Why I’m Not in Church on Sunday Mornings Anymore


Leaving, walking out of churchurchWhen my 15-year-old son graduated out of Sunday School, he missed the dialog he got in class. We sat passively in church on Sunday mornings, and I could tell he was disconnecting. I’ve never been a twice-on-Sunday person, so I thought that perhaps we instead could go on Sunday nights, where the youth group was a little more like the Sunday School he had been attending. Similar worship, but with a little more back-and-forth, and a more intimate crowd.

Still, something is not the same. It’s not just the transition from Sunday morning to Sunday evenings, but something in me. And it’s because I’ve changed at the same time the Church in America has.

We’re at a crossroads, folks. I’ve written about it for years, but I think I need to talk more about it.

This transition has got me pondering where we as Christians got off base and the general status of the Christian Church in America. I want to share my experience.

I want to reiterate that it’s my experience. I’m drawing on it. It may be different for you. It probably is.

First, I don’t have any allegiances to any one flavor of Christianity. Each has some validity, and each has its blind spots, and even its wastelands. In fact, the valid and invalid differences are largely what define each church or denomination.

I’m going to cheese off a lot of people by saying this, but if you’ve been in the same denomination from the day you were born, it’s like living on a farm in Montana in the middle of nowhere. Nothing wrong with your place, but East Etherville, Montana, is not New York City, and it sure as heck is not Beijing, China. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you know what the Christian faith is like, because your flavor of it ain’t even close to being the full expression. Really. You don’t know. And as much as I’ve been around the block in a bunch of American denominations of radically different expressions, I’ve never sat in a Catholic cathedral in Argentina, a house church in peril in Iraq, or a decaying Greek Orthodox Church in Athens. I can imagine what those would be like, but I would be wrong. You and your favored flavor are wrong, too, about some aspect of the Christian Church universal. Just accept your limited view and subsequent wrongness. You’ll be a better and more humble servant of Christ if you do.

So again, what I share here is my experience. It’s wrong from the start from someone’s perspective, and I understand that. You don’t have it all down either. Thank you.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church, and as much as the Lutherans had it going on with understanding grace and the centrality of Jesus, there wasn’t a lot of concern for the lost or for being the priesthood of all believers empowered by the Holy Spirit. Sure, the priesthood of all believers is a bedrock Lutheran understanding, except like an excerpt from Animal Farm, some creatures were more equal than others—and those had ordination papers and a seminary degree.

Ironically, it was a Spirit-filled Lutheran who taught me about the charismata, but then there wasn’t much room for that wonderful man in Lutheranism either, so…

I saw a lost-concerned, Spirit-filled way to live when I started attending an Assemblies of God church. While the leaders at that church were solid, the denomination had trouble with some of its other leaders and big names, and it all tainted the rest of it. Human frailty—and for a young, naive man, it was hard to make sense of. Now, I know better.

The Church of Christ Restorationist asked many good questions about some aspects of the Faith I had always taken for granted, but they had the opposite problem with wayward leaders, and I never understood how one could restore the Christian Church by blackballing people.

The Presbyterians held Scripture and study in high regard, but sometimes money was held up equally high, and people who didn’t have any money not so much.

Evangelical Free excelled at being all evangelically. Good sermons, though.

Methodists somehow hold together their big tent of diverse factions, and we can all learn from them, but they also have a hard time telling anyone, “Yeah, that ain’t right, and you need to stop doing that.”

The Vineyard rocked both the Kingdom of God Now and the Kingdom Not Yet, and it also got the gifts, creativity, and worship right. In fact, the Vineyard folks had the best balance—at least until John Wimber died. And that whole Kansas City Prophets fiasco.

American Baptists—well, they have John Piper and a few other solid pastors who are trying.

Pentecostals have a great sense of duty to God and country and to ol’ time religion. Coming full circle, I just wish there were more focus on Jesus (rather than whatever it is I’m doing) and grace.

Here’s the thing. All those churches and denominations have their goods and bads. But somehow, someone, somewhere, some church, has got to put all those goods in one place. And start dumping the bads at the same time.

Does any church pray anymore as a corporate body on Sundays? And not here and there, three minutes and a cloud of dust, but on-your-knees, specific, intense, non-canned prayers, both with church leaders leading and the people in the seats praying for the immediate needs of the folks sitting next to them. I mean, how hard is that? Really, if the Church as a whole isn’t devoted to prayer, we might as well pack up and end the charade. We’ll spend a half-hour singing witless, CCLI-approved chart-toppers, but praying for more than five minutes taxes everyone’s ability to focus. C’mon, Church!

I used to adore worship times. I would genuinely lose myself in the hymns of my old Lutheran church and during the peak era of the Vineyard with its huge P&W influence. Great, great music sung with passion to our great God.

Today, I grit my teeth in worship time because the songs we sing are so bizarre, unfocused, irrythmic, vague, and constructed for marketing purposes. Who is this sung to? For? And why is there a new song or two every week? Why does the entire verse consist of the same note or two, and yet it’s so hard to sing? Heck, I used to play drums on a church worship team, and I’m not even sure how to make all the syllables fit in that line. And why does nothing rhyme so I might recall the rhyme and remember how the song goes? Maybe it’s me. I dunno. I think the last contemporary worship song that helped me connect to God was “Revelation Song,” and that came out like a decade ago, right?

I don’t want to sit in a pitch-black theater anymore, where I can’t see people around me (you know, the Body of Christ), and where I can’t look at anyone on stage because I have a strobe light flashing in my eyes, all 50,000 watts of it. I don’t want to go to church and worry that I may have an epileptic seizure from the light show.

Jesus, Light of the World. Remember when churches were lit by natural light? Often with some stained glass windows, which were enough light show for most of us? I get enough darkness during the week. Can I come to church and see the faces of fellow believers lit both by natural light and also the Light of the Holy Spirit? Please?

And speaking of Jesus, can I hear the Word of God read out loud? A big chunk of it? In context, please, and not a set of cherry-picked verses used to make a point. And can the sermon be about Jesus and not about how I can try harder to be a good Christian? I don’t need five points and an application or three. I need Jesus. I need to hear about Him because it’s unlikely I’ll hear about Him from the world, except as a curse word or two, and the world is where I dwell for most of the week anyway. Maybe if I heard more about Jesus, some of those places where I’m screwed up as a husband, parent, employee, or whatever would get better because I had more of Jesus—rather than having more Christian principles I can’t possibly keep because I’m a broken person who is terrible at using checklists to make myself better.

Maybe I could go to church and use the gifts God gave me to help other people. If I had a chance. I pray well, I think, and I do hear from the Lord for other people. Words of knowledge. Words of wisdom. I care about other people, but sometimes my life is harder than I wish it was, so I don’t get the chance to do as much personal ministry outside of this blog and those opportunities I might have for a couple hours a week in the assembly of the believers.

Sometimes, I wonder if any church thinks I have value within the Body of Christ. I think I’m not alone in wondering that.

Maybe I’m too self-centered by asking these things and wondering what the solutions might be.

I hope to see a church that lifts up Jesus and never stops doing so, where the whole Bible is read actively and with joy, and prayers are the language of love that each of us bestow on each other (and not just hidden in our prayer closets).

I want to sing to the Lord and not worry that I’m off beat or that I’ll screw up the words, and that those words have real meaning about Jesus, and not some capitalized Someone, or some River, or Rain, or whatever the market-driven metaphor of the week is. I want to connect with God in worship and not hope to and instead leave disappointed that somehow I knew how to worship just fine once, but I’m not doing it right anymore.

I keep hoping for more spiritual Light and not more artificial lights. There’s enough gloom in the world; I don’t want to marinate in it on Sunday, punctuated only by lasers and disco balls.

I really don’t want to hear about me anymore or what I should be doing. I’m painfully aware of what I can and can’t do, and the can’ts outnumber the cans. I want to hear about Jesus, because He can do everything, and without Him, none of us can do anything.

I want to hear about and experience the Kingdom of God Now. Because none of us is marking time until Heaven. It doesn’t work that way and never has. Most of us are aware of the Kingdom of God that is Not Yet. Most of the Church in America has shifted everything to the Not Yet and acts like the other half doesn’t exist. I want to see—and be a part of—the other Kingdom half too.

I long to be the beneficiary of the assembled Body of Christ’s collective charismatic giftings and to use my gifts to help too. Because that’s the entire point of being the Body of Christ, each person unique and necessary to the health of the whole. Along the way, maybe we will hear prophetic revelation that will be discussed and discerned as true by mature leaders, so the church can anticipate needs and not always just react, both with too little and too late. You know, the way Paul said the Church should be, not this deaf and dumb thing we substitute because we’ve disempowered everyone out of ungodly fear.

More than anything, despite all the cranks, killjoys, fearmongers, and naysayers, I pray for a Church that is everything we see in the Book of Acts and more. Because THAT Church has never stopped existing—except in the hearts and minds of shriveled people. And I’m not one of them. God help you if you are.

We keep asking what is wrong with the Church in America. We’re wringing our hands over what has gone awry, and why attendance is down, and why, why, why…

I’m no genius, but it seems to me that we have simply forgotten what is main, plain, and important. We have no patience for God, no love for anything authentic, and we want to be entertained for an hour.

But that’s not everyone.

I really don’t want what most people seem to treasure in a church nowadays. A show doesn’t cut it for me. Neither will business principles and celebrities save a church, nor hip leaders, marketing trend analysis, or flash.

The Holy Spirit showing up in power WILL draw people, though. Churches toss in everything else when there is no presence of God. Sooner or later, people get wise to the lack. They’re getting wiser every day.

Some people want the presence of God. Heaven knows I do.

Maybe I’m self-centered in my wants, but I want real Church done the old-fashioned way. More than that, I desperately need it. Maybe you do too.

Upside-Down Kingdom: Why Everything You Think Is Wrong, and How Jesus Can Make It Right


In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, this is the typical response I’ve seen on Facebook from Christians:

“We need to send in our troops and let them send those evil men in ISIS to hell.”


I’ve been a Christian for almost 40 years. I don’t pretend to be a very good Christian, by the standard of examining one’s sins and one’s ability/inability to live the Bible perfectly. Still, as I grow older, I cannot escape the truth that the Kingdom of God runs antithetical to just about everything you and I think.

Let me restate that: I guarantee that if we have a thought, it’s likely counter to the Gospel.

There’s a reason Jesus can’t just remake us and that we must die instead to be truly born again. Everything we do and think is wrong. A makeover won’t fix anything, because our entire being is tainted to the most granular level. We will never live in the Kingdom of God if we don’t die to ourselves and to the world’s ways.

Case in point:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
—Matthew 5:43-48 ESV

Jesus comes into the world and turns it upside down. His Kingdom is the opposite of the conventional wisdom, the status quo, the way things are and should be. He messes with everyone’s thinking.

Upside-down churchIn the Gospels, whenever we see Jesus starting with “You have heard it said…, but I say to you…” we know His upside-down Kingdom is on display.

Do we love our enemies and pray for them? Do I need even to ask that question?

I want to unpack the strange aside in that Matthew passage because it plays into another of our wrong thoughts.

Jesus talks about good and evil and how the same daily events happen to both. I want us to think about that a different way. Not that there are two groups at all, but only one. That nature itself reveals only one, those who get wet with rain and then dry in the sun. Those who receive one justice. Those who are, at once, both insiders and outsiders. There are no true distinctions between men.

Why is the Gospel offensive and scandalous? In part because it crashes into our notions of good and evil. Because it says the sinners get into Heaven and the religious get locked out. The peacemakers blessed, not the warriors. The poor raised up and the rich brought down.

The scandalous Gospel goes on to say that the worst bastards the world has ever known are forgiven. Pedophiles, murderers, sex traffickers, pimps, whores, assassins, terrorists–you know, the evil people. And we good people hate that. We want justice.

But wait a second…

Jesus concludes His statement on loving one’s enemies by reiterating that we must be as perfect as God. And suddenly, all these labels of who is good and who is evil, who is neighbor and who is enemy, are pointless, because compared to a holy God, even the greatest of our saints is a feces-encrusted douchebag.

With the Gospel, Jesus defenestrates all this talk of who is good and who is evil. The “good” man who calls another a fool murders his victim just as readily as the “evil” ISIS commander does. Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Jesus shows us that it isn’t just that we love our enemies, but that we are the enemy as well. Enemies of God. Enemies of each other. Evil down to the core, even the so-called best of us. One mankind, wickedness personified.

The Kingdom of God is here, and everything we think becomes darkness against its light.

When we are born again in Jesus through grace, He burns “us” down because we can’t think anything but darkness. The only way to get right is to start over inside a Kingdom with rules utterly incomprehensible to normal thought.

When you and I think X, the Gospel is likely saying the opposite of X. To think rightly is to go against everything that makes sense within a fallen worldview and to embrace what seems like foolishness.

The Bible supports this:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
—1 Corinthians 1:22-29 ESV

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
—1 Corinthians 2:7-16 ESV

People who are not in Jesus cannot comprehend the upside-down Kingdom He rules. Only those who have His mind, because they have His Spirit, can.

The unbeliever cannot comprehend “love your enemies.” The unbeliever will only see justice against the wicked enemy—and yet will also miss that the wicked enemy is the face staring back from the mirror of God’s perfection.

In conclusion, I offer this…

We live in confusing times, when the foolishness of the Gospel in the world’s eyes will only grow in contrast. People who call themselves Christians will be deceived by the message of the world’s fallen way of thinking. Christians will support ungodly responses to the world’s problems. Christians will use the Bible to back up those fallen ways of thinking. This is happening even now.

More than ever, I think we Christians need to do what the early Church did. When that Church encountered seemingly intractable problems, it convened meetings, and with Scripture, personal experience, and the speaking of the Holy Spirit, worked out answers as a group. See Acts 15, for instance.

I don’t believe we do this. We certainly do not do it in our local churches.

How should we Christians think about X in a confusing world? Our answer most likely will be the opposite of the way the world thinks, and getting on board with that countercultural thinking among the assembly of Spirit-filled believers is the only way we will navigate the confusion that now lies before us.

Otherwise, we stand ready to run down the world’s wide path, mistakenly thinking Jesus is waiting for us at the end.

Confusing Dross for Gold


As I write, 53 is staring me in the face. I used to think that was old. Or at least, likely to place you in the group of “not with the times.” Out of touch. Maybe even a little confused by all the cool, happenin’ stuff the kiddies dig. You with me, man? Groovy.

So, recently…

I watched a 47-minute video on the simplicity of the Gospel in which the preacher didn’t once, to my recollection, state what the Gospel was. And if I was somehow lost in my befuddled dotage for the one time he may have briefly zoomed through it, he certainly did not go into any detail. Instead, he regaled us with numerous stories about the bang-up job he did personally ministering this mysterious gospel-thingy to random people he encountered. I wondered if those people got a clearer picture of the Gospel in those encounters with him than I did in the video.

My son said that in a similar meeting his group talked about the origins of Cain’s wife. Because teenagers around the world are giving up on a personal relationship with Jesus and wandering away from the faith because no one shared with them the facts behind Mrs. Cain’s being.

I sang a “worship song” that had me beseeching for the rain to fall on me. Or us. The plurality of the intended recipient(s) of that wetness is unclear to me now (again, the beginnings of dementia, I believe), as is the intent of being rained upon by what/whom and for what purpose. Still, after I was done singing, I felt like a full-blown pluviculturist.

Meanwhile, the media is telling me that Christians are up in arms—heaven knows my arms are tired from always being up about something—because of Starbucks’ red holiday cups. Of course, this has friends of mine who aren’t Christians belittling that up-in-arms-ness, whether actual Christians are upset by this or couldn’t care less. Somewhere, a Christian is miffed, so this is news and must be reported upon.

Somewhere else, a pastor is up-in-arms (there we go again) about consumeristic Christians picking and choosing churches like they pick which roast of coffee (served in a Christless red cup, no doubt) they prefer. Then those ingrates stop coming every week, like they’re supposed to. Because, consumerism. What sinners in need of repentance! This, of course, blames the people in the pews for reacting to the various marketing ploys hatched up by certain church leaders in an effort to draw more folks to their church rather than to the church across the street. Call it “The Great Church Growth Arms Race” (or “Mutually Assured Destruction, Christian Style”—as the case may be), as church leaders add one more thing they think will grab folks and then blame those folks for succumbing to the lure.

{ Insert colorful expletive here }

SlagWhen I was a kid, my brothers and I collected rocks. We even had a cool display of different types of raw gemstones and minerals.

One day, I encountered one of the showiest hunks of rock I had ever seen. It had layers of color, shimmered in the light, and featured weird, bubbly extrusions. Fascinating, but I could not identify it. A meteorite? Whatever it was, it just HAD to be priceless.

At a gem and mineral show, a lapidarist informed me it was a piece of slag.

The term the Bible employs for slag is dross. It’s waste left over from smelting precious metals. As leftovers from the real thing, it may look cool, but it’s still waste and therefore worthless.

I wonder if somewhere along the line, we Christians, in an effort to refine what we knew to be gold, wound up valuing the dross instead. I can’t make sense of life anymore unless I come to this conclusion. Nothing else fits.

After a while, you wonder if you’re the one off-kilter. That there’s something wrong with you when you find dross and recognize it for what it is, but everyone else thinks it’s beautiful and valuable. You begin to doubt if you still have all your aggies, jaspers, and swirlies.

I think the world is getting stranger, especially for the discerning Christian. More and more fellow Christians will confuse dross for gold as life gets more bizarre, and the discerning folks will be left baffled by their fellows’ confusion.

Nothing good ever comes to the person who says in public, “Hey, wait a sec, that ain’t right….” At least from an earthly perspective that’s true.

At one point, I questioned whether we should say anything. Perhaps silent, internal acknowledgment proved the best response.

But now, I think born-again Christians who are led by the Spirit must graciously, winsomely, and lovingly point out to fellow Christians that that object of admiration their fellows hold in their hands is most likely waste and not the pure gold they should treasure.

In an age when all correction meets with anger, it is certain that such speaking will not generate thank you’s, but it must be done. Again and again and again. Or else, we will all lose our minds, and quite possibly our souls too.