Can You Love Jesus but Not the Church?

Spoiler alert: No, you can’t love Jesus and not the Church.

It’s a popular pursuit, though, and I can understand it, to an extent.

Jesus is radically inclusive and some churches are radically exclusive, painting stark, impossibly narrow lines of faith that are only big enough to include their particular tribe. According to them, to truly belong to Jesus you must look, think, and act just like them.

Jesus is the complete embodiment of truth but some churches are incredibly misleading. Whether by false teaching or false living, the Church is not perfect. But Jesus is. And that’s the issue. You make a mistake if you expect the Church to be something (perfect) that Jesus (who’s actually perfect) never expected it to be.



Saying you love Jesus but not the church is like saying you love one person of a married couple but don’t really care for their spouse. You might even say you hate their spouse.

Maybe their spouse did something hurtful to you at one point. Maybe you didn’t have the most welcoming experience with their spouse.

No matter the reason, you’re only getting so far in a friendship if you don’t like the person your “friend” is married to…BECAUSE they are crazy about their spouse.

Likewise, you can’t say you truly love Jesus without loving the Church because Jesus is crazy about the church. So crazy about it that he died for it, loving it all the way the grave and back.

The Church will never be perfect. But it will always be something Jesus saw worthy enough to die for, right in the middle of all her brokenness and imperfection.

Ironically, this desire to love Jesus but not the Church actually exposes hypocrisy instead of being sourced by it…

Why do some expect the Church to be perfect, to be void of sin and brokenness when their own lives are like the rest of us, often far from being void of sin and brokenness?



Maybe it’s because if you can step back from community and keep the messy, broken body of Christ at arm’s length then you can put off truly dealing with your own messy brokenness.

A Way Forward:

  • To the churches: Be legit. Be authentic. Come to grips with your brokenness and imperfection, but then fight for holiness and purity. Strive to be a bride worthy of Christ all the while resting in the knowledge that you already are, but this is never because of your own goodness but because of the fierce love of God.
  • To the skeptics/spiritualists: If you feel you have created a way to love Jesus and not the Church you have created a false Jesus. Your indecisiveness or indifference about Jesus is in fact a decision about Jesus.
  • To the individualists: you cannot privatize your faith into solely an individual pursuit of God that doesn’t inform your public life. Especially in our current culture where  everything is being customized to meet your individual preference, real faith doesn’t work like that. It’s not all about you but it does include you.

Bottom line: If you truly love someone, you love the things they love most. You cherish the things they cherish.

You can’t truly love Jesus and not the Church.

It just gets awkward.


What the Next Generation Needs from the Church

Last week our home was filled with people just like it is every Tuesday. The living room was full of laughter, genuine friendships, good food, and authentic prayer and discussion rooted in Scripture.

Our home group is comprised of a somewhat diverse group of people.

  • Expectant parents
  • Parents through adoption
  • Single parents
  • Married without kids (yes, we still exist!)
  • Single people
  • Doctors
  • Carpenters
  • 21ish-32ish year olds

Our living room is filled every week with a demographic largely missing from the evangelical (whatever that means now) church.

We have intentionally kept our group fairly simple, centered around just a few main goals/ideas. Yet our group continues to grow, both in number of attendees and in significance. I am not at all saying that we have figured out how to reach the highly coveted 18-32 demographic (when did the church turn into an advertising agency?) but I am saying that we have accidentally stumbled upon what seems to be working for the next generation.

With that in mind, I’d like to humbly suggest:

What the Next Generation Needs from the Church (3 Things)


1.) Encouragement to dream BIG.

  • For most 20-somethings, we’re at a time and place in life where it’s okay to take risks. It’s not too late to change careers or move cities. New skills can be learned dreams can be pursued much easier now than later in life. We need a church that will encourage us to fan those dreams into flame and call us to think deeply about how those dreams connect with the kingdom of God. We need a church that can celebrate with us in the process of figuring out what we want to do and why, not just on the other side when we have more stability and resources to contribute.

2.) Purpose

The extended adolescence of our time has no doubt become a very real issue. Teenagers are turning into futon-crashing 20-somethings that turn into 30-somethings that never quite leave the house. Part of me wonders if this prolonged emergence into adulthood could be shortened if more 20-somethings felt like their life had more purpose. In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul writes,

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

Now obviously Paul did not move immediately from childhood to adulthood but it does seem like there was a more dramatic transition than some 20-somethings are experiencing now. One of my biggest fears as a pastor is how the separation of kids from “big church” coupled with the separation of students into the “youth room/building/get the heck out of my sanctuary” affects college graduates who have always had their own space that’s all about them but then fail to adapt to the real world. 20-somethings need the Church to remind them that their lives have purpose NOW. And that they might be missing out on some of that God-given purpose by mooching off Mom and Dad instead of getting a job and starting their own life.

The most important thing the Church can do to give the next generation purpose is to give them a faith with substance.

When the fog machine smoke from youth group fades and the endless “community” of college ends, has the Church given the next generation a real Christianity? Have we (the Church, not just its leaders) passed on the radically generous, self-sacrificing, compassionate faith of Jesus or have we been peddling a counterfeit faith that screams, “It’s all about YOU!”

3.) Belonging

Your first year in college you’re told over and over again to join a club, get involved, meet new people. It’s solid advice. I’ve given it before. (See: 4 Ways to Start College Right). The goal of joining so many clubs and/or activities should be that eventually you’ll find some like-minded people united around a common goal/interest who genuinely care about you and others. Enter: the Church. The Church has the ultimate thing 20-somethings are seeking…belonging. A place to call home. I lost most of my sense of belonging/home when I was 14 and didn’t really gain it back until just now, at 25. This is due in no small part to my group of like minded-friends (who I met at church), united around a common goal/interest (JESUS) who genuinely care about me and others.

To my 20s-ish friends: What else can the Church do to equip you to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus?

To my older-than-20s-ish friends: What advice do you have for the next generation of Christians?


What a Dentist Knows about Faith

Last month I went to the dentist…for the first time in 6 years. That’s right. Six years. Before you judge, think of all the money I saved.

I still stand by my story that every time “they” (whoever “they” are) said that you’re supposed to go every 6 months I heard 6 years.

To say I was dreading the dentist was a massive understatement. I’ve never been scared of the dentist, but who in their right mind enjoys the dentist? Due to a prolonged affair my mouth had with my thumb in my early years I did have to endure 3 years of braces as a kid. But other than that, I have had impeccable luck at the dentist’s office. No cavities ever. But if the wind blows the wrong way one day, my wife needs a root canal.

So in the back of my mind I was still resting comfortably on my “No Cavities and Fine Since 1989” status as I strode confidently-ish into the lobby of a new (Remember, new just means not the one I went to 6 years ago) dentist at 7 AM. Long story short: I maintained my no cavity status! Barely.

But in the time it took to have my teeth cleaned, three other people’s were cleaned by the same person. You see, because it had been so long since I had been to the dentist, I had all this plaque built up in all the nooks and crannies of my mouth I never really saw. Sure, on the surface level, everything looked fine. But it took a long time to clean all the bad stuff that I had allowed to build up.

As I’m about to gargle and spit for the 793rd time, my dentist tells me, “You know, Steven, if you would come when you’re supposed to it wouldn’t hurt this much.” Then it hit me…the same is true for our faith.

You know the feeling: You’ve been away from Jesus for awhile. It doesn’t really matter how long it’s been…weeks, months, maybe even years – but you definitely know it’s been too long. But the longer you’ve gone without Jesus being a real presence in your life (changing the way you think, act, and view others) the harder it can be to come back. “What will the people at church think?” you ask yourself. “Surely, they’ll judge me,” you tell yourself and it becomes easier and easier to believe that lie over time.

Much like going to the dentist, the longer you’re away from the presence of God, the harder it gets to return. You build up spiritual plaque that gets in all the nooks and crannies of your life, and the hardest part is it’s so much worse than you realize. Because on the surface we can be so good at making sure everything still looks presentable.

Instead of going to the dentist and getting the hard but necessary work done on your teeth, you may go pick up some Crest White-Strips. Instead of returning to the presence of God and doing the hard and necessary work of repentance, you may go out and try to be a better person and do good deeds.

Neither of these examples provide a real solution. They can actually do much more harm than good, as we’re able to deceive ourselves into not addressing the real problem. We can so easily become…

like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:27-28

But you know what’s different about going to the dentist? She guilts me into trying harder and doing better. And that’s her job! It’s her disappointment and mini-guilt trip that compel me into going back in 6 months instead of 6 years.

But not so with God. The Bible says it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). So when you return to the presence of God, when you return to church, when you return to your home group, you do so because of God’s kindness, not God’s condemnation.

Come back. Don’t wait any longer.

If you have time, watch this 11-minute video called God’s Chisel. It paints a great picture of what it means to truly grow in Jesus.


Start College Right

I love Instagram. I don’t have to read silly, often-uninformed Facebook rants or be bombarded with ads/promoted posts on Twitter. This past weekend I noticed a wave of people posting pictures of their newly decorated dorm rooms. As you can imagine, there is a ridiculous difference between a freshman girl’s dorm setup and a freshman guy’s setup.

Watching these new students get settled in and adjusted to college life reminded me of how unsure I was when I first stepped foot on my college campus. If I could sit down with any incoming college freshman this is what I would tell them.

Here are 4 ways to start college right:

1.) Get involved.

Being in a new place, away from the comforts of home can be nerve racking. But the best way to overcome it is to simply put yourself out there. Maybe you don’t have many friends from your high school attending college with you. Maybe that’s a good thing! Either way, you get a fresh new start in the friendship department, something that does not come around often. Start right from the beginning because it’s so hard to move backwards, especially when many people have already established themselves in certain friendship tribes by the middle of the semester.

Even if you’re a commuter, spend lots of time on campus. One year in college, my wife commuted an hour to campus and would often end up staying on campus with friends until midnight. Join an organization. Make friends. Be spontaneous.

A word of caution: be picky with who you pick as your new friends. They are more influential on your life now that you’re away from home and don’t see your family as much. You will become who you hang out with. And some of the decisions you make during your college years (major, job/career path, maybe even who to marry) are shaped largely by the influence of your friends. Choose wisely.

2.) Don’t date your first semester.

Don’t get me wrong…college is a great time and place to date. I met my wife there. We started dating there and we got engaged there. But during your first semester away from home you’re still adapting to a new world and so is that person you’re interested in. Give it a few months. If they are not willing to wait until after Christmas, are they really worth dating anyway? See who you start to become. See who they start to become. Then decide. (See: How to Date as a Christian).

3.) Actually go to college.

I promise your parents didn’t make me say this but you do actually have to go to class. Remember why you’re there: to get an education as well as an experience that will help equip you for your future. Education first, experience next.

Some practical tips:

  • Don’t take 8 AM classes unless you were home-schooled.
  • Study in the library, not your dorm or the coffee shop. Netflix and flirting with baristas don’t benefit your GPA.
  • Don’t fall for the flashcard effect: I use dto trick myself into thinking I had studied when I had really just made flashcards. Preparing to study is not studying. Find what works for you but then actually do it.

4.) Plug into a local church.

I could write forever on how much I love the church. Being away from home means finding a [new] church. It will not take you long to see an abundance of fake community on your college campus. Find a church where the people are real and will help point you to a real Jesus.

College is a time where you will hear over and over again: “This time is all about you. These years are all about you.” Don’t buy into the lie. Join a local church and serve someone. Get outside yourself and grow with a community that will love and equip you during these amazing years.

Question: What other tip(s) would you pass along to new college students?


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