How to Ruin the Recipe for a Good Church


The Girl Scout cookies had arrived.

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and to this I must attest. At least for this man. In part, anyway.

Samoas are the bullet train between my cardiac and GI functions. All toasted coconut, chocolate, overcooked caramel goodness in a cookie.

I opened the box and examined the current iteration of the cookie.


See, I remember back to the days of Ronald Reagan’s “America,” when a Girl Scout Samoa was a thing of epic scrumptiousness. A big ring of coconut not only run through with veins of caramel love, but at its core a solid ring of caramel that threatened to choke you to death if you ate the cookie too fast. As thick as an index finger, too, and the chocolate drizzled over that recipe of Samoa was substantial enough to be tasted in its own right. This was heaven’s own cookie.

Which is why the pathetic replica facing me disappointed so. That chewy ring of caramel? AWOL. Just a few streaks of caramel remained. The waxy chocolate barely made a difference in taste. The whole thing served only to remind me how badly this current cookie failed to live up to the gustatory genius of its forerunner.

It’s not a matter of cost, either. I think those of us who loved Samoas would have paid twice as much to get the old version that enslaved us so. I would.

No, it’s just the spirit of the age. More of that lowest common denominator decent into blandness and underperformance.

Some soulless bean counter sat in on a meeting somewhere and said, “People won’t miss _______ if we concede to cost realities.” He had to. Because that’s what bean counters do. Marketing then finds a way to spin the change when they should be the line of defense to say, “Whoa, Nelly!”

There’s always a way to make something worse. That the way to worse is so easy to find and implement…

The lesson for the Church  is to think and pray hard before jettisoning ANYTHING that is part of the recipe of the Church. If God is not specifically speaking by His Spirit to leaders regarding some big plan those leaders envision, just STOP. Chances are high that what comes out of the oven will be a tasteless disappointment.

Make a little change to a recipe and at first glance nothing may seem awry. Substituting corn oil for lard doesn’t seem wrong. Besides, it’s easier to find AND cheaper.

Tell that to the tasters when the goods are served.

But the neighbor’s recipe used oil!

The surest way for a local church to fall into the pit of lowest common denominator is to copy other churches.

Recipes are tricky. To replicate a successful one requires the precise amounts of the exact ingredients.

The same holds true for churches. Yet the conditions that led to success in one church are NEVER identical to the conditions at a different church. The Bible even notes this. Bad, burned cookiesWhen Christ speaks to the churches in Revelation, each has its own flavor, it’s own ingredients, it’s own challenges. The wrong mix of components (or the right components baked the wrong way), and the result is a flavorless brick. While flavorless bricks may sell to the unknowing, they are not satisfying.

Never replicate another church’s recipe. Doing so is the shortest route to the bottom.

Again, church leaders MUST listen to the Holy Spirit because He alone has the directions a local church must take. And those directions will most likely NOT look like the directions of some other church, no matter how successful the recipe at that other church might be.

Nor can a church make concessions. All of the world, society, and the forces of hell are allied in whittling down the Church one issue at a time.

Cheapen the ingredients. Call bad good. Cut corners in the recipe. Do what’s easier. Avoid the hard work. Rush the process. It’s what everyone else is doing anyway.

No one else will know, right?


Conceding to the spirit of the age leads only to a lowest common denominator Church, a bad, tasteless replica of the real thing.

I see the Church in America rushing toward the lowest common denominator. The converse, authenticity in Christ, is hard to develop and maintain, though. I realize that, but it’s what we need to aim for. Authenticity almost never looks cookie-cutter, which is why authentic churches have their own flavor and zest. Their ingredients are unique and hard to come by, but they follow God’s recipe to the T, and the result is delicious, just what the Master Chef intended.

Today’s church landscape is littered with a homogeneous blandness and lack of discernment toward the rapid approach of the lowest common denominator. If what was once perfectly salty becomes tasteless, what good is it except to be tossed out?

The Recipe for My Winning Chili


A few of you have asked for the recipe for the chili that won my church's chili cook-off, and though I adhere to the purposes of this blog pretty closely, I'll indulge giving recipes—but just this once! 😉

  • 1¼ lbs Laura's Lean ground beef (support organic farmers!)
  • 1 Vidalia onion—large (chopped)
  • 1 Can hot chili beans
  • 1 Can kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 Can pinto beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 Can petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 Cans tomato sauce
  • 5 Bay leaves (Use a higher quality leaf if available. There's plenty of variance in the quality of bay leaves, I've found.)
  • ½ Cup red wine (Preferably a Shiraz, Zinfandel, or Malbec with good tannins. Nothing sweet!)
  • ½ Cup zesty (not overly sweet) barbecue sauce (Being from Cincinnati, I prefer Montgomery Inn brand.)
  • ¼-½ Cup of McIlhenny's Chipotle sauce
  • 2-3 shakes of Worcestershire sauce
  • Ground cumin (to taste)
  • Chili pepper powder (to taste)
  • Garlic powder (to taste)
  • Onion salt (to taste)
  • Black pepper (to taste)

Combine all canned products into a large pot. Add the bay leaves and stir them in. Set on medium-low heat.

Brown the meat and chopped onions together. Drain excess fat. Season with onion salt and pepper.

Add the first round of cumin to the base. I put in enough to cover the top of the base to the size of a small saucer.

Add the red wine, barbecue sauce, chipotle sauce and Worcestershire. If your barbecue sauce has a strong vinegar taste, hold back some on the Worcestershire sauce. Keep base simmering.

Add the meat and onions to the base.

Now comes the personal preference part. I like my chili spicy, so I add another round of cumin half the size of the first round. Chili pepper powder amount is to your taste, too. I want some sweat to roll down the back of my neck, though I kept it much milder for the chili that won the contest. You can add garlic powder, plus more salt and pepper if you wish.

Simmer till the base reduces. The chili should be thick and not have any runniness.

Remove bay leaves and serve. Makes about 8-10 bowls.

That's it!

For a variant, you can cut the beef down to ¾ pounds and add a ½ pound of hot pork sausage (like Bob Evans or Jimmy Dean brand ) mixed in with the beef. Adding diced and roasted red bell pepper brings some sweetness to the mix if you like a sweeter chili.

Bon appétit!