Thinking Out Loud

February 9, 2016

Abandoned Megachurches circa 2026

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post link below, click through to see 14 more abandoned churches.

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post, May 2015.

This weekend I heard part of a story that made me shudder. A megachurch. Mortgage-free. An issue arises. A split. People leave. Now there’s a mortgage. The future not as assured as it once was.

I very sincerely hope and pray that this one has a happy ending; that its best days are ahead. But it got us talking last night at dinner about the prophets of doom who predict there are going to be a long list of abandoned megachurches in North America at some point in the future. The ones who say that it’s only the personality of the founding pastor that is drawing the crowds. The experts who tell us that the move is going to be to smaller community churches and home fellowships. I hope they’re all wrong.

I mean it; well at least partly wrong. For all the negative articles in books, magazines and blogs about the downside to mass market worship, I think the specter of dozens of abandoned churches like the one in our picture above is far worse. You can take hundred-year-old churches now and turn them into trendy restaurants or antique shops, but unless a municipality arts group or a community college wants the space, it’s harder to do that with a 3,000 seat auditorium. Any decommissioned church is a sad story, but with today’s gigantic facilities, the buyers are fewer.

The scene is not totally far-fetched. Wikipedia lists 22 abandoned major shopping malls in the U.S. The internet abounds with photojournalism studies of dead malls. (That last link has literally hundreds of abandoned retail properties.) Ironically, the ideal location for megachurches and malls is identical: In suburbia at the intersection of two freeways.

The term sometimes used is Architectural Corpses. While some believe that churches which have sketchy theology are just a house of cards waiting to collapse, nobody wants to think that the congregation taught weekly by their favorite preacher would ever succumb to such a fate.

Three years ago Wade Burleson wrote:

…The pendulum is swinging back toward churches creating loose organizational structures in order to facilitate a wider array of ministries. For the next few decades, those evangelical churches that will continue to grow in numbers and Kingdom influence are those churches that spend less on facilities, learn how to worship in multiple venues and at various times, and focus more on building a network of effective small groups that collectively do missions both locally and globally. The climate and culture of the evangelical church has changed. Any church that focuses on large in-house productions, massive buildings, and ministries more conducive to “come and receive” instead of “go and give” is in for a surprise.

Let’s call it the Evangelical Fiscal Cliff.

Churches that have borrowed to build massive facilities are behind the proverbial eight ball. They must continue to focus on sustaining and maintaining the organization (utilities, repairs, staffing, and publicity to bring people into the high dollar facilities for “special events”), instead of empowering people to do the work of the ministry away from the buildings…

Most of the other articles on this topic simply use the subject as a means of attacking the doctrine of popular American pastors and churches.

In terms of church culture trends, Wade is probably correct, but an interesting thing happened here in Canada many, many years ago. They simply stopped building new shopping malls. This created a supply/demand equilibrium, and while some have indeed closed, and others are reconfigured as parts of outdoor power centers, many of the ones that remained are continuing to thrive, as evidenced by packed parking lots.

So in some respects, I know the future is going to contain a few forsaken megachurch buildings, but in general, I hope American Christianity can prove the doomsayers wrong.

The website abandoned.photos said this church was designed to seat 10,000 but provided no further annotation.

The website abandoned.photos said this church was designed to seat 10,000 but provided no further annotation.

Finally, I couldn’t help but pull this photo out of the files. I am sure that in its former days the members of this cathedral could never have imagined this, but what re-purposing of today’s churches exceeds our imagination? It’s sobering to consider.

The above is taken from a Wall Street Journal article about European Cathedrals being sold off, this one in Holland was re-purposed as a skateboard park.

The above is taken from a Wall Street Journal article about European Cathedrals being sold off, this one in Holland was re-purposed as a skateboard park.

Cathedral Repurposed as Skateboard Park


Related:

 

February 4, 2016

When Pastors and Church Leaders Tell Lies

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 am

There is a general perception that policeman can run red lights and drive in excess of the speed limit, but it’s not the case. True, there are circumstances that might force someone in law enforcement to do either or both of these things, but generally, they are not above the law and not immune to prosecution if they are breaking the rules unnecessarily.

look closelySimilarly, one often runs up against people in church leadership who feel that situations require them to, for lack of a better word, make stuff up. A policy that exists absolutely nowhere in writing is suddenly invoked for the sake of convenience. Information important to a particular facet of church life is withheld for the sake of expediency.

When pastors misrepresent situations on a national or megachurch level — i.e. recent instances of book plagiarism — there are watchdog ministries that will call them out on it. When it happens at a local church level, we might hear of it through survivor and church abuse blogs.

Often however, the situations play out quietly at a local assembly level and in many cases, the parishioners don’t even know they’re being lied to. For example…

• • •

Anne had served her local church’s worship team for many years and helped in their transition from a hymn-based music format to a church known for leading the way in modern worship. She followed her husband to another church for a year, then returned for several years, and then disappeared to help with an inner-city church plant. Now she was ready to return and jump in with both feet.

Instead, summoned to a late-night meeting with a church deacon, she was told that her present status was: Visitor. No regard for the years she had poured into the music program. No recognition that this was the church where she was baptized and where her children were dedicated and where her husband had been on staff. She was told that people are uncomfortable being led in worship by someone they don’t know and they don’t have “guest” worship leaders.

Three weeks later, they had a “guest” worship leader.

It made everything the church leader had said to be a lie. Why do this? Why not simply say no? Perhaps he was threatened by the fact that she had more musical and spiritual leadership in her little finger than… well, you know. This after all, was a guy who, at one time, couldn’t do the “Welcome to our church” opening statement unless it was printed on a card, and yet in this situation, he was in leadership over her.

• • •

Ross was always amazed that his church seemed to end the year with a financial surplus. While everyone he talked to said their church was way behind on their budget, Cedar Ridge Neighborhood Church always had money left over.

There was a regional ministry several hours away that intersected with the life of the church and many other churches and families in their city. Not being supported by any particular denomination and benefiting only middle- and lower-income families, Ross occasionally took it upon himself to do some unofficial deputation for the organization and try to raise both their profile and support. So he asked if Cedar Ridge would consider putting them on their domestic missions budget.

Instead he was told that they didn’t simply make blanket donations to organizations, but gave their support only to individual missionaries or organization workers. Respecting the office of the church leader in question, Ross though somewhat disappointed that he had failed to make his case, accepted the response at face value.

It took a year, but finally Ross realized this was simply not the case when they handed out some huge donations to several organizations that were not even faith-based.

• • •

Sadly, the stories are true though the names are changed. They’re examples I was able to easily call out of memory, but don’t begin to scratch the surface of stories I’ve told where board members, elders, deacons, pastors, church staff, etc., had simply lied to save face or for the sake of convenience.

In the true spirit of grace and charity, I know the people involved in both above stories have “kept these things and pondered them in their heart” rather than go public. But the first example above was done in such a way that was abusive, and five years later, the scars of the late night meeting have never healed. That leader is currently in line for a position of greater profile and responsibility, and it’s very difficult for those of us who know the story to just sit back and not say anything, especially when the individual is otherwise so highly esteemed as a perfect example.

• • •

The scriptures at this morning’s Daily Encouragement reading were so timely:

“Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36).

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

 

February 1, 2016

Know Where You Believe

 

Tic-Tac-Blinders-Church-Stage-DesignYesterday I got to visit a church in our community which offers a contemporary and a traditional service which run concurrently, with the contemporary service getting a video feed of the sermon when it begins. It was my second visit.

Opinions on music in the local church can often divide people, but this church found a way to satisfy both groups at once. Yes, the one auditorium demographic skews much younger and the other much older, but there is considerable overlap. I spoke to many people after the service; one was a couple (she’s turning 80) who much prefer the more modern service. The other was a guy half their age who much prefers the hymns and the organ.

hymnboardThere is a value to inter-generational worship, and much has been and is being written about this elsewhere on the internet. But both of these worship settings provide that accomplish this, even the demographics are more pronounced in each one.

The thing that got me however was one comment that certain people in the traditional service hold to an opinion that you aren’t truly able to worship God in the modern service, and look down on the younger worshipers condescendingly.

No, it’s not about the music.

The contemporary service meets in a gym.

Therein lies the problem. There are still a number of people who feel that you can’t truly worship God in a civic center, a community hall or a gymnasium; you need a sanctuary that has been set apart for this purpose.

(Given the choice I had when I walked into their building, I chose the gym because I felt I could make a better connection there; that the overall tenor of that service would resonate with me much, much more. I don’t mind the hymns so much, but to listen to the organ would have proved counter-productive and even a bit of a distraction.)

The story of the woman at Jacob’s well in John 4 is more than simply Jesus encountering a woman with a bad reputation; it raises theological issues as well.

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

She was raising one of the Samaritan distinctives: Where should one worship? She’s really choosing to enter into a debate on the thing that separates Jews and Samaritans instead of focusing on the things with which they agree. She’s not looking for a basis of agreement, but looking to argue doctrine. (She’d love the internet!)

But Jesus sidesteps the question entirely.

Stephen, in his one and only recorded sermon, reiterates this:

48  “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?

I just couldn’t believe that the person described in my conversation yesterday seriously believed you can’t worship in a gym, but this mentality still exists in 2016.

If you agree with me that it doesn’t matter, take a moment to prove it. Turn away from your computer or mobile device, or close your eyes, and take a moment to worship God right where you are.

January 30, 2016

When Worship Leaders Actually Minister

This week, we had much discussion about a pivotal event in my wife’s worship leading career, that came about after I rediscovered this blog post in the archives. Even then, it was many years in the making, and something that both of us had been thinking and talking about for a long, long time before she wrote it.


• • • by Ruth Wilkinson

A number of years ago, a terrible thing happened.

Our local Christian school had just celebrated their Grade 8 graduation. Excited 14-year-olds, proud parents and grandparents, a ceremony, a party.

That was Friday evening.

One of the students, a girl, went home that evening, full of life and fun and hope, said good night to her parents, went to sleep, fell into a diabetic coma and died in the night.

The next day, phone lines burned up as the word spread and the Christian community prayed together for this family and for the girl’s friends.

Sunday morning during the service, the then pastor of #thechurchiusedtogoto mentioned the terrible thing in his ‘pastoral prayer’ before the sermon and the congregation prayed together for the comfort and healing of us all.

Over the next week, it started to sink in as these things will do, and a lot of people, solid believers who love Jesus, began asking hard questions. People deeply wounded by the fact that God could allow this to happen.

We own the local Christian bookstore, and some of these folks came in looking for answers. The best we could do was share their questions and their pain. Because there are no answers, besides the trite ones that don’t work.

The next Sunday, I was scheduled to lead worship. I chose songs that were familiar and simple, songs that spoke only of who God is and always had been and avoided “I will worship you” and “Thank you” types of lyrics.

On the platform, in my allotted one minute of speech, I said that a terrible thing had happened last week. That a lot of us were still hurting and questioning and angry. That it can be difficult to sing praises at a time like this, out of our woundedness. But that God was still God and though we don’t understand, we can trust him.

And we sang.

The next day, I got an email. From the (P)astor. Telling me off.

Apparently I had crossed a line. I’d been “too pastoral”. He said that I had no right to address the need in the congregation that week because he had “mentioned it” in his prayer the week before. And that was his job, not mine.

This was in the days before I was liberated enough to allow myself to ask, “What the hell?” so I went with the sanctified version of same, “What on earth?”. How could I possibly have been wrong to acknowledge what we were all thinking, and to act accordingly?

But, knowing from long experience that there was no point in arguing, I acquiesced and he was mollified.

However.

That episode stuck with me. Like a piece of shrapnel the surgeons couldn’t quite get.

“Too pastoral”.

Ephesians 4:11 speaks about gifts given to “each one of us”. The writer lists 5. Widely accepted interpretation of this verse sees each of the 5 as a broad category of Spirit-borne inclination and ability, with every one of us falling into one or another.

Apostles – those whose role it is to be sent. To go beyond the comfort zone and get things started that others would find too intimidating or difficult. Trailblazers.

Prophets – those whose role it is to speak God’s heart. To remind us all why we do what we do, and, whether it’s comfortable or not, to set apart truth from expediency. Truth-speakers.

Evangelists – those whose role it is to tell others about Jesus. To naturally find the paths of conversation that lead non-believers to consider who Christ is. Challengers.

Pastors – those whose role it is to come alongside people, to meet them where they are and to guide them in a good direction. To protect, to direct, to listen and love. Shepherds.

Teachers – those whose role it is to study and understand the written word of God, and to unfold it to the rest of us so we can put it into practice. Instructors.

I’ll be the first to point out that “worship leader” isn’t included in the list. Which means that those of us who take that place in ecclesial gatherings must fall into the “each one of us” who have been given these gifts.

Every time a worship leader (or song leader or whatever) stands on the platform of your church and picks up the mic, you are looking at a person to whom has been given one of the 5-fold gifts.

But can you tell?

Don’t know about you, sunshine, but I want to.

I think that, after a week or two, you should be able to tell. From their song choices, from the short spoken word they’re given 60 seconds for on the spreadsheet, from what makes them cry, smile, jump up and down – you should be able to tell that:

  • This woman has the gift of an evangelist. She challenges us to speak about Jesus to the world because he died for us.
  • That guy has the gift of a teacher. He chooses songs with substance and depth of lyric. He doesn’t just read 6 verses from the Psalms, he explains things.
  • That kid is totally a prophet. He reminds us of what’s important and what’s not.
  • This dude is an apostle. He comes back to us from where he’s been all week and tells us what’s going on out there.
  • This woman is a pastor. Her heart bleeds when yours does. She comes alongside and walks with you through the good and the bad and encourages you to keep going.

A worship leader who is free to express their giftedness in the congregation is, himself, a gift to the congregation.

A worship leader who is bound by rules and by “what we do” is a time filler.

Church “leadership” who restrict the use of Christ-given gifts are, in my humble opinion, sinning against the Spirit and the congregation.

Those gifts are there for a reason.

Let us use them.


January 26, 2016

“If You’re Visiting, Let the Offering Plate Pass By”

Offering PlateOne of the elements of the seeker sensitive movement which caught on within the wider circle of Evangelicals is the idea of not presenting ourselves as just wanting money. When Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek, it was one of two things that turned up in his community survey: ‘We don’t want to be asked to give money.’ (The other was anonymity: ‘We don’t want to be asked to stand up and give our names or be identified as visitors.’)

The line, “If you’re a visitor with us today, don’t feel any obligation to give;” or “This is an opportunity for our own people to worship through giving; if you’re visiting, just let the offering plate pass by;” has become a mantra in many of our churches. They say this in my church, and if I were asked to do the announcements — something for 20 years I’ve been deemed incapable of — I would certainly echo the same sentiment.

But I’m not sure it applies anymore.

For the four reasons below, I want to suggest doing away with it, or at least amending it somewhat.

First, we had the Willow Creek study, which showed that the spiritual characteristics of seekers had changed over the (then) 25-or-so years the church had been operating. Seekers wanted to go deep, they wanted to sit with their Bible in one hand and a pen in the other. They certainly didn’t see themselves as visitors or observers, they wanted to engage with the service the same as everybody else.

Second, there was the study North Point did which focused on people who had been attending for five weeks or less. This survey showed that what we would call visitors were already wanting to “discern next steps.” They wanted to fully plunge in, including volunteering to help. They saw themselves as potential participants, not outsiders. This echoes the saying that, “You’re only a visitor once.” Both of these studies were conducted by professional researchers.

Third, there is my own observation of what happens at Christmas services where an offering is received; a practice we can debate at another time. It’s assumed that many are visiting these services, so sometimes the line is simply skipped, and on those occasions, I’ve seen people who I know to be visiting reach into their wallets and pull out twenty dollar bills, or more. Perhaps they have a spirit of giving because of the season and want to be generous. Maybe it’s guilt for not having been more philanthropic throughout the year. For whatever reason, they seem to want to give.

Finally, there is simply my own hunch that people want to join in because they see the community value in what is taking place because the church is there. The church I attend is making a difference our town, and is in fact in the middle of a project involving refugee placement that has attracted interest from the broader community and has created some partnerships with local charities. (Matthew 5:16b “…that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.“) I think we’re doing things that people want to encourage.

Having said all that, I do understand the spirit of the original Willow Creek goal of not being seen as simply wanting money. I don’t think we should abandon that altogether. But there are other ways of phrasing it that might stay in step with the spirit of the statements we’re using and at the same time invite visitors to join in if they choose, and hopefully eventually come to a place of entering in with their hearts as well as their wallets.


1 Peter 2:12
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

January 22, 2016

The Pastor’s Wife as “The First Lady”

First Lady ParkingIt’s spreading like a virus. Calling the wife of the senior pastor “The First Lady.” I think it may have had its beginnings in the African-American church, but it is no longer limited to those congregations. Where did this nonsense come from? Well, I looked it up and there it was:

II Amendations 4:3 The wife of the pastor shall be given a place of honor, for she is more special than the other women of the church. 4 She shall be called The First Lady, and everyone shall bless her. 5 She shall be seated on the front row of the assembly, unless that church has a balcony, in which case she shall sit on the front row there if it is her preference. 6 And if it is the case that she drives to church separately, she shall be given a reserved parking spot, it will be next to her husband’s, and this place shall be indicated by a sign which states, ‘Reserved for The First Lady.’ 7 And the pastor shall make reference to her during his sermon, and if it does not suit the text, he shall refer to her during the announcements.8 And if that service is televised, the cameras shall cut away to a shot of her smiling and shall linger there if she is especially telegenic.

9 Upon her arrival at the house of worship, the women of the church shall take care of her children so that she need not be concerned for them, for they are pastor’s kids and not particularly well-behaved. 10 She shall be exempted from the requirements of the other women, she shall not be asked to bake cookies, serve in the kitchen or the nursery, or make sandwiches for funerals. 11 She shall be permitted to be clothed lavishly, as she is an example to the other women of the church; with fine fabrics and gold jewelry shall she be dressed. 12 The congregation shall shower her with Ministry Appreciation cards on a regular basis as well as small gifts,  13 for she continually must attend to the needs of her husband whose schedule is hectic and whose life is filled with stress. 14 And she shall preach on Mother’s Day; for this expectation she is not to be exempted, even if speaking is not her particular gift.

January 4, 2016

Christianity’s Diminishing Influence: What if We Were the Refugees?

In eight years of blogging I’ve repeated many articles but this is the first time I’ve ever repeated a book review, especially one that appeared only 12 months prior. But as I was looking at these Pew Research stats, especially the one showing Christianity and Islam having relatively equal numbers in the year 2050 (based on current projections) I realized we are about to witness a massive paradigm shift.

This book is therefore very timely, but without the fear-inducing sensationalism of mass-appeal titles.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Ps. 137:4

Book Review: The Church in Exile

Although I worked for InterVarsity Press briefly several lifetimes ago, and have covered other IVP books here before, this is the first time I’ve attempted to review anything from the IVP Academic imprint. So let me say at the outset that perhaps I have no business considering scholarly titles here; however there is a personal connection that had me wanting to read this book, and that resulted in my wanting to give it some visibility here.

Lee Beach was our pastor for nearly ten years, and one year of that overlapped a staff position I held at the church as director of worship. He came to us after serving as an associate pastor and then interim pastor of a church just 45 minutes north. He was young, passionate and everyone just called him Lee.

Today, years later, when mentioning him to students in his university community, the honorific is always used, it’s Dr. Beach at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry, director of ministry formation and teaches courses on pastoral ministry, mission, the church in culture and spirituality.

The Church in Exile - Lee BeachThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom is made more accessible to those of us who are non-academics because of its timeliness. Because of immigration, the rise of secularism, and a decline in church membership and attendance, Christianity is losing both numbers and the influence that those metrics bring. In some communities already, Christians are no longer the majority stakeholders.

From his vantage point in Canada where religious pluralism has been normative now for several decades, Dr. Beach has a clear view of where the U.S. is heading. From his background as a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, he also has a heightened awareness as to the status afforded Christianity in other parts of the world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first begins in the Old Testament with a focus on those times God’s people lived in exile, or were scattered, particularly the narratives concerning Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and what’s termed the Second Temple period, where the community of the faithful seems to be diminished; a shadow of its former self. (Sound familiar?) From there, the book moves to the New Testament with particular attention to I Peter.

In the foreword, Walter Brueggemann points out that while exiles may have a sense that the present situation is temporary, the Jewish Diaspora brought with it no expectation of returning home. In other words, their placement was what we would call today ‘the new normal.’ That so well describes the church in 2015. There is no reasonable anticipation that things will go back to the way they were.

The second section builds on the theological framework of the first to turn our thoughts to the more practical concerns of being the church in the margins. How does one lead, and offer hope in such a period of decline? How does our present context govern or even shape our theological framework? How does a vast religious mosaic affect evangelism, or one’s eligibility for inclusion or participation in church life? How do followers of Christ maintain a distinct identity?

To that last question, the term used is ‘engaged nonconformity’ wherein

Exilic holiness is fully engaged with culture while not fully conforming to it. Living as a Christian exile in Western culture calls the church to live its life constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals. p. 183

It should come as no surprise that some of this section cites practitioners of what has been termed the missional church movement.

“But wait;” some might say, “We were here first.” While that may not be exactly true, the spirit of it is well entrenched, and early on we’re reminded that you can experience the consequences of exile even in your own homeland. You don’t have to sell your house to feel you’ve been displaced, and that’s the reality that will impact North American Christians if it hasn’t touched some already.

In the post-Christian revolution, it is fair to say that the church is one of those former power brokers who once enjoyed a place of influence at the cultural table but has been chased away from its place of privilege and is now seeking to find where it belongs amid the ever changing dynamics of contemporary culture. p. 46

In the end, despite my misgivings about wading into academic literature, I read every word of The Church in Exile, and I believe that others like me will find this achievable also, simply because this topic is so vital and our expectation of and preparedness for the changes taking place are so necessary.


The Church in Exile is now available in paperback (240 pages) from IVP and wherever great books are sold (click the image above for a profile) and retails at $25 US.

December 30, 2015

Wednesday Link List

The creator of Veggie Tales and What's In The Bible has a thing for Truck Stop shopping.

The creator of Veggie Tales and What’s In The Bible has a thing for Truck Stop shopping.

Normally we take a week off around this time, but there were a few things in the file; and then we found a few more. And then a few more.

The Unofficial Bible for Minecrafters

December 21, 2015

Church Policies: What to do in the Middle of a Service When…

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:35 am

disruption in church service

Last week blogger Jayson D. Bradley asked the question Does Your Church Have a Shooter Policy? (Stop reading here, and click the picture above if you think this is something your church needs to consider.)

While potential gun violence is definitely a concern in the United States right now, it raises the question of whether or not churches, which are open to the public, have contingency plans in the event of various scenarios. Such as:

Does your church have a lock-down policy if a child is missing? We experienced something similar to this first-hand when we returned to pick up our oldest in the church we were visiting and were told, “We never had a child that looked like that here.” We found him wandering the building on his own, though he could have easily wandered outside into a busy street. (We only returned to that church for another visit when the kids were much, much older.) Churches should be just as proactive on this as schools and daycare centers.

Do people leading the service know what to do if someone starts speaking in tongues? So here I’m assuming your congregation is not Charismatic or Pentecostal, because if they are, this isn’t a problem. But in a mainline Protestant church, or mainstream Evangelical churches, this is a potential issue. Fortunately, when I served as a worship leader under various pastors, those churches were in the “open, but cautious” or “seek not, forbid not” category on tongues and prophecies, so we were prepared to roll with it. But sometimes someone may offer a prophetic word that isn’t necessarily from God, and you need a back up plan. (Also, this already-classic sermon interruption comes to mind.)

What if during the music someone starts dancing? This actually happened in one very conservative church I grew up. The woman moved into the aisle and started doing a simple two-step. That was too much. At that point, my mind blurs trying to think of what happened next, but refocuses for the memory of her being carried out sideways as rigid as a board. As Dave Barry would say, ‘I am not making this up.’ There was one man at one end, and one at the other, and she was like a piece of lumber. Just yesterday, Bill Hybels told the story of a Christmas service where people were asked to “show some love” to someone they came with, and a couple started making out.

What do you do if a baby is fussing/crying really loudly? I’ve seen this handled well, but one memory is seared into my brain of it handled badly. The family — which we learned later had never been to church before — sat on the front row of a packed inter-denominational service, and the little girl was quite animated. Finally the guest speaker stopped talking and said, “I’m not going to continue until this problem is fixed.” I’m not even sure that the mom, who wouldn’t know what’s normal in church, even realized the remark was directed at her. The ushers did nothing. (Who’s really in charge when it’s an inter-church service anyway?) And so he went on to say, “It’s still not fixed.” (To make matters worse, I was one of about 40 people on the platform and witnessed this train wreck all too closely.)  Jesus no doubt had kids running all over the place when he spoke informally, and even told the disciples not to stop them from coming. On the other hand, many of our services today are recorded for podcast and video distribution and a kid can make it really hard to hear.

What if it’s noticed that someone has quietly scooped some cash from the offering? I also witnessed this first-hand as a teenager, and have been mostly donating by check (that’s cheque for my British and Canadian readers) ever since. As someone who has worked in retail, I know that even there confronting someone who is shoplifting is difficult enough, and in that situation you actually have to wait until they leave. I think some confrontation is necessary; regardless of the resolution you seek, they need to know that you saw it and God saw it. Are they facing some need where the church could help more directly? The two guys — yes it happened more than once — in my story were looking for cash to buy cigarettes. One was the son of a prominent church leader. I was too young at the time to stand up to them, though years later I asked the sister of the second one if her brother had ever paid all that money he took back to the church. She just looked at me quizzically, and I decided to leave it there.

 

You be the writer: What other types of situations do you think your church should have a contingency plan for, when it comes to weekend services?

December 14, 2015

A New Type of Men’s Ministry

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:47 am

Men's MinistryIf your church is typical of most Evangelical congregations your men’s ministry might look something like this. It’s either (a) an extension of the small group concept, with guys meeting through the week for Bible study, or (b) a Saturday morning thing that might meet weekly or monthly for Bible study or a special speaker or combined with a breakfast.

The assumption has always been that men are busier than women, and chances are that your church has a more diverse list of opportunities for women. I want to toss something else into the mix here. There are three points, but they are building cumulatively toward the third.

1. Get A Room

In most Evangelical church buildings there is a youth room (and possibly a staff position that goes with this room.) If you’re big enough there may be distinct rooms for middle school youth and high school youth. There are no doubt many, many rooms for children’s ministry, used both on weekends and midweek. And if your women’s ministry involves some type of craft component — I’m told quilting is popular among older ones — there may be rooms set aside for them as well.

But there’s not necessarily a space set aside for men. They may utilize other parts of the building, but with the exception of a CRC that had a room filled with woodworking tools — mostly so the men could teach the older boys — I’ve never seen a room in a church that was dedicated for men’s ministry.

2. Customize That Space

People like David Murrow and others have written extensively about the dominance of the feminine touch in church décor.  (If this is new to you, click his name and check out Why Men Hate Going to Church.) I’m not saying build a man cave, or fill a space with sports memorabilia, hang a deer head, or have a cigar room; but do something that makes the guys feel at home. A pool table. Some comfy chairs. Posting a “Women Not Allowed” sign.

But have a space that is the hub of your men’s ministry where guys can check in on weekends, sign up for service projects, borrow books for guys on marriage and parenting, post notes about cars for sale, and maybe even be the location of some your midweek activities.

3. Open It Up After Work

This is where we’ve been heading. Right now a lot of men — even among Christians — stop at a bar after work. That’s not always the healthiest of environments. Some men do feel the need however to have a buffer zone between work and home. They want to diffuse some of the stress of the workday — and possibly the commute — before they enter the family environment. They don’t want to have to dump their employment crises on their spouse, or not have the energy to get excited about what happened at the kids’ school(s). Maybe 15 or 20 minutes is all it would take. If they get off work early enough, perhaps 45 minutes would do the trick without being late for dinner.

I’m proposing a place that is open on a regular consistent basis, maybe from 3:00 to 6:00 — or whenever your church’s family ministries commence on that one night of the week — with a part time staff person or volunteer available to serve non-alcoholic refreshments and change the sports network on the satellite system. 

…This isn’t ministry in the Bible study or service project sense, but I believe it would meet some real needs in your neighborhood, and be a bridge to the wider community as people invited their friends.

Also, it’s been my firsthand observation that the bigger the church the less likely people ‘drop in’ during the week. This changes that, and opens up the church building at hours other than those weekend services and that one midweek evening.

 

 

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