Reflecting on Rachel Held Evans’ Why Millennials are Leaving the Church Post 1- Style Vs. Substance

I have huge respect for Rachel Held Evans. I like her blog, I’ve enjoyed her books and I follow her on Twitter. Further I appreciate her mind, her love for Christ, her heart for others and from where I sit, I find her to be a wise and faithful steward of her platform.

The other day she wrote an excellent piece on CNN Belief Blog and her basic thesis was that Millennials are leaving churches because they are looking for “more substance than style.” In short, she concluded “we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” Ouch.

Her critique is too many churches are making the mistake of seeking to be “more relevant” as opposed to being more substantial.  That may not sound original to some but the real problem is it’s a consistent and oft-heard criticism.  Seeking to be a “little more relevant” is a very tired practice in many congregations throughout our country [Read more…]

Reflecting on the Boston Marathon Bombing 1 Month Later

It made a huge difference that suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended by the end of the week. Clearly the fear went from hidden and lurking to a white-hot anger focused on making an example out of anyone who would attack innocent people. Still terrorism did its job.

I still hear of people saying they are rethinking their summer plans. Some are choosing not to fly. Some second-guessing their [Read more…]

On Visiting West Coast Churches Post 1 – My Time at Saddleback

When I was visiting LA a few weeks ago I had the privilege of worshiping and visiting a few churches: Saddleback Church, RealityLA and Mariners Church (I intended on attending Mosaic as well but ran out of time). In the weeks since, I’ve been thinking the nature of large church environments, West Coast culture and the Northeast, what I liked and what’s thrown me off.

Now, sometimes I think it’s a good idea for a pastor to not be in church on a Sunday. This was tempting, not when I woke up that Sunday morning but back in March when I was planning out the trip. I was also tempted by the thought, “Everyone knows the West [Read more…]

What I’m Looking Forward to This Year at #QLA

QLAThe Q Conference begins tomorrow and I’m excited.  If you don’t know, Q is a gathering of Christian leaders (and some non-Christian) from different sectors of culture focusing on four themes Culture, Future, Faith and [Read more…]

A Hesitant Alumni’s Reflection on “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University” by Brandon Ambrosino in The

If you haven’t got a chance to read “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University” by Brandon Ambrosino in The, you really should. It’s lengthy but it’s a great story that has a moving conclusion.

Some of you dear readers know that I am a Liberty University graduate. I have always been hesitant about admitting this – it’s not shame, it’s not bitterness, it’s more the frustration of having to explain that I don’t fit the angry fundamentalist caricature that comes with after mentioning your alma-mater. I haven’t even hung up my degrees.

[Read more…]

Reflecting On Rob Bell’s Comments – Post 2 – The Pastoral Response to the “The Ship Has Sailed”

The previous post focused on whether or not Rob Bell still matters. Contrasting the different reactions of whom I respected, I concluded that Rob Bell still does matter to me and if his popularity/ability to create buzz and controversy, he does to many others as well. That said, he doesn’t need to matter to you.

Some have been asking me what I think of Rob’s comments. For most it’s the innocent ‘what do you think about this’? But for some, it’s another evangelical loyalty test. If you’re reading this, I know you, don’t act like it isn’t. ;) (said with love). Who are my loyalties to – Rob (i.e. the face of trendy spirituality that appeals to the masses) or to the Scriptures (the God-breathed, infallible Word of God that knows no equal …!)? (said with sarcasm).

A false dichotomy if there ever was one.

Well, I have failed and passed the loyalty tests throughout my ministry and I don’t see this changing. I have heard crazy stories, been a part of a few too. I am concerned with “getting in trouble” and some days, I’m just as concerned with the day of looking back on my life regretting that I didn’t get into more. May my words/actions always honor the Father, be Christ-like and Spirt-led but this is where I find myself.

So what about Rob’s comments? Well first consider his context now – He is a progressive coming out of the evangelical sub-culture and this is an interesting dilemma for him. If he comes across as too conservative, some will say he has weary from his Love Wins bashing and is hoping to get back into the fold. And of course if he plays the cards he’s playing, it’s the “We told you so. We told you he was wolf/heretic/apostate/(insert hurtful word of choice here).”

So partially given the position he is in, I can’t say I’m surprised that Rob has come out as a supporter of same-sex marriage but I’m not exactly sure on what he really means by what he really said. As I mentioned previously, “These are the tricky posts because they cover on a number of topics, like “Gay Marriage,” “What the Bible says about Homosexuality,” “The Church’s posture toward the gay community” – these are all different questions … and answers.” So let’s be careful we hear what he’s saying and be wise and mindful of our own. (Really, let’s actually do that).

I have paused on the “ship has sailed” line. Could that be the reason he really changed his mind? It’s just difficult for me to conclude that the guy who doesn’t use footnotes could point to a precise point in his thought process. The reference to the culture is obvious but he doesn’t actually finish the sentence (in a Q&A mind you as opposed to a written statement) so how can I come to any conclusion that has any integrity? Further, no one, and I mean no one, in the evangelical world is suggesting the boat has not sailed. We’re wondering what to do about it.

Well, I don’t know anything about shipbuilding, naval engineering or oceanography. But if the ship is being used as the allegory for the “culture” which in this case seemed to imply “the people” – well, I do care about people. I’m a pastor, people are an essential aspect of my job description. So what are we going to do about “the people”?

Get another boat and go after them. Maybe it’s a paddle boat, maybe it’s a raft, or maybe it actually is this sea-worthy vessel that we’ve been reimagining/building this last decade. I don’t know, these metaphors tend to break down but pursuing others in the love of Jesus seems obvious to me. Now we don’t pursue to fight, or to proselytize, or to debate, or to warn, no, none of that. The sad reality of all those statistics of people who are disenfranchised by the church comes from these “strategies” and practices.

Which reminds me of what Jesus did when he faced a morality test.

Do you remember the scene with the woman caught in adultery and the Pharisees and various teachers try to trap Jesus and bring her out to him and asking, “The law of Moses says we must stone her, what do you say?”

And I love Jesus’ answer, “Well, that’s a great question fellas. Listen in no way do I endorse this sort of adulterous behavior. And I want to be on record here and explain that I am very much against any forms of sexual expression outside the covenant of marriage as the Father has instituted from creation. Further in a few decades, my buddy Paul, is going to say, “Love your spouse the way I am loving the Church and clearly this case is in violation of that.”

You remember this scene right?

I mention it not to justify anything in terms of sexual practice but it has always served me as a valuable reminder of love, judgment and mercy in such necessary moments. Back to the disenfranchised people on the ship. Many of them are hurting and needing to hear the we love them, God loves them, and yes, the Church as in the community of Christian believers love them. This love includes kindness, generosity, respect, reconciliation, a commitment to grow closer and a desire to serve the other – you know – love. There are no exceptions. The gay community is not an exception, nor are the fundamentalists/liberals/conservative/post-something/etc. No exceptions.

A short while ago a couple approached me regarding getting married but their situation is quite complicated, very untraditional, very repentant and perhaps a bit unrepentant , I’m sure by asking the right questions, I can get them to profess what I want to hear. But is that what inspired me to accept the call into pastoral ministry? I believe so much is situational, I believe in context, I believe in patterns, I believe in policy, and I believe in exceptions. Which I hope makes me a humble believer of prayer. Which is very needed for a pastor.

Our seminaries, pastoral resources and clergy conferences would serve us well to constantly tell us, “Remember, you can really mess up someone’s life if you’re not extremely careful.” We have been faithful with many but we have also not been careful with many and if this is what Rob Bell means when he says “the ship has passed,” well, I’m not going to argue.

It would be convenient to conclude this post by saying, “While you argue about the issues, some of us will help the wounded …”. Well in the pastorate, that’s only a half-true. It’s been my observation that some pastors/thinkers/ministry types know too much doctrine and too little mercy and while some others are committed to a particular hope but risk ignoring certain ramifications. Perhaps more on that another time.

But as a pastor/citizen/child of God my heart aims to broken for the broken-hearted. This very much includes the gay community. I want to avoid the risk of objectifying anyone but I care very much for all those who have identified themselves as part of the gay community and have trusted me with their thoughts and feelings. This has shaped my ministry.

As a pastor, I’m praying that God will use me to lead others to trust Jesus and live in submission to the Lord – every conversation has its own context but for lack of a better summary, that’s my “agenda.” And for those who disagree or pursue a different phrasing/ideology/life for whatever reason, grace and peace to them, for God is gracious in giving us all free will, how can I insist otherwise. In the meantime, may we live in peace, conversation and serve the common good.

Fellow brothers and sisters, particularly fellow pastors, the Church does not get stronger if we get rid of Rob Bell. The Church does not get stronger if there is no such thing as the gay agenda, gay marriage or gay people. The Church gets stronger by loving Christ and loving the other – I really believe this. The Church finds its vision by searching the Scriptures and allowing the Spirit to truly lead. It gets stronger as we pray for those who hate us, forgive those whom have hurt us and seeks reconciliation with whom we have hurt. Christian discipleship grows in this context, community deepens, and our theology becomes stronger.

I know I’m preaching here but the Church is not failing because of the attacks from the culture, it is struggling because of the issues from within. We can be apathetic, we can be careless, we can be greedy and prideful and even hateful, simply put – we are not Christ-like enough. I know because these are my sins – and maybe others can relate.

We talk a lot about the culture war but let us not buy into the notion that we can build God’s kingdom and simultaneously fight in it. We can fight evil, we can fight the evil people do, but the Christian objective is to separate people from the evil, to be filled with saving grace as we have been forgiven and redeemed through Christ. Holy Week seems like an appropriate to reflect on such things.

“The ship has sailed”, yes, now how will we respond?

For a little more context, please see the previous post

And here are 2 more reflecting on seeing Rob Bell this past fall:
Reflecting on Seeing Rob Bell Speak Recently & Why He Still Matters To Me – Part 1

Reflecting on Seeing Rob Bell Speak Recently & Why He Still Matters To Me – Part 2


Reflecting on Gary Haugen’s Message at Justice Conference – What I Loved, What I Pushed Back On

(Photo: Passion 2013 Conferences)

I’ve been blogging about my reflections on the Justice Conference in Philadelphia all month. I loved it. I hope what I gained and sharing with my wife shapes us, our family, our church, and our community. I know it sounds a bit lofty but in my mind this is the difference between consuming events/books/stories/practices/etc. and internalizing them.

So as I’ve been blogging about this and trying to filter out what actually is helpful and what is not, I’ve been critiquing as well. It’s easy to for critiquing to fall into splitting hairs and other unhelpful distractions. My hope is my push backs will point me (and perhaps you) to something deeper.

I felt this way during Gary Haugen’s message on Saturday morning.
[Read more…]

Reflecting on Eugene Cho’s “Water Your Own Grass” Idea From the Justice Conference

One of my favorite parts of the Justice Conference was listening to Eugene Cho’s seminar and message Saturday morning. He’s sharp, interesting and he is able to challenge his listener without them feeling guilty or frustrated.

I find there’s a good number of “justice” types who given their prophetic nature, frustrate their listeners. I’m some of it is meant in a well-intended provoking but some of it is likely unintended and I wonder how much of that speakers are actually aware of. While there is a significant population that needs to be confronted with the failures of apathy and inaction, there are a number of people who are already serving “almost the best the can.” When you push that latter group too hard, it starts to be counter-productive, especially if they are not in a life position to directly serve in say, a non-profit justice-seeking organization. So for the everyday person in the Church and the workforce, I think Eugene has a lot of wisdom to offer.

(Photo: From World Relief Responds)

Here were my notes:
1. Be generous.
2. Shut up and listen.
3. When you dehumanize the poor, you have no value in their redemption
He told a story of a man who shine shoes for a living. Over many years, he saved $200,000 in tips, then gave it to a kids’ home in Pittsburgh. If I heard the story right, the man himself was raised in an orphanage and never forgot either the pain of his childhood or those that were there to help.
4. Need to get deeper in the story
Study, Read, Search – Be informed, “Not enough to say I read it in Relevant, heard it on [Read more…]

Reflecting on Soong-Chan Rah’s Seminar at Justice Conference

I love half of what Soong-Chan Rah says and I loathe the other half ;) Part of his “brand” is being a prophetic type which is needed in the Church and throughout our world. So I love him as a brother in the Lord but if he’s not careful, I’m going to look into trading him for a different prophet. I think Craigslist lets you do that now and if I understand Dr. Rah right, this is how he knows he’d doing his job.

I first heard Dr. Rah speak at a Youth Specialties Conference a few years ago. I remember nodding my head along to seeing the need for the Church to think more globally, more as the full body of Christ, not just the Western one. Then I read his well celebrated The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.   To brutally summarize, I agreed with the main idea, would debate some of the finer nuances, but I admit I was distracted by the angry rhetoric. That line between passion/righteous anger/ and anger is thin.

BUT I can’t stay away from him – he feels like a needed voice in my life. I was excited to see that he was presenting at The Justice Conference. I liked  his material was new and since I called attention to the use of anger, his demeanor was cool, passionate at times (in the good way) and I’d say, he came across to me as pastoral. But still, I only agreed with half of what he said.

Here are some of the notes I took:

Name of seminar was “Lamenting our Story”

What is it about American Christianity that desires to focus on success that actually diminishes Christianity’s theology of sacrifice?
Story of hearing a mega-church pastor talking like a Christian motivational speaker and saying stuff like this in sermons, “The sky is the limit, reach for the stars!”
Triumph narrative of Christianity instead of the Christian narrative of suffering and sacrifice.
3 Potential Responses
1. Disengage with surrounding culture
2. Idolatry (magic formulas)
3. Lament (Yahweh’s sovereignty)

“Arkitecture” illustration – my iPhone picture didn’t turn out but he showed a picture of a gothic church santuary that was turned upside down.  When seen this way, the domed ceilings resemble the bottom or a boat – an ark, a Biblical symbol of God’s rescue and deliverance. (It was clever – I’ve never saw that before).

Then, Dr. Rah said this:
Something happens when you move all the churches out of the city to the suburbs.
[Read more…]

TOMS Shoes Are Bad, Fair Trade Isn’t Enough, & Shane Claiborne Cut His Hair & Now I Don’t Know What to Believe/Consume

Depending on how long you have been a part of the social justice/sustainability/fair-trade conversation, you know that it can be wrought with complication and various perspectives on what is actually just.

For example, when TOMS Shoes first came out there was a surge of praise.  Blake Mosloskie founded a for-profit company whose “One to One” model allowed for consumer purchases to directly help those in poverty.  Blake, the story, The shoes, were everywhere and before you knew it, TOMS were being sold in stores like Nordstroms. Then a bit later, some were down on them. “They’re being made in China,” “Why shoes and why not food?,” “They’re not ethically made or distributed” and some dismissed them as another bad example of good intention. Likely, there are some holes in their model, likely some of the criticism are warranted and needed and likely the good people of TOMS are aware of even more of their faults than their critics realize. It seems they have been trying to function with better practices from the beginning and you should read more at their Corporate Responsibility page.  I’m optimistic for them.

Another complaint I hear are the limitations of fair trade products. Have you ever heard this – “It’s technically fair-trade [Read more…]