Brandon
Hatmaker
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Lessons from an Atheist Pastor
by Brandon Hatmaker on April 5th, 2012

I recently heard about a pastor who renounced his faith. Apparently, he’s decided that God does not exist and that what he’s taught for so many years is not true. This saddens me.

This saddens me. But it doesn’t surprise me.

In fact, if you were to go back and listen to his sermons, you can hear the doubt in his seemingly rhetorical questions. You can feel him lob out ideas and thoughts that mirrored his internal struggle. I don’t know how long he lived on this island of doubt, but he obviously reached his personal tipping point.

His concerns are shared with countless others who are critics of faith and the church. Their claims:
  • There is a lack of power in most churches.
  • There is a lack of radical transformation in most believers.
  • There is a lack of unity in both.
  • There is a lack of Kingdom-mindedness.
  • There is a lack of love, peace, gentleness, kindness, and mercy.
  • There is too much ignorance and apathy on issues of justice.
I certainly don’t want to cast stones at the church just for the sake of casting stones. She’s the Bride of Christ. There is always hope for the church. And I’m committed to fight for her.  But if we were to take an honest look, we’d find that these accusations are more often true than false. In fact many of us, if not most of us, have seen them at different points and in different forms in our own life.

There are those both inside and outside the church who simply look at the evidences (or lack thereof) and deduce that what we believe… must not be true.

But what if these things aren’t evidences of a lack of truth? What if they don’t disprove God (which btw, I don’t believe they do)? What if, instead, they were evidences that we are somehow missing the point or that our strategies simply aren’t working that well? What if we’re unknowingly serving a church structure and/or a Christian culture that no longer values, teaches, or holds to the example Jesus gave us? What if the lack of these kinds of fruit is the result of a misguided approach to tilling, planting, feeding, pruning, and harvesting?

I’m certain the problem isn’t with God or with truth. The problem is with us. And since God is sovereign, I think He’s definitely up to something. I just hope we don’t miss it.

How long are we going to put up with an empty faith? How long will we tolerate a seemingly powerless church? How many bible studies and worship services must we personally attend while staying the same day-after-day-after-day? How long? (Note: I'm a huge fan of worship and bible study... I just believe it should change us and how we view God).

We need to take this more seriously or eventually our powerless faith will turn to doubt. At bare minimum we’ll fall prey to self-condemnation, insecurity, and spiritual anxiety (ring a bell or two?). If we do not seek and find the real Jesus, filled with grace, truth, and power… it’s only a matter of time. We can no longer ride the fence. We can no longer settle and expect not to suffer the consequences. Our post-modern world and post-Christian culture is not set up to hold our spiritual hand anymore. We won’t hold the line just because someone else tells us we’re supposed to.

And neither will our “neighbors”.

The good news is that Jesus didn’t call us to a powerless faith. He called us to an incredibly full faith, which results in peace, joy, and purpose. And He gave us some direct insight as to how that happens. He redefined what it meant to be a disciple in Matthew 5 where He outlines what selflessness looks like. He literally challenged us to stop thinking about things that served us, and to start thinking about ways to serve others. He even promised some pretty awesome provision for each step along the way.

It’s time we owned this, people. Someone else cannot make the decision for us.

Church leaders, we need to take an honest look at what we value about the church, our selves, and other people. We are called to be and make disciples with the hope of building the Kingdom, not just make converts with the hope of building our churches and padding our stats. Jesus never gave us the keys to the church, He gave us the keys to the Kingdom (Mt.16). We need to daily submit ourselves to this vision. We need to repent and change the way we view success. We need care more about what God says, than we do what our peers or those who consume what we provide say. We cannot live and/or lead as if this is not a huge problem, temptation, and risk.

Christians, we were called to love God and our neighbor, not love our own agenda and serve our own appetites. Let’s stop blaming our pastors and/or our church and let’s start living it ourselves. Many of our church leaders would rather do this anyway, but they’re afraid we won’t let them. We need to live a faith that serves something besides us. We need to fight individualism and consumerism. They serve as direct barriers to the Kingdom. We need to constantly be asking God, “What do you want me to give up next?” both personally and collectively.

This is the tension we must live in. And Jesus calls us to head into it with both guns blazing.

God invites us to test His ways. He challenges us to taste and see. Try something different than serving yourself. Open up your definition of church to mean a way of life, not just a location or a timeslot on Sunday. Expand your understanding of discipleship. Seek to be Good News to someone in need. Give yourself permission to model grace and goodness. Don’t reduce it to form or function. Prayerfully offer your heart and soul. Let this be your sacrifice.

And if you don’t know where to start, start with the poor. Start with those who have absolutely nothing to offer you back. This exemplifies the genius of Jesus’ teaching. Bottom line, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He challenged us to serve the least.

Wherever this leads us, I believe that it will be in that place, that we’ll experience God’s presence and provision. We’ll begin to understand and cherish the paradox. It’s there where we’ll finally find the Jesus we read about in scripture. We’ll see Him at work (in us). We’ll wonder how we ever had any fellowship with Him anywhere else. And then, my friends… we’ll feel the power, the confidence, and the affirmation that we’ve been searching for.




Posted in Austin New Church, Church Leadership, Gospel, Kingdom    Tagged with Atheist, Kingdom, Church, Leadership


5 Comments

Leslie Leyland Fields - April 5th, 2012 at 1:48 AM
Brandon, excellent post. I too feel so discouraged looking at the state of the church----but that's often a screen that keeps me from looking at myself. It starts here, with my own sacrifice and my own question, 'What can I give up?" without asking, "What can I gain?" (Have you seen Newsweek's current cover story---"Forget the Church, Follow Jesus" by Andrew Sullivan. Some strong echoes . . .
Patty Levins (57 years old) - April 5th, 2012 at 10:50 AM
Thank you so much for this article! Now...how do we get every church leader to read it and get it?!?!?! Some would consider me old and a lot of people my age complain about how things need to be the way they always have been...but, if people aren't finding Jesus and His power, then we are obviously doing something wrong and we need to change it!!! I'm challenging senior Christians to quit whining and start working for the Kingdom! Blessings to you and your family.
Michael Cooper - April 6th, 2012 at 2:01 PM
Well said. Only God can deliver us from ourselves and our self-serving religion.
Joani - April 6th, 2012 at 9:09 PM
"This saddens me. But it doesn’t surprise me"...that sums up how I feel. Great post! There are so many of us in local churches frustrated, feeling like we are missing the point, but not knowing what we should be doing about is.
Chrissie - April 7th, 2012 at 3:44 AM
What a great article Brandon! As a christian of 35 years I gues I started to notice change in the church in the 90s when it started to become all about being user friendly, not allowing visitors to the church see how God moved in power, toning down the worship and making the whole of our services more professional. Using people who were excellent musicians and eloquent speakers, not necessarily people chosen and annointed by God. I don't have a problem with all things being conducted in the best possible way, as long as those involved are annointed to do those things. This seeped in more and more and we were then left with a watered down shallow version of what God wanted for His people. It also started to become more about 'ME' in so many churches - what God can do for 'ME', what the pastor or the leaders can do for 'ME', how 'I' did or did not enjoy the service - we forgot that it was all about JESUS and about serving those around us, the last, the least and the lost! I love that Jesus' ministry was all about directing people to His Father, about serving those around Him, whatever their need and about showing all those around, the power of GOD! My prayer is - please Father help me to be more like Jesus!
Thank you Brandon that both Chris and I see a beautiful expression of His church at ANC every time we visit, see you in May!
Chrissie Morris (Adam's mum) x
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