Pastors Are Searching for the Same Thing You Are

My article from the local paper, Maple Ridge News, reposted here:

The church is in crisis mode, as the number of people leaving church each Sunday continues to outnumber the number that return. The crisis, however, isn’t about the numbers, an increasingly ‘secular culture’ or some kind of societal pressures to dismiss God.

The crisis is internal. It is in the reality of our faith, and the numbers are simply a symptom. We have ended our genuine and persistent exploration of God’s love in lieu of doctrine, programs, services, and contentment.

Just this week I opened my email to read, “Bradley, you know I had trouble with church and ‘God’…” The trouble with ‘God’ is an expression of the trouble with church, it is the ‘god’ we’re representing, a ‘god’ that is not present, a ‘god’ that doesn’t transform our life or our community, a ‘god’ that doesn’t impassion us to live and breathe our faith, a ‘god’ that doesn’t reflect the most perfect expression in the life of Jesus.

Our faith isn’t touchable or real or visible. At least it doesn’t appear to be. Countless of my conversations begin just like that email, because the world cannot see what a Christian community is supposed to be in the midst of our crisis of faith.

Hugh Halter asks in The Tangible Kingdom, “If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested?”

Halter was met with an exuberant response, because, like the rest of us, the man was searching for tangible faith, a place where faith impacts life in our community, a place where Jesus’ words come to life.

I assure you that pastors are aware of the crisis (although sometimes misunderstood as a crisis of numbers), but we, just like you, are searching for this tangible faith. We sense too the inconsistencies between Jesus’ passionate message of love and our internal and un-impactful faith.

Seven words have become increasingly significant to my personal understanding of the Christian’s call. You’re probably familiar with them, “on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re not simply called to pray about it; we’re called to live out our faith in a way that God’s kingdom is present on earth.

Your pastor is searching for the same thing you are: a tangible faith that produces a “tangible kingdom.” Real, visible, touchable faith is hard. Our God has endless mystery and a love that should infiltrate our entire beings, our lives and our community. Exploring God’s love is an act of receiving and expressing that love in our community; it is an act that brings God’s kingdom to earth.

Good to Great…Sermon Series?

One of the books Jenna is reading (and now me too) for an MBA course has caught my attention: Good to Great by Jim Collins. I’m not the first to recognize it’s potential application for Christians and churches; Collins even wrote a an accompaniment to the book called Good to Great and the Social Sectors. I believe it has an incredible potential for a sermon series, church-wide theme or even an in-depth study among church leadership.

What do we dream about for our congregations, leaders, staff, elders and congregants? Greatness. Greatness looks different in the church than it does elsewhere in our society, a lesson Jesus worked hard to teach his disciples. Jesus wasn’t rejecting greatness as a concept, but he redefined greatness in terms of humility, servitude and discipleship. Collins contends that goodness has the ability to cripple greatness. In the church, leaders and teachers often fall prey to being good; we get lulled to sleep by contentment, consistency, repetition or lack of discipline. I’ve seen plenty of good churches fail to reach for greatness, because they were afraid to risk their good situation. When you come across a leader striving for greatness both individually and for their church, you never forget the moment you met him or her. They inspire you to reach for greatness in yourself and in those around you, and they remind you not to settle for mediocrity (or being good).

A recent conversation about church DNA with a mentor sparked some thinking on church development and growth. He was talking about the sometimes impassibility of a church’s DNA in regards to the shift from good to great. On one hand, many churches have faded into non-existence when their church DNA impeded on their ability to risk the leap from good to great. On the other hand, if you don’t believe in the power to find and inspire greatness in a congregation, an individual or a church, then you yourself may be the one lacking the ability to make the leap from good to great.