Thinking Out Loud

July 29, 2014

When God Left the Building

Though the vast majority (77%) of Americans identify themselves as Christians, they have largely stopped attending church. Less than 20% of the population now makes it to church in a typical week. Some 4000 churches are closing every year. It’s a major and unprecedented social upheaval.

As the movie begins its fall schedule of single-night showings across the U.S., another short excerpt has been posted online, so I thought I would share both the trailer and the excerpt.  This is so reflective of the state of local churches across North America.


 

April 7, 2013

When Things Aren’t “Fine”

Daniel White turned off the car engine and just sat in his car for an extra 30 seconds before walking into the church.  On entering the church lobby there was a rush of sound as children carrying Sunday School take-home papers ran through the lobby, a woman at a table spoke loudly selling tickets for an upcoming banquet, and people engaged in conversation while drinking coffee from the church’s new café, open five days a week besides Sunday.

Fred Smits, the director of mens ministry spied Daniel coming in and with a big smile and a firm handshake asked Daniel how he was doing.

“Fine;” Daniel replied. But Daniel was far from fine.  As he said the words, he was looking at Fred and internally screaming, “Help me!”  The mental scream was so loud he wondered how Fred could not hear it.

“Good to hear;” replied Fred before noticing another member of the mens group arriving through the same door.

There is better acting done in that church lobby than you’ll ever see on the great stages of London and New York.  People saying things are ‘fine’ when inside they are screaming.

So what about Fred and Daniel?  Is it up to people who are hurting to be more honest, or is it up to the people who ask the question to probe deeper, to spend more time beyond superficial greeting?

March 1, 2013

March Madness, Blog Style

I don’t do repeats here until the piece is a year old.  So a new month always offers new items from the previous year that you may have missed… (Apologies to email subscribers…this is long!)


A Letter to the Nominating Committee

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,


This Song Should Be the Anthem of Churches Everywhere

I was scrolling through the CCLI top 200 worship songs, and it occurred to me there is a song that really needs to be there; in fact it really needs to be part of the repertoire of every church using modern worship.

Eddie Kirkland is a worship leader at Atlanta’s North Point Community Church, where, just to warn ya, the worship set may seem to some of you more like a rock concert than a Sunday service. But I hope you’ll see past that and enjoy the song.

We want to be a church where freedom reigns
We want to be a people full of grace
We want to be a shelter where the broken find their place
We want to be refuge for the weak
We want to be a light for the world to see
We want to be a love the breaks the walls and fill the streets…

All are welcome here
As we are, as we are
For our God is near every heart

If those sentiments are not the goal of where you attend on Sundays, frankly, I think you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s another version of the song that was used as part of North Point’s Be Rich campaign, where each year, instead of reinventing the charity wheel, NPCC members flood secular social service organizations with money and volunteer hours.

Watch the song a few times, and then forward the link to today’s blog post — http://wp.me/pfdhA-3en — to the worship leader at your church.

If a church of any size desires to live up to what this song expresses, there’s nothing stopping that church from changing the world.


Qualifying “It Gets Better”

One of the Church’s biggest failures of the past decade has been our reaction, and over-reaction to the LGBT community, especially to those who — absent the treatment they see their peers receiving — hold on to a faith in the Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, there are the usual conservative voices who insist that any gay sympathies constitute an automatic ticket to hell. Frankly, I am curious to see who shows up to picket at their funerals.

On the other hand, there are among the more progressive progressives, certain Christian bloggers who in their compassion have thrown out a lot of the core of the Bible’s ideal for family, procreation and partnership.

And now, to add to our confusion, we discover that Psalm 139, the scripture used as a major element in the argument against abortion, is used as a rallying cry for gay and lesbian Christians. Regardless of which translation is employed.

Anyway, I’ve already blogged my personal place of balance on this issue, but in thinking about it this week, I’ve realized that my particular choice of words has a bearing on another commonly heard phrase particularly among teenagers who either come out of the closet by choice or who are outed by their classmates.

The phrase is, “It gets better.”

For the bullied, the confused and the lonely, I certainly hope it does. Soon.

But I have to say this, and maybe this can be your response as well, “It gets better, but it doesn’t necessarily get best.”

In other words; I’m there for you.

I understand.

I’m not someone looking at this from the detachment of an outsider; I’ve read your blogs, I’ve looked in to your online discussions. I do get it.

But with all the love in my heart, I just think that ultimately, God has something else in mind which, because He made it, is perfect.

So yes, it gets better, thought it doesn’t necessarily get best.


A Powerful Story Echoes Three Decades Later

This was recorded nearly 30 years ago at a Christian music festival somewhere in Canada. Nancyjo Mann was lead singer in the band Barnabas. I always knew that I had this in my possession — on VHS, no less — and have always felt that more people need to see it. For those of you who knew me back in the days of the Searchlight Video Roadshow, you’ll remember that I often closed each night with this particular testimony.

January 4, 2013

How a Community Goes About Helping

Think of this as a Part Two to yesterday’s post. It’s easy to curse the darkness, but requires slightly more skill to light a candle. How would a community go about helping one of the students mentioned here?

We live in a very small town.  I grew up in Toronto where resources are more abundant. Actually, we are two adjacent towns with a population of approx. 16,000 each, separated by about four miles (eight kilometres).  In the one town there are three evangelical churches and in the other there are five. I envision these eight churches being able to come together for a project of this nature, though as stated yesterday, the initial reaction I got to this proposal doesn’t bear out that possibility so far.

Twice this year, at one of the churches we took up a cash offering after the service to meet two very specific needs. Some churches call these “retiring offerings.” You don’t get a receipt for tax purposes in this type of giving. Some would call it a “loose change offering” even though you’re tossing in bills as well as coins; it’s money you won’t miss.

One offering was for a guy who needed help paying his rent that month. He isn’t a member of that church, and a very infrequent adherent. But he asked. He had a need. We helped him collect the $200 he  needed and had $100 left over.

The second was for a family that hit a somewhat sudden financial crisis that left their next mortgage payment in doubt, and this is a family that’s never been flush with money to begin with. They are not members of this church either, nor do I believe they have ever attended.

In both cases, I was the only one who knew both recipients and was responsible for delivering the cash to each. I’m not sure that even the pastor knew who the second family was. They trusted my judgement on this.

I thought it would be nice to do a third project like this before the year was over, but then I reconsidered. I don’t want people to think I’m running some kind of scheme here. (We decided it would be a bad time to buy a car!) Actually it would be nice if someone else came up with a third project.

Anyway, this church has an average Sunday morning attendance of around 90 people, and each time we raised around $300.  With some adjusting for the demographic makeup of the congregations, I’ve estimated a typical attendance for each of the three (given letters) in the one town and five (given numbers) in the other, with a suggested offering total.

Benevolent Cash Offering From Eight Churches

Yes, that’s right; we live in a really, really, really small town; we have really, really, really small churches. The combined attendance from all eight churches (1,230) wouldn’t even fill one section in some mega-churches you’re familiar with.

And yet, possibly without even knowing who they are giving to, we’ve raised $4,000; a significant chunk of what R., N., and T., in yesterday’s example would need to kick-start a semester payment. Plus, I’m thoroughly convinced that knowing more details, people would give more generously. (The people in the two stories I mentioned were giving “blind” so to speak; even the nature of the need had to be somewhat veiled to protect the identity of the people concerned.)  I’m also convinced that people currently on the fringes — not presently attending a church — could hear about this via a newsletter — the very newsletter that gave birth to this blog five years ago — and add another $1,000.

And think about what a group of churches in your much larger community could do with a similar project and what a HUGE difference it could make to a student.

Spontaneous, New Testament-styled giving. Approval needed, yes; but no budget committee needs to meet on it, because it’s off-budget.

And yes, ultimately the money goes to some very large institution. I’m not content with that. (See yesterday’s comments.) But it’s the only way to a future these kids can foresee. And what a wonderful statement it makes about Christian community. And what a wonderful thing if those givers covenant to pray for that student throughout the semester. And what a wonderful thing if five years later, graduates are willing to give back something to help kick-start other students on their way to a decent education.

And why not do this not once, but two or three times in a year? And a couple extra times for a family with unexpected medical costs? Or a family where both wage earners are out of work? Or…

Well… why not?

January 3, 2013

Helping Youth Attain College Education

University LibraryThis fall our youngest son began attending a Christian university. In the process, we are quickly learning that higher education really means higher priced education. Dang, this is costly.

When were helping him transfer some funds in September, I really though he was paying for a full year, only to realize later that we had only covered the first semester.  Double dang.

But as hard as this probably was for some of our local acquaintances to believe, I didn’t have Kid Two in mind when I drafted a letter to some of our local clergy suggesting that university and college education is priced out of reach of many kids leaving high school, and where these students are a part of our local churches, if we are really family, we should rally together and offer to help.

By rally together, I’m forming a mental image of some ethnic groups where, when one family wants to buy a house, everybody contributes to help maximize the down payment. That sort of thing.

The actual students I had in mind are difficult to pin down here, since I have a handful of local readers  at a blog that is written with a worldwide audience in mind. So I’ll use initials:

  • R. wanted to attend an out-of-town two-year business program this fall. But in the process of getting housing he was, for lack of a better word, swindled out of much of the money he had set aside and is now working a lackluster job to try to gain enough from scratch to revisit the process next fall. R. has so much potential; I feel like he was simply born into the wrong family, and wish I could just hand him the life he wants.
  • N. has actually completed almost half of a four-year degree program at a Christian college. Her major is her passion and her giftedness in this area is renown among students her age. She would love to go back to this Christian college, but as the days tick by, it seems less and less likely.
  • T.’s story is the one I am least familiar with. Essentially, he was among the brightest and the best in his high school, but university remains just a dream, though I keep thinking that whatever he winds up doing, he’s going to excel; but right now probably feels a little lost with most of his cohort off to school while he works a low-paying job.

So on September 5th, I asked our local clergy if we couldn’t borrow a page from the ethnic house-buyers and have money pooled together to kick-start education (or return to school) for at least one student per year.

…This is a community that stands behind people in crisis.  Is there something we can do for kids in our local churches who need a ‘leg-up’ in the area of higher education?

Currently, a couple of churches offer a small scholarship for kids pursuing Christian education, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed in the three stories I described above.

I now know this first-hand. [However,] the program that I am envisioning would not be something [our two kids] would subscribe to; rather, I’ve tried to approach this with some objectivity and with a vision for students like the ones I described, two of which find it impossible to get started

Furthermore, I want to recognize that there are young men and women out there who desire to serve God with all their hearts, but have an education vision that does not necessarily involve [various Christian universities].  I also believe that if something were established long-term, there are recipients of this type of help who would be willing to give something back after they graduate.

Is there something more we can do as the body of Christ … to come together to support students in a significant way?

I hope you’ll pray about this; and I would hope that pastors receiving this would be willing to discuss this at the next … ministerial meeting.  While we are often ‘tapped out’ in our giving, and while it would be easy to say we don’t need one more ’cause,’ I believe that this is the kind of project that is worthy of our consideration and viable, but only if we work together.

So that’s what I wrote. And that’s what I believe. And I would love to be able to report that our community established a scholarship fund and this fall one or two students will be able to create a proposal and receive some significant help. And that we now have a structure in place that is going to be of benefit to students for the next decade and beyond.

But it never happened. The response was under-whelming. As in nil. Another email from Paul that got quickly deleted.

There is a saying that “if a man thinks he is casting a vision that nobody is actually catching, he is merely throwing a tennis ball against a brick wall.” 

Well, it should be a saying.

I’ve been tossing visions in our little corner of the world for years, but few have been caught. But maybe, just maybe, someone in some other part of the world is reading this and will adopt something similar that will brighten the corner where you are.

It may not help R. or N. or T., but it may change a student’s life, and that student may change the world.

October 23, 2012

Ministry You’d Want to Be a Part Of

Friday night we attended a fundraising banquet for our local Youth for Christ worker and his ministry. In our little corner of the world, YFC has four staff workers, an administrator and three field workers serving a county so large that, even under the old system used by the phone company, it included three different area codes.

We’ve known Jeff for twenty years now. He was a youth pastor in a local church who was being laid off, and found a way to continue to serve students in the same town. Switching from a church-based ministry model to a parachurch model was a challenge during the first year, but the end result was that he fused together the best of both ministry paradigms.

His ministry extends far beyond anything in the Youth for Christ staff handbook, I’m sure. Hosting a 3-hour radio show on two stations. Working with the town ministerial association on special events. Doing pulpit supply for a variety of local churches. Writing faith-centered articles for the local newspaper.  Volunteering at the local high school and middle school. Studying for an MDiv degree nearly completed.  That’s in addition to YFC events such as a drop-in center, special events and lots and lots of one-on-one counseling.

All those activities, and other things that I don’t know about. I would never accuse Jeff of playing his cards close to his chest, though he doesn’t seek recognition. Rather, I think his left hand truly doesn’t know what his right hand is doing. Bottom line: We think his supporters truly get a lot of bang for their donation buck, and while we originally said we were going to skip the banquet this year, we turned out to show our support.

At the end of the night Jeff — ever frugal — passed out copies of his quarterly newsletter that would normally be mailed. He told us ahead of time that he’d broken the rules of newsletters by including ten stories of kids he’s worked with — present, recent past, and distant past — sharing their personal testimony of what Jeff and the ministry of YFC in general has meant to them and what God is doing in their lives.

Wow! I just finished reading the stories. A vibrant student ministry in our small town is changing lives that are ultimately changing the world. This ministry is bearing fruit. People are finding Jesus.

And as I folded the newsletter back into the envelope so my wife could read it when she got home, I thought, “How can anyone read this and not want to reach for their checkbook or credit card?”  That, and “How can anyone not want to pray, to volunteer or otherwise ‘come alongside’ what the Holy Spirit is doing through dedicated, vocational leadership like this?”

I’m so glad we didn’t opt to skip the banquet this year. It would pain me to get the newsletter by mail a week later, read the stories, and feel that I missed an opportunity to be a very tiny part of all this.

Right now, where you live, there are people making a difference who can’t do it without your active support. Pray about your involvement through serving, giving, praying or all three!


For contact information on Northumberland Youth For Christ, click here.

June 8, 2012

More on The Sally Army Story

So I’m sitting listening to the Michael Coren’s  May 19th interview on the Drew Marshall Show, and it suddenly occurs to me there’s no post up today.  I’m supposed to reviewing The Way, the new edition of the NLT, but how does one review a Bible?  I’m up to the third chapter of Genesis and need to have it finished by next week. I have a feeling there are different rules for Bible reviewing.

Anyway, I’m still a chapter short of finishing the 1965 biography of the Salvation Army’s William Booth that I mentioned two weeks ago.  This is my ‘bedside reading’ title, so I’m in no particular hurry and my pace is slowed by (a) the richness of the language employed back then (and it’s sad to say that 50 years ago constitutes ‘back then’) and (b) continually setting the book aside to contemplate Booth’s pure genius.

In addition to what I wrote then, two things are standing out now that I’ve substantially made it through the book.

First, Booth was immersed in what we call today the Wesleyan tradition.  Revivalism. Holiness. Repentance. But he actually despaired of altar calls that brought church people forward at meetings. He wanted the call to reach beyond the church doors, the message of holiness and repentance to see response from people in the broader population. But of course, the church people, would get upset when he brought what we call riffraff through the church doors.

You can see why, parallel to building his social service army, he needed to start a church; and actually even that statement misses the point because for Booth, the souls of men (and women) were his primary concern. So while the visible expression of The Salvation Army was providing meals and clothing, the object of the movement was always to see many added to The Kingdom, or as they termed it, “soup, soap and salvation.”

Their motto was “Go for souls, and go for the worst.” And their concept of how to do this involved far more than witness, but really it involved their people embedding themselves among the poorest of people. This concept extended to their international outreach; they went to establish a presence in a variety of countries; I’m not sure Booth would relate to our short-term mission jaunts today. They didn’t go to take a methodology for confronting poverty, but they took a message; the gospel.

The consequences of this when Booth’s army ‘invaded’ Switzerland were large:

Booth, in his enthusiasm, and overlooked the fact that the cold proud city of Geneva was the birthplace of John Calvin, whose religion taught pre-election. The destiny of every soul, Calvinists argued, was determined before it ever entered the body: If some were irrevocably chose, others were irredeemably damned.

It was a disastrous decision–for in country outside Britain was The Army subject to such bitter persecution.  (p. 158)

But for the most part, souls responded; and while Booth’s organization is remembered today for its brass bands and annual Christmas kettle appeal, he was, without doubt, the greatest evangelist of his generation.

…[A]ll Booth’s meetings, in a sense were children’s meetings; he knew that people like to learn by picture, not by precept. Seldom did he use a word a child of primary school age couldn’t have understood, and because of this, the flying shuttle of the years wove his message in the hearts and minds of millions across thee world. “Use words that Mary Ann will understand,” he counseled his officers, “And you will be sure to make yourself plain to her mistress. If you speak only to her mistress you will very likely miss her and Mary Ann as well.” (p. 242)

Good advice for preachers today, I would say.

Second, the thing that stood out to me was the very active role The Army took in addressing poverty: They didn’t treat symptoms, they treated causes.

So while soup and soap were provided, they created business opportunities in cities and regions, building plants that manufactured bricks and matchsticks (the latter more necessary in the 1800s than we realize) as well as agricultural operations that would not only provide income but feed people (where soil and climate conditions permitted).

Today, we don’t hear so much about churches starting business operations. In North America, a church would be so cautious about doing so, so concerned about the perception of using its nonprofit status to unfair competitive advantage, so fearful of insurance liability implications, so criticized for not keeping its focus on preaching the gospel, so distracted by nay-sayers who would say, ‘What if the business loses money, we will have squandered peoples’ tithes and offerings.”

Two months ago, our church took up an offering at the end of the service for a guy in the community who was unable to pay his rent. He doesn’t really attend the church, but he’s known to some of the leadership from another outreach they are involved in. His “employability” is somewhat limited, so yes, there are cases where direct assistance is needed. (We took up a similar offering just this week; as the instigator of both collections, I may have set a precedent here, I trust that it’s a healthy precedent.)

But there are times when the church can take the skills of its people and create micro-business opportunities (as we now see happening in third world missions) or even medium sized light industrial or farming projects.

Booth recognized this was the higher solution to the problem; in fact, William Booth was all about dreaming and visioning dozens of ‘solutions’ every single day.

The potential of The Salvation Army in those days was only limited by Booth’s imagination, and the potential for your local church is only limited by theirs.

There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save… Let us not grow weary in the work of God.

See my earlier comments here.

If you’ve never heard it, click over to YouTube for the song Cliff Richard made famous, Good on The Sally Army (fast forward to 2:59)

The General Next To God: The Story of William Booth and the Salvation Army by Richard Collier.  Don’t go looking for this, I’m reading a used copy of the book published in 1965 by Collins Publishing

March 30, 2012

This Song Should Be The Anthem of Local Churches Everywhere

So the other night I was on the website of Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc., the company that tracks the songs being used in local churches’ video or overhead projection.  This organization provides royalties to songwriters commensurate to the size of the church in question, each time that church creates another projection master or data file, and replaces the income lost from the days when songbooks and hymnbooks ruled the market.  If your church’s projected lyrics or homemade songsheets don’t contain a CCLI number either at the beginning or end of each song, question whether the songs are being used legally, since the fines can be hefty.

Anyway, I was scrolling through the top 200 worship songs, and it occurred to me there is a song that really needs to be there; in fact it really needs to be part of the repertoire of every church using modern worship.

Eddie Kirkland is a worship leader at Atlanta’s North Point Community Church, where, just to warn ya, the worship set may seem to some of you more like a rock concert than a Sunday service. But I hope you’ll see past that and enjoy the song.

We want to be a church where freedom reigns
We want to be a people full of grace
We want to be a shelter where the broken find their place
We want to be refuge for the weak
We want to be a light for the world to see
We want to be a love the breaks the walls and fill the streets…

All are welcome here
As we are, as we are
For our God is near every heart

If those sentiments are not the goal of where you attend on Sundays, frankly, I think you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s another version of the song that was used as part of North Point’s Be Rich campaign, where each year, instead of reinventing the charity wheel, NPCC members flood secular social service organizations with money and volunteer hours.   

Watch the song a few times, and then forward the link to today’s blog post — http://wp.me/pfdhA-3en — to the worship leader at your church. 

If a church of any size desires to live up to what this song expresses, there’s nothing stopping that church from changing the world.

Here’s a bonus worship song for today from C201

January 30, 2012

When Education Trumps Experience

A Church Parable.  Or Fable. Or Analogy. Or Something.

As churches wrestle with the rapid and sometimes radical changes taking place in Evangelical circles, Third Street Congregational Church is no exception.  Located in the part of the U.S. called “The Heartland,” there’s been a move lately to change the name of the church of 400 members to “Heartland Christian Church,” with some preferring “The Gathering Place,” and minority votes coming in for “The Gathering Spot,” “The Gathering People,” and “Third Street Gathering.”

But the latest round of friction-generated heat has been over Sunday School.  TSCC decided long ago to stick to the tradtional model of keeping the Christian Education hour separate, at 9:15 AM, followed by “big church” at 10:30, though smaller children are dismissed around 10:50 for a shorter, less-intensive time that church members are quick to tell you is “definitely not a substitute for Sunday School,” and usually involves the eating of goldfish crackers while watching Veggie Tales DVDs.

No, everyone agrees that keeping the more traditional model offers an alternative to what all the other churches are doing, and allows most adults to be present for the main event at 10:30.  The heat involves what the adults are doing at 9:15, and I’m not referring to the Clements and the Saduccis penchant for using the time to enjoy a late breakfast at Third Street Family Restaurant.

Typically, the adults were divided into the Men’s Bible Class and the Women’s Bible Class, with the occasional inserting of a Baptism Class and New Members Class for four-week runs as needed.  The women have enjoyed a mix of teachers including some women, men and material sourced on DVD, while the men have always been taught by Scott Harmber, a lay-person in the congregation who can find Bible verses while blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back.  Scott’s the kind of guy who really should have gone into ministry, but possibly missed his calling.   He taught most of the year; Pastor Elkins does one session with the guys each quarter, and any other mornings are filled in by Blake Streed.

So when Scott announced that, with just five years to go to retirement, he and his wife were buying a distribution business on the west coast, everyone figured that Blake would take over the Men’s Bible Class.

“Not so fast;” said the pastor.  He explained that while the church was strongly committed to keeping a Christian Education hour at 9:15, having separate classes determined by gender was rather awkward considering the influx of new families coming to TSCC.  Instead, he proposed a model where there would be four mixed classes (five in baptism and membership months) with each one having a slightly different emphases, including traditional Bible study, a class called “Christian Living in the Modern World,” a class for developing Christian leadership, and one other to be named later, that might appeal to a younger demographic.

Furthermore, he said that their adult Sunday School was not a suitable substitute for what other churches were accomplishing in mid-week small groups, and that for each of the four classes, there would be three small groups established, for a total of twelve, though there would be some allowance for people who wanted to do one thing on Sunday morning, but something very different during the week.

So, for awhile, the Men’s Bible Class continued with a variety of teachers, including a DVD that Scott Harmber made in a park near his new home; a park which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, the crashing of the waves making for occasional audio problems. 

When the restructuring of the adult program never happened, people again suggested that Blake Streed was best suited to continue the depth and quality of teaching expected in that class.  And Blake expected this himself, and was more than willing to, in great humility, take on the task.

So no one was prepared when one Sunday morning in the main service, Pastor Elkins introduced Jerrett Westin as the new teacher of the TSCC Men’s Bible Class. 

Jerrett had taught the class on a couple of occasions.  He and his wife had not grown up in church, but both of their lives had experience a dramatic turnaround in their late teens, and now, with four children and approaching their mid-40s he was taking a part-time seminary course with a mix of online courses and intense two-week sessions in July and January taught at a satellite campus an hour away, all of which would culminate in a Master’s degree in Christian Studies in about six years.

Frankly, Pastor Elkins, who was working on a doctorate himself, identified with Jerrett Westin’s love of learning and they met weekly to compare notes on what it was Jerrett was learning throughout the week.  This was a good thing, since many of Jerrett’s courses were completely over the heads of everyone else in the church.  They loved the seminary — in fact the church supported it financially — but it seemed to be equipping Jerrett with an artificial version of something Scott Harmber and Blake Streed came by naturally.  Jerrett could explain things in both the Old and New Testament that were extremely interesting, but no one was sure if those things had any relevance to their everyday lives.

…Two years later, the Men’s Bible Class continues on.  Jerrett isn’t really that bad, people have gotten to know him better; but there’s still a few people with the sentiment that the choosing of him wasn’t very democratic.  The Men aren’t so much loyal or supportive as they are a captive audience; many have children in the Sunday School program, though the Third Street Family Restaurant did pick up a few regulars.  

Plans are now in place for the change to four mixed classes, and a prototype of the mid-week small group program is already up and running and the church is continuing to see growth that is starting to strain the physical facilities.

Blake and his wife still attend TSCC, but is heavily involved with a Saturday morning men’s group run by another church. His gifts and talents are greatly appreciated and he does visit there occasionally, as they have three weekend service times.

But if you ask people at TSCC why this all matters, they would tell you that they learned through this that, at their church, education trumps experience and giftedness. They also learned that you can’t expect that if you are serving in a particular role that greater opportunities will open up; you can just as easily find yourself sidelined.  But most, including Blake are very gracious about it and recognize the need to support Jerrett who is viewed as “a work in progress.”

Still, it’s funny how things turn out in churches. It isn’t so much that some people get hurt as it is that often everyone gets surprised.

I know Scott Harmber was surprised when I told him all this yesterday.

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