Thinking Out Loud

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.

August 8, 2016

The Minister’s Personal Library: Then and Now

When the books don't sell: Look very closely at the bottom left corner; the picture is actually unsold books waiting to be pulped. Many Christian titles suffer the same fate, but some should never have been printed in the first place.

When the books don’t sell: Look very closely at the bottom left corner; the picture is actually unsold books waiting to be pulped. Many Christian titles suffer the same fate, but some should never have been printed in the first place.

One of the peripheral things I do related to my work involves collecting used books for something called Christian Salvage Mission. I should add that I’m not very good at this as most people simply donate their books to the local thrift shop, but every once in awhile someone will greet me with a trunk load full of boxes, and often it’s a retired pastor who has reached the stage where they are giving up their personal library. They say you can’t take it with you, but these old guys — and by old guys I mean five minutes older than me — would gladly take their theology collection to heaven if they could figure out a way.

Because I’m basically nosy, I usually take the time to rummage through these boxes to see what books and reference materials shaped their ministry. Recently, I realized these books are characterized by what isn’t there:

  • there are no books on leadership principles
  • there are no books on leveraging your platform
  • there are no books on growing your church
  • there are no books on hiring best practices
  • there are no books on promoting your next sermon series
  • there are no books on launching a satellite campus

It was the first one — leadership — I noticed more significantly. I wonder how much of our present emphasis is diverting attention and energy away from pastors simply immersing themselves in the knowledge of scripture. Instead, the libraries I see include:

  • Bible commentaries
  • Bible handbooks
  • Greek and Hebrew word study
  • more commentaries
  • classic sermon transcripts
  • …did I mention commentaries?

Do you think there is something we’re losing — and I mean the church as a whole in terms of where the focus now lies — by getting entangled in so many secondary or tertiary concerns?  

In a few days, the Global Leadership Summit launches at Willow Creek. This is a great opportunity for people in business and service industries to hear from the best, including both Christian and general interest speakers. I know that many pastors also attend these events, as well as a gazillion other conferences where the goal is to extract leadership principles that can be applied to their local church. I am not dissing the idea of nurturing leadership principles in pastors and church leaders.

I’m simply noting that — if their libraries are any indication — such an emphasis did not exist in times past.

 

Theological Books

 


Yes, today is 8/8 so I posted this at 8:08. My own little OCD moment.

July 5, 2016

The “A New Broom Sweeps Clean” Church Staffing Policy

This first ran here three years ago, but on the weekend I was reminded that this crazy policy still exists in some denominations…

Darlene Kirk smiled at the greeter at the church’s west doors, but with a 3-month old in one hand and a bag of diapers in another, taking a church bulletin was physically impossible, so she simply walked by. Fortunately, her husband Tom had taken the other three children when he left early for the worship team sound check.

Arriving at the nursery check-in station she met Cynthia, who was in her small group.

“Have you heard?” asked Cynthia; and then without waiting for a reply, continued, “The entire church staff has resigned. Everybody including the janitor.”

Darlene just stared at her, then finally got out the words, “There are 14 people on full-time staff here.”

“It’s a policy;” continued Cynthia, “from before we all started coming here. When the senior pastor resigns the other staff are expected to tender their resignations. It’s supposed to be a courtesy thing, but the new pastor has the option to accept or reject their letters, and the new minister has chosen to accept all their resignations.”

Darlene was non-plussed. “You mean Melissa’s not the Children’s Director?”

“No. And Derek is not the youth pastor, and Maggie is no longer the secretary.”

“So who is going to do those jobs?”

“Right now, it’s up to the new pastor, but he’s not from here, so I don’t know how he’s going to do that before he gets here.”

“This is just wrong.”

“Apparently it’s church policy and it’s a fairly common thing in churches.”

Church StaffingCommon or not, I have to agree with Darlene. This is just wrong.  Under whatever conditions it was instituted, it seems to reflect another time, another place, another set of conditions.

It also describes a world in which the pastor is all-powerful, all-authoritative. A world where the pastor is a God.

To go along with this, a pastor has to be determined to miss out on what God might have for his own personal, professional and spiritual development; the benefits that come when, over a lifetime, you get to interact with people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests.

It is, if anything, the first step to denying the uniqueness of the town or city in which you are called/sent to minister. It’s an attempt to plug in a ministry module — in this case, the man himself and those who think and act like him — into what is believed to be a “one size fits all” ministry situation.

It turns local church ministry into a revival roadshow where the traveling carnival team pulls into town not for a few weeks of meetings, but for several years. Stories of men who bring their own secretary with them are not unheard of, but given the interaction that a church administrative assistant has with the congregation; it becomes difficult to do this in a location that is completely foreign.

It disrupts the lives and stability of people like Darlene who are trusting Melissa, the Children’s pastor for the oversight and care of her four children, including that 3-month newborn. It changes the dynamic for her husband Tom, a respected worship leader who has been given much latitude by the present Music Director that allows him a freedom in worship that the congregation recognizes and embraces.

It’s also an admission by the incoming pastor that maybe there are people out there with whom he can’t work; with whom he can’t get along.

Or it may be a giant power play.

It shatters the careers of eight of the 14 people in Darlene’s church who are in full-time vocational ministry and moved to this community to further their calling in visitation, discipleship, music, youth (2), Christian education, seniors ministry and urban outreach; all of whom must now circulate resumés and prepare to re-settle, one of whom just arrived six months ago from the other side of the country.

No exceptions. No compassion. No face-to-face meetings with the people just dismissed.

This is standard operating procedure in many U.S. denominations and at least one in Canada. It’s a policy that needs to be repented of.

Darlene opened the door to let Cynthia in.

“Good timing, Cynth; the kids are all settled down.”

“You sounded like it was important.”

“Yeah,” Darlene continued; “We’ve decided to leave Central Church.”

“Is it because of the staff thing?” quizzed Cynthia.

“Yes and no. I can get to know new people, and I’m sure they’ll be qualified; but it bothers us that a system exists that allows this to happen; that everybody accepts that this is how it’s done. Tom found about a fairly new church about five miles further that’s desperate for some help in their music department, and the kids will fit in right away because they use the same curriculum and they know some of the kids from school.  I’m sorry….”

“No, it’s not your fault. We’ve been wondering about all this ourselves…  Maybe we’ll come to visit on Tom’s first Sunday leading the worship.”

 

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