Thinking Out Loud

May 21, 2015

In Case of Rapture, Or Long Weekend, This Church will be Closed

North Point Closing

When we were given a midweek tour of Buckhead Church a few years ago, the thing that struck me was that there was a large infrastructure that was really only used for a few hours each week. The entrepreneur in me was trying to think of ways to leverage the facility to see greater exposure, so the idea of taking one week — no, make that two weeks — off each year is in my thinking, somewhat counterproductive.

But that’s exactly what the North Point family of churches in Atlanta’s north suburbs is doing this weekend; taking their cue from an already entrenched shutdown that occurs annually between Christmas and New Year’s, the church will be completely closed over the Memorial Day weekend, in anticipation of a major summer kickoff on May 31st.

Now, I’m not criticizing here, I’m just posing the question. I am a fairly rabid fan of Andy Stanley. I greatly respect and admire his ability to re-frame the Gospel in totally fresh ways. But let’s give this some context.

We live at a time when people are taking an extremely casual approach to church attendance. Families with children have already sacrificed weekly continuity on the altar of getting their kids into team sports: Soccer, baseball, three-pitch, t-ball, gymnastics, swim teams, etc. What hasn’t been destroyed by athletics has been decimated by dads working weekend shifts or moms working retail Sunday openings.

These days, if you can get a family out to church 26 out of 52 Sundays, you’re doing well.

So why chop that down to only 50 Sundays? Why create even the most subtle suggestion that taking time off church is perfectly acceptable?

Not being a regular attender, I don’t know if there’s room in North Point’s church culture for dissension, but I would rate this as one of their less-smart moves. I really feel for singles in this, people who don’t have family traditions on the long weekend, and especially, people who look for the fellowship of that weekly worship gathering as a boost for the rest of their week. Honestly, I get depressed as hell just thinking about people losing that sense of connection, to the point where I can’t imagine having to live it.

Obviously, some people, who place a sense of propriety on weekly church attendance will take the opportunity to visit another church. Some may stay home and watch an alternative presentation the church will offer at North Point Online. Some people, planning a visit to Atlanta for this weekend that includes a North Point visit, simply will not get the memo.

For this and other reasons, I have to say a resounding “No!”

What about you?

 

 

May 19, 2015

The Blogging and Congregational Outreach Analogy: 3 Types of Churches

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:09 am

I met Glenn Schaeffer years ago when he was a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada; and for many years his very colorful blog, Go and Make has been linked here. These thoughts really resonated and I wanted to make sure you had a chance to think this over!

3 types of churches You Find It … Hyperlinked … Embedded … What is the Tendency of Your Congregation?

I have been blogging for a few years. As I compose articles I find there are times when, either for the press of time or simply out of sheer laziness, I simply mention a resource and hope the reader will take the initiative and find it online. (This is not my usual practice!) There are times I will hyperlink to a resource so with a simple click of the mouse the reader will be taken to the website.  Other times, I embed the material right into the blog so that the reader simply scrolls down … clicks and watches what has been embedded into the blog.

I can’t help but see a parallel with congregations and their attitude toward their mission to the lost people in their community. Some congregations have the attitude that, “We’ve let people of this community know we are here. We have built our building, erected a sign and we have a website.  Now, it’s up the people of this community to find us.”

Other congregations “hyperlink” to their community.  Vacation Bible Schools, community workshops, worship services in local senior centers, brochure distributions, radio ads, preschools, “block parties” and home Bible studies make it easier for people in their community to find them.

Other congregations “embed” themselves into the social fabric of their community.   Member’s volunteer in a variety of community organizations … foster friendships with their unchurched friends or coworkers … develop relationships with seniors in senior care homes … invite immigrants into their homes to introduce them to western cultural practices … develop working partnerships with local organizations in their community or the neighborhood around their church building.  The people of the community encounter members of “embedded” congregations almost everywhere.  “Embedded congregations” don’t wait for people to find them … they find the people and serve them … love them and tell them about Christ!

What is the tendency of your congregation?

 

 

April 26, 2015

When Church Leadership Hurts and Wounds

It’s now been five years since a Church elder abused my wife.

No, he didn’t physically touch her at all, but through his words, he hurt and wounded her to a degree that she, and our family, have never recovered.

The problem is, I still love that church. There are people there in whose lives I am invested, and they are invested in mine. It’s the church where I served on staff for four years, where our children were dedicated, where my oldest served for three years as a youth ministry volunteer and where my wife herself was baptized.

My wife was trying to regain a volunteer position — leading worship, the thing to which every cell within her is called and gifted to do — that had been removed due to much misunderstanding between herself and a former pastor with whom she is now friends. She was summoned to a midweek meeting with herself, the elder, and one other person and was basically told that she was an outsider. “We don’t have guest worship leaders;” said the one person. “If people see someone up there that they don’t know, it will confuse them;” said the other.

Not much more than a month later, they had a guest worship leader.

And they have been having them ever since.

But wait, “Guest?” She held this position for many years, for a period when I was on staff; a period where I left to do a church plant downtown; and the position leading up to her dismissal. She has more history in that church than the person telling her that with all those years she was nothing more than a ‘visitor.’

However, the point of the meeting wasn’t to simply say, “No;” to her request to be reinstated in the schedule.

The point of the meeting was to wound her, to cause her pain. They didn’t have a reason why she shouldn’t serve, they just didn’t want her. I wonder if the intensity, the fervor, the creativity she brought to the Sundays she provided leadership simply challenged their addiction to mediocrity.

She has never recovered.

She will come with me, about six times a year, and then she leaves and until recently, after the service she would head to the car alone until I’m done socializing with friends. She finds it difficult to sing, and often stands in silence. She’s only recently beginning to speak with people again.

My kids know what happened. They have a harder time visiting — maybe once a year is all — because, even though we’ve tried to move on, for them the events are still frozen in time

And no, this man is not the person in this blog post, though there are some interesting connections.

…So what do you do if you’re summoned to such a meeting? Maybe for you it’s a church discipline situation that you feel is being unjustly applied.

First, record the meeting somehow. There are so many times we wish we had a transcript of everything that was said, because there were so many lies.

Second, have someone in your corner. Ask who is going to be there, and if there’s two of them, make sure there’s two of you.

Third, debrief the meeting with someone immediately after. My wife was too devastated by what happened to tell me everything that night. There were just tears. I am amazed she was able to drive home. Some of it came to light only recently.

Finally, involve the pastor. In this case, the pastor had just arrived, and had taken the approach that, “I’m not going to micromanage individual church departments.” Okay, but the buck has to stop somewhere, right? We should have forced a follow-up meeting that I requested.

…My wife went on to serve in another church, to start an interdenominational worship team, to co-found a local charity and see it through to incorporation, to write more songs and make recordings, to lead worship at retreats, and to be paid as a consultant to teach teens how to give leadership in their local church.

What about forgiveness?

I think that’s fully further down the road. He really hurt her. He had the power to give her back the thing that was unjustly taken away from her, and he chose instead to slam the door shut.

Do I forgive him? I mostly feel sorry for him. This is a man who, when he first arrived on the scene and started doing platform ministry, couldn’t do the “Welcome to our morning service” line unless it was written on a card. He’s come a long way, and he’s trying to be friendly toward me now, but I just think that he’s always been in way over his head.

I also think that he was, in part, told how that fateful meeting was supposed to go, and I think I know by whom he was told.

…We still get people asking us why she doesn’t get back on a worship team. She recently sang there at large fundraising thing they did, and I was secretly hoping that this might create some further opportunity to find her way back, but we have to face the fact that it’s never going to happen.

Which is also hard for me. Remember the part about me being on staff there for four years? I was the Worship and Outreach Director. I led worship, solo, every Sunday for four years. And just once, I’d love to do one more set there sometime with a full band.

But they don’t have “guest” worship leaders.

Except for the Sundays they do.

April 7, 2015

Now The Student Has Learned More Than The Teacher

In my life I have been privileged to lead people into a prayer of commitment to follow Jesus Christ. It happened at a Christian camp, and at a concert, and I believe in one other church-based setting as well.  I say ‘I believe’ because all these incidents were a long time ago. While I probably have more ‘ministry’ hours in my days than ever before — and have more to offer now than I did back then — I am rarely in or near what would be called ‘the delivery room.’

discipleshipInstead, I connect people and resources, and connect people to other people who can aid them in their Christian walk. While I don’t have any formal mentoring relationships with the people I serve, I try to be an encourager and aid to their spiritual formation and discipleship. My passion for apologetics is far from a passing interest, and I enjoy being on the “front lines” of ministry; yet most of my contacts are people who have already crossed the line of faith.

Sometimes, these people grow in their faith to a point where I have to be totally honest and say they have surpassed me.

There is no particular shame in this. There is nothing wrong with being the middle school math teacher of the kid who grows up to get a PhD in Nuclear Physics. It happens. I suspect there are lots of elementary, middle school and high school teachers who have stories of former pupils who have gone on to greatness.

Still, there is a certain strangeness associated with the point in the relationship where the person just doesn’t need you like they once did.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they pray. You can tell if they’re moving toward the cross. You can tell if they have a faith that is deepening. I’m thinking right now of some people whose background was a mix of various ideas and faith traditions. A sort of leftover soup of doctrines and experiences, or if you prefer an audio metaphor, a theological cacophony. Or maybe just a faith that was swerving all over the road.

I wasn’t the only one in their lives. But I tried to be there to answer questions or correct misunderstandings.

It didn’t take long. I could tell. You can tell a lot about people by listening to them praying in a group setting. They were getting it. Before long, their spiritual identity was more set. I don’t use that word ‘set’ randomly. In The Mind Changers, a classic book on the spiritual decision-making process, Emory Griffin compared the process to candle-making with three distinct phases: Melt, Mold, Make Hard.

Before long these people were stepping up to take leadership positions in the church they attended. And then they didn’t need us anymore…

…Sometimes in church life we have students who surpass their teachers; people who simply flourish spiritually and exceed the ones helping them. That’s a good thing. While gratitude to the ones who helped us take our first spiritual steps is a good thing, I don’t think anyone is expecting the Physicist to return to the middle school teacher for help solving complex equations.

I think at that point, you do what I’ve done, and move on and find the next person who needs your help. Like the clerk at the fast food counter, you can say, “Can I help who’s next?” (My wife and I hate that phrase.) You find someone who needs you. Right now I’m thinking of someone whose walk with the Lord is growing by leaps and bounds, but if anyone is keeping score — and God isn’t — I’m always going to have something to offer simply by being more well-read.

But that doesn’t count for much eternally speaking. If you want a better barometer of how far along people are, I would say for a third time, you can tell a lot about people’s spiritual depth by how they pray.

 

Disclaimer: Today’s post is a mash-up of a couple of things, including an article that was going to appear yesterday but was pulled at the last minute. Some people referenced here are composites of various individuals and situations.

April 6, 2015

Breast Feeding in the Church Sanctuary

After debating several possibilities, the editorial team at Thinking Out Loud decided to play it safe with some classical art

After debating several possibilities, the editorial team at Thinking Out Loud decided to play it safe with some classical art

It must be an April thing, because last year at this time, we asked the question, Should Couples Hold Hands in Church?

Now we want to look at a question which is often a hot button issue in some churches, that of mothers nursing their babies in the church auditorium or sanctuary. So just to be clear let’s make some definitions:

  • This would be happening as a worship service is in progress
  • We’re assuming a certain amount of modesty is in place; there is an attempt to use discretion and keep everything as covered-up as possible. (Or is that the problem where you attend? Are some moms simply not attempting enough covering?)
  • The woman in question is not sitting in the front row serving as a distraction to the pastor or worship team. (Unless, again, that’s the problem; though it’s hard to believe anyone would actually do this.)
  • There are no children or (especially) teens who might be overly distracted by the very hint of this. (Middle school boys are at an age where boobs are an obsession.)
  • The baby is not fussing, crying or providing any type of audio distraction. (Think of Maggie on The Simpsons.)
  • There isn’t a room for this purpose (ideally with opaqued glass) off to the side of the auditorium.
  • The mom isn’t a visitor (unless that’s specific to a problem with this at your church) so she’s been around the church for years and knows the drill.

Does that cover it? (No pun intended.)

So what do you think? Are there options that would allow for this, or is it a definite “no” as far you’re concerned?

Has there been a shift on this over the last few years in your church?

And where am I gonna find a picture for this article? 

The question, just to be clear, is: Do you consider breastfeeding in church appropriate or inappropriate?  Is this a divisive issue where you worship?

 

April 2, 2015

This is Maundy Thursday

Over the past five years we’ve seen a major shift in Evangelical observance of what the Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches call Holy Week. There is much more consciousness of Lent and even debates — because of the rapid shift in some denominations — as to its incorporation in Evangelicalism. While we’ve always been observant of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, there is also an increasing awareness of Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. This article appeared here exactly five years ago…

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. ~John 13: 2-5 (NIV)

What’s that saying? “A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.” Today I felt somewhat spiritually outclassed.

I spoke with someone and asked what their church was doing for Holy Week. They told me that their church was doing a service on Thursday, as well as Good Friday.

Thursday is called Maundy Thursday. The theological page Theopedia doesn’t cover it for some strange reason, but the regular Wikipedia site offers two explanations for the name, of which I give you the first:

FootwashingAccording to a common theory, the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung during the “Mandatum” ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or at another time as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community.

As an aside, if you’re into church hopping, this is the day for you:

The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient practice, probably originating in Rome, where early pilgrims visited the seven pilgrim churches as penance.

Anyway, this church is having a foot washing as part of their Thursday service, and I was told, “Come and join us and we will wash your feet.”

I’ve never said that to anyone. And I’ve never washed anyone’s feet. I’m not totally comfortable with doing this or having it done for me. But the Biblical mandate to do this is quite clear. I feel like my spiritual pilgrimage is somewhat incomplete, like the person who has never been to Israel (or Wheaton, Illinois; the one time Evangelical equivalent, now displaced by Colorado Springs or Nashville; I’m not sure which.)

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. ~John 13: 14-17 (NIV)

Does anyone see a loophole here? An opt-out clause? A reason why this doesn’t apply in the current dispensation?

I don’t.


…since the original article appeared, I have had to, on a couple of occasions, help my mother with some moisturizing lotion on her feet. Normally she has someone who does this for her. Another time when we were swimming and my wife was sitting on the side, I sort of pretended to be washing feet that by that point were obviously clean. I can’t describe it but there is something spiritual in the servitude of this; something God knew all along and something Jesus modeled for us. You may not want to go to a church and experience this — not yet, anyway — but it’s something you might start by doing as a family.

March 20, 2015

Baptismal Tanks + Hardwired (Corded) Microphones = Danger

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

This ran here in 2009 and then again in 2010, but now it’s been five years and I have a sense that we’re overdue for a reminder. I really think by posting it again we’re making sure that Kyle Lake’s death was not for nothing, but can serve as a warning to save other lives.

It happened again this morning. It was a great baptismal service, with an excellent lesson in persevering in prayer. But when it came time for the actual baptism, we sat there cringing hoping nobody would touch the hard-wired microphone places so close to the baptistry. I’ve e-mailed them about this before. After the service, a man came up to us and — on a totally different topic — said, “I’ve made suggestions to this church before and they don’t listen to me.” Sigh! Although I’ve run this blog post before, I thought I would repeat it here for the benefit of new readers. Doing so just might save some lives. Forward the link to whoever is responsible for the technical arrangements for immersion baptism where you worship. Hopefully they already know.

kyle-lake1On October 30th, 2005, Kyle Lake, pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas was electrocuted as he reached out to adjust a microphone while performing a baptism. He left behind his wife Jennifer, and three young children. (UBC was the church founded in 1995 by Christian music artists Chris Seay and David Crowder.) You can read more about Kyle, the accident, and the church here and here and here.

Months later, the family launched a lawsuit against the company that did work on the water heater in the baptismal tank. You can read more on that here. I want to focus on the microphone/baptism issue which will be more common to more churches. (These links are simple “first page” links from a Google search; see the comments re. the resolution was of that lawsuit.)

When I read of Kyle’s death, his widow and young children; I immediately pumped out an e-mail broadcast to as many leaders as I knew in churches where baptism by immersion is practiced. I targeted pastors, heads of worship teams, sound crew, and anyone else I knew who might be in a position to rig up a microphone anywhere near a large body of water.

As horrified as I was by the story, I was determined that we all learn from it.

This morning, I attended a baptism service at one of the churches that was on my e-mail list and — you guessed it — they had a live, hard-wired microphone on a stand far too close to the baptismal tank for me to comfortably enjoy what took place. I sat there cringing — and a bit of praying, but mostly cringing — the whole time.

A cordless microphone would have put me much more at ease, and would have put the two pastors and the four people baptized much more deeply inside the safety zone.

So here’s what you do. Immediately, send an e-mail to anyone in your sphere of influence telling them to link to this item at this blog. (Here’s the permalink.)

I never, never, never, never want to have to say, “I told you so.” Not on this one.

March 19, 2015

Why Are We Still Using Offering Envelopes?

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 am

Today’s article first appeared in the October issue of The Anglican, a newspaper for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. Author Norah Bolton gave us permission to use it here, for which I am grateful because I have been trying to get this message across to a church in my area for a long time, a church which has a particularly young demographic, and they just don’t see it. So thanks, Norah for being a fresh voice on this subject.


envelope

What’s in your wallet? It might be fun to see what is there right now?

When I tried it, mine contained: Two $20’s, 2 loonies1, 8 quarters, 8 dimes, 3 nickels, a debit card and two credit cards – and a bunch of loyalty cards – some of which haven’t been used in years.

When you attend a church on a Sunday as a visitor, what would you be prepared to put on a collection plate from your wallet? What else might you need to hold back as cash for today or tomorrow? Lunch? Subway tickets? The kids’ pizza day at school?

I thought about this when our parish treasurer received a bill of $500.00 this week for a reprint of pew envelopes and, as warden2, I had to sign the cheque. Open collection is also down this year in our parish.

It will take 25 donations of $20 just to recover those costs. We will then issue a receipt on paper that will include a thank you card, a printed receipt, an envelope and a stamp now costing $1.00 to finish the transaction. So let’s make that 26 to 27 donations at least. That doesn’t include the volunteer counters’ time.

It will take 50 donations of $10 to recover the cost.

It will take 100 donations of $5.

It does not include those attractive pew envelopes hanging on the hooks used for other purposes and wasted – note taking, drawing, paper airplanes. We won’t recover those costs at all – but we will still pay.

In other words, we are using a system designed for another century – and we are spending time in committees discussing whether the colour of the band on the side of the pew envelopes should be red to match a recent brochure or blue to match the signs on the outdoor notice boards – rather than noticing how the world is changing.

We are also assuming that some of the users of the envelopes are potential parishioners, who will fill in the printed copy on the envelopes, when many folks are potential one time “friends” at best. They might or might not ever attend again. They might or might not have a pen in their pockets or purses to fill in the information on the pew envelope either. Some of the envelopes put on the collection plate are blank.

So maybe it’s time to re-frame the conversation.

How do people pay for things now – including making on-site donations?

img 031915I’ll use myself as an example. All my banking is now online. I pay for utilities, groceries, residential fees and taxes, car payments and monthly contributions to the parish via direct debit from my current account – and make two transfers a month to pay my credit card balances in full. Nearly all other purchases are paid via those credit cards – some as monthly deductions including the diocesan capital campaign – and others when I buy online. (The points I earn on one card add up to a free flight a year; on the other it brings me occasional cash deductions). I still have a small business account which receives the odd bit of income from an online order site. I have a line of credit to cover emergencies and a savings account to hold occasional surpluses. I make withdrawals of cash – usually to buy subway tokens – the withdrawal is always $60 in multiples of $20.

Sometimes the cash sits in my wallet for most of the month – but it is there for an emergency. I visited another church recently and didn’t really want to donate $20 but it was all I had in bills and I wasn’t keen to drop a bunch of change.

I donate to my college and TVO3 via their websites. I contribute to another warden’s charity walk online too – and get the tax receipts right away. I read my bank statements on my laptop, tablet or phone.

I’m a senior. Am I typical of my own demographic? How about a younger one? My guess is that the laptop is the least used device for the 20-50 crowd, and I look at the passengers on the subway car, it’s all about the phone.4

So here is the challenge: How are we going to encourage visitors5 to make one-time donations when they visit a parish church on a Sunday – in a way that works for them, not us?

The method does have to maintain confidentiality, be secure and allow us to obtain their basic information, issue a tax receipt and have enough information to thank the donor appropriately.

I think it’s time that churches begin this conversation. How about you?


1Affectionate term for Canada’s $2 coins
2Warden is (I believe) one of the highest offices in the Anglican Church open to the laity
3Equivalent to donating to PBS or NPR in the US
4A large church in west Toronto, which has been using a point-of-sale terminal for several years, has now set up a program where people can give through their phone. Many do this as the offering plates are being passed.
5While Norah’s article points to visitor donations, in many Evangelical churches right now visitors are actually discouraged from making contributions. My own take on this is that a point-of-sale terminal should be available to regular attenders, and I’ve seen this work in other churches. The machines cost to a church or charity is under $35/month, and they can be used for things other than tithing, such as paying for an upcoming youth or women’s retreat. The church I mentioned in the introduction also has a Daycare, with which they could split the terminal’s cost.

March 10, 2015

Echoes of a Life that Might have Been

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:03 am

img 031015

Take your Bibles and turn with me to…

In my last year of high school my parents arranged for me to have a tour of what was then called Ontario Bible College. Most of my friends were heading toward the University of Toronto; the hometown school offered the cheaper alternative of continuing to live at home. But I took the tour.

Classrooms are classrooms, libraries are libraries and cafeterias are cafeterias. I had no criteria by which to appreciate or not appreciate any of these. And then we got to the gym.

“All first year students,” the guide said, “are required to take Phys. Ed.”

And at that, we were done.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke…

I had not taken Phys. Ed. since my freshman year of high school and I barely passed. In fact, in my middle school, which ran on a trimester system, I actually failed a term of gym. I was terrible at basketball and volleyball, had no endurance for track, and while I could swim a lap or two I couldn’t dive, and still can’t.

Sadly, the required course was all it took for me to reject the school outright. After three years without having to face my lack of skill, coordination and strength, I was not about to be put back into that position of humiliation.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15…

Years after graduation, I worked on senior staff of a Christian summer camp where a large number of the counselors and instructors were students or former students at the seminary associated with Ontario Bible College. Seminary = graduate school = no gym requirement. Another tour. Another chance to catch the bus that was heading toward opportunities for church ministry.

But again, the bus left without me. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going back to school, and was already doing work for a number of Christian parachurch organizations.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable…

After getting married we attended a church in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, a church where the laity (well, the men anyway) are expected to share in the teaching ministry of the Sunday services. I had already done a couple of midweek Bible studies, and I am sure that they had me on a draft list.

But I was immersed in parachurch ministry at that point. I was being offered a wonderful opportunity to plug into the life of a local church, but I tended to want to limit my contribution to things music-related. Eventually, we moved to a city where there was no such church, something I often regret.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal…

We later ended up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church which was between pastors. I got to speak about 15 times on Sunday morning and about 4 times on Sunday night. Some of those messages were great, the outlines would still stand up today, and some of them were terrible.

I always figured more opportunities like this would arise, and off-and-on, they did, in everything from a Pentecostal (Canadian equivalent to Assemblies of God) church to a Christian Reformed Church, both of whom normally have restrictions on who gets to be in the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I did some regular supply work for a United Church in Toronto as well.

But of late the opportunities have diminished.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son…

Every once in awhile I find myself lying in bed and suddenly there is this voice; it’s my voice and I am hearing myself speaking and it makes me sad. It’s frustrating to have a gift, to know you have a gift, and not have anywhere to employ it.

It’s like I’m hearing echoes of another life that might have been, another set of options that I could have chosen, a consequence of opportunities on which I chose to pass.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son, his older brother, and his loving father…

img 031015

March 2, 2015

Martha’s Busyness vs. Mary’s Devotion

Today’s post appears courtesy of Christianity 201

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things…” (Luke 10:41 NIV)

Most of you are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. (Click this link if not.)

On the one hand we have Mary, so willing to just sit at Jesus’ feet and take in each precious moment of teaching.

I had an experience once where I was talking to a pastor after a church service while he in turn was trying to listen to some things the guest speaker was saying to people near the door as they were leaving. He made it clear that he wanted to hear what was being said, even though, of all the two thousand people in the building, he had the most unlimited access to this man before, after and during his time in the city. What I got from that was the local pastor’s teachability; his desire to be ever learning.

On the other hand, Martha is making lunch for their guest, so willing to express love through an act of service.

As a very small child, we visited a church in Wisconsin which had a group called the “Lend-a-Hand Marthas.” While it grates me to type that — I hope groups don’t get named like that today — it was a group that clearly wasn’t dedicated to prayer (though I’m sure they prayed) and wasn’t dedicated to Bible study (though I’m sure they had devotional times) but was dedicated to getting their hands dirty and helping those who needed help. A similar group where we live today is called Love in Action.

Mary and Martha imgGenerally speaking, the takeaway people get from this story tends to castigate Martha and put Mary on a pedestal. The KJV many of grew up with says, “Mary hath chosen that good part…” after all, so clearly, if the story needs a hero, that would be Mary.

But the church needs Marthas as well, or nothing gets done. Andy Stanley focuses on this in his recent series Brand New, and especially so in the fifth of five parts which you can watch at this dedicated link. (Select part 5.) We can’t equate holiness with Bible knowledge or an ability to teach the scripture.

We can’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about this story. Luke places it just after the story of the Good Samaritan. The moral of that story is that the person who truly kept the commandment to love their neighbor was, as the expert in the law states, “The one who had mercy on him.” Obviously not the priest or the Levite. But then we have Mary, who chooses the better part.

Is this what is echoed at the end of I Corinthians 12 where Paul wraps up an entire chapter on the exercise and use of spiritual gifts by saying, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way” and then proceeds to speak about love?

I think what is called for here is balance.

I have friends who attend Mainline Protestant churches, and after describing a period of dryness or frustration I will simply say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit the Baptist church, and then the Pentecostal church, and then the non-denominational church and finally a Missionary Alliance or Salvation Army church.

To those in a similar position in an Evangelical or Charismatic church, I will say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit a Presbyterian Church, and then a Lutheran Church, and then an Episcopalian church, and then a Catholic mass.”

The idea isn’t that they’re going to leave the church they attend, the idea is that they will return with a fresh perspective.

The same applies to today’s text.

There are some Marthas who need to set aside the service for a period of time and do the tour of Bible study and learning. Buy a few good Christian books; perhaps two recent ones and a couple of classics. Watch some sermons online from some of today’s top communicators. Immerse yourself in a deeper study of a particular book of the Bible using study notes, commentaries or a fill-in-the-blanks type of outline.

Then there are some Marys who need to do the tour of getting their hands dirty. Do some volunteer work downtown. Help out on the church Spring cleanup day. Sign up for church nursery duty. Offer to deliver hot lunches to shut-ins.

I am writing this today partly with one individual in mind. He runs around his church like the proverbial headless chicken, often tied up in some backroom activity while the rest of us soak in great teaching in the church’s main auditorium. I watch him and sometimes wonder if we even follow the same God (seriously) because his expression of his faith on Sunday mornings is so demonstrably different than anyone else in the building.

But perhaps you know someone who is so quick to quote chapter and verse and understands vast bodies of knowledge about doctrine and theology and church history and hermeneutics, but comes off like the clanging cymbal Paul writes about in I Cor. 13.

The key is balance.

While this may be slightly out of John 21:6’s context, let me encourage you to cast your nets on the other side.  Do the tour!

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