospel, what do you think is going to happen? Church should be more meaningful than checking a box off on our weekly Christian “to do list.” And please do not try to attract me with just music, I can always find better on Pandora.
  • Most churches look nothing like the Church in the New Testament.  I am just being honest –again.  Why should I force myself to attend a weekly meeting that calls itself one thing and then has the characteristics of something completely different?  Most churches “Major on the minors” and “minor on the Majors” of the things that are important to New Testament Church culture. We invest our time and treasure in buildings and programs rather than people –and then we wonder why we are losing “people.”  Hello…..?
  • I was never good at “Playing the Game” –nor did I ever want to play.  I have no passion for the “the game.”  I have no energy for “the game.”  I find no life in “the game.”  Honestly, when I sense that “the game” is being played, I run fast and far from it. “The game” disgusts me now.  I am so tired of political games.  I am so tired of people games.  I am so tired of church games.  I just want to be a part of something real.  I am not looking for perfect, (I know it is not out there) but I am looking for “real.”
  • Because of the above characteristics, I find many of our churches to be full of under discipled, under utilized, immature, lethargic Christians.  I think that is the real fruit that our church marketing, flashy programs and flowery sermons have produced for us.  Frankly, this reality absolutely disturbs me.
  • I got tired of excuses.  You can come up with an excuse for anything, -if you try hard enough.  And we have become very astute at making good excuses in the Church.  Our excuses disgust me.

Why should I attend a weekly “celebration service” that has no real depth and screams “fake,” with other people in a community almost completely divorced of authentic relationships, where a watered down weak (and/or twisted) gospel is preached, in an atmosphere where I am not comfortable inviting my un-churched friends, with “church people” who often incredibly frustrate me?

 These are the reasons why I have had serious thoughts about leaving the established church.  *For the record, my family and I have not left the Church nor do we plan to; we still faithfully attend.  But, I have to wonder how many people have already abandoned the Church for these same reasons.  I would bet all of my earthly possessions that the numbers are far more than just a few…

Perhaps we should all take a step back, stop making our ridiculous excuses and wrestle with some of these areas of dysfunction while there is still time.  -Because the era of “going to church just because you are supposed to” is over.

I invite you to comment with “your reasons” below -or feel free to offer a rebuttal to mine.  Let’s please keep our comments as positive and productive as possible.   -Just an FYI, I plan to write a post next week entitled, “Why I did not leave the Church.”

The Basic Elements of the Church: Evangelism

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So I hear there is a big stink going on down in Sullivan, Indiana; “big stink” is my southern slang for a fight. Apparently, there are a few high school kids, who call themselves “gay,” that plan to attend prom as practicing homosexuals.  I’ll let my readers gathers the facts for themselves regarding all the details, but obviously when the public expression of homosexuality goes to the high school prom in small town Midwestern America there will be a few fireworks in the community.   -And many of the “sparks” will be made by my fellow conservative Christian friends.  I am sure that most Christians in Sullivan have already been asking tough questions like:

  • How did we lose our Christian influence on the culture in “our” town? 
  • What can we do to reach those who are continuing to drift away from the church and our Christian values?
  • How can we make Christianity and church life “relevant” to people in Sullivan, Indiana –especially the younger generations?
  • What can we do to take back the ground that we have already lost?

I have been waiting for some time to finish up my latest series, “The Basic Elements of the Church.”  I had previously shared that from my study of scripture and personal experience, I believe that there are three basic elements that make up the Church.  The first element is Relationships: our authentic relationships with God and each other.  The second element that I identified was Discipleship: our embracing of and learning to live out the teachings of Christ -and helping others to do the same.  Pretty simple so far, right?  Well, the third element is the tough one.  To be completely honest, it is the element that I have struggled with for my entire adult life. (I will share why in a later post.)  The third element of the church is, “Evangelism.”

Evangelism is our sharing of the Gospel message, or the Good News.  When we attempt to evangelize others, we are “sharing Christ” with them and inviting them into our churches.  We are extending an invitation for them to become a part of the Family and to be “like us.” We are compelling them to repent of their sins, ask Christ for forgiveness and come follow Jesus with us.  We are in essence, making the argument that “our way of life is better.”  We are rightly stating that it is much better to willingly follow Jesus than to be swept along in life by the undercurrents of this world.

So why is it so hard for us to make our argument?  Why are we losing ground in our culture? Why is the Church in America shrinking?  I believe these are the questions that we should be wrestling with.  In addition, I think that if we would be completely honest with ourselves and each other we would have to admit that fear, manipulation and entertainment are often used in today’s Christian culture to compel people into the Church. -Not always, but often.  My earliest memories as a child in church services are of the preacher speaking about hell and God’s wrath waiting for those who had not repented of their sins and given their hearts to Christ.  In my adult church experiences, spanning across multiple denominations and geographical areas, I have observed various forms of slight, mild and even strong manipulation used to convert a “lost person” to Christianity.  I am sure I have even been guilty of doing this myself, unknowingly of course with a very sincere heart.  And then there is the “entertainment value” of our modern church culture.  I’ll save you the rant, but we all know that “church” needs to be entertaining nowadays. We use our talents, technology and treasure to bring the “Wow Factor” to our church services, all so that we can “win someone to Christ.” BUT, what happens to “our” converts when the fear factor is lost, when they become wise to or grow tired of the manipulation, or when the entertainment of the world trumps that of our church services?  We lose them, that is what happens.  We lose them because our “evangelism” and flavor of Christianity did not present them with the “substance” that they so desperately needed to become well grounded followers of Christ.

So let’s stop and think about this for a second.  God is good.  He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins.  He rose from the grave on the third day, conquering death, hell and the grave -and redeeming us.  God has given us His Word and His Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.  He gave birth to the Church so that we could have a family filled with others just like us who follow Him and who love and support us.  AND He promises to return for His Bride one day soon. – Not a bad deal when you stop and think about it.

So if the above statement is true, -and I believe it is.  Why do we have to use “Fear,” “Manipulation” and “The Wow Factor” to win people to Christ?  And why are we failing to effectively communicate the Gospel Message?  WHY???  I strongly believe that this is a question worth asking and a question worth wrestling with.

I also believe that the answer to this question will go a long way towards answering the questions that some of my friends and colleagues are asking in Sullivan, Indiana.  Furthermore, I simply cannot stop myself from asking this question:  “What would Jesus do if he was living in Sullivan Indiana and a few spiritually, emotionally and sexually confused kids were planning to attend the high school prom?”  How big of a deal would He make out of?  How many fireworks would He set off? How many bridges would He burn?  How many relationships would He sacrifice?

Well, this post has grown long enough.  I will finish discussing Evangelism and make an attempt at answering my tough questions in my next post.  However, I would love to hear your comments and thoughts below.

The Basic Elements of the Church: Discipleship

So I get home from work yesterday and we all take our seats in the dining room as we prepare to eat dinner together; this is our daily routine.  During the course of eating our simple meal, sandwiches,  my 13-year-old daughter asked a question; I am not sure of the exact question but it was something like, “Why is it wrong for a man and a woman to live together before they get married?” She then quickly followed that question up with “What if they are not ‘doing anything’ though?” I could have easily gotten angry at my daughter for asking a question that challenged my Christian values.  Believe me, she knows my position on that issue.  I could have told my wife, “That’s it, we’re home schooling our children or sending them to a Christian school!”  This question coming from my 13-year-old daughter should have threatened my wife and I, right?  -But, it didn’t.  We have carefully constructed an environment in our home where questions can be asked.  What occurred after my daughter’s question was a meaningful 30 minute discussion as we ate our meal.  We discussed boundaries, healthy relationships, why my wife and I instituted certain rules in our home and even why Amy and I have set certain limits for ourselves in relationships with others from the opposite sex in order to protect our marriage.  It gave us a relevent opportunity to share God’s plan in marriage, why husbands and wives are to cling to each other and unfortunately, what happens when they don’t.  While the initial conversation only lasted 30 minutes during dinner, there were follow-up questions that lasted until we went to bed.  You see, my daughter’s question presented the perfect opportunity to explain our Christian values and to express to her and our other two children why God’s plan for our lives is best.  -This is called parenting; it could also be called “Discipleship.”  And no matter what you call it, it requires time, it requires patience, it requires grace, it requires Truth and it requires relationship.  There are no shortcuts.

“Our pastor has decided that discipleship is not his ‘thing.’  We have just decided to focus on having a great Sunday morning service with a large crowd; this is what we are good at.”  -This comment was made by the senior associate pastor of the largest church in our two state conference of the denomination that had sponsored me to plant a church.  His church was a ten-year old church plant that served as “the model” for the other churches in the conference.  The conference leadership saw potential in me and offered to help mold me and my church plant into a “successful church.”  But, comments like the one quoted above caused me to pull away and question their recipe for “success.”  Before long, we realized that we were not on the same page and we parted ways.

Discipleship… the great failure in the modern American Church.  Why do we have such a hard time with this?  Sometimes when I think about it, it absolutely blows my mind.  How can someone go to church their entire life, sit under thousands of hours of preaching and teaching -and still be a baby Christian?  Why do so many Christians stumble in regards to the basic principles of the faith?  If Jesus really is the answer, why do most church people live no differently than those who are still “of this world?”  I want to be very clear here; I am NOT talking about being legalistic, religious or churchy.  I am simply talking about living a life where it is clear to those around us that we are not “of this world” and that our Father is not “of this world.”  If we would get brutally honest with ourselves we would have to admit that much of American christianity puts a “churchy” facade in front of a worldly life.  This is why people are leaving the church in droves.  They are simply not getting anything out of it and do not feel compelled to “play our game.”

So how does effective discipleship play in with all of this?  First off, I would be an extremely arrogant guy if I thought I had all the answers.  -I know I do not have all the answers, but I do feel like I have discovered a few clues to effective discipleship over the years.  The words of St John echo in my ears, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” and “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  So do Jesus’ last verbal instructions to us: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

If we were to write a mathematical equation for effective discipleship, I think it would look something like this:

(“Relationship with God” + “Relationships with Each Other”) X (Grace + Truth) = DISCIPLESHIP.

Healthy relationships are the foundation for discipleship.  No relationships, no discipleship.  How many healthy disciples have you met who were “not” in relationships with others?  I would venture to say, “zero.”  We were designed for relationship, we were created for relationship; calling yourself a mature disciple without being in relationship is like calling yourself a parent when you do not have any children.  The statement is simply absurd and foolish.  Jesus calls us to be in relationship with Him as we follow Him AND He does not call us to follow Him “alone.”  However, healthy relationships do need boundaries.

So… as we follow Jesus, and enter into a relationship with Him and each other, God’s Word gives us basic relational principles to follow.  God basically says, “If you want to be in relationship with Me and your fellow-man, here are the spiritual principles (-or the Truth) you must practice.”  Please note, Truth is not “the law,” John made a definite differentiation between the two. God’s Truth has the power to literally transform us; it is not a rule, but a gateway to life.  God also knows that we are incapable receiving Truth, yielding to it and following it on our own, so He graciously extended His grace towards us in Jesus.  As a result, Grace and Truth come through Jesus -as we commune with Him.  The transfer of Truth takes place via relationship, through our relationships with God -and each other.  It is a heavenly transaction that perpetually takes place as we all follow Jesus.

Jesus taught in the synagogues and to the masses, but most of His time was spent in smaller groups and in one on one atmospheres.  Thus, He gave of Himself more relationally than corporately. In addition, the example that Jesus set for us was just as much about the model as it is the actually words that came out of His mouth.  You will never catch Jesus saying, “Do what I say, but not what I do.”  No just the opposite, He served as a model for every single one of His teachings. He never asked us to do a single thing that He had not already done Himself.  He served, He gave, He trusted the Father, He sacrificed and He took the time for authentic relationship with His disciples.  He Knew them -and they knew Him.  This was the discipleship model that Jesus used.  It was not a program; it was a way of life.  Discipleship is just as much about modeling the Truth as it is about teaching the Truth.  We fail at discipleship because we do not follow Jesus’ model.

Therefore, our journey of discipleship unfolds as we commune with Jesus and each other & follow His teachings together.  Discipleship does not happen by sitting in a corporate service and listening to hours and hours of teaching and preaching.  I have nothing against the preaching and teaching of God’s word.  In fact, I like listening to God’s word preached and taught when it is done well -and I am actually pretty good at doing that myself.  However, I have realized that our best preaching and teaching is insufficient for discipleship when it is isolated from healthy relationships.  Relationships are key to discipleship, relationships in the home, relationships in the Church and relationships outside of the four walls of the local church building.

So then, why is the American church failing so miserably at discipleship?  I think the main reason is because we have believed the lie that we can make discipleship happen on Sunday mornings -in a crowd.  If the music is good enough, if the preaching is good enough, if the facilities are good enough, if the programs are tweaked enough, if the atmosphere is “just right” then discipleship will “magically” happen.  We can have our cake, eat it too and make it taste very good.  The problem is: discipleship is not happening.  The American church is shrinking and the people who call themselves “Christians” are less and less mature disciples.  Our mindset of, “If we can just get Sally to church on Sunday, she will be OK.” is flawed.  Most of the time, Sally is not affected by our church service alone.  Sure, she might get excited every now and then, but the excitement and emotionalism wears off.  What Sally really needs is Christian relationship; Sally needs to be discipled.  Furthermore, after experiencing what we have to offer on Sunday morning, Sally does not feel compelled to buy in to our churchy facade and “play the game” with us.  Sally has better things to do.  -I talk to people like “Sally” almost everyday.  Most of them are polite, but in a nutshell this is what they are saying.

If I really thought having a great Sunday service was the answer, I would drop everything I am doing, recruit a core group of talented people and plant an attractional church as soon as possible.  I would recruit, plug away and build.  We would have the best music, the best preaching, and the best children and youth programs; then we would build the best facility in town.  People would come, it is a proven model.  If done right, you can have yourself a mini megachurch in about ten years.  –Been there, done that, know how to do it -but walked away from it all.  Why, you ask?  Because I have seen the fruits of it first hand, in multiple environments.  I have become convinced that a Sunday morning performance in front of hundreds of people is not the answer to making disciples.  And Jesus called me to make disciples not build “c”hurches.  “Sally” will not be helped by this -and the hard statistics prove it.  Do we get that?  WHAT WE ARE DOING IS NOT WORKING!!! Can we get that through our thick skulls???  If we want different results, if we want disciples, if we want authentic Christianity as it was designed by God to be, if we really want to help people, we must do something different.

Our corporate worship services create the problem for us.  We want to use them as a foundation in the Church and stack everything else on top of them.  Our corporate services are supposed to be the big thing that attracts people to our churches.  We use them as the “connecting point.”  Therefore the majority of our energy and resources are directed towards this weekly event.  Do you see the problem? Discipleship comes with authentic relationships; discipleship happens in smaller groups.  You don’t get that in the corporate service.  If you attend a church that has more than 100 people, stop and ask yourself a question, “When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with your pastor?” -Stop and think about it.  Not a quick question about an issue or detail in the church, not just shaking a hand at the back door with a few short comments, but a meaningful conversation about something in your life or theirs.  Then think about this, “the Kingdom of God is built on relationships.”  Does your pastor even “know” you?  Do the people at your church really “know” you? If the Church is supposed to be your spiritual family, shouldn’t more than a few people in your church really “know” you?  Do even a few people “know” you?

In addition, huge problems are caused by the money, power and personalities that are involved in most large churches.  I will save that discussion for a later post, if needed.  Just please notice, Jesus refused to accumulate power and money in His earthly ministry.  He refused to involve Himself in politics.  He knew the problems these foreign elements would bring to His Kingdom. Remember He said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  Money, power, politics and egos often create large religious institutional machines where the value of the individual person is lost and authentic relationships are under valued. It is very easy to “throw people away” in these systems. The institution is valued more than the individual person.

The symptoms of the real problem are all over the place, pastors throwing away church people, churches throwing away pastors.  Pastors throwing away other pastors. Church hopping is rampant.  Why???  I thought these people were family? The lack of accountability of pastors, church leaders and church members, failing marriages, corrupt leadership, secret agendas, positioning for power, begging and manipulating God’s people for money to pay salaries and build large elaborate buildings that we think we need because we compete with the world -all symptoms of weak dysfunctional relationships and shallow discipleship:  –Just because these dysfunctional elements have become “normal”does not mean they are right -or justified.  Christian relationship in the church has been replaced with politics; then we wonder why the unchurched are not interested in what we have to offer them.  Do you actually blame them?  Seriously, do you really???  Honestly I don’t; frankly, I am embarrassed for us. -And a good performance on Sunday morning does not make any of this ok.  WE NEED TO REPENT!

The current system does not promote discipleship; it promotes… -well, it promotes what we have now.  Call it whatever you like.  Relationship and discipleship go hand in hand and are the first two of the three core elements of the church; they are the elemental glue that holds a healthy church together.  If we are not getting them right, then we must stop and ask ourselves some hard questions -and then seek answers.  This is exactly what I am doing right now in my own life and on this blog.

-Again, constructive comments are welcomed and appreciated.

Discovering Indiana Gumbo: a few thoughts from my weekend retreat

From Wikipedia: “Gumbo is often used as a metaphor for the mix of cultures that exist in southern Louisiana. The dish combines the culinary practices of French, Spanish, native tribes, and African slaves, as well as Italians and Germans. In the 18th and 19th centuries, people from these cultures lived together within a fairly small area with minimal mobility. This fostered an environment in which cultures could influence each other and meld to create new traditions and cuisine.”

About once a year I spend a weekend hanging out with some people who have become very good friends. Years ago I would have never believed that I could spend an entire weekend with such a motley crew. These friends come from all walks of life, with various religious backgrounds, levels of education, occupations and personalities. When you stop and think about it you quickly realize that we are all very different, yet we are so incredibly the same. We all get together in a secluded area in west central Indiana. Not at a hotel or resort area with five star amenities, but at a campground with little more than the necessities; -we don’t mind it though.

We always invite new friends to come and join us on these weekends. As a matter of fact, the primary purpose of the entire get-together is to be a blessing to these new friends. They are often very apprehensive about attending our little retreat. They arrive nervous and curiously anticipating what could possibly happen during this pilgrimage. Many of these “new friends” have heard stories of those who have attended the retreats before whose lives have been changed and transformed. And just as I did on my first weekend, they wonder how this “transformation” could happen in such a humble atmosphere? And more importantly, could it happen to them? To complicate matters, those of us who are veterans of these weekend pilgrimages are not to quick to share all the details of what actually happens. We tell our “new friends” that the veil of secrecy is kept in order to make their weekend as special as possible. And on Sunday evenings, they almost always return to their lives different from when they arrived on Thursday evening. As a result, many of us return in order to help provide the same opportunity for others. And although those of us who return do so to joyfully serve and give, we actually receive much more than we could ever possibly give back during the weekend.

There is so much more I could say about these retreats, about this extended family and how God has used them in my life, however I seriously doubt that I could ever find adequate words to express their worth to me and thousands of others. In addition, it must be stressed that the people who participate in these weekends are imperfect and they know it. We are not anyone special, and we know it. Those who participate in this community are simple ordinary people who just happen to love God, each other and their neighbors -a lot. We are Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Catholics, Non-denominationals and any other Christian denomination in between. Yet we come together, set our religious differences aside and love one other. Participating in such a diverse yet unified community has profoundly affected me. God has revealed Himself -and His ways to me through these experiences and He continues to use these weekends to teach me what His Church is supposed to look like. -It looks so much different from what I once thought.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I am often critical of “the Church” in the U.S. I try hard to stay positive but my frustration often shows. Being a part of this community encourages me. These weekends give me hope. Again, I want to stress that this motley crew is full of ordinary imperfect people, just as I am ordinary and imperfect. But it seems that those of us who participate have made a conscious decision to love each other -and others despite their imperfections and differences. God honors that decision to love -and it creates an atmosphere that is simply indescribable. Being from southeast Louisiana, it has always been very difficult to find good gumbo here in central Indiana. However, I do believe I have found it here after all.

The Basic Elements of the Church: Relationships

We were created by God to know and to be known, -by Him and each other.

Matthew 22:34-40 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Our Relationship with God:

“Legalism is not your answer, correct doctrine or politics is not your answer, a euphoric feeling is not your answer, a man on a stage -or a TV screen is not your answer, the answer you are looking for will only be found in having a relationship with God through His Son Jesus.”

Why did God create us anyway? If you haven’t, please stop and think about that. -Go ahead, I’ll wait………

Did God create us just to be His servants? or robots? or His pets??? I believe the whole of scripture tells us the love story of a God who “created us in His image” so that He could “know us.” -So that we could we could know Him. After all, Jesus once defined eternal life as “knowing God.” Yes! The God of the universe wants us to know Him. God created us. God loves us. Despite our sin, God has been very patience with us. God humbled Himself and became a man for us. Jesus died for us -to redeem us. The Holy Spirit pursues us. The Holy Spirit indwells and empowers us. And Jesus is coming back for us.

I think just about any Christian with good spiritual common sense and an elementary understanding of the Bible would agree with those Truths. All of these Truths point to a very simple theological fact: God wants an intimate relationship with us. And as Keith Green would say, “He wants more than Sundays and Wednesday nights.” God wants to be a vital part of our everyday lives. He wants His presence to be “real” in our lives, just as real as the presence of our spouses, children, parents and close friends. The foundational element of the Church should be our relationship with Him; this is exactly why Jesus calls the Church His “Bride.” Our Groom is passionate about His relationship with us. -And He wants us to be passionate about our relationship with Him.

Furthermore in regards to worship, authentic worship is born out of authentic relationship. How could we ever worship a God that we simply did not know? How could we ever fully give ourselves in authentic worship to a God who we refused to trust as our Anchor, -for everything in our lives? Music -and talented worship leaders can certainly facilitate a worship experience, but authentic worship demands the depth of a relationship. Therefore, as our relationship with God matures, how could we ever “not” worship Him? As a believer matures, worship should be an almost automatic response to God working in their lives. Authentic worship is a natural fruit of an authentic relationship with God. I fear we are, at times, attempting to “induce” worship in our church services -rather than facilitating it. My concern is that there is often a stronger connection to the music and those leading it, than there is to God.

In the end, the above Truth must escape our doctrinal statements, church website verbiage & blogs and be driven as an anchor to tether our church culture. Our churches should not be anchored with talented ministers, beautiful buildings, emotional worship experiences, the traditions of man, financial wealth, innovative programs or even well established “correct doctrine.” While all these things are “good,” we begin to worship them (rather than God) when they are used to anchor the Church. When our relationships with God are not anchoring the foundations of our churches, all types of perversions are possible -from extreme legalism, to ultra liberalism and almost any perversion in between; “balance” is lost. Unfortunately, this point can be easily proven by running a Google search on “church scandals.” Please note that these scandals are not limited to any particular denomination or doctrinal group; they are equal opportunity byproducts that appear across all veins of Christianity. Our churches must be anchored by living, breathing, authentic relationships with God through His Son Jesus. –Absolutely nothing else can replace this.

Our Relationships with One Another:

“How much visiting do you have to do?” and “I just want to preach.” -These are two phrases that I have often heard from other pastors over the years. I restate these quotes here because I think they illustrate our problem with relationships between each other in the Church. The Church in our culture has been reduced to sitting in large rooms and auditoriums, participating in corporate worship and listening to teaching/preaching for a few hours per week. I love to preach and I love hearing good preaching and teaching. I love to worship God corporately and I don’t mind listening to talented worshipers, worship God. I am even OK with there being somewhat of an “entertainment value” in a worship service; I do not think God wants church services to be boring. BUT, if we call a group of people seated in a building with worship music and preaching: “having church,” we have got major problems. Please pardon my bluntness, but calling that the Church is like calling a man and a women lying in bed together “a marriage.” While we should like and enjoy what happens in the bedroom, it does not make a healthy marriage by itself; -divorce statistics clearly demonstrate that sex is not enough to make a healthy marriage. I would never settle for a wife that just showed up at my house a few hours per week. Frankly, I am looking for something deeper; I want to share my life with someone. Jesus expects nothing less from His Bride. The Church is the people; the Church is people loving each other and participating in relationship. I am sorry friends, but that does not happen during a Sunday morning worship service in a large room or auditorium in the midst of a crowd.

Christian relationship happens when love, time, grace, truth, sacrifice and people intersect. When “life” rubs up against “life;” in other words, when we get to know each other. -And we make a decision to put up with each other, -even though we “know” each other! Another word could almost be used here, “family.” Seems like we may have heard that word used in the Bible a few times when God’s people are described. No matter how elaborate the building, how good the music or how entertaining the teaching and preaching is, it simply cannot serve as an adequate substitute for relationship. As messy as the process might be, there is no substitute for “life rubbing up against life.” Jesus modeled this principle HImself by sharing His earthly life with His disciples and spending much less time with the crowds. He could have catered to the crowds, but He knew better. Who are we to think that our strategy is better than His? Jesus focused on authentic relationships that had true depth. Therein lays the beauty of the Church; and therein lays Her power –when we learn to love each other as God’s love is revealed to us.

In addition, our pursuits for numerical growth and “success” in our churches often overshadow our pursuit of “relationship” with God and each other. Then when we become successful, we no longer “need” God or each other. Often times, we sacrifice these relationships in the process of becoming “successful.” As a result, at a certain point we belittle God to His place in our doctrinal statement, written core values and Sunday rhetoric and we throw each other away. (Please note my use of the word “we.” I include myself in these allegations.) I have been in the ministry for 17 years and I have personally watched this scenario play out multiple times, in multiple groups and in multiple denominations; it is simply the nature of “the system.” *This would not happen if “relationships” were the core element and deeply driven anchor of the local church. We do not “belittle” or “throw away” those who we dearly love and authentically care about. Do Jesus’ Words in Matthew 22 make better sense now?

And He said, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Relationship is not everything; but everything hangs on relationship. Without proper relationships, the Church predestines itself to be much, much less than what God designed Her to be.

We were created by God to know and to be known, -by Him and each other…

The Basic Elements of the Church: introducing the elements

Before we begin discussing the elements, can we just be honest and admit that scripture can be (and has been) twisted to defend almost any position out there? Seriously, how many cult leaders and politicians have you seen use scripture to defend their agendas?  With that being said, before we continue this discussion I want to set a few ground rules:

-We are leaving out the popular doctrinal arguments.   Calvinist vs Arminianist vs Charismatic, etc.

-We are leaving out the tradition & style arguments.   Traditional vs Contemporary vs Post-Modern, etc.

-We are leaving out the political arguments.  Republican vs Democrat vs Libertarian, etc.

-And we are leaving out the historical arguments. Catholic vs Protestant vs all the other “flavors” that Christianity has to offer.

I would really like to isolate this discussion from the hazy fog of the differences mentioned above. The Church is made up of people like you and me, all flawed human beings.  If we focus on our differences, we will never make it to the basics; we will never be able to see the beautiful forest because of the numerous overgrown trees.

Furthermore, rather than pleading my case by listing endless scripture references extracted from their original context, I am going to ask you to use your “spiritual common sense” and draw from your knowledge of scripture as a whole.  I might reference a few passages here and there, but I DO NOT want to base these basic elements on just a few verses pulled from the Bible.  Rather, my intent to support these basic elements with the whole of scripture, using the entire love story that God’s Word tells us.

My prayer is that we can set our doctrine, traditions & church styles, politics and interpretations of church history on the side and focus on the basics.  Perhaps if we had the basic elements of the church nailed down, we could better reconcile the nonessentials to them.  So with the ground rules set, let me remind you of my initial analogy from my first post on this subject.

 “Water is used in innumerable mixtures, from soft drinks to commercial cleaners.  -But when it is purified to its simplest form and broken down to it’s most basic molecular components, we find a simple molecule containing the following: two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  What should we find when the Church is deduced down to Her basic elements, -when She is in Her purest most organic state?”

From my understanding of scripture, God and His Kingdom, when the Church is stripped of the non-essentials and simplified to Her purest state, we should fine three basic elements: relationships, discipleship and outreach -in that order.  And I believe the order of those elements are very important.

Next week I will begin to write on the first element, “Relationships.” I believe this to be one of the most “overlooked” and “under-discovered” elements in the American church.  -BUT THEY ARE THE FOUNDATION FOR EVERYTHING.

The Basic Elements of the Church: A Few Thoughts on Detoxing

Before I start writing on the basics elements of the Church, I felt prompted to add a few comments to my previous two posts.  If you did not read them, the links are below:

Exhausted… -Rediscovering the core elements of the Church

FRUSTRATED!!! -The 10,000 Pound Elephant in the Church

Until four years ago, I had been obese for most of my life.  I actually weigh less now than I did when I was in the sixth grade.  By the time I was a freshman in high school, my doctor informed me that I would probably be dead in my 30’s if I did not make a change.  Telling a 14 year old kid he is headed for sudden death motivates him to action, at least it did for me.  The following summer I lost over 100 pounds by following a low calorie diet and becoming more physically active.  After losing the weight, the physical activity stayed but I went back to my old eating habits.  And honestly, my eating habits had no boundaries.

Until four years ago, I ate whatever I wanted -whenever I wanted it.  I was a product of my culture.  As most families, food was at the center of our family’s culture.  Being heavily involved in the church, food was often involved in the church culture that I was a part of.  And obviously, food -and plenty of it, is at the center of our American culture; this is the reason why obesity related illnesses are the #1 cause of death in our nation.  Until four years ago, obesity was “normal” for me. -And thus in my mind, my obesity was normalized and justified. I weighed in at over 300 pounds.

So the obvious question for you to ask is: “Eric, what caused you to change?”  There are two answers to that question.  The first answer is my children.  I began to see my children eating the same things that I ate and I knew it was not good for them.  I love my children and would do anything for them, including the correction of my own bad habits.  The second answer is education.  I began to educate myself in regards to obesity and healthy eating.  I found out what junk food did to my body and I found out what healthy food did for my body.  I began to find it really hard to shove a dozen donuts down my throat when I realized what effect those donuts would have on me, and on my children who were watching…

I know my past few posts have been really tough on the current state of the Church and have probably offended a few (or more) of my friends who are pastors and church leaders.  Please understand, I love the Church and am called to serve the Church.  Nothing could ever change this, it is the simple reality of who God created me to be.  But after unplugging from vocational ministry for a few years and taking a step back to just “observe,” my perspective has been profoundly changed.  The past few years have been very enlightening for me. I did not set out two years ago to be a “critic” of the established church, just like I did not set out five years ago to become a “health nut.”  However when you become “aware” of the truth and other vital information, what you do with that information demonstrates your character.  What would it say about me as a “responsible father” if I continued shoving unhealthy amounts of soda, donuts and ice cream down my throat and my children’s throat AFTER having the knowledge that I have now? And what would it say about me as a “responsible pastor” if I just returned to vocational ministry and continued as I was two or three years ago? I never wanted to make any enemies and I certainly never wanted to be labeled “a radical.”  My flesh would much prefer to just “fit-in” and go with the flow… But, that simply goes against everything that is in me.  I cannot fathom just “going with the flow” at this point; I love the Church too much to do that.

For the record, I do not consider myself a “health nut” when it comes to my physical lifestyle or a “radical” when it comes to Christianity.  However, I do seek “balance” and a lifestyle that pursues “reconciliation” to the teachings of Jesus.  So… that leaves me with taking the risk of sharing these thoughts on my blog and waiting to see if they gain traction with others.  I have to be honest and share that I can not help but wonder if there is anyone else out there who feels the same as I do.  Feel free to share your comments below.

FRUSTRATED!!! -The 10,000 Pound Elephant in the Church

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36 NKJV)

So… I was in my mid-twenties and I found myself the “Director of Finance and Support Services” for a regional government agency. I’ll spare you all the boring details regarding how I acquired that position, but let’s just say that people “do” notice when you show up for work -and you work hard. Man, I thought I was somebody. I administered a budget of over 4 million dollars including managing payroll and benefits for almost 100 employees and oversaw the accounting, information technology, maintenance and food service programs while supervising a staff of sixteen. “I” only reported to the executive director; I had especially impressed myself by acquiring this position at the age of 27 with only an associates degree in general studies. I found myself making major decisions that profoundly affected other people.

I can still vividly remember the first time I was involved in making the tough decision to lay an employee off. It was the right decision for the organization, simply “a business decision.” -BUT, it had a profound impact on the person we laid off. I can still remember talking on the phone with her a few weeks after it had happened. She sobbed almost uncontrollably as I re-explained her options regarding health insurance and other benefits. She kept asking me why, “Why did we do this to her?” I stuttered through the conversation and finally got her off the phone. My executive director seem unaffected by the episode, but I could not say the same. I kept telling myself, “it is just a business decision.” “It is just business.” Telling myself that didn’t help much though.

As my secular career has progressed over the past 12 years I have always tried to remind myself during those difficult decisions, “this is just business.” As Christians in a secular workplace, we can do our best to stick to our values and ethics but at the end of the day what is best for “the company” has to drive the company decisions -and what is best for “me,” has to drive my decisions as an employee. -I have to admit that the more I have followed that logic, the more successful I became in the secular world. -Like it or not, that is the way that the world goes round. For those of you who are tempted to be pass judgement on me for making the above comments, please keep in mind that if businesses are not kept in the “black” and if government agencies are not run efficiently, then there are no jobs. -Thus the current condition of our economy.

Furthermore, as I translate these thoughts to words I cannot help but think that I would have become a much more “successful” pastor and church planter if I would have adopted this same logic from my secular career into my career in ministry. To grow a church, you always have to do what is best for the organization. If you need to throw someone away in order to “do what is best,” then the end justifies the means. -The betterment of the church is what is important, right? Upholding and supporting the church leadership is what is important, right?? Ultimately, getting butts in the seats is what’s important, right??? Please note that I am an equal opportunity critic with these comments. I have served and closely observed many different denominations and independent church groups over the past 18 years. And as I think back, I find that this logic is by far the most commonly used in the church. -At least in “successful” churches. Therein lies my frustration; a lot of today’s churches do not look much different from secular organizations. Sure we do a good job of sounding Christ-like, but “our systems” operate almost identically to the systems of the world.

Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Wow… there is a lot that could be said while “unpacking” that truth. Those of us who are students of the Gospels know that the disciples had a very hard time wrapping their heads around that truth -and I think we struggle just the same today. At the end of the day, Jesus was telling us that his Kingdom operates completely different from the world’s kingdoms.

Inserting Jesus’ statement into it’s original context gives us the most extreme example of this. Jesus tells Pilate, “If My Kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight (to defend me,) so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My Kingdom is not from here.” -So rather than Jesus’ servants (who He called “friends” -by the way) fighting and dying to defend Him, He surrenders Himself to certain death on the cross. Let us think about these last events of Christ’s earthly life even further. On the last night with His disciples rather than having them serve Him, “He” opts to wash their feet in a display of ultimate humility: the “Creator” washing the “created’s” feet. Let us ponder even further and consider Peter attacking one of the high priest’s servants sent to arrest Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter and then heals the servant’s wound. And just for the sake of argument, let us consider Jesus’ fireside breakfast with the disciples on the beach -after His resurrection. Our resurrected Lord cooked the disciples a meal in His glorified body; take a second to wrap your head around that scene. -Our resurrected Savior was still serving. Surely “His” Kingdom is not of this world! How many of our worldly leaders can you imagine doing those things? How many of our church “leaders” have you ever seen doing anything like that? -Hopefully, at least a few, but I seriously doubt there are many. Our culture dictates that we act differently.

Yet, what were Jesus’ parting words to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20? “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always,even to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ parting marching orders:
1. Go make disciples
2. Teach them what I taught you.

If we wanted to simplify these last commands from Jesus even further, I think it would be accurate to restate them as Jesus saying to the disciples -and to us, “Go do what I did.” -So then the question remains, “Are we doing today, what Jesus modeled for us in the Gospels?” When we look at American Christianity today, do we see a kingdom of this world? Do we see a kingdom that builds venues to compete with the venues of this world? Do we see a kingdom that markets itself just like the kingdoms of this world market themselves? Do we see a kingdom whose organizational structures function in a similar fashion to the kingdoms of this world? Do we see a kingdom with leadership that exhibits behavior from “a different Kingdom,” or does it’s leadership look very similar to the leadership that we find in this world?

If you answered the above questions honestly, perhaps you are feeling a bit of the frustration that I am. God’s Kingdom is not supposed to look like man’s kingdoms, nor does it attempt to compete with them. I have seen an innumerable amount of impressive church buildings. I have participated in worship services with the musical and speaking talent to rival the talents found in the world. I have been a part of religious machines that had millions of dollars flowing through them. I have served under very gifted, talented and charismatic leaders, who could masterfully lead hundreds of people. I have been a part of church politics that was just as complex and every bit as brutal as the political systems of the world. I have seen good people get “thrown away” and deeply wounded by our coveted religious institutions. And I have watched as God’s people, shepherds & sheep, were absolutely ruined by the world’s “matrix” working in Jesus’ bride. So please understand, I have to be candid and ask the obvious question: “Whose kingdom do we look like?” The answer to that question is the 10,000 pound elephant in the Church.

If there is to be any meaningful reform in the Church, we must stop competing with the world and reject the systems, tendencies, unholy methods and core values that are found in our secular culture. We must reject the complex systems of empty religion that have infested our Christian communities. Those of us who are still sober enough to realize our drunkenness must be brave and speak out. We must reject all of the excuses for bringing the world’s systems into the church. We must rediscover the elementary teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels. And we must return to the most basic elements of the Church.

-Next, we will begin discussing those basic elements. Stay tuned…

Exhausted… -Rediscovering the core elements of the Church

Wow… where do I start? I have read the books. I have been to the conferences and listened to the top speakers in the country. -And I have heard all the angles. I have even visited one of the most talked about “revivals” of the past century. (I am not sure if I want to publicly admit that or not.)  -Calvinists, Charismatics, Armininianist, Missiologists… -Reformed theology, dispensational theology, “no” theology… it’s all out there and I have been exposed to almost all of it.  I guess if it were important to me,  I could keep up with the steady information flow, toss the complex terms around in religious conversation and quote the latest “hot” author  in order to impress my peers and those I minister to. -But…  a few years ago I began to wonder why we were all doing this in the first place? And eventually, I just got completely exhausted with all of it.

I often ponder all the impressive theological and intellectual words that I have learned over the years and think, “With all the spiritual ramblings written in all the books, spoken at all the church oriented events and blasted out using every form of media imaginable, -where are all the “healthy” communities of believers?  With all the Bible colleges, seminaries and other religious institutions that clutter christianity’s landscape, -where are all the authentic disciples? With all the money flowing, paid staff working literally millions of hours every year and all the other immeasurable resources available to the Church, -why aren’t we making a difference in our culture?  With all of the teaching & preaching that is blasted through state of the art church multimedia systems, pumped through global satellite  networks and displayed for all to see across numerous social media platforms, why are we not changed? Despite our use of the world’s technology, recruitment of the very best talent that money can buy and hedging our bets on state of the art facilities, all used to create a very relaxing and entertaining, yet intellectually stimulating,  “coffee house” atmosphere that our unchurched friends should feel comfortable coming to  -why aren’t they interested? One very simple question, “Why?”

Let’s remember a very fitting definition of the word “insanity,” “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Can we just get really honest with ourselves???  We are failing to reach our culture.  We are failing to make an impact on our communities.  We are failing to win our friends, neighbors and loved ones to God’s Kingdom. Why???

-It is not for lack of resources…

-It is not for lack of theological education…

-It is not for lack of exposure…

Our resources, knowledge and means of exposing our beliefs and values to our culture are exponentially larger than that of the early church. You do understand that, right?  So why do we struggle?  Maybe, just maybe, we need to pull our heads out of our theology & church programming and start asking ourselves some basic questions:

-What if we relaxed our loyalty to our coveted theological positions in order to use some common sense?

-What if we stopped flashing around all the high-end intellectual terms that are not readily found in scripture and focused on the basics?

-What if we were willing to question the validity of our most beloved church programs in order to reconcile them with the simple teachings of Jesus?

-What if we renounced the “glamour” of doing church and retreated to the “purpose” of the Church?

-What if we traded our “church growth” programs in for learning how to participate in authentic relationships that produce organic community?

-What if “success” had a deeper meaning than the number of butts that are sitting in our sanctuaries on Sunday mornings?

What if “church” as we know it is supposed to look COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ?

If Sunday’s “celebration” service had to be canceled, if the video projectors were hocked at the local pawn shop, if there was no stage for the band to play on because the church buildings had been auctioned off, if the bank accounts were completely depleted and all the staff had to be terminated, if these “nonessential” elements that seem so “essential” to today’s church were removed, what would we have left?

-Would we have disciples?

-Would we have anyone willing to shepherd the people? 

-Would we still have as many churches?

Water is used in innumerable mixtures, from soft drinks to commercial cleaners.  -But when it is purified to its simplest form and broken down to it’s most basic molecular components, we find a simple molecule containing the following elements: two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  What should we find when the Church is deduced down to Her basic elements, -when She is in Her purest most organic state?

I know, I know… I’m making you think. I’m making you uncomfortable.  I’m questioning the validity of your “finely tuned” theology and church programs.  I might even be making you mad.  Hopefully, I am at least making you “wrestle” a bit.  -I  invite you to “wrestle” for a few weeks with me as I invest some thought into pondering, “What are the core elements of the Church.”

May God help us have open minds and open hearts as to what “His Bride” is supposed to be made of.

My Story of Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual Abuse

Hello, my name is Eric and I was a victim of spiritual abuse.

Writing this post is one of final steps that I am taking towards the completion of my healing in this long and painful journey. The abuse started when I was approximately twenty years old.  I did not fully understand that I had been spiritually abused until recently -in the past 12 to 24 months.  I am thirty-five years old now and I have decided to openly share my story.

To begin to understand what spiritual abuse is and how it affects a person, we must first define it.  The following definition and description came from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_abuse

Spiritual abuse is a serious form of abuse which occurs when a person in religious authority or a person with a unique spiritual practice misleads and maltreats another person in the name of God or church or in the mystery of any spiritual concept. Spiritual abuse often refers to an abuser using spiritual or religious rank in taking advantage of the victim’s spirituality (mentality and passion on spiritual matters) by putting the victim in a state of unquestioning obedience to an abusive authority.

Spiritual abuse is the maltreatment of a person in the name of God, faith, religion, or church, whether habitual or not, and includes any of the following:

-Psychological and emotional abuse

-Any act by deeds or words that demean, humiliate or shame the natural worth and dignity of a person as a human being

-Submission to spiritual authority without any right to disagree; intimidation

-Unreasonable control of a person’s basic right to make a choice on spiritual matters

-False accusation and repeated criticism by negatively labeling a person as disobedient, rebellious, lacking faith, demonized, apostate, enemy of the church or God

-Prevention from practicing faith

-Isolation or separation from family and friends due to religious affiliation

-Exclusivity; dismissal of an outsider’s criticism and labeling an outsider as of the devil

-Withholding information and giving of information only to a selected few

-Conformity to a dangerous or unnatural religious view and practice

-Hostility that includes shunning, (relational aggression, parental alienation) and persecution

Despite the comparative frequency of spiritual abuse, those types of behavior and actions which are today classified as spiritual abuse can be seen to be prohibited in the major texts and scriptures of numerous religious traditions. Indeed, in the Christian Bible, spiritually abusive behavior is condemned as being one of the worst forms of sin due to its capacity to diminish or even to destroy an individual’s relationship with God.

As I think back on my relationship with the pastor who abused me, I can remember what should have been one of the first “red flags”.  I was 19 years old and the pastor was around 25.  I had just surrendered to my calling into the ministry in the church that he was pastoring.  We were having a conversation regarding someone who he considered to be “a problem church member” that was not submitting to his authority. It was one of his extended family members, this made the situation even more difficult for him to handle.  I remember him telling me, “Paul should respect me; Paul should honor me!  I am the pastor!  When I tell Paul to jump; he should just ask me, ‘How high?’” Paul was a retired man in his early seventies; the young pastor was in his mid-twenties.

When I began to follow the pastor who abused me, I would have bet my life that something like this would NEVER happen to me.  I have always had a strong and independent personality and I was convinced that this pastor was a sincere man who really loved God.  I still believe that, in his mind, he still loves God and people. -In a way, he too is a victim of his own spiritual abuse.  I was a faithful follower for well over ten years.  During that time he was the primary influence in my life.  Furthermore, I believe that since he took me under his wing at such a young and vulnerable age, I was impacted by the spiritual abuse in a more profound way.  

For much of my time under him, I hung on every word that he said. In a lot of ways he began to control my life.  For most of those years I was on staff at a church we had planted and had the “honor” of being considered one of his closest confidants.  The fact that I got so close to him is what finally allowed me to eventually realize that he was spiritually abusing me, and others.  Over time, I began to have trouble reconciling his behavior with what he was preaching and teaching from the pulpit.  His sermons sounded so good…  and so right, but what I observed from the fruits of his life began to contradict his sermons.  Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.”  Keep in mind, drawing a large crowd and growing a large church was not the good fruit Jesus was talking about.  There have been many, many people throughout human history who were talented enough to draw large crowds, but whose lives were not producing the fruits that Jesus spoke of.  

The contrast between his actions and the entirety of the teachings of Christ is what finally brought me to the point of understanding what was actually happening.  I must admit that it was a very long and confusing process.  I can still listen to his sermons to this day and be tempted to think that everything is “just in my head.”  This is just part of the deception of “spiritual abuse.”   I have wrestled with writing this blog post for some time; the deception that surrounds everyone involved in a situation like this is what finally motivated me to complete this post and make it public.

It is very embarrassing to admit this, but my mind really got messed up while I was under this man’s influence.  I remember really wanting to leave the church multiple times but slipping deeper and deeper into it all at the same time.  By the time I was in my late twenties, I began to question this man to his face in private meetings regarding the decisions he was making. Reasonable questions mainly regarding the diversification of church government and the simple fact that I wanted to leave the church.  Every time I would question him the conversations would get more intense. We could never agree to disagree; he was adamant that I always see it his way and conform to his way of thinking.  And He would make me feel like I was going against God when I questioned him.  I loved God with all my heart and the last thing I wanted to do was rebel against Him, so I would end up cowering to the abusive pastor every time.  

In the last few years that I was under him, there were many times when I was in emotional agony; there are simply no other words to describe how I felt.  I would go for long walks trying to sort things out.  I would lie in bed at night and wrestle with why things were the way they were.  I would work very long hours at the church attempting to prove my loyalty to my pastor and God.  I guess deep down, I was still attempting to seek acceptance from him.  I was looking for a “pat on the back.”  I needed a “pat on the back” from him.  It all sounds so “sick” now as I think back on those days.

I tried to leave the church many times, but he always was able to talk me out of it.  I had been on part-time staff working full time hours.  Between the church and my full time secular job I was working well over 80 hours per week some weeks.  I almost always worked 60+ hours every week. I remember just wanting out. By that time, I had a career outside of the church but somehow he was able to keep me in the flock.  I never understood how he managed that until I learned about what spiritual abuse is and how it affects the abused person.

Finally in 2005 after a major building project, I was completely burnt out.  I had run myself down so much physically that I was literally physically sick.  I remember staying sick for well over a month.  I approached the pastor and explained that I could not keep working the schedule that I had been working.  I still remember the meeting; he was so emotionless and cold as I described my condition.  He agreed to “allow me” to back off.  By this time I was not a stupid kid anymore; I knew that if I took my hands off of all the things in the church that I had been doing that it would begin to unravel.  So, I did. After just a few months things were beginning to unravel and he was forced to put me on staff full-time.  Well, he got my wife and I both full-time at the full-time pay for one person -without any benefits or health insurance.  I left a promising and successful secular career to become full-time at this church.  Why? I think that decision illustrates what spiritual abuse can do to a person’s decision making abilities.  Looking back on it now I think, WHAT WAS I THINKING!?!  –But at the time, it seemed to make perfect sense.  I thought becoming full-time at the church would solve all of the problems.  And the sick fact was that I did desire to be closer to the person who was abusing me.  Plus, there was the glamor of being in full-time ministry, right? Somehow in my warped mind, my wife and I becoming full-time at the church made perfect sense, so I quit my secular job.

Within a few months it was obvious that I made an awful decision.  After we became full-time, he thought he owned us!  The abyss between what he said from behind the pulpit and what I observed by watching him became simply un- reconcilable.  During this time, I began to lose respect for him. BUT, my mind was still warped.  I did not understand what spiritual abuse was and I was not aware of the dynamics that were happening inside the church and inside my own mind.  I was hurt, confused and in emotional turmoil.  But, I still felt a need to submit to him, to honor him, to be loyal to him and most importantly to protect and defend him.  –Even though I was beginning to lose respect for him.  Yes, I was a mess!

The breaking point was in a meeting in late of 2005.  My wife and I (and others) had worked our backsides off preparing for a harvest festival that was to be held at the church.  We had literally worked 70 to 80 hour weeks in the few weeks leading up to the festival.  It was a BIG production that required a lot of work.  In addition, the board members of the church had decided to hold a pastor’s appreciation dinner to honor the pastor on the prior Sunday.  The other associate pastor and I coached the board members through putting the dinner together.  All in all, my wife and I thought the dinner went well. The following Monday the pastor held a meeting with the other associate pastor and I. He verbally wore us out.  I cannot remember all of the specifics of the meeting.  I remember him saying that he wished we would have just given “him” a check for the money that was spent on the pastor’s appreciation dinner rather than having the dinner.  He also said that he felt “dishonored” by the dinner.  In addition, he scolded the other pastor and me for our work habits even though we were both working over forty hours per week.  Even my emotionally warped mind knew something was terribly wrong with this unhealthy church environment.  I had never been treated so poorly by a supervisor, much less my pastor.  I went home that day and told my wife we were leaving.  From that day forward I began to plot our way out.

I knew when the pastor found out that we were leaving that he would do whatever he could to stop us.  I also knew that when he realized that he was not able to stop us that he would do his best to cut us off from our church family and He did.  There were meetings held behind our backs.  He told the staff and the church board that he knew we were going to fail on our next ministry endeavor.  The night that it was announced to the church that we were leaving, we were not even allowed to be in the room.  STILL, my mind was warped; I did not fully understand what was going on. He did everything he needed to do to make our departure look “OK” publicly, but what happened in private was a different story.   I went along with everything and never uttered a single negative word against him to anyone in the church.  I “honored” him throughout the entire process.

This man who had called himself one of my best friends, and “my spiritual father” quickly kicked us to the curb.  When he found out that we wanted to plant another church, he gave me six weeks to get out.  As a matter of fact, I was vacated out of my office within a few weeks and forced to use the sound booth in the youth building for an office the last month I was on staff.  He would have kicked us out sooner, but he needed us to wrap some things up and train others to do what we were doing. We also had a big Easter drama planned and I was the only one who knew how to operate all of the sound and video equipment.  Keep in mind that I had faithfully served him for over six years in the current church working full time hours at very part time pay for over five of those years.  None of that mattered; I was no longer useful to him.  On my last day in the office, he did not even get up from behind his desk when I left. No embrace, no handshake, absolutely nothing but coldness. Even after everything that had happened, I was still absolutely stunned and deeply hurt. –But still making excuses for him.

Our way out of the abusive situation was church planting.  We moved 725 miles away to plant a church in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Moving away was the best decision we could have ever made. We decided to move because I did not want to plant a church locally.  I knew it would be a mess if I did.  I also just wanted to get away from the situation; there was so much hurt and confusion.  Keep in mind even at this point, I still honored this man.  I still defended this man.  In the year after we moved to Indiana, people from my former church would call me and complain to me about the things he was doing and I would STILL defend this pastor.  I would still make excuses for him.  The reason why I would never publicly address the situation or acknowledge the problems were because I still believed that God was using him and directing him.  I did not want to have a rebellious spirit.   I was also still praying and hoping that he would see his errors and repent.  I truly believed that he eventually would.

How did I come to the realization that I had been spiritually abused?  That’s a good question.  When we left the abusive situation, we had no idea we were being spiritually abused.  In fact, we did not even know what spiritual abuse was.  I guess back then, if someone would have asked me what spiritual abuse was, I would have thought it happened only in extreme cult cases like David Koresh or Jim Jones. Obviously our situation was not nearly as extreme.  I would have never connected myself to spiritual abuse.  I was too smart and too strong to be a victim of something like that.  Yeah, right…  My first clue was a conversation that I had with the pastor of the church in Indiana that “mothered” our new church plant.  I remember telling him in a conversation that he was my “new “pastor and therefore I was submitting my ministry and church plant to him.  (Not submitting to the church, but to him personally.) I remember the look on his face after I said that.  He had a puzzled look and did not quite know what to say.  We moved on to other conversation, but I remember that awkward moment; it stuck in my head for some time.

As with all of us who follow Jesus, I was not perfect either and God was leading me through a process to break my pride and arrogance and to bring me to a place of deeper surrender to Him.  He used my church planting experience to break me down and to deliver me from my arrogance and pride.  In the midst of that process, I began to build relationships with other pastors at God’s direction.  I began attending a weekly pastors’ prayer group, having lunch with other pastors and attending and then working in spiritual retreats called “Emmaus Walks.”  The more I got around more experienced and healthy pastors, the more I began to realize that things “weren’t right” in me and in my past.  I began to address these things as God brought them up in my spirit.  

During this season of my life, I wanted nothing more than to completely surrender my life and ministry to God.  As I began to deal with my own spiritual “unhealthiness,” it became apparent to me that I had learned these behaviors from my former pastor.  After all, he had started “mentoring” me when I was 18 and he had declared himself my “spiritual father.”  I addressed him on a few different occasions; once by phone and another time by letter.  My hopes were for repentance (on both sides) and complete restoration; the results of my attempts were completely the opposite.  My attempts at communication were private; his responses were made publicly from behind his bully pulpit.

Through this process I realized that I still had an unhealthy emotional connection with this man.  After everything that had happened, I still yearned for the relationship to be reconciled.  I realized that my emotions and my spirit had been damaged by this unhealthy relationship and church experience.  I did not know what to call it, but I knew something was not right in me.  It only took about thirty minutes of research one evening to learn the name of what had happened to my wife and me, “spiritual abuse.”  

At that point I began to stop making excuses for my former pastor and I began to look at the reality of the situation. That process did not happen overnight. It probably took me a full year to completely come to terms with the fact that we had been spiritually abused.  The reality is that we were taken advantage of.  Our love for God and His people was exploited by a selfish incomplete man who manipulates people to get what he wants.  He does not truly love the sheep; he uses the sheep.  He may say he loves them; he may even think that he loves them, but his actions prove different.  Love is not proven by words; it is demonstrated in actions –as Jesus did on the cross.

Our former pastor took advantage of two young kids who loved God and him very much.  The problem was that our relationship with God grew to the point where we were able to begin to see what he was doing, to us and many others.  When we became a threat, he had to dispose of us as quickly as possible.  –After the first time I seriously questioned him in a specific but very respectful way without backing down, (on the phone from Indiana) he never made a single attempt to communicate with me again. I was focused on restoration and he was worried about disposing of us as quickly as possible.  I was still defending him and he had already started assassinating my character to protect his.

Obviously, I have had to work though un-forgiveness and bitterness with this situation.  I must confess that I experienced a season of deep bitterness.  When I realized the full reality of what had happened, I was very bitter.  I felt like the bitterness was eating me up on the inside.  I have never had cancer before, but bitterness has to be something close to it, an emotional cancer eating away at your heart.   I knew it was wrong to feel that way; I knew it was sin, but the bitterness was there anyway and I had to deal with it.  Thankfully, God, in His sovereign grace, had surrounded me with a wonderful wife & kids and new friends in Indiana who really did love me.  God used those wonderful people in conjunction with a Christian counselor to help me work through the bitterness.  I will not say it was easy, but we got through it.  And I am soooooooo thankful.  It feels so good to be healed and free; words simply cannot express how good it feels.

Our lives have changed so much over the past five years; if you have read prior entries in my blog I think it is obvious. We are almost completely different people.  Here is a quick summary:

  • We have become spiritually healthy; we have never been closer to God.
  • We have become emotionally healthy; we have learned much better boundaries in our relationships.
  • We have become physically healthy; I have lost over 100 pounds and Amy has lost over 50 pounds.
  • Our marriage and family life has never been healthier.
  • We have become financially healthy; long story, but just trust me!
  • We are free to be who God created us to be; we no longer strive to conform to what people want us to be.
  • We are enjoying fruitful ministry, on God’s terms as He leads and we love it!

So if everything is going great for us and we are no longer bitter, why write this blog post?

One of the primary characteristics of spiritual abuse is the fact that few people openly talk about it.  It is NOT a sin to talk about it.  It is NOT a sin to expose it.   It is NOT a sin to refuse to be abused.  It is NOT a sin to stand up for yourself.  The spiritual abuser is the perpetrator; not the person who is being abused.

I wrote this post because I wanted those of you who are struggling with this type of abuse to know that you are not alone.  My wife and I struggled with this, for so long.  We did not have anyone to talk to, for so long.  We thought we were the problem, for so long. We cowered in fear, shame and confusion, for so long. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

The complication and confusion associated with this type of abuse is simply amazing.  As I said earlier, I can still listen to some (not all) of this man’s sermons and doubt that the abuse ever took place.  He is such a gifted preacher and he sincerely means what he is saying in regards to loving God and loving people.  However, there most definitely is a disconnect between his sermons and some of his actions. If you look closely, his ministry is littered with the broken relationships to prove it.

As my wife says, “Lies are still lies no matter how loudly they are being shouted from a bully pulpit and no matter how many people in the audience believe them.”  You are not alone and there are godly loving pastors and godly loving churches out there that will love you and minister to you in the way that Jesus instructed. They may not present you with a dog and pony show every Sunday morning, but they will love you and minister to you. If you are one who has been spiritually abused, is being spiritually abused or is at risk of being spiritually abused, my prayer is that you would realize just how much God loves you.  He loved you so much that he sent His Son to die in your place on the cross.  And, the God who loves YOU that much does not want you to be taken advantage of or spiritually abused by anyone.  Spiritual abuse is not God’s will for your life!

Why I Failed at Church Planting

Why I Failed at Church Planting

wrong way

I led a church plant in 2006 that did not make it.  I would not call the church plant a complete failure; God used the experience to grow me as well as many others who were a part of it.  He used our small church plant and the season that we spent together in profound life altering ways.  I am very thankful for the life long relationships that were built during the six years that HealingPointe Community Church existed.  -But in the end we closed the doors, we sold the building and we all moved on in life and ministry.

As a leader, pastor and most importantly, -as a potential church planter, I had to ask myself two questions: “Where did I fail?”  “What could we have done differently?”  Understand, my purpose in writing this post is not to beat myself up or make excuses, but rather ask “healthy” questions.  Wrestling with the answers to these questions is a worth while endeavor.  Answering these questions has helped me, and I pray these answers will help other church planters as well.

So, why did I fail?

 #1 -I lacked relevant experience.  I had helped plant a “successful” church.  I could preach.  I could teach.  I had solid secular and church experience managing people.  And I had a well thought out written plan and vision.  I felt well prepared, but I was not.  I had never been a lead pastor and I had no experience starting a church and developing a core group from scratch.  -And it showed.

#2 -I was wounded.  There were serious issues in my past church experiences that I had not fully dealt with.  You can not forgive and forget, -thinking you can just walk away from a bad situation without dealing with the “stuff” that went on inside of you.  I attempted to “forgive and forget” and it all came back and haunted me.  Severely.  Jesus certainly taught us to forgive.  However, we must process, then forgive, but we will never fully forget; we are all products of our past.  This means forgiveness is a “continual” choice that we must choose to make.  And this is part of the healing process.  I just said a whole lot here; some of you need to go back and “chew” on it for awhile…  Anyway, I did not give my wounds the proper attention or allow them to heal.  -And it showed.

#3 -I was arrogant.  I think to be a good church planter you must be confident and full of faith, but there is a line that can be crossed where you step into arrogance.  I believe I crossed that line at times.  -And it showed.

#4 -I was not financially prepared -and I did not have a sound financial plan for the future.  Our financial plan was “big growth.”  The church would grow, people would give and everything would be okay.  The church did grow, at a modest rate.  People did give, some.  But during the entire time, my personal finances and credit cards took up the slack.  By the time I had a reality check, slashed the budget and financially righted the ship, I had over $30,000 in personal credit card debt.  I had a mess to clean up.  -And it showed.

#5 -We attempted a cross country parachute church plant.  We dropped into town from 725 miles away on May 28 and started public services on October 15.  On our first Sunday, I had not known a single person in the room for more than six months.  I had no “history” in the area where the church plant was.  I had not yet earned a good reputation in my new city. -And it showed.

#6 -We had a weak core group.  We did not “select” a core group.  Because of the time restraints we were under, we just took whoever we could get.  The core group sets the tone for the entire church: culture, doctrine, personality, EVERYTHING.  Simply put, our core group ended up being weak and did not fully match our vision. -It showed.

#7 -We started public worship services to soon.  We did everything too quickly.  We were a mile wide and an inch deep.  We had no depth.  The backbone of our church was a marketing campaign and the excitement of planting a new church, -not relationships between people who shared common theological values.  -It showed.

#8 -I did not have a mentor or church planting coach.  Because of the financial restraints we were under, I did not go out and hire a qualified, tried and true, experienced church planting coach/mentor.  In time, I knew I needed help but I simply did not have the money to go out and get it.  -It showed.

#9 -I invested my time in the wrong places.  I invested my time in needy people, construction projects and my sermons.  I should have been investing my time in building strong relationships with the people -and teaching them to do the same.  -It showed, and I failed them.

#10 -I expected a miracle.  I honestly expected God to “wave His magic wand” one day and make it all work.  I kept telling myself that God knew my heart.  He knew how hard I was trying.  He saw the sacrifices we were all making.  Surely He would honor what we were doing and “make something happen.” God never “waved His magic wand.”  -And it most definitely showed.

#11 -I got very stressed out.  I was at a training recently and the instructor said, “When people are in high stress situations, they do very stupid things.”  At that very moment, a few things that I did as pastor at HealingPointe finally made sense for the first time.  I finally understood why I made such stupid decisions.  Before that training, I would think back to those few years at HP and say, “What was I thinking!?!”  “I should have known better than that!!!”  And now I finally understand; I was NOT thinking straight.  I was under so much emotional, financial, relational, spiritual and self induced pressure that it was impossible for me to think clearly and make wise decisions.  Furthermore I never developed that strong core group; I never made a strong connection with a planting coach or mentor.  There was no one there to save me from my own self induced stupidity caused by stress.  -And is showed.  Boy, did it show.

By the time I began to understand the eleven mistakes I have listed above, it was to late.  I was already burned out, the people we had left were wore out and the momentum of a new and exciting church plant had ran out.  I knew the best thing I could do was step down.  After I stepped down a pastor friend who had been a part of the church attempted to keep it going, but the damage had already been done.  Within a few years we disbanded the church and sold the building.

*The impressive thing is….  the church plant existed for six years and we almost made it.  I can’t help but think of what could have been if I would have not made just half of these bad choices.  If you happen to be a church planter reading this, please learn from my mistakes.