An evening of conversation with Wayne Jacobsen
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1560-1 Newbury Rd #313
Newbury Park, CA 91320
Phone: (805) 498-7774
Fax: (805) 499-5975
"Have you talked to Pastor?"
Everytime I hear 'Pastor" used as someone's first name, I cringe inside. My yuck meter goes off because using titles for each other is one of the things Jesus asked us not to do. Why do we continue to violate it every day?
I got this quesiton in my inbox the other day:
Matthew 23:8-112 reads, "But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant.
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
My Question is how does this apply to today? And does using titles so as to not offend make sense in Scripture?
How do I apply this today? I don’t use such titles for myself and I don’t use them for others either. If someone is going to be offended if I don’t call them “Pastor” or “Reverend,” I don’t spend a lot of time with such people. Their love of titles is a demonstration that they don’t have the heart of Jesus. I’m not saying they are not saved, simply that they are not living very deeply in his reality.
People say they do it only to show honor, but isn't that exactly what Jesus is talking about? Titles separate us from each other, putting some in a special class. Jesus wanted us to understand and appreciate that God alone stands above, and all his people stand alongside each other. Pastor, elder, apostle, may describe a function God has given us in the body; it is not and never can be our identity. Once it is, everything gets twisted.
It isn’t easy negotiating an unknown and potentially serious medical condition especially when you are the mom of young children. A friend of mine is facing that challenge. It's been going on awhile and still the doctors still aren't sure exactly what she's facing. She wrote me this week about being overwhelmed with the fears of what it could be and the weariness of dealing with the symptoms and tests. My heart hurts to her and many others I know facing similar circumstances. As I prayed for her my mind was drawn back to an email I'd just read from Patricia in Wisconsin. In fact, it had come in two minutes before the one I received from this young mom.
It told an amazing story that I thought would encourage this mom and perhaps give her some insight as to how to deal with the latest round of tests. Here's what Patricia wrote:
I hit a bit of a wall a few weeks back waking up feeling as if there was a black cloud hovering over me. I asked Jesus, "What is it that I'm not getting about your love for me? " I asked him to show me. I was pretty discouraged, Wayne, not understanding why. I headed out the door to water the flowers. Being with flowers always seems uplifting. Stretched across the walk was a big snake. Although I assumed it was non-poisonous, my reaction could be described much like when you slam on your brakes when someone suddenly cuts you off in traffic. Frightened, I stomped my foot and the snake quickly slithered into a space between the walk and the front porch. Great, I thought, now it's in the basement! I had a vision of it hanging from a pipe the next time I needed to make a trip downstairs.
Just then Jesus seemed to speak to my heart. "You become afraid, stomp your feet driving your fear deeper inside." The next morning I went out to water the flowers and once again there was the snake stretched out across the walk. This time I turned my empty bucket upside down several feet away from it and sat down. I had an interesting conversation with Jesus about my fear. The next morning the snake was there and the day following that. I began to say good morning to the snake. Although I didn't feel the need to drape that baby over my shoulders I appreciated it's presence. I began to view the snake differently.
By the end of the week he was gone. So was the discouragement. I was left with a deeper, more authentic relationship with Him.
Our fears only grow greater in the darkness and our view of God much smaller. I love this story of the snake and the fact that Patricia would sit down near it and have a conversation with God about her fears. I love how that engagement changed her view of the snake and her connection with the Father who loves her so much. When people encounter difficult circumstances, some try to ignore them, others dwell on them with fear and panic. What would happen if we sat down with God in the face of our fears and talked it out with him? I've often heard preachers or worship leaders telling us to lay down our fears when we come to him. In their minds admitting to fear is proof we have no faith. But that is only denial. It takes far more trust to bring our fears along as we sit or walk with him.
So I sent this story to the young mom facing the scary medical diagnosis, with this encouragement: "You and God can find some deep, deep fellowship staring down your fear and finding out that your whole life is in Father’s hands. It has always been. So is everyone else’s. And those are pretty good hands to have it in, regardless of the outcome."
She wrote back saying my email had begun to draw her into different space. "Your last email made the tears fall... I talked to God... felt like I was flinging myself into his lap like my kids do when they are hurt and scared. I want those deep conversations. I'm tired."
Awesome. What other option to any of us have? We can't change our circumstances. We can't win over our fears. We can only sit down in the midst of them and let Father do what Father does best—draw us into freer space. Fear only makes God seem more distant. He is not. It’s not in his nature. If we take the time to sit with him and let him sort out it out. He knows how to handle it all and make himself known to us. As he settle us in his love our fears lose their power as we know we are not alone and that the one who is in us is greater than any circumstance confronting us.
What else are we going to do, throw a tantrum and drive our fears under the porch where they only becomes even scarier?
I am finishing up my time in Europe and am ready to leave for home tomorrow. It has been a spectacular time, first with the family God has given me celebrating our anniversary. We saw so much together, laughed so hard, and enjoyed each other. Sara and I agreed that these days were some of the most enjoyable of our lives. Then I went to France to gather with some “friends and friends of friends” to share God’s life. We had people from France, Ireland, South Africa, the U.S., England, and I’m not sure where else. What great days, so encouraging and stimulating.
For the past five days I’ve been in the south of France near Nimes, through five days of conversations about our life in Jesus and how he invites us into the new creation of a live well loved instead of negotiating the demands and obligations of religion. They have been so warm and responsive and it has been such a joy to watch God warm hearts and stimulate journeys that have been wearied by the false teachings of religious performance. I am reminded again how much God’s work has continued to shape in my own life and how differently I think and live now than I did twenty years ago. I would not trade this way of knowing him for anything.
Throughout the whole trip I have visited many religious buildings where at great expense and time people have tried to create buildings worthy of God, when the only temple he desires to live in is us, and the only one he wants to build is his church as he invites us to love others as we’ve been loved. While the buildings are magnificent in beauty and engineering, they have not helped those who frequent them know God as intimately as he desired. He cannot be found in buildings, no matter how ornate. If he is more real to you in a Cathedral than he is in your own home, you have missed the most powerful lesson of the Incarnation—God is with us in our world, every day, every moment.
I’ve also visited many places where protestant Christians were imprisoned and tortured by the all-too-easily threatened Roman Church. It’s horrible what they did in the name of God to those who sought to follow Christ without following Rome. Obviously they did not know God or his love. Yesterday I was at in Aiques-Morte a walled city built in the 13th centuryby Louis IX at a French seaport on the Mediterranean. The Tower of Constance (pictured above) was a garrison when it was built was converted to a prison for Protestants in the 18th century. Perhaps the most well-known is Marie Durand, who engraved the word “resister” (below), which in English means resist, into the edge of the well and it can still be seen. Along with as many as 200 other prisoners she had been imprisoned from the age of 15 until she was freed at 53. Despite the power of the Roman church in her day, she knew the glory of resisting what is false to embrace what is real and that to submit her conscience under the threat of torture would deny her the freedom Jesus purchased for her.
She knew resistance is not futile. It is necessary and because so many like her refused to submit to Roman torture, God’s glory grew in the world. In a day when people find it difficult if friends and family judge them for following their freedom in Christ and not conform to religious demands of our day, it was a great encouragement. Yes it is not easy being judged by those you love, but it is still a far cry from being imprisoned for resisting religious leaders who have not a clue who God is.
Summer is here, our grandkids are out of school, and in celebration of our fortieth wedding anniversary that happened last month, Sara and I are off to Europe with our children and grandchildren for the next couple of weeks. We are looking forward to some of the things we’ll get to see there, but more importantly we are looking forward to celebrating the family that God has given us. We’ve never done anything like this and are looking forward to spending so much time together. This is one fun family to hang out with!
However, since this is a two-horse operation, the offices at Lifestream will be closed until June 29 when Sara returns. We’ve got people to still fulfill book orders for those who want them, but other than that, things will be quiet here. I’m going to spend as little time as possible with email and websites during my time in Europe. There will be no new podcasts unless something amazing happens. I may post a few pictures on my Facebook Author Page if I find the time and Internet connection.
I will be staying on in Europe to connect with some brothers and sisters in Barcelona, attend a gathering of Friends and Friends of Friends in the south of France, and finish off sharing with a group of believers near Nimes, France. If you want more information on those you can get it on my Travel Page.
If you have anything important for me, please wait until early in July to write. You’ll get a more reasoned response and my inbox will not get so full. We are blessed to be able to take this time and celebrate God’s goodness and take a break from all the writing and interacting to just enjoy the Father’s work in us. This is a very special time for us and we're excited.
One more note: The Shack Movie went into production this week. You can read more about that here. Just be warned this is one of those websites I detest with annoying and intrusive ads and a really lame preview trailer.
I meant to tag on some sample quotes from Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope's new book, Church Refugees yesterday and in my haste forgot to tag them on to my review. So I will include them here. I know many of you will enjoy this book and the insights it offers...
How can the church possibly hope to survive and thrive as a relevant and meaningful social institution if it keeps spitting out Ethan and people like him? If people who are so dedicated to the church feel the need, ultimateily, to leave for their own survival, what does that say aobut the church and it's future? ... He and his wife didn't give up on God; they gave up on the institutional expression of church. They didn't stop doing things to advance what they believed to be the work of God; they stopped doing things to advance the work of the church. Their suubstantial energies and skills are now poured daily into activities and structures that happen completely outside the purview of organized religion. They've opted for relationship over structure, doing over dogma, and creating with rather than creating for.
From one of the people they interviewed: I had a chat with a pastor at a church that I was interested in attending, and I said, “I don’t want to hear about what you believe; there will be plenty of time to talk about that later. I’m not interested in seeing if we agree, because I’m sure three will be disagreement. The only question I have for you is, How do you deal with people who disagree with you? How does the church handle that?” Because really, for me, that’s the most important thing.
Again in these stories we see a return to the concept of the reluctant leaver, which echoes back to the refugee. People are trying, sometimes for years, to make church work for them before eventually, reluctantly moving on. And when they move on, they move to things that look nothing like the activities that consume the traditional church. They move on to community gardens, art therapy, meals in living rooms around a communal table, Internet chat rooms, and quilting groups. Nobody, not one single respondent mentioned replacing church with a worship service or with a sermon series or with committee work. They are replacing church with meaningful activity that engages their communities and build relationships, things they find missing in the church.
As we say throughout the book, they’re leaving to do more, not less, and they’re doing it with a broader and more diverse community. They aren’t exhausted or burned out. They aren’t retreating to small like-minded groups.
The Dones might lament the loss of the church and grieve the abandonment of an institution they once loved and were so hopeful for, but that won’t stop them from actively expressing their faith. As one respondent, Ava, tod us, “There’s pain in leaving. There’s loss. But there’s hope, too. We’re able to do things now.”
By Wayne JacobsenFourth in a series on the The Phenomenon of the Dones
(Read: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3)
If you read one book about the church this year, you’ll want to read Church Refugees. Dr. Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope are sociologists and while researching the current trends of people’s church attendance made a surprising and unexpected discovery. They identified a significant number of Christians who no longer attend church services and yet are thriving in their spiritual life. They call them "the Dones" because they are done with the traditional congregation having felt it was stifling to their own spiritual journey.
To their surprise they discovered that most of them had not lost interest in their faith, faded out the back door, or preferred to watch football on Sundays. Instead they discovered them to be high-capacity Christians who were committed givers and deeply involved in leadership. They didn’t leave quickly or easily, having spent years trying to encourage change or simply find a way to get along. They eventually left because in all conscience they conclude that the way things are being done in their congregation threatens to compromise their faith. They sought community over judgment, mission over machinery, rich conversation over pat answers, and meaningful engagement with the world beyond moral prescriptions. While leaving is not easy as they suffered the judgments of former friends and colleagues they soon discover that there are plenty of resources for growth, meaningful connections with others on a faith journey, and ways to touch the world beyond the congregational system.
This book is a game-changer for how we perceive the church and understand those who no longer find our institutions helpful to their journey. It has the potential to obliterate the myth that our local institutions are the only or even the best way to engage the life of Jesus and his mission in the world. That’s not what the authors have in mind since they are both avid attenders themselves. They simply wanted to explore the phenomenon and seek to help congregations understand why these people are leaving and perhaps reconsider how to revitalize their institutions so they wouldn't have to leave.
This is a compelling read that is hard to put down. The researchers mix their findings with first-hand stories from their respondents that will challenge whatever view you hold of the church. No doubt many will find it difficult to admit that passionate followers of Jesus are thriving outside our institutions, preferring the narrative that you can’t be a true Christian if you are not connected to a local congregation. The hungers, however, are real and if they won't be served by our existing congregations people will go looking elsewhere. Obligation alone will not save these institutions.
For those who have already left you'll find encouragement that you're not alone in your desire for a more vibrant experience with God and his church and that it is possible to fulfill it in other ways. However, the terminology the authors use will make you cringe at times. Even the title, Church Refugees, is more than a little condescending to those who are no longer part of a traditional church. Calling them “The Dones” or the “Dechurched” doesn’t help either and you’ll find that language on almost every page. Just keep in mind this is a book by insiders, for insiders, about outsiders. It only uses “church” for institutional gatherings and posits those outside of such institutions as the "dechruched". But it doesn’t dismiss them or the sincerity of their faith. I’ve not been an active participant in an institutional church for over 20 years, but I don’t consider myself a church refugee or that I am dechurched. I have never been more alive and engaged with the church Jesus is building in the world in so many expressions outside our traditional congregations. The church in Scripture was never a religious institution with weekend services and top-heavy bureaucracies. The church is the family Jesus is building in the earth and it cannot be contained or managed in any human organization. While it can take expression there, it can also take shape in many ways beyond it.
This may be the most important church book written in this decade. Whether you like what their research shows or not, Packard and Hope have done us all a service by giving us an accurate picture of the religious landscape rather than relying on our biases or experiences. What we do with them will have great impact on our engagement with the church.
If you share the hunger of the Dones but still hold hope for our Christian institutions, it will help you be a voice for change so those hungers can be served instead of frustrated. If you've found it necessary to leave you'll find great encouragement in knowing there are others finding opportunities for growth, deep fellowship and mission beyond the programs of our congregations.
Hopefully it will help us all see the church as a bigger reality than our human conventions can contain, and affirm that what’s most important is whether or not people are following Jesus, not which building they go to on Sunday morning, or even if they go to one at all.
Church Refugees • 143 pages in hardback, paper back or ebook. Order from Amazon.com
By Wayne Jacobsen
I’m growing convinced that much of Christianity has become a human religion loosely based on the teachings of Jesus, while missing the point of them all.
Every week now I get links to blogs and articles of various pastors giving the 5, 8, or 12 reasons everyone needs to attend a local church each week. To prove their point, however, they have to make some of the most ridiculous statements that have absolutely no grounding in the life or character of Jesus. These conclusions are not just misguided, but actually destructive to people who want to grow in his life and joy.
This is not a personal judgment against them. I’m sure many of them are fine people, only trying to do what they feel called to. I also appreciate that this is a scary time for them as so-called church attendance is on the decline. The idea that someone can actually grow in their relationship with God, experience the life of the church, and share his mission in the world without being part of their congregation has to be a scary reality. Many don’t even want to acknowledge it is even possible, so they double down on the language of obligation and accountability. In doing so, however, they twist the Gospel so that it is no longer recognizable and all that’s left is for people to obey what they are told by leadership whose success and livelihood depend on that obedience.
There are many good reasons to gather regularly with other believers and share the journey of faith. It’s just that all those gatherings are not going on in Sunday morning services shackled by the bureaucracy of a religious system that often does more stifle spiritual growth rather than stimulate it. Many have found more engaging ways to share the life of the church beyond the walls of traditional congregations and telling them they must attend a normal service, falls on deaf ears once they’ve discovered that it isn’t true.
So if they hope guilt and obligation will win these people back or scare the ones they have into remaining, they are not only fighting a losing battle but disfiguring God and distorting the Gospel to do it. The life of the church is not found in obligation but in the joy of affection and transformation. Trying to discount the salvation of those who leave in hopes of reigning back in the faithful will continue backfire.
In the latest article I read Nathan Rose, a Missouri pastor in the Southern Baptist denomination says that skipping “church” meetings is dangerous to your health. He gives five reasons why in a recent article he wrote, Five Spiritual Dangers of Skipping Church:
“You will miss out on God’s primary design for your spiritual growth and well-being.” What in the ministry of Jesus leads him to the conclusion that God’s primary means to grow to spiritual maturity is to attend a church service weekly, when he never conducted one himself, never taught his disciples how to do so, and assigned the task for our growth to the Holy Spirit who would dwell in us and guide us to all truth? When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus where she should worship, he made it clear that location is not the issue. What matters is that we do so in spirit and in truth. Living in the Father’s affection and responding to his Spirit within us is God’s primary design for our growth and well-being, not sitting in a pew on Sunday morning.
“You disobey God.” As many do, Rose pulls out Hebrews 10:24-25 saying that the counsel “not to neglect to meet together,” is a command that can only be fulfilled in a weekly church service. It’s dishonest on the face of it. This is the only Scripture pastors have to seek to compel “church attendance” and it is misused at that. This passage wasn’t written to believers skipping out on church services, but to people under persecution who were wondering if avoiding association with each other would make it more difficult for the authorities to find them. The writer is telling them they have more to gain by the encouragement they have from each other than going it alone. Most Sunday services don’t even allow people to encourage each other, since the focus is on the platform. Hebrews 20 is not talking about attending a meeting; it is about staying connected to others and not trying to make it alone. Honestly many of our institutions today do more to inhibit that connection than encourage it.
“You make a statement to the world that God is not worthy of worship…, which is the attitude and conduct of unbelievers, not God’s people.” So if you don’t come to “worship” you are no longer one of God’s people. The judgment here is frightful. Worship is not a song service or a sermon, but a live lived in God’s reality and his affection. How we see him and how we love and respect others either brings glory to him or disfigures him. Sitting in a pew on Sunday morning is not a statement of how important worship is to you unless that’s the only way you understand worship and then you are spiritually impoverished the rest of the week. Our lives worship him whether we’re on the job, enjoying his creation, or serving someone in need.
“You can’t minister to anyone.” Really? All the ministry that God wants to do in the world can only happen under a steeple on Sunday morning? That would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. Jesus never ministered in a “service,” but on the street where he encountered people. Real service is not sitting in a pew so others can hear you sing and you can show support for the pastor. Ministry is about loving and helping people you know or come across as you go through life. They can be in your neighborhood, at work, in school, or across the world.
“You skip out on a foretaste of heaven.” If Sunday morning services were really a foretaste of heaven, no one would want to miss them and you wouldn’t have to obligate them to be there. In many cases it’s just a repeated formula often laced with guilt and condemnation, as was the entire piece written by Rose.
What bothers me most is not that they want people to come to “their church”, but that they see obligation as the reason. They make the same mistake the Galatians made. By turning the promise of God into an obligation they distort the gospel, twisting the joy of an invitation into God’s life into demands and threats. It has the underlying psychology of “misery loves company.” We are not here because we enjoy it and God works in us, but because God says we have to. Please! The kingdom is the pearl of great price, not the castor oil of spiritual maturity.
Paul, the apostle, encourage us to live in freedom and let “no one” defraud us by telling us where we should go, what we should eat, or what we should wear. People who try to tell you what you should do, rather than equipping you to live fully and freely in Jesus, have lost connection with the Head.
I honestly feel sorry for those who can’t see the reality of Christ’s church beyond their own congregation or the congregational model itself. They would perhaps do better to take an honest look why people who were committed members of their congregation found it necessary to leave. Badgering them with accusations and demands will never fulfill the work of the kingdom. Maybe it is time for them to ask just how much their gatherings reflect God's nature and reality. Those congregations who honestly seek to help people live in the reality of Jesus’ freedom and transformation need not be threatened that Jesus is also working outside their borders.
In fact if they put his kingdom first, they will rejoice that he does.
I just finished Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope's book, Church Refugees. I've been aware of this book for five months now and have become acquainted with one of the authors. I'm working on a longer review of it. It's a great read that you'll enjoy if you care about the state of Jesus' church today and what he is doing beyond the walls of our conventional congregations. One thing it does so well is dispells the myth that you have to belong to a "local church" to have a vibrant and fruitful relationship with Jesus and engagement with his people and the world. For now, I just want to share this quote with you about those who are leaving:
They aren't weaker Christians than those who stayed. They aren't less faithful. They aren't backsliders or spiritually immature. They have simply endured too much in the instituaionl church and see no reason, theologically or practially, to continue in that relationship
Get yourself a copy. You won't regret it!
What does it take for someone to leave a congregation of people they have loved and served alongside, often for decades? Why would they suddenly break away from close friends and lifetime traditions to wander into a lonely and uncertain future only to be accused of being selfish, bitter, or rebellious?
Except that it generally isn’t sudden at all, and not at all what they had hoped for. Yes, there came a time when they stopped attending, but none of “The Dones” I’ve met over the past twenty years left easily or suddenly. In fact most have wrestled with the decision for years in the face of some concern or unmet hunger. Initially they thought others around them would resonate with their passion, or be grateful if they identifie a problem that needed attention. To their shock, they found their repeated attempts to discuss their concerns or hopes fell on unsympathetic ears.
Try as they might to bring positive changes, they only meet resistance and eventually disrespect and frustration. “That’s not the way we do things around here.” Many give up trying to convince others, but their hunger continues to until sitting in the congregation becomes painful. After years of struggle they finally feel they have no other choice but to follow their hunger instead of quietly going along. As much as they want to stay with people they care so much about they find they can no longer participate in meetings that have become a detriment to their spiritual passions.
While the process is similar for most that I know, the reasons can be quite different. Recently I asked people on my Facebook page what it was that finally made it clear that they needed to leave their congregation. I got over a hundred responses from people that were consistent with the thousands of stories I have heard over the last two decades.
Forty-two percent said they were worn out by the machinery and the need to serve it. Some of that is burn-out from having to do more than they had time or energy for, but for most it means that the cost it exacted wasn’t worth the fruit it produced. Rarely does anyone say the congregation was all bad except in the most abusive cases. Mostly they say the demands of the congregation began to displace their passion for Jesus and that scared them.
Twenty-three percent said they no longer respected the leadership, either because they were dishonest, demanding or manipulative. This didn’t result from a bad confrontation or two, but a series of experiences that consistently eroded their trust and respect.
Twenty percent they simply hungered for more authentic relationships, feeling the ones they had were too superficial or governed by pat answers instead of people really getting to know them and wanting to walk alongside them in their joys and struggles.
Twelve percent wanted more of Jesus and his life than their congregation offered. The focus seemed to be on things other than helping people learn to experience the fullness of life in him.
Three percent reported no dissatisfaction at all, but simply felt led by the Spirit to move onto a different stage of their journey.
Of course my pool of respondents did not include those gave up on God when they gave up on their church. Many do, seeing the failures of their institutions or its leaders as proof that God doesn’t exist, or if he does, at least isn’t engaged with them. It’s a tragic legacy of systems that often do more to perpetuate programs than demonstrate Father’s affection.
But for every person that has left, be they pastor or parishioner, there are dozens more who are thinking about it and second-guess that decision every time they sit through another meeting that doesn’t address their deepest hungers. Many stay because of the relationships , others out of obligation no matter how painful it becomes. Actually they are “done” too, attending in body only and with decreasing frequency and it is only a matter of time before they stop as well.
Simply put, most of “The Dones” left because their spiritual passion could no longer be fulfilled where they were. So what may look like someone just walked out one day isn’t true. It is almost always a long, protracted process that even they resisted until they could do so no longer and still be true to the Spirit’s call inside them.
The process is hard on everyone. In the first few months many of those who leave are racked with guilt and second-guess their decision frequently especially if it is difficult to find others on the outside who share their hungers. And it’s hard on those they leave behind, who often feel rejected by those who leave. Harsh words and judgments are exchanged as each side seeks to convince themselves they are doing what’s right and want to convince the others for their own validation. Nothing will destroy friendships faster and lead to animosity and hurt that will spread throughout the community.
Those who have left are not your enemy. If they were your friends before, wouldn’t they still be your friend now even if you think are concerned for them? Wouldn’t loving each other be vastly more important than how we gather or don’t gather on a Sunday morning? Maybe if we were less threatened by their hunger we could celebrate their to find an environment more meaningful to their faith.
Certainly some who leave find their way back when they can’t find the community they are looking for. Most, however, after a year or two begin to find themselves connecting to others who share their hunger for more authentic and generous community in small groups or growing friendships without the need or expense of sustaining the machinery. They spend more time in conversations that nurture their faith and less time planning meetings and maintaining structures.
People who lose hope that the institutional model can provide a lifetime environment for community and growth may not be the death knell for the vitality of the church; maybe they are the hope that there’s more than one way the church takes expression in the world.
For more information on “The Dones”, read Dr. Josh Packard’s research into this phenomenon in his new book Church Refugees.
It’s a scary moment when someone realizes knowing about God is not enough to fill the longing of a heart that wants to know him. But if years of religious involvement has not made that connection, where do they look now? The search to know God beyond the concepts and rituals of religion can be disorienting and unnerving. They question everything they’ve been taught and wonder if any of it was real.
I’ve watched many people go through this transition, which is why I recorded the Engage videos years ago. A lot of Christians who attend church haven’t really developed an ever-deepening relationship with the Father, even though Jesus came for that purpose. They believe in him as some distant presence, but haven’t yet engaged his presence beyond the principles and concepts they believe to be true of him. He is not a presence in their day real enough to give guidance and strength as circumstances unfold. Instead he’s a distant thought, a hopeful idea, even a place to invest their prayers in hope of a desired answer, but not someone who knows, them loves them, and wants to walk through life with them.
It’s one of the saddest realities of institutional church life. Even those who’ve been through extensive discipleship training can end up better at religious practice and miss what it is to engage him. That’s because a real relationship with God is not something we can build with him. It’s what he builds with us. Instead of trying to achieve it, we need to learn to recognize how he is doing this in us.
Here’s a recent exchange with someone who is in the middle of this process herself:
I just listened to Engage 1 & 2 and the tears are flowing as I realize after all these years (52 years of church life and living for God). I now struggle with the doubt of His existence. How could that be? After all the study I've done, the years of believing what I was taught, after all the "following hard after Him," which included years of writing devotional stories and teaching others about God and His love, how could I be in this place.? What has happened to me? All these years I believed He was real and now after years of hard situations I am left wondering if what I was told was true. Is He real? What have I believed all these years? I want Him to be real so badly yet I am questioning it all now. I feel so horrible that I am in this place.
All I can do is ask Him, as you suggested. "God if you are real, would you reveal yourself to me?" I honestly struggle to believe that He will answer that cry. Many years of His silence after years of begging prayers has brought that to me.
Thank you for these videos. I truly hope and pray that God will reveal Himself to me in a way that I will know in the depths of my being His existence so that I never doubt again.
My response: You might be thinking about this a bit backwards. He has not been silent. It’s not in his nature. Every day he whispers his love and desires for you. Religious performance just tuned you to the wrong frequency. Now he is re-tuning you and this disorientation is part of it. You’ve pushed away from that which you’re familiar with, but it didn’t bring you life. Now you’re learning to live differently inside the reality of who he is.
He’ll show you, just don’t put any expectations around it. Just look for him and listen for him. In the past you were trying to make it happen, now you’re going to let him make himself known to you as he desires and you’ll find yourself relaxing into that reality. It takes time, that’s why human performance is easier to sell. We want to be in control, but that only makes it more difficult for us to see him.
This is a great journey, one I wish we’d all taken when we were younger. But if we didn’t then, it’s a good time now. I know it seem so risky, but since he is in it the risk is just a perception of our own uncertainty. He can work with that!
These words are powerful for me. You have given me eyes to see something I cannot see. I was talking to God today about my doubt of His existence and how I "feel" like this is going to come down to something I have to do in order to believe, and I remembered your words and was grateful.
I have listened to several of the Engage series and am also listening to The Jesus Lens series:
Here are two things that have struck me.
1. My view of God. I see God as distant, a far off, over in the corner with His hands folded watching what's going on. He's watching over things, making things work together for good, etc. I realize I do not see him close to me, like I do Jesus. I see Jesus with His arms around me, giving me a hug on BEHALF of the Father.
2. I heard the words today about making God in our own image and it struck me. Unbeknownst to me I have done that. With the religious teachings and my limited understanding I've made God into the image in my head....
I love what her heart and mind are sorting through here. She’s seeing things from a very different perspective and that will bear fruit over time. This process is not quick or easy, but once we learn to engage God as he wants to engage us a whole new life in him opens up that is filled with adventure and hope.
If you’re wrestling with some of these same realities, why don’t you join her working through Engage? It’s a series of short videos about recognizing this amazing process. You listen to one every couple of weeks or so and process it in your own work with him.