Risking the Congregation

Don Zimmermann, a long time Baptist pastor in the Phoenix area, joins Wayne to share his journey learning to live inside the love of the Father and how it has transformed his own life, his family's life, and that of the congregation he has been involved with for multiple decades. People often ask if an established congregation can find its way into a more relational life together. The answer is, though it is rare, it can happen. This is an inside look at both the costs of that transition and the rewards of doing so. A powerful undercurrent to this entire dialog is how much more relevant this group of people hs become in the world when their objective was no longer "to invite people to church," but to simply love them the way they had been loved. We did have some audio problems with Skype on this one, but the conversation is worth listening through them.

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  1. This absolutely scores at the top 20 podcasts of all time Wayne. You are amazing at drawing wisdom from people and then sharing that conversation with us is just too wonderful sometimes.
    I really think the grand daughters salvation prayer was the best ABSOLUTELY awesome.
    “Jesus, welcome to my life” I love it!!!! My new morning mantra. Love Jesus. He is so cool. Don’s heart really reflected Father’s Love through this podcast. Great.
    And you know I was gonna skip today cause I didn’t want to hear another pastor story. This is the pastor story I’ve been waiting to hear. Sweet.

  2. It’s amazing to me a how a mere four walls can create so many walls between relationships. Don talked about the loss of a 25-year relationship, I am enduring the loss of a 35-year one, simply because the church building no longer meets my needs.

    It pains me to think the audience for life experiences I shared, the depth of conversation, my telling of my walk with God, was all contingent on the fact that I at least made the effort to attend a Sunday morning event. It was if the church building created this life for me. I know that isn’t true. It continues on without it. But sadly, I continue on without this relationship, because there is no longer commitment from the other side.

    In my heart I know Jesus is enough. But I also know He created us for relationship. Isn’t it ironic that Christianity that focuses on relationship, instead of religion, is the exception rather than the norm within the four walls of a Church building.

    Don, I think I’ll skip attending Sunday, if you don’t mind. I have more important things to attend to.

  3. That was so good. I found it helpful, and enlightening and positively uplifting. I loved the Prodigal examples. You once told me it was a long road Wayne but I am still plodding along and every hollow I go through brings more light. Just wish I did not have doubts. I guess I have to look at Thomas and remember how Jesus treated him. I have a little grandson who will be told about his grand daughter’s salvation prayer. Thank you all so much.

  4. Wow, great truth guys! Just wanted to share my Jesus “blog” for the day. — Our Father dwells not in “churches” but in the hearts of those He truly has revealed Himself to. The “church” itself is a facade as it pretends to be the “go-between”. He truly comes alive in us apart from the crowded pews of those who fear rather than know His love. He woos us one by one as the “99” go astray. He finds us, cradles us and frees us from the yoke of the “churches”. We no longer have to prove ourselves or have the need to approve of others. By His will, we have bee set free to be and to love as He intended. For what it’s worth, Gman.

  5. Really enjoyed this today-thankyou Wayne and Don for taking the time to record this conversation. It’s so encouraging to hear other peoples stories and to have a sense of that freedom and excitement of walking with Him in this way. I look forward to hearing more conversations with Don and others in the future ( : Vicky

  6. Nice pod, interesting metamorphoses. @ Glen, in essence that’s the real issue I have with the institution, is the role they’re trying to fulfill as mediator which to my knowledge is illegitimate. They cannot hear on your behalf and cannot mediate for us as Christ paid for that position.

    Well done Don, I think you’re great!

  7. There is no irony in the fact that Don has found an innovative way to clean out the septic tanks of both our recreational vehicles and our religious institutions.

    Al’s Axiom 184: The reason I have abandoned religion is that it forced me to use it’s terms to describe the one I am in love with.

    Corollary to Al’s Axiom 184a (amended by TGJ podcast #08032012): The reason I have abandoned religion is that it forces me to use it’s rules to engage in a relationship with the one I am in love with.

  8. Alot of good stuff in this conversation. May have to download it and add it to my God Journey Thumb Drive Collection. Even if it wasn’t an ordinary schlub. ; )

    When I first started listening to pod casts and reading SYDWTGTCA and then “He Loves Me!” back in 2006, I thought I had really stumbled across life-changing truths and felt that I was going to start living a genuine, new, joyful life with Jesus and Papa. What I didn’t realize then was just how much of my thinking and life had to be de-constructed and untwisted. Six years later, listening to Don and others talk about the living relationship with Papa, and I feel like I am still falling down the rabbit hole. Three steps forward, two steps back. There have been times when Papa has communicated with me in amazing, heart-breaking ways. And other days of emptiness that hit me like a punch in the gut. Some days I think I know what it means to listen for his voice but mostly days that I don’t bother to listen or plug my ears and shout,”La la la la la la la!” I don’t have any wonderful stories about how Jesus inexplicably shines thru my life to others. Just the opposite: I am ever more aware of just how obnoxious I am to family and the few friends I have left. At least I don’t feel like I am pretending anymore or wearing a plastic smile to impress others as my religious duty. But the ‘real me’ is not much to look at, it seems. I’ve got the disillusioned part down, for sure. Now if I could just get some of the “grateful.”

  9. I have read the intro paragraph and listened to the podcasat, but I still have absolutely no idea of what the main point of this is. Would someone please give me a couple sentence explanation?

  10. Continuing thought….to me, some of this intro paragraph is so vague and philosopical that my literal mind can not decipher your point. For example, this intro mentions three things, ‘living in the love of the Father’, living ‘a more relational life’ and loving people rather than inviting them to church. (I don’t mean this to be critical. I honestly want to understand and connect on this topic.)

    When we accept the new birth, we learn to walk in constant communication with the Holy Spirit which produces the fruit of the spirit in and thru us, one of which is love. So, this is Christianity 101. I learned this right out of the gate. It is basic. This is what Christians do. I mean did you not live in this love of the Father as a Pastor all those years? Was the church not living in relationship? If not, what were you doing? I mean, I only had to read my bible one time to figure all that out. And isn’t inviting people to gathering of believers also a form of love? Why does it have to be one or the other?

    I guess it depends on your meaning for the word church, bc that is also a vague term. Some so called churches resemble more of a place of mourning. My experience is that church is where believers gather, whether many or few, to love and affirm each other, develop relationships and worship together. Then they go home and continue to live the life of love in their spheres of influence.

  11. The brave pastor of the church I meet with, deconstructed the meetings and the structure about a year and a half ago. We lost some good people along the way who struggled with the lack of structure and regular meetings. We’ve struggled ourselves to keep holding on and trusting God that this is the right journey for us. Saying that, I feel closer to God now, having moved away from being force fed a spritual diet to simply receiving what He has for me daily. We are also beginnig to see little new shoots of fellowship – not meetings, just family getting together. If you are on this journey too then I encourage you to know that He is good and He’s not forgotten you.

  12. What do you mean by “deconstructed the meetings”? I am struggling to understand the philosophy here. Would someone venture to be very specific with me? Thanks. <3

  13. Great podcast. I remember you reading out his email on a previous podcast a few years back. Have listened to that one several times and it was great to finally hear his story.
    Being a Brit, I’m not sure what a schlub is, but if I’m not one I hope I’m becoming one.
    My aim is to become so unreligious that anyone can talk to me and not feel they have to act or talk ‘different’.
    Thanks again for a great podcast.

  14. Sue, “Deconstructing” means different things; probably why it is confusing. I am not even sure I know what everyone means by it. Generally I think people use the word to describe the process of undoing the obsolete social patterns that have developed over long periods of time in a group (or church organization). Deconstructing “church might (specifically) mean abandoning the choir and replacing it with a single person with a guitar. It could be abandoning the entire Sunday morning service and just inviting people to show up for breakfast. For the most part, I suppose it means simply changing things that no longer have meaning for most of the members of a group (church group in this case).

    I have most often heard the term used in describing a person’s belief systems. Specifically, believing that one has to go to church in order to be pleasing to God or friends. In this case, the conflict comes when they find that it is fine with God but not so fine with friends. Deconstructing the definition of friends is the next thing to attend to. Thoughtful, careful deconstructing is like rebalancing a mobile. Things must change carefully. Changing one thing changes many other things. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and the whole thing falls.

    People deconstruct marriages in marriage counseling sessions. They hold up single attributes, habits or patterns and evaluate their worth in current terms. They may reconstruct their marriage exactly how it was, change a few things or change nearly everything. The purpose of course is to end up with structure that more properly supports everyone involved.

    Fortunately, all the true structure of the body of Christ is in place, as you formerly noted. Encouragers encourage, teachers teach, wisdom is dispensed, healing is had. Within or without the human structures, spiritual structures continue unencumbered, despite what it may appear in any one particular moment of time.

  15. Thank you, Alan. I appreciate you putting thought into that reply. I desire to dialog along these lines.

    I know there is a move of God in this area, meaning, I can tell God is moving in the hearts of his people along these lines. Even in the congregations that tend to really seek to walk closely with our Lord, folks are ‘tired of church as usual.’ Home churches are on the rise.

    Personally, I see the benefit of both the public and the private meetings.

  16. Sue,

    What I hear you asking is:

    “Didn’t we learn about the love of God in church? Didn’t we learn about the Holy Spirit in church? Were there not fellowship halls in churches where we held relational gatherings like harvest parties for kids, fellowships for the youth, wedding receptions for young adults and Wednesday night pot-lucks for everyone? In other words, didn’t we really learn to live loved and live relationally in church? So what’s so wrong with Sunday-go-to-meeting-church, and why is everyone here trying to deconstruct it?”

    Thanks for asking, because these are important questions for those of us “on this journey” to answer. They tip at one of our most cherished sacred cows: that this religion/IC/system, whatever label we put on it, is totally bankrupt, has led us away from relationship with the Father, and can’t be fixed. Many of us will be happy to regale you with stories about why we believe any or all of that is true. But if we had never gone to church, would we ever have known the love of God? Or would we have just responded to the errors of the church by rejecting God Himself? It’s a two-edged sword, for sure. What helped us up has also kicked us down. So do we love it, or leave it?

    Its time to look beyond the standard answer of, “well if church is working for you, have at it”, because underneath that pat answer, I suspect, is our smug notion that the other shoe just hasn’t dropped yet. But I think this podcast was a start at saying that maybe, “yes church really can be done right”, while also recognizing that getting the church back on its spiritual feet may mean losing those vested in its bankruptcy.

    Any gathering of believers is intrinsically a good thing, but care must be taken not to let the “gathering” become more important than the “believers”. In my heart of hearts, I want to believe that there is a scenario in which that ideal can be restored by something other than disbanding and leaving broken relationships in the wake.

    From my experience, it would take a miracle – but it could happen…

  17. No problem Sue, It is a good conversation. I have a friend who is a retired school teacher, he recalls the waves of policy (ad nauseum) that rolled in and out of the public education system. They came so slowly that most of the new administration thought they were coming up with the ideas for the first time, while he, having the perspective of decades of such policies, could nearly predict the outcomes based on what happened 25 years ago when they tried the exact same idea. I remember Al Gore talking about “reinventing government”, same thing.

    The answer always depends on the question. I think I have correctly noticed that most of the man (and woman) made structures and systems in the world are the answers to questions. If they are effective answers, the questions seem to dematerialize behind them over time. We are left with a bunch of answers to questions we have forgotten. Meanwhile, someone raises what may seem like a brand new question about the effectiveness or worth or maybe even the meaning of a structure and resurrects the question. The cycle repeats. Church organizations are no exception to the rule.

    For me, church, as with all other human institutions, is like a game of monopoly. It is meant to bring people together for relationship, validation, encouragement and purpose. It is all fine until someone starts to take it seriously and becomes a little too personally involved with the game or their role in succeeding in the game. Arguments begin to fester, people start to cheat, rules are bent to benefit the bender and what was once a great idea, becomes the bane of their existence. I used to tell my three kids when we started a board game or card game together “Remenber: The person who loses with the best attitude is the winner” (Al’s Axiom #23).

    Whatever the venture, we are prone to forget that there is a greater reality (or perhaps the only true reality) that we are living in in the kingdom of God – right now. All it takes is for us to push back from the table of human activity, turn the chair around and see that as fun as it was, our plans and endeavors were only a temporary past time within the boundaries of a kingdom of God’s dominion. We are all more like children enjoying a family gathering than individuals bent on asserting our own private wills or required to justify our own presence and value in the room.

    err… something like that.

    I enjoy an ongoing conversation between several friends (Ken K. being one of them) in an email exchange that we would be more than happy to invite you to engage in with us. Let me know if you are interested. My email is goofyfishing@gmail.com

    • @Alan,
      Your comment is interesting. Don’t get me started on the school system! 🙂 I will say, however, that I see a parallel between what happens in several of such institutions, such as organized church, school system and medical. That is, there seems to be a pattern of God upstarting, as a result of prayer, a movement, then, over time, the group, as you said, becomes sidelined and no longer provides the solution to the original problem. At that time, prayer, for the same answers, goes forward. Then, and here is the interesting part, when God is not longer recognized, or ‘can’t get through’, in these institutions, he will simply begin a new, grassroots movement somewhere else, because He loves us and he answers prayer. Three examples being: the home-school movement; the multitude of Christian nutritional health ministers; and the rise of home churches. When we pray, he will find a way. We must recognize his ‘hand’ moving in the earth, by hearing what he is doing in the hearts of his people and seeing the fruit of their labors.

  18. @Ron…The article, ‘The Saint Must Walk Alone.” is excellent. Thank you.

  19. About descontructing….it is very difficult, as Ken may have alluded to, if not impossible, to reform an established institution. Our Federal government is a prime example. Unfortunately, many times, it has just start fresh.

  20. Hi everyone. (Sue, Alan, Ron, Robin…)Thanks for sharing your conversation here. The whole thing of “deconstruction” and looking in new ways at old “ways of doing things” is encouraging. There are times when it feels very much like “I’m alone” and there’s nobody else thinking about these things. (Ron thanks for the article “Saint must walk alone”). The question of having friendships and sorting those relationships out with the relp w/ Jesus as foundation…well there’s no formula going to fit there : ) There are times when that means it’s “messy”. All of that to say that your “e-conversation” is an encouragement and thanks for sharing.

  21. Just for clarification, for what it is worth, I have been the only Sue speaking until the one at 8/10 6:36 am. Here to fore, I will be Sue C. 🙂

  22. Hello Sue…(smile) yes there are two Sue’s. Thank you for taking the “C” moniker. Again simply expressing my appreciation for the e-dialogue. I find myself thinking…”No…you’re not alone in what you’re thinking about and going through.” In the article re “Saints Alone” it mentions that a saint “alone” never demands that others agree with his/her view but will meet people where they are at. So I find myself with such rich thoughts, yes…am developing a rich dialogue with Jesus…and at this moment there are very few people I can ask the questions of. It’s been 2 almost 3yrs that I’ve been listening to the podcast and occasionally have joined the “conversation” here.

  23. Meetings, congregations etc. I am just thinking. I am at a place on my journey where meetings don’t really cut the mustard for me. I go because my husband is going, a home fellowship that still uses a meeting format. My favorite part is where we hang out and chat after. Yes, I confess that I have like Kent pointed out have said, “if church is working for you, go for it” while I’m thinking “…you’ll see.” But I am old enough now to consider I could be wrong about that and feel differently in the future.

    I’m thinking, is the congregation, meeting, TV preachers, classes, books, conversations with others in the journey… maybe that’s sort of the “shell”. I have had great learning and inspiration from all these venues. But where the rubber meets the road is in my very own relationship with the Father. So it doesn’t really matter what shell is helping me at this time in my life. The important things are am I growing in my freedom to approach Him without shame and guilt, am I growing in being less judgmental and critical, do I trust Him to vindicate the injustices in life and let go of my illusory attempts to control. Am I growing in hearing the Spirit of God and trusting enough to obey. All that kind of stuff, the stuff that brings peace, joy and rest.

    But if the group/congregation/meeting is becoming a place where you are controlled or controlling others; if people are outcast for not conforming to the group or villified if they leave the group, I don’t think that’s a healthy group. That’s sort of the shoe that has dropped for a lot of us — being villified for pointing out legalism and Phariseeism. I guess we can’t assume that all meeting groups go that way, it just seems like a lot of them do.

  24. Thanks for your thoughts Pat. I concur that although I have friends who attend a meeting, I am finding that my attitude is becoming much more relational with them rather than “being controlled or controlling others” as you so aptly put it. Slowly I am finding that the greater freedom in Jesus building a relationship with me is my dependence on their “fellowship” is lessening. I still hunger for relationships but that hunger is slowly shifting to a much greater focus on Jesus and what He gives rather than me putting great effort in. Confidence begins to slowly build as we see Father taking care of those things. For me that becomes an “exhale” moment and I notice subtle changes that are wonderful to see (which I didn’t bring about). It seems to happen as He deepens our intimate sharing with Him. : )

  25. How wonderful to see the ‘body’ at work as it is meant to be. Incredible. Thank you.

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