A Culture of Disconnection

Of all the points of discussion among church leaders in America, one currently tops the list: declining attendance among members. Books and articles explore the various reasons and potential solutions, podcast hosts ask leading experts on church growth about the most-recent statistics and conferences, research firms as well as denominational teams attempt to discover what the future might hold for churches across the nation. This is not an isolated occurrence; it is being felt in the largest of metropolitan churches as well as smaller, rural congregations, and the trend is happening across denominational lines. People attend church less frequently than ever before.

The temptation is to single out one factor and claim that it is the sole reason for the decline, but leading research shows that the problem has multiple roots. People are much busier and are presented with many more options for spending their time. Families travel more and tend to take weekends to enjoy leisure activities. Members do not see a deep, spiritual need for regularly attending church services because they feel that a “monthly dose” is enough. Still others show up only when they have no competing activities on the weekend’s schedule. Over my years of ministry, when this topic comes up, I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard the same words, “We are all very busy during the week, so Sundays are for me and my family.”

Though the specific reasons for the decline are many, I do believe that there is at least one overarching theme: we have an identity problem. As followers of Christ, church is not a place we go; church is who we are. The church is the body of Christ, not a building. Sunday services are not about “having church,” but are opportunities for the church, the people who know Christ, to gather together to worship and bring glory to the one, true God, be built up in our maturity and understanding and then go into the world and make disciples (Ephesians 1:12, 4:12-13; Matthew 28:19).  

We can forget easily, in a world that values individualism, customizable options and personal preferences, that to live for Christ is to live in the context of his body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:14-27). When we miss the fact that we are connected to each other in Christ, we can also begin to forget the true identity and unchanging character of the One we have the honor of worshipping.

The author and speaker Francis Chan expressed this potential neglect well when he said, “I’ll confess that a lot of times I don’t act like Jesus is the head of the church and that I’m just an arm. The arm doesn’t do anything unless the head tells it to. I don’t really humble myself and say, ‘Lord, you’re the head of the church. What do you want me to do?’ When we let God be the head and realize exactly who we are, that’s when things really happen…I’m talking about the miracle of true rebirth: where the Spirit enters someone, and you don’t have to force them to get rid of sin in their life. You don’t have to beg them to get along with the Lord. Their spirit is crying out, ‘Abba Father.’”

If we share the same Spirit, should we not also share God’s desire for unity among his followers (John 17:20-23)?

The church is who we are. The church is Christ’s body. The church always gathers.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25

Prayer

I have not only been praying for our church that we would become a people of genuine prayer, but I have been asking God to teach me how to pray more intimately and effectively. Many churches and quite a few people are known for prayer that is ceremonial, polished and safe, but what I am referring to is something much more than that; I am speaking of direct and honest communication with the God of all creation.

After reflecting upon it, there are some things that I have learned about prayer that have shaped the way I approach God… Continue reading

Hope Below the Surface

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They are called “hunger stones.”

Lying in certain Central European riverbeds, large stones bear messages chiseled upon them hundreds of years ago…

“If you see me, weep.”

“If you will again see this stone, so you will weep, so shallow was the water in the year 1417.”

“We cried – We cry – And you will cry.” Continue reading

“The 33 Most-Valuable Leadership Lessons I Have Learned”

A few nights ago at a conference, I sat in a room with a group of other lead pastors. Some carried the unseen scars of many years of ministry; a few still showed a bit of the shine of idealism. The speaker in the breakout session addressed the things we needed to remember in order to make it in the “marathon, not the sprint, of ministry.”

He spoke warmly, sincerely and wisely. He encouraged, challenged and comforted us. As I looked around the room, I saw what I have seen so many times in gatherings of pastors: that worn-out facial expression. I couldn’t help but wonder if I looked as tired as the rest of them did.

When I got home, lying in bed, I stared at the ceiling in the darkened room and thought about what I have learned about being a lead pastor in the last year.

I had recently read an article that gave a very direct and honest list (and one that is perfectly accurate in every respect to my experience. You can find it here.)

Having been in ministry for over a dozen years, there have been many lessons, but if I had to summarize things and convey them as concisely as I could to a person stepping into a ministry role, what would I say?

Though I know that the list would grow exponentially if I thought about it for any longer (because I already know many more things I could add), for now, I would give these thoughts as a primer I have gathered from moments in my own life and from watching other leaders in ministry. Some of those examples showed great leadership, deep wisdom and God-centered motives, and others I use as a self-test (when I think about possible actions to take, I think back on some of these leaders’ actions and consider what they might do in a given situation…then I do the opposite).

So, in no particular order, and as they come to mind, I humbly offer these hard-won lessons… Continue reading

A Lifetime in Babylon

A friend of mine held a good job and was able to freely make a difference for God in her position, but she was terminated for no apparent reason. The subsequent positions she has held have been less than what she desires and full of difficulty. She knows that she took the original job after much prayer and careful consideration, but the loss has caused her a great deal of pain and confusion. Continue reading

Muddy Water and Changed Hearts

We often miss what we need most because we refuse to see past the surface concerns of our lives. God will orchestrate events and allow pressures to come in order to expose the deeper issues and give us a clearer view of ourselves and our greatest need. Take the Old Testament character Naaman for instance (2 Kings 5:1-14).

Naaman was a great warrior and was held in high esteem, yet he suffered from leprosy. Hearing that a healing by the prophet Elisha might be possible, Naaman made a trip laden with riches to pay for a miracle. Upon arriving, Elisha sent a servant out with the message that Naaman should go wash seven times in the Jordan River, often-muddy and creek-like, for his healing. Continue reading

A Tomb, Two Spacecraft and a Blind Man From Texas

(My yearly repost of the reason I listened to a particular song just today...)

Blind Willie Johnson seemed to know early on that his future lay at the crossroads of two vocations. He built a cigar box guitar for himself when he was only five and told his father that proclaiming the things of God to the masses was his desire. Continue reading

Bare Spots

A friend of mine lost his wife years ago after a long sickness. He told me that he visited her grave every single day for a year. No matter the storms, sun or snow, he was there.

He said, “Do you know when I knew I had to stop going so often? When I looked down and saw that grass had grown over her grave, but the ground was bare in the place where I stood every day. I was not letting the grass grow over the bare place in my heart either. So, I started going less, and I started healing more.” When you have given something enough time, give it no more. When the healing comes, we feel guilty sometimes about moving forward, as though to take a step is to belittle the importance of what was lost or to disrespect the memory of what once was. We may never be fully free of the grief here on earth, but we can experience a healing that allows us to navigate the “new normal.” There is nothing wrong with thinking through what led you to a place, learning from past mistakes or having regrets, but careful examination can become morbid fascination. When that happens, the autopsy never ends.

When I think of healing and the strange inertia of pain, I remember the story of the man who could not walk…

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The man had been unable to walk for 38 years (John 5:5). It might seem strange that Jesus would ask him such a thing. But if you have slipped down the slope toward learned helplessness and into the deep valley of self-pity, you understand the question.

Jesus then tells him to “get up,” and the man is healed (5:8). Make no mistake, Jesus did heal the invalid, but the man had to obey Christ to know the full effect of the healing.

In other words, he could have been healed, yet never stood up.

Do you want to be healed?

Christmas Plans

“What do you have planned for Christmas?”

That was the message from a friend of mine waiting in my inbox recently. Perhaps others have asked you the same question, and maybe your traditions or your schedule have already determined which relatives’ homes will be visited, what meals will be eaten and when gifts will be opened. Continue reading

Supper Club


Last night, my brother, his girlfriend and I had a little meal together. Dubbed “Supper Club,” we enjoyed fresh Maine lobster courtesy of Huckberry (for winning their caption contest on Instagram), bacon-wrapped shrimp, steamed asparagus and homemade mac and cheese. And, of course, plenty of sweet tea.


I retrieved my grandparents’ old kitchen table from storage and set it out in the field where my brother and I played often as kids. That worn table has been host to countless breakfasts of cinnamon toast, biscuits and grits, lunches of fried chicken and black-eyed peas, and now, I suppose we can add lobster to the long list of meals that have graced that simple wood surface.


The meal was one to remember: full of laughter, reminders from our childhood to “sit up straight,” and nature’s own light show. The crickets chimed along as the sky lit up like county fair cotton-candy as summer slipped away once again.


As the darkness fell, and the last plate was brought back inside, my brother looked at me, smiled and said, “Hey, let’s do this again.”
And we will.