Monthly Archives: August 2021

Dear Deconstructing Friends…

My deconstructing blog post from earlier this week brought some interesting responses. Some in the “Deconstruction crowd” concluded that I was (pick your favorite):

Ignorant

Arrogant

Pompous

Naive

Four Letter word

Another four letter word.

Still another four letter word.

And many other responses that would make my mama blush.

They may be correct on all of the above, but I am not so obtuse that I am unable to discern that they didn’t like the blog.

I get it. I haven’t walked in their shoes. They are right about that. I haven’t had their experiences. I don’t know their struggles. All true. 

But I do have friends who have walked away from faith. “Deconstruction” is a new term, but I know folks who thirty years ago (and many since then) walked the same path. People I love and have (contrary to the deconstructed crowd’s opinions of me), talked hours and hours concerning their journey. When you pastor for thirty years, you talk to people a lot at all different places in their spiritual journey, believe it or not. 

I get it. The deconstructed crowd have walked their path and concluded something in the form of “Jesus is not for me.” While in my journey, I have concluded, “Jesus is everything to me.” Everything. The Deconstructed crowd and I don’t agree. But please know, that doesn’t mean that I don’t care for you or want to be a friend. I’m sorry if you concluded otherwise.

My friends walking through this deconstruction path, I don’t mean to minimize your experiences or discount your hurts. If that post did so, again I am sorry. Admittedly and without apology my prayer for you is Paul’s prayer for the Romans: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

I want you filled with joy, peace and hope. For me, that has come from Jesus. He is my source. This is not condescending or flippant. My prayer for you is for you to truly can come to a place to trust in Him. 

That is all. 

Reconstruct Your Deconstructed Faith

The landscaping wall around a flower garden in our backyard was resembling the tower of Pisa. It had to be fixed. The project entailed tearing apart all of the bricks, leveling them and putting them back in place. My wife was the mastermind in our previous similar projects. When it comes to fix-it projects, I am as inept as a monkey (which should offend every monkey in the world). Karla was away and I decided to take this project on anyway. This was a mistake.

The demo was easy. Tear out all the bricks. It was done in 30 minutes. Please Note: Demo is always the easy part. It’s easy to take a sledge hammer to a wall and knock it down. Similarly, it is easy to storm into a boss’ office and yell, “I quit.” It’s easier to break up, then to work on the relationship. It’s easy to walk away from a church, and even the Lord, in a self-satisfying and somewhat saddened, “They are all hypocrites anyway” huff. Demo is easy, but then what? 

I started laying the bricks. They weren’t going in even. Then somewhere I got off the correct cadence of the top brick half way over the bottom brick. Even worse (how in the world could this even happen?) I unknowingly went from a four-tier brick structure to a five-tier brick structure. I realized my faux pas when I discovered I was running low on bricks. In short, my project failed miserably. 

Ironically, as I began the project I was listening to a podcast with a person who said he was “deconstructing” his faith. He had been a megachurch pastor and authored a best-selling book. It all started falling apart, and in the process, he lost his church, his wife and his faith. He was now an “evangelist” for others like him, who have turned their back on their faith. We used to call what happened to this pastor as “backsliding.” Generally, the person hid in a corner, not broadcasting their slide. The term, “Backsliding,” has fallen out of favor it seems, but from my listening ears, he “backslid” (Note: Not all those who are “deconstructing their faith” are “backsliding.” Some are walking away from the church not Jesus. This guy had done both and was encouraging others to do likewise. Also of note, he said he no longer believes in hell. I think this helps him sleep better… for now).

I don’t know all what happened to this former pastor. Maybe nothing was his fault (Probably he bore some responsibility, but for the sake of argument…). Fact: Things happen in churches that are contrary to the mind of Christ. We can all site examples. All churches (even good ones) have the potential to harm, because every church is made up of people. People sin, make mistakes, do dumb things, can be unthoughtful and otherwise act like humans. I, and every other pastor, have committed our share of the above list. No pastor is perfect. We are human too. In those moments, those wronged can easily throw up their hands and say something along the lines, “If that’s Christianity, I want nothing to do with it.” (FYI… that’s not “Christianity” that’s “humanity.” There’s a difference. Also of note, sin is sin and sometimes what has happened in churches is blatant, destructive sinfulness not mistakes or stupidity). Who knows what happened to this former pastor?  Bottom line: Whatever the source, he was hurt in the church and walked away from faith labeling it: “Deconstruction.”

But like my landscaping project, what then? What is the outcome of the deconstruction? We had options in our backyard: Leave the deconstructed landscape wall mess, make excuses for its existence or be defensive about its reality or we could get to reconstruction.

Hurt people have a choice too. Stay deconstructed or start reconstructing. Jesus will help in our soul reconstruction projects. Other listening, praying and loving believers will help too. It won’t be easy. Reconstruction never is. Easy is accommodating, rationalizing or excusing the deconstructed mess. Wholeness and wellness is the outcome of the hard fought, reconstruction of faith. Listening to the former pastor speak from his deconstructed life on the podcast, I did not hear wholeness and wellness. It was sad. He sounded lost and trying to convince himself that his “lost-ness” was better. It’s not. Deconstruction brings questions, worries, and insecurities in the Great Unknown. Reconstruction leads back to Jesus. 

We will be reconstructing our landscape wall and this next time, Karla will give the directions and keep me and the wall straight. It will involve tearing it all down (again!!!) and starting over (again!!!). It won’t be easy. Sometimes one has to reconstruct what had been reconstructed. Keep reconstructing. Don’t give up. That’s the easy thing to do. Don’t deconstruct without a plan to reconstruct. 

Has Covid-19 Killed the Church Growth Movement?

One outcome of the pandemic is that every large church I know has seen their numbers decrease (not counting on-line viewership). In-person, “butts in the pew” attendance is down. In some places, it’s down dramatically. (There are some smaller-ish churches that seem to be less affected numerically by the pandemic. But larger-ish churches have seen in-person numbers plummet). This article is not to bemoan this fact. To quote some philosopher somewhere: It is what it is. Will those missing-in-action people come back? Best guess: Some will. Some won’t (How’s that for a non-answer answer?).  But that’s not the point of this article (although it is a legitimate question). Here’s the question: Will the statistical attendance decline finally allow us to move away from the mindset that growing numbers indicate strong spiritual growth?

Confession: “Hi I’m Rob and I’m a recovering church growth movement addict.” 

My definition of “Church Growth Movement” is the idea that the most important thing was people inside a building. Didn’t matter if anyone was led to Jesus. It didn’t matter if these people were properly discipled. Numbers. It was all about numbers. Get them in any way you can. I’ve eaten a lunch on a church roof upon reaching a numerical goal of the church. I’ve been in a dunk tank and hit with a pie all for the glory of Jesus (if you can call it that). Our mantra: “We count people because people count.” Maybe the pride behind that statement truly was: “We count people because important people will see that my church has lots of people and then those important people will say, ‘wow that’s a lot of people.’” I’ve sat in pastor’s meetings and thought, “man o man, she/he can’t be a good pastor, look at her/his numbers.” I’ve sat in pastor’s meetings and thought, “man o man, what a rock star! Look at his/her numbers.” Is it OK to admit that type of thinking was a problem? Is it OK to admit, like any obsession, it’s hard to break that mindset?

Covid is breaking it. With more empty pews than ever before, maybe it’s time to reexamine the church growth movement. If it wasn’t dead before the pandemic, maybe the final nail is in the coffin. Large numbers have never told the story. The Latter-Day Saints have huge gatherings. Are they spirit led? Comic-con can draw a crowd. So can politicians, football teams and vulgar rock-and-rollers. None of these have anything to do with the Spirit of God.

Instead of noses and nickels, we should be counting service hours spent, home group gatherings held, Bible studies groups formed, those called into ministry, widows helped, orphans rescued, discussions with far-from-Jesus people, meals served, hands held, the grieving comforted, hospitals visited, the weak strengthened, the lonely encouraged, individuals prayed with, persons who have started a faith journey and baptisms. How about counting those things (and many other godly things) more than simply the butts in the pews on a particular Sunday.

Covid is killing the mindset that ministry happens only in a full sanctuary. Ministry happens every day. God is working in this pandemic. Those good things (God things) are not showing up in the Pastors Annual Report. They never have — that’s the lesson I’m still trying to learn. 

Avoid Stupid Arguments

Dear first world, sheltered under steeples, relaxing behind stain glass windows, sitting on soft pews with a shelf full of dusty Bibles and a refrigerator full of groceries back home, and fellow followers of Jesus: we have brothers and sisters in Christ in harm’s way (see Afghanistan) or suffering in unimaginable ways (see Haiti) and yet too many of us are wasting time arguing about the most (Warning: Here comes the S-word) STUPID things. Wow… that was a long sentence. 75 words. The Apostle Paul was also known to write long sentences. I am in good company. 

Please Note: There are really 74 words in the opening sentence. I just wanted to see if anyone would actually count them. If you did, see the above reference about wasting time. 

Look around. Hear one another talk. Too many of us are complaining about things that in light of eternity make little difference. We are worried about things that would make Jesus roll over in the grave, if He were still dead. Instead, our quarrels break our Lord’s heart. Few things refute the resurrection power more than believers wasting time arguing about meaningless and trivial matters when so many in our world are dying. Many without knowing Jesus.  Paul used the S-word to describe this phenomenon too. He wrote to Timothy: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:23). Sounds like Paul wants to kick some not-quite-sanctified booty too. Apparently, the Apostle Paul and I are alike in more ways than one.

Sin is too pervasive. Evil is too real. The road is too crowded. The gate is too wide. Hurting is too rampant. Loneliness is too common. Brokenness is too widespread. Life is too short. We cannot waste our words and actions on the worthless when the important is not being accomplished. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote: “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:12). Wake up sleepy heads! It’s time to quit arguing and get about the Master’s business! It’s time to recognize that so many don’t know Jesus or are battling issues who need a fellow believer to come alongside as the hands and feet of Jesus. Let’s determine to pray, work and care for one another until Jesus comes (not just until we feel like stopping).

Whew… I needed to get that off my chest.

Is Lenexa the Problem?

Following my blog announcing to the Church of the Nazarene, “Lenexa, We have a problem,” I received several responses that said in effect: “Lenexa IS the problem.”

I disagree (in part).

I disagree because I don’t think the good people at the Global Ministry Center want to be the problem or intend to be the problem or in some cynical view are enjoying the problem. The people I know in the building on Prairie Star Parkway are smart. They love the church. They want the church to move forward. Moreover, what I’ve reported is not rocket science They can read the signs in USA/Canada too. Our pastors are getting older. Our churches are getting emptier. Our tithers are dying off. Our mission reliance on those empty churches, retiring pastors and dying-off givers is going to mean financial trouble in the not-to-distant future. They know all of that. But what is an ecclesiological bureaucrat to do?

Here are a few suggestions:

1) We’ve got to grow younger. The Fuller Youth Institute did a study on churches whose young people were not leaving and came up with six core commitments evident in those churches. For the CotN to survive those commitments need to be embraced in every congregation. You can read about it here.

2) Our colleges and seminary are not producing enough pastors. Our districts’ home study program is not producing theologically consistent preachers. We must empower the Nazarene Bible College to take on the challenge of producing a low-cost, comprehensive, theologically competent, on-line curriculum where individuals are also locally trained and mentored in strong, healthy churches. 

3) We must produce more bi-vocational pastors to not only keep the doors open in shrinking rural areas where people are few but also in growing urban areas where living expenses are high. 

4). We must change our metrics on success. We need to produce deep and many not wide and few. Strong and healthy should be celebrated more than noses and nickels.

5). With a more diverse population in the USA/Canada, we need more missionaries in USA/Canada. More Spanish language missionaries to reach Hispanics. Start addressing the issues of why as a denomination we have failed to reach African Americans. Think of new methods and dialogues for Arab Americans and Asian Americans. USA/Canada is getting browner, so should we.

6). There must be more clear communication that speaks of the message of holiness in a changing cultural landscape. The Foundry (subsidized by the WEF if need be) should have a steady flow of low cost (no cost) holiness materials and curriculum to be taught in our churches. Our theological distinctiveness is becoming nonexistent.

7). Leadership needs to stress: Less ecclesiastical control. More entrepreneurship. Less structure. More flexibility. Less worry about failure. More experimentation. Less same old tired tactics. More creativity. Less territorialism. More freedom. Less politics. More Jesus. Less District. More local. Less concern of offending WEF contributors. More concern of offending Christ. 

We are fighting for the health and existence of our beloved church. We need to be proactive. A friend reminded me recently, like planting an oak tree, the best time to start these measures was 30 years ago. The next best time is now. 

Lenexa, We have a problem

The message of the Church of the Nazarene is growing increasingly opposed to the message of the dominant culture in the USA/Canada. The UM church is splitting over some of these cultural shifts. The CotN is losing young people because of these shifts. If nothing changes, one of two things will happen: the church will go the way of the Methodists and accommodate the culture or will shrink into oblivion. 

When I was a young pastor (lo those many years ago), the pastors that left the church or ministry had moral failures. They had money issues, women issues (back then, most ministers were men even in the CotN), or drinking issues and they left. It was always a walk of shame. Whispers and gossip soon followed. 

Today, pastors leave the ministry and immoral behavior is not the problem (as long as Satan is around, immoral behavior will be part of the problem). There are various reasons for pastors going AWOL. For some, it’s the rising angst among people. Politics, the pandemic and societal unrest in the last 18 months have pushed many pastors over the edge. It’s not fun dealing with the fringes on both sides (all sides) of the cultural wars. People are angry, short tempered and social-media-empowered spew-ers of venom. As a result, called-by-God pastors are feeling that they will have a greater effectiveness in serving the Lord outside the walls of the church than inside. They are exiting at the first chance they get, and not looking back. I can’t tell you how many upper-level, theologically trained ministers have said to me, “If I could do something else, I would.” Moreover, today’s clergy are old and getting older (this author included). Many will retire or be “promoted to Glory” within the next decade

Many churches will close. In an attempt to survive the “clergy gap” and keep the doors open, a less theological, locally trained clergy will try to fill the void. The result will be a theological drift toward pop-evangelicalism or fundamentalism rather the historical message of the CotN. There will be less theological distinction in our churches than even what currently exists.

Less pastors and less churches with less theologically trained leaders means less money to fund world mission (94-96% of world mission is funded by the declining USA/Region). To somewhat quote the line in the movie, Apollo 13, “Lenexa, we have a problem.”

As opposed to just sitting around and watching the demise of the church, here are some steps to immediately stem the tide:

1) Rather than complain about our current realties, empathize and try to understand the plight of those in our society. Change begins with understanding and love. 

2) Listen to the young people who have remained and invite them to the table. Elect younger delegates to General Assembly. Long term change needs the next generation to be involved and have ownership.

3.) Invest in the Nazarene Bible College. Increase their budget to accommodate more widely known educators and pastors on their faculty. Increase their marketing budget. Utilize the Bible college to train our clergy that are now being trained by districts with various levels of competency. Affordable, on-line, sound theological training is needed now more than ever.

4). Prioritize warm and family focused churches. Create easy-to-use small group materials that are free and available to start small groups or home base discipleship groups. Today’s culture still longs for belonging.

5). Encourage our churches to be involved in their communities. Someway, somehow in large or small measure make the church a blessing in their communities. Our neighbors must see the value of the church.

What will the Church of the Nazarene look like in 25 years? It will be a shell of itself unless, steps are taken to ensure its long-term health and relevancy. Lenexa, we have a problem, but it doesn’t have to kill us if we do something soon.