This is the 17th post of a series on Christ-centered church. I began writing to work through my personal experience and heart-wrenching burden for my own church but I’m beginning to see these posts as open letters to the American Christian church.

(If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.)

Ephesians 4 29 BibleIt’s been 25 days since I published a post in this blog series.

I’ve been praying. and reading past journal entries. and praying. and writing. and praying. and talking my husband’s ear off. and praying.

Today’s post does not come easily. or lightly. (and it’s not short. You might want to go to the bathroom first.)

This is a two-part post. First, a confirmation. Then, some hard truth.

The first thing I needed to do was confirm that these hard things I’ve been saying have absolutely NO basis in my own selfish motivations. I discovered that, after reading the first 11 posts in this series, someone referred to me as sanctimonious.

I admit. I didn’t know exactly what it meant. So I Googled it. – “hypocritically pious or devout” – “making a hypocritical show of religious devotion, piety, righteousness, etc.” – “making a show of being morally superior to other people”

My favorite college professor, Dr. Grasty, taught me a lesson that has stuck with me for decades:

When we are criticized, our tendency is to be defensive. Our knee-jerk reaction is to deny. His sage advice? Don’t be a deluded wimp. Have the courage to look for any truth in the criticism. Strip away any acrimonious language, any selfish motivation or defensiveness of the criticizer and diligently search for even a nugget of truth in the accusation.

Sanctimonious. Are these posts sanctimonious? am I sanctimonious? (If you’re more confident in my motivations than I was, you can skip the next few paragraphs by clicking HERE)

I began writing this series at the beginning of fall last year. And then I spent months arguing with God about whether to publish them. I pulled out my previous prayer journal for some hindsight.

Journal Entry Excerpt, Thursday, August 9, 2012:

“Am I really naive to think that if we focus on Christ, YOU will orchestrate the circumstances and not only give us the “optimal” worship service, but You will overwhelm us with an awareness of Your presence?

…I pray for arrogant hearts – including my own – to be freed from pride. To be humbled and full of compassion. I pray for the courage to be authentic. I pray for the obedience to follow your promptings.

…Please show me – tell me – what you want me to say. Please TAKE from me my selfish desires. Please burden my heart for YOUR message, not my agenda.

…If I have this wrong Lord, please change my heart.”

Journal Entry Excerpt, Sunday, August 12, 2012:

“Lord, please don’t let me read things into this that just aren’t there. Please Lord, reveal to me the truth.

…Lord, please, please, please don’t allow Satan to be an influence over my interpretation of this situation. Please fill my head and my heart with YOUR perspective. Please God, don’t allow me to be unintentionally disobedient because I’m misinterpreting these circumstances and not understanding Your will.

Skip ahead. This entry is eerily prophetic.

Journal Entry Excerpt, Wednesday, November 21, 2012:

“Please Lord, as I write, lead me to find the words which will open minds and hearts – without shutting down the path of communication. Please Lord, help me find the line between honest and accusatory – between challenging and insulting.

How do I call attention to the pursuit of Christ without people getting caught up in defensiveness to the point they shut off the message?”

Skip ahead. The day before I published the first post.

Journal Entry Excerpt, Sunday, February 3, 2013:

“Lord, please give me courage. Bless me with wisdom and words of grace and unflinching honesty. Please Lord, place your hand at the small of my back and guide me. Please place your hand of restraint on my shoulder when I am overcome by pride or anger so I won’t say things that are unedifying. Please, please empty my mind of distractions and open my heart to your presence. Help me to focus not only my eyes on you, but my hope also. You alone can redeem this seemingly hopeless circumstance. Please bless me with encouragement, Lord. Please, please, please – don’t let me fail to understand and do my part in Your perfect story.”

In my last post, 25 days ago, I asked if you would PLEASE PRAY WITH ME. I asked you to pray that the Holy Spirit would bring revival to my church. And I said that because we are doers and fixers, the question that usually follows that is:

“But what else can I do?”

I hold steady to my answer: NOTHING else. We can’t bring revival. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

So please. Please PRAY. Pray for revival. Pray for God’s will to be done.

God is Able.

I am not. We are not.

I BELIEVE that prayer is more powerful than ANYthing we can do on our own.

So. sanctimonious?

no. I know I am less, not more.

And here comes the hard part. the part I prayed about for 25 days before I published this post.

As a unified body of believers, my church doesn’t want revival. My church doesn’t want change. My church doesn’t want to rely wholly on God. My church doesn’t want to pray unreasonable prayers. My church doesn’t want to pray for unreasonable lengths of time. My church doesn’t want to pray with unreasonable persistence. They don’t see a need.

they are fine.

They want to continue doing things they way they do them.

On their own.

Here’s a question my husband posed to me:

“Consider all the man-hours involved in doing all the things we do at our church. From admin to ministry, from service to worship, from study to fellowship. Consider how many man-hours – Church staff, lay leaders, members, volunteers – are involved in activities and ministries both on and off the church campus.

How many of those hours are Christ-centered?

The answer should be ALL OF THEM.

He’s right.

MrYehbut: “EVERY man-hour can’t be Christ-centered.”

yes. They can.

If the WHY and the HOW of WHAT we do is centered on Christ.

Brother Lawrence was a 17th century monk. His job at the monastery? He was a cook. And his job was Christ-centered. Because he strove to do everything “as unto the Lord.”

“…he went to his work appointed in the kitchen (for he was cook to the society); there having first considered severally the things his office required, and when and how each thing was to be done, he spent all the intervals of his time, as well before as after his work, in prayer. That when he began his business, he said to GOD, with a filial trust in Him, “O my GOD, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections.” (emphasis added)

EVERYthing we do at our church can be – should be – Christ-centered.

But that’s not the case.


So. many. reasons.

But at the core, this seems to be the looming, pervading, deep-rooted reason:

We don’t trust God.

MrYehbut: “If we change, people will complain.

yes. some will.

MrYehbut: “If we change, people will leave.

yes. some will.

MrYehbut: “If people leave, giving will go down and the church might not survive.

yes. that’s entirely possible.

“We can’t let that happen!”

And I find myself thinking of Abram and Sarai.

God told Abram to leave his home and go to “the land I will show you.” He promised Abram He would bless him and make him a great nation. So Abram packed up and went. Turns out, there was famine in “the land I will show you.”

But God had promised. “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you.” Famine? There’s nothing great about famine. It is NOT a blessing. At least from not from Abram’s point of view. So Abram went to Egypt, and despite God’s promises, he asked his wife, Sarai to do him a favor:

“Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

Because the Almighty GOD isn’t able to protect Abram. He needed his wife to protect him. By lying.

Why did Abram ask her to do that?

He didn’t trust God.

And motivated by that lack of trust, he took matters into his own hands and made what seemed to be a reasonable and effective decision. Abram was afraid to surrender his will; his idea of how things should be. He didn’t want to risk any suffering. Because surely, God wouldn’t want him to suffer.

What if the people of Christian churches everywhere surrendered their idea of how things should be? What if we trusted God, even if it meant we might suffer? What if we STOPPED? And evaluated EVERY. SINGLE. THING. we do. And honestly asked, for each and every ministry, each and every decision:

“What’s the goal?”
“Is this Christ-centered?”
“Does this lead to the development of intimate relationship with CHRIST?”
“Does it actively provide a witness to salvation through Jesus Christ?”
“God, what do YOU want?”

What if we STOPPED asking each other “What can we do?” and started asking God “LORD, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO THROUGH US?”

Do NOT tell me that is semantics. Not when I’m inundated by reasonable lukewarm mediocrity. It is only language if the prayer is perfunctory. But when we are face down on the floor, palms up, sincerely humble and desperately expectant in prayer it will NOT be semantics.

This subtle change in language, combined with a transformed heart, an open mind and a sacrifice of will, would have infinitely HUGE implications in application and fruitfulness.”

Instead, we regularly dismiss the need to consistently pray and ask God to reveal His will, to guide us as we decide what to do and equip us as we do it – from worship services to programing to service to ministry.

One heartbreaking reason? Because too many people don’t believe we will be able to discern God’s answers. Because they haven’t experienced the kind of intimacy with Christ that is necessary to hear and discern His voice.

There are some people mocking me right now. “How sanctimonious. God talks to her. Isn’t that special.

I believe God DOES speak to His people.
I believe it IS possible to experience the kind of relationship with Christ that allows US to hear and discern his voice.

Am I saying I know what God wants?
NO. I’m saying, PLEASE, CAN WE ASK HIM? TOGETHER? and WAIT on Him to answer? and TRUST Him?

I trust God to do WHATever He wants at my church. Even if it ends in the kind of death that results in empty rooms, no electricity and plywood on the windows.

MrYehbut: “That’s easy for you to say. You have nothing to lose.”

There ain’t nothing about this that’s easy. I’m acutely aware of what I might lose. of what I’ve already lost. and it’s been wrecking me for nearly a year. wreck. ing. me. It invades my days, interrupts my nights and fills my prayer journal.

MrYehbut: “You want our church to die?”


But if God allowed it, I would still trust Him. I would mourn the death, but I trust Him to work it for His good. Even if I don’t understand. Even if He doesn’t provide a way for me to see the good.

DO NOT tell me I don’t understand. I get the seriousness of the situation. I don’t like it. I HATE it. I understand that if we were to truly give God EVERYthing in this Church He might allow it to die.


He might prune it to a stub.

John 15 2 pruned vineWill people leave if we have the courage, motivation and obedience to trust wholly in God?

Will people leave if we intentionally enter into and strive to maintain an intimate relationship with Christ?

Will people leave if we dedicate ourselves to seeking his guidance and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit?

Will people leave if we submit everything we do to the will of the Father?

YES. SOME PEOPLE WILL LEAVE. People who GIVE and support the church financially and through their service WILL LEAVE.

And we need to let them go.

I’m going to say another hard thing.

Because we don’t focus on Christ and depend wholly on the Holy Spirit to guide us and equip us people – some of those same people we are afraid of losing – people who GIVE and support the church – ARE ALREADY LEAVING. I know some of their names and faces and heartaches. Some people who GIVE and support the church are dying. The elderly and the sick. It is only a matter of time until the people we are trying to keep – and keep happy – are gone. or dead.

Then what?

The death we fear, the death of our church, will come. We will have only prolonged the inevitable. Because eventually, we’ll all be gone too.

Our absence will make us no less responsible for the death of our church.

This is why God is making me say these hard things. In wrecked love for the people of my church. In a spirit of edification. Against my own selfish will. Because it would be so much easier…

so. much. easier.

to just leave.

please. pray.

not a fan - christ follower

“…when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was likely to cause them to leave…

…’From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him’
(John 6: 66).

Many of the fans turn to go home. I was struck by the fact that Jesus doesn’t chase after them. He doesn’t soften his message to make it more appealing…As I sat in the sanctuary surrounded by thousands of empty seats, here’s what became clear to me: it wasn’t the size of the crowd Jesus cared about; it was their level of commitment.”
Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus

by Kyle Idleman

This is the 17th post of a series on Christ-centered church. If you want to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.

Vertical Church: a clarification. and a survey.

This is the 16th post of a series. In my previous post, entitled “church: THERE. IS. MORE.” I drilled down to the core of the issue. Today, I’m clarifying something I think may have gotten buried.

(If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.)

Been thinkin.


and prayin. and prayin…

I said something in my previous post, but I’m not sure it came through. I need to try again. If you got it the first time, bear with me.

There are people in my church who understand what I’m saying when I talk about being Christ-centered.

There are people in my church who are experiencing abundant life in Christ through an intimate relationship with Him.

Are YOU one of those people? Is YOUR faith in Jesus at the center of your life? Are YOU experiencing abundant life in Christ through an intimate relationship with Him?



For us.

As individuals.

But what about our churches?

At my church, as a unified body of believers,

We profess belief in God. We pray to God. We give offerings to God. We learn how to live good, moral, Christian lives. We learn about discipline and character. We sing praise to God. We serve others in the name of God. We love each other. We support each other. We encourage each other. We help others. We serve others. We accept others.


WE, as a unified body of believers, are not Christ-centered.
WE, as a unified body of believers, don’t view the heart of the gospel as the foundation for everything we do.
WE, as a unified body of believers, don’t even have a common understanding of what the word “gospel” means.

The definition of the word “gospel” isn’t limited to: “Jesus saves!”

To share the “good news” of Jesus Christ is to declare the excellencies of Him from every Scripture and perspective possible – NOT just the fact that He saves sinners from eternity in Hell.


Jesus is the VINE and everything we do as a church should branch off from that Vine and be fruitful:

I’m praying that OUR intrinsic need for Jesus would be at the heart of our church culture,
– because more often than they should, our affinity for each other, our acceptance of each other and our service supersede a shared acknowledgement that the greatest thing we have in common is our need for Christ.

I’m praying OUR corporate prayers would articulate that we know we are the body of CHRIST and that we are utterly dependent on Him for everything we need;
– because when we aren’t intentional, we tend to pray as body of believers who need and love God. In general.

Focus on Christ lensI’m praying OUR understanding that it is Jesus who makes Christianity distinct from every other religion would be at the forefront of our collective focus;
– I’m praying that a visitor would never leave our worship service without a clear understanding that we believe and worship the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, not just “God.” In general.

I’m praying OUR love of Jesus would fuel our passion to know Him intimately and to understand the depth of His love for us;
– because I believe too often our love for Him motivates us to strive to live a good Christian life. So He’ll love us more?

I’m praying that as people become active in our church, there would be some specific, consistent but comfortable time and place we intentionally ask them how they came to their faith in Christ;
– instead of asking them how they came to our church, so we would have an opportunity to hear their testimony rather than just their church membership history.

I’m praying that OUR desire to share Jesus would be the underlying reason for every single ministry;
– as we provide for the temporal needs of others, I’m praying we also make sure we share how our discovery of the Bread of Life and the source of living water has changed our lives and given us the hope that is within us.

I’m praying that OUR determination to do EVERYthing in the name of the Lord Jesus would be THE reason for each and every one of our programs.

I’m praying that teaching the Bible-encompassing redemptive story of Jesus would be the ultimate goal of all our classes;
– not just some. I’m praying that even classes on personal growth, discipline and character development would be clearly grounded in Biblical wisdom and the concepts taught would be intentionally recognized as an outgrowth of our relationship with Christ.

I’m praying that OUR collective gifts would freely and sacrificially overflow from our gratitude and knowledge that Jesus is enough;
– because when we have unwavering confidence in Christ, we can begin to give without fear – and find JOY in the giving.

I’m praying that WE would have a hunger for the whole counsel of God – from the Old Testament and the New Testament;
– that we would seek and find the common thread that runs through the entire Bible so we can clearly recognize the Sovereignty of a perfect, all powerful, all knowing, ever present God.

I’m praying that the proclamation of the Gospel – declaring the excellencies of Him from every Scripture and perspective possible – would be THE clear and unmitigated reason for every. single. Sunday morning service;
– because we never know who is listening or how God is moving in someone’s heart, mind and life that particular day.

I’m praying that WE, as the body of Christ, would consistently, cohesively and clearly evidence a commitment to Christ-centeredness – in ALL we do;
– and if something we are doing doesn’t evidence a commitment to Him or allow us to be witnesses for Him, we would re-evaluate why we’re doing it – and whether we should be doing it at all.

I’m praying that as the body of Christ, our corporate worship services would evidence a deep commitment to and complete reliance on CHRIST. I’m praying that, in every interpersonal interaction, we would be witnesses to how we’ve been transformed by our relationship with Christ. I’m praying that witness would be crystal clear to any visitor who attends our Sunday morning services.

If you read that list and thought, “I already do all the things she’s praying for.” and “None of that applies to me.”

That’s EXCELLENT. And you’re right.

Absolutely, unequivocally RIGHT. None of it applies to YOU.

I am NOT talking about YOU. As an individual.

I’m talking about my CHURCH. As a body. Made up of many, many, many individuals.

If, in that context, you understand and agree with anything in that list, then PLEASE PRAY WITH ME?

That the HOLY SPIRIT WILL BRING REVIVAL to our church.

Because we are doers and fixers, the question that usually follows that is: “But what else can I do?”

NOTHING else. You can’t bring revival. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.


God is Able. Prayer is more powerful than ANYthing we can do on our own.

If you disagree with the things on the list, if you think I am flat out wrong, please…give me a few more minutes of your time. A few months ago, I took a quiz and I want to invite you take it too.

Resist the tendency to answer as an individual. Step back. Try and answer as a member of your church.

Even more difficult and uncomfortable? Step back even further. Try to look objectively through the eyes of a visitor and answer.

Review all ten statements and apply a number equal to that element’s frequency in your church. [emphasis added]

5 = weekly 4 = regularly 3 = periodically 2 = occasionally 1 = infrequently 0 = never

1. Expectant prayer frequently before, after, and during the actual service. God’s grace petitioned for healing work at every level: mind, emotions, and body. Where stories of healings of all kinds are regular and verifiable as God’s response to prayers of faith from His people. (James 5:14-16)

2. Powerful “thus says the Lord” biblical preaching where people have a distinct sense of hearing God speak with authority into their souls in a way that brings Holy Spirit conviction they cannot deny or dismiss.

3. Where people line up at the doors long before the service starts and rush to the front to get the best seats for passionate, expressive worship where the voices are loud, hands are raised, tears are flowing, minds are expanded, and hearts are moved as Christ is adored by every one in every corner of the room, from the very first note. The passion of their praise testifies to the reality of God’s presence and melts the hearts of those attending who do not yet believe. (1 Corinthians 14:24– 25)

4. Where individual salvations proportionate to the size of the church regularly and continuously occur in large numbers because people want their friends to experience what they have. Salvations flowing from all walks of life— from the businessman who discovered his millions as worthless to the derelict or prostitute who looked up from his or her addiction and despair to experience the total transformation of their now and forever. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

5. Where racial, economic, language, and generational diversity is growing because what we have in common in the Lord is far greater than the things that separate. Where the white guy covered in piercings and tattoos sits beside the black businessman and the babe who is inappropriately dressed but everyone welcomes and embraces her because they remember when they were like that. (Galatians 3:28)

6. Where the majority of adults gather in smaller groups to stir up and spur on and support the weight of walking with God. Where relationships flourish and follow the biblical pattern of grace and truth. 57 Not the shallow grace of mutual enablement but the truthful grace that fights for God’s best in each other, one relationship at a time. And Christians love and forgive and forbear and carry one another’s burdens from house to house. (Acts 2:26, Galatians 6:2)

7. Where elders lead, discord is not tolerated, and people are held to account. But where leaders also listen and learn, loving the people and letting the unity of the Spirit be enjoyed by all who persevere in working to keep it. (Ephesians 4:1– 2)

8. Where Christ reigns and is exalted increasingly as Head in the hearts of the people, so that gratefulness overflows into graciousness and generosity so that Christians become disciples and disciples become leaders and leaders are frequently sent out so that churches are planted nearby and around the globe. (1 Timothy 2:2)

9. Where the needs of the poor are met and those in prison are visited and aliens are welcomed as friends and strangers are served as brothers and widows are not neglected. Where these priorities are not a program or a phase but the lasting overflow of God’s abundance in our hearts.

10. Where all of these things are manifest. As in, everyone sees it and knows it and feels it and delights in it. Manifest means visible, obvious, undeniable activity that cannot be attributed to a person or a place or a program and is totally disproportionate to the ones who experience this abundance with overflowing joy as glory comes down when they gather.

Add your boxes for a total that helps you evaluate your current Verticality.
40– 50 = A Vertical Church to the glory of God— keep it up and spread the word.
30– 40 = More Vertical than most— review the survey for areas of improvement.
20– 30 = Feeling the heaviness of your horizontalness? Much to follow in this book will help you.
10– 20 = Your honesty is good, but it’s time to get on your knees and deal with what hinders.
0– 10 = We will deal with your kind of church in chapter 4— God may have a new plan.

(from Vertical Church, by James MacDonald)

How did I score?

Let’s just say I immediately skipped ahead to Chapter 4. And I didn’t have to do any math first.

but over the last month, I would have to bump myself up to the 10 – 20 range. Because right now?

#2 is a FIVE.

I believe God is still moving. I’m desperately, persistently praying He’s not finished here yet.

desperately. persistently. not exaggerating.

desperate for a christ centered church“…a huge difference— the difference between knowing the gospel and being consumed by the gospel, being defined by the gospel, being driven by the gospel. It’s one thing to see the gospel as an important facet of one’s ministry. It’s quite another to hold firmly to it as the centerpiece for all a church is and does, to completely orbit around it.

The gospel. Though such a glorious thing, it’s also such a simple thing— so simple we almost overlook it. Such a basic thing, we’re tempted to feel as if we’ve somehow graduated beyond it. And yet without this simple thing, this basic thing— without the life-giving gospel driving and defining both us and our churches— there really isn’t much of anything that makes us distinct and alive, nothing that other people, groups, and organizations aren’t already doing…

…In your heart perhaps— if you’re being very honest— you sense a loss of awe for the gospel, a failure to connect its power to your entire ministry…

…So here at this place of recognition and regret, we meet together to start a fresh journey into the heart of the gospel, prepared to be newly amazed by it, resolved to let its principles begin shaping how our churches worship, serve, and operate.

from Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church
by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger

This is the 16th post of a series. If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.