Monthly Archives: March 2022

I’m Staying in our Church. I love it! Absolutely love it.

Last Sunday, I talked to a first-time visitor to our church. In the conversation, I said, “I am incredibly biased… so take what I am about to tell you with a grain of salt, but I love Central Church. Absolutely love it.” I wasn’t lying.

You’d want your pastor to love his/her church. Not all do. I know pastors who hate going on Sunday mornings. They look forward to Sunday morning about as much as getting a root canal. Maybe that’s why so many pastors are walking away from their calling (You can read a recent report about pastors exiting their churches here). This week I blogged about the exit of people leaving the church. (You can read that article here). Having written all of that, I love Central Church. Absolutely love it.

I hesitate to state all the reasons, because I don’t want to sound braggadocios. Central Church can be better. We have issues. We aren’t perfect. I tell folks, “I know Central Church isn’t perfect because y’all let me pastor here and (excuse my poor English) I ain’t perfect.” We aren’t the greatest gathering since Acts 2. There are other great churches too. I get all of that, still I love Central Church. Absolutely love it.

People are leaving churches (as I wrote in the blog), but our church has new folks showing up every week. I’m so glad they are coming. Some “newbies” first started watching on-line; a few church shoppers have finally found a home; others heard “Central Church’s “In Flint” mission emphasis and agreed churches should be concerned for what’s happening outside its walls; and a few folks just kind of wandered in, found Jesus and said, “Wow-what-a-church!” These new folks are quickly getting their own “Yippee-Yahoo,” biased opinion about Central Church too. I love it! Absolutely love it.

I am biased. Hear me. Super biased. 

Our music is great (I’d put our choir and our praise team up against any other church). Our pastors are great (while I was “sabaticalling,” Central Church never missed a beat. We have such a godly team of pastors). The facilities crew, office staff, you name it are all fun, faithful people. Our children, students, young adults, middle-agers, senior citizens are so engaged. Our Church Board is a blessing (Did I tell you our last board meeting was more “camp meeting” than board meeting?). I love it! Absolutely love it.

Central Church believes the Bible is true. We believe Jesus calls us to love God and love others. That love is then expressed in our neighborhood (hello Central Park); in our city (Thanks Mr. Mayor for giving Central Church the “Key to the City”); and to the entire world (We’re coming back Panama! See you soon!!). I love that Central church is fulfilling the Great Commission. I love it! Absolutely love it.

It’s all true. Some pastors and people are leaving their churches. Not me. I love Central Church; our old-timers love it too and the new folks are discovering why. Central church is a great (not perfect) church that loves God and loves people in Flint and around the world! That’s why I’m staying! I love it! Absolutely love it.

The “Great Exit” (from our churches) is upon us and What to do about it

Church attendance among those who identified as evangelicals is plummeting in the United States.

In 2008, 29% of people who identified as evangelicals stated they attended church only yearly (or less). In 2021, that number was 42%. These aren’t the “nones.” These are not the people who say they are agnostic, atheist or have no affiliation (that number also went up from 22% in 2008 to 36% in 2021).  I’m talking about the people who say they believe in Jesus. They identify with tribes similar to mine but for the occasional Christmas or Easter have stopped going to church. Moreover, less than half (47%) of self-identified evangelicals are weekly attenders. It was 59% in 2008. (See graphs below)

What do these numbers tell me?  We are losing. We are losing those who have given up on faith and we are losing people who are still (currently) verbalizing faith– but will probably be stepping out soon with no faith community to surround and encourage them. We are witnessing a massive decline in Christianity in the United States. Unlike the Great Awakening, this period of United States history will be known as the Great Exiting. It’s happening under our watch. Right under our noses.

Here’s the deal: People still need Jesus. The Christ-shaped void in people’s lives is more evident than ever. People are lonely. Suicides are up. Violent crime is up (in most cities). Anger is up. Morality is sinking into new lows. Right seems wrong. Wrong seems right. Ministers are walking away at a greater number than ever, and fewer young people are sensing a call into ministry. People are in trouble while discouraged pastors are leaving their pulpits and empty churches are closing their doors. 

What are we going to do about it? 

Here are our options:

1). Throw stones at those who exit or are exiting. (Probably not a good strategy);

2). Keep our noses in the hymnbook (figuratively) and pretend that everything is OK (Also, not a good strategy);

3). Blame the media, politicians, the left, the right, hypocrites, megachurch failures, the pandemic, the Russians, the music, the boogeyman, bad pastors or youth pastors, this article (and ones like it) and/or everyone but ourselves for the decline. (Probably need a mirror not a slingshot). 

4). Become disgruntled and join the Great Exit (please don’t);


5). Get out of our pews and into our neighborhoods. Pray. Make friends with non-believers. Try new things. Change methods, not the message. Keep trying. Preach Jesus. Pray some more. Focus on children and teenagers. Try harder. Pray harder. Stop judging. Start loving. Did I mention prayer? We need more prayer.

We are losing, but we can’t quit. We must keep trying. Jesus is still Lord. We are still His disciples. The world still needs Jesus and His Bride. The Great Exit is upon us, let history show that we did not take it twiddling our thumbs. Instead, let’s keep proclaiming Jesus in our actions and words.

Where the Wild Things Are and the Rise of the “Nones”

We all know the “nones” are growing. This week I saw the latest statistics. Those people who say they are atheist, agnostic or have no religious affiliation went from 22% of the USA population in 2008 to 36% in 2021. We all know these numbers are true. You, no doubt, have family and friends who have walked away from faith. We are seeing the biggest decline in Christianity the United States has ever experienced. It’s happening under our watch. Under our noses. Forgive us Lord!

Yesterday, I read books to children at Dillon Elementary school. I read in three different classrooms and I took three different books: Where the Wild Things Are (the children informed me, they had read that one before); Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (a book I would read to my Alexander after a horrible, no good very bad day in his life); and Nicolas Cricket (a favorite of mine)I read all three in each classThe children settled on their spot on the carpet. The rest of the carpet must have been lava, because they didn’t move off “their” spot. They were very well behaved as I read. It didn’t take long. I was in and out in less than an hour. I wish I could have been there longer. 

What does reading children’s books (they weren’t even “Christian” books) and the rise of the “nones” have in common? We’ve got to love the generation growing up. I had a mentor who once told me, “You gotta play with them to pray with them.” He was right. To reverse the avalanche of “nones,” we’ve got to be involved in people’s lives. Not just hammering them over them over the head with a Bible or listing off the “Four Spiritual Laws.” People need to first know we care. It’s baby steps before leaps of faith. So I read at Dillon Elementary School, call it a baby step.

Getting involved in the community; showing people you care is the new evangelism. It’s takes more time and energy than handing out Bible tracts on the “Roman Road.” It’s a longer process. People need to see the love of Jesus in us, before they invite the love of Jesus into their lives.

Listen, the rapid rise of “Nones” is alarming. The pandemic pushed the accelerator on this trend. Look at Europe to see where this is heading. NEWS FLASH: It ain’t good (pardon my poor English). What am I saying? Get involved in your community. Volunteer at elementary school. Get to know the kids in your neighborhood. Be the nice neighbor. Let them roll all over your lawn. Hand out the best candy on Halloween. Follow Jesus’ example of the time when the disciples tried to shoo the children away and he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”(Luke 18:16). 

We’re blowing it. We’ve got to own this bad news, confess our failure in the “Rise of the Nones” and be proactive in stopping the trend. It begins with loving our neighbors. Even (especially) our youngest neighbors.  

How My Sabbatical is like Wordle

My sabbatical is over tomorrow. I’m ready for the questions:

Was it restful?
Are you moving?
What did you learn?

Sort of.
It’s Complicated.

The best part of my sabbatical was that it was a change of rhythm. It wasn’t particularly “restful.” I was flying back and forth to Florida for family time and conferences. (American Airlines flights were delayed every single time. Every. Single. Time. They were five for five. On my last trip home, my bag was lost. It’s still missing. My one Delta flight was perfect). I was writing a book on battling cancer and my friendship with Lisa Faulkner (37,000+ words written). I was dealing with a few health issues of my own. I bought a truck (I like it. Karla hates it.) It’s been busy. Restful? Kind of. Sort of. Maybe. Oh and I started playing Wordle.

Maybe Wordle is the best summary of my sabbatical. In Wordle, the player guesses a five-letter word. Correct letters in your first guess are shown in green. If the letter is in the word but not in the correct position, it’s yellow. Misses are grey. The player then makes another guess and another guess. Six attempts are allowed. Once I’ve been lucky to get the word on the second guess. Never the first. That’s pure luck. So far, it’s never taken me six guesses to get the word.

Why is Wordle like my Sabbatical? Like in Wordle…

1) My Sabbatical has been thought provoking (I’ve read 18 books. Some good. Some not so good). 

2) My Sabbatical has used words (I told you 37,000 words). 

3) My Sabbatical has been fun (seeing my boys and their wives; catching up with friends). 

4) My Sabbatical has been consistent (every morning I play Wordle; write a one or two sentence summary of a story from the previous day; have devotion/scripture reading/prayer time; write in my journal, and write in the book). And,

5) My Sabbatical has been new every morning (Like God Almighty and the Lord’s faithfulness, God has shown to be faithful throughout this time. No earth-shattering messages from on High. No lightning bolts of inspiration. Just a daily faithfulness. Maybe that’s the reminder I needed most. God is faithful and will be faithful whatever challenges the future might hold. 

Tomorrow my sabbatical ends and I will be in ministerial credentials meetings for most of the day. Nothing says, “Welcome back to the real world of ministry,” like hearing a bunch of newbies explaining the Articles of Faith.

Moving into the home stretch of ministry, like my sabbatical and like Wordle, I hope to be consistent, thought provoking, use words, have fun and most importantly daily trust in the faithfulness of God Almighty. Wouldn’t it be ironic if tomorrow’s Wordle word is TRUST.