But my feet are kinda frozen on terra firma

This meandering little piece could alternately be titled “In the Bleak Midwinter” or simply “Midwinter Melancholy.”

Do you remember the ol’ children’s finger-play about the church/steeple/people?  It might have done more harm than good, because it started out wrong with the words “Here is the church,” while indicating a representation of the building.  Most folks still have trouble realizing that people are the church.

I think about church a lot, and not only on Sundays.  What is church?  What has it been—for me, for others?  What could it or should it be?  I daydream,¹ and I become disillusioned, and I gain some energy or hope once in a while.  A week or so ago, on my go-to “simple church” blog, I read about God’s being on the move, and I was at once inspired and repelled.  Inspired, because I like thinking of a God who is as active as in the old times.  Repelled, because I don’t sense the motion right now.   Regardless, I do like the ideals below, from this blog.  Try them on, opposite your concept of “church”:

  • It’s about a Jesus-lifestyle, not an organization to belong to
  • It’s about being God’s people 24/7, not attending meetings or “services”
  • It’s about incarnating God into the world, not attracting people to a clubhouse
  • It’s about gathering in a participatory manner rather than being priest-led
  • It’s about leadership that empowers and releases rather than controls
  • It’s about discipling by relationship rather than by program

– Roger Thoman, Simple Church Journal (edited)

So what do you think of those affirmations?  I would say very similar things, but I eventually become disappointed by ideals:  they only go so far when there’s no motion—or any real hope of motion.

Remember the song “I’m Pressing On”?  It begins like this:

I’m pressing on the upward way.  New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day.

Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856-1926)

Hmm.  I press on most of the time, but I feel like a flatlander, not a height-gaining mountain climber.  Another stanza begins,

I have no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay.
But still I’ll pray ’til heav’n I’ve found, ‘My prayer, my aim is higher ground.’

Like Oatman, I have no desire to stay where I am, and my aim is higher.  Still, actually, I don’t feel like there’s foreseeable “advancement.”  God might well be “on the move,” as suggested in the blog referred to above, but I don’t feel as if I’m part of that right now.  I feel like my feet are frozen.  Will the frostbite keep me from reaching “higher ground,” or will I deal with the numbness and tingling, brave the headwind, and plod on?

Oh, for like-minded souls—whether we deal more in the personal sphere or the “church” one.  Or maybe just a couple good friends who will accompany me across the snowy tundra, sharing struggles and wonderings and possibilities. . . .

B. Casey, 1/11/20 – 1/29-20

¹ See this page as an evidence of some rather intense daydreaming.

Of confinement and freedom

These inspirational quotations come directly from Roger Thoman’s blog.   The original source is Francis Chan, Letters to the Church.

Church, the answer is not to build bigger and nicer cages. Nor is it to renovate the cages so they look more like the wild.  It’s time to open the cages, remind the animals of their God-given instincts and capabilities, and release them into the wild.

There are elements of modern churches that on the surface seem like good ideas, but they can actually keep us from the biblical vision of unity, true fellowship, mutual love, and pursuit of the mission.  Too many look at these elements and insist you can’t have a church without them.

I believe God is leading a movement in this country toward simple, smaller gatherings, and I long to see this movement gain greater traction.  I get so excited when I dream about the Church spreading in small, invigorating expressions that look and feel like the early church. 

Two from Thoman (2 of 2)

In this blog, Roger Thoman lists some very good reasons to believe in simple house gatherings.


Along these lines, I looked up a few things in James Rutz’s book The Open Church (which I hadn’t read in several years).  There are many dynamics to consider when opening up a church to a more mutual model.  Not the least significant is the arrangement of chairs.  Rutz believes the diagram below represents the best seating plan, at least at first.  Note that it is not a circle.

      _____________    _____________
||                                                             ||
||                                                             ||
||                                                             ||
      _____________    _____________


What comments do you have — on seating, on openness, on mutuality, on officials and staff pastors, on church real estate, on simplicity, etc.?

Two from Thoman (1 of 2)

In this very brief post, blogger and simple/organic church advocate Roger Thoman says it like it should be, and like it shouldn’t be.


Although “May His kingdom come” is always an appropriate cry, I’d say that, when the “should be” list is realized, the kingdom of our Lord will have come, in large measure.

Thoman: Unleashing the Everyday Believer (reblog)

Roger Thoman decries the temptation to measure “success”  by numbers.  He also calls us to gaze at the things and people that are less likely to be gazed at . . . re-realizing that doing “little things” in Jesus’ name is what the Kingdom is about.

I hope many readers will the link below, “unleashing” the full article. . . .

Unleashing the Everyday Believer



Model Bo Peep?

I’m immediately drawn in by this kind of humble, open assessment I read recently:

In my former life as a pastor, I was a dispenser of comfortable Christianity. I took on the job of creating a “conducive environment” for worship.  What this really meant was making a worship event cushy enough that people would want to come and then come back:  comfortable seats, coffee, pleasing worship music, and a sermon that holds attention.  Unfortunately, regularly attending a comfortable worship event has become the primary marker of what it means to be a Christian today.  – Roger Thoman

Thoman continues by enjoining Christians to “replace ‘come-structures’ with go-structures.’”  We shouldn’t be focusing most of our Christianity within the walls of the church edifice, inviting others to come see us.

Following Thoman’s words, a writer dubbed “Hamo” wrapped this up and put it in a little box to give to all who will hear:

If Jesus were alive today and His mission were still to seek out and save the lost . . .

Would He hire a building, set up a sound system, develop a music team, drama team, and then do local letterbox drops advising people that they could come and be part of His church on Sunday?

. . .

Little Bo Peep evangelism (leave ‘em alone and they’ll come home) is fast running out of steam…

And, for my part, I consider Thoman and Hamo and think something between “Yes” and “Yeah!”

But then I don’t do a thing about what I think.

I think I need to take some action.

What church is / is not

In the first century in Palestine Christianity was a community of believers.  Then Christianity moved to Greece and became a philosophy.  Then it moved to Rome and became an institution.  Then it moved to Europe and became a culture.  And then it moved to America and became a business.  – Priscilla Shirer

Since 2014 promises to be a year of further activity (read:  probable change) in terms of church practice for my family, I wanted to begin the year by weblogging some related thoughts.  What is church?

Perpetually, inwardly, I deal with questions about what church is, is not, should be, and should not be.  I rarely reach conclusions that have any perceptible results, but that doesn’t mean I am devoid of passion about the topic.  Nor does it mean there won’t be visible results in the near- or mid-term future.  This gnawing feeling inside¹ won’t allow me to stop ruminating, dreaming, working, studying (and sometimes wallowing in depression over the large measure of truth contained in the above quotation).

churchupkeepI do not want to be part of a church that is nothing more than a small-cap Christian business.  I have little more than historical interest in acculturated or institutional Christianity.  While I am sometimes stimulated by Christian philosophizing, such thought is not the end-all of church or of the Kingdom of God.  Being a part of an authentic, believing community, though?  Yes, that much is for me.

We do have a formal “church home” — a nice one, a local one.  Within it we find kindness, love, and seemingly genuine faith.  Although not enough time has transpired for us to develop much relationship or thoroughgoing trust, we have felt cared for, and our son has had some very positive children’s Bible class experiences.  We even experience some camaraderie in non-essentials.  This church is pretty good, in terms of its folks.  Not so much in terms of its assemblies or facilities, but the people are good, and they appear genuinely to love God.²

Time was when “church search,” for me, was partially synonymous with “search for place to ‘exercise my gifts'” — in other words, a church that had, or would make, a place for me to lead publicly in worship, teach Bible, etc.  I think my dad did me a disservice in this respect:  my expectations have long since been unrealistic.  You see, my dad, as a leader of leaders,  would make a beeline for good new people that moved to into the church I grew up in, seeking to get them involved in song leading, making devotional talks, etc.  But I have come to find that pretty much no other church does that.  You have to be around for years before anyone really sees you as anything more than a fill-in teacher or server-at-communion-table.


As the congregations of my personal history — eight states and a dozen churches — pass into memory, I realize that the likelihood of being used in church in areas of my giftedness is decreasing.  Corporate worship is almost always a source of discouragement, for one reason or another.  Mostly, I look for other things now.  Sermons and Bible classes and most programs come and go, and a few have impact, but rarely is there a lasting result.  More than any hope of finding a good set of programs or a good public teacher or energetic singing or heavenly hospitality or awe-filled worship, my concept of what church should be illuminates my search.


For the past 4+ academic years, our home was a site for weekly “church.”  Of course, the church’s identity is not defined by gatherings, nor do I set up our own gatherings as particularly exemplary.  We excelled in our commitment to exegetical, excavationary Bible study and regularity of “attendance,” but there was a lot of room for improvement in the activities and flow when we were together.  Essentially, a group of growing-closer friends gathered in our living room and dining room every Sunday night for talk, a lot of serious study of the scriptures, some prayer and worship, food and drink, and communion.  The picture here is not us, by the way, but its scene looks much like ours.

I miss those gatherings, not having had them since we moved in the summer.  So far, we haven’t found any such group to invite ourselves to, and I think it’s time to do something about it.  We are going to try to find a few interested souls to invite to our place again.  We may now employ real-time video technology — not the same as being there, but nonetheless an opportunity to reach to and from distant dear ones.  We’re also looking into other possibilities.


Last night I sat at length in a discussion with my father, and it was good time spent.  While he and I experience here-and-now church somewhat differently, we share many values.  He sees the positive, although he is certainly aware of many shortcomings.  I identify more negatives and wonder why.

I have become what my wife labels a “pessimistic idealist.”  There is more than an ounce of irony in this pairing of words . . . and a pound of yearning. . . .

As I survey churches out there — and I suppose I’ve been in 60 or 70 different church buildings in the past 10 years — I am incessantly impressed with the inadequacy (at best) and lunacy (at worst) of what is going on in the name of church.  Meaningless weekly rituals, multiple high salaries, huge edifices, jargon and marketing, copy-catting and kowtowing.  It’s enough to drive one mad.  OK, maybe that was a trifle over-dramatic.  But it is enough to send one packing.

I think of people from my past who have fallen away — and in some cases, “the church” (whatever the particular iteration or facade) is to blame.  One friend’s son is no longer a person of faith, and it is said that the latter “does not suffer fools” very well.  He sees the lunacy, the ludicrousness of certain practices and verbiage — and will have none of it.

Even the best churches are weak in bona fide ministry, while the playing of the church “game” is alive and well.  Sure, many good things are being done — food pantries and clothing giveaways, “friendship evangelism,” financial planning workshops, marriage seminars, etc.  Some must have inspiring, God-directed, participatory corporate worship, although I haven’t regularly experienced it in years.  Some congregations sponsor personal work in prisons and free counseling.  Let’s say there is some relatively solid, biblical teaching to be heard in, say, up to 20% of the protestant churches.  There are good things, and these are to be affirmed and reappropriated.  A soul-trickle moves toward the Christ, here and there.  Still, if we gaze intently at today’s churchianity opposite biblical principles and injunctions, common practice is found wanting.  Church must not be a thought-maze, an institutional monument, or a social club.

In spite of the dismal portrait I view through gray lenses, I am also fueled by my sense of the ideal, as I read of the original Intent.  This ideal tethers me to an oscillating, now-clear, now-wispy vision of something better, something more closely tied to the incipient Christian community.  The fiery will of God and the blood-bought souls that He loves demand species of word, work, and worship that glorify His dominion.  He rules in the here and now, and that rule must affect how we worship and live and serve.  Both the vertical and the horizontal must be constantly affected — no, directed — by God Himself.  I must not float in the vacuousness of the status quo.

This will not be the last blogpost of 2014 that deals with what church should be, although I should spend more time being church in my spheres than blogging about it.  Shouldn’t we?

For the present, below are links to some concise reading — food for thought and possible action.

Roger Thoman:  What Church Is Not

Pat Sipperly:  Christian Home Church


¹ I’ll not label this feeling “the Holy Spirit,” but I’d be at least as justified in attributing such a “calling” to God as so many churchpeople are in attributing — from the microphones of many church stages — various things to God.

² Aside:  in six months, we have had only two couples over for dinner, and no one has invited us into another home.  Time was when a church as nice as this one would have been chompin’ at the bit to welcome a new family like ours by having them over for dinner.  This church is more than a little depressed, though — due largely to corporate downsizing, its size is 25% of what it was 30 years ago.  I surmise that these fine folks are a tad reluctant to invest in people who move in, for fear that they’re going to move away.  This fear is understandable.

Other categories

Music may be fairly aptly categorized as either dance-based or song-based.

Personalities may be fairly aptly pigeonholed as introverted or extroverted, or as left- or right-brained.

Churches might be put in either conservative or liberal “slots.”  

These categorizings may or may not be helpful in communicating and understanding.  In the church arena, I think another pair of categories is at least as helpful as conservative vs. liberal/progressive.  What if we thought first of churches as falling somewhere on the institutionalorganic spectrum?

Not that I’ve really ever had first-hand experience with an established church group on the organic side, but I keep flirting with the notion.  The ideals espoused in the following blogs are representative of things I espouse, too.  None of them are too long; I hope you’ll read them.





Voices: Thoman on institutionalism

Please read this blogpost from Roger Thoman.  It is brief and meaningful.

Someone said: It’s one thing to get the person out of the institution, it’s another thing to get the institution out of the person.  It is difficult to get religious thinking out of our inner system.   – R. Thoman

I gather that Thoman spends more time being church than writing about it or playing it, and that is good.

Not just “before a fall”

Often on this blog, I pick and poke at specific segments of Christendom — sometimes meandering on side roads, or through suburbia’s labyrinths, and only occasionally venturing into the “urban areas” of Christianity.  This particular post, however, rides a double-decker bus, merges onto an eight-lane superhighway, and screeches into a mega-city:  Here, in referring my readers to the “simple church” blog of Roger Thoman, my aim is to propagate his indictment of a whole bunch of us who dwell in the same vicinity.  The linked essay-ette below is short.  Go ahead — click on it:

Religious Pride

(Thoman also offers a free, pretty short book via his blog.)

In the event that you, like me, don’t take time to read even the short posts that comes your way, allow me to extract a quote from the blog linked above:

“Subtle religious pride is so deeply ingrained in most of us that it’s difficult to wash out.”

Hear, hear.  This word — one of uncomfortably intense judgment — takes as its antidote a humble profession of submissive discipleship, ably worded by A.W. Tozer, and aptly quoted by Thoman:

“Make me ambitious to please Thee even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream.”

No matter the particular path we travel, it is inevitable that we will intersect with someone (me? you?) who thinks too much of himself . . . someone who habitually approaches issues and situations pridefully.  Pride doesn’t only “goeth” before a fall; it goeth, period.  (Now, if you read my next post, or a particular one I’m working on for next week, in which relatively minor aspects of the status quo are challenged, please know that I don’t think I have all the answers.  I do like to challenge time-tested, but not necessarily biblically based, traditions.)

Lord, foster poverty of spirit in us as we work in Your kingdom—the greatest reason for boasting ever.

Centering redux (2 of 2)

[Continued from yesterday]

Jim Woodroof’s latest book, Famous Sayings of Jesus, deals in the beatitudes and the parables.  I have often appreciated Jim’s Jesus-focused heart, and have posted in the past (find one such essay here) on a seminal truth articulated by Jim:  “In the gospels we find the power to do what’s in the letters.” 

In essence, what the above statement suggests is centering on Jesus.  Not a new truth, but a radical one.

At the close of this post two years ago, I offered a list of some themes that may pose as central “in church.”  Now, two years later, I’m zooming out from the church establishment a bit:  one goal of these early, “post-sabbatical” writings has been to envelop faith overall, enthroning Messiah Jesus in the middle of everything Christian — including individual disciples’ lives, church structures, and eternity.  Truly, a Jesus-centric faith is the only one worth having, and the only one that will ultimately stand.

  • Not that those who practice a humanistic form of meditation or Buddhist yoga or other self-help stuff aren’t helping themselves temporarily– many of them are.
  • Not that adherents of Islam don’t have a thing or two right — many of them do.
  • Not that Jewish underpinnings are worthless — far from it.  They’re just underpinnings, though.
  • Not that moderate Mormons and Buddhists live bad lives — they can be model neighbors and are often exemplary in terms of temperament and strong, moral values.

And, more to the point for my readers . . .

  • Not that a vast lot of traditional Christian churches aren’t somewhat within Christian tradition on this or that point; not that they don’t believe in Jesus; not that they aren’t duly Protestant, or Arminian, or Calvinist, or restorationist, or Roman, or Byzantine, or pietist, or charismatic, or Lutheran, or Swedenborgian, or anabaptist, or what-have-you.  Many of these frameworks are on target in one or more aspects.

It’s just that these other, superimposed doctrinal and practical systems are not in all points Jesus-centric and are therefore less than sufficient.

Once more drawing from past essays, I would point readers to thoughts I shared on central concepts at work.  (Actually, the bulleted items are applicable to a much broader spectrum!)

If you read nothing else there, perhaps you will simply wish to worship privately, meditating on the words of the song “Jesus, Be the Centre.”

P.S.  Want another encouraging prod or four in this vein?  Try Roger Thoman’s latest blogpost, “Jesus Alone at the Center.”

Centering redux

After a nice sabbatical month in which I drove, thought, read, wrote, composed, transcribed, and visited with a lot of great friends, I’m settling back into routines now.   (Well, maybe not just yet – still enjoying some special times, including dinner and a minor league baseball game last night with some good friends!   Anyhue….)

I’ve recently read Jim Woodroof’s latest book, Famous Sayings of Jesus, which deals in the beatitudes and the parables.  This book was given to me by one who has “always appreciated Jim’s Jesus heart.”  I have often appreciated said heart, too, and have posted in the past (find one such essay here) on a seminal truth articulated by Jim:  “In the gospels we find the power to do what’s in the letters.” 

Yes, yes.  Seven hundred seventy-seven times, yes.  If we are instructed early on to pay attention and obey and do good things (not everyone gets this kind of clear instruction, but I’m not sorry I enjoyed such focus!), then this subsequent message of centering on Jesus is eminently helpful.  Often, a child should be taught to do good, right things “just because.”  But an adult probably needs deeper motivation, somewhere along the line, and that’s where the gospel accounts come in.

When reading Peter or Paul or James, sometimes the things enjoined on believers seem hard — not only hard to understand, but hard to do.  Not even the exceptional ones can put into practice everything they read without question, without struggle.

Into the room of life walks the Central One.  The catalyst, the great “enabler”  is the Man from Galilee.  We are enabled to live out apostolic doctrine by maintaining close contact with recorded aspects, acts, and teachings of the life of Jesus.  Abiding in the gospels, we are undeniably, boldly empowered to “do” what’s in the letters.

These words jump off the concluding pages of Woodroof’s Famous Sayings of Jesus:

The Beatitudes are concentrated principles; axioms or propositions which state eternal truths so fundamental to understanding the nature of God’s kingdom that they serve as underpinnings of that kingdom. . . .

Parables, on the other hand, are . . . like a video sent over YouTube; fully fleshed out in 3-D and living color, containing all the details necessary for a full understanding of the message.  Parables paint pictures on the mind and leave impressions on the heart.

The words above only paint a partial picture, but it is a vivid one.  The impressions left as a result of regular, close brushes with Jesus are the very impressions that give empowering grace for living Christianly.

[to be concluded . . .]