Christ vs. Church

My Neediness

16 May 2011

I need God desperately.

I need him more than food.

I need him more than shelter.

I need him more than clothing.

I need him more than I need my wife.

I need him more than I need my kids.

I need him more than I need my friends.

I need him more than I need my church.

I need him more than I need meaningful work.

I need him more than I need a steady income.

I need him more than good self esteem.

I need him more than his answers.

I need him more than his religion.

I need him more than his calling.

I need him more than his gifts.

I need him more than wisdom.

I need him more than rest.

I need him more than life.

This kind of neediness is only life-giving when directed at God. If I put it on anything or anyone else, I find myself stressed, frustrated, burned out, overwhelmed, over-performing, striving, impressing, defensive, attacking, resenting, escaping, hiding, sleeping, and altogether void of joy. But when I willingly and eagerly direct it at God, humility rushes in, and life fully shows up.

needinessI find myself strong.

I find myself peaceful.

I find myself awake.

I find myself glad.

I find myself grateful.

I find myself amazed.

I find myself loving.

I find myself fully alive.


The way Jesus said it was, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And the way I understand it is, “Advantaged are those who know and live in their neediness for God, for they will experience the fullness, invulnerability, and adventure of heart that they are longing for.” 

What do you think you need more than God?

The Basement Boyz

13 April 2011

This week, a friend of mine asked me about my men’s group and whether or not we had room for another.

I told him yes and then gave this brief description (or warning!) of the atmosphere we co-create with God and with each other so that he could see what he thought of it. I thought I’d throw it out to you, my friends, to see what you think, too.

Our group is sort of unique. There are a core of about 5-6 guys currently that are pretty much gonna show up every time.

There are another 5-6 guys that are going to show up regularly.

There are another 10-12 guys that might show up at anytime.

We’ve probably had about 70-90 guys experience our group over the years, all for varied reasons and amounts of time.

And we have first time guests come and check us out quite regularly. Some stick, some don’t.

The real unique quality about this group is the commitment to be very honest. To dig deep and go beneath the “surfacy” stuff that we present to the rest of the world. To co-create some space where vulnerable confession is regular and loving confrontation is acceptable.

It is all centered around the idea that Christ claims to have the best possible life available to man. So ultimately, we are checking out his life, teachings, mission, and priorities and looking to apply them to our own lives and see if it is true.

Everyone leads in the basement. It is self-leadership. We don’t send out reminder emails and you may or may not get a call if you miss. The basement is always there, 8:30pm every Tuesday, for those who are searching deeply, looking to connect with a few other guys who are too, and have agreed to go through the search together.

Different guys take the hot seat each week and have “the floor”. When you have the floor, there are two rules.

  1. Bring it. -We are not here to talk about the weather or sports or superficial religious subjects…what you bring needs to be raw and real, courageous and probing. As long as it is that, you get to have us do whatever you want.)
  2. No monologuing. – You need to bring it in a way that invites everyone to participate. The sky is the limit when you have the floor…share a relevant topic, ask a probing question, bring up a theological discussion, share a confession, ask for advice, invite group prayer…anything…except monologue. Everyone there is there to participate in what is being created (if not, they can just go sit in another pew at a church).

The only exception to rule #2 is your first time to take the hot seat. This is when you “tell your story.” Yes, the whole, gory, God-honest thing. We always challenge the person about to tell us their story to go all the way with it. To “make us your friends”.

Everyone you’ll meet there has done it. It gives us context for each other’s lives and everyone who does it finds it quite liberating and friendship building.


So, my blog-reading friends. What do you think?

Jury Duty

7 April 2011

I had an experience during jury duty this past Monday.

I was assigned to a panel, and along with about 35 others, went into the courtroom to undergo the questioning of each lawyer for jury selection (which is actually jury de-selection, since they are deciding who they don’t want serving).

I was way back on the 3rd row, so I went through about 2 hours of questioning without having to speak. But then the defense attorney asked a general question: “Do any of you know any law enforcement officers?” I was among those who raised their hands. His eyes landed on me first, I guess, and he says, “Okay, Mr. Mashburn. And you are Church of Christ preacher, right?”

Why was my knee-jerk reaction to feel like I had just been busted for something bad? Why was I feeling some emotional mixture of fear and defensiveness?

Now outwardly, I handled this just fine. I think I just calmly said, “Yes, sir, I am”.

Inwardly, however, I wanted to say, “Yes, but the Church of Christ I serve with is not what some of you might be thinking! And I am probably not like the Church of Christ minister that is popping into your head right now! And I do not believe or preach or focus on what some of you might have experienced from some of the Church of Christ people in your life!”

Outwardly, this whole thing just lasted a few seconds.

But inwardly, I had left the courtroom, trying to examine what this reaction in me was, where it has come from, if it is necessary or useful.


Certainly, part of this has to do with me and my stuff. It has to do with me being confident about who and Whose I am, needing nothing (properly understood) from any man, and thereby settling into a sort of invulnerability against the judgments of people. This is all absolutely true and has been and continues to be my work.

But I also know that there is another part of this. A historical part based in reality. A part that has to do with a “Christian religion” replacing relationship with Christ, an “institutionalized legalism” replacing Christlike life, and “Church practices” replacing Church family. Yes, indeed, part of this has to do with the Church of Christ and her stuff.

So, back in the courtroom: I wasn’t the only one who reacted to the lawyer’s “outing” of me. Not everyone, but many in the courtroom (some with an urgent snap of the head and others nonchalantly acting as if they just happened to be looking in my direction anyway) turned their heads to get a look at me once the pronouncement was made.

Like they all wanted to know…what does one of those look like?

I can’t be sure what was going on in them, of course. Not everyone (maybe anyone) in that room was having a negative reaction to the news. But, because of far too many experiences, I am sensitive the fact that some may have.

Now, part of my sensitivity was from the lawyer identifying me as a “minister.” That title can carry it’s own generic baggage for some people these days. Maybe I get linked with the crazy guy in Florida who thinks burning a Koran is an effective way to represent Christ. Maybe I get associated with a Catholic priest who’s vow of celibacy was broken in the some of the worst ways. Maybe I get connected to some questionable TV evangelist.

But the major part of my defensiveness was the lawyer indentifying me with the Church of Christ.

  • Was that scowling woman going back to the time her Church of Christ minister or elder told her she could not leave her physically abusive husband unless he committed adultery?
  • Was that guy’s friendly smile because he’s a “Church of Christer” just glad to have a “brother” from the “Lord’s church” on the panel with him?
  • Were any of these folks Baptists, Pentecostals, or Catholics remembering how condemned they felt by zealous Church of Christers in the past for their “flawed beliefs” about baptism, prayers, the raising of hands, or the use of musical instruments in worship services?

I wish this was all in the far distant past, and pray that before too long it will be, but I know an older woman right here in my town who told me that her husband had stopped attending church due to physical limitations as she kept going faithfully. One Sunday, she approached an elder in their Church of Christ and asked if he would come over sometime and read the Bible to her husband (“Oh, how he loves that,” she told me). This elder angrily said that they at the church don’t owe her husband a thing since he didn’t bother to attend their church services.


I wonder if someone like her was in that jury pool? We were there to potentially judge some evidence and declare someone guilty or not guilty based on that evidence about drug possession. All of a sudden, with just a “title” thrown out there without some disclaimers, I felt like this jury was out on me and the group that I am a part of.

Hear me…I’m beyond grateful that I am a part of a Church of Christ family that humbly works to live up to the name on our building outside, trying to be a church that is actually “of Christ”. This stellar group of people is journeying together, transforming more and more into Christ’s image, imitating (by God’s grace) Christ’s heart, character, mission, and priorities.

I’m proud to be a minister at the Southwest Church of Christ.

But am I right to be sensitive about this? Is this concern outdated in your circle of influence? In your own heart?

Bell, Piper, and How to Read Your Bible

7 March 2011

You diligently study the scriptures. You should be diligently studying me.” – Jesus Christ (my interpretation of John 5:39-40)


I’m back to a subject that is important if Christianity is to survive as a power within the human race.

It is the subject of how to read the Bible.

Is there a Bad Way to Read the Bible?

Sure there is. Different approaches result in different conclusions. Many of which the Bible wasn’t written to provide.

For example, if you approach the Bible with the question, “How do you build a boat?” you might stumble upon God’s directions to Noah in Genesis 6 on how he was to build the Ark. You then might conclude that this is the “Biblical” way to build a boat, and to do so in any other way is not “Biblical,” and therefore should be avoided (at least), and made into a condition of salvation (at worst). Silly, I know, but stick with me here…

Imagine a good hearted Christian woman, quite disturbed, telling her preacher that “we just don’t ever hear sermons about how to build boats.” When asked why she desires to hear that preached, she responds with “because the Bible tells us how to build a boat. We need to follow the Bible.”

The question here is not “Does the Bible have anything to say about how to build a boat?” It does. Genesis 6. The question here is “Was the Bible written to teach us how to build boats?” It wasn’t. The lesson? Don’t approach the Bible in a way the Bible hasn’t told you to. You’ll end up following ideas that are “in the Bible” (ie: Biblical) that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ (who saves you).

This understanding would save many, many debates and avoid many, many divisions between Christians over so many “Biblical” issues. 

Here’s a more realistic, less silly example: If you approach the Bible with the question “How do you sing songs in a public worship service?” you might stumble upon King David’s appointment of people to use different sorts of instruments to accompany the “sacred song” (1 Chronicles 15-16:42). A few pages over, you might take note that these are called “the Lord’s instruments,” used specifically for “praising the Lord” (2 Chronicles 7:6). You then might run into all the Psalms that specifically instruct the use of those instruments alongside them (Psalm 4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76), and feel like you are starting to get a pretty good “Biblical” picture of how you should sing songs in public worship. You might then read the words of Paul to the Colossians (3:16), telling them to continue singing those psalms of David, assuming that he’s instructing them to do so in the way David wrote and intended them. Seal it up with the teaching that this kind of instrumental accompaniment will continue in Heaven (Rev 15:2-4), and you might feel confident concluding that the “Biblical” way to sing songs in a public worship service is with “the Lord’s” musical instruments to accompany the “sacred song”.

So imagine a good hearted Christian man in his minister’s office, telling him that “we just don’t ever hear about how we should worship with musical instruments.” When asked why he desires that to be preached, he responds with “because the Bible tells us to worship with instruments. We need to follow the Bible.”

The question here is not “Does the Bible have anything to say about how songs are sung in public worship services?” The question here is “Was the Bible written to prescribe how we should sing songs in public worship services?”

A very current example, and perhaps even less silly than either of my first ones, is the cyber-debate going on between Rob Bell fans and John Piper fans (I happen to be both) concerning their alleged convictions about whether a few, most, or any people will go to Hell or not. Plenty of folks have written about this, so I won’t here, but generally I like these thoughts about the whole thing…if you were wondering.

As important and interesting (and potentially useful) a conversation as it is,  the Bible wasn’t written for us to judge and decide who is or who isn’t going to Hell. Approaching it in that way, looking for the answer to that question, leaves us confused at best, or holding our conclusions over others as a test of salvation (or worthiness of fellowship) at worst.

“Farewell, Rob Bell” is what John Piper was compelled to tweet when Rob concluded differently than he.

Farewell, Lutherans” is what the Catholic church “tweeted” when Luther posted his differences.

“Farewell, Independent Christian Church” is what Church of Christer’s  “tweeted” when they saw nothing wrong with accompanying sacred song with musical instruments.

“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me,” is what Jesus prayed about us.

We are going to have doctrinal differences. Must they destroy our unity in Christ alone?

Farewell, Christlikeness.

“Farewell, Christlikeness” is what we all “tweet” when we think getting all (or some particular) Bible doctrine right matters in terms of our salvation.

Hear me: It is not the reading of the Bible that is problematic among Christians. It is what Christians read the Bible in order to get that has caused all the trouble.

My sweet daughter is 9. I’m already having to talk to her about boys (!) who are approaching her. The older she gets, the more I’m going to have to deal with it. You may not believe me, but I don’t have a problem with boys approaching my daughter. What I will be watching out for, and potentially having HUGE problems with, is what those boys are approaching my daughter in order to get from her.

In the same way, God has not problem with us approaching the Bible. But what we go to Bible in order to get from it…well, I think He has serious concerns.

Why? Because approaching the Bible in different ways extracts different sets of rules, different primary doctrines, and different guidelines, beliefs, and convictions…all from the very same Bible! This has resulted in embarrassing divisions among and between well intentioned Christians (throughout history, and most recently, between Bell and Piper), all of whom are equally armed with the authority of “being Biblical” in their position.

And worse than the separation it causes among Christians is the separation it causes between Christians and the world.

Many of the categories produced by well meaning, but uncalled-for, approaches to scripture are irrelevant to the actual well-being of the human heart, the healing of the human spirit, the guiding of the human life, the creating of loving relationships among  humankind, or “rightness” between them and God.

These flawed conclusions too often make Christianity look like a foolish set of stubborn beliefs, or adherence to some superficial religious sacraments or practices, or merely an intolerant and demanding conformity to a certain moral code. Trust me, the world is quick to notice that not only can Christians not agree on them (or even discuss them with grace in the context of safe and secure brotherhood in Christ), but they are irrelevant at best, useless & not worth their time at worst. 

So How Should We Approach the Bible?

So here I set forth, as clearly as I can, a way of reading the Bible that, at this point in my life, seems to be the only way to read it that brings the power of God that it claims to contain for real live human beings. It is the only way of reading the Bible that I see Jesus promoting and condoning himself (John 5:39-40). It is the only way of reading the Bible that actually makes it useful for the life of righteousness that Paul claimed in was useful for (1 Timothy 3:16)

Approach the Bible to find Jesus Christ.

Look for him. Fix your eyes on him. Fix your mind on him. Look for his attitude. Look for his heart. Look for his mission. Look for his priorities. Read for his way. Read for his truth. Read for his life. Follow him. Be clothed with him. Be buried with him. Be resurrected with him. Depend on him. Live in him. Be lived in by him. Imitate him. Become like him. Follow his example. Walk as he did. Be transformed into his image.

Approach the Bible to find him.

If you ever get done with all of that, which the Bible clearly calls all men to do unto life, then maybe you’ll have some time to figure out the sure fire answers to all of those lesser doctrines. Maybe then you’ll have time to get in a wad about whether or not your preacher preaches about them enough, or whether your brother is really your brother based on them, or whether knowing the absolute irrefutable truth about them would save and change the world any better than just a simple and faithful pursuit of and faith in the Person of Jesus Christ. 

A relationship with Jesus, according to Jesus, is the very definition of eternal life anyway (John 17:3). So why go to the Bible for anything but to grow in this “eternal life”? In other words, why go to the Bible for anything but to grow in your relationship with Jesus?

The Bible (and it’s doctrine) is not the point. The Bible (and it’s doctrine) is the pointer. And it points to Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, it is Christ and Christ alone that saves. According to the Bible, how you publicly worship, and what you believe about Heaven and Hell, and who might be “in” or “out” has about as much bearing on whether or not you are saved as how you build a boat.

What I love about both Bell and Piper (and most Christians, for that matter) is that they DO approach the Bible. And every single subject that can be explored and addressed by doing so, I downright enjoy it. But only insomuch as it helps me get to know Christ.

But when those subjects, and getting them right, become the end unto itself – and especially when some Christians starts acting like it matters in terms of my relationship (hear: “salvational”) status with God – I feel like Jesus Christ is, in light of the sacrifice he offered with blood, offended.

God help us. God be with us.

If Jesus Christ Isn’t God…

8 December 2010

If Jesus Christ is man—And only a man—I say That of all mankind I cleave to him, And to him will cleave away. If Jesus Christ is a God—And the only God—I swear I will follow him through heaven and hell, The earth, the sea, the air.” –R.W. Gilder

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…And he will be called Mighty God.” – The prophet Isaiah

How did Isaiah make the leap? How did he make the leap, over the course of one verse, from “look, here’s a baby of ours” to “and by the way, he is God.”

And how about Thomas? Isn’t this Jesus he speaks to the carpenter? Didn’t this guy come from Nazareth (what good comes from there)? And was not Thomas realistic and scientific enough that he was able to look at the convincing testimony of his 10 best friends in the world who claimed they saw Jesus back from the dead and still shake his head in disbelief (Jn 20:24-25)? Yet he looks a grown human being in the eyes and is able to say, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:26)

I’ve made the leap, too. And it is not because I am certain without a doubt. Oh, at times I am. At times I am blindly certain, finding myself believing it with very little evidence or feeling. At other times, I’m almost helplessly certain (my favorite kind) because I have seen such marvels in his teachings, or through actions done in his name, or through personal, mysterious experiences in or around me. But sometimes, I’m “certain with doubts”. That is, I’m certain in spite of some fairly valid doubts that (I hope) come from the integrity of my heart.

How have I made the leap, then? How have I come to look a human baby, a human being in the proverbial eyes and be capable of such a seemingly absurd statement as that of Isaiah? As that of Thomas?

How can I summon the faith to follow Jesus as God?

Well, I think its more complex than I have the ability or energy to completely think through or articulate at this stage of my life. However…

As a pragmatist, I have found the life, teachings, and ways of Jesus to work.

As an idealist (and, ironically, as a realist), I can’t find any high and noble virtue or value introduced by any other philosophy, political system, or religion not already embodied and promoted by him.

As an extremist, I find nothing that boldly calls for and daringly promises so much.

As a romantic, I love that everything he is and does is motivated and explained by love.

As a judgmental skeptic, I can’t find anything wrong with him.

As a sociologist, when I see his character, mission, and priorities imitated, I see unstoppable good flood into and through people.

As a contemplative, I can’t seem to exhaust his depth, but as a simpleton, I find his teachings easy to grasp and easy to discern application

As a scientist, he gives me categories to explore parts of humanity that science can’t.

As a relativist, he gives me a way of being open to new points of view without being afraid.

As an absolutist, he gives me a few strong, hard-to-argue-with bedrocks upon which the rest of life can be interpreted.

As an activist, he gives me something worthwhile to do, not as part of my life, but as my life.

As an ecumenicist, he gives me a basis upon which to call for unity.

As a sinner, he offers the only message that satisfies and heals completely.

As a son, the God he describes as Father is the only God I want.

As a follower, he gives me someone I can trust.

As a leader, he gives me somewhere of worth to take people.

Something in me is saying that I’m just barely skimming the surface of some very deep waters in me. Dark waters that must be plunged into fully in order to find the treasures.

But for now, this is a satisfying post to write. A sort of, “reasons I believe” proclamation.

Ultimately, I think I’ve experienced enough of myself, others, creation, and God in the light of my followership of Christ to have decided that even if Jesus Christ wasn’t God, I’d follow him still.

Interestingly, that may be how Thomas navigated through all of his complexity to arrive at making the leap that Jesus was God.

After all, earlier in the story, he was the follower that said, in spite of any doubt that would suggest it unwise, ill-advised, dangerous, or unnecessary, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn 11:16)

If Jesus isn’t God, well, then among all mere men, I choose to follow and die with him. In my journey, study, and exploration for truth, I have too many reasons not to.

The Potential of Small Group Relationships

1 October 2010

“[The small group] was full of sweet and patient Christ followers who would allow me to ask questions without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.” – a report from a friend of a friend of mine who decided to follow Christ at 29 years old

A good friend of mine told me about a girl he dated as a young man. He was very fond of her, but because of his pursuit of Christ’s life and her lack of it, they parted ways.

Some would say it’s not a good reason for a couple to break up, that their love for one another should be enough. In some cases, and depending on the maturity of the couple, I would say that’s true. In others, however, I would suggest that the the life and ways of a devoted Christ follower are so vastly different from all other ways of life that the act of love for one another is to break up – if they weren’t going to attempt it together (Paul says this a little bit more bluntly than I would in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16). 

Anyway, out of the blue, 15 years later, he gets a letter from this girl. Here’s some excerpts:

I am writing to share with you and your family the place you marked in my journey with Christ. When you and I knew each other I did not know God. I remember how you responded to me. You started inviting me to church and gently talking to me about God to try and get a grasp of where I was in my belief system. One evening you tearfully pleaded with me to realize God is real and wants me to be His. At the time, I felt offended and put off and I could not grasp what you were trying to explain to me.

It would be years later before God would rescue me and pull me into a relationship with Him. I was 29 years old when I was baptized.

I married a wonderful Christian man when I was 24 and still a “non-knower”. He hosted a Bible study in our home and it was full of sweet and patient Christ followers who would allow me to ask questions without feeling ashamed or embarrassed. My precious husband lovingly supported and lead me to Christ and I will be forever thankful.

Sometimes I would wonder why God waited so long to save me. Then I remembered you. You were the first person to really talk to me about who God is and what He wants from us. God did love me all along. Even when I was not seeking Him, He called on me.

I think a lot about God and how He loves us and how He uses us to love on each other. I hope you are still bold and courageous for Christ. Thank you wanting so desperately for me to know God 15 years ago. May it encourage you to know that even though I rejected that message that day- today it marks an expression of God’s love for me, through you, even when I was lost and not seeking.

My friend was a relational expression of God’s love for her. The group of folks that met in her house were too.

Because of where we are as a church here in Amarillo, I couldn’t help but notice not just the message that she heard (the greatest one I’ve ever heard) but the method through which she was able to hear it.

She heard it through relationships.

Not sermons on Sunday. Not a large group gathering in a building designated for it. I’m not opposed to those things, and indeed they can be an expression of God’s love for people, but they are not relational expressions of God’s love. The sermon can be heard through the computer as easily as it can be heard on Sunday. The large group gatherings in a church building can be as impersonal and non-participatory as a movie in a theatre.

But individuals with other individuals (ie: small groups) have a better chance at the relational part of expressing God’s love.Small Groups Logo - no words

Our leaders are asking everyone in our church family to reorganize ourselves into small groups. Not because it’s the only way to make disciples of Christ. But because the unique call on the Southwest church is to make disciples through relationships. And small groups are a better way for all of us to learn how to do relationships (an under-practiced skill, as you know) and then communicate Christ’s love and message to others through them.

My friend is doing it, and evidently, has been for a long, long time.

May God bless all of us who have found a better life in Christ to share it by being sweet and patient, relationally expressing God’s love for people, open to questions and conversations with anyone and everyone without making them feel embarrassed or ashamed.

Here is What We are Doing

4 September 2010

“Pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” – Jesus

The church family I run with is making a profound change. Like right now.

We are moWhite pewsving from pews to living rooms. From one big room to dozens of small ones. From one large central location to numerous small ones all over town. From a single centralized gathering to many scattered out gatherings.

As my new friend John in Atlanta says, we are moving “out of rows and into circles”.   Circle Couch


A circle calls for more participation from everyone. A circle invites more authentic interaction with people. A circle meets more people where they are at. A circle is more personal. A circle can address a broader spectrum of subjects custom fit for a broader number of people.  A circle is more intimate. A circle is less consumeristic. A circle notices when someone is missing. A circle ask “how are you doing?” and exists to have time for a real answer. A circle is more relational. A circle is more likely to live out the dozens of “one another” instructions in scripture. A circle is less likely to fall into a mind numbing religious routine.

Now…read that last paragraph again replacing the words “a circle” with the name “Jesus”.

You see it?

A church of circles needs more leaders developed. A church of circles goes out into all the world rather than needing the world to come in. A church of circles trusts the Holy Spirit to move and act through more people. A church of circles represents the Kingdom in more and varied places, in more and varied ways. A church of circles is agile and able to plant churches from it’s own number for more people groups where those people groups live. The ministry of a church of circles is definitely more messy than a church of lecture hall and classroom, but it is also less constrained by anything or anyone that would stand opposed to it’s mission. A church of circles is to it’s city what leaven is to bread…it makes the whole thing rise.

Now…read that last paragraph again replacing the word “circles” with “Christ”.

Isn’t it obvious…why we are doing this, I mean?

Our church family feels commissioned to make disciples of Jesus Christ through relationships. For too long we’ve been trying to make disciples through a meeting on Sunday mornings. We’ve even tried to use the meeting to develop relationships…with some success, I might add.

But if we can do it better, we should. We must. And now we are. We’ve been talking about it for a long time. Both our duty and our love compels us. So every single one of us in our church family is being asked by our leaders to circle up – with a few friends – and gather weekly for the purpose of relationally helping each other become more like Christ.

When we do…

  • Goal 1 is for all of us to learn how to better be in deeper relationship with each other.
  • Goal 2 is for each of us to offer that kind of relationship to people who are spiritually lonely.
  • Goal 3 is for to offer that someone our whole group of friends.
  • Goal X (the one that “marks the spot” that all of this revolves around) is that everyone gets into deeper relationship with God, becoming more like Christ, and experiencing a fuller life.

To make this personal, I want my wife, my sons Shade & Jakin, and my daughter Callie to have a tight group of friends that exists to help each of them become more like Christ. I want that for me, too. You, too. Our church family is organizing to help with that. And then offer it to everyone.

Creating tight groups of spiritual friends. That’s what our church is doing. As many times as (super-)humanly possible, that is what we are doing.

I’ll post more details about what we specifically mean by “a tight group of spiritual friends”.

I’ll post how we are using our church-family resources create & sustain these city-penetrating groups in ever-increasing numbers.

I’ll post the steps we are taking this Fall (our “Give Groups a Try” campaign) to move all of our current family members “from rows to circles”.

But for now, do you see how this differs for people substantially (as opposed to superficially)? How it changes the typical church member’s “religious practices”? How it calls for more loving relationships out of more people? How it offers loving relationships to the world? How much more human it is? How much more potential there is for it to offer life-giving, Christ-exalting relationships with more and a wider array of people in our city?

Do you see why we are opting for this kind of change rather than the superficial changes of how we do worship on Sundays? Or what day of the week we offer it? Or what time? Or how women should be “allowed” to participate? Or whether classes are offered before or after worship? Or how long the sermon should be, or what teaching style is used, or who is preaching it? Or the role musical instruments will play? Or whether the Lord’s Supper is offered monthly or weekly or in one cup or multiple ones? Or what we name our church on the church sign by the street? Or whether we should sing ancient or contemporary songs or both?

We want to become more relationally connected to each other & then to our world, so that when we invite people to “our church,” we’re inviting them into a circle of good and spiritual friends of depth, rather than to a auditorium ushering in rows of friendly and polite people.

We’re changing things. You can hear more about it here from our elders.

The New Wine has Burst the Wineskin

27 August 2010

“Pour new wine in old wineskins and the skins will burst.” – Jesus Christ

The skins have burst. 

It’s not going to happen. It has happened.

No, not for everyone. Perhaps not even for the majority of you reading this blog. But for most people, it has.

There is Wineskina “new wine” that we are serving. I, for one, am one of the people that have been willing to try to serve it in the old wineskin. It has not been without some success, I can admit. But the success has come in the form of converting current church goers that the new wine is truer & better than the old. And this has been good.

But if success is partially measured (and it is) by how powerfully and effectively we are serving up this new wine to people in our world (outside the church, that is), then we are failing miserably.

The good news is that the church people I run with have at least agreed with (and been energized and freed by) the quality of the new wine.

And it tastes better. It makes more human sense without compromising it’s holiness. It’s not that the old wine isn’t accurate, really. It’s that the old wine isn’t enough. Here’s my best attempt at a simple summary of the old wine vs. the new:





Baptism for salvation

Discipleship for Kingdom Identity


Develop Programs to get people to church with Christians

Develop Missionaries to give people relationships with Christians


Live Morally

Live Christlike


The Bible



Present the gospel to an audience

Live out the gospel with a community


While this new wine (our message) has been delivered to our church through the old wineskin (Sunday morning services), our leadership has decided (after much, much trial, patience, and prayer) that the old wineskin (Sunday morning services) is just not capable of containing and delivering this new wine (our message) to the world we live in that desperately needs it.

So… we are changing the wineskin. We will deliver our new message through a new means.

I’ll tell you what we are doing…but for now, what is your reaction to my summary of the new goal, strategy, teaching, authority, and meeting? Is this accurate? Does the new seem to be truer, as I claim?

Change How You Do Church or Watch Your Church Die

25 August 2010

“You do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If you do, the skins will burst, and the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. What you are to do is pour new wine into new wineskins. Then both are preserved.” – Jesus Christ

I happen to think that every generation needs (and deep down, wants) the message of life that Jesus Christ offers.

Who doesn’t want life to the fullest? The desire for life explains every single thing a human being does.

But not every generation seems to want to join the group that attempts to live in and live out that message of Christ (the church). According to a Thomas Rainer study:

  • 65% of the Builder generation attends church
  • 35% of the Boomer generation attends
  • 15% of Generation X (my generation) attends
  • 4% of the Millennials attend

The vote is in. At an exponential rate, the way we do church is not working as a wineskin for delivering the greatest message the world has ever known.

As you can see, the way we do church worked great for my grandparents generation. Most of them still go!

But 65% of my big brother’s and parents generations have stopped.

85% of my peers have, too. And a whopping 96% of young adults are just not having their hearts captured by the community of Christ the way they are offering it right now.

You can see why, generally speaking, the younger generations of people who have stuck with church are hungry for something new, and the older generation is usually more cautious about changing things.

More to come on this…but let me end this piece with the clear pronouncement that by CHANGE THINGS I do NOT mean anything as superficial as changing the worship style, or preaching style, or name of the church. If that stuff would work, it already would have. There is every worship & preaching style known to man available in the relatively small town I live in and it has NOT put a dent in the stats.

We must change much more meaningfully than that.


6 July 2010

A wonderful e-friend of mine named John asked me if I had any comments on an analogy that he heard a preacher preach. The preacher explains his analogy like this (for my readers who aren’t from my unique tribe of Christians, Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone are acknowledged as forefathers of the Restoration Movement in America, a movement that believed unity of all believers could be achieved if all churches would use the Bible only as their creed):

My sermon was about doing what God says do the way God says do it.  Man has never been faithful to God very long.  Man is in constant need of restoration.  Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone did not invent the concept of restoration.  That has been a constant in the Bible since the fall in the Garden of Eden.

Jesus had that emphasis in His life of doing what God says do the way God says do it.  The disciples of Jesus recognized and taught this principle.

I used the illustration of supposing that baseball were not played for 2,000 years.  If someone found a baseball rule book and wanted to play the game, how could they do it?  What would be the result?  If they went by the baseball rule book, they would have unity.  Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers.  Paul taught that principle.  Why do we not have unity today?  Could it be that we are using different books?

This analogy stirred something in me enough to respond with this:

To most Church of Christ restorationists, “doing what God says the way God says to do it” means “do church the way the 1st century church did it.” I know where this idea came from, and the very good heart and motive behind it, but I can’t find this anywhere out of Christ’s mouth, or written in the Bible by any of his followers.

To me, “doing what God says the way God says to do it” means “become like Jesus Christ in heart, character, mission, and priorities.” I found this idea in the mouth of Jesus (Jn 20:21; Mt 28:18; Jn 13:15, etc…), and all over the writings of the Bible by his followers (1 Jn 2:6; Php 2:5; Eph 5:1; 1 Cor 11:1; 1 Pt 2:21, etc…).

That baseball analogy works for baseball because baseball is an outward exercise that can be followed and practiced based on rules that govern outward behaviors. As a matter of fact, baseball is an exclusively outward game, and it can be played by any “kind” of person.

That’s why it breaks down as an appropriate analogy for discipleship. Christianity is based on character, mission, and priorities. Sure, it has it’s outward expressions, but they are measure not by how they align with outward expressions from the 1st (or any) century, but by how those expressions line up with the heart, character, mission, and priorities of Jesus Christ. The outward expressions are judged on their fruit (Mt 7:20). As a matter of fact, Jesus goes on to say that, even though genuine Christianity will always produce outward expressions, outward expressions alone are not enough to judge whether it is true Christianity or not (Mt 7:21).

Baseball can’t change it’s outward expression and still be called pure baseball. Christianity, however, certainly can change in it’s outward expressions and still be called pure Christianity. Why? Because baseball is based on rules expressed outwardly. Christianity is based on the Christlike heart that exists inwardly.

I am still a “patternist.” And a restorationist. But rather than using the 1st century church as my pattern, I use the person of Jesus Christ (like the 1st century church did, by the way – 1 Th 1:6). And instead of thinking that God wants to restore the 1st century church, I join in him in restoring people’s hearts to their original oneness with God (which is what was lost in the Garden – Lk 19:10).

God is after a Christlike “kind of person” being developed that leads to the most abundant life available to a human being daily, not a certain set of worship practices being exercised consistently by a group of people on Sunday (which WOULD be like baseball).

As far as following the same rulebook…Jesus himself said that salvation does not come from following the Bible. It comes from him. And that is purpose of the Bible. To get us to him for life. (John 5:39-40).Too many try to squeeze some set of rules out of the Bible to follow unto salvation, when according to the Bible, being in relationship with Jesus is what brings salvation. And I would suggest it brings about a much more holy, spiritual, and devoted Christianity, too.

According the Bible, even the Bible is not the point. It’s the pointer. When I want to take issue with a baseball umpire on whether I am safe or not, I would take the baseball rulebook to him to show him how I followed the rules that make me safe. When I go before God, I do NOT want to take my Bible in my hand up to Him and show him how I followed the rules that make me saved. I would much rather have my hand in Jesus Christ’s hand, and let him tell his Father that I am safe, because I was in genuine love relationship with His son in a way that triggered forgiveness and made me look more and more like him on earth.

This is where our confidence comes from according to scripture (1 John 4:17).

Does this make sense? I’m sure I’m not getting it all right, but this seems to make more sense, both in doctrine and practice, to me. I have not been able to EVER find unity in or among churches by trying to agree on what the “rule-book” says is imperative as religious practices. But I am finding PROFOUND unity in and among Christians who are focused on loving and living like Jesus Christ in heart, character, priority and mission.

And on top of that, it is a message that people in the world seem attracted to, too. Not many of my un-churched (or de-churched) friends seem to want a certain set of religious practices. But all of them seem to want what Christ offers – life to the full (Jn 10:10).


I haven’t posted a whole lot lately. But it is because I am so full that I can hardly bare it. Every time I sit to write, I can hardly be with all the thoughts and excitement inside of me.

Thank you for sharing life with me in this way, friends.

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