Why the American Church is Not Going to Hell in a Hand Basket

I know what the statistics say about the future of the evangelical American church.

Our buildings are bigger, our lights are brighter, our programs are sleeker, our preachers are teaching, our pastors are shepherding and yet people are leaving out of the church in droves–especially my age (almost 35) and younger.

  • Some are leaving for good. God, the Church, religion…it’s just not part of our core anymore.
  • Some leave and plant other churches. We’re more entrepreneurial than ever so when we see something, in our opinion, that needs to be improved on, we know how to run a church. We’ve spent enough time within our well-oiled machines that we’ve been groomed to do it ourselves–just better, we think. More or less intimate. More or less community. More or less programs. More or less topical. More or less exegetical. More or less flash. More or less candles.
  • Some leave and go to the church down the road. And then to the other church farther down the road. We commit just long enough to wonder why we haven’t found community only to start all over again.

And herein lies a problem: the categories of people I just defined are people who are already inside the church–whether it be a church building or a gathering in a living room or a coffee shop.

We study, we plan, we program, we find scenic, peaceful pictures and slap encouraging Bible verses on them in hip fonts to post across social media. We create devotionals, printouts, and have a board or two on our Pinterest pages for quotes and for Jesus.

Let me say there is nothing inherently wrong with studying, planning, programming or encouraging. I’m guilty of all those things, Pinterest boards included.

However, if we fly out to 30,000 feet and take a look at the landscape, what do we see?

I think we’ve become a little bit gluttonous in regard to our faith.

At first, that statement sounds pretty innocuous. We’re to learn scripture, memorize it, encourage each other, and be faithful with the time and resources we’ve been given, right?

I agree.

At what point are we spilling out to others–to those who haven’t heard the truth and the power and the saving grace of the Gospel of the cross?

Having grown up in the church, worked in the church, served in the church, and now, being married to a pastor, I hear all the time how, with each generation, society is becoming more and more post-Christian. If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “Just look at what happened in Europe!”…

I’m a logical person. I love research and I love statistics. I geek out over spreadsheets and trends. Quantifying and qualifying things are one of my favorite hobbies.

Yet, in spite of all the science and stats, I really don’t believe that the American church is going to hell in a hand basket, so to speak.

Why not?

I believe in the power of prayer.

I believe God desires a true reviving of His church all over the world, including America.

I believe truth always wins, even in an age where truth has been redefined and recategorized as relative and subjective and personal.

I believe that the children and students of today are hungry for truth. I see it every week as they ask good and thoughtful questions about the Scripture they read. I see their struggle, and it’s a good struggle. 

I believe the power of Christ that is in one person who’s faithful to worshipping, obeying, and joyfully sharing the saving grace of Christ is more powerful than 10,000 people who attend a church out of routine or tradition.

And lastly, I believe there are enough people who believe like me–quietly hoping, seeking, praying, pleading, trusting and living out the Gospel that the numbers and statistics don’t matter.

We will not lose to the self-fulfilling prophecy that the church in America is dying.

Yes, the future of the church looks grim at times.

But we understand it’s not that we need to (or can) fix what’s broken.

We need to pray our faces off and be obedient so that what has been broken in the church can be made whole, made new, and made alive again.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us.

It’s time for us to take that power and let Him raise the dead through us.

Managing Anxiety and Making Friends

The fine folks at Christianity Today had me write a little bit about the challenges of community when you’re struggling with mental illness (or when you love someone who has a mental illness). Enjoy!

With mental illness, community becomes more challenging… and more essential.

was a high school freshman when I had my first panic attack. Heart palpitating and lightheaded from heavy breathing, I laid down and tried to take deep breaths, but my lungs didn’t want to cooperate.

What was happening? Was I having a heart attack? My heart kept pounding and my head kept spinning, and I wondered what they’d say the next day at school if I died. I could see the memorial page in the yearbook. Why couldn’t I take a decent school picture? I’d forever be remembered as the girl with a spiral perm and uncooperative ‘90s bangs. This fact only worsened my condition.

My dad comforted me by telling me my “irrational fear” would go away, and it did—for a little while. But then it came back and stayed, 20 years of constant panic.

Some days here and there, I’ll find mild relief, but I’m almost certain it’s here to stay. Most of the time, I’m functional and happy, and my anxiety lays dormant in the chemicals and synapses in my mind, hushed by medication that knows when it starts getting too loud.

Even on the quiet days, my anxiety can put a wall up around me, whispering (or shouting) how it’s not safe to go outside, how I’m better off alone. But I know God desires more for me. He wants me to have community, real friends. People I can lean on and people who can lean on me.

No matter who you are, cultivating friendships is a difficult process. As our developed societies have become more independent, we’ve felt the effects of disconnectedness on such a deep level, we’re afraid to admit it at times. Even though we have screens and pixels to connect us to anyone, anywhere, any time, we’ve never felt more lonely or unhappy in any decade in modern history. We’re surrounded by people everywhere we go—both physically and virtually—yet the need to feel that we belong somewhere is undeniably palpable.

As if the symptoms of an anxiety disorder aren’t damaging enough, coping with any mental illness (to name just a handful: depression, bipolar, ADD, and obsessive-compulsive disorders) can add to the challenge of finding community.Real community. Friends you can be vulnerable with. People you let into those places in your life that seem unbearable…

[[Read the rest of the article here.]]

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year from the icy plains of west Texas. Tim and I are almost back to Lubbock after a few extra days of adventurous travel. The new manuscript is due in two weeks and wow-it has been a wonderful learning experience. I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday season. I’ll see you back online in a couple more weeks after that next book is turned in!

Much love-Anne

Until 2015, I Bid Thee Adieu.

You finally close the day’s work after reading and taking notes and asking questions.

You stack the books, the printouts, the papers, the highlighters, the notebooks; you stack it all, on the dining room table for tomorrow.

You save the manuscript.

You close the computer.

You walk away.

And you hear a small voice whisper, “Add a chapter.”

You argue back, “The title of the book is ’10 Things Parents Need to Know About Their Kids and Sex’ – You can’t just go and add a chapter!”

He says, “Chapter 10 needs to be: Parents Need to Know There’s Hope.”

And you get it.

So you walk back, you make a quick change in the Word document and you press save again.

Because no matter what the statistics, the stories, the reports, the trends, the media…no matter what:

There is hope.

It is with this post that I will bid you all adieu until the new year. I have 45 days until this manuscript is due and evidently, a lot more listening to do.

See you then.

With much love and gratitude,
Anne

Free Devotional: Surviving Christmas: Advent Devotions for the Hard and Holy Holidays

Growing up, I didn’t know much about Advent. Christmas cantatas, yes. Live nativity scenes, yes. Stolen baby Jesus dolls, yes. Advent…not so much.

It was a few years ago after I began attending St. Bartholomew’s in Nashville where Advent really took a hold on my heart: a time to prepare and reflect upon the coming Christ, his birth, death and resurrection, the narrative of Mary and Joseph, angels, dirt, mundane, pain, rejoicing.

Over time, I’ve written a few blog posts inspired by the season or on Christmas in general. Because as mystical and ponderous Advent is, the holiday season is hard for many people.

Family and travel and money and parties and finals and bad weather and schedules and so…many…things that distract and hurt and remind us of a broken world, not a healed one.

This year, I’ve compiled a couple old blog posts with a few other reflections (if you received my Advent emails last year, those too) and made a little eBook.

And it’s free. Just head over to Noisetrade and download it. Please share it with your friends, your family. Study it by yourself or with a group of people. Print off a million copies of it and give it to anyone you think could find it helpful. It’s yours.

It’s my prayer that by taking just a couple of minutes each day as we approach Christmas to stop and breathe and pray and hope and to know we aren’t alone in this hard and holy season, we can live vulnerably in the dualities of joy and sadness and pain and peace.

Those tensions have been lived and wrestled in since the beginning of time but in this season we know the most beautiful moment is in our rest.

And we can rest and know we are loved and can love, we can rest in knowing hope and holiness, and we can rest knowing our Savior has come (and is here, now).

Enjoy A Free Chapter of “Lean on Me” from the Folks at FaithGateway

 

The fine folks at FaithGateway posted a free chapter of Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community today. Here’s a little tease; you can click over to their website for the rest!

They’re also offering 20% off the book, too! (Insert your own verbiage about stocking stuffers or Christmas shopping here…I’ll save you the grief.)

Much love,

Anne Marie

***

Sometimes the only way to return is to go. — Josh Garrels

Leaving behind four years of friendships in Nashville, I moved to California, confidently running, fearless in my decision to escape. It was like my runaway attempt when I was in kindergarten, except now I was taller than the corn stalks and could see my way to a new home. The safety I craved appeared to exist in anonymity. I had nothing to prove to anyone, no questions to answer or expectations to meet. Surely this was the right choice. The voice of my independence distorted the voices of my friends in Nashville telling me to stay.

A new job, new friends, and the healing air of the Pacific Ocean blowing through the windows assured me my decision to move to California was a good move to make.

After work each day, I drove to the house where I rented a room, perched up on the side of a mountain, and watched the sun drop into the ocean as though it had a five-hundred-pound weight attached to the bottom of it. This was my daily commute, and in spite of the small fortune I spent in tolls each way, it was breathtaking every time. My days were kept busy at a growing architecture firm where I helped plan events and managed publicity. It was easy to spend twelve hours a day at work finding something to improve or a new project to begin.

The busyness didn’t bother me at all; in fact, it was a welcome distraction to the grief I was experiencing over the loss of my marriage. Soon, I found myself hopping from plane to plane, running across airport terminals all over the United States for company events. That accomplished two things: it caused a diversion to the growing pain I was desperately avoiding and it separated me from the beginnings of community I was starting to form in California. In the midst of my new job, I was also on a book tour promoting my second book, Permission to Speak Freely, which took me away from my new home in California even more.

The stress of being a full-time author and speaker as well as a full-time publicity manager affected me physically, and I lost weight and couldn’t sleep most nights. But somehow this was okay. Only a month and a half into my new life as a California girl, in between a taping for a Christian television broadcast in Texas for my book and an architecture meeting in Arkansas, I sent a text message to my friend Liz. Liz was a friend who I knew would speak words of truth that I was willing to listen to.

Me: Can be honestIm not sure if movinto California wathe right thing.

A few moments later, she replied. Can call you?

Sure. Give me fifteen minuteto get to my hotel room.

Fifteen minutes later, I sat cross-legged on one of the double beds in my hotel room in Little Rock and waited for Liz to call.

“Why isn’t it working out?” she asked.

“I just feel so disconnected. From everything. I’m traveling so much I can’t do things with my new friends in California. The time zone makes it hard to connect with my old friends back in Nashville. I’m starting to recognize flight attendants on the Dallas to Orange County segment I’m on every week. I feel as if they know what’s going on in my life more than my roommates even do.”

“I think moving to California was a mistake,” she said without pause.

“Um, well, that’s a bold statement.”

“What do you want me to tell you, Anne? You’re running.”

“I just needed a fresh start.”

“No, you need to heal.”

“I am healing.”

“Are you?”

I sat silently, staring at the dated pink floral pattern of the bedspread.

“Go,” she said. “Go to the place where it hurts your heart so much you simply can’t stand it and you feel like you want to die. Go to the place where the infection is thick and rotting and it smells and burns. You have to go to the bottom of the wound and start there. It is the only way to begin healing. Where is that place for you?”…

(READ THE REST OF THE CHAPTER HERE…)

Having a Plan for Coping with Anxiety

Anne Marie Miller, Lake Michigan 2012

It was 3:12 am and it felt like what I imagine a heart attack feels like.

If I hadn’t felt this tightness hundreds of times before in the last 20 years, I probably would have been concerned, but it was a familiar foe. Rarely does it visit while I’m sleeping, but last night it did. I took some deep breaths, told my brain what was happening (because brains are only wired to know evidence – my racing heart and shallow breathing – not reason.)

“You are starting to have a panic attack. There is no reason you should be this afraid. You are healthy, you are safe. This feeling will pass in no more than 20 minutes, and then you will be asleep again.”

My brain somewhat bought the explanation.

The next step? Meditation.

In my mind, I pulled up a snapshot of Lake Michigan, which feels like the ocean, where there is so much space and air, and calming, rhythmic waves.

I repeated what I’ve been repeating for 10 years when I feel a panic attack coming on: “He keeps in perfect peace whose mind stays on Him.”

And at some point, I fell back asleep.

Anxiety sucks. There is no poetic way around it.

Having a plan for when your brain wants to take control is key.