Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter – DESIGN FLAWS

I’ve mentioned Jennie Edwards Bertrand before. She was in my church in Arcola, IL, a high school junior when I was appointed there. She recently did me the honor of saying that because I was her pastor then, when she went to seminary, after a brief foray into special ed, she didn’t have to unlearn any theology.

She is now the Director of The Wesley Foundation at ILSU, as I was in the 1960s, although she is not now the campus minister there also, as she was for several years. They have another campus minister, under Jennie’s supervision, so that her main job of the last 3 years or so is starting Hope Church, a church for the unchurched.

Jennie recently mentioned that she has discovered a basic design flaw in her ministry—a church for the unchurched. People are unchurched for a reason. They don’t want to come to church. A church for the unchurched is an oxymoron at best.

The unchurched in her city are willing to accept pastoral care, even seek it out. Bar owners and other unchurched types have come to know her, as she does “evangelism,” and not only talk to her about their problems when she comes around, but actively seek her out, and point her to other people who need care. All the unchurched folk in Bloomington-Normal say, “Oh, yes, Hope church. That’s a great place. They take in anybody.” Except them. They like the idea of a church like that, but they don’t want to come to it.

So, she says, how do we overcome the basic design flaw? I have no answers for her, of course, but I thought you’d like to ruminate on that.

It occurs to me that design flaws afflict us in other areas of the church. Church unity, for instance. Is it a design flaw to assume that unity means organizational unity? Might we do better if we have a different design than a church for everybody when not everybody wants to be in that church? That’s certainly as far as I have gotten with that.

I’m a little farther along in figuring out the design flaw of a blog for old people: They are too old to remember to look at it. They are too blind to be able to read it. They are too obtuse to care what someone else thinks. They die a lot. Well, each one only once, but as a group, they are ever diminishing.

I wonder if it’s too late to start a blog for young people? They like up-to-date written word media stuff, like email and blogs, without any of those distracting “images,” and they love to listen to old people tell stories about the olden days. Surely there could be no design flaw in that…

John Robert McFarland

“All wars are planned by old men in council rooms apart.” Grantland Rice, sports writer


  1. Hi John Robert! I had not read this blog post until this morning. I see no one commented with great advice for any of these design flaws! I am happy to report, Hope Church continues to grow nuin thember of people in town who claim us as their church, a couple of them even come to worship occasionally! JEB

  2. Not sure what happened between formed sentences and the publish button, but that's "grow in number" not "nuin thember" which kind of reads like ruin them!