Be a Good Christian. Disagree with Your Pastor.

Growing up in church, I was always conscious of what constituted a “good Christian.” The fundamentalist churches I grew up in had a lot of rules against which we could judge ourselves (and others). We couldn’t go to movies or drink alcohol or wear jeans to worship services. And we were taught that good Christians conformed. We were not to conform to the world, but we were supposed to conform to each other.

The fundamentalism of my youth always seemed to push us toward homogeny. People were expected to dress in similar ways, to have similar haircuts, to talk the same way, to use the same version of the Bible. And this push for homogeny went deeper. We all had the same worldview, voted for the same candidates, and believed the same things about God, humanity, and life. Read More…

Trading One Fundamentalism For Another

I am not the first person to leave fundamentalism. In some ways, my story is not all that unique. What makes it somewhat different than many similar stories I have heard, however, is that when I left fundamentalism, I actually left fundamentalism. A lot of people don’t do this. They just trade one fundamentalism for another.

I know people who have left the kind of Christian fundamentalism I grew up in. They grew tired of trying to live by the standards of no swearing, no alcohol, no movies, no rock music. They wanted to smoke a cigar or try a different Bible version or got a divorce. And so they left their independent, fundamental Baptist church. But for many of these people, the passion they once exerted toward the issues of Christian fundamentalism got redirected into something new.  Read More…

Uncomfortably Numb: a reflection

I am one of those people who sometimes has a hard time admitting how I feel. In fact, I’ve realized over the years that I will feel something for a period of time before I have the words to express it. This can be very frustrating for Vanessa. She’s very good at taking other people’s emotional temperatures. There are times when she’ll ask me if I am upset about something, and I will tell her “No,” only to realize later that I actually am. Before I have the words to name my feelings, I have a hard time admitting and expressing them.

Last night, I discovered the words to describe how I’ve been feeling lately: Numb. Uncomfortably numb, in fact. Read More…

Hope for the Depressed Pastor

On his blog today, Thom Rainer sites a Lifeway Research survey of pastors about depression and loneliness. What they found is that depression among the pastoral population is very common.

I didn’t need a survey to know this. I know this from experience.

I am often lonely and depressed as a pastor. Recently, Vanessa and I did some research into our personalities. We learned that people with my personality take criticism so personally that it can actually be paralyzing. It’s not that I don’t think criticism is helpful or valid. I do. But when criticism comes, it triggers something in me that makes me want to climb under the covers and stay there.

But when I think back on the most depressed and lonely I have ever been, it wasn’t necessarily criticism that sent me in that direction. It was the evolution of my theology that put me out of sync with my fundamentalist church upbringing.

I was pastoring a fundamentalist church in Michigan before we moved to Arkansas to start Vintage. Through a series of events – most notably, turning 30 and preaching through Genesis – I realized that I felt like I was wasting my life and spinning my wheels. I was faking it on Sunday mornings. I was pretending to be excited. I was pretending to believe the pat answers of fundamentalism. I was pretending to have all the answers.

This lack of authenticity sent me into a spiritual and emotional spiral that I didn’t pull out of for months. I credit the patience of Vanessa, the words of people like Brian McLaren, and the renewed hope of doing something risky like starting Vintage for helping me climb out of my hole.

There are a lot of reasons why we talk about authenticity so much at Vintage. I think, for instance, that faith requires authenticity. In other words, we can’t be Christians unless we are real. But I also push Vintage to be a place where people can be themselves because that’s what I need. When we started Vintage, I was fond of saying that I needed to pastor a church that I would go to even if I wasn’t be paid. I have to be authentic so that I don’t go back to that very dark place.

I’ve got a lot of sympathy for depressed pastors. I’ve been. I’m sure I’ll be there again. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess. And let us hold out hope for one another.


Experimenting with Sacred Space

We are starting something new at Vintage. We are obliterating small groups as we have known them. No longer are we going to get together to do Bible studies and spent more time yapping. We are abandoning the old small group convention for this radical idea that we actually do stuff together. You know, not just being hearers of the word but doers also. We are calling them Experimental Collectives, and we’re relying heavily on the wonderful work of our friend Mark Scandrette to help us reimagine what it means for us to gather together during the week.

Our Oversight Team and a few others are spending the next six weeks or so immersing ourselves in our new approach. We have formed a collective that will help us to dive deep into the areas we will focus on throughout the year: authenticity, simplicity, purpose, freedom, and community. Last night, we met and began to explore authenticity. We talked about what our true identity is before God and the things that keep us from living in that identity. We also talked about the things that can help us to reconnect with our authentic selves: nature, solitude, creativity, silence, and stillness. We spent 20 minutes together in silence. It was moving.

We also decided together to do an experiment this week. We decided to find or create a sacred space for ourselves. We all need places in which we can be still. We all need holy ground where we can be quiet before God to pray and listen. This week, we’re each going to try to find where that place can be in our lives.

Here are some ideas I’ve got about how to find or create a sacred space in your life:

Find or make a beautiful place.
Several years ago, I stumbled upon a small stone chapel not far from my workplace. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. I started eating my lunch there three or four times a week. I talked with God more during that time than many others in my life. It was holy ground to me. But sacred spaces don’t have to be stone chapels. They can be a bench in your backyard garden or a comfortable chair in the corner of your room with a side table for an icon, a candle, your Bible, and your prayer journal. Sacred space can be the spot on your back porch where you sit quietly with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and a cigar. Look or make a place, that when you go there, your heart aches a little bit. Don’t worry about what other people think. Your sacred space needs to be beautiful to you and connect with your soul, not anyone else’s.

Engage your senses.
Candles. Incense. Art. Gardens. Music. Rosary beads. All of these things have a way of transporting us. Go to a museum. Visit the local botanical garden. When you sit down in your chair, light a special candle as a way of signifying that this time of sitting is something different. Breathe deeply. Touch. And see and smell and listen to what is around you. God is all around you.

Sometimes a sacred space can be a path that you hike once a week. Or a prayer labyrinth that forces you to slow down and enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Getting out in nature and exercising your muscles actually opens you up to be more aware of where you are and who you are. If you are the kind of person who really struggles sitting still, maybe an intentional walk alone would be a better way to create a sacred space in your mind.

Be intentional.
Sometimes, sacred spaces happen on accident, but for most of us, if we are going to quiet ourselves in stillness before God, we need to do it regularly and consciously. Maybe that’s everyday. Maybe it’s every week. Maybe it’s just good to know that it’s there when you need. Don’t let your scared space be something that produces guilt or shame because you don’t go there enough. Guilt and shame are not from God. Sacred spaces are an invitation to enter into our true selves before God.

How about you? Do you have any experiences with sacred spaces? Have you created a place in your home to be still? Do you have some place special, some holy ground, that you go to when you need to be quiet and think and pray?


1 2 3  Scroll to top