New Blog for you to follow with Steve and Gwen Smith

Greetings!  We wanted you to know that we are shutting down this blog and only will be blogging at: www.steveandgwensmith.com  from now on.

This is important because beginning mid-May, both Gwen and I will be blogging about our Sabbatical Journey. We’ve unplugged; taken off from work and gone under the radar for five months….yes, count them, FIVE months. We’ve learned and experienced so much!  So as we pour out our heart and reengage soon with life and the work of Potter’s Inn, please stay connected to us. We’d love your companionship.

Go to www.steveandgwensmith.com and subscribe TODAY!

Our best,

Steve and Gwen

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Steve and Gwen along with Laz the Wonder Dog!

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The Manifold Nature of Understanding the Church

Beautiful church

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,  according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Ephesians 3:10-11

My life has been about the church. I have lived all of my life within the church. My folks starting taking me to church at six weeks of age and I have not stopped going since.

But here’s the truth. I have not always liked the church. I’ve seen beautiful people marred by the church and within the work of the church, I seen people shoot the wounded, not help them. They have hemorrhaged and bled and been wounded only to find people within the church still kick, abuse and kill them in God’s holy halls.

I have been on a journey in my recent years of understanding the church. I watched my own four adult children join me on this journey—because they, like me were raised in the church as well. I call myself a “recovering Baptist.” I’m recovering in most areas of my life where I messed up.

In working with thousands of leaders who work in the church, I’ve grown weary, tired and disillusioned to be honest. I’ve witnessed so much abuse by men who wear robes and leaders who wear authority that I’ve grown suspicious. Yes, suspicious is a good word to describe my taking a step back and evaluating the relevance, the need, the look and feel of the church in the 21st century.

To say that I stumbled upon a verse in the Bible is not the correct way of telling you what shifting my entire paradigm about the church today. This verse had been there all along—throughout the entire birth of the church until this very day. It’s just that I missed it. I overlooked it on my way to find what I felt might be even more verses to help me and to help others.

Ephesians 3:10-11 leaped out at me and has nearly knocked me unconscious. “The manifold wisdom of God.” I have sat with that word—“manifold”—trying my best to figure out precisely what Paul intended by choosing such a word.

The word “manifold” means: “having many different forms, features, or elements: manifold breeds of dog.” The manifold wisdom of God regarding the wisdom within and about the church is just this: The church too has many different forms, features and elements just as the breeds of the species we call dogs.

Because of my work—the work with leaders who feel called to live their life; do their life and give their life because of the church, I’ve seen passionate leaders feel like their church is the right church; the only church; the best church; the hippest church; the most multi-sited church, the largest; the fastest growing and then it morphs into something darker. Every church should be like my church. Since I am with the right church, then everyone else is experiencing something less; something outside of God’s intent.

Pride, authority and a seminary education can create the perfect storm for leaders of the church to suffer a malady that infects their own soul and the ministry to which they feel called.

Some leaders might feel like their church, call it a blue church, is the way to do church. You have to think blue. You have to be blue. You have to hang with blue people to really be in the blue movement.

Then in another state; perhaps another city or even across the street are the orange folk who think and feel exactly the same way that the blue folks do in the blue church. Then there is the red church. The green church and yes, even a pink church.

But now, let’s use this word “manifold” here…. And see if we can ease our tension a bit by embracing that from God’s perspective, it is not about the right color. And what if this is true because from God’s perspective there is no right color. There are just a manifold of colors—all seeking to do the same thing but in different ways.

As some of you will know, no person on the face of the earth, living or dead has impacted my life more than that of Dallas Willard. It was Dallas who told me years ago when I went to a Catholic (Is Catholic a color?) Monastery with him for a month to recover from my toxicity and my addiction of being a pastor, “Steve, Jesus only spoke the word, “church” two times in his entire life that we know of. Why have you made “church” your God?” That question undone me and I have never, ever recovered from his question. I don’t think I will ever recover either. Perhaps now, 20 years later, I am just now beginning to understand the depth’s of Dallas Willard’s question to me in that Prayer cell were monks fled to do their own version of church.

Now, there is more wisdom…. And it is this, if you are in a blue church and I am in a red one, can we surrender our efforts to compete against, degrade and throw rocks at the people who do their life in a yellow church?

Perhaps from God’s perspective, it takes all the reds and hues of red; all the blues and hues of blue; all the yellow and hues of yellow to express what God has intended. Perhaps this is so because no human system has dibs on the truth. Not the Lutherans, not the Presbyterians, not the Charismatics, not the Bible-believing-fundamentalist, not even my church or your church. We lay down our efforts to defend our color church and we surrender our dogmas to the fact that in history and through history—no creed has survived in all colors but Jesus. No book has been lifted higher than our Bible. No god has been worshipped but our God—the God who created the manifold ways in which we try every six days to “gather to gather to ask the Lord’s blessings. We hasten and chasten his truths to make known.”

Stephen W. Smith

Copyright 2014

All Rights Reserved.

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The Paradox of Thanksgiving

by Stephen W. Smith

Thanksgiving and actually every holiday, stirs the soul and brings up the dark as well as the light.

I asked Gwen what single word would sum up the year 2011, without any hesitation, she said, “Pain!” In that single word few companions or acquaintances could ever realize the hidden pain she has carried. Her back pain. The surgery. The tumor. The 4 month long recuperation that will morph to 12 months before she’s done and actually “better.”

Do you have one word that might describe 2011? Think of one and don’t be too shallow, smaltzy or simple! Find a word that you might offer as a word to give insight to your very soul.

Here’s what true for me in this past year that I need to keep in mind as I look for my word:

In 2011:

I had to re-write my entire book that I spent two years writing.
I had to do this in three months.
I had to cancel plans for a summer of fun for a long, hard journey into my heart to try–again to understand what the abundant life was really about.
I have to realize that in the empty nest, we find ourselves alone more than we really want to be and deeply miss our kids.
I have to realize that the realization of a dream long fought for and hard-pressed to realize has ushered me into a new feeling that goes something like this: “Now, what?”
I am coming to realize that my closest friends are really never going to live in one place and for any extended period of time.
That the finishing of the Inn–the big red barn is really only the sobering beginning of ministry using it.

Life is expensive. We gain in life–but the truth is really this–we also lose in life. Abundance in life is not about amassing everything that is good. But abundance is coming to the understanding that we are merely clay and life is not up to us and never was.

So, while packing our car to drive up to the retreat to enjoy the thanksgiving feast with a few friends who have become for us family, we are sobered by the paradox of thanksgiving. To celebrate thanksgiving is to relinquish the feeling of simply being happy to being profoundly aware that without Jesus Christ, life would not be worth it.

In every paradox is the lens through with to see truth as it really is and that this truth is really the only thing that will set us free in the end.

Here’s to all who have lost their love in death this past year who will need to be thankful for a life now alone.
Here’s to all who have lost their job and have no future for a new one who will need to be thankful at the prospect of a meager year ahead.
Here’s to all who have received bad news from the doctor and will need to be thankful.
Here’s to politicians that continue to over promise and under deliver in this great nation of ours that seems so broken this year!
Here’s to all have been betrayed by a friend, stabbed in the back by someone you never felt could or would do it and be thankful.
Here’s to all who have lost so much only to find that they have everything in Jesus Christ.
Here’s to all who will walk with a limp but who will still walk.
Here’s to all who have sought refuge in the church only to feel even more alone.
Here’s to all who have tried to live more simply but only to discover the complexities of the soul’s longings.
Here’s to all who seek the serenity of the Quiet One only to discover the shouting within and around us.

Paradox is sometimes the very best word one can use to discuss our life which goes sometimes like this: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times….we had everything before us. We had nothing before us. It was the spring of our hope. It is the winter of our discontent. Yes, we live here in the middle of these realities and to deny that we do is a symptom of our shallow lives and empty hearts. If the Psalmist could express both love and fear; worship and defeat; victory with lament in his poems, why then, can’t we?

I”m mindful of you this Thanksgiving. I’m so very thankful for your honest questions. Your determination to not give up or give in. I’m grateful to soldiers who will eat alone so that we may feast together.

I am most thankful for David, Rebekah who are my team in life and work now. I am thankful for Paul, Chad and Tiffiny who make our life, retreat and work better than what it would be if I were alone.

I am profoundly thankful for my true companion in life who seeks what I want; who longs for what I long for; who will not settle for anything less of what the paradox of thanksgiving stirs.

My word for 2011 is paradox. Some good, some bad. Some hard. Some easy. Some wonderful. Some awful. Some brutal. Some beautiful.

Yes, paradox.

Blessings at Thanksgiving!

OK. Now in the “reply” box, type in your one word–perhaps with some elaboration and let us compare notes on the journey towards having grateful hearts!

The Power of Belonging

by Stephen W. Smith

Last night I watched the Denver Broncos play football. It was a thrilling game but as the cameras panned the sold out stadium, what I saw was the power of belonging—most fans were wearing the orange and blue colors of the Broncos! Dressed alike there was solidarity in the cheering and victory.

But the night before last, I witnessed one of the most powerful sights of belonging that I have seen in years. A modern monastic order came together—men and women—married and single to welcome three new members into their community. I was invited to witness the event but my witnessing of what happened deeply moved me to tears, sober realizations and soulful longings.

Every human being longs to belong. This is why standing in a circle or sitting a table in a few days at Thanksgiving will be so good for our souls. There at the table, we will sit or stand in a circle; perhaps we will hold hands and bow our heads but one other, very important thing is happening. We are moving in that time from the “me” to the “we.” We are brought together to share together; to experience together; to taste together the goodness of our Thanksgiving meal.

This modern monastic order had worked with three individuals to teach them their ways, expectations and values. The three very ordinary, novitiates, who longed to belong stood ready to be accepted. One after one was called to the center where they stated their intent to belong to something greater than merely belonging to the me. They wanted to belong to the “we.” They desired community. They wanted to live out their lives with a few other like-minded men and women and experience church in their midst.

The drama increased for me as each novitiate was recognized, blessed and celebrated. A novitiate is anyone who is a beginner at something that wants to get better at something. Aren’t we really all novitiates in life? I know I am. Then, a beautiful yet simple cross was placed around their neck. It was the symbol that everyone in the room wore but me. I had no cross but I sure had the desire. Everyone moved to hug and embrace the new members of the “we”. They now belonged.

My desire was not so much to be given a cross as it was the amazing realization that I, too, wanted—no– needed to belong. I wanted to stand with a few people who wanted the same things I wanted; who would die for the same cause I would lay my life down for. We see such marvels at belonging in our military, sports, clubs and family events. My wish these days is for this power of belonging to draw the church into more of a “we” than just a gathering of “me’s.”

This Thanksgiving, we will perhaps sense this urge that swelled up within me. The power of belonging will rise up within us. Gather with what friends and family you may. Form the circle at the blessing or around the table. What will be more important than the feast before us, will be the feast of our lives—the power of belonging to one another! The power of “we.” For me, only one of my sons will travel 1,000 miles and leave the “me” to become the “we.” But though not all together, we will pause with a circle smaller than what I’d like and bow our heads to the One who lets us be both “me” and “we.”

Take a moment here and use the “reply” piece here to express your Thanksgiving for the people you belong to and then forward this to your “we.”

(This theme is explore more indepth in one of the Eight Ways in my new book, The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Re-discover Authentic Christianity. But this blog is new and does not appear in the book’s content). Copyright: Stephen W. Smith, 2011. You have permission to forward, print and use.

Seven Movements Necessary to Re-Claim the Church

by Stephen W. Smith

Could this be Church?


I received so many emails from my last Potter’s Inn Journal and I’m very grateful for your thinking, comments and encouragement. In this issue, I want to explore with you, “Seven Necessary Movements to Re-Claim the Church”. I really want to encourage you to use the “Comment” section on the blog. This way, we can all participate in a lively and much needed discussion.

To reclaim Jesus’ intent for the church, we will need to experience at least seven different movements which will require change, transformation and reformation in how we are doing church today. A “movement” is defined as a group of people united on similar values which initiate change. When John Calvin and Martin Luther, the two most well-known reformers of the Catholic Church wrote, spoke and led people into change, the movement of the reformation resulted. Today, I believe we are in dire need of new movements which will focus on these seven aspects:

1. The movement from being an institution to becoming an organism. It’s clear from the New Testament that the leaders had in mind an “alive” organism which was alive, moving and dynamic. When an organism morphs into becoming an institution, we may be sacrificing the original intent. Institutions die. But organisms live and change, adapting to culture and forces. Being Spirit led is far different from being program driven. An organism which is restricted by programs and structure will diminish in life and morph into being a dormant institution.
2. The movement away from being led by an ordained clergy to being served by ordinary people who are gifted. You don’t find the word “ordination” in the Bible but you do find gifted men and women leading people into the mysteries of the faith. Ordinary people doing the extra-ordinary things of God is what it means to live out of faith in authentic ways.
3. The movement from the “me” to the “we.” Becoming a follower of Jesus means that we renounce the “me” and move to the “we.” We were made for community and were formed to live connected in vibrant, reciprocal relationships. Saying, ‘It’s just Jesus and me” is not a confession of faith you will find in a faith that is alive, contagious and vibrant.
4. The movement from being a “place that we come to” to being a platform that we send people out from. One of the major challenges for a church is when a church settles into a place—a building and an institution rather than becoming a platform from which to launch new, creative and relative initiatives which push the darkness back rather than congregate all the light in one place—perhaps under a basket even. We model and mimic God when we send rather than hoard.
5. The movement from the complex to the simple. Pastor’s roles changed from being shepherds to CEO’s because the church adopted so many programs that we needed first directors, then executive directors to run the programs and hold the reins of the church. Leadership replaced servanthood and a “professional clergy” evolved rather than releasing people to do the work of the ministry. Jesus, without any trappings! Can we return to the concept of being a simple church rather than a multi-layered organization which requires efficiency and excellence at the expense of washing the feet of people and giving a cup of water in Jesus name?
6. Being consumer driven to becoming real followers of Jesus. Yielding to the temptation to be all things for all people, the church can become a quasi-Wal-Mart which offers many things at discounted costs. Changing the question from “What do you like in a church?” to “What do we need to be and do to become church?” is the starting point from moving away from consumer Christianity to being followers of Jesus Christ.
7. Replace church talk with Jesus speak. When we talk more about “the church” than we speak about Jesus, we should note the clue that we are off course and change our conversation as well as our direction. “You should come to my church” is often code for “Come to my institution because we are offering a new program which we are trying to enlist as many people as possible to join or attend. ” This is different from a conversation which might go, “Let me tell you what God is up to in my life and my community. You won’t believe it, but it’s true. People are changing their lives and lifestyles and encountering Jesus.

Try this:
1)Write the two major words down on piece of paper with a line in-between them. Like this: organism————–institution. Place an “x” on the line which indicates how you feel your church is leaning.
2)Discuss how your church can become a movement rather than a static building.
3)Make a list of five adjectives you most want in the church you attend and share these with your “we.”

Let’s all do this: In the “reply” section write the five adjectives you most want in a church and let’s compare our lists and see what we agree upon! Go ahead. Pause for a moment and dig out the five things you most want and need in a church.

Five Reasons the North American Church is in Trouble!

by Stephen W. Smith

Friends, because of some much reaction to my entry today in the Potter’s Inn Journal, we need to switch this discussion to the blog so more folks can read what I’m reading. So feel free to leave your comments here. If you want to write to me personally, then just email or use the “reply” to the Potter’s Inn Journal.

So here’s what I wrote and sent out to 1400 people this morning!

Never in my life time have I personally experienced so much discontent with the church. It’s been brewing for years but now it seems to be at a feverish pitch and in many ways this is very, very good. Many pastors and leaders are hemorraghing while thousands are giving up on the church. As one 35 year old market place leader told me, “I’m not convinced that Jesus wanted us to be “little churchians.” I want to be a follow of Jesus and that may or may not include the church as I experience it now.”

We are not the first, to become dissatisfied with the church. The history of the Christian church reveals epoch battles between people who hold the power and the keys to the church and those who are demanding change. The good news here is that the church can change; has changed and will change. I hope that in my own lifetime, we will witness a complete reformation of the church. I say this because it is my personal belief that the church is in deep trouble. It is holding on to old paradigms that need to die in order to be re-born. Please let me explain.

1. The church is in trouble because the church has become more shaped by culture than by the Word. Paul’s words are clear: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. (Romans 12:2, Message). Like a dry sponge many churches and denominations have soaked the culture of bigness, greatness, technology, performance and being program driven without thinking through the consequences. The result—well, it’s easy to see. Architecture that has shifted from “sanctuary” to performance halls. No windows blocking out God’s glory in nature and Power-Point overload. When churches absorb the corporate climate of North America, focusing on leadership rather than shepherding, we have swallowed a pill that is resulting in a dis-ease within the church. When a church models a CEO mentality rather than servant leadership, the church has knelt before the idol of power and human personality more than the Spirit of the Living God.
2. The church is in trouble because we have forgotten that Jesus spoke more about the Kingdom than he did the church. When church talk and obsession with programs replaces meaningful conversation about God’s kingdom—namely ‘what God is up to in the world and in my own life’ we are in water which is way over our head with no bottom to stand upon. Let me be clear. The only church Jesus talked about to his followers was the church of 2-3. I sometimes wonder if Jesus would even recognize what we’ve shaped the church today to resemble? Would Jesus know: multi-site worship? Would he condone meganess rather than the church of two or three? Would he even understand all of the jazz about being missional? Would he bless a movement which would ordain gay and lesbian leaders? Somehow, I think we’ve been swept into a current that is just plain hard to find the shore these days. We’re caught up in whitewater and calling it church.
3. The church is in trouble because the church has forgotten the basic message of Jesus. We herald programs. We espouse tips and techniques. It’s very clear from even an initial reading of the red-letters of Jesus’ words that he was about: transformation, life-change and service. Making more grease to oil the gears of the machine—never!
4. The church is in trouble because we are more captivated by technology than we are the things of the Spirit. We have become addicted to our iphones and the church of Facebook connects us more than sitting in mass in an auditorium where no one know my name and no one even cares. We call Steve Jobs an icon, Facebook our life-line and have swallowed the purple pill which says “faster is better; bigger is greater and new is where the action is always at!” We forget—even deny that the Bible says the direct opposite: stillness is where the action really is; Jesus celebrates the individual not the masses; and being in a herd and following the herd has always, historically been the wrong choice.
5. The church is in trouble because we need modern day prophets to rise up like aJeremiah, Hosea and Amos who are not afraid of speaking the truth even when it hurts us and makes us feel bad. We’ve lost the way today because quite frankly many of us have settled to be secure and comfortable rather than follow Jesus. Last time I checked, Jesus never talked much about security—except in heaven and there’s very little at all about how any follower of his is entitled to a life of comfort. The true church of the 21st century must walk the tightrope of being cutting edge along with being anchored in truth.

What is fascinating to me is to realize that in the 4th century and gain in the 15-16th century major movements rose up which turned the established church upside down. People left the church like they are leaving today. They left the institution and whole new movements began to arise which offered hope, comfort and platforms for learning how to live the Jesus way. We need this again. I, for one, want to be in that number.

Lastly, let me remind you that I am not throwing stones because I am an insider. I’ve always been on the inside. It’s just that now, there’s so much smoke, I can hardly breath. How about you?

I’m not going to leave us hanging here. But there is no space to continue this week. I’ll offer some clues, hints and suggestions for how to reform what has gone wrong!