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Book Review – “Quit Going to Church” by Bob Hostetler

I’ve always wanted to be able to quote Larry the Cucumber with sincerity and authenticity. Bob Hostetler has given me the chance with his newest book, Quit Going to Church. “I laughed. I cried. It moved me, Bob.” If you don’t get the joke, go watch Veggie Tales “Dave and the Giant Pickle”. I’ll wait to finish the review until you get back.

Back already? Good. I continue…

My experience is that relevant books don’t share brand new revolutionary ideas. Rather they resonate and affirm brand new revolutionary ideas that have been percolating in our minds. The books that we enjoy the most crystalize and put into words nebulous thoughts that we’ve had before, but hadn’t articulated. “Quit Going to Church” is just such a book.

The first chapter is also the title chapter, kind of like the title track on an album. As you consider the apparently contrarian title and read the first book it becomes apparent that Bob is setting the table for those of us that have been in church for a while. Bob doesn’t seem to intend this book for those who are dissatisfied with church, but rather for those of us that have been operating on auto-pilot. While reading the first chapter I was reminded of a phrase that we’re fond of around here, “Just because you’re in a church building doesn’t mean that you’re part of the church that God is building.”

It was in chapter two that I cried. No, really, I cried. The picture of prayer toward the end of this chapter is alone worth the price of the book, but please read the whole thing.

Chapter three? That’s where I laughed. Trust me. Read it. If you follow Bob on twitter (which I strongly recommend), then you know that his books won’t leave you in want of laughs, chortles, snorts and guffaws.

And thus “Quit Going to Church” flows. One chapter after the next challenges many dear, and might I say idolatrous, beliefs that we have held about Christianity for centuries, but aren’t found in Scripture. And Bob doesn’t lack in Scriptural support in the points made. It’s refreshing to see so many Biblical addresses in the footnotes. Some readers may be put off by the author’s use of Hebrew, Greek and sources that may seem pedantic. I offer the encouragement that Bob puts the cookies on the bottom shelf so that even I can reach them.

For those that have attended one of Worship Concepts Network’s “AWEthentic Worship Experience” conferences, you will recognize why “Quit Going to Church” resonates with me on many levels. The chapter “Quit Sharing Your Faith” reveals how we often view “pre-saved” persons as commodities rather than as people. “Quit Volunteering” echoes our own “Differences between slaves and servants.” Chapter ten is “Quit trying to Be Good”…wow, simply wow. And “Quit Enjoying Worship” is hereafter on the Worship Concepts Network required reading list.

Bob is well read and it is evident in this offering. Many of the themes in “Quit Going to Church” will be familiar to well-read Christians. But Bob is successful at unpacking many of them in a new light. I confess that Bob quotes some sources, pastors, and authors with whom I have serious theological differences. However, we can often learn the most from those with whom we disagree. To my regular blog readers, who might be put off by certain “names” that are bandied about in unflattering terms by evangelicals, please receive their words as you would themselves as persons…in Christ’s love.  Just as not everything that we say is “good”, not everything said by those with whom we disagree is “evil.”

If there is one place where “Quit Going to Church” doesn’t resonate with me, it’s in “Quit Living in the Center of God’s Will.” When addressing God’s will for our lives and living “by faith” there is the risk of sharing stories of victory and saying, “Look, it worked there. So and so stepped out in faith, defying all reason and sanity, and God delivered the victory!” The final chapter here is more balanced than most in this regard, but it still draws on a story of victory. When I read such accounts and interpretations I want to ask, “What about those in Hebrews 11:35-40? What about the martyrs? What faith did they lack that they didn’t get to see the promise fulfilled?”

Bob is clever and creative in his approach and the Bible story that he uses is unique. In order to avoid a “spoiler alert” I’ll simply say that he continues a contrarian approach. However, the protagonist in the illustration maintained his faith and was victorious. Frankly, I want to hear from those that were “defeated”, those that didn’t see the promise fulfilled in their lifetime, and remained faithful.

OK, that’s out of the way. Now go read Bob Hostetler’s “Quit Going to Church.” Each chapter concludes with a specific and practical prayer. Read each chapter prayerfully and to paraphrase Larry the Cucumber, “You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. Where you need to be firm, God will shore up your foundation. Where you need to be moved, God will draw your heart toward His.”

Leading the Unleadable

“Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance.  The Lord Himself goes before you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.'” Deut. 3:17-8

Moses tells Joshua, in front of the entire nation of Israel, to be courageous as he enters the promised land with the Israelites. The spies have told them all about the giants who made them “appear as grasshoppers in their eyes.”  All along the forty year journey they’ve heard rumors of the mighty warriors in that part of the world.

But when Moses tells Joshua to be courageous he doesn’t mention any of that.  He doesn’t tell Joshua about the struggles of combat to come; he doesn’t fill him with confidence for mighty victories against his foes; Moses doesn’t allude to Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, Jebusites or even mosquito bites.  The only “ites” mentioned are the Israelites!

Moses says, “You must go with this people…” [emphasis mine]  In essence, “You’re not getting the cream of the crop, my boy; Joshua, you’re not getting the Dream Team; you’re getting the people that God choose for the Promised Land.”  Joshua had been with Moses since “back in the day.”  He knew what the Isrealites were like.  He was witness to the murmuring, disputing and back-stabbing.  Moses was simply reminding him that leadership, Godly leadership, is about loving people where they are, but loving them too much to leave them there.

As leaders we would do well to heed Moses’ words to Joshua.  God doesn’t always, in fact He rarely, sends us the most talented, qualified, disposed or temperamentally equipped people to lead.  Want proof?  Look at who Jesus called as disciples.  It would be a challenge to find a more motley group in any church today.

Leading the most talented group isn’t really leadership, is it?  Did Chuck Daly really coach the original Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics?  He didn’t call one single timeout during the entire tournament.

Real leaders love the unlovable and lead the unleadable.  Rather than plead with God to send us better followers maybe we should pray that He nurture us as better leaders.  When preaching on marriage many of us say that husbands and wives can know that they are married to who God intended because that’s who they are already married to, so divorce is not an option.

The same holds true for us as leaders.  God intends us to lead those that are with us…now and those that He will send to us in the future.  Too often, we are quick to dismiss (sometimes right out the door) those who God has sent to us for a course correction (our course, not theirs.)  We may do it with what we call tact or even grace, but we know in reality that it was actually a “peacable” divorce (see “A 21st Century Church Epidemic” by Bob Hostetler).  It usually sounds, like “That’s not what God has called us to, but I’m sure that there’s a church down the street that will fit you.”  “At my last church we used to…” and “That’s not how we do it here,” are just different verses of the same song.  It’s just possible that God has sent someone with a different approach from ours because God needs us to get out of our rut.  It’s simply institutional arrogance to say that the strength of “our” church is measured by who we “send”, but assume that God wouldn’t send someone from another church to us.

OK, followers, now it’s your turn.  There was a reason that the Israelites were there.  They needed to hear the message, too.  They needed to hear the tacit communique’, “Lighten up, people.  Sometimes it’s no picnic leading you to the wide open spaces.”  Ironically the following message was written to Jews in the New Testament, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority…obey so that their work will be a joy, not a burden…” (Hebrews 13:17) [emphasis mine]  When was the last time that we, as followers, made a leader’s work “a joy?”  It doesn’t say, “go along to get along;” the word “joy” is explicit.

Of course, if we all don’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought…well, that’s another blog.

The Passive-Aggressive Christian

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  Matt. 18:15 & 16

Bob Hostetler hits another home-run in his February 5th, 2011 blog post “A 21st Century Church Epidemic.”  Bob addresses the growth of passive-aggressive behavior among Christians in U.S. churches.

Normally I would ask Bob to reprint his post here, and he would graciously allow it, but I’d suggest you visit his site and read it for yourself.  It’s a fun site with great pics, too.  Here’s the link: http://desperatepastor.blogspot.com/

The Three Strike Rule

Ezekiel 16

Normally I include a verse or two in order to support my blog entries.  Today’s is just too long to post (you have a Bible…look it up, it’s good stuff.)  Ezekiel 16 is God “parabalizing” Israel’s path to self-destruction.  I have yet to see a pastor have a “moral failure” who didn’t follow the same path.  (Both Jim Cymbala and Ravi Zacharias have amazing sermons on this passage that you can find online.)

A good friend from long, long ago and fellow blogger, Bob Hostetler, has devised a concise series of questions to “recalibrate” your GPS as pastor or Christian leader…or any Christian.  It’s a great series of questions to have your accountability partners ask.

In particular, I like number 3.  In fact, it’s the Prime Directive/Litmus Test.  If we feel we have to lie about anything then it’s not something that we should have in our life, next to our life or in the same zip code as our life.  Even doing good things at the expense of our relationship with God are things that we’ll lie about. How can we know?  If we’ve already started to concoct our lie to tell in the event that it’s discovered, then we’ve already lied (see Matt. 5:28).  The good news is that He’s the God of second chances.  Maybe this will help us avoid needing one.  Here’s Bob’s list:

1. Do you have accountability? If not get some today; this minute. If not, consider it strike one.

2. Are you living duplicitously? Are you preaching one thing on Sunday and living a totally different lifestyle the rest of the week? I’m not talking little stuff here. Don’t get bogged down in that. I’m talking specific sins that you preach about; that the Bible is very clear on; that you have made your secret lifestyle. You know what classifies as this. If you have to ask or justify; consider this confirmation. If you are currently living a double life that only you and God (and maybe another person other than your spouse know about): strike two.

3. Is there anything in your life or lifestyle that will cause you to lie if you’re asked about it out of the blue? Is there anything that will cause you to lie to cover your butt, save your job, save your marriage, or keep you from public humiliation? If you’re not willing to tell the truth about anything and everything… strike three.

Here’s the reality: while most pastors and church leaders are obedient and faithful to their calling; there are also many ‘three-strike’ pastors out there.

If you’re a three-strike pastor: get out.

Quit your job today and move at least a thousand miles away.

Then, get some help.

Work at McDonalds if you have to; but stop defiling the office that God has called you to.

Get out; and find something honorable to do with your time.

DISCLAIMER: Please don’t misunderstand me. There are MANY instances where pastors should stay on, get accountability, and work through their situations. In fact, this should happen in most situations. None of us are perfect, by any means. What I’m talking about is someone who has slid into the traps of sin to the level that this man did. He didn’t slip one day and spend hundreds of dollars and hours and hours in a strip club instantly. This was most likely the result of years of sin; that probably started out almost innocently but grew into a stage four cancer.

My word of encouragement for all of us today. Maybe you have one strike. Maybe two. But take action today… right now… to get a new at bat.

Don’t get the third strike.

Can Vultures Really Pray for a Pastor?

Check this out from Bob Hostetler’s blog “Desperate Pastor“! Then read Hebrews 13:14, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

How often do we make a leader’s job joyful?  Our culture is one of making trouble for authority.  Everywhere you look people are encouraged to question authority.  This idea is nowhere in scripture, yet most churches have an adversarial role between pastor and congregation (BTW, did you know that a flock of vultures is known as a “committee”…hmmm).  Knowing how optimistic most pastors are when they start out I doubt that the problem is primarily with them.

When a congregation, or any individual, rebels against its pastor they are really rebelling against God.  In his letter to the Roman church Paul says that there is no authority over us other than what God has put there.  So, if you have a problem with the authority over you the first place to complain is to God, but only after you have also thanked God for His placing that hedge of protection over you.

Here, in Hebrews, Paul goes a step further under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t just begrudgingly submit, but make being a leader a joy.