Saturday, March 21, 2015


Periodically I come across a blog post.  I love the church and so does Carey Nieuwhof.  I just had to share his words that I wish I had written - STEVE.


There’s a lot of church bashing that happens these days. I get that. Some of it is deserved.
Like me, maybe you’ve noticed that a lot of people feel justified in dismissing the church as anything between a complete disappointment and otherwise useless.

Doubtless people have been hurt in the church and hurt by the church, and for that I feel terrible.
But it’s one thing to have a bad experience or a series of bad experiences. It’s another to hang on to them for far longer than you should, especially when you have a role in them that you refuse to see.
So in the hopes of clarifying a few things and helping us all move through whatever hang ups might be lingering, here are 5 things people blame their church for…but shouldn’t.

1. The church didn’t stop you from growing spiritually

Most church leaders have heard this before from someone who’s new at your church. I went to X church for 2 years but I just didn’t grow there. Now I’ve come here. Hopefully I’ll grow!

I’ve heard this so many times at one point I believed the logic. Until I realized that we were this person’s fifth church in 6 years, and they didn’t grow at any of them. Which makes you ask the question…is it really the church, or could it be them?

I came to the realization years ago that I’m responsible for my spiritual growth. Nobody can make me grow. And honestly, no one can keep me from growing because no one can actually control my thoughts, my heart and my mind. I can offer them to God in free surrender whenever I want.
Understand, the church can help, but it’s not responsible for your spiritual growth. You are.

2. The church didn’t burn you out

You meet a lot of people in ministry, both paid and volunteer, who will tell you the church burned them out. As someone who has burned out while leading a church, it would be tempting for me to say “For sure…my church burned me out. You should see the demands people made on me as a pastor and leader!”

But I would never say that.

You know who burned me out?

I did. 
I am responsible for my burnout. I pushed too hard for too long. I didn’t deal with underlying issues.

I burned myself out.

Now, granted, I think ministry can be confusing, and I think it’s easier to burn out in ministry than in other vocations (for the reasons why that is, read this post).

But I’m responsible. And so, honestly, are you. For more on burnout, start with this post.

3. The church didn’t make you cynical

I’ve heard many Christians say “I’m so cynical after working at/attending several churches.”
And for sure, any student of human nature can become cynical.

But the church didn’t make you cynical. You let your heart grow hard. You chose to believe certain things about people, about God, about life, and it built a crust around something that used to be alive and vibrant.

The biggest challenge in life is to see life for what it really is but keeping your heart fully engaged. God loves to help people do that.

I fight cynicism daily. And if anyone makes me cynical, it’s me…not you, not God, not culture, not the church. I want my heart to be alive and celebrating each day. That’s a choice I make with God’s help.

4. The church didn’t cause your unforgiveness

It’s easy to hold a grudge. Get hurt (and yes, I’ve been hurt by people in the church too) and hang onto it long enough, and grudges will form.

Soon you’ll not want to hear someone’s name, let alone run into them in the supermarket.
Too many people in the church or who walked away from the church carry unforgiveness and blame the church for it.

What are you hanging onto from a bad church experience that you need to let go of?

Forgiveness is the one of most Christian things people can do. Yet it’s what far too many Christians withhold from one another.

I love how Mark Twain phrased it: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

5. The church didn’t make you lose your faith

I hesitate to write this one. I’m a church leader. I do everything I can to help people find faith in Jesus Christ.

I also realize I’m far from perfect, that our church is not perfect, and that there never will be perfection on this side of heaven.

It breaks my heart when I hear people say “I went to church but it was so bad/so hypocritical/so shallow I lost my faith.” I realize we don’t always do a good job. In fact, sometimes churches do a terrible job. Sometimes I do a terrible job.

But as you’ve seen throughout this piece, nobody else makes you lose your faith. That was or is a choice you made. It is.

And it’s a choice I make every day. To believe when there are more than a few reasons not to. To love when people don’t love me back. To forgive when it’s easier to hang on to the hurt. To trust when there’s probably a few reasons to stop trusting.

So if you want to believe again…believe again.

A Challenge

Now let me give you a challenge. I realize many of you have been hurt by the church. I realize many of you have grown cynical. And that’s true of people who have left the church and who are in the church.

Here’s the challenge: Be part of the solution. And the solution is not to walk away or be endlessly critical.

The reason I lead a church is because I believe Jesus designed the church to be the hope of the world. Churches are imperfect organizations, but they’re also chosen organizations. We’re on a mission given by Christ. We’re his chosen instrument.

I just want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The world has enough cynics and critics.

We need people and we need leaders who deal hope.

Would you be one of them? Maybe get involved again? Or join a church and decide to work toward a better future? Or start a church of your own? That would be incredible. Really…it would! We need more optimists and more people ready to make the world a better place.

I’d love to hear what you’re taking responsibility for in your life, and how you’ve decided to make a difference.

Monday, March 16, 2015



Today I reach a personal milestone.  It is my 64th birthday.  I am beginning the day with a prayer of thanksgiving for the life God has given me, a bowl of cereal and an English muffin,, and the NCAA Basketball brackets.  Later I will go to work and push some paper that has been accumulating.  What appears to be a bronchial infection will limit my contact with people.  Tonight my wife Dianne will serve me a great dinner of her world class spaghetti and meat balls. Simple plans for one who has seen a whole lot of birthdays.

The world I live in has grown much less simple, however.  It has grown more complicated, more hateful, more dangerous.  I grieve for my world and the state it is in.

Last week some "punks" (to quote Attorney General Eric Holder) ambushed two policemen in the city of Ferguson, throwing more gasoline on a smoldering fire in that racially troubled community. We receive one more disturbing report of American young people who are heading to the Middle East to join ISIS, easily one of the most barbaric terrorist groups we have seen in centuries.  Several more workers attempting to stem the tide of Ebola in Africa were infected themselves with the disease.

The list -- sadly -- goes on and will have grown by more troubles  by the time this post is published.

This is what happens to a world that makes violence  part of the fabric of every day living.  It is what happens in a world where those who know the right thing to do, delay and defer until a tidal wave of hateful insanity is upon them.  It is what happens in a world that thinks we can live comfortably and callously behind our national barriers while others literally die from their life conditions for no other reason than the accident of the location of their birth.

It is what happens in a world that thinks it does not need a God because we prefer the unrestrained license of our personal desires.

Long ago Jesus told us that we should love God with our whole being--and then reminded us that loving God requires obedience to his healing will for the world.

And in the same breath he reminded us that if we really love God WE MUST LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS AS OURSELVES.

So today, I am praying that we will take these two commands seriously--starting with me.

Monday, March 9, 2015



Many years ago I was part of a ministry team sent to Mississippi to explore connecting with churches that were seeking a denomination to become a part of.  I am not sure what criterion they were using in approaching us, but for us it was a chance to establish a presence in the South.  Over 120 years before that, our fledgling missionary efforts in the South had ended when our abolitionist beliefs ran straight into the wall of segregation and pro-slavery sentiment. In fact, our denominational magazine had been burned by postal authorities in Richmond as "dangerous and seditious."

This was in the early 80's and we were hoping that sentiments had changed.  But as we passed near the city of Philadelphia MS, one old preacher made what he meant to be a joke.  "You probably know what happened around here a while back to another group of boys from Ohio."  Our denominational office was in Ohio and he was referring to the killing of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan.  Fortunately, he was an exception to the people in his church; but it was deeply troubling that such an attitude in anyone could be considered humorous.  Murder and racism are not funny.

Only 15 years before my visit to Philadelphia MS, a major event occurred in civil rights history.  In Selma AL nonviolent protestors attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge.  It became known as Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965), taking its name from the beating that roughly 600 peaceful civil rights activists sustained at the hands of white state troopers and police who attacked them with batons and sprayed them with tear gas.

These people were simply protesting so that they could have an equal right to vote--something that African-Americans had been promised 100 years before that.  They were opposed by the embedded racism that justified segregation, states rightists who believed the state should have sovereignty over the nation, and the virulent, violent hatred of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Sadly, racism is not yet ended in America--in fact, a racism exists that often goes both ways.  And the wounds of racism are not healed and there are too many people who gain their self-worth by perpetuating it.  

It is something we cannot stop battling against.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015



This is my youngest grandson, Caleb Jay Huther.  His mother is my youngest daughter, Katie; and her husband, Jason--a high school principal.  Today Katie recorded this conversation on her Facebook Page.

Caleb: Daddy, can I type letters on your computer?
Jason: Sorry buddy it's charging
Caleb: It's charging?
Jason: Yep and we can't touch it while it's charging
Caleb: but Daddy ... How can it be charging if there is no cord plugged in?
Jason: (moment of silence) ... Well buddy ... I didn't realize you were smart enough to figure that out

Katie added:  ... Hah! My educator husband with a million degrees was just outsmarted by our three year old!

I wonder how often I approached my children with the same attitude.

In the Bible, we read of a young pastor, Timothy.  A young pastor/apostle who was given authority far beyond his years.  Yet he had wisdom, passion, and a mature faith.  He received this counsel from an older Christian leader, Paul.  And this was Paul's guidance:

 "Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity." 1 Timothy 4:2 NLT

The church is often guilty of discounting its young.  Oh yes, they want their church to attract youth because "they are the church of the future.  But how much time and energy is spent on actually discipling them? Or bridging the gap between worship that is often very adult-focused and worship that draws children and youth into the presence of God?

And although they lack experience, God often gives children and youth discernment and wisdom beyond their years.  In what way do we try to answer their questions honestly?  In what way do we give them leadership opportunities that allow them to learn how to be leaders?

Just thinking today .....

© 2015 by Stephen L Dunn
Permission is given to reprint this post as long as it is not included in material that is for sale, that it is reproduced in its entirety including the copyright notice, and that a link is provided to this blog.


Monday, February 23, 2015



Four days ago the Christian season of Lent began.  A good part of the planet, especially in our increasingly secularized America, hardly gave it a thought. American television stations still use it as a time-filling story each year, along with sweet tooth-inducing features about fastnacts that are all the rage on Fat Tuesday.  Or people noticed the day when they noticed someone with a smudge of charcoal in the shape of a cross adorning their foreheads.

You probably should know that Ash Wednesday and Lent do not appear in the Bible.    Ash Wednesday, or dies cinerum, the day of ashes, was first described by medieval writers around the seventh or eighth century A.D. It has, however , become a rich observance for Christians (including this one) who observe it.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a season of reflection, repentance and renewal.  For me personally, these passages speak to both the purpose and objective,

" If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7.14

"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." -James 4.8-10

"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me." - Psalm 51.7-17

Most of us and not just Christians live an unreflective life.  We are busy, distracted, doing our days by triage instead with intentionality. We also live in a world where moral values seem to be all too vague or subjective, and what we have is constantly slipping and eroding under the daily onslaught of a culture is amoral at best and truth is perceived as what is good for me and my friends, not by what is undeniably true.

Those of who are committed to following Jesus Christ and developing a Christ-like character are not immune to these temptations nor perfect in our resisting that which is eternal by accepting that which is convenient,  And after a while a subtle pride manifests itself as we retreat all too subtly to Adam's sin--thinking we can run our own lives "thank you, very much.:"

That's why we observe Lent.  To build into our annual rhythm a time to reflect on the reality in which we have been living, repent of what we have allowed to go wrong, and then be renewed by the new mind that God provides.

(C) 2015 by Stephen L Dunn

Wednesday, December 31, 2014



Just a couple of hours until the New Year arrives.  Dianne and I are at the age where a quiet evening at home is preferable to parting til the ball drops.  We both slept a little later to start the day.  Then we binged on popcorn at a nearby Regal to see "The Hobbit--The Battle of Five Armies" (4 1/2 stars out of five).  Had an early dinner at Applebees (meaning three in the afternoon).  We shared the restaurant with yet perky wait staff, families with very young children (who will probably be in bed by seven) and couples of an older persuasion trying to get off the road before the crazies come out.

This evening more popcorn, some dangerous sweets, and in about two hours, a cold bottle of sparkling cider.  Our TV fare has been a Big Bang Theory Marathon on TBS.  Since we have lost touch with the music pop culture, all the variation's of Rockin' New Year's Eve have no appeal.  We will switch to Ryan Secrest at 11:45 and watch the ball drop.  Break open the cider, the annual New Year's Eve Kiss.  Both of us will probably be asleep by 12:25.

Sound boring.--No, satisfying.

New Year's Eve means an end to 2014--filled with memories, challenges, mistakes, and triumphs.  It means that tomorrow we will awaken on a fresh new opportunity (although  it will not look much different from this morning, still embedded in 2014.)

Satisfying is preferable to sensational, the latter often like a comet speeding across the night sky, but forgotten with the sunrise of the next day. Satisfying is a sign of contentment.

The Bible has a thought on that with which I wrap up this post.  "But godliness with contentment is great gain." - I Timothy 6:6

Good counsel with which to greet 2015.