What you are about to read is part three of an ongoing series. If you have not read part one and part two I invite you to do so.

As I said previously, I’ve been seeing things, hearing things, picking up on some subtle and not so subtle words, actions and vibes from some Christians and some pastors. Not all Christians, not all pastors, but enough to catch my attention and cause me concern. My observations have helped me conclude that the church has become too violent. We can be hostile, brutal, brawlers towards those we disagree with. It doesn’t matter if it is our secular society or fellow Christians, we are too willing to draw blood.

I see this fault in myself as well.

There are five places where I have recognized this violence surface:

  1. Violence surfaces in our preaching.
  2. Violence surfaces in our social media.
  3. Violence surfaces in our vocabulary.
  4. Violence surfaces in our homes.
  5. Violence surfaces in how we interact with those we disagree with.

Violence in our preaching

It seems that we have a lot of angry pastors leading our churches and their anger comes out in their preaching.

Pastors are angry because their church isn’t growing.
Pastors are angry because their people are not very committed.
Pastors are angry because things didn’t turn out as they planned.
Pastors are angry because of personal marital problems.
Pastors are angry because of disappointments with their denomination.
Pastors are angry with their church board because the board is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to work with.
Pastors are angry because they don’t have enough money to provide for their family.
Pastors are angry because they feel overworked and under appreciated.

In addition to the above, some pastors are angry because they suffer from depression.

***

Anger is one of the most common manifestations of male depression. Someone once said that when a woman is depressed she beats herself up. When a man is depressed he beats someone else up. I’m not talking about physical abuse, although that is probably happening in some pastors homes, but I’m referring to verbal abuse. Women don’t struggle as much with anger as men do when depressed.

If you are angry on the inside, violence will show up on the outside. Please keep in mind that there are varying degrees of violence, some more subtle than others.

For the pastor, one of the more common outlets for violence is the pulpit.

Some pastors sermons are too focused on sin, the need for personal holiness, the evils of the world, attacks on other Christians or churches, reasons why the church in America is dying. Theirs is an angry, negative, violent sermon filled with “what’s wrong” rather than “what’s right.”

Now if I were to post the paragraph above on Facebook, I guarantee that within minutes, if not seconds, heated (angry) objections would be made supported with a multitude of scriptures.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa Dave…sounds like you just want to tickle people’s ears. We’ve got to preach against sin, we’ve got to call people up to a higher standard. Sure God is a loving God but don’t forget that He is holy and one day we will all have to stand before Him and give an account of our lives. What about obedience? Don’t you care about lukewarm Christians? Read your Bible. Jesus drove the sinners out of the temple. Paul brought rebuke and correction to the churches he wrote to.”

I know all that.

I believe all that.

I just think that there is too much of that.

The word ‘preach’ can be used in a positive or a negative way. Saying, “He preached a good sermon.” is a positive use of the word. Saying, “Hey…don’t you preach at me.” is a negative use of the word. Using the word ‘preach’ in this way can mean to give moral advice in an annoying or pompously self-righteous way. The word ‘harangue’ means a lengthy, aggressive and critical speech.

I want to preach without being preachy.

Every time we stand in front of a group to preach we have, as they say, “a captive audience.” Oh I suppose if someone doesn’t like what we say they could get up and leave (I’ve had that happen), but for the most part, once they walk through the door and sit down they have to listen to us.

Preaching is a calling, honor, and privilege, and it is also a great responsibility.

It takes a lot of honest and humble self-awareness to recognize if I am preaching or venting. Of course we want to believe that we are ‘standing up for truth’, ‘calling sin, sin’ or ‘teaching the whole counsel of God’. Maybe we are. Maybe we’re not. Maybe we’re just letting off steam. My sermon can be more rant than righteous. My preaching can be an unconscious release of the anger, irritation, and contempt I have for someone or something. This is a violent preaching.

Violence in our pulpits is hard to recognize, harder to admit, and even harder to change. But change we should and change we can. And, I might add, we can change without compromising or watering down our understanding of the Bible.

It’s all about heart and delivery. If my heart is troubled with anger, violence, contempt, belligerence and hurt then I need to bring that to the Lord for healing. If I can say what needs to be said in a kind and gentle way why would I want to do otherwise?

Preaching is communicating. But there is more to communicate than merely content.

When we preach are we communicating that we are angry or happy, mad or glad, irritated or invigorated, contemptuous or compassionate? Do we preach with a smile or a frown?

“But we’ve got to preach against sin.”

I get that, I really do.

If you need to preach against sin do it with a smile. If you must be a prophet, be a nice one. There are enough ‘not-nice-prophets’ out there to adequately represent the other side of the coin. You don’t need to add your name to their ranks. They will get the job done without your help. They will, I promise.

Next up: Belligerent pt. 4: Violence in Social Media

 

 

 

 

 

In my last article I laid a foundation for this post and future posts. If you haven’t had a chance to read Gandhi, Merton, and Me pt.1 let me encourage you to do so before reading this.

For a while now I’ve been seeing things, hearing things, picking up on some subtle and not so subtle words, actions and vibes from some Christians and some pastors. Not all Christians, not all pastors, but enough to catch my attention and cause me concern.

I am fortunate that my job puts me in contact with a wide range of Christians and Christian thought. I talk to pastors from every denomination you could imagine. I moderate a large Facebook group page made up of pastors and church leaders from all the various streams of Christianity. I stay on top of what’s going on in the church/Christian world by subscribing and reading the major, and some minor, Christian and ministry periodicals. All that to say…I think I’ve got my finger on the pulse of something going on in a portion of the church in North America. What I’m seeing is nothing new, it has been there from the beginning of time and I suspect will be there until the end of time.

From here on out when I refer to ‘the church’ I hope you’ve picked up that I mean ‘a segment’ of the church, a portion, some, not all. Okay? Are we clear on that?

I will also be using the collective pronoun ‘we’. I have no problem including myself in the problem I’m about to describe. If you have a problem including yourself in the problem, no problem, that’s fine. I hope you are not part of the problem. I believe there will be many who read this series who are not part of the problem. But if the proverbial shoe fits, wear it, but don’t run away after you put it on.

***

While reading Thomas Merton’s ‘Gandhi On Non-Violence’, a commentary on Gandhi’s ‘Non-Violence In Peace And War’, words were given me to describe what I had been feeling. It was like a light went on. “That’s it! That’s the perfect way of putting it!” So here goes…

The church is too violent. We have become hostile, brutal, brawlers towards those we disagree with. It doesn’t matter if it is the non-Christian world or fellow Christians, we are too willing to draw blood. I am just as guilty. I see too much violence in me.

How did this happen?

Violence is in our blood. Violence is in our DNA. Violence is part of our Adamic nature. Cain was the first murderer and it is interesting to me that his first victim was his brother.

When I am attacked, challenged, confronted or questioned, my defenses go up. The most natural thing for me is to become defensive, argumentative, ready to retaliate. Self-preservation kicks in and I apply the law of the jungle instead of the law of Christ that says, “Love one another.”

Violence is in our past. History is a story of violence with brief periods of peace in very limited contexts. Man is a violent species that kills, oppresses, enslaves, dominates, discriminates, and in too many cases attempts to completely obliterate entire people-groups.

Violence is in our Bible. I love the Bible. I have read the Bible almost daily for 42 years. I believe the Bible is God’s word. Having said that…I must admit that the Bible is filled with violence, murder, war, and occasional genocide. Even the New Testament writers employ violent words and images. We read about ‘the armor of God’, ‘our warfare’, ‘the sword of the Spirit’. Peter speaks a word and a married couple falls over dead. Paul is so angered with false teachers that he wishes they would castrate themselves. Yikes. I could go on. If this sounds to you like I am being critical of the Bible you’re right, I am, but I do so while maintaining that the Bible is the most revered book I own, I love it and regard it as the primary authority in my life.

Violence is in our Patriotism. There is nothing wrong with being patriotic. I love our country. I feel very, very fortunate to have been born in the United States of America. But with the rise in prominence of Evangelicalism (By the way, I’m an Evangelical) a concerning mixture of patriotism with Christianity (or at least the Evangelical expression of Christianity) has occurred. For some Evangelicals, the idea of an unjust war is not only unpatriotic but also un-Christian. Some assume in time of war or military conflict that God is automatically on our side simply because we are “One Nation Under God.” We love to hear about the death of our enemies.

I am a quasi-pacifist. By this I mean that I am ‘anti-war’ but at the same time believe that a war can be just. I am anti-war but pro-solider. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the men and women who have and do serve in the military, especially those who have served in combat. Every time I see a veteran wearing a cap identifying which war they served in I go up to them, shake their hand and say “Thank you.”

Violence is in our entertainment. Many of the movies we watch are filled with gratuitous violence. Many of the sports we watch are extremely violent. And what about the popularity of video games many of which depict killing, gore and suffering?

So…violence is in our blood. Violence is in our past. Violence is in our Bible. Violence is in our present. Violence is in our patriotism. Violence is in our entertainment. If all of this is true it is no wonder then that we are violent followers of the Prince of Peace.

There are five ways in which I see violence expressed in Christians:

  1. Violence comes out in our preaching.
  2. Violence comes out in social media.
  3. Violence comes out in our words.
  4. Violence comes out in our homes.
  5. Violence comes out in how we interact with those we disagree with.

In part 3-6 of this series we will explore this further.

 

 

 

 

 

Between the years 1942 and 1949 Mohandas K. Gandhi wrote volumes one and two of Non-Violence In Peace And War. In 1964 Thomas Merton wrote a type of commentary on this work of Gandhi, which included numerous quotes from both volumes. Merton’s book is simply called: Gandhi On Non-Violence.

I have always been intrigued by Gandhi, and even more so by Merton. In fact, I’ve said before that there is no other author that has impacted my life more than Thomas Merton. I am a student of Merton’s life and writings. Over the past ten years it has been rare that I’m not reading Merton or something about Merton.

In my office I have a six foot long bookshelf filled only with Merton or Merton related books. I haven’t read all that he has written but I hope to. In fact the only reason I’m glad he died in 1968 is that this put an end to his writings without which I could never catch up.

If I remember correctly I found Gandhi On Non-Violence in a used bookstore. Used bookstores are a dangerous place for me. If I find something I want and my wallet is empty or my credit card is maxed I’m tempted to put the book down my pants and calmly walk towards the door. It’s never come to that…yet. Much to my surprise this bookstore had a very limited number of Merton books. But there hiding between The Seven Storey Mountain and Seeds of Destruction was my ninety four page treasure. I thought to myself, “I didn’t even know Merton wrote a book on Gandhi.” I went to the checkout stand drooling with delight and thanking God for the book and credit cards. We’ll come back to Gandhi On Non-Violence in a minute.

 ***

I am fortunate in that my coaching practice puts me in touch with pastors and Christians from every region of North America and beyond. You pick the denomination and there’s a good chance that I am working or have worked with members of those groups. I work with conservatives and liberals, progressives and fundamentalist, charismatics and non-charismatics, main line denominations and independent churches, liturgical, orthodox, and house churches. I specialize in small churches but also work with medium to large size churches. A few weeks ago I was on the phone with a monk. I work with young pastors, middle-aged pastors as well as older pastors. I talk to a growing number of women pastors and those who feel women shouldn’t be pastors. I work with Republican pastors and Democrat pastors and a few that have rejected both parties. On top of all this I moderate a large closed group on Facebook made up of pastors. You know all those ‘types’ of pastors I just listed? They’re in this Facebook group.

When someone climbs up on a soapbox and starts telling me what’s wrong with the church today I want to ask them, “Which church are you referring to?” When the author of a blog makes sweeping generalizations about this group or that group I want to know exactly how many of those churches, groups, or pastors the writer actually knows.

The number can vary a bit based on which report you go to but it looks like there are about 330,000 congregations in North America. I would bump that up to about 400,000 if you include house churches, new churches the census takers don’t know about yet, and churches so small that nobody bothers to count them. Back to my friend on the soapbox…

“The church in America has caved into societal pressure and is on the brink of facing the judgment of God!”

“Excuse me.”

“Yes.”

“Which church are you referring to?”

“What?”

“Well there are about 400,000 churches in American. Which ones are you referring to?”

“Uh, well, most of them.”

“So what you’re saying is that you personally know what’s going on in these 400,000 churches and that’s why you’re qualified to make such sweeping generalizations?”

“Well no, not exactly.”

“Well then maybe you need to be quiet.”

***

I guess I’ve said all this to suggest that I might have a greater feel for what’s going on with pastors and the churches they lead than others do. Because I work with all types of denominations and expressions of the church I’ve come to realize that you can’t pigeon hole Baptists or Presbyterians, Catholics or Charismatics, Conservatives or Progressives…or any other organized expression of Christianity.

Having said all that, I will now walk up to the brink of contradicting myself, which will also bring us back to Merton’s Gandhi on Non-Violence, and the new way in which this book has helped me think.

Recently, I’ve come to discover something that has been there all along but I have not been ready to recognize or not able to put into words what I’ve seen or felt. It pertains to churches or more accurately, to the Christians who make up our churches. I refuse to make blanket statements like my friend on the soapbox because what I’ve seen does not represent all Christians or all churches but it does seem to reflect enough Christians and enough churches to have caught my attention.

I would like to conclude by introducing to you what I’m seeing and feeling. The best way for me to do this is to share with you a poem I wrote a few weeks ago and posted last week on my blog. When I wrote this I was not thinking of the secular world but the Christian world. It is my concern that there is too much violence in the church and not enough peace in the church. Because of this, I want to start a new peace movement within the church. I want to start a new anti-war movement among Christians. I want to promote non-violence between sisters and brothers.

I apologize for the length of this article. I promise that future posts in this series will be shorter. If I’ve piqued your interest I invite you to follow my thoughts and ideas in the weeks to come. I value your feedback and hope you will pass this series on to your friends.

Too Much, Too Little

(a poem of hopeful despair)

 

There is too much violence.

There is too little peace.

 

There is too much argument.

There is too little communication.

 

There are too many strong opinions.

There is too little openness.

 

There is too much hate.

There is too little love.

 

There is too much talking.

There is too little listening.

 

There is too much pride.

There is too little humility.

 

There’s too much noise.

There is too little quiet.

 

There are too many sides.

There is too little unity.

 

There is too much black and white.

There is too little gray.

 

There is too much rejection.

There is too little acceptance.

 

There is too much Bible-quoting.

There is too little Bible-living.

 

There is too much bias.

There is too little objectivity.

 

There is too much fear.

There is too little faith.

 

There is too much suspicion.

There is too little proof.

 

There is too much judgment.

There is too little grace.

 

There is too much Bible-knowledge.

There is too little Jesus-imitating.

 

There is too much preying.

There is too little praying.

 

There is too much turbulence.

There is too little still water.

 

 

Too Much, Too Little

(a poem of hopeful despair) by dave jacobs

 

There is too much violence.

There is too little peace.

 

There is too much argument.

There is too little communication.

 

There are too many strong opinions.

There is too little openness.

 

There is too much hate.

There is too little love.

 

There is too much talking.

There is too little listening.

 

There is too much pride.

There is too little humility.

 

There’s too much noise.

There is too little quiet.

 

There are too many sides.

There is too little unity.

 

There is too much black and white.

There is too little gray.

 

There is too much rejection.

There is too little acceptance.

 

There is too much Bible-quoting.

There is too little Bible-living.

 

There is too much bias.

There is too little objectivity.

 

There is too much fear.

There is too little faith.

 

There is too much suspicion.

There is too little proof.

 

There is too much judgment.

There is too little grace.

 

There is too much Bible-knowledge.

There is too little Jesus-imitating.

 

There is too much preying.

There is too little praying.

 

There is too much turbulence.

There is too little still water.

 

 

images-1

Have you ever had some great idea, I mean, really felt God was leading you into some focus or direction for the church, but when it came time to communicate it to your congregation they just stared at you like zombies? Or maybe you have coffee with someone in your church because you think they’d be great at heading up some ministry. You lay out the need, explain the commitment and are overjoyed to hear them say, “Well Pastor, if you think I’d be good at it I’ll give it a try.” You skip away congratulating yourself on what an awesome recruiter you are. But then it happens…it might take a couple months, but it happens…they resign or end up needing so much handholding that you regret ever giving them the responsibility in the first place.

With both scenarios chances are your people didn’t have ownership. Ownership is when your people are as sold on and excited about an idea or project as you are. Ownership is important. Remember this rule: No ownership = zombies. And don’t forget, zombies, with very few exceptions, make poor parishioners. There are four steps to building ownership.

Step One: Be open to the fact that not all good ideas will originate with you or be carried out based on your conviction and enthusiasm alone.

Step Two: Be inclusive. Include people in the decision making process. If people feel like they’ve been included it is more likely they will feel they have ownership.

Step Three: Be willing to risk. If you include people in the decision making process you can bet they will come up with ideas you never thought of, many of them good, some of them bad. The temptation with bad ideas is for the pastor to quickly shoot them down. Usually it’s better to let someone try their idea and discover for themselves that it didn’t work than to see you close the door on it before they have a chance to try.

Step Four: Be patient. It takes time to create ownership. Chances are your good idea is something you’ve been kicking around in your mind for some time now. Give your people the same time to think, digest, object, brainstorm, pray. This might mean your implementation will be slower but in the end it will be more solid.

You can follow me on twitter @thinkmonk

In-N-Out-150x150

Smaller churches lack the resources of larger churches. This does not mean they will not be able to provide meaningful ministry to their members and community, but it does mean they will have to be more selective in what they offer.

In 1948, the first In-N-Out Burger was founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, California. Harry’s idea of a drive-thru hamburger stand where customers could order through a two-way speaker box was quite unique. In that era, it was common to see carhops serving those who wanted to order food from their car. Harry’s idea caught on and California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand was born.

The Snyder’s business philosophy was simple: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.” These principles have worked so well over the years that they are still the company’s fundamental philosophy. In-N-Out Burger has basically three items on their menus: burgers, fries, and drinks. There are no salads, no burritos, no chicken sandwiches. Think of the huge variety most other fast food chains offer. You would think In-N-Out made a mistake in limiting what they offer but they continue to be one of the most popular food chains in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

I think smaller churches need to follow the example of In-N-Out…do a few things well and, “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”

What do you have the resources to do? By adding more ministries prematurely are you running the risk of providing a poor product and equally as bad, burned out workers? It would be better to do a few things well than a bunch of things half-baked that burn people out.

If you can’t do multi-media well…don’t do multi-media.
If you don’t have the manpower (usually it’s womanpower) to do a full-on Sunday school program, don’t do one.

If there are not resources and interest for doing small groups…let it go and wait until the time is right.
You get the point. Smaller churches need to copy In-N-Out not Dennys. Dennys offers everything you could ever want. In-N-Out…burgers, fries, and drinks. Since mission statements are so popular these days, perhaps your mission statement should be In-N-Out’s: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”

wading

In 1997, I attended a pastors’ conference in Southern California. One of the main speakers had recently experienced a breakthrough in his own prayer life, which included prayer journaling (the practice of writing out your prayers) and was attempting to inspire his audience—made up mostly of pastors, myself included, more interested in growing their churches than they were in growing their souls—to commit themselves to prayer. I’d heard it all before. He said nothing new. But for some reason it was different this time. Well actually, I know why this time was different.

While listening to the speaker wrap up his message it was as if I saw a hand in front of me motioning for me to come. In my mind I knew this was the Holy Spirit beckoning me to try again. So I said yes. Even though I’d experienced failure after failure, I said yes. I made a commitment to pray (more specifically, to prayer journal) each and every day beginning the next Monday.

The conference ended. I went back to my hotel, and the next day I drove home in time for Sunday morning.

That Sunday was pretty much like any other Sunday. This time, however, after my sermon and before dismissing the crowd, I knew there was something I had to say.

“Before you go, I need to tell you something.”

I didn’t mean it to sound ominous, but an uncomfortable hush came over the room. The poor people—they probably thought I was going to tell them I was leaving or that I’d fallen into some horrible sin.

“A few days ago at a conference I made a commitment. I committed to pray every day from here on out. I wanted you to know. I want you to hold me accountable. Have a nice week. You are dismissed.”

For a couple of seconds there was silence, and then people got up to leave.

Immediately I thought to myself, “You idiot! Why did you tell them? You didn’t have to tell them. You could have kept this to yourself, but you told them. Now they’re going to check up on you. You know you’re gonna fail. And then you’ll have to tell them. That was really stupid, Dave.”

Monday came. I did it, day one of prayer journaling. Tuesday came, day two. By the time Sunday rolled around I had kept to my commitment for a whole week! Before and after the service people came up to me to ask how I was doing.

“This is day seven.”

“Great, Dave, great; you keep that up.”

The next Sunday, “So pastor, how’s that prayer thing going?”

“This is day fourteen.”

“This is day twenty one.”

“This is day twenty eight.”

Slowly, the inquiries about my spiritual progress began to taper off. People eventually quit asking but I didn’t quit counting.

I still can’t believe it but I went 1,463 days in a row before skipping a day! But I didn’t skip it because I turned my alarm clock off and went back to sleep. I chose to skip it, or, to be more honest, I needed to skip it. Dare I be so bold as to suggest that God told me to skip it?

You see, toward the end of my 1,463-day run, I began to notice some things in me I didn’t like. I could recognize a bit of obsession with my growing number. I could tell some pride had entered my heart.

“I’m on day 1,053. How awesome am I?”

I never said that, but I thought it.

I knew that the only way to break the pride in my accomplishment was to skip a day. I knew I had to do it. I felt God was asking me to do it.

It took me a few days to give in, but hey, what do you expect? After all, I’d made it past four years! More than four years of continuous daily prayer! That was something to be proud of which, of course, was the problem. So there was no day 1,464.

I’ve skipped many days since then but not too many, at least not too many in a row. My norm is still daily quiet times with God but I’m no longer counting, no longer obsessing, and I’m not aware of any pride connected to my spiritual routines.

Every once in a while I’ll remember that conference in 1997, the speaker, the following Sunday at church, and the weeks of people asking me, “Hey, Dave, what day are you on?” Mostly I remember the vision of that hand beckoning me to come.

Prayer Journal, September 21, 1997, Day One:

“Lord, today I begin. I don’t know how long this will last. You, O Lord, know my fears. I am painfully aware of my weaknesses. Hear me and give me grace to seek You. Let this be the first day of a new life of prayer and intimacy with You.”

Can you see that hand beckoning to you? Can you feel the Father tugging at your heart, asking you to come and begin, or begin again? Don’t let fear of failure hold you back. I’m not asking you to make the same commitment I made at that conference so many years ago, but I am asking you this:

Are you willing to settle for a relationship with the Father that is “a mile wide and an inch deep,” or do you want to experience God beyond the shallows? Can you see that hand? Say yes to it. Begin.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

images

If you haven’t already, let me suggest that you go back and read pt 1 and pt. 2.

Do you feel like your depth of intimacy with God is an inch deep, while your ministry responsibilities stretch you a mile wide? I want to help you experience God beyond the shallows. I believe it’s possible to go deeper.

Don’t you wish you were more deeply spiritual? Something keeps reminding you that your personal intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing, but there are so many other things that pull you in the opposite direction. There is the person you are and the person you want to be, and you wish you could close that gap. You can. It can close. It will take a lifetime, but it can close little by little.

Movement in the right direction, no matter how small, will eventually get you where you want to be. Moving toward a deeper spirituality through the spiritual practices that will get you there (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, devotional reading, journaling, etc.) is not about giant steps but about baby steps. Here’s three out of nine steps to help you get started.

Step Seven: When you fall off the horse get back on and leave the guilt behind.

Notice I said when, not if. There will be days when you won’t meet with God as you had planned. Sometimes this will be your fault and sometimes it will be the result of circumstances beyond your control. This has to be expected and accepted. The question is not whether we’ll break our spiritual disciplines routine, but what we do after we break them.

I suggest when you fall off the horse that you calmly climb back in the saddle (resuming your practices) and leave guilt on the ground beside your imprint. It does little good to beat yourself up. We get so upset when we fail. It’s as if we expected not to.

I’m not surprised when I fail. What surprises me is when I succeed. I’m surprised that I don’t fail more, not that I fail as much as I do.

No need to flog yourself. Don’t start over; just pick up where you left off.

Step Eight: Watch out for self-righteousness and legalism.

It’s unfortunate but few things lend themselves to self-righteousness or legalism quite like pursuing a deeper spirituality. You don’t see them at first, but they creep up on you.

Self-righteousness sneaks in suggesting thoughts like, “I’ve gone 1,463 days without missing a single day of having my quiet time. What day are you on, huh, huh? What’s that? You don’t have a quiet time? Oh, poor thing. I’ll pray for you on day 1,464.” We would never actually say this. But do we think it? Sometimes.

Legalism appears in our thoughts saying skewed comments like, “I better not skip my quiet time today. I’ve got to preach in the morning and I want God to show up.” Or, “I bet the reason I had such a bad day was because I didn’t have a prayer time.” Or, “God is happy with me when I have my devotions but disappointed with me when I don’t.”

Watch out for the creepers.

Step Nine: Don’t let past failures keep you from trying again.

It wasn’t until about halfway through my pastoral career that I got serious about soul-care and spiritual formation. Before that, my spiritual life was on and off, hot and cold. I’d hear some sermon or read some book about prayer, feel guilty, make a commitment to prayer, go a few days…and then quit. Some time would go by, I’d once again hear some sermon or read some book about prayer, feel guilty, make a commitment to prayer, go a few days…and then quit, again.

Does that sound familiar?

I never really struggled with reading my Bible every day, but prayer? That was entirely different. At that time in my spiritual journey, practices like meditation and journaling weren’t even on my radar screen. That was about to change.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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This post will make more sense if you’ve already read pt. 1

Do you feel like your depth of intimacy with God is an inch deep, while your ministry responsibilities stretch you a mile wide? I want to help you experience God beyond the shallows. I believe it’s possible to go deeper.

Don’t you wish you were more deeply spiritual? Something keeps reminding you that your personal intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing, but there are so many other things that pull you in the opposite direction. There is the person you are and the person you want to be, and you wish you could close that gap. You can. It can close. It will take a lifetime, but it can close little by little.

Movement in the right direction, no matter how small, will eventually get you where you want to be. Moving toward a deeper spirituality through the spiritual practices that will get you there (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, devotional reading, journaling, etc.) is not about giant steps but about baby steps. Here’s three out of nine steps to help you get started.

Step Four: Set specific, realistic, and easily attainable goals.

Don’t settle for vague goals. “I’m going to spend more time with God” is too fuzzy. Be more specific. How many days a week do you want to set aside time for God? Which days will work the best for you? Where will you have these meetings? How much time will you spend with God? Specific goals lead to specific results. Unclear goals lead to unclear results.

Be realistic. Don’t set the bar too high. In fact, I believe the bar should be so low that you can’t help but step over it. It’s better to have easily attainable goals and achieve them than to set yourself up for possible defeat with goals that are too ambitious. If you fail you’ll feel discouraged and unmotivated.

I think a realistic and attainable goal to begin with would be something like three days a week for fifteen to twenty minutes.

I remember suggesting to one pastor that he start with ten minutes, three days a week. He asked me, “What good could ten minutes do?” I replied, “Right now you’re doing nothing. What good is that doing? Going from zero to ten sounds pretty good.” We both laughed.

Step Five: Make yourself accountable.

In my coaching practice I am constantly amazed at the power of accountability when trying to bring about personal change.

Not too long ago, about ten minutes into a coaching call, I asked my coachee (that’s right, that’s what I call them) about an assignment he agreed to during our previous call. I heard laughter.

“What’s funny?”

“I was wondering how long it was gonna take you to ask me that. You know one thing I don’t like about you?”

More laughter.

“What?” I asked curiously.

“I know you will always hold me accountable to the action steps I set for myself. Sometimes, especially if I didn’t do what I said I’d do, I hope that you will forget, but you never do.”

More laughter.

“Well, my job is to either move you forward or make you miserable.”

Even more laughter.

Find someone to be accountable to. Share your goals with someone. Ask them to check in with you either by phone, text, or e-mail once a week or so. Just knowing that they will be asking you how your progress is going will be enough to trigger your pride (that’s right, pride can be used to our advantage) and keep you on track.

Step Six: Be willing to experiment until you find a rhythm and set of practices that work for you.

How you start out might not be the same as how you end up. You might begin with more focus on scripture meditation and a lesser amount of time on journaling; over time, you might reverse that. Silent prayer might work better for you than verbal prayer. I’m really into writing out my prayers. For others this doesn’t work. A devotional book might help…or not. Try silence, or worship, or meditation and reflection. If Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays no longer work for you, then switch to Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

It might take some time and experimentation for you to discover what works for you, and what results in a meaningful time with God. The first way is not the only way and might not be the best way. Find your way and do it until it doesn’t work for you anymore, and then find another way.

Next week: The Pastor, Baby Steps, and a Deeper Spirituality, Pt. 2

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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Baby steps: to make progress on something in small increments (from the 1991 movie What About Bob?).

Bob (Bill Murray): I can’t do that. It’s too big!

Dr. Leo (Richard Dreyfuss): Baby steps, Bob. Baby steps.

Back in my college days I remember taking a psychology class that focused on modern psychology theories. I was the only student in the class who was not pursuing a degree in counseling. By then, I’d been a pastor for about twenty-five years. These students took delight in tearing into me, and pastors in general, for screwing up so many people with “pastoral counseling” instead of pointing them to a professional. They all had some story about how a pastor had scarred them, or someone they knew, for life. It’s hard to argue with someone’s experience, so for the most part, I just sat there silently while thinking to myself, “Oh yeah, like no one’s ever been screwed up by a professional counselor?”

Anyway, one night the professor showed us a clip from the movie What About Bob?, and said Dr. Leo’s baby steps concept was an example of behavioral psychology, a theory of psychology founded by John B. Watson that came into vogue after the release of his 1913 paper, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.”

To put it simply, Watson believed that anyone’s behavior could be changed. Richard Dreyfuss’s character, Dr. Leo, believed this could be accomplished by taking baby steps.

***

Do you feel like your depth of intimacy with God is an inch deep, while your ministry responsibilities stretch you a mile wide? I want to help you experience God beyond the shallows. I believe it’s possible to go deeper.

Don’t you wish you were more deeply spiritual? Something keeps reminding you that your personal intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing, but there are so many other things that pull you in the opposite direction. There is the person you are and the person you want to be, and you wish you could close that gap. You can. It can close. It will take a lifetime, but it can close little by little.

Movement in the right direction, no matter how small, will eventually get you where you want to be. Moving toward a deeper spirituality through the spiritual practices that will get you there (Bible reading, prayer, meditation, devotional reading, journaling, etc.) is not about giant steps but about baby steps. Here’s three out of nine steps to help you get started.

Step One: Ask God for help.

I’ve got to believe it warms the Father’s heart to hear us cry out to Him:

Father, help me to spend time with You. Motivate me, change me, give me a hunger for solitude with You. I want to know You better and experience You more. My willpower is weak but You are strong. Do for me what I cannot do for myself. Cause me to grow in my intimacy with You and help me with the practices that will take me there.

Step Two: Keep your eye on the real goal.

The goal of prayer, journaling, scripture meditation, silence and solitude, worship, fasting, practicing self-denial is not prayer, journaling, scripture meditation, silence and solitude, worship, fasting, and practicing self-denial. These are simply the ways we draw closer to God, or the practices that help us experience God. The goal is quality time with God. What motivates us is the desire to keep company with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Imagine you are carrying around a toolbox with the words Spiritual Formation stenciled on the outside. Inside you find a number of tools you can pull out and use to deepen your soul and draw closer to Jesus. The goal is not the tools. The tools just help you with your project.

Step Three: Expect a fight.

Developing a spiritual life that is meaningful and consistent is hard work. It will not come about without resistance. Sometimes keeping company with God will be effortless. Other times being alone with God will be sabotaged by interruptions, distractions, procrastination, and a strange inner struggle that causes you to avoid the very thing you want.

Coming up next? The Pastor, Baby Steps, and a Deeper Spirituality, pt. 2

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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