Life’s Too Short – Reality Check

My “Life’s Too Short” posts have mainly been about my experiences in ministry.

However, they started with an initial public confession to let go of some anger I had in my life unrelated to the institutional church. It was a personal statement meant to be a marker in my life. As I reflected on that confession, it seemed important to me to share some of my story and church history as a way of communicating both the good and the bad of what it means to be a minister in the church. It is meant to be a glimpse behind the curtain of one man’s experience as a “professional Christian”.

This post will return to the highly personal category. It is a reality check of sorts as to what is important in life. It is a reminder to me that life is a fragile, unknown commodity that we must cherish. It is too easy to stay angry, or stay stuck, or look backwards or have a brainful of “what ifs”, “what shoulds” and “what might have beens”.

In continuation of my last post, life is too short to live fighting in church meetings, running from petition signers and battling deacon boards. Life is also too short to have as your epitaph, “he had solid theology and was an effective church planter” as some Emergent church leader described what he wanted to be known for. Just over a year ago, I was spending a majority of my life working, trying to think of ways to make money, stay afloat financially and consumed with being an important “player” in the circles I ran. This cost me valuable time with the people I loved and took my focus off what was truly important.

After Cristi and I separated, I spent a tremendous amount of energy here at SCP. This was a transference of sorts from one good thing to another good thing, and I thank God for the distractions of SCP…but it too wasn’t that important. You can get lost doing lots of good things and miss out on very valuable things… like the people in your life. One reason I got into ministry was because I wanted to minister to people the way the church ministered to me when my dad died at the age of twelve. I wanted, in some way, to give back to the church (people) what had been given to me.

I have completely lost that focus. In ways, I have completely lost my mind on this subject. Recently I was told I was a completely thoughtless and hurtful individual because I failed to take into account a friends feelings. Instead of responding appropriately, I defended my actions and tried to spin the story in my favor. Yesterday, I was informed of something my son had shared about wanting to be closer to me, and my only response was to make excuses and defend myself and my actions. I am a sad, selfish individual. If I died today, my epitaph could read, “Still Ego-Driven After All These Years”.

Now, I still see glimpses of the old Steve in here occasionally. I am capable of reaching out to others, I just choose to do the opposite most of the time. A slogan of many churches these days is “Love God, Love Others”. I have seen that many places and once adopted it for my own mission statement. It’s really all God requires of us to please Him.

Cristi and I have a friend named Ginger that has been in the background of life over the past year. Her story has served as an undercurrent to much of the turmoil in my life. Occasional thoughts of her and her situation only made me feel guilty, so I quickly ignored it or buried it so as to stay in my own little world. It felt so good to live and wallow in the mud and muck of self-pity. It’s time to get out of that pit. To get back to the very basics of life. The golden rule comes to mind, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I learned that when I was 5 or 6 years old.

I don’t think I am thoughtless, I just think I am action-less. Over the past year I have transcribed many good thoughts on subjects, but I have taken very little (if any) action. It doesn’t have to be grandiose. It can be the smallest of things. Telling someone they are special. Sending them a card to let them know you are thinking about them. Not just saying you will get together for that lunch, but actually scheduling that lunch to get together. Taking my kids to the park more, playing games, singing silly songs… making memories. I don’t like these confessions, because I might be required to do something about them. People are watching…both big and small. I have a responsibility to live my life in service to others. Hmph…what do you know, I still have a calling after all.

Love God.

Love Others.

It’s really the only way to live. I guess that is the most solid theology I can muster.

Life’s Too Short – Called to Ministry

After feeling a “call” to the ministry, I left my home church to work and serve at a church in Alvin, Texas (a town made famous as the home of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan). At the age of nineteen, I found myself with the title of “Pastor to Youth”. Here I was, a kid leading kids.

This experience was the equivalent of being thrown in a pool to learn how to swim. I was fortunate to have interned at my home church for about two years (after graduating high school) and to have had constant interaction with my Youth Pastor. I would call him weekly, sometimes daily, basically borrowing all of my ideas and plans and making them mine.

I remember my first parents meeting. Parents were asking me questions, grilling me, challenging me… man, was I out of my league. I had never been so scared in all of my life. Looking back on it, I realize that it might have just been my immaturity that made that experience seem so daunting, but nonetheless, I pretty much wanted to quit every Monday.

After leaving Alvin, I became youth pastor at a church on the west side of Houston. It was perfect because it was closer to the University and it paid me enough that I could live on my own. I was now 21 and it was at this time I truly began to find my stride and somewhat come into my own.

At First Baptist, I also encountered a healthy dose of church politics. During this time (circa 1986), the debate was raging among Southern Baptists regarding the “inerrancy issue”. Was the Bible the inerrant, infallible word of God? My pastor held to a very strict view of this on the side of “inerrancy” and clashed with some members of our congregation over it.

There was quite a battle. Several long (some lasting several hours) deacons meetings, church meetings and staff meetings ensued. Petitions were passed and signed to remove our pastor from office. The pastor used his pulpit to reinforce his viewpoints and defend himself. The schism grew wider and wider as the church staff, the people, families and ultimately our church divided over the issue.

On one Sunday morning, our entire staff (sans one) stood and resigned together. We left and started another church and had our first meeting that very night. It was very sad. It was a divorce. No one wins. Everyone loses.

What I found is that most of the people really didn’t care about the inerrancy issue. I didn’t. They cared about “being right” or being on the “winning side”. The entire thing was driven by a handful of people on both sides of the issue. Church splits are caused by Stupid Church People. They are caused by ego-driven people trying to get their own needs met. These are the epitome of SCP moments.

Although painful, this set in motion my desire to truly discover what church was meant to be. I began reading books (even non-Southern Baptist books – oh my) about church structure and dynamics. This event resulted in me eventually leaving the church to go back to school full-time to earn my degree. Good things did evolve from those painful experiences. I went to different churches, watched and met with other church leaders, listened more and spoke less. It was a time of growth and personal development.

But the “call” to ministry in my life remained strong. I am not sure entirely what being “called” means. My “home church” pastor told me before ordaining me that if I could do anything else other than be a pastor I should do it. He said I would know I wasn’t “called” if I felt it was “just a job”. He also told me to never quit on Mondays.

The “call” is hard to explain, but I hear others use it outside of ministry. It is being passionate about something, having to do that “calling” above all else. I wanted to be a pastor, but I didn’t want to waste my life fighting in church meetings, running from petition signers and battling deacon boards. There had to be a better way, a different way…and there was (well sort of).

Davidic Questions

No I am not talking about David from the Old Testament. I am referring to “The David of Tulsa” who on my last post asked these very insightful questions.

My question, Steve: Is it not true that the base idea of the surreal SCP’s contrasted with the reality based christians (non-SCPs) is that by being fake and unrelatable the church has lost it’s ability to reach the unsaved population? If so, why not more conversation about reaching the lost?

Here is my thoughtful and knee-jerk response to his questions.

David… lots of loaded questions and since I have been drinking a bit I might be actually able to answer them. If I was completely sober I wouldn’t have a chance in hell….

I think the real question could be whether or not it is the church’s purpose (according to Christ) to “reach” (whatever that means) the “unsaved” (whatever that means). I think I know what you mean and I am not trying to be difficult but I think we like to qualify and quantify things too much.

I think the Church (big “C”) is unable to effectively communicate and dialogue with the culture that it resides in…. possibly due in part because it might not be meant to do so.

I do think the responsibility of the Church (big “C”) is to get the church (little “c”) it integrate, assimilate and affiliate itself with the culture. To “become all things to all men”.

In doing this the Church more completely accomplishes the great commission… “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind AND love your neighbor AS you love yourself”.

So to answer your question, why not more conversation about reaching the lost? I respond with others, “What does that really mean?, Who are the lost?, Is that how we are to best spend our time and resources?, Is that really our job?” These are off the top of my head questions, challenging my own thinking on the subject…and, please remember, after three margaritas, on the rocks with salt.

No where near to drawing final conclusions on these and other questions, but I sure do like asking them.

So there you have it. I thought, what the hell, why not share it over here and let you smart people dialogue about it and give me and David a piece of your mind. Let it fly.

Not So Stupid Church People

The other morning I was watching CNN and saw a story about college students who were using their Spring Break to go down to New Orleans and assist folks there in cleaning up. The morning host interviewed two of the students who were part of Campus Crusade for Christ group, and I was deeply impressed and strongly encouraged by their commitment and the manner in which they spoke while being interviewed. They didn’t use Christian lingo. They said the word “like” about a million times each, sprinkling it throughout the dialogue. They didn’t say “the Lord” at each and every opportunity to “get the message out”. They were nervous, anxious, excited, enthusiastic, genuine and pretty damn funny.

In short, these kids appeared N-O-R-M-A-L.

Remember what being “NORMAL” means?

I am so glad CNN or the leadership over at Campus Crusade used these students to tell the story. Imagine how different it would have been had one of the uppity-ups over at that organization had been interviewed. Maybe it wouldn’t have sounded different, but I think it would have been filled with God-language and platitudes.

These students sounded like, well, students. Real students. Normal students.

They were church people mind you, but they were “Not So Stupid Church People”.

In their own little world most of the time, church people “dumb themselves down” to the rest of society hence the appropriateness of our name for them – “Stupid Church People”. My biggest problem with most church people I know (myself included in the very near past) is how utterly ignorant we are of our culture. Oh, we think we are being “relevant” and that is one of our watchwords or mottos, but we are so completely and thoroughly clueless. Most (especially many full-time church leaders) have lost their ability to write, speak or even communicate on a daily basis in such a way as to be truly relevant. Some attempt to do so, but fall short.

One thing I have realized is that this “sub-culture” is so ingrained in me, that I may never recover. But there is hope in our youth. It is our job to help those that come after us to be a different kind of Christian. If someone chooses to enter into the sub-culture of church, do so responsibly. Church leaders should seek to assist those within their congregation to develop “normal” lives… not one that is codependent on church gatherings, small groups or meetings. This doesn’t breed anything other than isolation from those the church is seeking to influence – the real world.

NORMAL. Sounds nice. We should all try it sometime.

I think “Not So Stupid Church People” might be a great name for a website for stories like this. I know there are plenty of believers in the world, even some church people, that are making a difference with no hidden agendas. Not many, but some. They are offering things to people, contributing to society, assisting those in need without wanting anything in return or hoping to promote their church. They are writing, creating music, painting, drawing and creating for the love of the art. Some are just everyday people that go to work, come home, coach their kids soccer teams, are good neighbors and kind people for absolute no reason at all – except that is what you are supposed to be. Not extraordinary people but simply ordinary, you know…..NORMAL.

But we don’t need a website called “Not So Stupid Church People”, because that’s what this website is about anyway. It’s not only about pointing out the “stupid” in the church (although that’s what pays the bills and brings people in – it’s a kind of reverse, twisted “church growth” way of doing it). SCP is about promoting the “not so stupid church person” and we have done it and will do it every chance we get….we’d love to do it more, but it’s a rare and endangered species.

Life’s Too Short – Early Lessons

I grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist church in Texas. I was licensed and ordained as a Southern Baptist pastor (excuse me, that’s Reverend Steve to you) in that church. My mom still attends this church. The things we did back in the day are highly “stupidesque”. As a matter of fact, the church I attended as a youth hasn’t changed that much, except in Saddleback fashion they dropped Baptist from their name a few years back. Now that caused quite a commotion.

Get this, the church I grew up in was featured in the Wittenburg Door’s “Truth is Stranger than Fiction” section many years ago. Oooohhhh… now that hurts. (If you are not familiar, “Truth is Stranger than Fiction” is part of The Door’s magazine where they show church ads or Christian news stories that are high on the Stupid Church People meter).

Now although this church was and is full of people that do Stupid Church People things, it was also the launching pad for shaping and building my character and beliefs for better and worse. On one hand, I can blame much of the teachings of this church for giving me a staunch black and white conservatism regarding people that “are not like me” in religion and society. They also were the foundation for much of my misconceptions about sexuality, personal relationships, gender roles, movies, books and the arts in general. I became a product of their system, where church attendance and keeping up appearances bordered on addiction.

Yet looking back, I have always felt that this church was home and family. Although this church is mega (about 2,500 people or so) I am always recognized and welcomed warmly when I return. My mom still attends, as do many of my childhood friends and their families. The Pastor who started the church in 1968 as a 26 year old man still preaches every Sunday morning. Although much has changed cosmetically over the years, not much has changed internally from what I can tell when I listen to sermons and hear my mom talk about the people, although she can’t believe “we aren’t Baptist anymore” (her interpretation of them removing Baptist from the church sign). There is a comfort and familiarity at the church, and it is based in the commitment and consistency of the leadership.

The pastor, Bro. John, did shape me in many ways as a progressive teacher and leader for his times. Wherever I have served or attended church, I have recounted things that he has done as a pastor that were revolutionary and very forward thinking. Many churches could benefit from them today.

For example, back in the 70’s, Bro. John felt impressed from his understanding of Scripture that no church (or person) should ever have debt in their life (homes possibly being the one exception). He felt that churches that were in debt are tied and “in bondage” to their lender, and the monies going to pay interest on the debt was a misuse of the offerings that were being given. So he led our church to retire all of our debt.

In the midst of this campaign, Bro. John didn’t think that it was right that offerings were taken during the services. He felt it interrupted the service, put the focus on money and not God and made visitors feel compelled to give. He also felt that if people were called by God to give, they would do so. Receptacles were placed at the back of the room where people could place their offerings at any point.

Everywhere I have been, I have made the challenge to pastors to drop the offerings from their services, because I see it as such an innovative idea that could lead to a certain type of “reform” within the mindset of the people that attend. It has been met with resistance at every turn. We are willing to be so creative in our worship, in our sermons and in our advertising, but why not this? We talk about faith, but can’t imagine that people wouldn’t give unless we put an empty plate in front of their faces. That has always raised an eyebrow with me.

So thanks Bro. John for teaching me some things about family and faith. These are two of the things I took from my upbringing and early church life. I still believe pastors and churches are centrally about these two elements and instilling and risking for both. Family and faith: Two of the reasons I left the church and probably two of the reasons I will return.

More to come in part 4…..

Life’s Too Short – Part Deux

My recent post “Life’s Too Short” was (appropriately) short, sweet and to the point. Brevity is a blessing (especially to those who think I am a bit loquacious at times)! The subject of my post, although unnamed, was not institutional as some may have thought, but was highly personal. As Ninja Nun so adequately ascertained, it was a post that was meant more for me than any of you… it was my public profession of faith in myself to strive to rise above something that will certainly destroy me and those around me if I allow it.

This post and the next will be different. I want to address the institutional church and those that I have served with in the past. I have no idea how far-reaching this stupid site has become. If you google my name, it won’t take you long to find me here.

So, in this gigantic yet very intimate world that we live, I am certain some church leaders I have known from my past have stumbled across this site and wondered if I have gone crazy, or worse, how is it that I have backslidden so far. For those in that category (or those innocent onlookers that wonder the same thing), this post is for you.

It has been my pleasure to work alongside some very talented and gifted men and women. There are many that I owe a great deal for the way they have shaped and influenced my life and thinking. From my early childhood, into my youth and young adult days, and throughout the middle part of my life and now… at each place I have been, there have been many that have impacted me and made a difference. Leaders, co-workers and those that I served have been a part of the fabric of my life that I will cherish and never forget.

So is Stupid Church People about some of these people and places? Well, I wish I could say that it wasn’t, but that isn’t the case. But this doesn’t mean that just because I am critical of those places in my past that I don’t respect and care for those that were a part of those places. In part three, I will explain…..