Thursday, November 29, 2018

Unchurching In America? Meet Richard Jacobson

About one of every ten Americans is essentially "done with Church but not with faith."

Notice... that's not 1 of 10 Christians, that's one of 10 Americans, the people in your office or school, the people you pass on the street. Roughly 30 million people have decided to opt out of church but retain their faith in God and Christian identity. (Packard)

If this is of interest to you, then you need to know about Richard Jacobson. He's become a leading voice among those who are Unchurching in America.

A great way to get up to speed is by watching the TEDx talk that Richard gave on September 15th, 2018 at Palo Alto College. In the talk, he shares his personal journey out of the institutional church as well as the broader phenomenon of people leaving the church in order to preserve their faith. For a deeper dive into the hearts and minds of these "Dones" you'll want to look at the the book Church Refugees by Josh Packard which I summarized here on my blog.

Richard has been working to help people realize that they're not alone in this and to find each other, both online and in person. There's a Facebook page as well as a full-featured forum on a different platform that even provides a map to help people connect locally. Richard has also begun to connect with supporters of his work (like me) through a Patreon page.

There's effectively a religious exodus taking place as people leave the institutional church and that's a huge part of the crisis that most congregations are wrestling with. But this exodus is also an opportunity for the Church. We now have millions and millions of believers who want to be active in the faith, and are also finally free from the costs - in time and money - of maintaining buildings, programs and the salaries of church professionals (like me!)

Can we help these people to find each other, and equip them to live as believers and lead the Church into the very different world we are moving so quickly into?

I hope so! That's what The Feral Pastor has been yearning to do all along.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: MULTIPLY - Make Disciples Who Make Disciples Who Make Disciples...

Jesus instructed his disciples to go and make more disciples in what is often referred to as The Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20. These new disciples were to be taught to obey “everything I have commanded you,” especially the command to go and make disciples. So the goal is to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples… and so on. This is not just adding more and more people to the group so they can sit at the feet of the original disciples and learn from them. This is multiplication, as each new generation is able to do the same discipling work that the generation before did.

“Making disciples” is something you do. Jesus didn’t say “teach them my new theology” but rather “teach them to obey” which is to say, train them. The goal is not simply that the students are able to understand what the teacher understands, but that the students are able to do what the teacher does. That’s called training. In making disciples, we train others to see the world with Kingdom eyes; to abide in God’s love; to love others in practical ways; to listen for Jesus’ direction and follow where he leads, and so on. This is not a specialized job given to only a few highly trained professionals. It is true, as the Diversity tool reminds us, that some of us will be more skilled at this than others, and that we may play different roles in the work. But we must not lose sight of the fact that making disciples is the common work we all participate in.

A helpful way to approach training is through a set of four stages, represented by a square. Training reaches completion as the student “moves around the square.”

When the student completes stage four, they return to stage one but now as a teacher rather than a student. The disciple has been discipled and is ready to make disciples. This is multiplication, not just addition, and is represented in the icon by one square becoming two.

The difference between multiplication and addition is important when looking at faith communities as well as individuals. Congregations tend to grow by addition, rather than by multiplication. This is a problem. It’s as if a family kept on having more and more children but never produced adults who could start and lead their own families. Eventually there are simply too many children for the parents to adequately care for them all and the family begins to break down. Rather, it’s both natural and healthy for families to multiply by launching new families. The same should be true for faith communities.

Mark 1:16-20 (Jesus calls his first disciples); Mark 6:6b-13 (Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs to preach and heal); Mark 6:30-44 (Jesus challenges the disciples to feed a crowd); Matthew 6:9 (Jesus teaches his disciples to pray.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: DIVERSITY - People Are Different And That Really Matters

People are different. That matters a lot.

We have different strengths, abilities and gifts that contribute to our uniqueness as a person. We also are unique in our weaknesses. Some people are prone to making rash, impulsive decisions while others are prone to passivity or “analysis paralysis.” We are different in our personalities and our preferences. And we are different in our perspectives on life and the world: the information we have, the culture we were raised in, the values we embrace and the priority that some values have over others. All these things give each of us a unique viewpoint, and unique blind spots as well. Out of all these differences, unique callings arise for each of us, our particular work to do in the world.

We even have diversity in the ways that we categorize our differences! The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator sets out sixteen personality types based on four categories, whereas the Enneagram envisions nine types. Different lists found in scripture are often used as inventories or typologies. Examples include the “Five-fold Gifts” of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher found in Ephesians 4:11, and the list of seven gifts found in Romans 12:6-9. The StrengthsFinder and DISC inventories are additional ways of seeing the shape of our uniqueness. Each approach can help to give insight by what it reveals, while also making it harder to notice things that don’t fit into the categories being used.

Communities are unique as well, each one with its own strengths, weaknesses, personality, perspective and calling.

It’s important to know what makes us unique, to know about the uniqueness of the people around us (especially family members and coworkers), and to know the uniqueness of our community.

It’s important to respect these differences. Do not judge other people based on someone else’s gifts or strengths. Do not judge yourself, or let others judge you. Some people worship with exuberance, raising hands and singing with gusto. For them, extended contemplation may feel oppressive. Others find their passion in silence deep within and may feel inauthentic or “unspiritual” if they are expected to worship like the others. Do not judge. Some people are called to feed the hungry. Others are called to fix the system that perpetuates hunger. Are the first ones enablers? Do the second lack compassion? Do not judge.

It’s important to use our uniqueness. Author Frederick Buechner has written; “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” Finding the intersection between your unique gifts and the unique needs around you is all about diversity. It will also call upon you to decide which good things will you choose not to do, since you can’t do them all. At the same time, diversity is not an excuse for abdication. Sometimes you are the best or only person God has on hand to deal with a situation whether you are gifted for it or not! Part of growing towards maturity is arriving at some basic level of competence in your non-gifted areas.

Romans 14:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31

Monday, November 12, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: PRAY - The Lord's Prayer as a Guide Rather than a Script.

Tool #6 invites us to learn a wonderful way to pray, which is not the same as learning a wonderful prayer. Learning a way to pray helps our prayer life to stay fresh and conversational.


Jesus’ disciples recognized that the way he related to God was radically different from what they were familiar with. So they asked him; “Teach us to pray.” We know his response as “The Lord’s Prayer” and it is recorded in two different versions.  One is in the Gospel of Luke and a longer version is in Matthew.

While it is beneficial to memorize and recite The Lord’s Prayer, it can also be an amazing tool for our spiritual life when used as a pattern for prayer rather than as a script. The Hexagon icon above represents six themes for prayer found in The Lord’s Prayer:

The Father’s Character. Jesus encourages us to address God as “abba,” a term of intimacy similar to “daddy” or “papa” in English. Our prayers begin as we turn to our loving God as children turning to a loving parent.

The Father’s Kingdom. God’s intention for the world is life, love, joy, meaning, purpose and beauty for everyone and everything. This is what is meant by “Kingdom come.”

Provision. Loving parents provide for all their children’s needs, so we look to God for our “daily bread.”

Forgiveness. We damage our relationships with each other and with God, so we seek their repair with the forgiveness that flows to us from God and through us to others.

Guidance. God is active in our lives, giving direction and leading us towards the things that give life – to us and to others - and away from the things that don’t.

Protection. Evil is a reality and there are forces and powers in the world stronger than us. We look to God for protection.

With these themes in mind, The Lord’s Prayer becomes a way of praying that we can learn and teach. For example, suppose a friend is having a personal crisis. Here is how our concern might be shaped in prayer through each theme. Character: remembering that our friend is also a child of God and that their life matters to the Father.  Kingdom: envisioning the kind of life we know the Father wants for our friend. Provision: knowing that God is already at work to provide for our friend in their need and that we may be a part of how God’s provision will be delivered. Forgiveness: for ourselves if we have been neglecting our friend’s needs; for others who may have hurt our friend; and for ways our friend may have created or complicated their own crisis. Guidance: listening for specific instructions from God on what to do for our friend. Protection: remembering that we and our friend may encounter things we can’t manage on our own in this situation, but trusting God to watch over us.

The Hexagon themes can also be used to guide us in reviewing our life to see where God may be asking us to direct our attention. Like a medical checkup where we routinely look at blood pressure, heart rate and temperature, each theme is an area or aspect of life we can look at. Where we’re healthy we can give thanks to the Father. Where something’s amiss, we can explore what needs to be done.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: BALANCE - Tending Life in Three Dimensions

Tool #5 in the toolbox invites us to look at life in three "dimensions" - Up, In and Out. "UP" is our relationship with God; "IN" is our relationship with our spiritual family, and "OUT" is our relationship with everyone else and the creation itself. We pursue a balanced life, tending all three relationships, just like we try to eat a balanced diet to be healthy physically.

To find the full set of tools, go to Toolbox Central. 


As followers of Jesus, we watch what he does so we can pattern our lives after his. One of the things we see him doing is intentionally tending three relationships: his “UP” relationship with the Father, his “IN” relationship with his followers, and his “OUT” relationship with the crowds and the world. A  triangle is an easy way to have a visual reminder of this three-fold pattern in his life.
In Mark 1 you can see Jesus vividly engaged in all three of these dimensions. For example, in verse 29 we see that he’s been in the synagogue worshipping together with his faith community (Up, In). Next he’s spending time with his disciples at Simon Peter’s home where he heals Simon’s mother-in-law (In). That evening he receives visitors from all over town and heals many (Out). The next morning he sneaks off early to be alone and pray (Up). Once his disciples have tracked him down, he sets out on a trip with them to continue their training (In), visiting neighboring towns to preach and heal there (Out.)
From Jesus’ example we can see what it looks like to tend life in all three dimensions. And as with the Pipe metaphor, there’s a flow taking place. We receive life in the Up dimension; share, enjoy and grow in that life In the faith community; and deliver that life in service Out into the world.
We can also learn from Jesus that “Balance” isn’t something you have, so much as it’s something you do. Balance is not a goal, as if one could arrive at a place where all three areas are equally healthy and just stay there. Rather, balance is a practice of keeping all three in view and adjusting along the way. Balancing as a practice honors the reality of seasons in life (as the Rhythm tool reminds us) and invites us into discernment to follow where Jesus is leading us next.
Here are some of the ways we might engage Up, In and Out in our lives.
Up – Daily prayers, devotions, Bible study and worship; “abiding” and Sabbath practices; talking to God throughout the day; mindfulness practices that make any activity an Up experience as we attend to God’s presence with us.
In - Spending time with other believers to enjoy life, build relationships and care for each other; discipling each other by sharing insights and struggles; getting together, whether it’s in twos and threes or hundreds and thousands, at work or at play.
Out - Caring for people in need; inviting and welcoming people into your life and community; introducing people to Jesus; making life delightful for others; taking care of creation; being a good neighbor and citizen.
The Triangle is a tool to help us see. We can use it when reading scripture, looking for the Up, In and Out themes to help us understand what we’re reading. We can use it as a lens to “read” our own lives, recognizing areas being neglected as well as places where strength and vitality are creating an opportunity for us. We can apply it to ourselves, and also to our groups and faith communities. But the Triangle is a tool for seeing, for helping us hear what the Lord is saying to us. It is not a rule we have to obey or force our lives to fit into.