Recently, I have been thinking about the power of STORY. Actually for a few months before meeting my Professor Dr. Leonard Sweet for a seminary class in February. It was in that class that I understood even more the power of STORY especially in sharing gospel truths. I left that class with more information that stirred my spirit on this STORY story.
Dr. Sweet reminded us that there is always more to what we read in the scriptures than what we read in the scriptures! There is a story behind the story and our job is to uncover that so that we get the real story and can communicate the real intent of the passage. This line of thinking is the same for OUR STORY. There is more to anyone you meet than just want you sense or what you see. Everyone has a story. While we don't have to take the time to get to know everyone's story, if someone is interesting to you and you want to build a closer connection, you should ask "what's your story? over some cafecito.
Just last night, I saw the movie Coco by Disney's Pixar Studios. I loved the various messages embedded in the story line of the movie. But here's the thing that resonated with me the most, if we don't share the STORIES of the ones we loved from one generation to the next, they are forgotten as if they never existed. Story was important in this movie and it really is important in the real world too.
You see, from a legacy perspective, we tell our stories for ourselves and as a gift to future generations. How does telling our stories benefit us? We need to know and express our own stories. Difficulties arise not because we have a story, perhaps a very sad or painful story, but because we become attached to our stories and make them an essential part of our very selves.
Telling our stories is not an end in itself, but an attempt to release ourselves from them, to evolve and grow beyond them. We tell our stories to transform ourselves; to learn about our history and tell our experiences to transcend them; to use our stories to make a difference in our world; to broaden our perspective to see further than normal; to act beyond a story that may have imprisoned or enslaved us; to live more of our spiritual and earthly potential.
Annette Simmons in her book, The Story Factor shares that “we cannot wish old feelings away nor do spiritual exercises for overcoming them until we have woven a healing story that transforms our previous life’s experience and gives meaning to whatever pain we have endured.”
As I learned from the movie Coco and even from the fact that we have a New Testament today because first hand eyewitnesses were able to share stories with the gospel writers is that stories benefit future generations. How does telling our stories benefit them? Stories connect the past and present to the future. Our stories and our learning from them honors and respects our ancestors and us. They can awaken future generations to their potential. They model a way to use their stories to release themselves as they connect to their history and to our values.
In my first book, Don't Buy The Lie I share my story and how I had some belief systems that really came from my early years. They were not good ones. Later on in life, I learned that I was part of a meta narrative and that my life had meaning and purpose in spite of the pain.
And what have I gained by sharing my story? The ability to see beyond it. To notice that I’m not the only one who experiences disappointment and loss. I feel deeper compassion for those sustaining great losses. My respect for human resiliency has grown, as has my commitment to help people who must start over completely after devastating loss: rebuilding lives, homes, and hope.
In “The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning,” Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham said:
Release ... is experienced rather than “gotten,” received rather than attained. And so it does not work to tell one’s story in order to “attain” release; yet Release does emerge from the practice of telling one’s story ... The deeper release ... is of our attachment to the chains that bind us.
Because of the power of your story, I want to invite you to join me for a STORY breakfast this summer. where I share more about how you can get started in exploring your story and what you need to do to join God in co-writing your next chapter. It is an invitation to a journey to start where you are to explore who you are and who you want to be. I hope you'll give it a shot. It will be a fun way to meet new sister friends and/or make the bond you have with a sister you already know stronger. This will be fun, impactful and could change the direction of your life. Send me an email if you would like to know more here
When it comes to every kind of relationship, they say that, “everyone has a price." What price you ask? The value that you think you are worth. Now value is instilled in us from the moment that we have some cognitive ability. How our parent (s) treat us. How our friends treat us. How our significant other treats us. You get the picture. But I would like to suggest to you today that we give too much power to others for the price tag on us. Why do they get to decide our value?
The relationships around us sometimes leaves us feeling kicked, empty, and wondering if it’s all worth it—or if we are worth it. But God leaves no doubt of the tremendous value He places on every human life, including yours. God says that we were knit together on purpose, intricately and intentionally in Psalm 139. We are definitely worth more than birds according to Matthew 10:31 and we are valuable and honored so says Isaiah 43:4. I mean, if we were the only one in this world, Christ still would have died for us (Rom 5:8). So why on earth are we letting other people decide our value, if our Creator says we are all that and more!
But how exactly can you take the price ringer back and change your price tag? I think you can start by doing these three things:
It's New Year's Eve and like most people, I am in a moment of reflection. In the past few days (since I am off from work), I made some time to go see new movies and re-watch old ones. If you are like me, you come out of the movies either disappointed because it was a waste of time and money, pleased but not necessarily feeling like it was anything to write home about or moved to action or tears due to the message of the movie. Two such movies that moved me where Collateral Beauty and The Greatest Showman (which came out this month).
In Collateral Beauty, we see TIME in the form of a person sharing with Will Smith (who was in extreme grief due to losing his child) how we often complain about time, saying "there isn't enough time," "time is short," "the grey hairs are coming in," see clip below:
TIME in the movie says that it is abundant, it is a gift, even while we waste time complaining we are wasting it. In that is the lesson friends, we keep wasting time. Now in my very early fifties (smile), the thing that keeps being replayed every year's end is the question, "what did we do with our time?"
Every year brings sorrows, many that we didn't expect. You know like death of loved ones, relationships broken because of lies, betrayals, or misunderstandings and unforgiveness. Those are the things that usually take us into a cave that we can't find our way out of. But the thing is, many of us, keep doing the same thing over and over again yet every year we expect different results. The famous quote says that that is the definition of insanity.
So as we enter 2018 in a few hours, how will you determine to use your time? Will you stop having a pity party because life is unfair (and trust me I get THAT) and start using the time YOU have to be productive, to contribute joy, happiness to those around you and make the world a better place? Will you use the things you learned in pain to spur you on to acts of kindness towards others? Will you use the God-given talents and gifts bestowed upon you to finally get that book finished, start that new business or ministry?
I know that some of our dreams didn't come to pass. However, that doesn't mean that others won't. Keep dreaming.
I know that people have let you down talking from both sides of their mouth, voting for Trump, or simply not being who they said they were. However, that doesn't mean that other people can bring you joy, become friends and new mentors and cheerleaders in your life.
In the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo says, “I wish it need not have happened in my time." Gandalf replies, "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
TIME really is a gift. Don't waste another second crying over the people who don't love you. Angry at the people who walked away. Wallowing in self-pity because this has not turned out to be the life you dreamed of. There is still much beauty to see and bring to this world. You can be a part of creating that beauty for those around you and for yourself. Use. Your. Time.
Another movie that has totally put me in the most pleasant of moods is The Greatest Showman. Predicted to be a flop by critics, people have been giving it thumbs up, cheering in theaters and crying in their seats. (Another example on why critics DON'T MATTER!).
This movie celebrated diversity, it showcased love, faith, risk, the family that we often have with friends we chose when our families haven't turned out to be that ideal picture we had hoped for. But the greatest stand out for me personally was this song, "This is Me." The lyrics go like this:
I'm not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
'Cause we don't want your broken parts
I've learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one will love you as you are
But I won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruise
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh
A ministry friend asked me yesterday to put a book list together for someone he cares about. A young emerging Latina leader. It got me thinking about what I would have loved to learn from someone when I was younger. You know, someone who was considered part of the OG (Old Guard) by the new generation and had been there and done most of that. However, yesterday was not the first time I thought seriously about giving back something to the younger generation.
In the beginning of the year, through the preaching of my friend and cohort mate Richard Wilkerson at Trinity Church in Miami, I was challenged to consider that not only should everyone have a mentor but everyone should also be one to the emerging generation. Since that time, I just prayed, pondered and planned in my head how I would go about pouring into younger folks. I had not taken any action because after being in ministry for 28 years and transitioning out from a traditional pastoral role in a church to one of a community pastoral guide in a non-traditional faith community, I have been liking this season. Alot.
Then a few weeks ago, my husband and I decided we would start attending a new church on Sundays. The pastor is not even 30 years old yet and my new church family are mostly millennials. A group of people that I have also been writing about due to the epidemic of churchlessness in America (you can find my writings on that on this site as well). It is very different for me, but in this latter half of my life, I want to be even more intentional than ever about purpose and legacy because let's be honest, I have less time ahead of me than I have behind me.
So, with the request of my friend yesterday, I thought now would be a good a time as any to start with a simple post. Please know that a given for a faith-based person is to stay connected to God (because I've learned that someone will always be a critic and wonder why I did not mention that). With that said, this is for you, young one. Seven things I would tell my younger self and all the emerging young men and women (especially those contemplating ministry). I hope it is helpful in some way.
We have three months until the end of the year, start thinking about how you want to spend these last few months, what you need to do, who do you need to have or remove in your life and what environment do you need to be in to grow personally, spiritually and professionally? You will enter 2018 better for it.
Now tell me, what would you tell your younger self? Let's all share our life lessons. The younger ones don't have to experience the bumps and bruises we did just because the ones before us never felt the need to look back to give back. Let's not be those people.
(If you found this helpful, feel free to share on FB or Twitter). Thank you.
Over the last few weeks in my “Church Dropouts” series, I’ve alerted you to four reasons we’re losing devoted church members; shared some strategies to perhaps help disrupt these patterns; and sounded the alarm on a new category of people who are on the fringes of our churches hoping to be noticed before they actually leave.
My hope and prayer is to raise awareness in the midst of all the church growth plans and new church plants being born. While I’m all for celebrating the people that are coming into the church every Sunday, I also want us, as responsible leaders in the Church, to lament and respond to those who are deciding not to return. We must also acknowledge that those who already left still need a connection to God and to His people.
Throughout this article series, I’ve discovered and heard from some folks around the country, many of them former “traditional” pastors, who have voiced the same questions I’m asking. They have similar reasons for leaving their church positions, and in many cases their livelihoods, to pursue their call differently. They are creating spaces and places for those who still love God but not necessarily the local church, as we know it. I think you’ll be stirred and challenged by their stories:
Daron Earlewine, a former church planter, started Pub Theology in 2009 in Indianapolis, what he calls “1/3 a party, 1/3 charity event and 1/3 church service.”
After six years in church planting, Daron had a “missional freak out” moment when he realized that he did not have any meaningful relationships with people who did not know Jesus. In trying to have a conversation with his unchurched neighbor, he realized it was an “awkward conversation.” When he told his wife about it, she told him bluntly, “That’s because you’re not a real person anymore. …unless you’re talking about church, at church, doing church, or around church people, you don’t know know how to just hang out and be normal.”
That conversation started Daron on a quest. Through prayer, Pub Theology was birthed. Essentially, he and his team are the entertainment at local bars but they get to speak about Jesus and raise money for a worthy cause. As Daron puts it, “we wanted to introduce people to the heart of God before we introduce or re-introduce them to God.” While most patrons expect an ordinary bar night, they instead encounter a time of hearing stories of compassion and see people being generous to a cause.
“Recently, we raised $6,000 for a young teenage girl who was fighting leukemia. We had her and her family share their story. There people are moved heart and soul by compassion, generosity and hope by loving our neighbor. After we share about the cause and get people to hear the stories, I go up and share a four-minute talk that points to Jesus.”
Daron helps people make sense of what they may be feeling after experiencing that atypical bar night by sharing how God created them to be connected to others and to give back hope to the world. As a follow-up, he invites people to come back to Cocktails and Conversation where questions about life, God and everything in between can be asked with people who are also hungry for answers. Pub Theology nights led to Daron being invited to host a three-hour radio show called Radio Theology on one of Indianapolis’ top secular stations. Now known around Indy as the “Pub Pastor” Daron’s ministries attract the unchurched, dechurched and churched out. His rationale for doing these out-of-the-box outreaches is simple: “We believe that we learn to live our lives by doing what Jesus did. He came from Heaven to earth to have conversations with people just like us. He went to parties and hung out in the everyday places of life so that people could get to know Him better.”
This is a paper submitted in my Systemic Theology I class, Summer 2017. I felt the message was important enough to share with a wider audience. Note that I am aware this is not fully developed in "academic" terms but it nevertheless expresses my convictions in the age of Trump. I hope to further develop it in the future. I would for you to share and/or provide feedback.
What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. --Augustine of Hippo
The love professed by Christians, especially Evangelicals has for all intents and purposes been lost in translation. Based on what we hear coming from the White House, the continued debate on health care and immigration, I do not see how a Christian can reconcile continuing to support this administration and say they are filled with Spirit of God and are “loving Christians.”
The 2016 Presidential election with Donald Trump’s victory revealed what many people of color knew was lurking under the surface, racism and social class backlash. The result did not just inform America of its new President, it revealed to America a great division between gender, race and education and a greater divide between White Evangelicals and Evangelicals of color. One of the most hurtful revelations was seeing that many who call themselves “followers of Jesus” and for the most part, (based on what is espoused in churches across America) biblical literalists, did not take the Bible literally when it came to the poor, the immigrant and the disenfranchised.
Since Trump’s inauguration America has simply slipped into social mayhem. Every day the news or social media outlets inform the public on the current administration latest fiasco and of the hate around us. Especially hate for people of color, the immigrant and the Muslim. Being a Puerto Rican who was born and raised in New York city, I grew up in a melting pot where there was tolerance for everything. It was a Sancocho that New Yorkers happily embraced. A Sancocho is a Latin American soup that consists of meat and different root vegetables in a delicious sauce. The dish has variations depending on what Latin American country one comes from but it is always a soup and always embraced as central to Latin American cuisine. This is where I get my Sancocho theology idea from. I believe when it comes to a biblical perspective on caring for the poor, we all may have variations but in the end the Bible is very clear on what was on God's heart and what Jesus made sure he did when he walked this earth. Whether or not a person is a literalist or somewhere in between, the only document used by believers as a compass is the Bible. But what is notably clear is that the voices of the poor and dis-enfranchised continue to be shut out of the discussions where the power brokers are making the decisions that impact their lives. Sancocho theology is simply a bridging of ecclesiology, missiology, social justice, theology of place and the good news of Jesus Christ.
Sancocho in the Latin American community is something people look forward to tasting. In some homes, it is the very act of making it ‘together’ that brings the families closer in Spirit. The Psalms say “taste and see that the Lord is good…” but can brown and black brothers and sister see the good news and for that matter, the Lord of Lords as good when so many of those who profess to know him and speak for him are so hateful, so dismissive of the plight of people who do not have the privileges they were born with simply because of the color of their skin, the family they were born into, the legacy of being on the “right side of the tracks.” Is it possible that there will ever be a time when there is true listening to what the other voices have to say and a real desire to make those on the outside of the theological borders welcomed? Can we theologize together about the current plight of our America and as is so customary to the Sancocho making process, put our unique perspectives in the soup that impacts the soul?
History shows that the [Black] church was pivotal in the civil rights era. My own research has revealed that Latino Pentecostals got involved much later in activism and developing organizations to help people through drug addiction, the HIV/AIDS crisis, mental health issues, teen pregnancy and families with children with disabilities because of their faith and interpretation of scripture. Many Latinos especially Puerto Ricans due to succumbing to a dualistic theology and tradition placed a higher emphasis on the spiritual dimension of human existence at the exclusion of what was happening in the physical world. Yet, in New York City there was more of an awareness perhaps because of the more social conscious churches in the NYC-Metro area. Many of us also grew up knowing that Jesus, our Lord, was also a flipping tables kind of Savior. In seeing Jesus in this way, Latinos who were able to see that they could be meek and they could also have righteous anger at the way things are sometimes found at the ‘temple’.
I find myself now, in South Florida nothing like my New York City, surrounded by churches who seem not to care about the unjust actions of an unqualified and undignified President. In fact, it was many in the White church community who handed him the reigns to the Presidency with what seems like no regard for the what the Bible has to say for the poor, the immigrant, the widow, etc. The bible looks very different when viewed from people on the margins. Leonardo Boff asked “in what sense can the Trinity be called “gospel,” good news, to people, especially to the poor and oppressed?” Boff seemingly understood that the world that Jesus lived in was very much like the Latin American world he lived in, his response to the message of the gospel was to produce a liberation praxis for Christians who believe like he did that “the Trinity has to do with the lives of each of us, our daily experiences, our struggles to follow our conscience, our love and joy, our bearing the sufferings of the world and the tragedies of human existence; it also has to do with the struggle against social injustice, with efforts at building a more human form of society, with the sacrifices and martyrdoms that these endeavors so often bring.” This is a radical challenge to the established order then and now and it is a compelling vision for a new kind of humanity that Christians can help create for a world that does not see good in our gospel especially in light of the people who claim to represent the “pure” gospel and their quest to reclaim American and make it “great again.” The question that was asked during the campaign and is still being asked today is “great for who?” It certainly seems that yet again, Evangelicals especially in the West, have found a way to keep people at the margins.
Many evangelicals of color feel they no longer have a place amongst traditional Evangelical denominations as 81% of white evangelicals voted against the values dear to them. I, along with many of them, do not consider ourselves on the left but we most certainly do not see ourselves on the right either. It is our understanding of Scripture, our Sancocho theology that has us wandering… but as the great philosopher J.R.R. Tolkien said, “not all those who wander are lost.” Theology matters because people were already leaving the church, after the presidential election more left and that is expected to continue. Some have left because of the pastor’s position on politics and some have left because the conversation continues to be one-sided as it has always been in the world of theological discourse. It has always been a sign of arrogance to believe that Western or European Voices were superior to Non-Western voices. As William Dryness himself discovered, you do not know that you do not know until you find yourself in unchartered territory trying to affix your usual thinking to an unusual circumstance. It was in that place in Manila that he “began a crash course of theological reflection.”
Perhaps this Trump era is the unusual circumstance and the rallying cries of the ones that Dario Lopez Rodriguez said Jesus had a special love for, “…the poor and the marginalized, including the fragile, those on the periphery, the needy and the destitute, the ragged of the world, and the “nobodies” that predominant society has condemned to social ostracism and the basement of history” is the crash course alert for all the Evangelicals who believe they have this good news gospel interpreted 100 percent correctly. Class is in session but they have chosen to be absent. They have chosen to ignore what they can learn from people with stories they have never had to live.
What comes to mind is the quote shared by Dr. Timothy Tennet in the Week 8 class forum video who quoted John Abiti (a pioneer of African Theology): “we have eaten theology with you, we have drunk theology with you, we have dreamed theology with you. But it has all been one-sided. It has been in one sense your theology. We know you theologically but the question is do you know us theologically? Would you like to know us theologically?” Unfortunately, the answer in many spheres of the Western world continues to be no.
Rodriquez shared that “Luke develops a theology of poverty influenced by social, political, and economic factors present in his specific context.” Faith has always driven black and more recently brown people of faith to rise up and speak for those who have no voice and speak out against injustices, often times carried out by the very government that is supposed to watch out for all citizens. We have numerous examples in Scripture as Rodriquez points out with Lucan theology being one of them, on how Jesus always stood for the poor against the religious elite and the powerful government. A true good news gospel is one that is not afraid to engage in politics if it is to stand up and care for the poor. There is no other way to see it. As we also saw from various videos of churches during class forum discussions, those who felt filled by the Holy Spirit, those who prayed, all were led to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Their theology was “do as Jesus did”. Jesus was the model. A Sancocho theology is needed that recognizes all the non-western voices that bring the meat to the soup and understand “sticky rice”, “rainy season, and “leaky roof” with the Western voices that are more privileged and have the learning opportunities to know and speak of “incarnation” or “atonement” but cannot speak the language of poverty or ostracism.
The political figures and religious elite that have wrapped evangelicalism around like a scarf have done irreparable harm to the name of Jesus and the people who have understood the liberating mission of Jesus and fight to carry on that mission in the era of a Trump Presidency.
 Amanda Marcotte, “New Election Analysis: Yes, it really was blatant racism that gave us President Donald Trump,” Salon, April 19, 2017, accessed May 30, 2017, https://www.google.com/search?q=was+there+prejudice+lurking+before+trump+election&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8
 Alec Tyson, “Behind Trump’s Victory: Divisions by race, gender, education,” Pew Research Center, November 9, 2016, accessed May 30, 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/
 Deborah Jian Lee, “Betrayed at the Pools, Evangelicals of Color at a Crossroads”, USC Annenberg, April 27, 2017, accessed May 30, 2017, http://religiondispatches.org/betrayed-at-the-polls-evangelicals-of-color-at-a-crossroads/
 Psalm 34:8. NIV.
 Elizabeth Rios, “The Ladies Are Warriors”: Latina Pentecostalism and Faith-Based Activism in New York City,” in Latino Religions and Civic Activism in the United States, edited by Gaston Espinosa, Virgilio Elizondo and Jessie Miranda, 197-217. (New York: Oxford University Press), 2005.
 Reference to Matthew 21:12.
 Alister E. McGrath, Ed. The Christian Theology Reader, 4th Edition, (United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 196.
 Ibid. 197.
 Elizabeth Rios, “Church Dropouts: Four Reasons Why We’re Losing Devoted Churchgoers,” Influence Magazine, May 11, 2017, accessed May 31, 2017 https://influencemagazine.com/practice/church-dropouts
 William A. Dryness and Oscar Garcia-Johnson, Theology Without Borders: An Introduction to Global Conversations, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2015), 25.
 Dario Lopez Rodriguez, The Liberating Mission of Jesus: The Message of the Gospel of Luke, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012), 2.
 Timothy Tennent. “Theological Education in the Context of World Christianity.” Lausanne movement. (May 30, 2012). Accessed June 21, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Blh399dDtpU.
 Dario Lopez Rodriguez, The Liberating Mission of Jesus: The Message of the Gospel of Luke, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012), 3.
 Kosuke Koyama as quoted in William A. Dryness and Oscar Garcia-Johnson, Theology Without Borders: An Introduction to Global Conversations, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2015), 25.
She did what she could.
She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Mark 14:8
Today was not the day I expected. I cried almost all day. It started out this morning over pancakes. As I listened to worship making pancakes I was dancing and jubilant but when I sat down, right there over my pancakes the tears started to flow. Before I could even compose myself so my husband wouldn't see my tears, I started to cry even more. There over my pancakes I just felt a strong urge to pray for myself. There are a few things that are going on in my life that I just need God to intervene. As I was praying, the thought came of some prayers not being answered "yet", then I recalled the testimony of my sister-in-love Enid when she said her 2017 Mother's Day message that she had found a letter her mother wrote, a list of things she was asking God for from a few years back. What she mentioned was that by the time she passed away in 2016, many of those prayers were not answered. Yet 'til her dying day she was still believing and still praising God. So I prayed, Lord let me have that Spirit. Let me not be bitter, let me continue to believe that YOU CAN as I wait to see if YOU WILL.
Later on, as I was cleaning my office. I felt the urge to pray for my children. I was asking myself did I do enough as a mom? I have two very different boys, Samuel going to college in the Fall and my special angel, Daniel Jeremiah (DJ) who has a number of issues and will be at home with me until God chooses to take him home. I felt inadequate. I felt I should have done something different with them (not that I have a clue what that would have looked like). I felt the weight of the things I am currently facing that made me cry this morning with the weight of motherhood and not being enough. At the moment, the Holy Spirit reminded me of this verse I came across last week in Mark 14:8 and there were five words that just hit me, "SHE DID WHAT SHE COULD!" So I prayed, "Holy Spirit help me not judge myself too harshly. Let me not compare what I think other mothers are doing better than me. I did what I could yes. Take all that I have given to my children and nurture those seeds in them so they can be a blessing to all those they encounter. Yes even DJ Lord." I then continued to clean my office and attempted to do some school work (which I am still avoiding by writing this!).
During a little break from schoolwork, I started to look over the notes from my day at the Propel Lead event with Christiane Caine. The question that came into my mind was the question she asked the audience. "Are you doing everything God wants you to do? She said at her age (50) she has less time going forward then what she had in the past. I'm 52 so I am in the same situation. In Practicing a Rule of Five that John Maxwell advocates to think deeply or do "evaluative reflection", I believe I have always done what I believe God wanted me to do. But some of those things didn't work out the way I had hoped. It made me question everything. It made me shut down. It made me not trust. But in my reflection, those words popped up again my spirit. Yes you did what you thought He wanted and you did what you could. I cried again. Feeling like the Holy Spirit comforted me.
Just a few minutes ago, I felt a strong urge to pray for my cohort. All of us are busy people and I know I have been feeling the weight of school and finances and LIFE and then I felt like the Holy Spirit said, pray for them right here (in our FB Forum). Oh gosh really? But as I started to write, I felt the burdens. My tears flowed. I felt the Holy Spirit say, they are also doing all they can. But everyone needs divine intervention once in a while.
So friends, I am not sure what you are going through right now. But God honors people who "do all they could." He knows what you can do and He knows if you are doing it. He doesn't expect any more than what you could give him. Our seasons in life change, sometimes we can do more. And sometimes, just showing up is doing all we could. Don't feel less than, inadequate, like a failure or any of the things that make you feel like you want to run and hide. You did all you could. That's enough for God and that should be enough for us.
Perhaps I'll have that on my tombstone. My mother in love has "She Never Lost Her Praise." I think mine will say "She Did All She Could."
Part 1 of this blog post series can be found here.
As a second time doctoral student, a Doctor of Ministry student this time, I obviously care about the future of the church. What comes to mind is something that Bill Hybels said closing out one of his great annual leadership summits. He said:
Wow. Right!? Because I prayed that prayer long ago, I committed my life to work to build His church. Whatever that looks like. While I have had a few detours and disappointments on the adventure to do that, I have no less commitment to God and His church. But in praying for insight and reading some things in school, the dramatic changes happening in society and their impact on the church has me wondering who is paying attention.
Church planting is all the buzz now and that's great. But I think some planters and even some traditional pastors who already have what is deemed a "successful church" should consider the changes that are impacting churches across the U.S. and put their minds together on how they can prevent more people from being "DONE" with church. The reality is, that many are already "done" and still going because of family habit, socializing with friends, etc. Don't kid yourself. People on the fringes exist in your dope church. Thus, I think the changes I mention should be taken into account in all decision making for the church.
Here are the next two changes that are impacting the church right now. :
#3 People's Opinion of Relevance has Changed
Many people feel the church has lost its “it” factor, it’s relevance in the eyes of the world. This has come about because people (both on the fringes and involved hard core volunteers) believe that the church cares more about themselves (as in their own survival) then the daily living of people who make up the church body or the community where they find themselves. People are tired of being asked for money but not seeing more community outreach. People are tired of seeing "missions" offering going across the seas but not to their own backyard. People are tired of seeing the Pastor with the "more than they need home" and the third luxury car in the drive way and no increase in the money going into community engagement.
In addition, many people feel that the church simply is not as important to their daily lives as it once was. They find church to be more time consuming and more drama filled by church goers interested in preserving a political stand than admitting that the gospel has many sides and it is neither a republican or democratic. It’s important to note that although many feel the church has lost its relevance, they are still very much hungry for spiritual things. People leave the church because it is no longer relevant.
#4 People's Hunger and Understanding of/for God and Community has Changed
Many are leaving the church is that people are not impressed with the glitz. They want more of the God that is preached on an experiential level. Jacobson writes:
Sure, we now have vast menus of amazing church activities, entertaining events, targeted ministries, well-crafted sermons, flashy presentations, and professional pastors with impressive seminary degrees. But when an unbeliever walks into a church, is he hoping to witness spectacular music and dazzling productions and be won over by compelling arguments or is he looking for real evidence of the living God? Shame on us if all we have are stories about the miraculous things God did for previous generations of believers, yet nothing but lame excuses for why he seems semi-retired today. Who could blame an unbeliever for turning around and walking away unconvinced? 
Imagine that! People can’t find God in church! Church should be a place where people driven by the love of God, embrace the outcast, serve the widows and orphans, love the unlovable, and gives refuge to the immigrant. It should be a place where power is rejected, gender and race is irrelevant, and where the most coveted position is the position of servant. Yet more and more people feel they see and experience the exact opposite as they get “more involved” in the life of the church.
In addition, they want more relationship with the pastor and with others who are also seeking more of God. So many people are tired of doing life on their own, tired of plastic relationships, and are looking for deep, loyal, and authentic communal relationships. This should be a central goal of churches– building community. But not the kind that most want to force together in a “life group.” Christianity was never meant to be lived out in the context of isolation, but rather in the context of community. When people can’t find community, can’t plug-in or access meaningful relationships, they split in hopes they’ll find it somewhere else. When a church learns to do community well, it is a life-giving experience. When churches fail to build community, church just becomes another item on the to-do list and eventually one realizes they may not be alone but they are lonely.
The feeling of being excluded, by definition, creates an intense loneliness. Being one of the only people living raw and authentically in a quest for community, is a lonely feeling. Being the one person who can’t, in good conscience, sign onto the same statement of faith that the group has or back a particular presidential candidate, is a lonely feeling. Watching cliques form as an outsider, and watching people who rise to esteemed positions by way of church politics, is a lonely feeling. People leave church because they don’t see God but do feel lonely.
It is important to notice something before some of you judge 'these people.' These people have not given up on God, they have simply given up on the institutional expression of church. Many of the people interviewed for much of the research I have read share that “they didn’t stop doing things to advance what they believed to be the work of God; they stopped doing things to advance the work of the church. They’ve opted for relationship over structure, doing over dogma and creating with rather than creating for.”
Paying attention to these changes that are impacting churches and with perhaps a renewed heart for discipling and mentoring, the traditional church still has a way to be preventive against this current. As Packard so eloquently stated, “The question is not whether the church in America will exist in 25 years. The question is entirely about what form it will take.” Pastors, planters, leaders...what are you prepared to do? Do you even care to do anything?
Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, (Unchurching Books, 2016), Kindle. 1938-1947.
 Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith. (Colorado: Group Publishing, 2015), Kindle. 411-412.
 Ibid. 437.
This is part one of a two part series on Changes Impacting the Church.
It’s time to wake up and see the tidal wave washing away the foundation of the churches in America. The numbers are in—and they don’t look good. From across Christendom the reports are the same: A mass exodus is underway. Nationwide polls and denominational reports are showing that people both adults and the next generation are calling it quits on the traditional church. And it’s not just happening on the nominal fringe; it’s happening at the core of the faith.
This is not just a grim prediction. This is not a scare tactic. It’s a reality—which is already happening . . . just like it did in England; it’s happening here in North America. Now. Like the black plagues that nearly wiped out the general population of Europe, a spiritual black plague has almost killed the next generation of European believers. A few churches are surviving. Even fewer are thriving. The vast majority are slowly dying. It’s a spiritual epidemic, really. A wave of spiritual decay and death has almost entirely stripped a continent of its godly heritage, and now the same disease is infecting North America.
Many people saw it coming but didn’t want to admit it. After all, our churches looked healthy on the surface. We saw bubbling Sunday schools, dynamic youth ministries, bigger and bigger building projects to accommodate what looked like growth. But a vacuum was forming: there were people who had been living on the fringes who no longer showed up for the Sunday worship service or group bible studies, or that mid-week service. For the most part, there was an increasing group of people who sent AWOL. Recent and irrefutable statistics are forcing those of us who work and care about the church to face the truth.
Some say that people are leaving because they have lost their faith or no longer believe in God. Jacobson disagrees, “To reject the institutional churches is not the same as rejecting God or rejecting the Christian faith … Some people may have to reject the churches to find Christ and vitality … And God is surely present outside the churches— often more present without than within.”
Slowly but certainly the church of the future is headed toward a slow fade and will continue to do so—unless we come to better understand what is happening and implement a clear plan to circumvent it.
While there is not enough research, there is some and they have been able to show us the trends; more and more are finding out about them—but the vital question concerns what is the root problem of why this is happening. We need to know why if we are going to formulate possible solutions.
My hope is to be part of the solution that addresses this situation at some level through the establishment of a non-traditional faith community called The Passion Center whose aim is to specifically cater to this group of people both young adults and adults who have decided that they are “done” with church and have said their goodbyes. Maybe forever but most certainly for now.
While data can help those of us attempting to look into this matter and provide some type of safe place for those on the fringes, there is no secret sauce or magic bullet that will help every church in every environment successfully reach out to the unchurched. What might work for one church in California may fall flat in a church in New York City or Florida. This is important because “if churches hope to grow their attendance numbers by discipling new believers, they must improve their ability to attract those who are intentionally avoiding a connection with a church.”
There are at least five main themes I've noticed in my research that stand out that should be taken into consideration not only by those of us who seek to reach out to this population but by those who are planters or pastors who seek to prevent more people leaving because of something they could have been addressing. We live in a complex and changing culture. Ministry as usual will not work. Over the next few days I'll be posting a few reasons why. Here are the first two:
#1 Our World Has Changed
It is important to note that depending on the age of the pastor, minister or leader attempting to reach out to the unchurched (those who are churchless for a reason), what the may have tried before may not work in today’s culture. This is because our culture has changed. Barna reports that “more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice. If nothing else, this helps explain why America has experienced a surge in unchurched people — and presages a continuing rise in this population.” Secularization in America has been the culprit.
Everything has also gone digital in our culture. Church leaders who remain unaware of how to navigate this digital world are already left behind. Barna states:
In the last two decades, three network television stations have morphed into hundreds of digital channels. A handful of reading formats — newspapers, books, magazines — have given birth to new media (e-readers, websites) and social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter). With DVRs, digital season passes, massive multiplayer online gaming, and tablet computers, consumers — both churchless and churched alike — have access to more content and information than anyone could hope to absorb and assimilate. So much demands our attention that, as a culture, we are experiencing an epidemic of distraction. Virtually every facet of our lives receives less concentrated attention than it did two decades ago.
Pastors often wonder why people who say they love the church find it hard to come to the events that the church that they “love” sponsors, the change to all things digital is the usually at the forefront of reasons. The study conducted by Barna in 2014 showed that:
People are more likely than ever to feel they are too busy. They have more commitments, more activities (online and off) that chew up valuable time. When you combine increasing indifference toward church and a culture of short attention spans, you get a lot of people who think they don’t have time for church. You also end up with less frequent face time to reach the churchless and form the worldviews of the churched.
This digital shift points to another issue that contributes to the root of reasons of why many are unchurched, especially among young adults. They feel that they have a right to contribute their voice, idea, opinion because technology affords them the opportunity to do so. With Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, the once very public and guarded gatekeeper to the table where decisions are made, where one hears the data on why they should decide to go one way versus another has in a sense become extinct. People now have a way to get how they feel added to the digital mix of voices in the world.
This change has also given ministry leaders digital connectedness is access to people, ideas, and information from all over the world. Now because of this easy access to technology people can experiences church services, mission trips, conferences and seminars without even being physically present. Although, one would think that all this assess and connectedness would help reach unchurched people, data shows otherwise. This is, in large part, because young unchurched adults don’t search for much spiritual content, “just 6 percent report going online to search for faith-related in a typical week.” People leave the church because the church has not changed with the times.
#2 Our Trust of the Church and Clergy has Changed
It seems that even the very dedicated to the cause of the Christ have lost their trust of Christians and the churches they belong to. In no small part to the evangelical alignment with the election of Trump. People everywhere were in shock that so many evangelicals overlooked character, past track record with race, the poor and the like to stand with a man who promised he would do away with abortion. Again, the tunnel vision of single issue voters won out. But this time, it has caused according to a quote attributed to Dan Rather, the respected news anchor, the rise of the worst administration in history to be in power. It wasn’t always that way. Parkard states:
It was just a generation or so ago that people expressed high levels of trust in religious leaders, and the church had a reputation as a force for good. Religious institutions in this country had been prominently involved in many of the human rights struggles from women’s suffrage in the 19th century to the civil rights movement in the middle of the 20th century. Local and national religious groups have continually responded admirably to natural disasters and community tragedies. But people trusted religious institutions and leaders not just because they responded to their community needs in times of crisis, but because religious institutions were intimately and continually involved in their local communities. Religious leaders were involved in doing things, not simply proclaiming things.
This is not something that happened overnight. The trust of church and clergy was eroding for years. Packard continues:
Since 1977 the Gallup organization has regularly asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of many professions in the United States. In 2013 the clergy received its lowest score ever. The number of people who believe clergy has very high or high levels of honesty and ethical standards fell below 50 percent for the first time. But this was no blip on the radar screen. After peaking at a high of 67 percent in 1985, the decline has been a pretty steady march downward 
This is huge information because in the past, if one was to introduce themselves as a pastor, they would be warmly greeted and greatly respected. This was great because starting out the pastor had credibility on reserve and when they met people in the street and invited them to church or to a church-sponsored event, people would at least consider it. In today’s world, for more than 50% of people, a pastor starts off with zero credibility and must earn the trust of the unchurched. Thus before they can even get an audience with these people to talk about Jesus, give an invite or ask them out for coffee, they have to work daily to earn their trust first.
In addition, what contributed to the loss of trust was the feeling that churches only cared about numbers, not people. Jacobson reminds readers that “M. Scott Peck noted in 1987 that “the plain reality is that by and large the Church has not been in the community game; it has been in the numbers game.” People leave the church because they don’t trust it anymore.
Come back tomorrow to read about a few more changes that are impacting the church! Let me know your thoughts here. Please feel free to share on social media. Let's get to talking and to working!
 Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, (Unchurching Books, 2016), Kindle. 73-75.
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), Kindle. 146.
 Ibid. 202-204.
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), Kindle. 249-254.
 Ibid. 254-257.
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), Kindle. 269.
 Jessica Chasmar, “Dan Rather says Donald Trump off to ‘worst start’ of any president in history” in The Washington Times, March 27, 2017, accessed April 2, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/27/dan-rather-says-donald-trump-off-to-worst-start-of/
 Jose Packard and Ashleigh Hope, Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith. (Colorado: Group Publishing, 2015), Kindle. 236-241.
 Ibid. 243-245.
 Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity, (Unchurching Books, 2016), Kindle. 78-79.
In three days, I enter my birthday month. There are two times in the year that I usually get very reflective. My birthday month and the end of the year. Today, as I sat down to finish some writing for one of my courses in my D. Min. journey, I was distracted. The distraction came from a verse I read in today's devotional. The verse was Genesis 12:1-3
Now the Lord had said to Abram, "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.
So, for a little context, before I sat down to do my "work", I was drinking my coffee thinking of a disappointment I had in trusting an organization that was supposed to help me and it turned out that they were not who they advertised themselves to be. At my age, I had already determined from life lessons that I would NOT stay in toxic environments. I would NOT do things that do not bring me joy. I would NOT hide the person I am just because some people are uncomfortable with women asking questions. Yet, this determination made me 'get out' of the affiliation but it essentially killed what my husband and I thought was the help we needed to get a dream off the ground.
I felt defeated. I felt sad. I felt angry. I felt let down. I felt alot of the things I have felt in that particular journey. But after a few weeks and now a few months, I feel great. I feel liberated. I feel excited. I feel energized for God's next thing for us. I don't even feel that experience was a waste because I learned a few things. And I felt the Holy Spirit softly speak to my heart and say, "all experiences where you are led to leave your comfort, to leave the box you have been confined to either by your own doing or others, is a step toward pursuing purpose." Ugh, I thought to myself. Can we get there without THAT!? But no, unfortunately, we can't.
The religious community has somehow brainwashed many to think that if God is with you, you won't have setbacks. But that is exactly how God gets you "out of the box" you are in! You can't have greatness without separation. In fact, greatness itself means to be separated from the norm. It means you stand out from the crowd. Your purpose in life is what makes you great (in God's eyes not necessarily in people's) but in order to accomplish that greatness you must be willing to accept separation of the things you thought were working for you. Sometimes you have to "get out" to "go up!"
The story of Abram reminded me of that today. The greatest threat to your future, my future is getting boxed in, is getting too comfortable, is the familiar. The familiar is the often subconscious thought that the predictable is the preferred path, what is expected of you is the better route and that the recognizable (in your church, your industry, your religion) is the best option. But uh, not always the case.
When God engaged Abram with the instructions for "his journey," the first thing He tells him to do is GET OUT. Usually those words do not instill confidence, motivation or inspiration from us do they? They usually cause fear. What will people think? What happens then? Can I make it on my own? Etc. But here is the thing, when God purposes to move you to whatever is coming next for you, it always requires an exodus from a former place of comfort and acceptability from the masses. Why does God do that? Because He knew Abram then, and us now, will never step into what He has for us without first stepping out of our complacency.
The beginning of promotion and elevation will sometimes look like failure and misfortune, but God is always up to something good in our lives. We have to believe that first before it can manifest in our life. We have to leave the familiar behind folks. If we dig in a little deeper, we see that he told him to get out of COUNTRY, FAMILY, FATHER'S HOUSE. Our country can be our environment, culture, subculture, our customs. Our family encompasses relatives, the broader community (church, work, etc), and those who surround ourselves with most. Our father's house could be the assumed or predetermined expectations. All these things shape our identity. But at some point you have to leave this place of shaping to be shaped by God according to His purposes for your life.
Leaving the familiar is leaving the place that is presently shaping you and stepping into a new realm with a plethora of new experiences God uses to reshape you for what you were born to do and contribute to this world we live in. Remember, in order to realize purpose you must become a "you" that you haven't met yet, and you can only do that when you leave the familiar. When you get out of the box others (or even you) created for yourself.
So today, I challenge you to GET OUT. A new you is waiting. In order to fulfill your purpose in life, you have to dwell in environments that unlock your potential and releases the creativity that God has placed inside of you. I can't wait to see the land that God will show me (as He told Abram). But I know it is in that place, I will discover Liz 3.0. The Liz that will be a blessing to others. I wish the same for you.