Is This All There Is?

Dear Church,

First of all: Thank you. Thank you for the gift of life. I grew up in you as an infant in its mother’s womb, and it was a gentle, nurturing place to begin.

Thank you for every Sunday School, Children’s Church, Pioneer’s Club, Awana, Youth Group, Father-Son Banquet, Sunrise Service, Camp Meeting, Men’s Retreat, Missions Trip, Winter Retreat, and Summer Camp I ever went to. Thank you for that guy who prayed with me at Lost Lake, after the bonfire, when I prayed to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior somewhere around 1985. He was really nice, and that was a turning point in my life.

Thanks for great men like Randy, Bob, Matt, Steve, Stacey, and Allen, who spent time with me, talked with me about Jesus, made me laugh, and taught me about the Bible. I still think of some of them as big brothers and second fathers, and I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

Speaking of Fathers, thanks for my own dad. He’s not perfect, but he’s about as good as they get. Thank you for teaching us about humility, and how to have good families and relationships and marriages. And for teaching us that discipline is important, and forgiveness, and grace. You know that time my dad and I were at A&W, and my ice cream fell off the cone onto the ground, and he gave me his to eat while he cleaned up mine off the floor? That pretty much sums up his servant’s heart.

Thanks also for great teachers like Mike, who taught us how the world worked in light of biblical truth. And who was adamant about taking God at his word, as if it were all true, spiritual gifts and healings and demons and all. That kind of screwed me up, but I’ll get back to this later.

Thanks also for Matt, who let me serve with him when he started a church. He also kind of screwed me up, because he also took God at his word. He worshiped a lot, prayed all night, and tried hard to follow the Spirit in everything.

After that, you encircled us with lots of friends at a different fellowship. You let me lead not just Bible studies, but Deacons; you even let me preach a few times. I got to serve homeless youth, fix the building, redesign the website and write doctrinal statements. It was great. Thankfully I stopped at a certain point, and afterward discovered just how burnt out I was. It took me three years before I even wanted to speak up at a Bible study, let alone serve in any way. I was exhausted.

I was also wrestling with some deep doctrinal questions, questions that the Bible didn’t seem to answer very clearly. I quit reading theology books, because I discovered they often weren’t honest about this problem. Having heard people argue their positions on many issues for several years, I was pretty tired.

And then there was that time when I thought God led me into that situation in which I lost a boat-load of money–to a Christian. And that time where I fasted and prayed about the thing I thought God wanted to do, but he didn’t do it. After that, I didn’t know what to do any more. I didn’t know what to believe. And I didn’t know who to ask about it. Sermons never helped.

Thank you, though, for singing. Thank you for making at least a few minutes each week in which I can actually concentrate on God, get my bearings, let go of the anxiety, and remember, and rest. Whew. Thanks. I wish there were more of this.

I wish there were more of a lot of things, but mostly, I wish there were more opportunities to encounter God. I also wish there were more people ahead of me on the path. After 40 years of sermons and studies, I don’t really need any more of them; I can’t even hear them any more. What I really need are spiritually deep mentors. Not merely theologically deep, but spiritually deep; there seems to be a difference.

Recently, this all made more sense when I read this passage from R. Thomas Ashbrook’s book, Mansions of the Heart:

I realized that if we took much of our discipleship teaching literally, we could well believe that the Christian life is simply about conversion, biblical knowledge, morals, witnessing to one’s faith, and, for a few, work on a church committee. The implication is that once these basics are under control, life will fall into place and all will go well.

But what I saw with my colleagues and parishioners was that “reality” eventually hit. The spiritual journey is just not that simple; life often gets more difficult, not simpler, and is seldom under control. This shallow view of the Christian life is finally pretty boring, and our experience is often filled with all sorts of trial and pain. I saw that many people with this simplistic understanding eventually become disillusioned and leave their church. Others become critical of their pastors and church programs, because they are not “getting fed.” A few search for a more meaningful relationship with Jesus. But what is that more meaningful relationship, and how do you and I find it?

That was a clear description of my experience with you, Church. It was also an accurate description of me: I was bored. I wanted more, but I didn’t know where to go to find it.

A decade or two ago, my teacher/friends Mike and Matt helped me grow in taking God at his word, talking with him, using my spiritual gifts, expecting more out of God. They screwed me up precisely because of this belief that there has to be something more to Christianity than just Bible studies and church cleanup days. Somehow, I’ve found myself in a desert for the past few years, looking for another Matt or Mike who can help me through this muddle. They seem to be in really short supply. I don’t understand why.

Yesterday I was at a Men’s Breakfast, and we were discussing the theology of the Trinity. Much was said about the Bible’s description of God 4000 years ago, and 2000 years ago. But nothing was said about what God was doing today, if anything at all.

And here’s the crux of the problem, Church: If he exists, I want to know what God is doing today. Not what people are doing in the Church’s name, or God’s. I need help knowing a living and active God. I don’t need to know anything more about him. I’ve read my Bible so many times I can’t even hear it any more. I’ve heard so many sermons, I can’t hear them anymore either. I want to know that God isn’t just “relevant” to the world today, but that he is active in it. More than that, though, I want to be in love with him. I want to talk with Him, not at him. I want something supernatural. I want life abundant.

I need leaders who actually deeply experience God, who deeply know him, not just about him, so that they can help me deeply know him too.

Can you help me with this?

Let me know what you think.

Thank you again,

Fritz Liedtke
July 2013

® Fritz Liedtke, 2013. Used with permission.


A pastor’s response…

David Hughes

Transforming Center Ambassador and Resident Theologian

As a former church pastor for over three decades, this article still touches me in a very tender place (as it did when I first read it in 2013) because for much of my ministry I struggled to provide the kind of spiritual leadership Fritz Liedtke needed, produced by a soul freshly intimate with God.

Sadly, experience tells me I am not alone. Many church leaders long for that deeper knowing of God their parishioners are searching for. But surprisingly, leaders don’t always know where to turn for that deeper knowing. For almost 20 years the Transforming Center has guided Christian leaders into a deeper experience of God so they can provide spiritual leadership for the Liedtkes of their congregations and ministries.

The Transforming Community experience is one of the longest running spiritual formation experiences designed for pastors and spiritual leaders. Each retreat is led by Ruth Haley Barton, a trained spiritual director and a seasoned retreat leader. For over 20 years, Ruth has been a student, a practitioner, a teacher, and an authority in the area of Christian spiritual formation and spiritual leadership, and she has authored many books on spiritual transformation and leadership.

If you find yourself asking whether or not it’s possible to lead and serve the church without losing your soul, we invite you to begin a new leadership journey and apply to join the next Transforming Community.

Start a new leadership journey

A Transforming Community ® is a group of pastors and Christian leaders who commit themselves to nine quarterly retreats over twenty-seven months for the purpose of experiencing deeper levels of spiritual transformation.

Fritz Liedtke

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As a ministry leader I need to walk with other ministry leaders who are committed enough, and courageous enough, to deeply experience God together. We need to follow Jesus and not just ask him to accompany us on our ministry journeys since we need him.

So thankful for this letter. I resonate with so much of what is written here. How might I receive permission to reprint this letter?

THis a great article for which I am very grateful. Does anyone know much about the authro ir if He has writtem more on thios theme? Thank you, Andy.

Thanks Andy. Fritz wrote this originally in 2013. He was generous to give us permission to repost. I don’t believe he has written more, but it does represent how so many people feel and why we need spiritual leaders and not just leadership in our churches.

Transforming Community is one of the great experiences of my life. I continue to read for new participants, and I envy the discoveries that they are now making. The learning, the community, the genuine warmth throughout the seasons. But only God knew at the time of my engagement that the experience was more than mere intellectual stimulation and sentiment for the day; it was preparing the soul of my leadership, as Ruth describes it, for difficult days yet future and to make the delightful days with God even more robust. I give God great gratitude for Ruth and my other lovely soulmates and their dedication on my behalf.

Last edited 4 months ago by Michael Fox

Your comment represents so many alumni and my own Transforming Community experience. It continues to be the most defining aspect of my adult life answering the most burning question I had but could not articulate in 2011 as a lay leader: “What does spiritual leadership look like?”. I am fairly confident that my faith would have been shipwrecked by now if I had not experienced a community where we together were practicing ways to be present to Christ’s transforming power that have been passed down through the ages. All these years later Jesus continues to meet me on the journey, even when I feels like an orphan in my own church.

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