Author: DwightClough

Seven questions for Christians who aren’t afraid of thinking big (#7)


#7 Could we create a home for church refugees?

I feel like saying to the American church: “Give me all the people you don’t want.”

According to the 2015 book, Church Refugees, by Dr. Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, church refugees are NOT people who are lackadaisical about faith. Instead, the people the church chews up and spits out are often the people who care the most, who work the hardest, who love the deepest.

Give me those people.

Please, give me those people.

I would love to gather together church outcasts and misfits because I think this is the group that could shake our nation.

According to Packard and Hope, church refugees:

  • wanted community and got judgment
  • wanted to affect the life of the church and got bureaucracy
  • wanted conversation and got doctrine
  • wanted meaningful engagement with the world and got moral prescription

(page 28)

Something inside me screams when I read that.

I want to find a way to put folks like that in a room and together create something better.

So that’s #7. #6 next time. The ideas are only going to get bigger.


PS. A few people on Facebook said they liked my new book. I wrote it for my four young adult children. It’s about developing a spiritual foundation and it has some fatherly advice about relationships, health, money, and so on. You can find it here.

Mountain photo: Kalen Emsley, Unsplash

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I’m writing this as a shout out to you if you are feeling the sting of rejection, if you’ve been pushed out, if you’ve been made to feel unwelcome.

A few years ago, my wife and I belonged to a small group filled with all of our best friends. We loved it and we loved them. But the group came to an end. Sad, but understandable. Everyone was busy. Then a month later, we discovered the group was still meeting—a different time, a different place, but all the same people with one important subtraction—us.

The “Not Welcome” sign has been waved in my face for many reasons over the years: the clothes I wore, the way I talked, my politics, my theology, my influence, and, yeah, to be honest, sometimes for my mistakes. I can think of at least three former “best friends” who today will have nothing to do with me.

Where does all that leave me? By itself, it would leave me feeling pretty low.

But for me, one thing above all others has made a big difference.

Jesus. The Bible describes Jesus as “despised and rejected by men.” It says He came to His own, but His own received Him not. The mass of humanity says, “We will not have this man [Jesus] ruling over us.”

I hang out with Jesus.

He gets it. He understands. He doesn’t need to be part of the cool kids club. He seems to like me. Despite my clothes, my car, my politics, even my mistakes, He still likes me. He likes hanging out with me.

That makes me happy.

Heaven is a place where all its citizens belong. And I spend a lot of time thinking about how we could create the same kind of arrangement here on earth. If that’s something that interests you, talk to me.


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Do you have dreams?

Do you imagine some kind of hopeful future for yourself, for your family, for a group of people? Do you want to build a home, feed the hungry, travel the world, heal the hurting, or whatever?

If you do have dreams, do you talk about them?

Is it safe for you to talk about them?

If you have dreams, but don’t talk about them much, I can relate. I don’t really feel safe sharing my dreams with most people. Sorry, I just don’t.

I’ve always hoped that the church would be a cultivator of dreams. We could share our dreams with one another and get ideas, prayer, help and a certain amount of cheer leading support. But that has not typically been my experience.

I believe dreams are God given. I believe God has dreams for each of us, and His dreams for us materialize imperfectly in our own minds and then get refined as we walk with Him.

But I’m writing this post mainly to ask: Do you have dreams?



PS. I want to add a footnote to my earlier post on issues I have with the church.

If you’re a pastor, please know that I have the deepest respect for you. You have an extremely difficult job, a job I could not do well. Most pastors are overworked, underpaid, under appreciated. I get that. Most pastors I know are wonderful people—loving, self sacrificing, caring human beings. While I do have issues with how the church does business at times, please don’t receive that as an attempt to devalue you in any way.

Photo: Armand Khoury, Unsplash

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Can you have issues with the church and still be a good Christian?

I’m going to say yes. Partly because I have issues with the church.

But first this warning and this disclaimer. This post might offend you. If so, sorry. Not my intent. I spotlight some issues because I love the church and want to see it restored.

This post is NOT an indictment on the church I presently attend. I like my church; I like my pastor. Rather I’m drawing from my experience of visiting, attending, and/or speaking in dozens of churches in multiple states over the last 55 years. I’m drawing on my experience of serving on church and ministry boards, and also from being kicked off boards and kicked out of churches. (I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.) I’m addressing what I see as the state of the church as a whole here in the USA.

The church has lost its moral authority in our culture. Because it has, it no longer nourishes the institution of the family. As a result, children give birth to children who are raised in chaos and arrive in young adulthood morally lost and filled with venom from the deep hurts they’ve experienced. This sets our culture adrift, with power crazed government circling overhead like hungry vultures. Meanwhile, because the church has lost its moral authority, many in government can no longer distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. They understand only political power. Those who put them in office don’t know how to elect good leaders because they don’t know what a good leader is.

Instead of mourning these losses, popular culture celebrates them.

What went wrong?

From what I can determine most pastors don’t understand how the grace of God works in real life. As a result, they have no prescription for sin, dysfunction, and hurt other than “read your Bible, pray, and try harder.” And, in some churches, “vote for my favorite political party.”

On the whole, churches, Bible colleges, and seminaries don’t seem to teach how the grace of God works in real life, and we’re left to figure it out on our own. Some do. Most don’t.

Some pastors and church leaders are so confused about this that they get their moral compass from their favorite political party and their moral guidance from their favorite news media channel. They reinterpret the Bible along political lines rather than interpreting politics through the lens of the Bible.

Because many church leaders don’t seem to understand how the fruit of the Spirit is formed in someone’s life, they seem to have no way of measuring or even identifying spiritual maturity. As a result, pastors and other church leaders may or may not possess spiritual maturity. Often they do not. Instead, many church boards are populated either with the pastor’s buddies or with power hungry obstructionists who don’t comprehend what the Kingdom of God is or what role the church should have in our world. They have no vision. Instead, they treat the church like one of their business holdings.

And, news flash: Numerical growth is not a vision. It’s a business goal.

And yes, trying to get people to “pray the prayer” rather than “sheep stealing” is a step up. But so many churches don’t really have a good plan for what to do after someone “prays the prayer” other than: attend and financially support our church, and, of course, volunteer in the nursery.

The metrics used to measure church success are butts in the pews on Sunday morning and coins in the coffers. These are business metrics, but they’re not Kingdom metrics.

The financial priorities of many churches I’ve observed are: (1) the building, (2) the pastor’s salary, (3) local and world missions. In my view, that’s exactly opposite of what it should be.

The ministry priorities of most churches are: (1) the Sunday morning sermon, (2) the Sunday morning music, (3) nursery, kids church, youth group, (4) everything else. I’m not saying these are bad things. But this set of priorities does strike me as insular.

Because church leaders are treating churches as businesses, their focus is on the financial health of an organization rather than the Kingdom footprint of a congregation.

Tragically, people in the congregation who truly understand the Kingdom of God and are at work trying to make a difference in their world are at odds with the church’s agenda. These good people are ignored, marginalized, chewed up and spit out by churches. Leadership fears they will divert dollars and attention from the financial health of the church corporation.

What church leaders seem to prefer are homogeneous lumps on a pew who drop money in the plate and, of course, volunteer in the nursery.

To be fair, pastors who come into a church with a vision to make a real difference in our world are often beat up and thrown out by church boards and congregations who will have no part of that. Many pastors with high ideals are corralled into shape by business-oriented church boards who teach them the ways of the world.

Are there exceptions?

Of course.

Is there hope?

Of course.

I think it starts with church leaders sitting down and rethinking: What are we all about? What did God send us here to accomplish? How does the grace of God work in real life? What is spiritual maturity and how do you attain it? How can we strategically make a difference in our world?


Church image: John Cafazza,

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Do you know any church refugees?

Some people love Jesus, but don’t feel safe or welcome in church.

Some people are done with church, but not done with God.

Some churches have thrown away some really good people.


I want to find these folks. I want to see what I can learn from them.

No blame, no shame, no judgment for church refugees or for churches. I just want to learn what I can.

If you know a church refugee or someone who has felt unsafe or unwelcome in church, could you put them in touch with me? I have a survey here, or they can email me, or find me on Facebook here.



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Falsely accused?

Have you been falsely accused?

It hurts, doesn’t it?

If you have been falsely accused, I have a few thoughts for you, and I may have a message from God for you. First, my thoughts:

1. You’re in good company. Jesus was falsely accused. Paul was falsely accused. So was David, Joseph, Jeremiah, and many other good people.

2. It matters. Proverbs tells us that “a good name is better than great wealth.” Jesus starts the Lord’s prayer with, “Hallowed by Your name.” In other words, “God, we don’t want anyone to accuse You of any wrong.” Character assassination hurts; it’s a sin.

3. Those who accuse you often believe their own lies. All of us—to some extent—live in a distorted reality, believing things that simply aren’t true. As a result, we can believe someone else to be a terrible person when they are not. A big part of our political divide is due to this phenomenon.

4. It hurts even more when there’s a grain of truth in the accusation. Yeah. The sting of having your reputation ruined and then the guilt that comes from feeling like it’s partly your own fault.

5. In any case, take your hurt to God. Let Him tell you the truth about who you are and how He feels about you. If you have done anything wrong, let Him show you how to fix it. Let Him heal you on the inside and give you the strength for forgive your accusers. Let Him show you what, if anything, He wants you to do to defend your name.

Paul said, “I care very little whether I am judged by you or any other human court. God is my judge.”

Finally, I was taking a walk, talking with God, asking Him if He had any message for you if you’ve been falsely accused. His message?

“I will vindicate you.”

God will make things right. Everyone will know the truth. (Psalm 37:5-6)



PS. Important note: For those of you who are subscribed to my blog, I’m changing my email address from dwight at ssdcouragedotcom to blog at dwightcloughdotcom. Hope the new email reaches you okay.

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Literal interpretation of the Bible?

We can all see what the Bible says. But what does it mean?

How do you interpret the Bible?

Here’s how I decide what it means. Between audio, print, and screen, I’ve been through the entire Bible hundreds of times, and this is what guides me:

I believe we need to start here: If some rogue asteroid plowed into our planet tomorrow and wiped all humanity out of existence, would God die too?


No, He would not. God is not a human construct, a figment of our collective imagination, an imaginary friend.

God is who He is. In order to exist, God doesn’t need me; I need Him.

This is why I don’t have a problem with God being supernatural. I don’t have a problem with Him creating the heavens and the earth. I don’t have a problem with the Red Sea parting, Jesus rising from the dead, the axhead floating, a fish swallowing a wayward prophet. I don’t read these stories as the gullibility of an ancient and ignorant people. Rather I see these acts as all part of a working day for a supernatural God.

When I go to interpret the Bible, I don’t try to strip it of the supernatural. I don’t try to tame it or tame Him. I don’t try to get God under my control so He no longer has the power to threaten me.

I let God be God. Or at least I aim to do that.

I believe God is good. So when I read something in the Bible that bewilders me, I don’t immediately try to gut it of all meaning. I ponder it. I ask myself: What is it that I don’t understand here about the goodness of God?

I am fallible. Our culture is fallible. Our collective values are subject to error. But God is not. Through that lens I see God having the right to judge people and nations, to intervene any way He chooses.

That doesn’t mean I always “get it” or like it. On the contrary, I often can’t explain it. But at the end of the day, I need to let God be God.

I believe the Bible is the foundational way in which God talks with us. It’s not the only way, but it’s generally the most reliable way.
As a result, I take the Bible at face value. I believe it says what it means and it means what it says. I aim to let its message mold me rather than trying to mold its meaning to fit my politics, my theology, my biases, my ideas.

Over the last couple hundred years, many people have been persuaded that interpreting the Bible “literally” is a sign of stunted intellectual growth, of ignorance, of a lack of sophistication.


How do we interpret any other message from someone we trust? Hmm?

I trust its message. I believe it to be honest, reliable, straight forward.

Yes, I understand that the Bible sometimes speaks in metaphor, in parable, in symbolism. But those instances are pretty clearly delineated to even a casual reader.

And yes, I understand that the Bible sometimes has a message or a command that applied to a specific person or people group at a specific time for a specific reason—and that message or command no longer applies to us today. But again, if you’re paying attention, those things are—as a rule—easy to identify.

Finally, I believe the Bible is God’s message. It’s meaning cannot be fully unlocked without bringing God into the process of understanding. When we approach God’s word and God Himself with humility, with a teachable heart, and with a desire to honor Him, I believe He will show us what we need to understand of its meaning.

Have a super weekend!


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Unwelcome at church?

I love God. I have dedicated my life to serving Him.

So you would think there would be no place where I would feel more at home than church, right?

Well… that hasn’t always been the case.

I was kicked out of one church, stripped of membership in a second, threatened with excommunication in a third, told to sit down and shut up in a fourth, and made to feel like the enemy in a fifth.

Why? Did I do something terrible? No, I was just being me.

I share this for a couple reasons.

(1) If you have ever felt unwelcome, been rejected, experienced abuse, or been kicked out of a church, you’re not alone. And it doesn’t make you a bad person.

(2) If you have experienced any of these things, I would like hear your story if you’re willing to share it with me. You can reply, or you can respond to a short survey here.

If you’ve had a bad experience in church, my heart goes out to you. So many good people have. Maybe we can help each other.


PS. Please don’t think I’m anti-church. I’m not. There are many good churches, many good pastors. I’m still active in the church, and happy with the church I attend.

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Counterfeit discipleship?

Counterfeit discipleship?

When I was a young believer, I wanted to figure out how to become a good Christian. I wanted to grow.

Is that you? Do you or have you looked for ways to grow in your faith? Is that important to you?

Anyway, I looked at Christians I admired, and I noticed a few things:

1. They knew a lot about the Bible.
2. They knew theology.
3. They were church leaders.
4. They were up front speaking.

Having no further guidance than that, I aimed to become those things. I went off to Bible college to learn the Bible, to learn theology, to become a church leader, to be the guy up front speaking.

Here I need to condense a 200-page story full of my own mistakes and disappointments down to a few takeaways.

Discipleship is the process that takes us from Christian newbie to Christian maturity. There are a lot of people out there hawking discipleship programs. Some are good. Some are horrible. Let me talk about the difference between the two.


Examples of Counterfeit Discipleship

“Follow me. I’m a prophet.” Well, hey, I’m a prophet too, and please don’t follow me; follow Jesus instead. I don’t want to be your pipeline to God; I don’t want to control your life in any way.

“Look at all the miracles I can do.” Great. Use those gifts to help hurting people and use them to showcase the goodness of God. Great gifts are a sign of great responsibility; they’re not a sign of maturity.

“I’ll make you rich!” Limousines, private jets, and beach homes are not the building blocks of Christian maturity. If you have them, great. Place them in God’s hands and let Him show you how to use them to bring good into your world.

“I’m Mr./Ms. Christian Big Shot.” Yeah. Maybe you are. Some people are leaders because they’re good leaders. Some people are leaders because they’re pushy and nobody bothered to push back. In any case, sit at the feet of Jesus; learn maturity from Him, so you can help your people find their way.

“You’re sinning all the time.” Some pastors and Christian leaders get stuck here. Every sermon is “yet another 15 ways in which you’re sinning and didn’t know it.” I’m not saying sin isn’t a problem, and I’m not saying we should be lackadaisical about it. But when I asked God, “Is it true that we’re always sinning?” His reply was, That’s not My focus. Let’s find God’s focus and make it our focus. Hint: Let yourself be loved by God; discover and experience His goodness, and then you won’t—as a rule—feel like sinning.

“I have hidden knowledge.” I’ve seen this come up a lot of ways. The Bible teacher who has unlocked all the hidden meaning in the book of Revelation. (Yeah, sure.) The Bible scholar with contempt for those who disagree. The person with their pet translation or teaching or interpretation. The person who works really hard to get the Bible to say what the Bible does not say. The person who condemns all Christians who don’t agree with their teachings.

Let me unpack that last paragraph a bit more. As we grow in Christ, our understanding grows. Things that were previously hidden from us become clear. But this wisdom from above (see James 3:13-18) comes to us as we experience the love of God, as we study the Bible, as we love God and love others, as we live a good life. If any of those elements are absent, our wisdom is warped.

“Vote the way I vote, attend my protest rallies.” Left or Right. The moment you try to paint Jesus red or blue is the moment you lose touch with the real Jesus and replace Him with your own Jesus wannabe. Should you support good causes and vote your conscience? Of course. But understand that Jesus has followers who vote differently than you do, and God has given them wisdom He didn’t give you. I’m not saying they’re right and you’re wrong. I’m saying we need each other.


By contrast, Real Discipleship

It works in real life. It’s relevant. It works in good times and in bad. It’s not anchored in platitudes, but it’s anchored in the nearness of God.

It results in love for God, love for people, the fruit of the Spirit, relationships characterized by understanding, respect, trust, and love.

It aligns with scripture, but it also bridges the gap from the page to our lives.

It’s transformational. It brings the broken places in our souls in touch with God. In the process, He grants us His perspective—the paradigm shifts that change how we think, what we feel, how we experience life.

Most of all, it invites Jesus in. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

Hopefully, all of us can become connoisseurs of the real deal and not be led astray—as I sometimes have been—by the counterfeits out there.


Completely unrelated

My wife and I (okay, blame it on me) own what is probably the ugliest garden in America. But I do have a game camera out there, and it does capture some of the critters who visit, prowl, feast at our expense, or just slink on through in the middle of the night. I have videos. Would you like to see them?


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The purpose of prayer (and more)

Is it okay if I share several scattered thoughts today?

I posted my very first YouTube short! It’s on the purpose of prayer. I’m not sure this will be a new revelation to you or if it will be a “Duh! Of course, Dwight,” but here it is.

For those of you who are wondering what ever happened to the End the Divide movement, here’s an update.

Those of you who know me well know that I rarely travel and I haven’t been on a plane since 2005 (when I went to help in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina). But my good friend Neil Mathweg was hosting a summit for real estate agents, and he said he wanted to introduce me to some people who wanted me to help them write and/or publish their books (yeah, I still do that). I went back and forth; I was praying about it, and I felt like God said, “Go! You can make back the money you spend in a day.” Okay, I went. (And, yes, less than two weeks later, I’ve already recovered my expenses.)

Anyway, I met this fellow who was dead for 42 minutes, who met with God, and had a life changing encounter. Powerful story, and he’s asked me to help him tell it. I love helping people tell their story, especially when it’s also God’s story.

And I hope it’s okay for me to say this, but I was sitting at the airport looking around at all these people that I didn’t know. And I was just pondering—isn’t it amazing the whole universe of wonder that’s locked up inside a single human being? What if there was some way to have a real conversation with another person and unlock some of that wonder?

I confess, I don’t know how to do that. I wish I did. But I think heaven must contain some element of this—seeing, maybe for the first time, people as they really are, people as they are imagined by God.

Anyway, I hope all is well in your world. Ping me back if you feel like it. I love to hear from you!


Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

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