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Your church is addicted to this (you are too) and what you can do about it in 2016

I remember one January we were trying to plan a quarter of activities in the youth ministry I led at the time. The goal was to schedule a spring retreat on a weekend where most of the ministry could attend. “How about this date?” I said excitingly. “I have a tournament that week,” one girl jumped in. “Oh yeah we do too!” So knowing I have a couple back up dates I said, “What about this one?” “I don’t know Robbie, that is the weekend before Spring Break and many of us will be going out of town.” “That’s right. I am sorry,” I said feeling a bit defeated. “This is the last date the retreat center has open so what are your thoughts about this one.” “Robbie that is right smack dab in district tournaments and plus spring baseball is gearing up for our families.”

Here is the bottom line when it comes to the difficulty of people getting connected to the mission of the church: We are just too busy. Busyness has become the status quo of western civilization. People all the time ask me, “Robbie how is the new church going?” and if I respond with, “We are really busy” then I always get a “that’s good” from folks. Why? Busyness is the modus operandi of our culture and the sad part is our churches have adopted this way of life and we are suffering.

How do we expect the church to participate in the mission of God when our schedules are absolutely insane? I hear of my youth ministry friends struggling all the time to get kids to show up to events, parents to volunteer and people in the church to participate and I think it all comes back to our lives are lived like a rat race and we don’t even know it. I saw a video on the Verge Network site that resonates with much of what I am saying and Paul Tripp makes a good case. It only takes a couple minutes to watch…

The Biggest Challenge Facing the Church Today | Paul David Tripp from Austin Stone Counseling Center on Vimeo.

So what can we do to help the mission of our church? Ask this important game-changing question:

“What set of values drives the schedule of our family?”

Early in our family we made it a point that we would not miss services because of a ball game. Now this was not to say that missing a service here and there was evil rather we wanted to create an atmosphere early that said, “above sports, hobbies and other things we value Jesus Christ and his church.” I have not regretted making that decision. In a time where busyness is a god we are trying to eschew the cultural milieu we are in by practicing simplicity in our faith.

I can’t tell parents what they should do but I can try to model what I think is a better way for our family. We are not perfect in this but we try to practice balance when and wherever possible. They still do sports and other things but we take breaks and we don’t push them. For you Christians out there here is the question: “If I were to ask you to disciple someone in your current schedule for 1-2 hours a week could you do it?”

Many of you are setting goals for 2016 (read Michael Hyatt’s post about that) and I think that is wonderful but let me push you a bit and ask that you make living a simpler life so that you can have mission at the front of your life your goal. “Ever wonder why many people do not volunteer at your church?” A huge reason is that they simply do not have the time. They don’t.

Grace and peace,



To Grow your Faith You Must Leave Your Church Home

I remember the last time I looked at my parents before leaving to go on my honeymoon in 2003. It was a bitter-sweet moment and both of us knew that things were never going to be the same again. I was passionately vaulting myself into adulthood establishing roots with someone else while they were forced to face a reality that their rearing was over.

Mom and dad had to let go for me to really grow as a man. For me, I had to let go of mom and dad so that I could also grow as a man and an individual.

After close to eleven years of ministry I firmly believe that in order for a person to really grow in their faith they have to leave the familiar to embrace the unfamiliar. In other words, they must leave their church home.

Richard Rohr in his book Falling Upward describes exactly what I am trying to say:

Many people are kept from mature religion because of the pious, immature, or rigid expectations of their first-half-of-life family…One of the major blocks against the second journey is what we would now call the “collective,” the crowd, our society, or our extended family. Some call it the crab bucket syndrome—you try to get out, but the other crabs just keep pulling you back in. What passes for morality or spirituality in the vast majority of people’s lives is the way everybody they grew up with thinks. Some would call it conditioning or even imprinting. Without very real inner work, most folks never move beyond it. You might get beyond it in a negative sense, by reacting or rebelling against it, but it is much less common to get out of the crab bucket in a positive way (pp. 82-83).

I like that word picture of a “crab bucket” when it comes to the faith formation of students. Sometimes the crabs are implicit but other times they are explicit. Some people want to indoctrinate you to make you think this way or that way to in turn produce more people who think that very same way. Unfortunately many people have the audacity to call that “discipleship.” I cannot fathom my parents saying that in order for our marriage to be complete we would have to do it exactly like theirs and to make sure we did it like theirs they would locate themselves in proximity to where we lived to keep an eye on us.

Not the case. Mom and dad wanted us to have our own marriage filled with lessons they could teach us but also things we had to learn on our own.

I think this is where faith formation needs to go when it comes to our teenagers. I wonder if the push back from Millennials in our churches comes from a history of rigidity and a lack of letting them go.

Rohr again is poignant:

The nuclear family has far too often been the enemy of the global family and mature spiritual seeking. Perhaps it has never struck you how consistently the great religious teachers and founders leave home, go on pilgrimage to far-off places, do a major turnabout, choose downward mobility; and how often it is their parents, the established religion at that time, spiritual authorities, and often even civil authorities who fight against them. (p. 84)

Let that sink in a bit. This is a stern warning to all youth ministers and parents alike who wish to, in the name of “pure doctrine,” smash out the dreams and wanderings of our kids. When former youth group kids would come back to our church I often wished they hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong I love their presence but a part of me wanted them to push the envelope and own their own faith. Perhaps that is why God told Abraham that to receive the promise he had to leave his family (Gen. 12:1). Maybe that is why Joseph was sold into slavery and spent most of his life away from his family. Maybe that is why James, John, Andrew and Peter left their parents to follow after the divine tugging at their robes.

Please know that I advocate them leaving the church home…not the Church. I also propose that the leaving does not imply a never-returning. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo leaves the familiar to embark on a journey of unfamiliar. That unfamiliar contained all kinds of unspeakable turmoil and evil while simultaneously containing pieces of good and purpose. He returns home different but full of purpose. Tolkien famously said, “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” I like that.

So whoever you are reading this I bid you farewell on your journey to leave your church home. I am uncomfortable typing those words knowing not where your journey might take you. But you have to leave friend. I promise you though, God will be there to reveal wonder and beauty on this journey and I assure you that if asked you would say that the journey was worth it.