Writing to clarity, maybe

I'm going to try and write myself into some clarity on this. If you've any thoughts to add, so as to help the old man, please chime in.

Do you ever think we've gone a little too far? For example, consider this statement: you can worship God anywhere; you don't have to be in a church building. The gist there is trying to say there are no unsacred places. You know what? I fully agree with that statement. Shucks, I've pealed that one forth from the pulpit before. But what if, just because we can worship God anywhere, it's not best to worship God just anywhere?

The poet Wendell Berry writes:
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

What if, just think a moment, what if it's best for us to worship God in sacred places, places that are not desecrated? I realize that may feel like semantical two-stepping I'm doing, but dance with me a moment, wouldja?

That what if? leads me to yet another: the Church is not a place; the Church is the people. Yea, I say thee verily, I've proclaimed that one loud and clear as well, trying to get the folks to stop thinking about the brick and mortar. Again, I fully believe that statement, I really do. But what if, just what if, the Church can be the people AND a place? At least as long as we're here on this dark and bloody planet? What if this it's only the people mentality harbors within it a refusal to fully be incarnate in this world? You know, that I'm just a passin' through, don't want to put down any roots, 'cause this world is not my home stuff. That stuff, as spiritual as it may sound, can, and I emphasize the word can, excuse you from really caring about much in this world, from the people to the rain forests to yourself; it allows you to throw stewardship out the window while whistling I'll fly away...

And one more here, so as to have three points. Mercy, this feels like a sermon. Sorry. But just one more: every person is a minister; the priesthood of believers. For all you reformers out there, I believe that, I really do. It's something that's been overlooked and underutilized for centuries. But if everyone's a minister, then what do ministers do? Better yet, what do pastors do? Wanna know what I'm thinking? Well, let me tell you. We've emphasized the reality that all are ministers to the point where the earth is flat, so to speak, in the church. In trying not to worship the man or woman up there behind the pulpit, we've thrown out the collar with the cassock. And what's a pastor/priest supposed to do when everyone's a minister? What flies into the vacuum created by diluting the gifts? Leadership - the word that far too many pastors and churches worship like a golden calf. Last time I checked, being a leader meant someone was following you.

Pastors are to break the bread and offer the wine, pray for the people when they cannot pray for themselves, hold the hands of the dying as the river calls their name, try with all they have to rightly divide the word of truth, comfort the people in times of trouble, and stuff like that. Not everyone is to do that stuff; not everyone wants to do that stuff. But when and if everyone can and should, then pastors guess that they need a BlackBerry and a posse that they're pouring their lives into and vision statements and gospel trajectories and a missional manifesto. You see, leadership looks like you're doing something. The work of a pastor sometimes, oftentimes, looks like you're doing nothing. Eugene Peterson titled that book The Unnecessary Pastor for a reason. Leadership will get you rave reviews on your annual elder-led evaluation. Pastoring, at worst, just might get you fired, and at best, will cause the elders to give you a list of improvement goals for the next year. Let's work on being a little more effective, John; try to be one of those, what do they call 'em? Yeah, influencers.

I'm still wrestling with this angel, so please bear with me. But I'm just not sure I'm liking everything that I'm seeing. All things are possible, but not all things are beneficial. I read that, somewhere.


  1. Sounds like your pendulum is swinging back a little. Hmmmm....

  2. I am no scholar. So from my "unscholarliness" and from my heart I respond...

    In our attempt to "do church better...reach more people....etc.," "churches" often take on a form of a business in the goal setting and structure of ministry. Some pastors are naturally type A personalities and are wired that way, others are not. Not every pastor is meant to lead a "mega church." It is when we allow the numbers to measure success instead of God that I believe lines get confused in our modern day churches. Bigger, better, trendy and flashy has in a lot of ways stripped away a lot of the true discipleship and leading/mentoring of a "true" pastor's heart. (my own opinion) Now a days, few in the body get to know the actual "Pastor" unless you are going through some huge trial that requires counseling or hospitalization. Thus the need for lay leadership. The kind of church a pastor chooses to lead determines a lot - will he be more of the "manager of lay leadership" within the church or does he want to be more hands on and BE the one more involved in ministering beyond the pulpit...

    As to worshiping in sacred vs desecrated areas...I believe Spiritual warfare is at work. If you are worshiping in a sacred place, it may be able to be a deeper and sweeter experience because it is ground already conquered and held by angels. Worshiping in desecrated places is a totally different experience - it is more like warfare, conquering, and has a different over all affect. (again, my personal opinion and experience)Both are powerful and meaningful.

    I've only "known" you for a short time, but I see a shepherding heart within you. There is also an honest seeking of God's face and truth regardless of whether it fits into the "box" of religion. I believe God is at work in your heart and life and inviting you to wrestle with Him. He is the only one who truly has the answers both theologically speaking and for your life. I will be praying that God will give you clarity and peace. Blessings!

  3. Geez, John...lemme go get some coffee and I'll be right back. My brain hurts.

  4. John, I think you're on to something as you lead us to get outside our boxes.

  5. Pastor John: Yes, you see, you can take the pastor out of the pulpit, but you can't take the pastor out of the pastor.

    Now, for what it's worth, here are the opinions of a former christer, and Christian for the past 7+ years. And I'm married to a cradle christian who has no need for "my" church. So...you may want to stop reading lest you find yourself in a rabbit hole the size of Alice's...

    1. "But what if, just because we can worship God anywhere, it's not best to worship God just anywhere?"

    Well, I think that though we can worship God anywhere, we usually only do that with ourselves and/or a few family members/friends. I think we should pray w/o ceasing, and worship w/o ceasing, but ONE of those areas in which we should pray and worship should be the church. Why? Because I think it's written that we need the company of other believers. Not to pat ourselves on the back for being such great christians. Though I know that happens. Ahem...I've heard that at least. No, we need other believers for strength, safety and accountability. For unity of mind and spirit.

    I see that I'm sort of marrying points 1 and 2. Apparently for me, they're connected.

    Also, when we look at worship, I believe that it's only in the narrowest sense that we worship with song and in church. Doing our daily lives as unto Him seems like worship to me. Mercy = worship. Patience = worship. When we allow the Holy Spirit to abide in and thus influence our behavior, I believe that's worship.

    And re: the church...Geez, are you tired of this yet? Is there a limit on the commenting line?

    I will say this: wouldn't it be great if we could all have Acts churches. I know mine has a long way to go in so many ways. But I also know this--practical application and all--My son has no same aged friends. Period. He has gone thru some really rough $h!t; stuff that breaks my heart. And, as much as I try to be a balm to his suffering...as much as I try to soften the fact that he's made differently than most of his peers while celebrating the heck out of him, this just doesn't matter to a 12 year old. What matters is this: church was his only bright spot for several months. He is accepted and e.m.b.r.a.c.e.d there. God put a 19 year old saint in David's youth group. This boy has a sister with Trisomy 15. Think he knows what suffering and injustice is? He loves my son in the biggest agape meaning of the word.

    That's church to me. At least that's what it should be.

    Lastly, what are pastors? Leaders and teachers, John. Of which you are both. Yes, layfolk are to minister to others, but we need to be fed, friend. Where would we be if we didn't seek counsel and learn (more deeply) a bit of the Word? I'm sure I'm the only one, but I don't know my Bible. Yes, I read it. Yes, I'm learning. But I'm a babe in the woods. A slow learning one at that. Preaching and teaching, for me, help structure and apply my own thinking.

    And that's all I have to say about that.

  6. Just one quick thought: I always thought of "priesthood of the believer" as meaning that, since the rending of the veil of the temple, every believer has direct access to God. In other words, we don't need the priest to go into the holy of holies for us....or sit in the confessional...

    I know this statement only addresses a small bit of what you are getting at; it's just a reflex reaction. I may have other, more relevant thoughts upon reflection.

  7. Brother John, I've heard a lot about the churched and the unchurched in resent years. I spent many years away from the church and had gotten so far from faith I tried to grab onto someone else's until I could find my way back.
    I thought I had out grown church. The more time I spent with friends that didn't believe in church or God as I thought I understood God, the more they would confirm for me that Sunday mornings are for recovering from Saturday nights and not much more.
    Being a very nostalgic guy, I'd often think back to the church days of my youth, and how real and different my friends from church were compared to my friends away from church and/or God.
    After a health scare, I had to reevaluate the God stuff once more.
    I was able to get in touch with a firm believer from my younger days who recommended a good book and although we were living in different countries, he was able to suggest a church I might visit.
    I'm not sure how much he knew about my life at that time, but going to a church in the UK (where I live) just didn't feel comfortable to me at all. I was raised in church in the USA.
    Well my friend must of knew I was uncomfortable in a British church but was comfortable in a British Pub... well he suggested maybe I'd like to go to church, in a British Pub.
    As much as this took me by surprise, I must admit, I loved the idea!
    It was just a small group of people who like me, were struggling with their spiritual life.
    To make this very long story just a bit shorter, I've come to cherish my time in church once again.
    I kinda go on a weekly church tour these days. My family and I attend a Church of England service on Sunday mornings. My wife is Catholic and finds the service there familiar. Sunday evenings we attend a nondenominational service. There they seem more relaxed and more relevant to todays world. On Tuesday nights I attend an AOG. This is due to me becoming more of a Bapticostal the past few years. I can't help it! I get these urges to raise my hands and shout amen now and then.
    On Thursdays I travel out of town to sing the Gospel with some dear friends of mine. This often turns into a very church like time. We pray, we sing, we talk about the message in the songs and what they mean to us.
    Today I don't ask why church, but why did I ever leave?
    "The Post Evangelical" wasn't an easy read for me. One thing I do recall about it was it saying that my doubts were just part of this spiritual journey I'm on and that in suggest you come full circle.
    I'm not where I was, not where I wanna be, but thank God I'm where I'm at.

    God Bless you Brother,

  8. Well john, it's confession time...I've been stalking Dirty Shame for some time now. I must admit that so much of it goes over my simple mind, but some of it really takes me back to a time...too long ago... that I had this AMAZING preacher man that I really "got" that could preach a sermon like no other and leave me feeling like the church "my church" was the place for EVERYONE. I remember feeling sorry for friends in other churches....they just did not know what they were missing. John, you a wise beyond the common man and a man meant to preach. There are people out there that need you in their lives. You don't have to have all the answers.....just be you!

  9. there may come a time when i will consider being a part of a church again. but not today. and most probably not many days in the near future. in the eleven years that i've been a Christ follower, i've witnessed and experienced first-hand spiritual abuse which continues to haunt me. i am willing to sit before you and your words, john, but i do so with anxiety and an eye on the door.

  10. Thanks to all who commented. Some of you got all, well, commenty, which I believe is sorta like getting all mavericky, so that's totally fine.

    Thoughts about the church are, obviously, a deep well and we'll continue to muddle through, somehow. As I read your thoughts, all of them, I was humbled by the courage inherent in your words, all of you.

    I'll lighten up on the next post, maybe talk about the kids or use a bunch of cuss words or something. Hope to see you then...

  11. Yeah...asking me for an opinion is sort of like asking it to rain in Seattle...I keep going and going...

  12. I dont have much to add to the comments other than as someone who has contemplating going into the ministry and has seen alot of evil in churches. I have asked myself many of the same questions and am still struggling for answers. Thanks for sharing, its always nice to know you're not the only one out there... ;)