Archive for April, 2007

Staying on in the institutional church.

In fairness, not everyone is bolting the institutional church, regardless of what George Barna says.  Why do committed believers stay in their churches even though they acknowlege the things I had to say in the previous post are true?  (By the way the comments on that post are terrific and diverse, worth a read)

I have gotten many off site emails on this topic and they reinforce some of the reasons I suggest for why people leave their church.  People afraid to post their excellent comments on this blog because they fear a backlash from the leaders of their church. 

So I want to start this post on why I think people stay in churches that frustrate them, with one such email: Ever since we were married…we have struggled to stay at XYZ church.  Many of our troubles with XYZ are typical…, many of which you noted.  Basically bored, dead corporate worship, not challenged or convicted, feel like the leadership is beyond reproach, sick of people bitching about the music…  Will we soldier on forever before surrendering and going elsewhere? Of course not.  We’ve been in this mode for several years now.  How much longer will we give it?  I don’t know.

Clearly people with a heart for God still permeate the institutional church even when they see the same broken system that some of the “leavers” see.  So why do they stay?  Here are a few reasons I hear from committed believers who are hanging on to what they’ve got:

  • We stay because we feel that what we get from our experience creates a passion for God that is greater than the political crap and abuse that undermines it.  In other words, we overlook the stuff we don’t like for the stuff we do.
  • We stay because we have a connection to other believers who live in our community.
  • We stay because we have found one or two others who are more focused on the Savior then they are on the junk that goes with institutional church.  We are hanging in-together.
  • We stay because we continue to hope against hope that the authority structures will change to look more like what we see in Acts and the life of Jesus.
  • We stay to learn from the Bible and from those who know more about it than we do.  We like the preaching or the Sunday School class or our small group or some other aspect of our church.
  • We stay because we believe God has told us to stay, even though the politics, the preaching, the lack of vision drives us nuts.  We stay because we haven’t been released.
  • We stay because, frankly, we don’t know where else to go. (I have heard this multiple times in the last few days.)
  • We stay because we believe (in error in my opinion) that Hebrews 10:25 obligates us to stay.

Certainly my list is not exhaustive and each of you has your own reasons.  Perhaps the main reason people stay is because they actually like it!  I don’t often hear that one very often,  but I am certain it is true for many.

Let me wrap up this two day post with a couple of thoughts and then I would love to read your comments.  Don’t be afraid to comment, do it anonymously if you want to but rip away at it.  I actually think there is a chance that this kind of dialogue can bring change.

We need to get real about church because the numbers don’t lie and they tell us that simultaneoulsy and spontaneously, believers all over the world are rethinking what it means to live in the life of Jesus, and how the Church expresses Itself in the world. People are weary of religious systems that permeate a whole lot of congregational life and so they are looking for alternative expressions they hope will be more effective.

It just isn’t enough, anymore, to recite Hebrews 10:25 as requiring all believers to be in attendance on Sunday morning in one of the institutions called church.  People really do know better than to buy that tired argument.  “Assembling together” is not attendance at a meeting but rather the joining of life together on a journey of caring, learning, serving and worshipping together.

It is not about the church, it is about Jesus.  When He has so captured our lives and His message and example drives our reason for existence, we will find ourselves in situations where church begins to break out around us.  We will encourage and support people to be real in our presence, rather than being forced to pretend for fear they will be rejected.  We will invest our energy in freeing people from guilt and fear rather than manipulating them to do what we think is best for them.  We will value and nurture relationships that bring the beautiful life of Jesus out in those around us, in ways committee meetings never can and we will have as our mission the privilege of equipping others to live this Jesus life, not managing cookie cutter programs for others to feel obligated to attend.

In this environment the discussion will not be about where we go to church or how we do church but about how we can better walk this journey together in wholeness and honesty, while encouraging whomever happens to be walking with us at the time to love the Savior as we do. 

This atmosphere where brother and sister, sister and brother walk along together, loving and serving the other with grace and mercy, focusing our energies, not on keeping the institution running, but on encouraging the life of Jesus in each other.  Buildings, visioning committees, self preserving leaders, programs, fund raisers, and all other institutional trappings we now call church will disappear in the joy of encouraging and seeing the work and love of Jesus in a sister or brother and once that glory is manifested we won’t care what you call your church or your expression of church, because we will be Family.

One of my greatest joys as a father is watching our adult children laughing, loving each other and growing together even in the reality of their many differences.  I suspect the Father enjoys watching it in His children too.


April 30, 2007 at 2:13 pm 5 comments

Moving on from the institutional church.

George Barna, a noted reviewer of contemporary religion, published a book called Revolution in 2005.  I recently read the book, which is more of a predictive snapshot of the church in America, then it is a statistical analysis, though it is statistically sound.  Having been hanging around the church for 50+ years, I found the book exciting at the same time as I found it chilling. 

Here is a brief synopsis: 30% of committed believers are no longer attached to a traditional congregation. (a traditional congregation is one that meets in a large group setting, is led by a pastor/board, promotes and leads programs by committee and funds their institution by the gifts of those who attend) 

If the same demographic continues, Barna says, in 20 years, 70% of committed believers will no longer be attached to the traditional church.  Please understand what Barna is saying here.  People are not leaving the traditional church because they have lost their faith, they are leaving to protect their faith.

Committed believers are leaving because the institutional church didn’t fulfill their spiritual hunger and wasted too much of their time and energy on programs and activities that did little or nothing to promote a deeper dependence on Jesus or healthy relationships with other believers.

What Barna said created quite a firestorm of criticism from the establishment, as you can imagine.  What institution wants to spend the next 20 years vainly hanging on to their committee driven vision, while year after year the most committed among them opt out for something no committee or elder board can ever provide, an authentic encounter with the living God and a deep and fulfilling relationship with His people.

Last week, in 3 separate conversations with passionate and committed believers, I heard the cry that seems to be building in the Family; “where can I go to find people who love Jesus, love each other and want to spend their time helping people find hope and healing, rather than sitting in committees trying to fire a vision for the same old thing?” 

These were not negative, critical people but highly involved, motivated and Spirit filled lovers of the Father, yet they were as disillusioned with their church as they have ever been.

Here are some of the things I am hearing from committed believers these days:

  • We are bored.  Sitting through the same old rituals and listening to the same tired voice week after week has dulled our spiritual passion.
  • We feel disconnected. Sitting in rooms full of people we hardly know, watching the same people perform on the stage, isn’t building the kind of relationships we long for.
  • We are tired of seeing people blasted with guilt and religious obligation.  Guilt is a great motivator but it hardly leaves us feeling wanted and needed.
  • We are sick of the political games, played behind the scenes, to serve someone’s ego and preserve the institutional priorities over the priorities of Jesus.
  • We are frustrated with asking questions and being pushed away and not listened to by leaders who don’t like the questions we are raising.
  • We found the performance based gospel being preached by the institution was causing us to spend ourselves serving the institution rather than the Savior. 
  • We found we were being forced into pretense and hiding rather than led into authenticity and openness in order to create the illusion that all was well in the Family.
  • We felt like the institutional church had so abandoned the truth of Jesus for some safe program of happy truth that we no longer could experience the reality of God in our lives.

No doubt this sounds negative and foreboding to some, especially if you are part of trying to keep your institutional church afloat.  But I find this consternation and frustration hopeful.  If these kinds of concerns lead to real change in the church, many of us still want to love, then that will be a good thing.

If you no longer attend an institutional church I would like to hear why you left.  If you have found what you were looking for, please share that with us.  Comments on this subject would be extremely helpful for all of us.

Next post I want to write about why I think some committed believers continue to attend and serve in churches where they see the kinds of things I listed.  How do they continue to support an institution George Barna and others say will be empty in 10 years?

April 27, 2007 at 12:25 pm 18 comments

If we are supposed to actually be like Jesus…

If we are supposed to actually be like Jesus shouldn’t we…

1. say and do things that pretty much guarantee religious people will want to kill us and repeatedly say and do these things until they forcefully stop us? (Matthew 5:20;6:2;6:5;9:1-7;12:14;27:16)

2. do really cool things for people and then make them promise not to tell anyone? (Matthew 8:3-4) 

3. hang out with the most despicable, looked down upon and shunned people we can find?

4. whenever possible, forgive and restore people even if they have betrayed us? (John 21:15-17)

5. serve people whenever we can, including getting down with dirty feet? (John 13:1-17)

6. have the craziest guy around baptize us? (Matthew 3)

7. live in a way that makes people talk? (Luke 19:6-7)

8. when we are sad, cry, in public? (John 11:35)

9. repeatedly break man-made religious laws? (Matthew 12:1-8)

10. take complex religious theology and make it simple? (Matthew 22:34-40)

Jesus was truly one of a kind.  It was His uniqueness that made the difference.  When we are willing to be outrageously unique we will begin to make a Jesus kind of difference

April 26, 2007 at 5:21 pm 3 comments


After Paul died, we sold our house in town and moved out to Webb Hill, to a piece of property we named Mercy Ridge.  There we cleared a building site, put in utilities and Brad and I worked to build our “dream” log home.  Over the 11+ years we lived there it was a refuge from the pressures of two intense jobs and a place where we would all gather for family celebrations and somewhere for our kids and grand-kids to come back to when they needed a home, or just a place to enjoy for a while.

Then last summer both Linda and I felt God telling us to sell it.  I was pretty sure that was what I was hearing but when she told me she was hearing it too it seemed clear we were to sell the home we loved and the home that held so many wonderful memories for us. There was no way either of us thought we would live any where but Mercy Ridge, so selling was the last thing we were thinking of.  It was not the money, as we didn’t owe much on it so it was by far the cheapest place we could live. But it was time. 

Not only did we sell our home, we sold nearly all our possessions and moved into a new Fifth Wheel.  Then the questions started; “Where will your home be?”  “Are you going to buy a new home?”  “Don’t you miss your home?” “Don’t you miss all your stuff?” Maybe Linda will write her thoughts on these questions, but the quick answer is, home is where we happen to be, our stuff was just stuff and we have no intentions to buy another house or start collecting stuff again.  We enjoy living small and living without the pressures of acquisition.  But mostly we enjoy being free. 

Jesus said in John 15:4 Make your home in me, as I make my home in you.  These words are almost too much to take in: Everything God is, lives in Jesus and Jesus invites us to make our home in Him as He makes His Home in us.  I have been thinking about this truth for days now and still can’t get my mind around it.  The Creator, Sustain-er, Initiator, Redeemer, Omnipotent, Father, who we know personally through Jesus, that One invites us to make our home in Him as He makes His home in us!

We are the preferred home for the Savior and He wants us to prefer a residence in Him over any and all other potential residences.  

The home we are invited to is a place of safety, of love, of hope, of intimacy.  Many of us build bigger and bigger houses, fill them to over flowing with stuff we hope will bring security and intimacy, but most people don’t feel safe, don’t feel loved don’t feel secure and rarely reach anything approaching intimacy in their houses.  Most people never really feel at home no matter where they are. 

Henri Nouwen writes: We try to find “home” in knowledge, competence, notoriety, success, friends, sensations, pleasure, dreams, or artificially induced states of consciousness.  Thus we become strangers to ourselves, people who have an address but are never (truly) home and hence can never be addressed by the true voice of love.(Lifesigns)

What I am slowly learning, as I live in 350 sq. ft. with very little stuff, is though I no longer own a house, don’t have room to acquire more stuff, my true home is in the love and security of my Savior.  When I choose to really live in that home, I finally find the safety, love, security and intimacy I long for.

You don’t have to sell everything you have and live in a “van down by the river” but if you really want intimacy, security, love and safety don’t look for it in a bigger home or more stuff but in the acceptance of Jesus invitation to “make His home in you, as you make your home in Him.

More on this subject later.

April 25, 2007 at 11:50 am 2 comments

Ways to help someone through loss.

After our son Paul was killed 12.5 years ago, people were so kind and compassionate to us and I always thought that sometime I would try to write down some things we learned were helpful and sometimes hurtful, during our lengthy journey through loss.

Having spent the last 10 days with our friends, the McCombs, as they are walking this winding road, I thought I would make a few suggestions you might find helpful now or in the future.

  • Just being there for us means the most.  Keep us company, watch through the night with us.  Don’t search for profound words or try to think of doing something meaningful.  Your presence and doing the simplest tasks is the most helpful. 
  • Make suggestions and initiate contact with us. We are not going to call you for help even if we need it, even if you might be someone we know would help. 
  • It is important for us to have our space and we do need time alone, but we also lack the emotional energy to structure our lives during the grieving process.  Having someone in the house who takes over the details of running the home is so helpful as we sometimes can’t even think of the things we need.
  • Help us feel safe to show real and strong emotion.  It may be very hard for you to see us in such pain but it is imperative for us to know it is OK to lose it around you.  We are sorry if our grief is hard for you but people who are safe for us to let down around are such a blessing.  Don’t try to stop it, just hug us till it passes or sit quietly till we get it back under control.
  • Help us remember the good things about the one we have lost.  Tell us stories about how you knew them and how they touched your life.  Don’t leave out the stories you think will make us sad, we want to feel sad just as we want to laugh.  If something you say makes us cry, even causes us to lose control, don’t worry about it; you have allowed us to know more about the one we loved and to grieve as we need to.
  • There is always a huge wave of support at the time of loss and for several days after but we will still be at this process six months from now and a year from now.  We will get so we can handle it better but we will still be grieving and your presence and concern will be so appreciated.  Call us just to check up and offer to visit, if we are not up to it at the time you call, don’t take it personally, try again.
  • Let us tell our story over and over again.  It is how we process our grief.  We may say some things that shock you or cause you to want to fix things.  Don’t judge us by what we say or how we feel.  We have a lot to think through and process and in time we will come to answers that will satisfy us, even if they might not satisfy you.
  • Lose the cliches, religious platitudes or easy answers.  “How are you doing” is the worst for us as we want to say, “we feel like s____; what did you expect!” but what we say is something innocuous like “fine” or “good.”  You may not be able to help us now and that could be hard for you, but remember we have to do most of this ourselves, you can’t fix it, so please don’t try.  If you hear us say something you don’t agree with, it’s OK we will figure it out in time.  Let us go through it our way.
  • Have confidence in us, believe in us, be sensitive to our needs and be patient.  We will get better, but it is going to take longer then you might think it should, or want it to.  We will find healing but it could get rough before we do.
  • Be on the lookout for destructive behaviors.  If we start drinking more than we used to or being more of a loner than usual, ask us questions to see if there might be a problem we can’t see.  We may need you to keep an eye out for us when things are especially fragile.
  • Make us laugh.  I am told that laughter releases the same endorphins that crying does, so help us laugh a lot.  But don’t be surprised if the next minute we are crying.
  • Help us do the hard things.  We may need to handle some insurance issues that are difficult, or things related to the funeral may be too hard for us.  Your offer to walk through it with us is invaluable.  There are a lot of things to do that come with the loss of a loved one.  If we want to visit the accident site, offer to go with us, we will need the support.
  • Learn about grief and grieving.  The more you know about it, the more you will be able to help us help ourselves.  Grief is a process, and we must go through it but we don’t need or want to go alone.  There is a great book that a friend gave the McCombs that can be of help: Tear Soup by Schwiebert and DeKlyen:Grief Watch 1999

Well, that is enough.  I just read a few to Leslee and she agreed with what I read to her, especially the one about asking “How are you doing!”

April 23, 2007 at 7:00 pm 8 comments

Time to love more deeply.

No where is faith more important than during a crisis like the one born when a family loses a child to death.  It is faith that carries us through the tragic loss of Willie McComb as well as the tragic and senseless shooting deaths of more than 30 members of the Virginia Tech University community.  Faith is very helpful to many of us who are believers; we believe that this life is not all there is.  It helps us to know that we will meet our sons and daughters again.

We are taught that there is a resurrection of the dead for all who rest in hope of the precious promise extended to us in eternal life.  Hopefully, building from that premise does give some consolation.  However to Willie’s parents, his brother and sisters, as well as his many friends who are hurting from the agonizing, gut wrenching grief that came out of no where, faith is not so much about where we are going so much as it is the empty seat at the table.

The complex days and nights of mourning for loved ones who are gone leaves us desperately needing to know that there is a God who has a master plan and a sovereign grace that can penetrate even the darkest days, giving ease to the angst that aches in places where only God’s love can penetrate.

I think it is important that Jesus doesn’t attempt to explain death, even when Lazarus his friend died, He simply weeps with the broken hearted family.  Those tears from the Savior tell me it is not so important to have answers as it is to have compassion.

I went to seminary 30 years ago, in part seeking answers to explain the senseless loss of life from the conflict in Southeast Asia.  In the thirty years since, I have learned tragedies cannot be explained.  There is no good answer to why an exceptionally gifted young man who loved life and loved people, leaves his family and friends for a day of skiing and never returns, just as there is no explanation for why another young man, so filled with rage and hate cuts down 32 of his fellow human beings.

The irony of faith is that most of us profess a faith for the future but where faith is needed most is in the immediacy of our day-to-day lives.  Days like today, days filled with pain and loss.

The Bible says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  So that is what we must hope will come out of this tragic loss of our son, brother and friend, as well as the national loss we have suffered as a people.

I hope this loss of Willie McComb, the horror of Virginia Tech and the ongoing loss of precious life in a country multiple time zones away, teaches us to love more deeply and to extend a greater sense of respect and forgiveness to one another.

We all understand it is the loss of life that teaches us the value of life but it is the brevity of moments that encourages us not to waste days with anger and unforgiveness.

May all of us who dare to have a belief system founded in God use that faith to find solace in God’s love and presence, beauty in the gift He gives us each moment, and savoring every drop of life we have.

April 18, 2007 at 2:48 pm 4 comments

Memorial Service for Willie McComb

The memorial service for Willie McComb who died Saturday, April 14th in a one car accident, will be held Sunday, April 22nd at 2:00 pm at the The Pavillion at Sentry Park in Shelton, WA.   The address is 190 W. Sentry Dr.  The phone number at the Pavillion is 360.432.1022. 

If you would like further information please call McComb Funeral Home 360.426.4803.

The family continues to appreciate your prayers, your love and your concern.  If you would like to send cards or letters the McCombs mailing address is PO Box 179 Shelton, WA 98584

April 16, 2007 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

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