God, America, Meaning & Change


After five months of gray skies—welcome to Ohio—you can’t blame a guy for being a little morose. A few years ago, I realized I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and mid-February is the nadir of my experience.

So perhaps I’m coming at Rick Ianniello‘s Facebook post with a bit of a glum philosopher’s perspective, but I don’t think I’m alone. Maybe you’re a glum philosopher now too.

Rick wrote:

How is it possible for Christians to propagate the following.

“I really want to go to church this Sunday. Could you find one that won’t try to change me?”

I don’t think that request is impossible to understand. It may not seem logical, but sometimes the illogical still makes sense.

I believe that most people are burned out on change.

We Christians think we have cornered the market in change given that we talk about repentance and sanctification all the time. But  the truth is that our secular culture has more than one-upped us. The message we Americans drown in daily consists of little more than a perpetual torrent of change requests. They go something like this:

1. “Your _____________ is not good enough, so change.”

2. “You are too_____________, so change.”

Into #1, we can fit

kid’s schooling







Into #2, we can fit








When it comes down to it, most of our daily existence as Americans consists of dancing to the pied piper of change. We live in a perpetual conga line of following some leader as he/she/it takes us to the promised land guaranteed by change.

Is it any wonder that some people are desperate to stop the unending jig their life has become?

Int0 this comes the Church. We put means of salvation into #1 and sinful into #2. Our message becomes “change or go to hell.”

Sounds like more of the same, doesn’t it?

This is not to say that the Gospel is wrong, only that perhaps we have to start leading with something other than the “you better change or else” portion of the message.

See, unless our reasons for change lead to something meaningful, constant change in and of itself only leads to despair. In truth, when we distill most of the message we Americans get from our culture, it seems impossible to avoid the belief that life has no meaning.

I’ve been a Christian for a few decades now, and my constant struggle, even to this day, is the search for meaning in life. I realize that most of that struggle is because I’m bombarded by meaninglessness. And most of that comes from the constant message of change.

I am continually convinced that we Christians in the America have got to start leading with love first. Because the Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear, especially the fear of meaninglessness.

Yes, at some point we have to get to the part of the message that includes the change of repentance, but I believe most people are so burned by change that we have to give them something else before we can get to the change part of the message. This is not to say we bury change, only that we temper it. Pulling a bait and switch on people (“Okay, we gave you love, now you won’t get more love until you change”) isn’t going to work.

I know a couple where the wife is bipolar and the husband is a church worship leader. He’s been the rock. Just recently, he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

In the life of that couple, what speaks most to the meaninglessness of life? Are we going to ask them for more change? Or can we offer better?

I look around and no longer wonder why people don’t want to be a part of the Church. The Church isn’t meeting their need in the midst of the message of change, whether that’s the world’s change or the Church’s. When I hear the heart cry of someone lost in meaninglessness, I understand their lament of “I really want to go to church this Sunday. Could you find one that won’t try to change me?” I get what they mean.

Because for all our talk of godliness, repentance, and so on, it seems that we’re missing where most people are at right now. Yes, people are sinners. Yes, they need to change.

But are we giving them any meaningful reason to?

25 thoughts on “God, America, Meaning & Change

  1. I loved this message because it’s so counter-cultural. Truly, Christians ought to stick out in society and culture in the right ways. Reflecting the transcendent qualities of God in our words and actions is one way that we can stick out in the right way. The result will be that lost and hurting people will find refuge in the church, similar to how people found refuge in monasteries during the middle ages. Those monestaries were refuges of Christ-reflecting counterculture.

  2. Just Joan

    Loved this message Dan. Thanks. Been struggling with churchianity for some time now and still not sure what the answer is (or even, for that matter, what the question is). I think this post may be part of that answer.

    Also,if you haven’t already done so, you may want to get your Vitamin D level checked by a doctor. My husband and daughter also suffered from what we thought was SAD, only to have the doctor confirm that it was a D deficiency. Their lack of exposure to the sun (we’re Hoosiers)in the winter months just exacerbated it. February is a much easier month on all of us now.

    • Joan,

      I drink so much Vitamin D milk I would be stunned to find my D levels below normal.

      Yeah, I’m really sick of churchianity too. That’s not to say every church succumbs to it, but I think all of them have to be on their guard against it, as churchianity is so easy to fall into. I find it consists of a lot of easy answers that make it possible for Christians advice-givers to stay aloof from others while still maintaining some position of spiritual “expertise.” Evangelicals make fun of Catholics who are told to say “five Hail Marys,” but we have our own versions, and they are the backbone of churchianity.

  3. Diane R

    I can’t even relate to this as churches out here (Southern Cal) never preach this. Out here every message is the same. Basically its, “God loves you and has a plan for you so you can trust Him.” Period. That’s it. I’d love to find a church that tells me I need to change.

  4. D Taylor

    You have frequently called for change in the very manner you’re criticizing here. Could that be one reason you had a surge of ‘angry readers and reader rebuke’ you mentioned in an earlier post?

    • D Taylor,

      You are right—to a point. Let me unpack the distinction.

      Most of what I write here is focused on the Church as an institution. That institution MUST change. The people who run those institutions MUST always be thinking of how the institution best moves forward and stays most true to Christ in a changing culture. That’s what we pay them to do. They have a responsibility because of their role as leaders.

      The individual who is not in leadership has a responsibility to change too. However, we have to be very careful how this is handled. I have written many times that the worst thing church leaders can do is to ask people to change without giving them the tools or personal, individual help to do so. Our attitude in this is like if the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip for help in understanding the Isaiah passage, and Philip said, “Buy a commentary,” and kept walking by. Yet that is what too many church leaders do to the people in the seats. That’s the very thing that causes people to respond, “Don’t ask me to change.” I fully understand why they are saying that.

      The surge in “angry readers and reader rebuke” you mention largely came due to my calling out leaders to be better leaders. Leaders are the change agents, so they must always be willing to change themselves. Sadly, the opposite is more often true. Leaders don’t want to change, even when people in the seats do. If leaders aren’t willing to be the instruments of fixing churches that don’t work by changing what isn’t working, then they should no longer be leaders.

      As for the person in the seat, they can’t be immune to change. I only hope that we do a better job of facilitating change by starting with loving that person first. That’s what has been most neglected. It’s the whole point of my post. People who feel loved and feel they are truly a part of a vibrant community will be more willing to change in God’s timing. That we are not looking it the issue that way is why we have the issue in the first place.

  5. Is discovering that life without Christ is meaningless such a bad thing? Jesus lead with repentance, what was his approach missing?

    I do see what you’re getting at (I think)–on one hand we have churches preaching the therapeutic gospel, as replete with self-help and psychology as anything in the world, on the other we legalistic churches that push a cookie cutter over everyone who darkens their doors. The chorus from every quarter for folks in those church environments is you’re not good enough, change! Someplace along the line, we discover that what we really need is peace, just a place to sit.

    Change, per se, is not the villain here (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). That we have taken it upon ourselves, now there’s a real culprit.

    • slw,

      Life without Christ is indeed meaningless. But a legalistic, loveless churchianity is meaningless too. Yet that is what a lot of people get in their church experience. It’s why so many people are gunshy and say, “I’m looking for a church that isn’t trying to change me.” They’ve been forced to change into someone’s grand image, but it’s not likely that of Jesus.

      One of the greatest lacks in our churches is that leaders are not asking why it is that people respond the way they do. It’s easy to say people are sinners, but why isn’t anyone getting to the root of why would someone say, “I’m looking for a church that isn’t trying to change me”? Is it just because they are sinners? Not asking that question is our great and horrible oversight. It’s why the church seems out of touch. No one seems to be willing to place himself or herself in someone else’s shoes. That lack of empathy creates terrible misunderstandings and perpetuates institutional blindness. If some guy says, “You’re not going to hit me in the head with a baseball bat, are you?” then he must have had something happen in the past that involved his head and a baseball bat. That seems simple to deduce, but how often do we take the time to delve into the reasons why people do what they do or say what they say? If we listened more and were more perceptive, perhaps we’d be seeing revival rather than a mass exodus from the Church in America.

    • slw,

      I will add that I disagree with the statement that Jesus led with repentance. Jesus dealt with crowds differently than individuals. While He may have preached repentance first more times in public, His private dealings with people most often put love and addressing needs first. He would love the person first, then He would say to go and sin no more.

      I believe that given the nature of public discourse from Christians today, people have heard the repent message first. Now they need to see individually that Christian care. Maybe if they did see our caring, the repentance would come more easily.

  6. Diane R


    Well, actually requiring something tangible with Scripture would sure be a good beginning. But you are correct that along the way, if there is no more discipleship, most Christians woudl get stuck. I would like to see churches give us the tools to grow whether we have the church or not. This doesn’t mean to say we don’t need church, but if we cannot find a church to carry us along, we could go it alone for a while, until hopefully, a few churches get the message and get us to a higher level of growth.

  7. Shepherd

    Very Ecclesiastes-esque post on change. Weariness with change is nothing new. Changes happen, things come and go, everything is vapor. Quoheleth lamented this as well.

    At the same time, the Gospel and the life of the Church promise spiritual union with One who is unchanging: the ever living, ever moving, and yet immutable Triune God. We are linked with the person of Jesus Christ. The change that occurs for a Christian is a union with a changeless God. Those seeking rest from change, then, will not find it by running away from the Church, but by running home to the Church.

    from the Knight Blog

  8. Mike Petty

    Thanks for posting this. It speaks to so much I’ve been thinking lately.

    Two years ago I read Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller. Among other things, its message is that we were meant to grow and change. There’s one part where he’s in the souvenir shop at the Grand Canyon and he’s so bored he almost buys a key chain with his name on it. He just briefly mentions how he viewed that urge to buy as a desire for something new. That somehow it would be a lame substitute for what was really his God given desire for significant change.

    I’d have to write my own book to explain fully how much of an impact that thought had on me. I started an experiment after reading that. Actually I started two years ago this weekend. I decided to stop buying myself any material possessions other than clothes. When I tell this to people they think I’m crazy. All I can say is that what I have learned has been worth far more than the junk I would have acquired. It was never about saving money. It has been about being content with what God has blessed me with.

    Anyway, to get back more to the point of the blog, within weeks of my experiment I began to see the system of consumerism for what it is. I firmly believe it is our national religion, in that we find through consumerism what we used to get from religion. We view Christianity through the lens of consumerism rather than the other way around. The language of commercials and business permeate the sermons and direct the meetings of our spiritual leaders. Far too often our faith does not transform us because, instead we use it only to ease our consciences when we can’t reconcile the inherent inconsistencies of living as a good consumer in a world so full of need.

    Well, I suspect that may have come across too much as a negative rant rather than as gratitude for freedom! I have some limited time this morning. Thanks again for the post and for staying faithful in these times.

    • Mike,

      I keep intending to write on freedom, but I’m overwhelmed by all the thoughts I have on it and the amount of research needed to do it justice.

      I want to get rid of so much stuff. Again, I’m overwhelmed at where to start and how to do it best.

      BTW, did you come here from BGG?

      • Mike Petty

        Yes, I think I originally came to the blog through BGG. I’m glad I came across it.

        In reading over what I wrote a couple days ago, I see I didn’t really bring things around to the main point of the original post. I also like what others are saying.

        I don’t think the problem is that we push a message of change in the church. As I was saying, we’re all dying for some change or at least something new. The problem is that it usually appears the church is trying to change us into something dull. As others said, the church too often pushes a list on us of what not to do instead of what we should do. In reaction to this, some churches seem to avoid the matter altogether and call for no change.

        My understanding of the Gospel is that it’s a message of complete transformation from death to life. I’m trying hard to believe that the promise of such transformation true and that real, abundant life is the result even though I see such little evidence of that in the lives of the older Christians I know. I’m holding out hope and I’m trusting God is working positive change in my life even when it hurts and runs counter to the culture. I feel a million miles away, but I’m at least getting to the point where the world’s promises for new things hold no interest to me.

  9. bob p

    Here’s a situation where I’m torn : spiritual interests but still doing worldly things.

    I have met so many people who might start going to church and studying the Word but keep on shacking up, fornicating, remaining homosexual, and so on. The shacking up part I see a LOT of ( but certainly not the majority). These people will even give public acknowedgement of interests in the things of God.

    On one hand, I can encourage their continued study but I can also be like the ones you mentioned – change or else! People are so confused!

    • Bob,

      I can see a greater need for changing by halting whatever sin one is involved in, but too often the change is “give the church more money” or “get more involved in the culture wars,” and that just sucks. I can understand why people are burned out of that. I’M burned out of that and I have a high threshold for that stuff.

  10. merry

    Honestly, I’ve been struggling with church for quite awhile now. I’m in hard situations I feel guilty about, I guess, plus I’m required by my Christian college to attend chapel twice a week–which is structured exactly like church. Going to services two or three times a week feels like overkill, sometimes, especially when they are always structured the same way and repeat the same themes over and over. I get weary of nodding my head to the same songs to the same beat, and listening to the speakers insert “like” and “just” between every other word while taking Scripture out of context to fit with what they want to say. Everytime I’m struggling with life I can always predict the answers people will give to me–because I’ve heard all of it before. I’ve attended church my entire life and I’m finally tired of it.

    In college I’ve taken Bible and Theology courses taught by some brilliant theologians who changed my life. I’ve learned how to read and interpret Scripture correctly, and I learned things about God which finally set me free. If I could afford it, I’d keep taking theology classes forever. It’s made me wonder on more than one occasion why I didn’t learn any of this in church? In fact, one class I took debunked many of the messages I grew up hearing. I would recommend to any Christian to take on an academic study of theology, if possible–even if it’s just one class or seminar.

    Anyway, I guess I’m making the point that I can see a lot of changes the church can make. The churches I grew up in were reduced to pat answers. Those aren’t anything to make me want to change myself. In the meanwhile, I’m not sure what to do with myself vs. church. Does anyone else go through this? Is it a healthy idea to “take a break” from church for awhile and come back fresh, or should I try to endure?

    I can certainly sympathize with the moroseness–I’m rather weather oriented, too. 🙂

    • Merry,

      I had to attend chapel at the Christian college I attended, and I can say with all honesty that perhaps four chapel meetings over the course of two years grabbed me. I know how you feel. I don’t have a better answer for you than to mentally abandon the worst ones and seek out Jesus alone.

  11. I think my frustration with being asked to change is that I’m frequently adjured to stop sinning and straighten up and fly right but hardly ever given a goal – like being Christ-like – or given reminders about what that means or how to do it. Sure, I can read these things, but I need to know I’m not alone in picturing Jesus as a perfect goal and that God felt we deserved that. Because, frankly, I suck at not sinning, and it’d be nice to know I’m not the only one and I’m not crazy for thinking there’s more to a good life than not being bad.

    • Keith,

      Agreed, 100 percent. You took the words right out of my mouth. I think one of the worst indictments of where Evangelicalism is concerns how we view all positives of the Faith in terms of being “not negatives.” In other words, leaders can’t seem to elucidate what purity is except in terms of the opposite of impurity. That terrible bassackwardness turns people away in droves. We can’t tell people what we’re for, but we’re champs at screaming what we’re against. That has to reverse itself if the American Church is to move forward.

      • Jeremy

        First of all…Keith, that’s one of the best quotes I have heard in awhile, “frankly, I suck at not sinning.” I love your honesty and the chance to laugh.

        Secondly, Dan I enjoy the slower pace you are taking with your posts this year, it really gives me time to reflect before you move on to the next post. Thank you!

        I also want to mention that I appreciate you pointing out how the church has fallen into the rut of usually focusing on the negative side of dichotomy. I often wonder if it comes from two things. On the one hand, Laziness. Not taking the time to creatively ponder what the life of a Christian looks like and feels like from a positive perspective. On the other hand, I think it may come from a fearful legalism. That is, often leaders feel the need to scare people to stay in the kingdom because they themselves are not demonstrating lifestyles that are counter-cultural and real.


      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        I think one of the worst indictments of where Evangelicalism is concerns how we view all positives of the Faith in terms of being “not negatives.” In other words, leaders can’t seem to elucidate what purity is except in terms of the opposite of impurity. That terrible bassackwardness turns people away in droves.

        And when you get someone who’s actually attracted to that “bassackwardness”…

        Several months ago, Slacktivist did a posting re the Christian (TM) Actor Kirk Cameron. Specifically, about the guy’s neuroses. He only does Christian (TM) movies and nothing else (to the point it’s become a running joke); when filming Left Behind: The Movie he found out the crew included “Heathens (TM)” and hid in his trailer to avoid contamination; and he’s famous for requiring that his RL wife be the stand-in for any kissing scene “to avoid Adultery”. Kind of neurotic, don’t you think?

        Well, Slack figured that Cameron (who I think was an adult convert) probably was catechized/discipled in a church environment that defined Holiness and Righteousness and Godliness primarily in NEGATIVE terms, i.e. “do NOT see, do NOT hear, do NOT smell, do NOT touch, do NOT associate, do NOT fill-in-the-blank”, probably with the implication that it could jeopardize his salvation. And his “Only Drink Milk If It Comes From A Christian Cow” neuroses are the result.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy

    See, unless our reasons for change lead to something meaningful, constant change in and of itself only leads to despair.

    It’s called THRASHING.

    AKA Everybody always running around in circles screaming, but nothing ever gets accomplished.

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