Leading Through Healthy Open Brokenness & Vulnerability with Carl Kuhl

Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast. Today we have Carl Kuhl with us, the lead pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in the country, Mosaic Christian Church in the Baltimore/Washington, DC area. Listen in as Carl shares about the missing piece that will help people in our churches go deeper, both with God and each other, in order to find healing and freedom.

  • A church for the wounded. // Mosaic Christian Church has a bold statement on their website that they are a church for people who don’t go to church. Carl explains that it’s a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 14. Paul tells everyone to speak a language everyone can understand so the nonbeliever can hear the gospel. Part of the way Mosaic does that is by doing church in a way which makes it ok to be broken and hurting.
  • Be real with Jesus. // As Christians we can forget the things Jesus saved us from and the depths of our brokenness. We become disconnected from what it looks like to live life without God. We can help ourselves remember not only by being around nonbelievers, but also by continuing to let Jesus address our junk. Our relationships with Jesus and others will deepen as we are honest about the ways we’re still broken, so that God can continue the lifelong process of healing in our lives.
  • Embrace open brokenness. // We need to combine open vulnerability about our brokenness with the truth and grace of the gospel. The result is true community in the church. Shifting this culture has to begin with the leader, whether we are hanging out with friends, spending time with family, or teaching and leading the church. To make sure there is an appropriate level of sharing with the church, first talk about what you want to share with trusted leaders, friends, and your spouse.
  • Grace and truth. // What is the truth that you don’t want anyone to know? That’s what is most important to share and bring into the light. The confessions of our brokenness have to start with the leader in order to demonstrate that the church is a safe place for everyone. Start the community that you want to be a part of. If we allow God to really work in us and deal with our brokenness and sin, then when we confront someone else about their sin, it will come from a place of love and compassion, not judgement and comparison.
  • Transform the church. // Carl has written a book called Blood Stained Pews: How Vulnerability Transforms a Broken Church into a Church for the Broken. Many churches feel that they are missing something and need more – a deeper, truer community where vulnerability and the gospel collide. Through personal stories and powerful insights, Carl’s book calls us to more deeply consider God’s grace and turn our churches into places people can run to when they are wounded.

You can learn more about Mosaic Christian Church at and learn more about Carl and his book at Download and read the first chapter of Carl’s book here plus get free resources for your team for the book by emailing Carl.

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: Chemistry Staffing

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. You know every week we try to bring you a leader who will both inspire and equip you. Today we’ve got a repeat guest, somebody who was on just a year ago. And you know when we have a repeat guest it means we’ve got more to learn. So super excited to have Pastor Carl with us. He is the lead pastor of Mosaic Christian Church, which is in Maryland. It’s one of the fastest growing churches in the country and it’s serving the Baltimore/Washington DC area. And we know that that’s not the kind of place in the country that fast-growing churches normally come from so we’ve got a lot we can learn from Carl today. Welcome. So glad that you’re here.

Carl Kuhl — Thanks for having me. Thanks for having me back. Really excited to be here.

Rich Birch — Yeah, this is going to be great. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the church, kind of fill out the story a little bit anything we’re missing. What do you want people to know about Mosaic.

Carl Kuhl — Yeah, we like you said our church plant from 2008. My family planted it back then you know, moves to some portable locations, and got in our own building a few years ago. And we are back back back from coronavirus world where I just think we’re in the new normal and have been in the new normal, and pushing along and seeing a lot of great momentum.

Rich Birch — Love it. Well you know one of the things when I go you should go to your church website. So if listeners, if you were to go there now, and huge bold letters on the front of the website: a church for people who don’t go to church. That’s a bold statement. Tell me why you’ve landed on that. What do you mean by that? I’m sure that’s much more than just a ah marketing statement. Tell me about what you mean by that?

Carl Kuhl — Absolutely. I think it’s a biblical statement. And you’re aware that in church world we’re always like swinging the pendulum back in the direction that it went too far from, right?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Carl Kuhl — And I think this is a response to that. I believe every church is theologically, biblically supposed to be a church for people who don’t go to church, but what it’s simply at its most basic form is our paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 14 – that Paul says, hey I love that you’re doing these spiritual things, but speak a language that everybody can understand so the non-believer here’s the gospel. And what we’re saying in that simple phrase is: we are the church. We do not apologize for that. We love Jesus. He is our savior. The bible is our standard. At the same time we are going to do church in a way that makes sense to people who don’t have a background in church or the bible.

Rich Birch — Yeah, what would be some of those things, and this is what I appreciate about you – you’re not um, that’s not just like a slick marketing kind of thing. Um, this drives deep. It gets to who you are as a community. But what would be some of those things that are maybe beyond the surface, beyond the ah, you know the veneer that drive deep and say, hey we want to be the kind of place where people regardless of their background can feel open, can feel safe, could feel like hey this is a great place to to be?

Carl Kuhl — You know as Christians, um I’ll speak for myself, and but I think others can relate. We are so bad at remembering the depths from which Jesus saved us. And we forget. And we get in our own little world that’s full of joy and hope and community, and we we have to remember what it was like. I believe it that happens in a couple ways. One of them is just by being around non-believers. Who is your friend that you’re praying for to be saved? Because when you’re doing that you’ll look at everything through the lens of their eyes and ears. And the other thing is just continuing to let Jesus deal with our own junk, to be vulnerable about our brokenness, so Jesus can continue this lifelong process of healing us.

Rich Birch — Let’s let’s let’s pause on that vulnerability idea. You know, I think one of the criticisms that can be kind of thrown against the church is that we can sometimes be considered shallow, or considered not authentic, not vulnerable. Why why would you say vulnerability is really an issue, something that we need to to lead with as a church? I totally agree. But why why is that so important?

Carl Kuhl — Well, you’ve heard, we’ve all heard, right, the thing of like, I I want to go deeper. Or I need deeper teaching, or or deeper this and that. And sometimes as church leaders we get offended and write those people off, I think most of the time, but that desire is healthy. Like I I want to go deeper with Jesus, right? I want go deeper in my relationship with my wife, and my good friends, and all of it. But I think we miss what it’s about, because deeper isn’t I need to go back and get a refresher my koin a Greek.

Rich Birch — That’s so true.

Carl Kuhl — Deeper is being real about the ways I’m still broken that Jesus hasn’t fixed yet, and ways in—whether it’s pain, whether it’s doubt, whether it’s even some hopes I have about the future that I’m scared to talk about—giving those to Jesus letting him do what he will with them so that I can become who he wants me to be. So um, deeper… so there’s a lot of talk about vulnerability in our world today, right? I mean I love the Brené Brown books and podcasts, and there’s all different people talking about that.

Carl Kuhl — But what I noticed over the last several years is I would get get those tools and realize I’m worthy and I’m enough because I was able to combine what these secular people are saying with the gospel. But I realized there was this gap in the church, in christianity, as far as equipping people to do this work, because we need to combine my broke… my open vulnerability about my brokenness with the truth and grace of the gospel. And the result of that, I believe, is when true community happens that Jesus calls this church.

Rich Birch — Oh I’d love to hear more about that. What is what is open brokenness? Maybe we’ll start with you as a leader – what does that look like for you? I think this is ah is critically important. It’s one of those I would say major paradigm shifts from when I started in ministry, which is too many years ago to count. Ah, you know at that point it was like it was almost like we wanted leaders who were super human. Um and that I think was super unhealthy, but it was like we wanted them to be distant. We wanted them to be perfect. Um, and that didn’t work out. But now I love that you’re pushing for and and championing open brokenness. But what does that look like for you as as a leader, Carl?

Carl Kuhl — As ah leaders have to go first.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Carl Kuhl — And so it simply means that whatever context I’m in, I have to set the standard of here’s what it means to be vulnerable here. Whether that’s sitting around a fire pit with my buddies, whether that’s around the dinner table with my family, and obviously including when I’m on the platform teaching our entire church.

Carl Kuhl — And so I had this pit in my stomach a couple years ago when we were doing a long series through the Song of Solomon, and you know most of that can be fun, and there’s grace, there’s truth, it’s all great. But I realized oh arguably the number one sexual dysfunction in our country has to do with porn. I’m going to have to talk about my past porn problem. And I wrote a sermon that I was probably more nervous to share than anything I’ve ever shared. I even said in the intro like, hey this sermon would get me fired from some churches.

Rich Birch — Wow, wow.

Carl Kuhl — And I had run it by trusted men, my wife had read it, so it wasn’t me just getting up there being inappropriate, right? I did hear of one pastor who got up and said, you know, I need some of you ladies to dress better because I have a lust problem…

Rich Birch — Oh gosh! Oh my goodness!

Carl Kuhl — …and I was like whoa!

Rich Birch — Whoa, whoa! Yeah back it up back it up.

Carl Kuhl — Honey that’s our last day at this church!

Rich Birch — Ah yeah, exactly. Oh my goodness. Yeah, yeah.

Carl Kuhl — Um, but at the same time, one of my friends and I talk about this way, it’s what gives me the bubble guts. That’s what I have to share. So I went on this retreat a couple years ago that helped me kind of crystallized this thinking, because one of the exercises we had to do is we had to get up in this room of about 30 or so men and say: the truth I don’t want you to know is blank.

Rich Birch — Okay, Wow.

Carl Kuhl — And I was like, oh crap.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Carl Kuhl — But other men went first…

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — …including a couple leaders, and so I had no choice but to follow their example. The trick though is in church world we want it to be the truth I didn’t want you to know. So for what I mean is I went back, I don’t know, a year or two later and helped lead that same retreat, and the organizer said hey Carl would you be one of the the men who modeled this exercise, like you’ll go first. And I said oh sure. Yeah like I can share what I shared and all that. And they corrected me they said no no, no, no, no. It’s not the truth you didn’t want people to know two years ago. It’s the truth you don’t want people to know now. And I’m like oh crap.

Rich Birch — I got to do this again!? Ah no, oh my goodness. Wow.

Carl Kuhl — I got do a whole other one. Yeah. But but I believe that’s what it means to be a leader is always putting yourself in the front. It’s giving people ammo, saying you can shoot me with this if you want, but I know freedom with Jesus only happens when I’m real. So I have to be real in the context of community if I want this community to be worth anything. Because I know you have stuff that you need to be open about, and I don’t know what it is but I know—and I’m not going to compare our things—but I know what my thing is doing to me your thing is doing to you. So if I’m brave enough to put my thing out there and say, hey here’s what Jesus is helping me deal with. I don’t have answers yet. So don’t ask me what the solution is, but I just know he’s got me and he’s gonna get me through it. Somebody else is gonna have their thing.

Rich Birch — Love that. So yeah, we’re kind of tiptoeing around this, and you know talking about um you know how we’re how we can create a more open broken community. Talk me through how you’ve been able to structure that at Mosaic in a way that is responsible. You know you’ve kind of mentioned it a little bit there because we you know we want to create a place where people are able to um to share. But also we want to do that in a context that’s that’s helpful, like that one story but that kind of like – we don’t want it to be like that one story…

Carl Kuhl — No, we do not want that.

Rich Birch — …like the pastor who said something inappropriate. How have you been able to create some some guidelines, some um you know some boundaries around ensuring that people are sharing appropriate things at the right time in the right place – that sort of thing?

Carl Kuhl — Yeah, so I’d always rather err on the side of sharing too much because the church you know it’s like that pendulum thing. The church is traditionally not shared enough. And so it’s like, hey take a risk, right? It’s it’s gonna feel scary. It’s gonna it’s gonna be dangerous I think it does start up front.

Rich Birch — Mmm-hmm.

Carl Kuhl — Um, it does have to start in the preaching. So just one really practical thing we do, because I I need it and I preach about 75% of the time here, is on Wednesday the week I’m preaching I will always preach my entire sermon in a conference room to 2 other people. And I’ve used other pastors over the years for that. I’ve used mostly current staff now. And it’s not just anybody. It’s selected people who I know will help me, not like fine tune a theological point (although they can if I need that). It’s more like, hey are you being vulnerable? Are you being appropriate? Are you giving bread for the hungry? Like that’s one of the primary questions they ask and they’ll push back on me.

Rich Birch — Hmm I love that.

Carl Kuhl — And so last week I went in that and I thought, man I’m not gonna have anything due on Thursday – my sermon’s done. And then I did that and they’re like, yeah you need ah you need some work here. Um so it took some more hours.

Rich Birch — Wow. Love that.

Carl Kuhl — But ah, that’s one place it starts, and then even as we talk about community, our staff has to model it and how they lead volunteer teams. Our group leaders have to model it. You know when we interview group leaders if if they’re just, you know, I if they just say they’re full of the joy of the Lord all the time every day, I’m like, I’m happy for you.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Carl Kuhl — That’s not my experience.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Carl Kuhl — So let’s go a level deeper.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Carl Kuhl — And if they can’t, I don’t know if I can put them around other people whose lives are falling apart as their leader.

Rich Birch — Okay, I wonder about you know there’s this um, aspect of creating the kind of community that is full of both grace and truth. There’s kind of the other side of vulnerability which is calling out; it’s the, you know, Matthew 18: hey you’ve sinned against me. There’s a, you know, there’s a problem between us. What has that looked like in Mosaic? How have you encouraged people to live um, you know a transparent life when it comes to maybe confronting each other, or talking through ah you know, talking to each other about issues that that sometimes we might just avoid because it’s you know, not polite company or whatever that looks like in some churches?

Carl Kuhl — Yeah, so this a great question, that not many people ask me about this is, so when we talk about Matthew 18 or you know like Christian church discipline, um Jesus always tells us to look in the mirror first, right?

Rich Birch — Mmm-hmm.

Carl Kuhl — I mean multiple places he talks about that – sermon on mount ah, you know, let him without sin throw the first stone. All that stuff, we always look in the mirror first. So if it’s not safe for me here to be vulnerable about, I have this issue that’s going on – I have this doubt, I have this pain, and I’m mad at God, then I guess I’m just gonna look to throw stones at other people, because I can’t share my stuff so I’ll just find somebody who has something worse. And that’ll take that’ll take the spotlight off of me.

Rich Birch — That’s so true.

Carl Kuhl — So I think a lot of the problem with “church discipline” is that we haven’t done this, because if we create a culture where it’s okay to be broken, then I’m not constantly the police looking for who else is doing something worse than me.

Rich Birch — Oh, I love that.

Carl Kuhl — So then if I do confront it’s because I’ve already done some work myself and then man, it’s really based on compassion, because I know how much I don’t know and mess up and need Jesus, so the confronting thing is not going to be a finger point. It’s going to be a thing with with tears of hey, I’m concerned about you. And that’s just 100% different than how a lot of us envision that.

Rich Birch — Yeah I love that. so the thing I want to encourage our listeners, I just think this is I think you’re the kind of leader people should be following around particularly on these issues. I think there’s something you are are pushing on an issue here that I think all of our churches are facing whether we talk about it or not. Um, you know, we’ve all seen these kind of high profile flameouts of significant leaders in the Christian world, and the problem with even talking about that is I know that it’s like going to be evergreen content because when you’re whenever you’re listening to this, even if you listen for a 2 years from now, chances are there was someone who just recently had some sort of huge flameout. And one of my kind of concerns for us, the broader us, is you know, rightfully so someone that does something where they step way over the line and then, you know, this kind of huge crashing accountability comes down on them, and they’re like extinguished off into the universe somewhere. They’re gone.

Carl Kuhl — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — And the problem with that is oftentimes the way that’s handled, I think there’s a ton of people out there that see that happen and what it does is it actually forces our own issues deeper down inside. We’re less likely to talk to other people because we’re like gosh, I’ve done really crappy stuff and if anybody knows about that, man I’m done. Like it’s gonna it’s going to explode over me. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t shouldn’t have shouldn’t be held responsible for their activities. But there are times where we make an unwise, you know, foolish decision that actually hasn’t hasn’t become sin yet. It’s not… it’s just stupid. You’re being an idiot. Like why are you doing this? And oftentimes as church leaders there’s no way for us to talk about those things. There’s no place for us to actually begin to engage that. Um and I love that you’re pushing us to think about how do we become vulnerable with the people around us because I think if we did that more there would be more leaders who wouldn’t go from foolish, to stupid, to sinful, to egregious sin. Um, whatever that spectrum is that and ends up with you know you know them, you know, ending up ultimately being canceled…

Carl Kuhl — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — …and like I say expunged out into the universe somewhere. What does that look like for you and your own team dynamics? As people have maybe come forward with things that are in that category of, again, ah it that – there’s a wide spectrum here, but in that kind of unwise/foolish. You know doesn’t really um, haven’t stepped over a line yet. But man, we want to get some corrective behavior. What does that look like for, particularly say that your team, the people that are reporting to you – whether it’s either elders you know on that side or on your staff? What’s that look like for you?

Carl Kuhl — Well, you know I think it’s AA that says you’re only as sick as your secrets, right?

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Carl Kuhl — And I love like kind of the progression you talked about of like, it’s silly to stupid to you know, eventually egregious. That’s so true. And I can honestly say you could not find any dirt on me or my past that men in this church don’t know. Not every man, right?

Rich Birch — Right. Yes, yep.

Carl Kuhl — I mean I have boundaries. But there are specific men that you could go to him with the whatever you could find on me and they’d say, yeah we know.

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — He’s told us.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah.

Carl Kuhl — And so I think it again has to start with the leader. I heard one of those you know leader… I was caught so here’s kind of something you may call a confession but really isn’t…

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — …where he said “Where do pastors go?” And my answer—I was yelling at Youtube—was where everybody else goes!

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, we’re not different.

Carl Kuhl — To their church!

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, it’s it’s called the body of Christ.

Carl Kuhl — We say… yeah we say with other things: speed of the leader, speed of the team. It’s true with this as well. If you don’t think it’s safe for you, somehow people are going to pick up this isn’t a safe place for me either. It’s a safe place for me to share that type of stuff but not this stuff.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, right.

Carl Kuhl — And so as leaders we have to go first, you know, combination of elders, and staff, and men and women in the church. I know you know this audience is not exclusively pastors, but it’s a lot of pastors…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Carl Kuhl — And you have to start the community that you want to be a part of.

Rich Birch — No that’s good. Yeah, that’s so right.

Carl Kuhl — I absolutely believe that. Not in a selfish way—like, oh we’re just going to sing my favorite worship songs…

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — …but in a broken way of, I’m going to be I am going to lead this. This will be a community that can support me, or I will go find a new one.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Carl Kuhl — Which means I have to put stuff out there see if they could support me.

Rich Birch — Yes, absolutely. Love that.

Carl Kuhl — So when it’s come to ah leaders um, with you know, hard big things, ah, it’s grace and truth.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Carl Kuhl — And so I heard, um and want to ascribe this to Tim Keller—I’m not sure who it was but that sounds right—said that sometimes we approach the paradoxes of the bible where we want fifty-fifty each of them. Ah, or we think they’re supposed to be balanced, so we’ll even approach a situation say well is this grace, or is it truth, or is it fifty fifty both. But the paradoxes of the bible are 100% both. So when Jesus says you die to live. It’s not like sometimes die, and sometimes live, or it’s like half and half. It’s no you fully die so that you fully live. And with grace and truth it’s full grace and full truth.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Carl Kuhl — So it’s hey, you can’t lead here for a season, and the season may last forever, we’ll see. We’re gonna act as if it’s forever, and we’ll see what happens, but we’re gonna pay for you to go to this weeklong therapy that costs thousands of dollars.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Carl Kuhl — You can’t be on our stage right now because of what’s going on in your life. And it’s bad and it’s ugly, but my wife and I are going to personally mentor you nonstop for the next several years to see if we can help your marriage heal.

Rich Birch — Right. Love it.

Carl Kuhl — You know so it’s it’s full grace. It’s full truth. And I find that when the leader goes first about their stuff, and you work diligently to create a culture of that, that people accept that. You know I get frustrated, if I kind of give a related tangent.

Rich Birch — Yeah totally.

Carl Kuhl — Um, I get frustrated when christians and churches and pastors don’t preach on hard things. And obviously we need to preach on joy and hope and the things that you know make life easier with Jesus. But we also need to preach you know, like on sexual standards, and you know, sometimes cultural things, right, that are in the gospels…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Carl Kuhl — …and we want to ignore and just go back to like let’s just make everybody feel good today. But I think one of the reasons we’re hesitant to preach on those things is because we don’t we aren’t open, we aren’t vulnerable, so there’s not a context of grace so it comes down just as heavy handed truth. But when I preach on sexuality and say God says some hard things and some y’all need to knock it off. When that’s in a context of my own sexual brokenness that I’ve written about, that I’ve preached about, people are like, he’s not throwing stones.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Carl Kuhl — He just wants us to find what he’s found.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love that. And now how much you know I think one of the criticisms of fast growing churches is is exactly what you’re talking about. It’s like well they’re just all, you know and it’s just different criticisms. They’re all just easy gospel. They’re all just grace grace grace um, or they avoid you know, tough things that we don’t want to talk about. The kind of vulnerability we’re talking about, the brokenness we’re talking about – from your perspective as a leader – how does that connect to the fact that you’re a fast-growing church? How how do those two things relate to each other? Are they related; are they not related? How how does that fit together?

Carl Kuhl — I absolutely think it’s related. I think it’s best illustrated in how we do baptism. And we have a high view of baptism because Jesus and Paul and the bible do.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Carl Kuhl — And so we tell people when you want to accept Christ have faith and that’s expressing repentance and baptism.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Carl Kuhl — And it’s a central part of our service like during the last worship song the band will kind of you know vamp a little bit and the lights will come up on the baptistry, and we always tell a story of the person. It’s quick but it shares their brokenness. So there’s two things going on with our baptism. One is we ask people if we can share like what got them there really. And so there was a woman recently who addiction has ruined her life, like destroyed her life, and we got into that in just a sentence or two. But then pointed out, she wanted to wait till she was seventy five days clean to get baptized, but we pointed out to her, hey Jesus isn’t gonna love you more when you’re seventy five days clean, and you’re gonna still need his grace just as much then as now. So if you want him, he’s ready. And so she was getting baptized that day.

Carl Kuhl — You know but I was sharing openly about addiction and in that baptism tub we’ll share about addiction and divorce and ah seeing ah fellow soldiers get killed and how it messed you up and that eventually brought you to Jesus, but the thing that goes along with it is these aren’t spontaneous baptisms. We tell people when you want to get give your life to Christ, check this box on the card or online, and we’ll talk to you about it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — And we want to make sure, you know, we baptize so many people who say, I got baptized kid – I don’t know I was doing.

Rich Birch — Right, right. Yeah, exactly.

Carl Kuhl — And so we don’t want to like baptize 10,000 people and then they go to other churches and I never really know what they are doing. So we have a conversation with every one of them. And last stat I was told, just recently, is 51% of people who want to get baptized we tell them not yet. We say hold the horses…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Carl Kuhl — …and we say we have some homework for you.

Rich Birch — Huh.

Carl Kuhl — And if they’re kids we say, go read the gospels of Luke and John, write down all your questions, and we want to meet up again.

Rich Birch — Wow!

Carl Kuhl — And if they don’t do it then they’re not ready.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Carl Kuhl — Because if Jesus is your Lord, if he’s your savior for all eternity, you’ll go read like a couple books, right?

Rich Birch — Yes, Wow.

Carl Kuhl — And a lot of people we say do you have we say to all of them, do you have sin on the calendar?

Rich Birch — Right. That’s a good phrase.

Carl Kuhl — And you know we had a guy recently who literally said hey ah, let me get back to you, and then he called us back and said I canceled some things that were on the calendar, I’m ready to follow Jesus.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Carl Kuhl — And we’re like let’s go.

Rich Birch — I love it. I so I love that.

Carl Kuhl — And we tell our church that, so it’s like hey just because you check the box it’s not like you’re in, right?

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Carl Kuhl — There’s there’s no hand raise or sinner’s prayer in the bible. It’s like let’s get real about what it means to follow Jesus. So I think that captures in a church of full grace and full truth, hey we’ll baptize you when you’re just barely clean, right?

Rich Birch — Yeah. Yes, yes.

Carl Kuhl — But we want to make sure you know what you’re doing because it’s too good to get this wrong and mess your your future spiritual growth up. So…

Rich Birch — I love that. What a great ah vivid example and a great kind of looking under the hood. I appreciate you sharing that of how grace and truth works itself out in that one incredibly important step of baptism. That’s just so great. Now, you’ve written a book called… I love this title by the way – this is like, lean in friends, it’s a great title: Bloodstained Pews: How Vulnerability Transforms a Broken Church into a Church for the Broken. It’s obviously around what we’ve been talking about today. But what got you to saying you know what I need to I need to get this…do the hard work of pulling it all together into a book. Ah why write this book?

Carl Kuhl — I believe this is what the church is missing.

Rich Birch — OK.

Carl Kuhl — And we feel it, but we can’t articulate it. I think this this is related to the whole deconstruction thing. I think this is related to what you said about the tension of fast-growing churches – are they just shallow and hype? I think this is related to when we’ve been part of small groups and it’s like nice, but I need something deeper, but then I don’t like that word deeper so what am I missing? I’m missing true community when vulnerability and the gospel collide. So if you have time I’ll tell you the story that was kind of the genesis of it.

Rich Birch — Absolutely, yeah, absolutely.

Carl Kuhl — A few years ago we weren’t subscribing to any streaming services. We didn’t have cable. I was home alone. My wife was out, kids were in bed. I ended up watching this documentary on PBS.

Rich Birch — Oh nice. Love it. Love it.

Carl Kuhl — So it’s like in black and white, and it’s about these two medics in World War II. They were air-dropped into Normandy on D-Day; they were mis-dropped. They end up in this tiny town and immediately one of them sees this 900 year old church building, puts his cross red cross flag on it, and says this is going to be our trauma center. And they take turns going out with a wheelbarrow and bringing in soldiers who’ve been shot up, and bringing them in there.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Carl Kuhl — And it’s really dramatic over the course of the night. At one point a dud bomb falls through the ceiling and doesn’t go off.

Rich Birch — Oh gosh.

Carl Kuhl — Another point a German soldier bursts in with the machine gun. But when he sees they’re just there as medics to help wounded soldiers, he crosses himself and leaves. They make every soldier of both sides check their weapons at the door.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Carl Kuhl — And they save some 80 men’s lives that evening…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Carl Kuhl — …before the fighting moves on to like the bigger areas of World War II.

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — But the thing that struck me about it was after the war was over, and the people were rebuilding the town they fix, you know, the the hole in the roof, all the stained glass had been shot out, so they replaced all of that. But when they came to the pews they were stained with blood, and they didn’t replace the pews. They didn’t sand it down. They left it.

Rich Birch — Oh wow.

Carl Kuhl — Because they said this church was built 900 years ago to be a place of hope and healing for the bleeding and broken, and on D-Day that’s what it was.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Carl Kuhl — So I’m watching this documentary…

Rich Birch — Gosh. That’s amazing.

Carl Kuhl — …my wife gets home. She sees me watching this like little PBS special and I’m weeping, and she says, babe, are you okay? Like do I need check you in? And I said, I’ve just seen the best picture of church I’ve ever seen.

Rich Birch — Oh wow. Wow, that’s that’s…

Carl Kuhl — Because when Jesus says in Matthew 11, hey if you’re tired or worn out, if you’re weary and broken, come to me and I’ll give you a real rest. And I love the way the message paraphrases verse 30, says I help you live freely and lightly.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Carl Kuhl — When I see those bloodstream pews I say that’s it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — That’s it. That’s how we get it. So I wrote the book.

Rich Birch — Wow, so good. You know I was struck when I looked at this, I thought man this this seems like the kind of thing that would be… I’m sure there’s leaders that have been listening into today’s podcast and they’re saying, man I wish I wish I could be more that way. I wish our culture could be more this way. To me this struck as a great leadership book to maybe you know here we are in the summertime this is a great like, hey let’s read this together over the next three months. Let’s get together three times and talk about what we’re learning. Um is that is that what you had in mind, who did you have in mind as you were writing this book? What was the kind of the the people you imagined that could, you know, consume this content and then ultimately hopefully live differently because of it?

Carl Kuhl — This book is for Christians and fringe Christians who have who are longing for better community. And they have something inside them that’s not working, or that’s broken, sometimes even a dream and and it’s just not out there and they feel alone. And I would say if you need if the promises of Christian community have let you down, this book is for you.

Rich Birch — Love it. Um, talk to me about your thought you’d mentioned there around it seems like deconstructionism is like everybody’s talking about it. Talk to me more about your thoughts on the connection between vulnerability and deconstruction particularly.

Carl Kuhl — So deconstruction goes to like these bigger questions of what is the church, and you know can we trust the bible, and those are always important questions in context. I do draw a line in leadership between being cynical and being skeptical. Skeptical is honest questions. Cynical is trying to poke holes.

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — And in the gospels Jesus will answer skeptical people all day long. All day long. Cynical people he does not have time for.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Carl Kuhl — I love when Jesus says like I wish I could get away with saying some of the things Jesus says.

Rich Birch — So true.

Carl Kuhl — One of my favorite quotes when he says, how long—he says to his followers—how long do I have to stay here and put up with you? Like if I said that in the staff meeting I think my elders would get an email. I don’t know.

Rich Birch — Yes, so true. That’s great.

But it’s ah Jesus is all about skeptical. He hates cynical, right?

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — And I think deconstruction, when by the time we hear about someone’s deconstruction., they’re already cynical, right? It’s already like I can’t help you at this point. I want to help you but you’ve just gotten to a place where I can’t. But we have to let them be open when they have the skeptical questions…

Rich Birch — Right. Right.

…the honest questions.

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — And I think the reason people get to those bigger cynical questions is because they couldn’t be open about the real questions that weren’t even that big, but it just was like one small domino that led to a bigger domino. Like if I can’t ask this…

Rich Birch — Right.

Carl Kuhl — …then why do what what’s even church supposed to be about.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Carl Kuhl — So I think this doesn’t solve someone who is already deconstructed. But this will prevent the next generation from leaving the church saying it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Rich Birch — So good. Well friends, I I really want to encourage you to pick up copies. Like I said, this is the kind of book you shouldn’t buy yeah copy for yourself. You should buy 5 or 6 and you should get some people together and actually read it together because I think ultimately that’s what we’re trying to drive towards within open ah, vulnerable community is is discussion with others. I think this would be a great conversation starter for your team. We’re actually going to provide a link to the first chapter which is incredible. So you know if you’re looking to to get a sample of it, you could do that but you could just skip over that and pick up a copy. I’m assuming we can get it at Amazon. I know we can get it Amazon. Is there other places we want to send people online to pick up ah, copies of Blood Stained Pews?

Carl Kuhl — I know it’s getting on a couple other places, but Amazon is just the easiest, so just get it on Amazon.

Rich Birch — Great, good stuff.

Carl Kuhl — But it is available there. Audio, it’s available digital for the Kindle readers, and obviously paperback. We do have resources that we will give you for free…

Rich Birch — Oh love it.

Carl Kuhl — …if you do a group study, or some churches have already contacted us and said hey this needs to be like our church’s culture. We’re doing an entire journey, an entire series that everything in the church is focused on. So if you contact me at Carl with a “C” at, me and my team would love to help you with giving you any free resources we can.

Rich Birch — So generous. Thank you so much, Carl. Is there anywhere else—this has been a fantastic conversation—is there anywhere else we want to send people online if they want to track with you or with the church?

Carl Kuhl — Yeah is my website and that’s where you can just sign up for updates and we’re giving away the free chapter through this podcast. It’s also available on my website as well And then Mosaic Christian Church YouTube page is really the best place if you’re interested in more content.

Rich Birch — Love it. Thanks so much, Carl; appreciate you being here. Cheering for you – hopefully we’ll have you back on in the future. I enjoy you know learning from you and appreciate what you’re doing at Mosaic Christian. Thanks so much for being here today.

Carl Kuhl — Appreciate the work you’re doing. Thanks for having me.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.