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My friend, Stephen Norberg, sent this to me recently:

“I got baptized at the front of a large church when I was 16 years old. I announced to everyone that I was getting baptized because I had decided following Jesus was more exciting than anything this world had to offer. Years later, I would be lying if I said my experience in ministry and as a pastor was nearly as exciting as simply following Jesus. And that makes me sad.

It seems that Christianity, and pastoral ministry especially, has largely evolved to become about more than just following Jesus and helping other people follow Jesus. Most pastors I know have schedules packed with meetings and meetings about meetings; between the planning, the sermon preparations, and the endless recruiting of warm bodies to accomplish all the church tasks that need doing, very little time and energy is left. So pastors get burned out, the leaders under them get burned out, and more godly people than would like to admit it wake up on Sunday mornings and wearily wish to be able to skip church, if just for the day.

Why does being a pastor entail so much STUFF? Why do a growing number of people think church is boring and irrelevant? And why are Christians consistently defined as judgmental and hypocritical, when Jesus told his followers the world would simply know them by their love?

Could it be that the Church looks too much like world?

Sure, we have an entire genre of music, a Christianese dialect, our own lobbyists in Washington, scriptures to backup everything we do, and some of the biggest holidays in America. Oh, and let’s not forget our impressive propensity for Bible quoting, cross-wearing, anti-swearing, alcohol-avoiding, and sinner-condemning behavior. But, unfortunately, none of those things make us look like Jesus.

Today, our denominations are billion-dollar organizations that often operate more like franchise operations than disciples of Jesus who have given up their lives for his sake. Many of my friends and peers are incredibly disillusioned with church and organized religion, but until the Church overwhelmingly shifts from spending so much time on matters of power, money, and religious agenda, and gets back to simply loving people unconditionally like Jesus did, I see little hope for those negative opinions changing.

I remember going to the Foursquare National Convention in Columbus, Ohio in 2012, where I heard significant discussion about how the average age of pastors and church congregations was slipping older and older, and how that was a real problem. At the time, I was embarrassed to tell anyone, but as a 27 year-old pastor, I couldn’t help but secretly think, “No wonder. I don’t think many of my friends would enjoy being here.”

More than anything else in the world, people are hungry for love and relationship. And church SHOULD be the one community where people feel absolutely accepted and loved. But too much of church has become about lecturing, recruiting, and acting religious to the point of being fake. A hurt and disillusioned friend recently told me, “I just want somewhere where I can be myself, and can be free.” Can’t we please make church that place? That’s something I could really get excited about — it sure beats the pants off debating polity and church politics.

At the end of the day, we don’t need bigger churches and better services, we just need bigger love and better relationships. And until we’re willing to reorder our priorities and commit to simply getting really good at love and being genuine — even at the expense of failing at impressive worldly things like bank accounts, prestige, and nifty branding — then people will not see Jesus through us.

My vision for the Church is to return to the excitement and simplicity of following Jesus, and helping other people follow him too. Maybe then we can all finally find a place where we belong. Through his life and death, Jesus showed the world a love too pure and good to come from anywhere other than God. I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know I want to spend the rest of my life getting to know that kind of love.”

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