Thinking Out Loud

September 3, 2017

If It Seems Creepy, Cut Your Losses

Filed under: Christianity, ministry, personal — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:23 am

I was a blue-jeaned 17-year old who had come out to my youth group as a half-competent piano player. He was a well-dressed mid-20-something who the church frequently sent out to traditional, small churches as a soloist. He needed an accompanist.

He came by the house with a brown leather briefcase stuff with more sheet music than I knew had ever been printed. Church soloist stuff. Arrangements of classic hymns. Growing up in church I knew many of the songs, and the ones I couldn’t read note-for-note I could play well by ear. Not my usual repertoire, but at least a chance to serve.

He left the briefcase and encouraged me to “dig through it.”

I dug.

At the bottom were what I can only describe as a collection of erotic poems. Tame by today’s standards to be sure, but shocking and unexpected given the context. Pages of the stuff parked almost adjacent to Gaither’s “The King is Coming” and Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer.”

I was no prude. My high school friend Mark and I had the book, a pocket sized pornographic paperback we had found on a walk in the woods. I’ve never seen anything else that particular size and shape. We traded it back and forth a few times.

But I wasn’t putting myself out there as a “music ministry ambassador” for a large church. The hypocrisy of it was evident to me even at that age. And the fact that he wanted me to discover these photocopied, typed and hand-written pages was just… creepy.

I played the one church I agreed to play, and then told him I couldn’t do this moving forward. I’m not sure if I went into details. Years later, I find myself recalling the incident, but can’t think of the guy’s name or what happened to his singing career.

I had been aware enough to discern that something was wrong, but didn’t necessarily catch all the imagery in the poems. At that stage in life, I made the choice to stay blissfully ignorant.

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August 21, 2017

Shopping for Church Curriculum on Amazon or Google Involves Risk

The IVP art director who designed N.T. Wright’s Bible study series had a thing for boats.

Today’s topic deals with an internet reality that is filled with complexities on a number of levels for churches and people organizing independent fellowship groups and Bible studies.

Before delving into the meat of today’s subject, I want to address two potential situations which can exist in a majority of churches, at least in North America.

  1. In some churches, individual leaders are charged with sourcing and ordering materials for different ministries within the church, and expenses are reimbursed either through charging participants, or from the general fund account.
  2. In other churches, study material is a ‘top-down’ decision, with paid clerical (or administrative) staff choosing what each group will study and ordering it themselves on the group’s behalf.

The problems we’re discussing today generally apply to the former situation, though can also take place in a surprising number of cases involving the latter situation.

So…the group leader, capitulating to an internet shopping world goes online and discovers a particular resource for their small group that seems to fit the bill.

  1. It’s on the book of Philippians, which is exactly what they want.
  2. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks format, which is exactly what they want.
  3. It runs ten weeks, which is exactly what they want.
  4. It’s under $10 US per book, which is exactly what they want.

What could possibly go wrong? (go wrong? go wrong? go wrong?)

I’ve seen these things happen firsthand:

  • The website is out-of-date and the particular resource is out of print and now it’s become a ‘Holy Grail’ type of quest to find the item in question. (Some groups will locate a single copy and do photocopying which in my opinion places them in a gray ethical area in terms of both the practice and the appearance.)
  • The expectations of the group aren’t the same as the person doing the purchasing. (You’re looking for a study book and they want to do a book study.)
  • A Baptist group accidentally orders a resource by a Pentecostal/Charismatic author. (Though in one case, they actually decided to go around one more time with the same series.)
  • A Charismatic/Pentecostal group orders a resource by a cessationist author. (Discovered when they like it enough to check out their other writings, only to find their doctrine being slammed.)
  • A small group discovers they’ve accidentally ordered something belonging to what would be considered a fringe Christian group with doctrinal distinctives that were not readily apparent (eg. Seventh Day Adventist)
  • The search process lands someone on a website not realizing it belongs to an even further-removed group such as LDS/Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness and is impressed enough to delve further into their writings, never returning to their place of origin.

There are several ways this can happen:

  1. The product they followed up on when they typed their criteria into a search engine belonged to a commercial publisher or distributor who was paying for search engine optimization (SEO) or even a paid ad itself.
  2. The internet isn’t very discerning; it follows an algorithm to obtain results depending on what you type. But too many search terms can also send it off the rails.
  3. The person searching isn’t very discerning; they are not trained in terms of knowledge of who it is behind the website or the publisher.

At risk of leaving somebody out, here, in no particular order, are some publishers of Evangelical Bible study material I believe everyone in that target group can trust:

  • InterVarsity Press (IVP)
  • Zondervan
  • Baker Books
  • NavPress (publishing arm of The Navigators)
  • David C. Cook
  • Thomas Nelson
  • AMG Publishing
  • Tyndale Publishing House
  • Moody Publishers
  • City on a Hill Productions
  • Bethany House
  • Harvest House
  • Concordia Publishing
  • Abingdon Press
  • Waterbrook Press

(Some omissions were intentional; others I will correct depending on comments or emails received.)

Some of you who know me know that I continue to advocate on behalf of remaining Christian bookstores. This is the best way to source material because it has been vetted both by the above publishers and the individual store owner, who is a professional in this field.

Additionally, some authors who have books issued by the above publishing houses, have chosen to do some of their small group material in-house in order to capitalize on the smaller profits necessitated by smaller print runs. It’s hit and miss on whether local stores can get these, and the situation is greatly complicated for people living outside the US, where the shipping and handling costs are prohibitive, unless they’ve arranged for a representative in that country to stockpile copies for buyers there.

It reminds me of the story we carried last week on our trade blog, where a woman was looking for fall Bible study material in a thrift store.

She had found an old book — and I’m not saying it wasn’t a worthy resource to use — and now wanted to order ten of them.

You know what comes next, right? Long out of print. To be expected…

…I shudder to think people don’t realize that hoping to find your church’s adult elective curriculum in a second-hand store is rather foolhardy.

If you find something which meets the established criteria (as in the above example) and is included on the publisher list above, there are still things that can go wrong. Someone trained in the field can quickly spot potential for product mismatches like,

  • “Do you know that study guide needs to be used with a DVD?”
  • “That guide is actually a companion to the book, produced for people who are using both.”
  • “That only covers the last six chapters of Romans; it’s a part two which only makes sense if your group has done part one.”
  • “This series is intended for new Christians; your group might find the material a little oversimplified or even condescending.”
  • “They call that a study guide but it’s really meant for people who have some background in Biblical Greek (or Hebrew).”
  • “That resource is actually divided into 52 readings, meant to be done weekly over the course of a year.”
  • “It’s really just a few pages long; the price you’re seeing is for a package of ten.”
  • “The text quotes in that one are entirely from the KJV; your youth group might find that a bit awkward.”

Ultimately, you can’t get this type of service from Amazon and you’ll never get this type of product discernment using a search engine such as Bing, or Google. Admittedly, I am biased, but this simply isn’t the way to shop for materials for your study group.

 

July 21, 2017

Getting to Know People in a Godless Society

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, Faith, ministry, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:54 am

I like to talk.

I don’t have a lot of hobbies, so I thrive on faith-focused conversations.  These usually take two forms.

The first is conversations with those outside the faith. I’ve learned a few things over the years about theodicy, that branch of apologetics which attempts to explain the nuances of Christianity to outsiders. I thrive on this. Just hours before writing this, I was talking to a pastor about a church we visited when our kids were small which had a staff member designated as “Minister of Assimilation.” Aside from any weird science-fiction imagery, I liked the idea of integrating new people into the family and explaining how the family operates, our traditions and our key values.

The second is conversations with brothers and sisters. Considering a doctrinal idea. Encouraging one another with a particular verse or Bible passage. Networking to connect someone with a particular individual or resource which can potentially make a difference in their life, or having them do the same for me. Praying together. Singing together. Sharing our faith stories…

…What was unusual about the trip Europe was that I couldn’t get the conversation going. At the end of Day Four, in desperation, I emailed eight friends back home:

I know I live a lot of my life in the Evangelical bubble but it is strange to be in an environment where a faith-focused conversation is elusive.

We met some people from Sydney so I asked them if they had heard of Hillsong. They had but that was the end of it. This has happened many times. I toss out key words. I quote Jesus as casually as if I’m quoting Mark Twain. The conversation shuts down. No one takes the bait.

I did get to talk to one guy & shared the idea that to make the claims he made Jesus had to be deranged, deceptive or divine. On the 3rd possibility he just shut it down with “But there is no God.”

Now I know why Missionaries work so long before they see results.

Otherwise things going well.

So aside from noting my brilliant alliterative update to the “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” apologetic, I think you can see the frustration that I was experiencing. I really, really wanted to find someone to connect with over the thing that most excites me (church, Bible, worship, teaching). Or the One (Jesus).

The conversations never happened. Not in the dining room. Not on the sun deck. Not in the buses. Not on the streets. Perhaps God was telling me, ‘I don’t need you to be working for me all the time; kick back and have a vacation.’

It was bad enough touring through a very post-Christian society without having to face it on the boat. Supposedly about 37% of my fellow travelers were American. So where were the Southern Baptist Republicans I’ve heard so much about?

Not, as it turns out, on an expensive river cruise with an open bar.


Four days later we discovered over lunch that one of the four people from Sydney was a Christian. Same denomination as I am, in fact. I looked forward to continuing the conversation and learning more about her church, but we never actually connected past that point in the trip.  


Sidebar: Be prepared. I packed three (different) Bibles to give away to people I met on the trip… and I brought three Bibles home with me. Just never had that sense to go ahead and give one. That’s a first.

June 20, 2017

Christian Television from the Other Side

Filed under: Christianity, media, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:09 am

Forty years ago, I was getting up daily at 5:30 so I could down a quick breakfast, catch a 6:00 AM Toronto bus to the subway, and by 7:00 be on the set of 100 Huntley Street, North America’s longest running daily Christian talk show, plugging in microphones and doing all the things for which an audio technician is responsible. I worked for the production company, Crossroads Christian Communications for a grand total of only five months before getting caught in the middle of a situation where a former friend, also gifted in audio, arranged for his mother to make a large donation so that he could basically steal my job. I was moved over to another area — the music department — where I would love to have stayed for a lifetime, but for the fact they already had a music director and after a couple of months of growth, the organization staged what would be the first of many job cuts.

Last week 100 Huntley Street had its 40th anniversary. In all of their various celebrations, I have never once been asked to be among the former staff invited to the party. I guess I wasn’t there long enough.

I do have a story to tell. It’s a shared story, one highlight of which is being a part of that miracle morning where the first show went to air on the Global Television Network. We all stayed overnight, but there wasn’t much I could do with a studio that wasn’t ready, given that the audio system is applied only after the set is completely dressed and much of the lighting work is done. I would say that by 5:30 AM we did not have a working studio. By 9:30 we were on the air. It was a 90-minute show back then. Today it’s 30 minutes.

My other memory is approaching the host and senior producer — a husband and wife team — and asking if an upcoming music guest could be given a block of time instead of the usual spacing out of songs at various points in the script. They agreed, and what happened when Keith Green started ministering to people on the program was unforgettable.

Today, Christian television is not in high regard in several quarters, including among the evangelicals who were responsible for its growth. The format has been exploited for profit and for ego, and there are too many people out there creating a fragmented viewership. Contemporary Christian Music gets a somewhat negative attitude from many as well. I find it interesting that the two vehicles — the two media you could say — that God used so powerfully in my life are now looked down upon by so many. 

From the other side, the inside, I can say that to the extent I knew the hearts of my co-workers, the desire to produce an excellent program each day and the desire to see the message of Jesus go out over the air was first and foremost. I know there is much skepticism about this today and I’m sure there are those simply in it for the paycheck, but at that time, the young skeleton crew and office staff with whom I worked were forging something new, something vital, something that was all the motivation anyone needed.

While a university student, my goal was to work in Christian television. An opportunity in Virginia to study at CBN University fell through because, in order to achieve accreditation, the school couldn’t accept foreign students in its first year. I looked at studying journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, but in this country, the feeling is that working journalists should be fluent in both official languages. After four years of college, suddenly people were probing into my high school marks in French, which were not great. That left a journalism program in British Columbia which was further than I wanted to travel at that stage of life.

And then along came 100 Huntley Street. I walked out of a set of exams right into a job doing the thing I wanted to do, but was caught in a series of circumstances — a major equipment failure on air being one — over which I had no control, but still took the blame. I didn’t know the power of arrangement back then or I would fought harder to keep my job, stood up for myself, and exposed the politics of the organization whereby a large donation by a relative ensured someone getting a job. I was young. They were inexperienced in managing a large enterprise.

However, all that said, I believe God had other plans for me and that having fulfilled my dream, however briefly, he wanted me to move on and do other things. A couple of decades later I began to see how the various pieces of the puzzle of my life were starting to fit together to form something useful, though in all the intervening years, an actual title, desk, office or salary have proved unattainable. I relate to the missionaries who serve for an entire career and then have nothing material to show for it. I often wonder what a lifetime at Huntley Street would have looked like.

I do congratulate the people at Crossroads Christian Communications. In the last few years the daily program has been rebuilt and restructured and I believe is something its former critics can actually enjoy watching. It’s the sixth longest running television program in the world of any genre, not just talk shows; and every weekday morning the production staff and on air guests walk into that studio and by 9:30 AM, the miracle I experienced 40 years ago is in many ways repeated.

 

April 22, 2017

“We Know Where You Live”

front_gate

Thanks to the internet there are no secrets anymore. A few years ago I briefly turned my attention to the housing that certain pastors and church leaders enjoy and were building. With Google Earth and Google Street View tracking every square inch of the planet, major Christian authors and church leaders have difficulty concealing their personal residences.

If you believe that Christians inhabit a world where there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered. The divisions between rich and poor exist, and some of your favorite writers or televangelists live in places that, were you able to get past the gate somehow, the security force would be tailing you within seconds.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

Several years ago we did a story — and ran the same pictures and the song lyrics — when a Saddleback campus was planted in the middle of a gated community in Laguna Hills. On one level, just another unreached people group, I suppose. On another level, rather awkward.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this was a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast. Still, there was something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

I’m not sure what happened to that campus, but we’re well aware of the people that make up the Evangelical star system who live in similar neighborhoods.

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Do major Christian leaders need a “retreat” from their parishioners, the press, and the public at large? Certainly Jesus tried to break away from the crowds at time, seeking some rest and renewal, but the texts also tell us the crowds followed him. And far from a gated community, we’re told he was completely itinerant, “having no place to lay his head;” and sometimes camping out on the fold-out couch in the homes of his followers.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

The question is, “How much money is too much?” “When does a house become excessive?” It’s sad when it reaches the point where someone started a Twitter account from the viewpoint of a pastor’s grand estate which even two months ago was being updated.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!

I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion. I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation. (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts? If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem? If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community” from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.) See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here.

Pictured: Gated community in Atlanta, GA

April 6, 2017

April is a Cruel Time

Filed under: Christianity, ministry, personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:57 am

This image reflects a U.S. tax deadline. Fortunately we have until the 30th in Canada, but that just drags out the agony.

I don’t know how it works in the United States, but in Canada, when you own your own business, April is the worst.

First, we have to complete all of our bookkeeping for 2016. I know people who have computerized operations and are able to plug numbers in within a few days of the following year; but by law, the inventory is supposed to be a physical inventory, and in our environment with the limited staff we have, that takes time. Our overall system is computerized, but there are a number of sections that still need to be done manually, due to the nature of the business.

Second, on top of that, we also have to complete the first quarter of 2017. That’s one of the consequences of having a value added tax with quarterly filing. Don’t get me wrong, I like keeping things done throughout the year instead of having to play a massive “catch up” game at the end of the year. But in the 1st quarter, it means two things are due, one routine (the quarter) and one more involved (year end profit and loss statement.)

To add insult to injury, we’re as much as ministry as we are a business. Should I have set it up as a non-profit. I think there are a host of reasons why that wouldn’t work in the early years. But now, I’m looking at a profit for 2016 of $1,953. For the year. The whole year. And all the work that went into that. Our staff got paid. We do not take a salary. Back in the day we could pay some personal bills from the business, but those were the days of multiple locations. Good think I have my massive blog income to fall back on. Oh wait…

At least we have until April 30th, not April 15th like our U.S. cousins. But I’m always reminded of this particular song by the band Deep Purple, even though I’m sure the writer wasn’t thinking of bookkeeping. (Warning: It’s 12 minutes long, and somewhat depressing.) I wonder if the band was inspired by T. S. Eliots “Burial of the Dead” which begins, “April is the cruelest month.” 

April is a cruel time. That’s for sure. It certainly is for us.

 

April is a cruel time
Even though the sun may shine
And world looks in the shade as it slowly comes away
Still falls the April rain
And the valley’s filled with pain
And you can’t tell me quite why
As i look up to the grey sky
Where it should be blue
Grey sky where I should see you
Ask why, why it should be so
I’ll cry, say that I don’t know

Maybe once in a while I’ll forget and I’ll smile
But then the feeling comes again of an April without end
Of an April lonely as they come…

March 28, 2017

When You’re Unfit to Serve at Your Church

Today’s post is a continuation of my wife’s guest post yesterday. I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively. So this post is a continuation of that; you really need to read it first.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Many years ago, Andy Stanley hired a Fortune 500 survey company to interview people at their church and found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement. On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year! Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.” Where’s the balance? Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before. One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough ‘capital ‘ in years of service to be trusted…” Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected. For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” was simply equestrian feces. Which brings us to…

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other. But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know. (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.) Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age. There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator. Which brings us to…

4. Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Typically, in many churches today board members are people who are successful at their vocation. Is your insurance business or car dealership doing well? Expect to be asked. Ditto teachers. But some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons. (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.) Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it. Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members. Again, another comment received in response to the first article; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’ It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike and run the show.” Which brings us to…

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had seven years ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs. (I’m being polite.) They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week. (See also the footnote to yesterday’s article; turns out they brought in a guest less than a month later.) My wife was baptized there. Our children were dedicated there. Her husband served on paid staff there for four years. And nobody would know her? Maybe what this is all about is really…

6. Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that. In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction. “Run, Forrest, run!” Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office. And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service. And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge the carefully developed status quo. People like that are, simply put, a threat. This is not where powerful, fruitful, organic ministry is taking place. Which bring us to…

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt. Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their jurisdiction. Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace. Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely. People are flawed. They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife. Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there. (As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”) It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. What my wife was subjected to in that hour was simply not of God. So the obvious question is…

9. Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns simply don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church. The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve; all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go. (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on hiatus for other reasons.) Besides, this church is our HOME. Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry really have only four or five years left themselves. And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them. (‘What goes around…’) But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts. So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I’m watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better. Things can only improve. Of course I’ve said that before…

Related post: April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post: May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”


January 15, 2017

Christian Bookstores Wondering What Happened to Christmas

Only a small handful of you would know that I also write a blog specifically for Christian bookstore owners and managers in Canada. This past week we’ve heard from a few about how their year ended, and the common theme seems to be that the bottom fell out of the month of December. One store apparently had a 20% drop from the same month a year previous, others reported less severe drops, and I suspect many of our brothers and sisters in the US experienced a similar year.

So what happened? Were there weather factors? Was there a gravitational pull to other types of retail to buy hot items this Christmas? Was it the Trump effect?

I can only say that I know the value of these stores and the ministry that can take place when such a place exists. The “category killing” of bookstores in general may not have stopped people from reading, but where Christian stores are concerned, the loss of stores is a loss of a neutral meeting place for Christians of all denominations and the loss of potential referrals to those churches.

Someone put it this way:

we-heart-christian-bookstores-2

Tomorrow we’ll take another look at why the stores are hurting.

 

December 9, 2016

When the Lord’s Work is on the Back Burner: Clergy Edition

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

Because of the nature of the work that occupies more than half of my week, I am acutely aware of the tendency of the laity to neglect their volunteer responsibilities at the church until the very last possible minute. Thus, this topic is one of my frequent go-to rants.

Examples include:

  • The Sunday School teacher who needs some gifts for her twelve students but this only dawns on her very late in the evening on Saturday when the shopping options in her town basically consist of the little store located at the gas station.
  • The soloist who is scheduled to sing on Sunday morning, and arrives at the Christian bookstore at 4:45 — they close at 5:00 — to see what music soundtracks are in stock; then needing to go home and actually learn the song by morning.

We wrote about that sort of thing once this year already.

The thing is, I very much believe in empowerment of the laity. While I believe paid church staff should be in charge of purchasing, I don’t think the staff should be doing everything or controlling everything.

But this year, I was caught off guard when it was clergy not laity who I felt had neglected their responsibilities. Because I don’t know the people in question, I feel I can tell their stories.

  • The pastor who, with just days left to December 25th, feels he needs to do a church mailing and is desperately seeking Christmas letterhead, matching mailing envelopes and matching offering envelopes.
  • The pastor who, the next day, decides that the Christmas Eve service should include a candlelight ceremony.
  • The pastor who, the day after that, is also looking for candles.

img 021316See…here’s the thing. Although you might not know this unless you read every day, I write from Canada and we only have so many domestic sources for church supplies; they tend to sell out; and importing things at this late stage isn’t always an option. Unlike the USA where the distributors of such things are also the originators or the manufacturers, here in The North purchasing — which means importing — covers reasonably estimated needs and not much more. Retailers adopt the same mentality. (Granted, Christmas occurring on a Sunday does shake things up a bit.)  Meanwhile:

  • I told Letterhead Guy about a Christian bookstore on his route that tends to hoard things like church bulletins in the hope the store might have something unclaimed. (Most stores don’t like to keep seasonal stuff lying around for ten months until the next Christmas rush occurs.)
  • I told the first Candlelight Guy about someone who had purchased a very large surplus of candles, but unfortunately that didn’t work out. Oddly enough, I realized later that in the little village where he’s holding the service, the largest industry is a candle company. Surely he knew that, right?
  • With the second Candle Guy, I had a better offer. He needed 125 candles. I found a supplier who would have an extra two boxes of 250 arriving in a day or two. He simply needed to buy next year’s supply this year, and if he would commit, I could even arrange free shipping. It was a good price, too. Mysteriously, he called back to pass on the offer. He wanted 125, not 250.

So here’s the thing. As much as I try to be polite and cordial and offer suggestions, I find it worse when it’s a member of the clergy who is trying to organize Christmas services with just two weeks to go. I might find it in my heart to forgive someone who has a 8:30 to 5:00 job the rest of the week, or is struggling to raise a houseful of children.

The clergy, on the other hand are professionals. They need to have a big-picture view of the church calendar and what is coming up more than just a fortnight ahead.

So to all, I wish to reveal this vital, breaking news: In 2017 the date for Christmas is December 25th. That’s right. It’s already been announced. That information is actually published ahead of time for the convenience of people who need to know.

It’s been a pleasure being snarky with you.

August 15, 2016

Life Intersections

Giving Your Best in Worship

Something weird happened in church on Sunday: I got mentioned in the sermon. What’s more it wasn’t one of those, ‘Here’s a really bad example of someone trying to live the Christian life; whatever you do, don’t be like this guy.’

Fortunately, it wasn’t one of those moments where you’re about to fall into a deep slumber, and then you hear your name, and wake up and loudly go, “Yes! What?” (I hate when that happens.)

Actually, I knew this story was coming as soon as he launched into it. Our topic was worship. While these usually a take a ‘worship is more than just singing’ approach, this time we focused on what we do when we sing. The speaker was describing his start in music ministry as having its beginning during a service in that very church, at a time when I was music director — we didn’t have the phrase worship director back then, or electricity — when I allowed a 15-year old kid to play bass guitar for a Sunday.

And here’s one of the best parts of this story:

I have no memory of that particular service.

The reason I call that one of the best parts, is because I can’t look back and say, “Oh yes, well I saw such great potential and I just knew that God had wonderful things in store for this young man, that I wanted to give him a ministry opportunity.”

No. That would be an opening for pride. The type of pride that would take the whole situation and write a blog post about it. (Oops!) Well, you know what I mean.

Anyway, I heard my name, and I knew the story, and I was happy to be a part of his journey, and was anxious to hear the rest of the sermon, and settled back to enjoy the message along with everyone else, following my 3.1415 seconds of fame.

But then it happened. He went on to tell more of that story, and while I had heard some details before, I didn’t realize he had gone on to become Operations Director for a YWAM base in a major American city.

The magnitude of where his journey had taken him suddenly hit me. It was at that point, I realized the significance of my inviting him to play bass all those years ago. That’s when I started to get a little teary.

I started wondering if there were any other people who I helped or influenced whose story I will never know, at least not in this life. I then wonder how much we — you included — are part of someone’s journey without realizing the impact we have.

Interestingly, this episode on the weekend comes in the middle of a dry season. It was like, ‘Okay, my life has a purpose after all.’ I’m being overly dramatic here, but you get the idea. It’s nice to know that you’re part of a chain of grace, as your story intersects someone else’s.


Dallas Holm is talking more about evangelism in this song, but there are a few lyrics appropriate to today’s thoughts:

…Oh to be a link in this line of faith,
To help steer somebody to see His face;
Then watch them turn around and do the same thing,
In this chain of grace…

…I praise the Lord
For those I may never meet
Who some time and place I may have reached,
Through Your perfect love.

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