Kicking it with God Without the Kicks

December 2, 2010

Pastor Noah Filipiak is young, smart and far from a thumper. He’s using his church, Barefoot Christian Church, as a pulpit to build community and understanding in Lansing, Mich. His approach to religion could encourage a person like me to convert…if conversion were a possibility.

Filipiak, 27, started Barefoot Church, which is located in Downtown Lansing, in 2006 to build a community, not pack pews. Barefoot started as a series of in-home Bible study groups and eventually grew into a building.

A friend told me about Filipiak a few years ago and though we live in the same hood, I’ve never met him. However, he left two books in my mailbox — The Year of Living Biblically and The Blue Parakeet — books an uneducated, almost middle age person like myself will actually read. He knows how to connect with people, he isn’t pushy and he’s gracious.

He’s one of many people cracking my thumper stereotype. Here’s what he has to say about the church, movie theaters and God’s request that a prophet marry a prostitute.

Barefoot Church. Do you really check your shoes at the door?

Noah Filipiak: No. We came up with the name from Exodus where Moses takes off his sandals before God at the holy bush. When we started the church we didn’t want it to be a once a week ritual. As Christians we have God living inside of us so we should live out that faith all the time. Essentially, the way Moses was in front of God when he saw the burning bush is what it would look like if God were consciously with us.

It’s a good name to laugh at and it raises some good questions.

What do you think about all of these churches that are desperately trying to boost parishioner numbers?

NF: There’s a really delicate balance there. Do we want people in church? Absolutely because we want people knowing the love of Jesus but if the goal is just to have a big crowd and not be honoring God, that’s different. He was never about having a big crowd. He invested in 12 disciples, not the big show. We need to be careful about the motives there.

I’ve been to a big box church. I’ve also been to several prisons. I prefer the prisons. Thoughts?

NF: I think you’re talking about mega churches. I call that movie theater church and I think American church culture is turning more into movie theater churches. When I go to the movies, I walk in with a bunch of people I don’t know, we see a show together and when it’s all over, we leave and go back the next week to do it again.

What I say to my church is, next time you’re in a movie, turn to the person next to you in the theater and talk to them really seriously. Say hey, I want to let you know I have an addiction to porn that I can’t break and it’s wrecking my marriage and I was wondering if you you’ll be there for me. Can I call you when I’m struggling? See what the person says. Usually that person will sit in another chair and probably report you to an usher.

The story of how the church started includes a description of what went on — teaching, singing, prayer and fellowship with people. There you see a very different picture of church than what we do today. It’s challenging for me as a pastor. It’s like OK, we live in America, how do we kind of fight against our culture? We’re very individualistic in some ways but we’re consumers and those things blend into church and that’s why we need to emphasize home groups and community groups.

Church is more than just a big show.

You said I might like the Book of Hosea. I remember thinking he was a bit of a wimp. What did I miss?

NF: I thought you might find it funny that God asked him to marry a prostitute. I read that and I preach on it every once and while. I don’t think most Christians realize that even in the Bible, God asks his prophet to marry a prostitute. There are Christians that might say that’s false.

I think the metaphor is fairly powerful. It shows that God is a relational God and it shows what’s really happening with his people. It shows what they were doing to him (Hosea) and emotionally it really hurt the way it would if my spouse were cheating on me. It’s more a metaphor than Hosea himself.

Do you ever get sick of reading the Bible?

NF: Yeah. I grew up in the church and genuinely put my faith in Christ when I was like four years old. It sounds bizarre, but it truly wasn’t a manipulative thing. I first read through it when I was 15 and I’m 27. I remember the first reading and I thought some sections were really boring.

The Bible can lose its freshness but you have to keep it different. Right now I’m reading the Daily Bible. It takes the Bible and divides it chronologically and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few months. That’s really freshened it up for me. The big thing is to see the Bible as a story, not a lot of different things just happening.

So you’ve read a bit of the blog. What am I missing?

NF: I think the biggest thing is that I would never have anyone pick up the Bible and read it cover-to-cover. Not to sound dramatic, but when people get to drive a car, they don’t give everyone a car and say have fun and good luck. We give driving lessons and there’s a test you have to pass. You have to know a bit about the car before you drive it.

I think the Bible is a dangerous book and it can be misused and misread. I think when it’s just picked up without some context to what it actually is, it can be difficult to glean the messages.

For example, when you read through the Old Testament there’s definitely stuff that’s just crazy. I believe the Bible is God’s word. The trick is the context. It’s not meant to be taken literally so that’s often why the Bible is so misunderstood. People read the context and say that would never apply today. Whether it’s not eating shellfish or not wearing certain fibers. Some of those obscure texts still have meaning for us so we have to realize the context we read it in today is different than when it was written.


11 Responses to “Kicking it with God Without the Kicks”

  1. Fantastic work here. This is definitely a man and pastor after my own heart. I guess that’s why we haven’t had a “home church” in Michigan since we moved back in 2005. Not too many of this type of pastor around. Looks like I might have to make an hour drive to church sometime 🙂 Thanks for the expose on Barefoot and on this pastor. I appreciate the impeccable manner in which he demonstrated the real heart and soul of “Christians”. Good on you, Ms. Blogger. A feather in your blog cap.

  2. Ellenita said

    That Pastor you wrote about is right on!! It is a joy to read your blogs. I can see you growing through all of this. Don’t get scared – I’m not suggesting that you become a church going gal, but I think that your horizons are stretching!! Right?

  3. […] it, I’ve been thinking about trying to blog again for some time.  Ivy just posted a recent interview with me on her blog (in which she was very gracious towards me) and it has pushed me over the edge of […]

  4. Sharon said

    I Really enjoyed your interview with Noah. He is a man of God who is real and speaks Jesus from his heart and from his own experiences. I admire the comunity work that he is doing in Lansing. When a tragedy took my loved one, Noah counseled me and made more sense than any other person that I talked to.

    You should continue with your reading and blogging. It’s a very good thing.

  5. marg said

    Comment towards what Pastor Filipiak wrote: I understand what you are saying. There are some hard passages in the Bible and if read by people looking for a fight, they could easily find one. But I have really enjoyed Ivy’s open heart and almost childlike fascination as she is reading the Bible. I think reading the Bible with that kind of heart makes it less “dangerous”.

    Then again, there are authors out there (like Lee Strobel) who set out to disprove Christianity and ended up being proven otherwise, which says to me that God can work with any kind of heart.

  6. Noah said

    Marg, I also have really enjoyed Ivy’s open heart towards the Bible… “almost childlike fascination” is a good way to put it. What she is doing takes a lot of courage… she is reading a book that so many (like myself) find authoritative, which she does not, and she has a great art of being respectful towards it while still being honest about her views of what she’s reading, both her agreements and disagreements. I find this honesty both refreshing, as well as very funny at times, and am really impressed by the way she maintains this balance of respect. I think the blog brings up a lot of questions we (Christians) wish we had the courage to ask, or sections of Scripture that we’ve been subconsciously trained to quickly skim over until we find a section that makes more sense or that we like better.

    Just to clarify my quote: “I think the Bible is a dangerous book and it can be misused and misread. I think when it’s just picked up without some context to what it actually is, it can be difficult to glean the messages.”

    …the danger I’m referring to is when people develop incorrect theology based on taking things out of context, such as “health-and-wealth” theology or legalism for example, or when people use Bible verses out of context as rally-cries for literally taking lives, such as the Crusades and Inquisitions. (I thought the movie Book of Eli presented this well)

    I don’t think Ivy reading the Bible the way she is is dangerous, but I do think it is one of the reasons why she is drawing some of the conclusions she is. And I certainly don’t blame her for this. It’s the same reason a lot of Christians just skip over large parts of the Old Testament. If you read the OT regarding animal sacrifices, the wars needed to take over the Promised Land, the blessings/curses of the old covenant, cleanliness laws, etc., and thought these things were to be applied today in the same context as they were applied when they were written, you’d likely end up in prison pretty fast! So the natural reaction is to throw these things out as “not Bible”. But these are still God’s Word: the MEANING of the text remains (though it sometimes takes some effort to accurately find it), but the APPLICATION of it must change in relation to the part of the Story we are now in today, compared to the part of the Story it was originally given. The nice part is, this isn’t a convenient rule that I’m making up, but we actually see Jesus and the New Testament authors modeling this same thing as they teach about the Old Testament and what it points toward. The cool thing about the Bible is that it is not only “a Story”, it is literally “our Story”, a Story in which we are a part of the time-line, a Story with a past, a present, and a future.

  7. TN Lizzie said


    Do you have any friends like you in West TN? We’re sorely lacking Godly men who actually read the Bible and who can talk about Truth like the letters were written to them.

    People like Ivy, who ask difficult questions and make honest observations, don’t fit the programming needs – and that is sad.

    Thank you for loving your neighbors like Jesus with skin on! You are doing a good thing, and I will pray for your ministry!

    • Noah said

      Hi Lizzie, my parents live in Cookeville, TN which is in central TN and go to a church plant there called The River… I’m not very familiar with TN in general, but I know the pastor of their church sends a lot of church planters around TN to start new churches,. I would bet that he may have a lead on somewhere to check out in West TN. Not that all church plants are going to be great, but I’ve found they are typically started for similar reasons and are a good place to start. 931-528-3660 is The River’s office number. Their pastor’s name is Steve but I’m betting whoever you talk to may be able to refer you to their network. Hope that helps! Thanks for the prayer, it is much needed and appreciated,

  8. marg said

    Thank you for that clarification, Noah! And AMEN to all you said. Although, at the very end, I thought you were going to say that “it is not only a Story, it is HIS story.” (history) :o) (NOT original with me!)

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