3 Reasons Why People Lose Their Faith

I’m a notorious loser. But not in the way you are thinking. See, I lose things. I lose my keys and my phone just about every day. I can never find my computer power cord. I couldn’t tell you the last time I owned a pair of sunglasses for more than a week or two.

But it’s one thing to lose your keys, and it’s another thing to lose your faith. Replacing your keys (though troublesome) is possible. Replacing your faith is much more challenging.

There are a lot of reasons that people walk away from their beliefs. Each person has their own set of motives, I’m sure. But in my experience as a minister over the last many years, there are three reasons I see most often.

The Teaching Is Too Hard to Understand

In John 6, there is a fascinating exchange between Jesus and his followers. In verse 56 Jesus says, “Those who eat my body and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them.” This must have been the first time many of his followers heard anything like this and they didn’t like it. According to John, they said, “This teaching is hard, who can accept it?” After that, many of them stopped following Jesus.

Of course, Jesus was speaking in spiritual terms. The followers, who had recently feasted on the miraculous loaves and fishes, thought Jesus was being literal.

Today, a lot of people decide to walk away from their faith the moment they can’t understand every tiny detail. To them, if God cannot be rationalized and categorized then they can’t believe.

It’s okay to have questions if you’re a believer. It’s ok to have gaps in your belief.

Faith is what lies in the gap between what you know and what you don’t know yet.Click To Tweet

You would think that because I’m a pastor I don’t have any doubts or questions about my faith. I have tons! There are many things I don’t understand, but I know that one day I will.

The Lifestyle Is Too Hard To Follow

Can we be honest? It’s hard to be a good Christian. It’s tough to forgive others. It’s challenging to be patient with people. And it’s near impossible to forgive in all situations.

My default mode is to be selfish–to look out for #1. But following Jesus means that we need to act opposite of our selfish ways. We should put others first. We should turn the other cheek when wronged. We should be patient with people. It’s just much, much easier not to.

In Matthew 7:13, Jesus said we should “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

The narrow gate is the harder path to navigate. The wide gate is easy to enter. Anyone can do it.

Frankly, people give up on Christianity because they thought it would be easy. Someone must have told them that when they decided to follow Jesus life would be a cinch. Sorry, the opposite is true. Those who decide to place their faith in Christ face an uphill battle. They must suppress their fleshly desires and seek God and his desires.

I realize that I’m not painting a rosy picture of Christianity here but I’m being honest.

People leave Jesus because it’s harder to believe than not to.Click To Tweet

The People are Too Difficult To Live With

Of all the people I’ve known that have fallen away from Jesus, most have left because of other Christians. They’ve been mistreated, spiritually abused or exploited, taken advantage of, and lied to.

Maybe you’ve felt this way too? Perhaps you trusted someone who professes to be a “Christian” but acts like the devil. You may feel betrayed and rejected by them and so you turn your back on God.

Remember that Jesus was betrayed too. He was rejected. In the gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus asked his disciples, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”

Jesus knew that Judas would betray him and yet, he still chose him. Do you ever wonder what it was like for Jesus to spend three years with Judas, the whole time knowing that Judas would sell him out? And yet, during the last supper, Jesus washed the feet of all his disciples. That included Judas, his betrayer. What an incredible picture of love and acceptance.

So, What To Do?

I know that it’s tempting to abandon faith because a few of the “faithful” are poor examples of Christianity. But don’t. Remember that Jesus accepted Judas. Remember that Jesus died for everyone, including those who left him because his teaching was “too hard.”

Learn to rely on Christ for guidance on the narrow path. Lastly, learn to be comfortable not understanding everything. After all, the prophet Isaiah quoted God as saying, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”

When Communicating, Less Is More

When communicating, there’s an indisputable truth that exists in this world. It’s the notion that less is more. But for whatever reason, Americans are stuck on the idea that more is more.

This leads to all kinds of problems in life. Think about it, your doctor never said, “Well, Bill, I would be happier with your overall health if you added 30 pounds of needless weight.” In most situations, bigger is not better.

That’s one of the reasons that all ministry leaders should have William Strunk and E.B. White’s “Elements of Style” in their toolbox. Yes, it’s an old book, but it contains ageless truths about the lost art of communication. Listen to this,

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

In ministry, brevity is an important factor while communicating. Especially in an age where the attention span is dwindling at an alarming rate. While Strunk and White’s book generally applies to the craft of writing, you can also apply the concepts to speaking. So many times I have sat in a church service listening to a ministry leader verbally wander through an announcement, meditation, or sermon with no goal in sight. Here’s what the authors say about adding needless ideas to communication,

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.Click To Tweet

The book is loaded with helpful suggestions on what it means to make your communication concise and clear. It also contains lots of examples on proper usage of grammatical challenges in writing, for example, where to place apostrophes and commas.

Next year the book turns 100. Considering that it is listed as the #1 seller in all Amazon writing and publishing categories, one can see how the book has stood the test of time.

Grab it and drop it in your ministry toolbox today. It will help you to be a better communicator!

3 Solutions For Church Summer Slump

This is going to sound unbelievable but I assure you it’s 100% true.

When I was about 10 years old my family attended a little Baptist church in Detroit. It was a while ago but I’m guessing that there were about 100 members.

Like any little church, the dreaded “summer slump” arrived every June, July, and August as church-goers chose to spend their summer time on vacations, traveling, or at the beach on Sunday.

In an effort to drum up attendance the pastor came up with a brilliant idea. The idea was to make a life-sized dummy called, “Mr. Summer Slump.” Someone in the church made him by stuffing old rags into some second-hand clothes, complete with a head, a hat, and a painted on face. Seriously, it was creepy!

Each Sunday School class was made to keep attendance and the teacher with the lowest amount of people was forced to sit next to Mr. Summer Slump in the front row of the church! I guess embarrassing your key volunteers is the best way to provoke them to action.

I’ve been in ministry for many years and I’ve experienced the summer slump regularly each year. Here are some better ways to handle it.

Decrease Your Worship Services

It seems obvious, right? You’d be surprised how many churches don’t consider moving from 3 services to 2 for the summer, or from 2 to 1. The great fear is that you won’t be able to regain attendance in the fall. The opposite is true. In my experience, minimizing services is exciting and allows more people to connect. Plus, it’s a nice break for your volunteers.

I know this doesn’t help you if you already only have one service. However, you might even consider moving your regular service back an hour. A lot of people get used to sleeping later during the summer and that extra hour of sleep is just what they need on Sunday morning.

Rearrange The Chairs

Really? Can you do that? Yes! Is there anything worse than that oh-so-empty feeling in the auditorium? Whenever 70% or less of the chairs are filled on Sunday it sends a subconscious message to the congregation: “Where is everybody? And if they’re not here, why am I here?”

Try rearranging your normal chair setup. Okay, this isn’t going to work if you have pews, but if you have movable chairs you can minimize the size of your rows by a chair or two. You can also spread them out a little bit so that whatever space was taken up by 150 chairs is not taken up by 115.

Increase Your Social Media Connections

Many people miss church in the summer simply because they are on vacation. They aren’t really lazy or trying to avoid God, it’s just that they have been planning a family trip in the summer.

Try being really intentional about sharing all of what’s happening in the church family via social media. Obviously, that means uploading the teaching for the week but how about sharing the vision on a regular basis with those who are away? You can also connect by writing to your congregation through email or on a blog. That way it won’t feel like the only way to experience the church family is by attending on a Sunday morning.

And by the way, if you’re worried about breaking people’s routine or stepping on a few toes by changing stuff then good! That’s exactly what the summer slump needs. Something different. In the summer, different is good!

Your Free Graphic Designer

Lots of big churches employ at least one person to produce quality, custom graphics for sermon series, events, flyers, and social media. But if you’re involved in ministry at a smaller level you may be frustrated by the mediocre graphics that often accompany your projects.

In the small church world, one is often forced to accept whatever volunteers are willing to produce (if you’re lucky) or concede to designing something yourself.

If this describes you then put Canva in your toolbox today. Canva makes even the least able designer capable of pro-level designs for just about anything. Using pre-designed examples (not necessarily just templates), Canva is a great solution and best of all it’s almost completely free.

Here are some of the types of graphics you can make with Canva

  • Social Media graphics for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
  • Slides for presentations or sermons
  • Certificates
  • Letterhead & business cards
  • Book covers
  • Album covers
  • Posters and brochures
  • Tons more, too many to list!

Here are some of the graphics that I’ve designed using the Canva.com platform. All are based on existing Canva templates. All I had to do was drag my photos into place and change the wording. Very minimal design was needed to produce these graphics and they were all free.

So give it a shot next time you need to create a graphic for something. I bet you’ll be amazed at the results.

An Open Letter to the “Christian” Who Ripped Me Off

Dear Christian Car Dealer,

I just want to say please, please stop telling other people that you’re a Christian. At least if you’re going to conduct business the way you did with me. See, when I saw the crosses on the wall of your showroom and perused the selection of Bible tracts you had available on your desk I thought I could trust you.

Boy, was I wrong.

See, I told you that I needed to buy a car for my kids to drive around. You know, to get to school and practice and stuff. You said you had just the thing and then I bought a nice little 10-year-old car for $3,700. You should remember me, I paid cash. 37 crisp Ben Franklins in your hand.

Yes, I test drove the car and did a basic check of the engine. Everything seemed fine.

But, not two hours after I got the car home it started acting up! It wouldn’t shift into gear and when it finally did it was such a jolt I thought I would see the transmission trailing behind me in the street.

I brought the car right back to you. What you said next floored me. You said, “Well, this isn’t going to end well for you.” Yes, those were your exact words.

I said, “I haven’t even owned the car 24 hours. Can’t you do something? Like take it back and put me into another car on your lot?”

You said, “I’m real sorry. You bought it as is so there’s nothing I can do.”

Yes, sir, there is something you can do. You can act with integrity. You know that you sold me a bad car. You knew it and still, you did it.

Please understand, I’m not perfect. I mess up too. But, I would never screw a brother or sister over on purpose. Not for $3,700–not for $100,000.

So, please, take down the crosses and put away the gospel tracts. Stop telling people that you’re a believer. You’re making it hard for Christians everywhere. You’re feeding into the perception that we are greedy and that we don’t care about others.

Our culture is hurting and losing hope. People are more distrustful of each other than ever before. Know this, the world is watching Christians carefully to find out if what we believe makes a difference. They want to know if Jesus is real.

In the long run, I’ll be fine. My best friend actually gave me a car for my kids to drive. He did that because he felt bad for how badly you treated me.

In closing, I hope that you are treated better by other believers than you treated me. I hope that you’ll have more opportunities to make the right decision later. Because, honestly, I felt more betrayed by your deception than by just about anything else that has happened to me lately.

Sincerely,

Phil

What The Church Is Not: Part 1

One of my favorite TV shows is Mythbusters. I love the way Jamie and Adam take a well-known idea and apply testing to confirm whether it’s true or just a myth. I plan to do the same in a new 4-part series called, “What The Church Is Not…”

Part 1: The Church is not a BUILDING, it’s a BODY.

In Matthew 16, when Jesus told Peter that he would “build his church” he was not talking about any kind of structure. He was talking about the founding of a group of people, called for a specific purpose. Much has been made of the Greek word Ekklesia, but the simplest understanding of the word is an “assembly or congregation.” Here are the biggest challenges Christians may have when they perceive the church as a building.

The Property Becomes More Important Than The People

When someone tells me, “Phil, I’ll meet you up at the church” I respond, “Yes, I’ll see you at the building where our church meets.

Frequently, I get eye rolls.

Yet, if we don’t get this right people will place too much importance on the structure–the steeple, the carpeting, the pews, the pulpit, and so on. Historically, this has lead to arguments about carpeting, decorations, remodeling, and a lot of other pointless things.

Plus, it can lead into an expensive capital campaign, causing the congregation to place all or most of their finances into erecting a structure rather than allowing the people to spend their dollars within the community where help is severely needed.

It might seem like splitting hairs but it is drastically important. See, Jesus didn’t die for the bricks and mortar that make up our building. He died for the people that fill the building each Sunday and during the week.

The Danger of The Stationary Church

Almost every church body holds at least one weekly gathering. Most of the time this is on Sunday. So, for one or two hours the people are being the church. But, the people should be the church during the 166-167 hours when we aren’t gathered together as well.

Joel Hunter, the pastor of Northland Church in Florida, said it best, “the church happens not so much when we gather, but when we scatter.”

The church happens not so much when we gather, but when we scatter. -Joel HunterClick To Tweet

Jesus said that we should “go into all the world” and share all that he had taught us (Matthew 29:19-20). Certainly, a weekly meeting of souls is part of that directive, but it’s not the sum total.

For many, a cool weekly gathering, filled with powerful music and an uplifting message is the first experience they may have with Jesus. But it can’t be only place they experience Christ. Many people will never venture into a church building…ever. By calling our buildings “the church” we unwittingly place the task of reaching the lost on the staff of our churches and on Sunday morning.

The Organization Vs. The Organism

The church is people, plain and simple. It’s a living and breathing organism. Every time someone new joins the congregation the body changes a little. It absorbs and takes on the new personality of those who are a part of it. We’ll miss that if we place too much emphasis on the organization and not the organism.

Pastors are often guilty of missing this point. I’ve said it myself, “I have a church to run.” You don’t run a church, you run an organization, a business, or an enterprise. If the church is full of people it should operate more like a family, not an organization.

So let’s remember that we are part of this great thing called “the church.” It’s a group of people who belong to something amazing, something ancient, something living.

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Romans 12:4-5

4 Simple Ways To Beat Stress & Avoid Burnout

Slowing down is a matter of survival. I learned this the hard way on a Saturday afternoon in 2013.

I was doing what I always did on Saturday–running around like a crazy person, dropping kids off at sports, texting church members about upcoming events, and fielding calls about an upcoming baptism at my house.

While I was driving that day I felt my chest constrict and I was having trouble breathing. “This can’t be happening,” I thought. “I don’t have time for a heart attack!” Reluctantly, I headed to the hospital. In the E.R. they ran all the usual tests, echocardiogram, chest x-ray, and so on. They found nothing.

“Everything looks good” the doctor said. “It’s probably an anxiety attack. Are you under a lot of stress?” When I told him I was a pastor and a police chaplain he flashed me a concerned smile and suggested that I see my doctor to talk about stress reduction.

Since then I’ve changed a lot about the way I work. Besides hiring an assistant, seeing a therapist about once a month, and taking a small dose of anti-anxiety medication, here’s the most important thing I do now.

I slow down.

 

If you have been feeling stressed here’s four simple steps you can take, along with the acronym “SLOW” to help you remember.

1 – SILENCE

Don’t be afraid of silence. It’s hard to be quiet in our culture. If I had time driving or waiting in line I would make a phone call or text. Now, I just allow myself to be quiet. Call it prayer or meditation, if you wish, but I’ve learned that my mind comes alive in the silence.

2 – LISTEN

Like silence this is difficult. Listening is an art form. I don’t mean listening to music or a podcast. I’m talking about slowing down enough to hear what people around you are really saying. This is not listening for problem solving, but listening for understanding and empathy. Also, in the quiet moments of silence you can listen for what God is saying to you too.

3 – OBSERVE

I had lost the ability to see and notice the beauty of the world around me. Taking time to notice things helps you remain in the present. Yes, life can be ugly, but there’s a lot that is appealing too. Make a decision to observe what’s good for your head and heart. That means avoiding the news for a while and going to an art gallery or taking a walk on the beach at sunset.

4 – WAIT

Learn to wait. We are so impatient! Next time you’re in line for something at the post office or tax collector’s office don’t whip out your phone, don’t text, don’t put in your earbuds. Try waiting patiently…quietly. This is a trick that I have to make time slow down. It’s a ninja-like skill to wait without distracting yourself with an electronic device. Waiting forces you to slow down and when you do it’s easier to observe and listen.

Since 2013 I’ve relapsed a couple of times. I’ve allowed myself to become over-involved, over-extended and generally worn out. Whenever that happens I come back to this acronym and put it in place again. It always helps.

So tell me, how do you deal with stress, busyness, and potential burnout? Consider leaving a comment and let me know!

Dealing With Doubt

When my kids were young they liked to ask a lot of questions. This was especially true of my daughter. After asking a question and receiving an answer she would say “why?” I would further explain and answer her question only to hear her say “why?” again. And again. And again!

We encourage children to ask questions. It’s a part of the learning process. When it comes to God, however, we are often afraid to ask questions. It’s as if by some reason to ask a question of God is to lack faith.

Doubt and disbelief are very different. The word doubt comes from the latin word dubium, which means “to hesitate.” Disbelief is a wholesale rejection of an idea or principle. Plenty of men and women in the Bible hesitated in their belief. This includes Abraham (Genesis 16), David (Psalm 13), and John the baptist (Matthew 14).

Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus, was unwilling to believe in the risen Christ without physical proof. Jesus didn’t reject Thomas or even scold him. Instead, he allowed Thomas to have doubts, and then invited him to feel the nail scars on his hands and to touch the spear wound on his side (John 20:24–29).

Doubt is not a spiritual crime — it’s the effect of being human. Author Philip Yancey states that the “invisibility of God guarantees doubt.” As long as we are breathing we will be subject to doubts. It’s natural and normal. But it doesn’t have to be faith shattering.

If you’re struggling with doubt here are some suggestions:

1) Don’t doubt alone. Share your struggles with a trusted friend. Don’t keep them hidden. You might feel shame because you have doubts but finding out that other people might have the same doubts is empowering. You’re not alone!

2) Notice what God is doing around you. If you watch the news too much it seems like God is not working. However, look for stories of hope and redemption. They are everywhere! When John the baptist doubted Christ, Jesus sent word to him: “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them.” He quoted a passage in Isaiah to affirm that God is at work. That was true then and it is true now.

3) Lastly, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to pray and honest prayer to God and ask for help. Ask God to reveal himself to you more clearly and to help you with your doubt. In Mark 9 Jesus meets a man who has a son that is demon-possessed. The man is lacking in faith but soon realizes his error and and says plainly, “help me in my unbelief!” He was granted that wish very quickly by Jesus.