Dear Barna, I am One of the 38%

My name is John Chaffee, I am 37 years old and I have essentially worked in paid ministries in different capacities for now 20 years.

When I read your recent article that 38% of US pastors have thought about quitting full-time ministry in the past year, I was, in a sense, validated by reading it. It was validating to read that I wasn’t the only one, and it rather gave me the feeling of being noticed. Ministry is incredibly difficult and you likely do not know it or believe it unless you have done it yourself.

Now, what kind of experiences do I bring to this discussion? Or, who am I to even try to talk about this massive topic?

Well, as I said above, I have worked in ministries for the past 20 years in a variety of ways… From my home church, to college chaplain, to camp counselor, to camp director, to youth intern, to camp counselor, to hospital chaplain, to youth director, to taking a break and hiking the AT, to camp speaker/preacher, to youth director, to college professor, I have been around Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Non-Denominational, Calvary Chapels, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Exvangelicals, and plenty that have straight up left the church altogether. Along the way, I have had the good fortune of an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies, a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Theology.

All that is one thing…

It is altogether another thing to say that I have experienced burnout myself, and that is why I am writing this. I hope that you, the reader, can know what is going on WITHIN a person (myself in the past) as they contemplate walking away from all of it.

Ministry work is incredibly rewarding, rich and a privilege. Let me start with that.

I have sat with people, young and old, as they sift through experiences of the death of loved ones, suicidal ideation, cutting, substance abuse, abusive homes, depression, lostness, feeling misunderstood, loneliness, doubt, rage, etc. I have been with people at their weddings, held newborns, seen people choose to grow, overcome an addiction, redirect their life path, accept their own radical and unconditional acceptance before God, etc. To be able to share those experiences is simply a gift, a treasure, a grace.

With that being said, hold that paragraph above in tension with everything below.

Here are some reasons (in no particular order) why I believe there is nearly a 50% chance that pastors under 45 have thought about quitting full time ministry:

  • Working boundaries are crossed regularly and doing so is often rationalized as necessary. Not only that, but ministry is one of those fields in which you are applauded and celebrated for working overtime/crossing your own boundaries and considered rude or lacking compassion/hospitality for others if you enforce boundaries for yourself.
  • Expectations of the pastor vary wildly among congregants (without realizing how much is projected onto the pastor as if they are a parent figure). Many people do not know what they want from their pastor until the pastor does not live up to their expectations, which then is voiced via an email-bomb, gossip or triangulated dissatisfaction rather than constructive feedback. Said expectations are often above and beyond what the job description says.
  • Pastors are often not trained adequately in conflict management, self-care, or understanding the church they serve as an emotional system (just like a family but on a macro scale).
  • There is rarely a true culture of vulnerability. People love their pastor to tell personal stories but never share their current sadness, anger, depression.
  • Pastors are expected to self-care from the trauma of working at a church on their own time and dime. (Yes, I say trauma because according to Dr. Deborah Hunsinger, a professor of pastoral theology at Princeton, a trauma is an event that overwhelms your internal or external resources.)
  • Pastors experience pressure to preach on issues OR pressure to avoid preaching on issues, and rarely are they encouraged to preach on issues in a manner informed by scholarship, tradition, reason and the Holy Spirit. The average congregant may not recognize that the role of the sermon is to be an echo of the prophetic tradition in the Old Testament of hopeful critique of the status quo in light of Jesus being the self-revelation of God and the embodiment of the ethics and reality of the kingdom of God, not a pep talk. (This means the sermon is SUPPOSED to shake things up.)
  • Even pastors who have been studious and scholarly are quickly dismissed by people, I believe I have witnessed a lessening respect for the graduate level work that most pastors receive.
  • Pastors are often unsupported in how to prioritize and value their own health and holiness and as a result are often personally unhealthy physically, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually and don’t even know it themselves. Although, their closest families and friends could probably point it out.
  • Pastors are not encouraged to pass people off to more trained specialists, but often are encouraged to create co-dependent relationships. Yup, read that again.
  • Being a pastor is one of those professions, possibly similar to that of a public school teacher, in which people feel brazenly free to tell them how to pastor. This might be a part of a larger cultural issue in the West that is hitting the fields of teaching, medicine, ministry, etc. Along with this goes the inverse reality of the pastor being triangulated or gossiped about. Triangulation and gossip are immature habits and are clinically understood as manipulative behavior.
  • Pastors are faulted for teaching “over people’s heads” yet also “not being challenging enough” in lessons, bible studies or sermons. It’s a darned if you do, darned if you don’t type of a thing.
  • Pastors are encouraged to gather people around them and I do not believe that is the goal of discipleship. Pastors are taught how to lead Bible Studies, not exactly how to teach people how to do Bible Studies for themselves. (Remember that whole “teach a man to fish” idea?)
  • Pastors are routinely and regularly underpaid and overworked, and despite all of the output, are often valued at half or a third of what local teachers make in the community.
  • And, lastly, if a young pastor contemplating a 30-40 year career in a field in which they would be unsupported, undersupported, underpaid for their education and experience in their zip code, overworked, overlooked, not given a chance to grow, not having boundaries respected, without a reasonable job description, etc. then it should be no surprise that they look at that possible life and say, “No, thanks.” If you are a parent, you would absolutely tell your grown child to walk away from that field, right?

Strangely, I can admit that I have been triangulated, manipulated, gossiped about, minimized, demeaned, silenced, and scapegoated throughout the 20 years of formal ministry. Now, to be clear, these are all things that are a part of the human experience. No matter where you go, you will likely encounter these things. What makes these experiences so hauntingly dark is that they often happen by church folk who are completely unaware (sometimes) they are doing these things. Immaturity (of any form) will only continue unless it is called out.

Some days, I question if someone should become a pastor before the age of 40. Otherwise, they have not seen enough of life, bled enough and healed enough, gotten over their ego need to produce, and gained the wisdom that literally only happen through experience and self-reflection.

Not only that, but…

If the church were likened to a “one celled organism” then every church needs some people to be in the “organism” as strong anti-bodies. Every church needs mature people of health and holiness that walk around like deeply centered club-bouncers. These spiritual anti-bodies act as people that walk up to the “viruses” and tell them that it is time to mature up, repent, or tell them it is time to move on.

In order for a church to be healthy, it needs to invite people into health and holiness for themselves and if they are not willing to do that work, then it is okay to connect them with a different faith community that will be a better fit for them. Churches do not do well when they chase after people to join or stay that are not in line with the values of being healthy and holy.

This sounds harsh, but it is actually what every family needs: a tough but loving voice keeping the family healthy and well.

But let’s shift for a moment.

Here are some ways to help the pastor or person in ministry that you know:

  • Do not deny help to a pastor when they say they need help. It is extremely likely have been needed helping for a while, but helpers are not exactly wired to ask for help themselves. If you can’t give the help, then defer them to some who will, not to someone who “might.” Oh, and certainly do not reprimand them for asking for help. (Yes, that does happen.)
  • Respect their boundaries, or even go so far as to help them set their boundaries if they don’t have them. Unless it is a life or death situation, it can wait until the next day, or when they are back from vacation. Even then, hopefully there are protocols for who else to contact instead of crossing said boundary.
  • Gently talk with them when they start to exhibit unhealthy relational behaviors. No one is above reproach or correction. The longer it goes on the more it will likely grow or become experientially understood as acceptable.
  • Absolutely pay them according to their experience, education and the local zip code, (and if you can’t, then simply increase their vacation time) so that on top of caring for others, they are not left worrying about their own ability to pay the bills. More often than not, places look for reasons to not give a raise beyond the rate of inflation rather than look for reasons to give said raise.
  • Moderate your own expectations for them. Without knowing it, you might be projecting onto them your own unconscious needs for a fulfilling parent-relationship. This is even more the case if the pastor is older than you, but it actually may be the case if they are younger as well. The role is that of a mentoring one, and that carries certain nuances with it.
  • Encourage them to stay up to date with what seminaries are teaching today. It is easy, just like a schoolteacher, to fall behind and not know what is considered “best practices” or “best principles.” Every field changes and grows and learns from its yesteryears, ministry is no different.
  • Encourage them to chase after continuing education in whatever their interest is. If the pastor is still growing, then you can be sure that you will keep growing. Encourage them to learn from people outside of their usual circles, it is entirely possible to find your own little echo chamber of scholars all saying the same things.
  • Encourage them to maintain friendships completely outside of the social sphere of the ministry of which they lead. If a pastor is only known by people that know them through their title, then that is a problem. Encourage them to have a life completely unconnected to their income and formal ministry.
  • Remember that pastors are human and have limits. Pastors are imperfect, so give them grace as they grow and learn to be better human themselves but also do not put them on a pedestal that says they are above constructive feedback.
  • Do not become co-dependent on your pastor for your faith development. Your faith development is your responsibility, your investment, your task, not theirs. They simply create the space and craft the invitation for you to dive in deeper for yourself.
  • Do your own self-work to be as healthy and holy as you are able. Confront your own unhealthy ways of relating, figure out if you are passive, aggressive or passive-aggressive by temperament, confront your own defense mechanisms, etc. Seriously, this will benefit everyone around you, not least of which will include your pastor.

What are some resources about all this, John?

Now, you might be asking, “Where do we even start studying up on these things? How can I catch up on these topics and learn what the specialists say make for healthy leaders, churches and spirituality?”

I am glad that you asked!

In an effort to be more helpful than anything else, I decided to go ahead and curate an Amazon List of books and resources that have informed and shaped my own understanding of everything above. I would absolutely say that all of these books and resources are non-negotiable books for people in ministry to read, and, if possible for church staffs, elders, and boards to read together.

Here is a screenshot of the Amazon List I made for you…

Click This Link to see the Amazon List: Emotionally Healthy Leaders, Churches and Spirituality

So, where is the hope?

Well, the hope is that things can change. The hope is that the book of Leviticus does not only talk about how people can repent but even whole communities and nations.

Things can turn around, but only if they are talked about openly… and to be honest, only those with “ears to hear will hear” the fact that things need to chance. Some people may not see a problem, and some people may not want to see the problem. However, I am a full scale proponent of the idea that the problem that calls out to you is your problem to fix. And so, if you notice a pastor or person in ministry burning out, then it is morally your responsibility to do something about it. The problem you become aware of is beckoning you to help fix it.

Don’t blame the parts.

The problem is in the whole, not the parts. I say this because the machine was built in a way that causes the parts to be broken and needing to be replaced by new parts. The problem is not the person, it is the environment which crushes the person. The pastors wanting to quit is not really the problem, the problem is the milieu that has been causing the endemic problem of pastoral burnout. The better question is, “What is going on in this culture/environment/current ways that things are set up that is causing this burnout? Because, the problem may not be in the 38% of pastors that have contemplated leaving ministry altogether.”

In the long run, the Church will be fine… especially if it learns and grows from its mistakes.

Currently the Church is slamming up against a wall and having less and less impact/resonance with the next generation as well as not knowing how to encourage and keep its next generation of pastors around.

The Church never was, nor will ever be, an institution. It is the collective embodiment of the Christ among a group of people. I do not plan to ever stop doing ministry, but I do think that the conventional way of doing ministry is going through a rather full scale re-evaluation.

Strangely enough, I can honestly say that I still believe in the Church but that it is entirely possible for the local church to lose sight of what it was intended to be. It has been my personal life experience that churches often have an unsaid amount of hurt and pain that they are willing to allow or excuse before having to say, “Hey, I think we need to reconsider (repent) how we are doing things here. We need to make a change.”

It is possible that the last reformation was one of reforming our understanding of theology.

It is possible that this current reformation is one of reforming our understanding of the Church.

Grace and Peace to all of you.

John Chaffee

PS, And, if you are a pastor or person in ministry that has contemplated leaving the job, please reach out to me. Shoot me an email at I would be happy to start an email correspondence with you.

PPS, Feel free to share this with a pastor or person in ministry that you might know.

Don’t Be Surprised…

If “Christianity” is just about life after death but never asking the difficult question of the possibility of life BEFORE death then you can count whole scores of people out.

More than that,

If it is about denying the hard and soft sciences rather than celebrating them,
If it ravages the earth rather than caring for it,
If it values strong leaders to the point it silences the abused,
If it scapegoats the whistleblower rather than protecting them,
If it allows excluding foreigners rather than welcoming them as God in disguise,
If it enables sexism, classism or racism rather than confronting them,
If it is about sanitizing art and music rather than humanity of it,
If it diminishes rather than consecrates the material world,
If it ignores or minimizes oppression rather than liberating from it,
If it shows favoritism rather than equality,
If it spends more money on the building than on people,
If it treats all people outside of it only as members to be “won over”,
If it lets people off the hook from confronting their own ego, narcissism, or delusions of grandeur,
If it concretizes the status quo rather than shattering it,
If it keeps looking backward with nostalgia rather than forward with hopeful imagination,
Then you can also count them out.

If it does any of these things, you can count many people out.  Go ask the next generation, how YOU can be more like Christ.  Let THEM fan your flame of faith. It is possible that they have the unique responsibility of reflecting back to us how Christlike we are, and that we ought to listen to them if we are not living up to the virtues and the values that we once emphasized to them.

To live in this way is not to be something other than Christian, it is being eschatological in the present. It is living the end of cosmic history in the now.  The Christian faith inspires because it emphasizes our place in lowering heaven by razing the hells on earth.

Explaining the Logo

So, I made a logo.

It was through Fiverr.

Here is the breakdown as I see it. I think it turned out to be a simple but very compact in its meaning. Here we go.

The Compass (around the edge) – We all need something to help orient our lives. For me, it is the Christian tradition, faith, and inherited wisdom. It is my compass and I actually think that it has far more to say about practical life than people have been led to believe…

The Sunrise – Cheer up, today is a new day. Yesterday could have been bad, but today has fresh opportunities, some light may be just cresting the horizon or already here.

The Two Mountains – In the Jewish tradition, their holy mountain is Sinai, where they and God made promises to one another, and agreed on a code to live by. It is understood as the mountain of the Law. In the Christian tradition, our holy mountain is Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, and is understood as the mountain of Grace. We live our lives between these mountains. Sometimes needing some more Law and sometimes needing more Grace. When we have one without the other, we can fall into problems. Everything belongs, and so we need both of these truths to live well: we need law and we need grace.

The Starry Depths – Deep within us, just below the surface are beautiful constellations of souls. It may seem dark and scary, but it is a luminous darkness that actually ground and enable the rest of our lives to have wonder, awe, and limitlessness.

The Wilderness – Because life is a journey. We may have a start and a finish, but there is no set path. You have to walk your path between the mountains, during the day and the night, and I do as well. But that doesn’t mean we won’t cross paths and perhaps share some tips about how to traverse this terrain we call life.

I am sure I may be able to notice some more nuances to the logo, but as for now, I will admit that I am pleasantly happy with it.


Books Read in 2020

Each year I make it a goal to read a certain number of books. I think this year, thanks to Covid, was my all time most. This year was a lot of diving further into contemplative Christianity, prophetic preaching and justice, how we grow and change, and books on psychological/emotional health. Usually I don’t shoot for this many books, but Covid left many of us staying inside more than previous years and it helps that I have never bought a TV for myself.

You will also see that I decided to highlight my top 5 books in Green and 3 honorable mentions in Yellow, with brief descriptions of what I thought of them. Green was reserved for deep and meaningful books that I think everyone could benefit from reading, while Yellow was reserved for books that not everyone would enjoy but make a decent contribution if you were to engage them.

  1. Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie
  2. Beyond Codependency: And Getting Better All the Time by Melody Beattie
  3. What Do We Do with the Bible? by Richard Rohr
  4. Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila
  5. Mechthild of Magdeburg: The Flowing Light of the Godhead
  6. The Way of Perfection by Teresa of Avila
  7. The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton – This is understood as a classic of Merton’s. Written as a journal over the first few years of his monastic life at the Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey. It recounts a number of harsh winters and interactions within the monastery, but also provides a lovely insight to the poetic nature of Merton’s soul. This is not a fast read, but if you take the time to really steep yourself in it then you will find yourself deepening your own spiritual life through the words of this fantastic 20th century contemplative.
  8. The Enneagram, Relationships and Intimacy: Understanding One Another Leads to Loving Better and Living More Full by David Daniels and Suzanne Dion
  9. Befriending Silence by Marl McColman
  10. The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith by Jane Hagberg
  11. Postcards from Babylong: The Church in American Exile by Brian Zahnd
  12. Lamentations: A Commentary by Adele Berlin
  13. Water to Wine: Some of My Story by Brian Zahnd
  14. Teilhard de Chardin – Seven Stages of Suffering: A Spiritual Path for Transformation by Lous Savary
  15. Ecclesiastes: A Commentary by James Crenshaw
  16. The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth by Dallas Willard
  17. Hegel: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Singer
  18. Love Alone is Credible by Hans Urs von Balthasar
  19. Moving Through Grief: Proven Techniques for Finding Your Way After Any Love by Gretchen Kubacky
  20. A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album by Ashley Kahn
  21. Bitten by A Camel: Leaving Church, Finding God by Kent Dobson
  22. A Course in Desert Spirituality: Fifteen Sessions with the Famous Trappist Monk by Thomas Merton
  23. Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World by Krotke Wolf
  24. The Enneagram of Belonging: A Compassionate Journey of Self-Acceptance by Christopher Heuertz
  25. The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation by Thomas Keating
  26. From Judgment to Hope: A Study on the Prophets by Walter Bruggemann
  27. Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word by Walter Bruggemann – Bruggemann is a master. I had the good fortune of meeting him in Washington, DC as he was walking into a building that I was walking out of just hours before he was set to speak at an event. This book is all about understanding the pastoral role of preaching in a prophetic way. Taking cues from his earlier book called The Prophetic Imagination, this was a timely read because it was just as George Floyd was murdered and the riots and demonstrations were happening in the US and the world.
  28. The Contemplative Heart by James Finley
  29. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by Rene Girard – Everyone has either been a scapegoat or been the one doing the scapegoating. In this sociological reading of the Crucifixion, Girard breaks down how scapegoating is the oldest mechanism for social grouping and formation and that the Christian narrative both exposes it while showing a better way. Rather than being a community of exclusion, the church can be a community of grace and for-giving.
  30. Nine Lenses on the World: The Enneagram Perspective by Jerome Wagner
  31. From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality by Richard Rohr
  32. On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ by Maximus the Confessor
  33. Invitations to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation by Thomas Keating – Keating was a masterful writer on contemplative Christianity. He was a Trappist just as Thomas Merton was, but took his writings in a different direction and so reclaimed centering prayer while also merging contemplative christianity and evolutionary psychology. If you want a great introductory text to contemplative Christianity because you think your current faith understanding needs an upgrade.
  34. The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types by Don Riso and Russ Hudson
  35. Isaiah: A Commentary by Brevard Childs
  36. The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Williams, Kabat-Zinn and Teasdale
  37. The Showings of Julian of Norwich by Julian of Norwich – This is simply a classic. I read this at a point when I was doing a fair amount of self-accusation/condemnation this summer. I was coming out of a depression and found these writings from Julian to be so tender, healing, and loving. No wonder it is a classic among those who read it.
  38. Everything is Spiritual: Who We Are and What We’re Doing Here by Rob Bell – I think Rob is misunderstood. I think he is actually communicating Christian ideas all the time, he is simply not at all fixed to using the conventional Christian vocabulary that makes church folk comfortable. This is essentially his spiritual biography, interspersed with commentary and a little bit of wit. The pages that really stood out for me was when he wrote of his pressures to be a certain type of pastor and to keep growing his “brand” as a mega-church pastor. What is great is his emphasis on continuing to be authentic to where the Holy Spirit is leading you. Did you know he has had a dominican spiritual director for years?
  39. Eye of the Heart: A Spiritual Journey into the Imaginal Realm by Cynthia Bourgeault
  40. The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves by Curt Thompson
  41. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
  42. The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder by Richard Rohr
  43. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Its Impossible to be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature by Peter Scazzero
  44. Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child by Frank Miller
  45. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola: With Points for Personal Prayer from Jesuit Spiritual Masters by Sean Salai
  46. Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf
  47. What Would Jesus Deconstruct?: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church by John Caputo – Jack, as he is called by friends, is an out of the box thinker. Originally he was on track to become a priest but shifted his studies toward secular and Christian philosophy, deconstruction (ism) and post-modernism. Put all of that in a blender and you get some very on point statements and insights about the movement known as “Christianity” and how both liberal and conservative branches could step up their game. At a time when Christianity has become so politicized, this was a great read.
  48. The Enneagram of Discernment: The Way of Vocation, Wisdom, and Practice by Drew Moser
  49. Hebrews: A Commentary by Luke Johnson
  50. Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction by Margaret Guenther
  51. Listening for the Soul by Jean Stairs
  52. The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehesi Coates
  53. Spiral Dynamics in Action: Practical Application of Spiral Dynamics in the Real World by Beck, Larsen and Solonin – I have been a fan of spiral dynamics for 2-3 years, but I gave it a second and closer look this year. It is probably best known as a large scale theory of the cognitive development of societies. I think it is spot on in its analysis. Then, while perusing Amazon I found this book, which outlines the influence of Spiral Dynamics and how helpful it was in overcoming Apartheid in South Africa, managing conflict in Israel, changes at Google, and more. Seeing as we are at the cusp of a new presidency and the culture wars of the past 4 years, this was timely.
  54. This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See by Seth Godin
  55. Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life by Marjorie J. Thompson

Your Christianity is Only as Mature as You Are


Is that a hot take?


Hear me out.

If you are mature, then you will interpret Christianity in a mature way. If you are immature, then you will interpret Christianity in an immature way.

Makes sense, I think. But let’s explore this idea a little more because it has some VERY large implications. What if we were to distill it into a formula?

If you are X then your Christianity will likely be X.

X could be anything.

Conservative, Liberal, Fearful, Hateful, Joyful, Despairing, Hopeful, Political, Capitalist, Socialist, a Boomer, a Millenial, American, Japanese, Ethical, Philosophical, Brutal, Forgiving, etc.

Just name your adjective. They all work, they all apply.

This is one of the first lessons that we learn in seminary. Well, if we go to a good one. Some seminaries will right off the bat tell the pastor-in-training what it means “to be Biblical” or “Gospel-oriented.” These are seminaries that are trying to jump to the 2nd or 3rd step on a staircase without stepping on the first step…

The first step of seminary is to take off your glasses. I don’t mean literally, but figuratively.

All of us bring particular lenses to the Bible. All of us bring particular value systems and memories, traumas and glories to the Scriptures that all cause us to highlight or favor particular verses over others. And it doesn’t even matter if we are highlighting the best or the most difficult passages, the problem is that we highlight without even knowing we are highlighting.

Certain values or themes mean something to us (positively or negatively), and this causes us to notice Scriptures that also hit on those same values or themes. Whether you had good or bad experiences with your own father or father-figure will impact how you experience every single passage that uses the word “father.”

It is a result of taking Christianity so seriously, that we then have to turn and take OURSELVES so very seriously. Why? Because if we don’t realize what we are bringing to Christianity we are then more prone to interpreting Christianity rather than letting Christianity interpret us.

Many of us have sat under very compelling people, who were themselves immature, and therefore were interpreting Christianity for us in immature ways. Their own unresolved brokenness was leading them to (unknowingly) preach an unresolved and broken Christianity.

Fortunately, though, many of us have also had mature mentors who then preached a mature Christianity.

I wonder if the reason why so many people have supposedly walked away from religion is a result of noticing the immaturity of their leaders and simultaneously decided to also (rightfully) shuck off the immature Christianity they were handed. Is an immature Christianity better than no Christianity? Perhaps. I don’t know. But I think that Christ is willing to work with people who choose a life of maturity and love.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that if you want to grow in your faith then it might be a good idea to grow as a person. Choosing to grow in your faith while you are still looking at it through particular lenses may not be enough to cause you to grow as a person. Perhaps you could drop your favorite way of looking at the faith, and learn how another denomination does. Perhaps you should find someone completely other than your own demographic and hear what parts of the faith resonate for them. Chances are, they will have different favorite verses than you.

What if maturity means we stop telling Christianity how to be “according to us and our own un/conscious biases” and letting ourselves be confronted by it instead?


What if maturity isn’t a matter of telling other people how to be like you, but thinking about the ways in which you might be getting in the way of yourself growing?

Oof, now that’s a hot take.

Recently, I have been teaching a class on the book of Hebrews. Just once a week, one chapter a week. I have been struck by some of the Greek vocabulary that the author uses, and how frequently as well.

For instance, the word Τελοσ (Telos) and all of its variants shows up A LOT. This is the root word in our word “telescope.” It has quickly become one of my favorite Greek words.

Τέλοσ is often translated as “perfect” but it ALSO means “goal”, “end”, “purpose”, and even “mature.”

That’s right. Τελοσ means all of them. The book of Hebrews is very much concerned with our perfection/having reached the goal/coming to our end/fulfilling our purpose/being mature. How great is that?

St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his treatise defending the life of Moses as a Hebrew story of a life of wisdom to a Greek audience, taught me that perfection is not a place or thing to achieve but an ongoing process. He took perfection from being static to being dynamic.

For me, maturing means blossoming, evolving, growing, upgrading at all times. We can never finish this task because it is a perpetual task, and for this reason, our Christianity must always be blossoming, evolving, growing and upgrading at all times. If we ever switch into a defensive mode and become static in our apprehension of the Christian faith, then it has ceased to grow with us (or because of us).

So what was the point of all this? Just be mindful. Be mindful of the ways you keep yourself from experiencing a Christianity that is always just beyond your grasp, always just a little beyond your reach but that you always keep reaching for it and striving to follow it’s lead rather than telling it to sit down next to where you are.

Cheers to you, my friends. May you be holy, whole and healed and may you keep maturing, blossoming, evolving, growing, and upgrading.

Soren Kierkegaard and Preaching…

Søren Kierkegaard - Wikipedia

It is a difficult thing to preach. Years of study on the content on top of years of learning public speaking make it out to be a task more than some people may realize. It takes a sincere amount of preparation, theological and philosophical accuracy, as well as balancing logic, emotion and ethics. Again, it is a difficult thing to preach.

Be Yourself or Don’t Be Yourself

In seminary circles, there is a debate concerning how much of themself a preacher should put into a sermon. The spectrum goes from “sure, let the preacher put their personality and favorite themes in there” to “nope, let the preacher get out of the way and just say what the text says.”

If the preacher allows the content to be preached THROUGH them, then the preacher becomes the lens and filter on the text. If the preacher tries to get out of the way, they will inevitably find that they cannot just do that. God has always spoken through people. Broken, unrefined people.

Kierkegaard Changes It Up

Soren Kierkegaard was a philosopher in Denmark. He was an incredibly thorough thinker, and often would examine a topic from a hundred angles. One of his most famous writings was a critique of the “Christianity” that he saw in his day. In reality, it is a scathing critique. He was not a fan of what he saw at all. And perhaps that is what makes his, now famous, quote so famous…

“People have an idea that the preacher is an actor on a stage and they are the critics, blaming or praising him. What they don’t know is that they are the actors on the stage; he (the preacher) is merely the prompter standing in the wings, reminding them of their lost lines.”

Soren Kierkegaard

Using the imagery of theater, he subverted the common question that everyone was asking. It doesn’t matter about the person delivering the sermon, what matters is who and what the sermon is for…

Is the sermon designed to be encouragement, education, entertainment, devotional, evangelistic? One of them, all of them?

Unfortunately, we tend to take the sermon and critique it for being “good” or “bad.” Rarely, do we purposefully come to church for the purpose of being told where we are wrong. As GK Chesterton says, “I do not need a religion that tells me where I am right, I need one that tells me where I am wrong.”

Now, this isn’t to say that every sermon should be a “fire and brimstone”/”you’ll go to hell” sermon. It DOES mean that a sermon should sting a bit, a sermon that does not poke or prod or tip over some of your sacred cows isn’t quite living up to Kierkegaard’s standards. Well, perhaps they aren’t really Kierkegaard’s standards, but they might be God’s.

Jesus himself, standing in the tradition of the prophets, spoke and preached openly outside of the temple courts. More than that, it was these very teachings that he gave that got him into trouble, so much trouble that he was eventually killed for it.

The preaching office is not for the faint of heart, and maybe the same should be said for those gathered to hear it. Yes, there is encouragement and hope in every sermon because the main topic is God, but there is no authentic encouragement or hope where there is not first discouragement or despair.

So next time you hear a sermon, perhaps prepare yourself by imagining yourself on a stage and the preacher being the one giving you cues about how you can better play your part in the grand theater of God.

Three Things You Need on the Spiritual Journey

Full vertorama of Sagrada Familia interior | Sagrada familia ...
The Interior of Sagrada Familia

“It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or mother was, or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is in comparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because w have heard it and because Faith tells us so, that we possess souls.”

Interior Castle: Mansion 1, Chapter 1 by Teresa of Avila

I have read Interior Castle three times fully, across two different translations of the original Spanish text, and referred to particular chapters over the years in my own personal study.

Often, I come back to this singular paragraph above. The section just before it reflects on the immeasurable beauty of the human soul since it was made in God’s image, and if God’s beauty is unfathomable, then so it our soul. That paragraph brought me to tears once in the King of Prussia food court just after I had gotten myself a coffee. Apprehending the beauty of our own souls means little if we have not even the slightest awareness that we even have souls, that we even have a personhood. James Finley says, “It is possible to go your whole life without ever meeting the person who lived your life.”

Self-awareness is more important than people realize. Often, in Christian circles we are taught to be self-less but you cannot “deny yourself” if you never even understood you had a self to begin with. Throughout church history (which, believe it or not, goes much further back than just the American authors you see at Barnes and Noble), there have been many saints and holy fools who wrote on the importance of knowing yourself.

  • Do you know yourself?
  • Do you know your wounds?
  • Do you know the traumas that you act out in response to?
  • Are you aware of the ways you have fallen into grooves or patterns of thought or behavior?
  • Are you even willing to look in the mirror with courage and compassion?
  • Again, how well do you know yourself, your own interior landscape?

The failure of the church to encourage and teach people to take an honest look at themselves is the reason we have so few saints and holy fools today. Why is this? Because what you deny or repress comes back in sneaky and more disruptive ways, and its hard to be a saint when you are incapable of self-reflection.

Teresa of Avila comments that the first three things anyone needs on the spiritual journey are…

  • Prayer,
  • Humility,
  • and Self-Awareness.

It is possible that many of us start our journey with one, or two of these things, get frustrated and so dive into the same one or two things with deeper resolution and fervor… only to get frustrated again.

So let’s define the terms, shall we?

  • Prayer is the conscious awareness of the infinite closeness of the infinitely transcendent God, and the resulting connection or union with God can use words or just a directing of the will toward God.
  • Humility is the honest appraisal of ourselves, not just of our faults but also of our victories. Truly humble people accept accurate correction as well as accurate compliments.
  • Self-Awareness is the conscious knowledge of things about ourselves that were previously unknown, denied, repressed, etc. This is the opposite of Self-Ignorance, and operating out of processes and habits without knowing it.

With these three items/skills/virtues listed, can you tell which one you need more of? Can you assess which one you may have left behind in favor of the others?

It is my understanding that many of us have an understanding of Prayer that only defines it as conversation, but not presence. Many of us understand Humility in regards to “how well we can put ourselves down.” Many of us struggle to grow in Self-Awareness because it demands looking at the ways we have suffered, continue to suffer, and perhaps inflict suffering on others around us.

Unfortunately, we tend to understand spiritual growth according to the metric of how moral we are. Spiritual growth then has the potential to be co-opted by the larger culture telling us how to be “moral,” but spiritual growth should never be at the whim or definition of what culture says.

Growth on the spiritual journey is a complicated and simple matter. It is a windy and straight road, with many turns but only one destination. Although we have difficulty defining what a soul is, it at least concerns us with the deepest and truest parts of ourselves, the God-given gift of being Imago Dei and being aware of it. Do not take your own soul lightly, it is of immeasurable worth and beauty, and so carry it with prayer, humility and self-awareness.

Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole

I was fortunate enough to have two parents that were educators. As they were raising my brother and I, learning was an important emphasis. Throughout childhood and into teenage years, we also had the benefit of a pastor at our home church who was actively working on his own PhD at Drew University.

Combine these sets of influences, and it is no wonder that my brother and I turned our inquiries towards Christianity, and were even encouraged by our mentors to constantly dig deeper.

Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book on the Trinity, begins her topic by talking about an older couple being gifted a cupboard by their son only to find out that what they thought was just a cupboard actually was a two-way radio in one of its compartments. They essentially misunderstood the gift they were given, and then were blessed by it being unlocked before their eyes to an even greater gift than a cupboard.

It is in my estimation that much of the Christianity that is offered in the west is very much like that cupboard-holding-a-radio. The gift is ultimately different and more profound than originally received. As I went through undergrad and seminary, I became enraptured by each unfolding of the Christian religion that happened for me in each of my classes. Nothing stood out more than each lecture that seemed to unlock the beauty of the faith further, that showed me a further blossoming of the tradition.

Jokingly, I like to tell people that I wish everyone could go to seminary. I wish everyone could have the chance to do some legitimate spiritual formation work and to be guided through the historic and groundbreaking texts of Christianity.

The problem is that we all too often settle for a nice Christianity that meets us and comforts us but doesn’t challenge us or invite us into the mystery of growing in faith. Information has taken the place of transformation, and it has left us unchanged. After all, how is it possible that someone can go to church and sit in the pews for 50 years and yet still be the same person?

Perhaps it is because we think that the mystery of the Christian faith doesn’t have any other angles or perspectives than the ones we were first given. It is true that there is the “primacy effect” in which we hold tightly to the first thing that we hear, even if it is sub-par or less than true…

So, all this goes to say, I hope that if you are reading this, that you make a promise. Make a commitment for your own well being and spiritual formation.

Be like Alice in Wonderland and go tumbling down the rabbit hole.

There are depths and surprises and curves and mysteries to the Christian faith that await you. There are treasures and wisdoms hidden in the tradition that you have not yet encountered, but that does not mean that they do not exist. It is not that Christianity is boring or humdrum, rather it is your adventurousness that may have become boring or humdrum. There comes a point when you may ask, “Is this all there is?” You may even choose to give up on Christianity because you think it has nothing more to say to you, but that is inaccurate. Tumble down the rabbit hole.

Never think that you have understood Christianity. Never assume that it has nothing more to say to you. Do not, for one instant, believe that there isn’t a greater gift about to be uncovered if you just dug a little deeper.

With that in mind, perhaps it is time for you to commit and little further, and see just how far down the rabbit hole you can go.

We Are the Pharisees

Who Were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes?

It is not a difficult statement to make that we tend to see ourselves as the ones in the right, those who already champion others, or what-have-you.

What is difficult, however, is to course correct and humbly ask if we have been in the wrong, misunderstand the faith, or what-have-you.

It is possible to be a member of the greatest nation in the world (at this moment in time) and fundamentally miss many of the nuances of the Scriptures, which were written by the least nation in the world.

We often forget that the Scriptures were written by those “on the bottom.” Perhaps you know the phrase, “History is written by the winners.” Well, in this sense, this is what makes the Bible unique. It was written by stubborn and stiff necked people, who constantly were being flattened, and oppression, and exiled, and put into slavery, and had the Roman Empire ever ready to stomp them out, and being persecuted to the point of death.

It was written “by the bottom, not the top.”

Yet, if we are a member of “the top” and we read it as though we were the ones “on the bottom,” then there is some dissonance to overcome.

In a recent conversation, I heard someone say, “We are the pharisees.” That was such a profound statement of solidarity with those who Jesus chastised. Of course, we want to be among the crew that Jesus loves and welcomes, but not at the expense of sometimes also being the crew that Jesus harshly corrects.

As someone who has largely worked in churches and ministries since High School, I have to personally associate with the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:23-34 (NRSV), he has some choice words that still resonate today…

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup, so that they outside also may become clean.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in the shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, sages and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town…”

My goodness.

Now, of course, it is best to read Scripture in context, so please go and read the entirety of Matthew 23. And if you define yourself as a student of Scripture, then the word “scribes” could then be seen as applying to you.

It is possible to read the Scriptures and yet still miss some of the main themes that are present from Genesis to Revelation.

Matthew 23:23 reads quite directly about those of us that consider ourselves religious, who do religious things yet miss the “weightier matters of the law”: justice and mercy and faith.

So what might we say after all this? How about that the Scriptures still speak authoritatively today? How about that every generation has the tendency to avoid the passages that sound accusatory in favor of the passages that show us mercy or forgiveness? Or that, we all need to wrestle with the fact that at different times in our lives we need to experience the Law of God telling us where we have lost the plot, gotten off track, missed the mark before we can experience the Grace of God that says, “I do not hold this against you forever, but it is time to make things right.”

Because, after all, to even be corrected by God is itself a grace.

Carpe Noctem

Have you heard this phrase before?

Perhaps you know the more common phrase, “carpe diem,” which translates as “seize the day.”

Well, “carpe noctem” is the opposite, “seize the night.”

Now, before you run off thinking that I am encouraging sleep deprivation, becoming nocturnal, or just all around having a different daily schedule than everyone else in your surroundings… I want to interpret “carpe noctem” poetically and theologically.


Carpe diem is often said in reference to “making the best of your day.” Or, “live today well.” “Make good use of your life.”

Carpe noctem could then be said in reference to “making the best of your night.” Or, “live tonight well.”

But poetically, and even theologically, night means more than just the span of time when the sun is on the opposite side of the globe. Night can also be a theo-poetic reference to hardship, difficulty, or failure. Perhaps you have even references whole seasons of your life as being “pretty dark.”

In our current situation, it seems as though the pandemic is more than just a forced sabbatical on all of us. It has instead become rather apocalyptic in the sense that it is a “revelation,” it is “revealing” something to us about us. We have had numerous instances of racism, classism, sexism rear their ugly heads within us. It’s not that the pandemic caused them, no, the pandemic has further revealed them.

So, seize the night.

Carpe noctem.

Take a hold of this dark time and do not let it go to waste. I realize that many people have said that we should seize this time and learn a skill or new language, and perhaps you have. Great job. Way to go. Keep going.

But in another sense, do not let this time go to waste as a catalyst for you to be changed, transformed, etc. Carpe noctem. If you are having a difficult time with what this time is revealing to you ABOUT YOU, then good. These are things that perhaps have been avoided that only a pandemic would have brought out.

That being said, take heart. Wake up, grow up, clean up and show up to your own life. This time will only go to waste if we return from the pandemic exactly as we were when we went into it.

Carpe noctem.