REAL Church – The Bride of Christ | Ep.…
What stirs in me that makes me want to know God more? How is “church” supposed to move me in those good directions? Hear a pastor of more than 4 decades talk about the church and God’s people today. Where are we heading and was is happening to the Church? Is it worth it?
Bio: Jim (Jimmy) Kallam
Before founding their new ministry, Jim served on staff at Church at Charlotte (an EFCA church) for 42 years, 37 as the senior pastor. Jim has a BA in Biblical Literature from Northeastern Bible college where Suzi is also a graduate. Jim has also served on various non-profit boards. Those include Winning with Encouragement, The Barnabas Center (a counseling ministry), Word of Messiah, and the EFCA Board of Directors where he was chairman for the last four years. Jim and Suzi have traveled extensively overseas to teach on marriage, pastoral health and encouragement to national leaders in Ethiopia, China, Costa Rica, Cuba and Thailand. Out of the heart’s desires and their gifting, Jim and Suzi Kallam formed Tandem Spirituality as a response to the many unique needs facing church leadership. Their desire is to support the local church both nationally and globally. Their hearts are to engage with couples and individuals for Christ centered living, a revival of truth lived out in everyday life and to encourage those caught in struggle. Jim and Suzi have been married for 48 years and have three married daughters and eight incredible (just ask them) grandkids. The Kallams live in Charlotte, NC.
[00:00:28] Kep Crabb: Welcome, everybody, to the Larger Story podcast called Relational Spirituality, where you belong, you can become and you can be known. I’m your host today, this week, Kep Crabb, and I’m joined today as we finish talking about Real Church: Does it exist? Can we find it? It’s a book my father wrote years ago on church with a longtime Crabb family friend, a former senior pastor for several decades, who now works with Tandem Spirituality. Please welcome my friend, Jimmy – Jim – Kallum. Jimmy, how’s it going today man?
[00:01:03] Jim Kallam: It’s going good, Kep. It’s great to be with you and I love being on this and it’s good to see your face, man.
[00:01:08] Kep Crabb: Tell me a little bit about Tandem Spirituality.
[00:01:12] Jim Kallam: Sure. Suzi and I retired in 2019 after 42 years at Church at Charlotte, and our heart’s desire was to give back to pastors and their families. My experience in life talking with pastors around the country was, pastors do a terrible job of taking care of themselves emotionally and spiritually in that type of space. Many times they’re busy serving other people, but they don’t take care of their own lives and they don’t take care of their families. It’s been Suzi’s and my heart to give back to that niche: pastors and their families, Christian leaders in their families.
That’s what Tandem Spirituality does. We hold retreats, we talk with people, but we do a lot of one-on-one mentoring, offering spiritual direction to talk through the issues that they face. You look at statistics these days and people are diving out of ministry left and right. Not just older folks, but younger folks who are like, it’s not worth it.
Which gets back to the whole subject of your dad’s book, Real Church. It is an exhausting experience for a lot of those guys. So that’s what Tandem Spirituality does. We actually started a podcast of our own back in November just to take 10, 15 minutes and talk about issues that people struggle with.
So there’s a thumbnail sketch of what we’re doing.
[00:02:33] Kep Crabb: That’s awesome, Jimmy, which actually dovetails so beautifully in with what we’re going to be chatting about today. You did talk about some percentages and different things, and before we had this conversation, I looked up some things just so I had my numbers right, but 44% of millennials have zero religious affiliation. That number has actually gone up by 6% since 2016. When you start to look at some of the other statistics in terms of people leaving, the traditional church really is becoming smaller. I’m wondering, as we do talk about the present day church, what’s going on today with church and – Dad talks about it in the book – why is church important? Why do people not want to go? That seems now to be true more than ever.
Talk a little bit about how you see the church changing today, and maybe where you see the church heading.
[00:03:22] Jim Kallam: I would say this; I think Covid gets blamed for a lot of things. I don’t think Covid is the reason why the church is struggling. I think Covid exposed the faults that were already there in the local church and particularly for the younger generation because it became a convenient way to go, I don’t have to go to church without feeling guilty that I wasn’t going to church. I really do think that what’s exposed in the American church today is, people are tired of something that really doesn’t “scratch where they itch” – is one of the ways I would put it – it feels fake to a lot of people. It feels phony to a lot of people. It feels, I think from the perspective of a pastor, like a pressure to have to somehow entertain his congregation.
Each week it gets bigger and bigger, your dad and I used to talk about. One of the phrases that I hated as a pastor was walking out after a service and somebody’s saying to me, “boy, you really hit a home run.” What’s that make the other week’s? A ground out? A strike out?
[00:04:24] Kep Crabb: “Last week struck out, but today…”
[00:04:26] Jim Kallam: “This time you hit a home run.” It’s that idea that somehow I’m responsible, the church is responsible for…”entertaining” is an easy word to use, but it’s, “I want to come out of there feeling good. I want to come out of an hour and a half – whatever your service time is – and I want to feel good about myself” as opposed to going, “what stirred in me that would cause me to want to get to know God more?”
I think that gets pushed to the side. I think your dad wrote the book back in 2007, 2008, somewhere around in that range. If your dad was still with us today, I think it would just be multiplied, what he felt when he wrote that as to what he would experience today.
[00:05:05] Kep Crabb: I think that is so true, Jimmy. I just think about where things have gone since Dad’s been gone. Yeah. He died a couple of years ago, and it has just spiraled out of control. He did write a couple things in the book that I just want to read real quickly. He says, “So it comes down to this. A real church doesn’t entertain its people on Sunday mornings or merely inspire its people with rhythmic music or exciting preaching. A real church knows that tough times are ahead – and already present for many – tough times that serve a purpose in God’s perfect plan. So the plan must be heard, the love behind the plan must be seen. That’s the big topic was love. A real church longs to know every book of the Bible to know the one who wrote it, to hear the story the books are telling and communicate the story of spiritual theology to its people.”
Dad talked about in this book, there were four things I think he mentioned. I wrote ’em down here and I can’t find ’em now, but it was: spiritual theology, spiritual formation, spiritual community and spiritual mission. They were some of the big topics in that book. You hit on it there, where do you see the church heading today? Churches are getting smaller.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine who’s in a church that we’re part of. Kimmie and I now are part of a small group that has really become our church. It’s very different, and I just see church going in some different ways. This guy that I was talking to last week, Anthony Vartuli, is a former pastor as well. We had a great conversation about where church really seems to be going. What are your thoughts on that?
[00:06:44] Jim Kallam: I think thoughts that I’ve shared along with your dad for years. My unique story is, I went to a bible college for four years, graduated, went into ministry with the thought I’d go back and go to seminary, and I never did. I’m not going to downplay the importance of systematic theology to know what the Bible teaches, to know all those things, but I think spiritual theology is far more important. What I mean by that is that what God says in His word, as I get to know Him through His word and through my experience with the Spirit of God, He’s doing something to change me. He’s working in me. He’s doing things that call out the sin that’s not the obvious sin, but it’s there in my pride, it’s there in my heart. If the theology, I believe, doesn’t enter into a spiritual awakening in my life, I’m not sure it’s worthwhile. If you ask me what I think the church needs, I really do think it needs a growing sense of a spiritual theology that gets proclaimed when it gathers and then gets lived out in their lives.
You do that through spiritual direction, spiritual formation, but you do that in the context of a community. One of the things that was a value we held as a church for four decades was, we wanted our church to be a place where people could struggle well with life; with the realization as they walked through that door of the church that they were a mess.
One of your dad’s favorite spiritual words was “mess”. I don’t think most people walk into a church thinking, I can be honest about what I’m going through or what I’m struggling with. I have to put on – here’s my thing – put on my veneer. When somebody says to me, how am I, say, I’m fine. That’s where I think the church loses a huge chance to impact people’s lives.
When you say, as I come on a Sunday or a Saturday or whenever it is, you gather and I go. Life’s not good right now. I’m struggling. I just want you to know that’s where I’m at now. Point me to Jesus. Don’t lead me there, but it’s got to begin there. I think that’s one of the things that, in my view, is missing in many churches today.
[00:08:54] Kep Crabb: You said some things there that really got my ears perked up a little bit. You’ve been in ministry for four plus decades, you and Suzi together.
I think I know a few of the times where you and Dad would meet for a meal or a hot cup of coffee and chat about different things. It seems to me, as I’ve chatted with guys who are your age and older, Jimmy, this journey becomes harder. Have you experienced any of that? Tell me where you are right now, because it sounds like what you’re saying when you come to church, where’s your red dot, to use one of Dad’s things, where are you honestly? What’s going on? Not, “Hey, I’m doing great. Thanks for asking. Although, my kid’s on drugs and my wife’s got cancer and I lost my job. But everything’s great, all glory to God.” You look at this, it just doesn’t seem like anything gets easier. What are your thoughts on some of that?
[00:09:44] Jim Kallam: I would agree. I think that it’s been harder for me. There’s a lot of things that go into it, but simply put, the last four or five years since I retired, through a series of circumstances which are not important, we lost the community that we’d been a part of for 42 years.
It’s been a journey for us to find a community, and I think we have found one that we can now settle in and hopefully begin to build some things. But what I realize, Kep, is it doesn’t get easier. I used to see the Christian life like an escalator in a shopping mall where you step on it at the bottom and you take a smooth ride up to heaven. That’s just not true. The struggles that I face today are as intense as they were when I was a younger Christian, when I was a younger pastor. Some of that is – and I say this tongue in cheek – thanks to your dad because he would never let my heart alone. He would always dive in and go, let’s go a little deeper.
The truth of the matter is, until I am where your dad is, which is home with my Heavenly Father, the journey will never stop. The journey will have rough edges all along the way that I have to work through in my own heart. They may not be visible to the average person on the outside, but Suzi and I have spent many nights just going, Lord, can’t you just give us a break?
I just think that He is committed. Committed to my heart and committed to seeing me become and look and resemble more like His son in that journey here on this earth.
[00:11:18] Kep Crabb: As we talk about church with that, how does church fit into that?
[00:11:23] Jim Kallam: Here’s the thing. If we wanted to sit and exchange war stories about church, which is not what we’re going to do, I could probably show you more bullet wounds and stab wounds and other wounds from my years being in the church; which I would’ve given up on long ago if it wasn’t for the fact that Christ calls it His bride. Because He calls it His bride, it gives it a unique, high, and exalted place, and so I’ve got to keep pursuing it, although it’s getting harder and harder to do. And so it takes on different meanings. You talked about you and Kimmie right now in a small gathering of people, and that’s your church, and I get that, I understand that.
One of the joys in the last few years of my active ministry, your mom and dad moved to Charlotte and they chose to come to our church. It stunned me that he did, but I felt like there was something that he found there. Not perfect, not by any means perfect, but something that he found there that gave him a place to be able to then springboard into our conversations at breakfast as to what God was doing in his soul, what God was doing in my soul.
There’s got to be a component in my mind of a grouping of people who look each other in the eye and answer the hard questions; point one another to Christ.
[00:12:44] Kep Crabb: How is church different for you now? Jimmy, you were a senior pastor for years and years. I could ask tons of different questions now that are running through my mind that I’d love to just figure out what it was like. What do you miss most about it? Do you miss the teaching? Do you miss the interaction? Because when you said that what you missed now is you lost a community that you were part of for 40 years. I’m thinking, why did you have to lose the community? I don’t know.
[00:13:11] Jim Kallam: That’s its own set of issues. What do I miss? Do I miss preaching? Yeah. I’ll get asked several times a year to preach somewhere, and that’s helpful to think that I can still have that opportunity.
I miss the community of the staff that I worked with.. The interactions that we had on a weekly basis; not even about the church and the organization of the church, but more about what was going on in their lives and how they were, and how their families were. I missed that. It really would be, if I were going to sum it up, losing community and having to start over to find it has been a challenge. And it will be for a while. On a positive side, the church we’re now attending, as I’ve gotten to know the senior pastor and some of the guys on the pastoral staff, I have a chance to live out the Tandem Spirituality with them and have coffees with them, conversations with them, to talk about what’s going on inside of them as they wrestle with the organization of church, I guess is the way I would put it.
I realized how big a part of church was walking down the halls of our church and being known and seeing people. Maybe I didn’t get together with them on a regular basis, but I knew their story and I could pass ’em in the hallway and say, “Hey, how’s your mom? Who’s sick? How’s your kid who was struggling in school?” Or whatever it might be. I walk into a church now and really don’t know a lot of people. It’s that aspect of being known that has been lost.For us, that’s one of the hard things about not being where we were for 42 years.
[00:14:43] Kep Crabb: Are you and Suzi part of any kind of a small group or any of that kind of thing? What does church look like for you? I just heard you talking about the pastor. I assume it’s a church in Charlotte area there?
[00:14:52] Jim Kallam: Yeah, it’s still in Charlotte. Suzi is part of a small group and she’s led some bible studies with some young women in our home. That’s not been my journey, and I’ll take responsibility for that too. I guess I’ve been hesitant to jump in. I have some close friends, two or three guys that I meet with regularly, and that has become my small group in some ways. It’s been life giving, but in terms of an organized small group, we’re not seeing it that way.
But we do meet regularly and we talk about life in each other’s lives, and there’s something life giving about that that has been important.
[00:15:29] Kep Crabb: That is so true. I feel that what’s been amazing about the group that Kimmie and I have been a part of for about the last year and a half – shortly after Dad passed we got involved with this group and there’s five couples, and then there’s a single gal in there who lost her husband shortly before we joined the group – it’s just been, you use the words life giving. That’s where we’ve been, because I’ve had such a bad attitude towards church. You probably heard the stories growing up. I remember sitting Sunday evenings watching the Miami Dolphins playing football and Dad would come in and we’d been to church Wednesday night and we were at church Sunday morning for all the services, and now we’re heading back Sunday night to go to church right in the middle of the Dolphins game. I thought, Dad, what the heck, man? I said, when I’m old enough, I’m not going to church.
I finally realized when Kimmie got sick, we did pull back. It was interesting you saying you almost had the excuse of Covid to not go to church. I had a couple of excuses. Now the way we actually attend is we still go to the same church, but we just watch the sermon virtually and it’s awesome. Then we join our small group and we’ve got people in New York and people in Florida, and so they’re all over the country in this group, which we’re obviously doing like you and I are doing right now in a virtual setting. It’s been unbelievable.
Some of the connection that we’ve made and what I’ve loved most about it, Jimmy, is what it’s done to Kimmie. It’s taken her over a year to be willing to start to move into these relationships. You know how Kimmie is, she plays it close to the vest for sure, especially with all the stuff that’s been going on, but now, to see her opening up has been just beautiful. I know that there’s importance to this community, and I feel we’re in a good place with that right now, but I know that the church seems to be changing and going through a transition now.
[00:17:16] Jim Kallam: Let me ask you a question. You said you guys meet from all over the country for your small group, which I think is great, and technology gives you the ability to do that. Do you feel you’re missing something with not being face-to-face in a room with somebody?
[00:17:32] Kep Crabb: Sometimes, yeah. I had a buddy talk to me and he said don’t give up meeting together. I thought, we’re still meeting together even though I can’t shake your hand. I can still see your face and hear your voice and get to know you. Even as we were developing Larger Story years back, the question was, is there this relational intimacy that can be developed in a virtual setting that’s not artificial in some of the ways we know it can be? I think then we were thrust into that, given the covid piece. That seems to be where some people have landed, but I do miss some of that. I miss the worship time and the music and being around people.
I remember Dad saying too, as he’s talking to a group of people in church, he says, I’ve got all you people facing the same direction looking at me as I’m talking to you, and you don’t know the people sitting around you, maybe you do, maybe you know some of ’em, maybe you don’t, but is this what church is? He starts asking that question, so that’s been my question. What really is church? Because we’re the church.
[00:18:32] Jim Kallam: I think it’s a legitimate question, and as I asked it to you, I don’t know if we have enough data points in our life experience to decide what’s missing, not always. If I was in a setting with this and something was stirring deeply within you or deeply within me, and it brought us to tears or brought us to a point of just being undone, what I don’t have the ability to do is wrap my arms around you. Sometimes that’s important, sometimes it’s not, so it’ll be interesting to see because there’s no doubt that technology has provided these opportunities and I don’t want to dismiss that as being unimportant. I think it is important. If we had gone through covid 10 years before we did, we would not have had church period. There would be no such thing as online live services.
[00:19:23] Kep Crabb: Yeah. We didn’t have the technology.
[00:19:24] Jim Kallam: We didn’t have the technology. So technology has allowed us to do some things that I think force us to ask deeper questions about, what really is church and what does it look like for me?
[00:19:37] Kep Crabb: I loved what you just said, about being able to hug someone or put your hand on their shoulder. There’s something that’s important about that. I know physical contact, just being in the room with people, being able to just be with them, is important. But I think this is a pretty decent substitute when you don’t have that opportunity all the time.
I wonder too, as you asked me that question, I start to think there’s so many things about going to church that I miss. I miss the worship. Now, we have it when we’re watching it in our living room and we can hear the people, but you don’t get the full effect at some level.
[00:20:09] Jim Kallam: No. My singing voice is lacking. When you’re told to be quiet and it’s just you and your wife…
[00:20:15] Kep Crabb: That’s not the full effect I was talking about Jimmy. The way church is going. It’s just it seems that we’ve got to be – Dad used to say, I’d love to give up on the church, but Jesus never did.
Like you said earlier, we could sit here and hash out all the times that we’ve been disappointed or hurt or whatever word you want to use negatively. How the church has impacted us because of hurt or disappointment – to realize that we are the church and what the church looks like through us. One of the big questions I’ve been asking is, where are things going now, given where our culture is going? What’s happening with the culture and how is that going to impact church? One of the things with Larger Story is, how do we develop that community? That gives us the ability to sustain this journey. Cause you can’t do it alone.
[00:21:05] Jim Kallam: No, you can’t. There’s a number of young church planting pastors that I interact with on a regular basis and all of them – I take that back, all but one of them – is bi-vocational. He’s carrying on the expectations of a Pastor-Shepherd to his people. Even if it’s a small gathering, let’s say 60, 70 people, they have their lives that he’s interacting with, but he also has to work because he can’t afford to pay him full-time. I was blessed in my ministry life that I was always given a salary enough to support my family.
I think that’s another trend that’s out there for where the church is heading; more and more guys are not able to make a living by simply being a pastor, so they have to get a job in addition to that, and I think that takes a toll on their families.
[00:21:58] Kep Crabb: I think you can even take it a step farther. I look at what we have and we might be a little unique at some level, maybe not, but we’ve got a group of people where there’s really no leader. We don’t have anybody that’s officially the pastor, or whatever you want to say, but we all just come to the table with what’s going on. There’s no agenda. The thing that I’ve noticed in me is I’m not going to the building and I’m not sitting in the seats and I’m not watching the pastor speak, expecting you to give me something. Now I’m coming in with the attitude of what can I give you that’s deepest in me?
There’s been just a total reversal in my position on it. I was telling you before we started that I’ve been having some incredible conversations with people that I feel are very Spirit led. I think that since Kimmie’s diagnosis and since Dad’s death, something’s been happening to me that’s been supernatural and I’m so excited about it. But I get so discouraged in respect to seeing where things are going. The only way you can make sense of it is spiritual warfare. Satan’s involved. That makes sense of where things are going.
[00:22:59] Jim Kallam: That’s the other component that I think is becoming more a reality; I think our culture has, for years, allowed us to not really believe. We always say we believe that there’s a spiritual battle going on, there’s spiritual warfare. Now it’s right there in our face. What believers in overseas and other cultures would’ve argued for years was that they faced spiritual warfare. We hid behind, we don’t like this person for their view, we don’t like this. We forget that we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against the enemy. I think the rest of the world was willing to face the fact that it was a spiritual warfare going on, and I think now in our culture, in our country, we’re having to face that reality that we hadn’t before.
[00:23:48] Kep Crabb: It’s a hundred percent obvious. This is where it just seems so pervasive now, what’s going on and how Christianity is under attack. That’s my question in this segment of when we talk about church, what is the church’s role in what’s happening today? Because obviously there’s a role, the church has always had a role in every moment of history in respect to what’s going on. How do we have that influence today in respect to what’s going on? How can we have that entree into some of these kids’ lives that don’t want anything to do with God?
[00:24:19] Jim Kallam: This is going to sound cliche-ish, and I don’t mean it that way, but we’ve got to build relationships. We’ve got to engage with our culture. I think the church at times gets fearful and withdraws and pulls in, and becomes more like a fort than a mission to go out into the world. I have yet to find people that won’t engage relationally. Even if we don’t agree on certain cultural issues or social issues or moral issues, they’re always willing to engage. I think that’s where the church has to step in and step into the culture and I believe that’s exactly what Jesus did, so I have conversations. My wife Suzi is much better than I am. We’ll be sitting in a restaurant and she’ll say to the person, “Is this your full-time job? What do you hope to do?” And next thing, we’re having these conversations about this person’s life, and I think it bears fruit. It really does. I just don’t know that we do a great job of engaging, and I think that’s where you do.
I’d have a weekly breakfast with your dad the last few years of his life and we had a couple of different restaurants we’d go to, and he’d always get there before I would. I wasn’t supposed to interrupt until after he was done reading the comics, but he built relationships with the wait staff. I saw that over and over again. These people – a lot of times young women – he would just engage them about their life and it’s amazing. Nobody ever said, no, I don’t want anything to do with that. The church has to be an open place that invites people in and doesn’t get scared of the culture.
[00:26:00] Kep Crabb: It’s funny when you talk about Dad. I was going to talk about some of the breakfasts you had. I had a buddy of his aunt who lives in your guys’ area who actually did the same thing you did: would meet Dad every couple of weeks or whatever for breakfast or whatever. One of the restaurants that you guys would go to, I don’t even remember which one it was, but they have a picture of Dad – according to mom – sitting somewhere up on a little shelf in the corner, just to remember him because of the relationships that he made with those people; with the waitresses and with some of the cook staff. They always knew to bring him a hot cup of coffee.
[00:26:32] Jim Kallam: Nobody ever made his coffee hot enough for him. Nobody.
[00:26:36] Kep Crabb: He and his mom, that’s for sure.
Jimmy, this is just so much fun chatting with you about this kind of stuff and I just love getting to pick your mind about this. Somebody who’s been in ministry and been a pastor and has seen the ebbs and flows of the church over the last, almost half of a century, it just gives you an opportunity to hopefully identify where we’re going and how can we really team up with the Spirit or follow the guiding of the Holy Spirit as He leads us in this battle that we’re in as we try to connect with these people to show them the love of Jesus.
[00:27:09] Jim Kallam: Kep, I’ve enjoyed it. I enjoyed the time just chatting with you and catching up. You may not have a pastor leading your home church, but you, my friend, are a leader. I’ve seen that grow in you over the years and know some of your journey. I watch you grow in what the Spirit of God has done in your life. I want you to be encouraged by that, man. It’s fun to watch.
[00:27:35] Kep Crabb: Thank you so much, brother. This has been fun too.
This will wrap us up for the Relational Spirituality Podcast today. Please join us next Tuesday. We’re going to be getting ready to dive into, what I think is one of my father’s best books, Soul Talk. This was the beginning of some of the thinking that he was talking about in terms of, how do we connect with people? What Jimmy was just talking about there in terms of relationships, how do we really move into the relationships with people in ways that really do allow the Holy Spirit to do His best work?
So, I hope you join us next week. Jimmy, thanks for joining us this week. We’ll see y’all next week.