How Christians Are Ruining My Hatred For An Entire State

    It was nine years ago.  I had a phone interview for a position at a new church with Tim, the Executive Pastor. “So tell me a little bit of your background.” He said. No problem.  I begin with the basics: born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, graduated from Hope College, went on to Western Theological Seminary, did my internship through a church-based campus ministry at the University of Michigan– “So you’re a Michigan fan, then?” He asked. “Yes.” “I’m from Ohio.  I went to Ohio State.  My dad went to Ohio State.  He played football there for Woody Hayes.” “Well, there goes that job,” I thought. Growing up in Michigan, college football is bigger than you think.  Even if you didn’t attend Michigan or Michigan State, you had to choose one to be “your team.”  I grew up going to Michigan games.  Some of my most cherished memories are getting up insanely early on a crisp, fall morning and driving eastbound on I-94 to exit 175 and waiting with Christmas Morning-like anticipation as traffic crept along Ann Arbor-Saline Road at a glacial pace until we finally reached the golf course across the street from The Big House.  There we would set up our tailgate extravaganza and throw the football along the fairways until it was time to head in.  These are the kind of traditions that are past down from one generation to the next, and are sacred to the Michigan faithful.  (I took my son to his first game earlier this month and it was one of those special times with your child that are never forgotten.) There is one other truth about being a Michigan Football Fan: you have to hate Ohio State with the heat of a thousand suns. There are rivalries, but then there is The Rivalry.  A perennial placeholder as the last game of the regular season for both teams, Michigan versus Ohio State takes precedent over any other sporting event, and it is by far the most intense, most penalized, most emotional game of the year for both sides.  Not only do the two teams hate each other, but often there are bowl games and championships on the line–either to advance one team, or to ruin the...

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Why Church Websites Are The Worst

This is a huge pet peeve of mine.  I look at a lot of church websites, and for the most part, they are terrible.  Some are fantastic, and for that I say, “Well done!”  For the majority, however, it’s pretty clear that the church culture is usually a good 5-10 years behind secular culture in being “contemporary” in most best practice areas, but when it comes to websites it’s more like 10-20: “Hey, look at our website!  We have cool clip art and are registered with Netscape AND the Google!  Our website plays hymns when you open it!” Come on, bro. But this isn’t even the part that bothers me.  I get it that often times people just don’t have the skill, resources, or exposure to create a really good website for the church. That doesn’t bother me. This is the part that bothers me: If you list your pastors and staff on your website, yet fail to provide direct email addresses so there is an easy way for people to directly connect with your leadership, you are neither welcoming nor accessible. “But we have an online form they can fill out!”  Great.  So do I.  But I also list my direct email address above the form if they would just rather use that.  (By the way, my email address is jamie@silverleafministryconsulting.com)  Either way it goes directly to me. “Why is this such a big deal?” you may ask. Look, if you list your staff with a nice picture and bio yet fail to provide an easy, direct way for them to contact you, you’re essentially saying this: “Welcome! But don’t email us directly because we want our secretary to screen it and then if they deem it worthy, they will forward it to the right person and then if it merits any follow up the appropriate staff member will get in contact with you.  But really, welcome!” Come on, bro. I understand the desire not to be inundated with garbage, but that’s what a SPAM filter is for. Jesus said  of the little children that wanted to see him, that they should not be HINDERED in their pursuit (Matthew 19:14).  If someone is trying to email the church to get info about ANYTHING, we...

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Why 19-Year-Old Me Would Punch Present-Day Me In The Face

This past September our third child, Emily, was born–we are so thankful for her and that God has so richly blessed us. As we prepared for Emily’s arrival, however, one reality became painfully clear: our Subaru outback could not accommodate three car seats.  “That’s okay, we’ll just get an SUV,” I told myself.  It would be okay–no problem.  Yet the more we looked, the more difficulty we had deciding on one that would not only fit our family the way we wanted but, more importantly, fit in our garage without destroying doors. “Maybe we could look at some minivans?”  my wife would delicately ask.  NO WAY.  What is she, crazy?  There’s no way I’m getting a minivan. Then I went and drove one. We now have a minivan. The spacious room, the ability to accommodate multiple kids with carseats, the ease of use–it’s all pretty fantastic. Enter 19-year-old me.  I was hoping he wouldn’t show up.  See, he hates minivans, and made a promise that he would NEVER own one. Ever.  He says things to me like, “You’re a sell out!  You know all those people you made fun of?  That’s YOU!  Way to go, wuss.”  He then proceeds to punch me in the face. Yes, 19-year-old me made some bold claims that at the time, seemed to be iron-clad, can’t lose declarations.  19-year-old me was also an idiot.  As time goes by, I see things in my life constantly changing.  Context informs content, and I see myself saying and thinking and doing things I swore I would never think or say or do.  I’ve had to adapt my thinking and actions to better fit the myriad changes in my life.  This is what I had to realize: Adaptability does not equate compromise. In 1st Corinthians 9:22, Paul states that he becomes all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel.  Does that mean he compromised his beliefs? Not at all.  It does however indicate that Paul was intensely aware that people encounter the Gospel in different ways, and he needed to be able to adapt to how they could best hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. Does your church embrace a posture of adaptability, or does it hunker down into...

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Why CS Lewis Needed To Go To Church

There are tons of resources out there as to why we should go to church.  Wise and insightful Christian leaders have spoken and written eloquently and convincingly on the subject.  If you need more reason, the New Testament will give it to you in spades. Meh. Sometimes, if we’re honest, it’s not enough.  If it was, then we would never want to skip church; attendance would never be an issue for churches and sanctuaries would be bursting at the seams.  I could put together a snazzy list that would give us five key points as to why we should go to church.  I could do an exegetical review of Scripture that outlines why corporate worship and Christian fellowship our essential to living a life commensurate with the Gospel.  I could, but I won’t.  None of that worked for CS Lewis, and he was a lot smarter than I am.  For Lewis, it came down to a singular point: We’re conceited. That’s it.  No more study, no more sub-points.  It’s the sheer, excessive pride in ourselves.  For Lewis, attending church destroyed his conceit. Here is what Lewis said in his book, God in the Dock, in the chapter entitled, “Answers to Questions on Christianity”: “When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go the churches and Gospel Halls;…I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music.  But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.  I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.  I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.  It gets you out of your solitary conceit.” Maybe you think you can live the life of a Christian on your own.  You may think this way, but according to CS Lewis, it’s neither helpful nor conducive to growth.  What is helpful?  Being in...

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The New Normal Church

Last month I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw a tweet that linked to an intriguing offer that was put out there by Ed Stetzer–a well known, high-profile Christian pastor and leader.  He said that he and his wife were going on vacation soon, and while they were there, he would like to preach at a local church.  He did however, put some conditions on his offer.  One stipulation was that they were not allowed to pay him–he wanted to do it free of charge as a gift to the church.  A nice gesture, but not super earth-shattering.  It was his other, primary condition that really piqued my interest.  He said it had to be a “normal” church.  What, you may ask, is a “normal” church?  He went on to list the criteria, so here’s his list with my two cents tacked on as well: 1) “It has to be small.” He categorized small as under 100 in attendance on a given Sunday.  This is corroborated by the Barna Research Group, which reports that the typical protestant church in the U.S. has 89 adults in attendance on an average weekend.  This is a normal church. 2) “It might have a bi-vocational pastor.”  As most churches are plus-or-minus 100 attenders, a church budget will often reflect the capacity of such a group as one being able to support a ministry operating budget but not necessarily a full-time pastoral salary.  The Wall Street Journal reports that as churches shrink so does their ability to retain full-time ministers.  Many, many churches go the route of having bi-vocational pastors.  This is a normal church. 3) “It is probably plateaued or declining.”  In 2011 the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polled church leaders from around the world and discovered 82% of evangelical ministers from the United States reported that their movement was losing ground. This is a normal church. 4) “The pastor is tired.” A 2010 New York Times article outlines some of the physical, relational, mental, and spiritual stress that today’s clergy are feeling: “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy...

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Not Citing Statistics – Things That Drive Me Crazy.

Recently I’ve been researching a topic that I’m hoping to write on in the near future: Why it’s important to go to church.  While doing so, I came across an article by a high-profile pastor that is well-known in many Christian circles.  In his article on the importance of church attendance, he gives the following compelling statistics: “Studies show that if you don’t go to church for a month, the odds are almost 2 to 1 that you won’t go for more than a year. Being a vital and active part of the church is something we pass on to our kids. A study once disclosed that: If both Mom and Dad attend church regularly, 72% of their children remain faithful in attendance; if only Dad attends regularly, 55% remain faithful; if only Mom attends regularly, 15% remain faithful; and if neither attend regularly, only 6% remain faithful.”  My first thought when reading this was, “Wow!  That’s powerful!” My next thought was, “I wonder where these statistics came from?”  I scoured the page, and looked for anything close to resembling a citation; there had to be something that could point me in the right direction, or at the very least tell me where to go so I could get some insight as to the origin of these numbers. Unfortunately, I found nothing.  No citing whatsoever.  Zero.  Nothing.  Nada. I’m married to an epidemiologist.  In her field, statistics are CRITICAL.  If a statistic is not cited and that citation cannot be verified, it’s essentially garbage.  That’s how important it is in most fields of study to cite a source. When you get in front of people and start with, “Statistics say…” you are taking on a responsibility to cite your source.  The sad thing is that so often I hear Christians and pastors cite statistics that, if you gave them a million dollars, could not tell you where those statistics came from.  And if you can cite the statistic, then do it! “But no one really wants to hear that those stats came from a Gallup Poll or the Pew Research Center.”  Yes, they do.  Not only does it give weight to the statistic in the point you’re trying to make, but it shows that you’re...

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