Posts

During the moments you find yourself in crisis and you are questioning your faith, in whom do you place your faith? As you explore your faith, see if one of the following scenarios feels familiar:

Scenario 1

You have a strong faith. It has been growing since you were a teenager and has served you well through your young adult years, marriage, and starting a family. Then, the unthinkable happens, you lose a child to sudden infant death, or a family member is killed in a form of violence, or there is a betrayal of a close and trusted relationship. Walking through the reality of the grief and pain of that experience does not allow you the option to pretend you are fine. In fact, you finally admit that you have not been fine for quite some time.

You have kept the questions, good Christians aren’t supposed to ask about their beliefs, below the surface, but now they are bubbling up out of your control. Up to this point, you have avoided facing them head-on. You feel fine until you experience grief on a deeply personal level. The devastation has you facing your doubts and you realize your system of beliefs is no longer adequate. 

Scenario 2

You have been a Christian for over 30 years. Your faith has formed every aspect of your life, your wedding vows, the raising of your children, your relationships at work, your participation in the church, and your leadership in the community. It has formed you as a coach in the youth basketball league, your position on the town council, and as a volunteer in a service club.

You have a conversation with your most trusted friend. You say out loud what has been churning in your mind and heart for years. “I don’t really believe there is a God. Whatever faith is it does not work for me.”

Until now, you have been able to control your thoughts and emotions, but you do not want to wrestle with them any longer. You don’t want to seem irresponsible but going through the motions of your faith has you questioning your integrity. There’s something inside you that says, “I just want to feel normal, to be known for who you really am, and to have some inner peace with myself.” 

Transitions of Faith

If any of what you just read feels familiar, you might be one of the many persons going through a faith transition. Mike McHargue, known as Science Mike, has gone through a faith transition from believer to atheist, and then back to a believer. He has wrestled, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally with his faith.

He writes, “Sociologists tell us that 43 to 44 percent of people will go through a major faith transition at some point in their lives.” He continues, “And that’s any faith transition. So that can be from one Christian denomination to another denomination; that can be from belief to atheism; that can also be from secularism to some form of religiosity.”

“The more rigid your faith structure, the more drastic the leap of faith required to start asking questions surrounding it.” He points out, “To ask one question will lead to a lot more.”

So, why would I want to bring up such a subject? As a pastor or a leader, you are surrounded by people who are wrestling with faith. Whether it is in the pew or in the community, people are looking for authentic experiences of care, compassion, and belonging.

You and I find such authentic experiences in Jesus. 

So, the question is, why would anyone want to transition from Jesus to someone other than Jesus? The answer is, they are not transitioning from Jesus but from the objects that keep them from Jesus. Below are several of those objects. I name the following challenges, recognizing some might elicit controversy. I also recognize until we name the challenges, I cannot lead people in addressing the challenges. 

Objects of Misplaced Faith

1.The Bible

The written word of God points us to the Word of God, Jesus. Jesus is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the center of faith. The Bible points us to Jesus.

Today, many Christians overstate the importance of the Bible. For some, the Bible is the focus or object of their faith. 

But remember, our faith is in Jesus. When your faith is in Jesus, then you are able to have open and safe conversations about the truth of the Bible. There can be questions raised about inconsistencies and contradictions, discrepancies and mistranslations. 

Raising questions about scripture does not make the Bible less important. In fact, the questions lead to the truth the writers of the biblical texts give witness. In the end, the Bible, with all its debatable mistakes and misquotes, still points us to Jesus, God’s love and our hope made flesh. 

But when the Bible becomes the object you worship, when what you worship is the Bible, not Jesus, a conversation about scripture is a threat. Once you start questioning the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, the rest of your faith soon crumbles.

Faith is centered on who you trust, not centered in what you believe. Jesus never asked anyone to have a belief in God, but he did ask people to love God and to love their neighbors. Jesus called people to a way of life. He said, “Follow me, be my disciples.” Living life as a Jesus follower is different than saying I believe in God or I believe in Jesus. 

Belief is important, but what you believe is not the focus of your faith. Jesus is. So, I say again,

people are not transitioning from Jesus but from rigid beliefs that keep them from Jesus. 

2. The Pastor:

A good spiritual leader is essential. Having someone you trust to walk with you through periods of doubt, despair, and discouragement, who can help you keep your eyes upon Jesus, and who models God’s love feels unbelievably good. 

But your pastor is not the center of your faith. Your pastor points you to the person who is the center of your faith, Jesus. 

When your faith is in Jesus, you are able to listen to and follow the persons gifted and called by God to love and lead in and through the church. Regardless of gender, race, age, politics, or status, when a person is gifted and equipped by God to love who God loves, then Jesus is at the center of all relationships. 

But when your faith is centered in the pastor, you focus more upon what the pastor believes than upon Jesus to whom the pastor is pointing. Once the pastor does not believe what you believe or act the way you want him or her to act, then your faith begins to wander. 

When your faith is centered in the pastor, then only a certain kind of pastor will do. Or, even more misdirected, only a certain, handpicked, interviewed, and approved pastor will do. So, your allegiance is centered on the pastor and not in Jesus. 

Pastoral leadership is important, but your pastor is not the focus of your faith. Jesus is. So, I say again, people are not transitioning from Jesus but from our misplaced allegiance that keeps them from Jesus. 

3. The Church

It is the church, as an institution, that gets in the way. When the church as a system of hierarchical control with political entanglements, abuse of authority, lack of integrity, becomes the center of faith, pastors leave their pulpits and people leave the pews as well as the faith altogether. 

Jesus is the reason the church exists. So, when Jesus is not the focus of the church, what is the use of the church? 

When the church is an instrument of pointing people to Jesus, nurturing them in the faith, and sending them out to love and serve, then people are drawn to Jesus and to Jesus’ followers. People need such institutions as instruments or conduits of faith.

But when the church becomes nothing more than a club where membership has its privileges, where an open and safe conversation is discouraged, where people are received based upon their acceptability, and where the building has more value than the people to whom the church is called to love and serve, you have a problem. 

The community of faith, the church, is important, but the church as an institution, as a building, as a special club is not the focus of your faith. 

So, I say again, people are not transitioning from Jesus but from the lack of care, compassion, and belonging in a Christian community. 

Navigating the Objects of Misplaced Faith

So, what are you to do as people attempt to navigate the objects of misplaced faith? How will you respond as people search for authentic expressions of faith? In the midst of crisis, doubt, and transition, your leadership is needed. I challenge you to do the following: 

  • Be clear within yourself in whom you place your faith.

Is your faith in the person of Jesus? If not Jesus, in whom or what do you place your faith?

  • Provide space for persons to question, explore, and discover their faith.

People need non-judgmental space to ask their questions and to explore. Your church is a place where everyone is welcome. It is also a place where people, all people, can wrestle with doubt and find the faith for which they are desperately searching. 

  • Be a person of authentic care, compassion, and acceptance 

You don’t have to be an expert, but you do have to be authentic. Both humility and vulnerability are needed in assisting persons in exploring faith. Pay attention to what others are learning from their exploration. It will help you become more who God created you to be. 

  • Continue to point people to Jesus.

People are searching for deep and meaningful relationships. Be aware of appropriate moments when you can point people to Jesus, your deepest and most meaningful relationship. 

The people in our communities and in our churches are looking for authentic experiences of care, compassion, and belonging. I find such authentic experiences in Jesus. The Bible, the pastor, and the church are instruments through which people discover, experience, and follow Jesus. 

In the midst of such uncertain days of exploration and transition, in whom do you place your faith?

Some of you are stepping into new appointments in a few weeks. You will transition from one congregation to another, learn the names and lives of another group of Jesus followers, and develop life-long relationships which will bring meaning to your lives.

Others of you will return to faith communities where you are investing your lives in developing relationships, learning the needs and assets of the congregation, and engaging the congregation with the community.

Whether stepping into a new appointment or returning to a congregation, I want to remind you of three basic practices for leaders.

Three Essential Practices Transforming MissionPractice 1: Prayer

The first practice is Prayer. As a pastor, I learned early that most people wanted something from me or wanted me to do something for them. Early in my ministry, I liked the idea of being needed and wanted. The demand-filled day was welcomed. It was nice to be needed. After a while I realized that all requests for my time and energy were urgent. Even the trivial actions were dressed in words of importance.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but the edge of the flattery began to wear off when I realized no one demanded that I practice a life of prayer. Even though I thought prayer was at the heart of my ministry, I was not praying. Oh, I prayed in worship and in public events, but I was not personally listening to God or guiding others into listening to God.

It was only when I began to intentionally focus upon prayer and to develop a life of prayer that I began to focus upon God’s desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of prayer. Please don’t let the urgent keep you from focusing on and listening to God.

Practice 2: Reading, Reflecting, and Responding to the Scriptures

The second practice is the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures. Again, early in my ministry, I found myself reading, teaching, and preaching the Scriptures more for information than for formation. Although reading and reflecting upon the Scripture was basic to my work, I began to realize that using the Scripture was not the same as listening to God.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but I began to recognize that I was out of relationship with God and with God’s people. I began to understand that a major part of my work was to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. So, I began to study Scripture more for formation. I began to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. I began to ask God to help improve the acoustics so I could reflect and respond more clearly.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures that I discovered more of God’s design and desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of Bible study. Develop a pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding to Scripture. Improve the acoustics so you can hear God more often and more clearly.

Practice 3: Self-Awareness and Self-Leadership

The third practice is to be who God created you to be. Over the years of my ministry, I have wasted too much time and energy focused upon pleasing people. There have been times when I have lost myself in wanting people to like me. My insecurity showed up when I worked harder for compliments than I did at caring and compassion.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but trying to be all things to all people got old in a hurry. I learned that for me to be my best was to be who God created me to be. So, I surrounded myself with people who loved me as I was but who would not let me stay the way I was.

Through the development of mature and intimate relationships, I learned and experienced God’s love in life-transforming ways. I was encouraged to be who God created me to be which set me free to lead courageously with hope.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon developing caring relationships that I truly began to trust God and the people around me. It was when I began to be who God created me to be that I began to live the life God desired for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of getting to know yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you and who will clear a space for you to be who God created you to be. It will be in living out God’s design for your life that you will make the greatest impact upon family, friends, and congregation.

You and I have the opportunity to shape the course of our lives. As you enter this next season of your work, develop a life of prayer; and, read, reflect, and respond to the Scriptures. Let’s grow together in becoming the leaders God has created us to be.

Are you participating in Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians – Gospel of Grace daily reading plan? I am.

My participation in this study is making a difference in the way I understand the scriptures. I am learning something each day. However, this study has been more formational than informational. The daily pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding is shaping my thinking from deep within.

It might seem strange, but over the years of my ministry, I studied the scriptures more for preaching sermons and leading Bible Studies than for spiritual growth and personal maturity. I have often fallen into the category described by William Sloan Coffin, “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk does a lamppost, more for support than for illumination.”

Read more

Sometimes when I gather for the business of the church, expecting a report, I receive invitations that surprise and move me. You may have been there with me when I heard this invitation. Perhaps you heard the invitation at another location or even watched on a video in the days following.

As I sat in the sanctuary at Peace UMC – Pickerington listening to Bishop Palmer debrief General Conference proceedings, we were invited to respond in several ways. Two of those responses included studying Galatians and A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

Listening to the invitation shared with all of us, I was surprised by my response. There were no plans detailed, but I was being nudged by two very different thoughts. First, with a question of curiosity, “Why Galatians?” Second, with an imperative, “Study Galatians.”

Following Jesus Every Day

As has often happened in my journey with Christ, when I hear an invitation, a message, a prompting that piques my curiosity, I jump in…with both feet…to the deep end of the pool. That’s my mojo when it comes to following Jesus every day: I’m all in.

That’s exactly what happened with Galatians.

I would love to tell you the imperative touched me at the depths of my soul to “study Galatians” was because of memories of the complexity, beauty, and challenge of this book. That wasn’t the case. I’d studied Paul’s Prison Epistles, I’d taught Romans, I’d explored many of Paul’s letters. But, most of my time with the Book of Galatians was spent in Chapter 5. You know, the chapter where Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit.

Follow Jesus every day by studying the book of Galatians. We offer a reading plan, reflection questions, and a daily prayer. #bible #scripture #biblestudy #galatians #prayer #pray #transformingmission Transforming MissionThe Transformative Power of Scripture

As I began to explore the letter, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, I found myself seeing the diversity of gifts offered in the church, the tension of our current situation as United Methodists, and the gospel of grace Paul challenges us to live in new ways. I am encouraged, challenged, and humbled as I continue to study the Scriptures.

The transformative power of studying the Scriptures comes in the challenge of living out what I am learning. Said differently, it’s in following Jesus every day that the Scripture moves from words on a page to life-giving fuel for our soul.

The study of Galatians continues to offer that reminder.

As a result, Tim and I started working on a reading plan for Galatians to share with you after Easter. Because many of us were listening that day, a team of us from across the conference are working to create resources for worship and small groups. Watch for more information very soon.

An Invitation


Today, we invite you to a daily study of Galatians we’re calling, Follow Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace. The daily study runs April 22- June 2, coinciding with all other conference resources being developed. We’ll journey through each chapter and verse of Galatians, offering questions for reflection, a daily prayer, and opportunities to interact online.

Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace can be used as a companion or independently from the conference resources being developed.