Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

Leadership in Anxious Times

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Some thoughts on Leadership in Anxious Times:

Nothing sidelines an institution faster than contraction and flailing that is labeled as vision and the dawning of a new era.

Read more:

Prophecy and Public Policy

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Are we willing to do what it takes to be prophetic?

Filtering Church

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

New column at:

Believe Out begins with Believe In

Monday, May 16th, 2011
Lessons from the crisis of definition among “Progressive” Christians…

New column: Augustine for Bishop

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Your Church has an Angel

Monday, March 28th, 2011

It’s time to begin thinking in new ways about church.

Clergy often focus on the numbers and problems: the size of the budget, the number of people who pledge, average Sunday attendance, and a long list of other numbers.  Beyond that, all too often the conversation among clergy turns to questions about the problems to be solved and the hurdles to be cleared.

Lay people, on the other hand, often focus on the question, “What does this church have to offer?”  “How is the preaching, the music, and the youth program?”  “What is the potential for friendships?”  “Can I connect with the clergy?”

Both perspectives are understandable — and, on one level, they are unavoidable perhaps.

But it’s time to change the way that we think about church.

The game-changer for me has been reading the Book of Revelation.  The seven letters to the seven churches are actually prophetic announcements, citing the strengths and weaknesses of seven churches that dominated Asia Minor near the end of the first century.  They are also a call to faithfulness in a complex world where each church struggled with the realities of life in the Roman Empire and the tensions posed by the struggle to distinguish been reasonable accommodations to the nature of life and the betrayal of their faith.

Each church is represented by an angel and seated in the heavenly counsel where the resurrected and glorified Christ sits on the throne, they (along with the churches they represent hear the words of praise or judgment pronounced on the way in which they live.

Our churches each have an angel — a spirit — an inner character — just as surely as do individuals.  The task of the spiritual life is to open that spirit to the work of God — growing in intimacy and identification with God.

Getting lost in numbers, programs and problems distracts us from that task.

It’s time to look at church differently.

Free range Christian

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Not long ago one of my students described herself as a “free range Christian,” alluding to the diverse and varied character of her denominational past.  The phrase captures in a fresh way a reality that has been true of the American spiritual landscape for quite some time.

Robert Bellah described it in Habits of the Heart in 1985.  Robert Wuthnow in a book called After Heaven, written in 1998. And you see it on display all around us: Church’s that downplay their denominational connections or deny that they have a creed.   People who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, by which they often mean, “I do God, but I don’t do church.”  And you see it in the triage theology of rather more typical churchgoers who go to denominational churches, but whose personal theology bears no resemblance to the traditions that their denominations represent.

The phenomenon can be traced to a variety of factors.  Some of it has to do with the churches — disenchantment with church’s that aren’t real, that are preoccupied with their own desperate search for survival, that don’t offer a persuasive reason for attending them, and that don’t teach their members much about their understanding of the Christian faith.

But the preference for free range Christianity can also have to do with a flight from spiritual accountability — the desire to craft a spiritual life that isn’t shaped by obligations to community, creed, calling — or anything else, in fact, that requires people to do what they don’t want to do.

In defense of free-range Christianity people will often argue that it comes closer to the “real deal” — a return to a time when people “just worshiped God,” “just read their Bibles,” or “just loved Jesus.”

There’s just one problem with this argument: The moment we begin to talk about how to worship, what to make of what we read in the Bible, or describe what it means to love Jesus, then we are already in the business of articulating a creed.  And even if it is your personal creed (which is likely to have the limitations of one person’s thought and experience) you are doing what traditions and denominations once tried to do.  The difference in today’s world is that we are coming closer to a world of personalized creeds than ever before.

Creeds and traditions are not meant to straight-jacket people.  They are meant to help cultivate and deepen our grasp of the Christian pilgrimage by drawing on the wisdom, reflection, and experience of generations.  It gives spirituality traction in our lives, a vocabulary that helps us discuss our experience of God with one another, and communicate it to another generation.

A free range Christian may be free, but he or she is also alone with a creed and community of one.

The Question of Size

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

This blog continues the conversation at:

For years now Protestant churches have been locked in an endless debate over the issue of size.  At the extremes, there are a few mega-church leaders who have touted the virtues of congregational growth and who argue that their size is a sign of their faithfulness.  On the other side of the debate — the leaders of shrinking denominations have made a virtue of their reality by asserting that small is beautiful, arguing that prophetic churches inevitably drive people away.

But the debate among church leaders goes on among people in the pews as well.  In the last few years I have watched people struggle with parishes on the brink of extinction.  I have heard folks say, we have decided to emphasize program instead of growth.  Some have even argued that the shrinking size of their churches is evidence of their sophistication.  Others watch people go out the back door of their churches as quickly as they come through the front door.

The truth, of course, is that the size of churches is tied to countless factors and most of those are local.

Some churches are small because they are doing tough work in tough places.  Some are small because they deserve to be small.

Some large churches are large because they are struggling with people’s needs and introducing them to God.  Some of them are large because they are in the business of making people happy with the lives they would live anyway — God or no God.

Frankly, the argument over size is about as useful as it is on some playgrounds.

If you are doing God’s work, you will need to grow.

If you want to sit on small as beautiful — “Call the undertaker, your church is dying.”   The decision not to grow is the decision to die.  It may be sooner or later, but you will die.

If you are in a large church, heaven help you if you are big because you’ve been selling lies.  If people go as quickly as they come, you are probably not helping people cultivate a relationship with God, you are just entertaining them.  If you have built your big church on cotton candy, look out, “The Auditor is coming” and this auditor is not interested in your numbers.

Small or large, the conversation shouldn’t be all about you anyway.

Instead, what about a Christ-centered, needs-based ministry?

When was the last time people got the impression that you know Jesus?

When did you last ask, “What do the people around us need?”

Size isn’t everything and sometimes it doesn’t mean anything at all.

People of the Second Chance

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Thankfully, examples of healing church…even healing churches that don’t use the word church much…have also found me.

Hurting Church Healing Church

Monday, November 1st, 2010

New column live today at: