He told them a story. Then he told them another one.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” he said. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast kneaded into dough.”

Jesus told them stories meant to help their souls awaken to the life to which he came to invite them. He told them stories that held up a mirror that allowed them an unfiltered look at who some of them really were, instead of who they pretended to be.

I’ve been thinking about the way in which we tell stories about God to one another in the church. Those stories are important. I struggle to remember the verbal unfurling of information in sermon or teaching, no matter how masterfully done, but a story will stick with me like a deer tick burrowed into my imagination. Jesus knew we needed stories.

Sometimes the stories we tell about God get obscured by our own brokenness. A few years ago, a visiting pastor launched his sermon with a couple of “my buddies and I were on the back nine at our golf club when this amusing incident took place” stories. More recently, I listened to a message by a pastor who took a week of retreat each summer by booking a private cabin on a ship crossing the Atlantic. He then flew back across the pond in time to give the weekend messages at his church.

I don’t rue them the blessings their anecdotes described. However, whatever the point of their respective messages was, it was lost on me…[Read more]


One of my favorite podcasts is Phil Vischer’s rollicking foray into pop culture and the state of affairs in the Evangelical church. Regular cohosts actress Christian Taylor and pastor/author Skye Jethani are joined (and sometimes replaced) by a variety of interesting guests. This week’s guest, Dr. Gary Burge, tackled the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which can be summed up in the question, “Whose land is it anyway?”.

I was tempted to skip this week’s podcast, as I am familiar with Burge’s point of view. But in the name of education (which means exposing myself to ideas opposite from those I may hold), I sat through it. I’m glad I did, because it left me with a couple of questions I’ll be throwing out there at the end of this post. [Read more]





The Grinch At Seminary

This quarter at Northern Seminary, I took a class for which I had low enthusiasm before I walked in the door back in September. In fact, the words “low enthusiasm” might be overstating it a bit. If it hadn’t been required to complete my degree, I would have probably found a way to avoid taking this course altogether.

However, you can’t opt out of core theology courses when you are enrolled in seminary.

I’m not anti-theology. I noted in my first paper for my Theology I course this quarter that I’ve done a fair measure of theological reading in my life, and my primary structure through which I’ve learned to think theologically to this point has been through…

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pilgrimsroadtrip/2014/11/the-grinch-seminary/#ixzz3Ji8hibH2





“Done” At Midlife

The conversation around the relationship between those at midlife and the local church clicked into a higher gear last week with these two blog posts:

At Thom Schultz’s Holy Soup: The Rise Of The Dones. “After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all…The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn. Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done.” Though Schultz doesn’t specifically I.D. those at midlife and beyond in his post, the typical leaver in the “Done” category is someone who was for years committed to a local church and burned out or faded away; in other words, people at midlife. Again, the comments section in this post is perhaps even more instructive than the post itself.

At Wartburg Watch: The Consequences For The Church That Focuses On Youth While Ignoring Baby Boomers. This excellent post uses my column in the September print edition of Christianity Today as a jumping-off point to visit some stats and offer some important reflections about marginalizing older members. As of this writing, there are 172 comments on the Wartburg Watch post. The number may reflect the high level of engagement in the WW community, but I believe the topic itself drew strong opinion and debate. You may not have time to read all the comments, but they’re certainly worth a skim if you’re interested in this subject.


The comments following both posts echo the things I heard when I launched my own informal survey a year and a half ago asking those over 40 original about their relationship with their local church (click here for a summary), as well as some of the other writing I’ve done on the topic here and at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. A version of my own experience with spiritual disorientation and a sense of disconnection from the doings at church seemed to be taking place in the lives of many of my age/life-stage peers. I discovered early on that looking for answers or remedies was a fruitless task, as this disconnect wasn’t a problem to be fixed by applying 7 Simple Steps, praying a prayer or swallowing hard and signing up for more [Read more]


“How are you doing?” There’s a lot of different ways in which those words can be voiced ranging from a casual aside with no desire for an answer to the way the pastor of the church we’d attended for a year and a half asked it of me. It sounded as though he really wanted to know because he really cared about the state of my soul.

I hesitated for a moment. Could I trust him? I’d worked hard with the help of the Holy Spirit using the gfits and training of an excellent counselor to unpack some of the baggage I’d been carrying from a couple of toxic churches. The bags weren’t gone, but they were significantly lighter in weight than they’d been in years. Me with overstuffed baggage would have kept my mouth shut in response to this question. But the current me, the one now toting this lighter-weight baggage, took a measured risk. I trusted him. I told him a little bit about the challenges I was facing at work. He listened with great empathy, and I was grateful for his quiet assurance that he’d keep me in prayer.

A couple of weeks later, I ran into one of his young adult children as I was on my way to grab a bite to eat in the middle of my workday. A couple of coworkers were within earshot as this young woman called out to me from the bottom of a crowded staircase, “Hey, Michelle! How are you doing? My dad said you were having a hard time with things around here.”

The challenge of icky workplace politics was nothing compared to the realization that the trust I’d been working so hard to regain had just been violated. Again.

* * * * * * *

In my first post in this series, I took a look at some of the kinds of baggage people carry with them from involvement in toxic church cultures. My second post talked about the kinds of patient, prayerful questions that might help a trust-damaged person begin to unpack those suitcases they’re lugging with them.

Today, I’d like to talk a bit about what rebuilding trust might look like.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pilgrimsroadtrip/2014/11/unpacking-spiritual-baggage-part-3/#ixzz3IsfUJrBY