I am now three weeks into my call to serve as Lead Pastor, and I am baffled.  Educational theorists talk about cognitive dissonance and here’s mine.

I was taught that healthy organisms grow.  I’ve studied the elements of church health for years.  I earned a doctorate in organizational development. I’ve pastored three healthy churched that grew.  And based on all that, I’ve assumed that the biotic principals of heath in creation, also found in organizational structures, facilitate growth.  Healthy churches grow.  Unhealthy churches don’t.

But the church I now serve defies that assumption.  Having undergone years of unhealthy systems and behavior, and diagnosed by one consultant as “the most unhealthy church they had ever seen,” this church grew, and grew, and she keeps on growing.

That’s why I’m perplexed—my paradigms are turning upside down; hence my cognitive dissonance.

Now, I don’t think this is an argument to pursue unhealthy behavior so that grace may abound.  But, I do think the experience of my church is instructive.  I’m just trying to figure out what the instruction is.

My suspicion is that the answer is to be found in the Gospel.   That good news that announces to us that God resurrects life from death, and that he delights in confounding the wise, with a higher wisdom, and that He will show, sometimes sternly, sometimes with humor, that He is God and we are not, in spite of our propensity to assume otherwise.

So here I am with all my education and my cognitive dissonance, scratching my head over the irrational grace that God has poured into this place in spite of all it’s shenanigans.   Come to think of it, the same is true with my rip-torn life, so I shouldn’t be caught off guard, but I am, and it’s really a pretty good place to be.


About chris breuninger

I love life, my family, and Jesus. I enjoy live music, rigorous exercise, thoughtful movies, and strong coffee. I study scripture, wine, and people. I get frustrated with narrow minds, Christian stereotypes, and gardening. My vocation is pastor, but I’m hesitant to admit that, and I’m happy when people are surprised by that.
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14 Responses to Perplexed

  1. Kathy Schoen says:

    Amen. God works despite our broken selves.

  2. Cathi says:

    Could it be that God calls/invites people to RCC so that they can get as real as possible with their brokeness, and because of that be encouraged to grow in His love? One of the moments that let me know it was a good place was the meeting in the fall of 2008 where it was announced the former pastor was leaving.
    Here was a community working through a very difficult time, yet continuing on. Yes, we’re broken; yes, we don’t always know how to interact in a Christ-like manner and yet we keep trying. Its the support and encouragement of the people in the community that helps us see that we are God’s children and people.
    My heart was opened wider because of the whole process and the blessings of the various pastors that came to share the Gospel with us.

  3. Gail Bierman says:

    We understand your perplexion (?). We have been trying to understand it during our 2+ years of uncertainty. Our final decision was just to let it be!! God is working and taking us places we aren’t sure where, but we are going along for the ride. Glad you came on board to ride with us!!!!

  4. Jane Bailey says:

    Great read!! I think God likes it when we scratch our heads!! Keeps us humble!! We came to RCC in the middle of “the mess”, and having just come from another “mess” in another church, we hoped and prayed that God would tell us to run for the hills (mountains!). But He didn’t. He said, “Be still. And know that I am God. I am bigger than this mess. I am bigger than sin. And I am big enough to ‘raise the bones’!” So we have joyfully stayed; our socks have been repeatedly blown off by God’s evident love and grace and mercy, and we smile at the future!! Also, God’s people are precious! When we obey His voice, we grow up! And there’s been a lot of growing up in the last couple of years! We look forward to lots of head-scratching in the days to come!! Amen!!

  5. Patrick Donohue says:

    We’ve only been attending since last September and maybe it’s because we’re so new that it’s hard to see this church as so unhealthy.

    I don’t say that to undermine your point, which is very well and appreciatively taken.

    Heck, maybe the other churches I’ve attended were actually healthy (when all I saw was their warts) and this one is actually unhealthy (with so many shiny spots). How’s that for cognitive dissonance? Ha!

    Either way, God is clearly at work here and I’m glad to be on the train as it leaves the station!

  6. Kathy says:

    Chris, I completely agree. I think that the growth is simply and purely the grace of God working through the believers at RCC. Many of us sensed the disfunction in the leadership long ago and committed to praying hard for God’s will to be done. No eyes on those around us, or ears for rumors floating, but committed to being God’s vessels where He has placed us. Obedience before feelings or even desires to seek another church, just answering God’s call in our lives where we are today. What do you think?


    What most perplexes me is not any sin, but the grace of God that redeems sin. His grace does not just minimize sin, but transforms it into something beautiful. That’s what really perplexes me, not the dysfunction of sin that all people and all systems experience.

    Augustine said that sin is unreality, and I think he was right on. The mess we make as people or as leaders does not define our reality. Our reality is defined by the God who receives our mess, forgives our mess, and uses our mess to heal others. And that redemptive reality why I’m perplexed in a positive way.

    Isn’t it utterly amazing that God loves our broken lives and makes them new in spite of our sin? That’s the defining reality of God’s irrationally extravagant grace that never ceases to amaze and perplex me.

  8. notyethopeful says:

    Knowing that some of the “unhealthy” behavior diagnosed by the consultant survived the exodus of many, it must feel like a daunting task to sort it out and confront it. While I am certain it is God who must ultimately deal with each of our hearts, it is you who represents the face of change at RCC. Perhaps it’s not as dramatic as Daniel in the lion’s den, but nonetheless it is that level of courage I pray God gives to you. And to me, as I remain open-minded, but not yet hopeful.

  9. Patrick says:


    Thanks for the clarification that you are perplexed in positive way. It could be that my tendency to box up Truth (with neat little bows) should give way more often to being perplexed, or even going so far as feeling uneasy at times.

    I’m not suggesting that our goal should be to stay in that place–as our called “New Agers” would purport–but that tension plays a bigger part than I originally thought.

    You have really challenged me with your notion of the “reality of God’s irrationality.” That reminds me of Keller’s book The Prodigal God, which makes a case that God’s love for us is not just lavish, but reckless.

    Hopefully, I’m beginning to understand better.


  10. Kathy says:

    RCC has always been about not fitting into a box or a label. I find that very comforting as it leaves lots of room for God to work…which He has been doing. I am delighting in the fact we do not fit into yet another box and have left your perplexed. You are becoming a real RCC’er.

    PS Sadly, the same consulting company has since found one worse.

  11. Bryan says:

    I am thankful for the blessing of renewed hope despite life’s trials & I am encouraged at the direction upon which we as a body of believers.

  12. john rechin says:

    maybe we are looking at to small a circle? What is God doing in our community, the community of believers and non believers? What is the torch God wants us/ RCC to carry in that? I am not suggesting RCC leading/ or will lead that procession, but for a time look to how to partner with others to see God glorified in our community. Possibly God in his goodness and mercy is preserving us for such a time. Similar to holding the remnant of Israel in His hand. I believe many have not been released due to this very fact. Much blood has been paid for our church and our community. Wow this is kind of fun. I have never blogged before 🙂

  13. Linda Gripkey says:

    Even though my stay was short in Santa Rosa. I had never left RCC without being truly
    encouraged or at least thoroughly engaged in the thought of the messages given. The message of pruning of the vineyard is surreal. I now see that through all the loss of this past year. God has put me back where he wants me to be but with a different frame of mind as I continue to work in children’s ministry . Thank you Thank you for the pod casts I look forward to new ones.

  14. karen titoni says:

    I believe that Chris is the answer to our small group’s and church’s prayers from the last two years, and maybe even while John was still here. God obviously knew way in advance that we needed Chris. Thank you for your insight and strong will that will encourage and nudge all of us into service for the King. You are greatly loved.

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