Thinking Out Loud

April 28, 2019

Why They Gave Up On Church

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:20 pm

For those who are wondering, I’m still without a computer, a full week later. Posts here may continue to be sporadic.

I was sitting in church this morning and my mind wandered for a few seconds. Nothing new about that I suppose.

It occurred to me that although we often speak of people who left a particular church because of something someone did or said (or didn’t do or say) or some other way in which someone catastrophically let them down (which I would call push factors) and the people who just left because the grass was greener or the music/youth-program/potluck schedule was better at another church (which I would call pull factors) there is another group entirely that we often overlook.

These are the people who went to a camp, a concert, or a conference; or participated in a service opportunity and experienced a level of spiritual high that somewhat wrecked them for going back to regular church.

I know because, in my late 20s, I was one of these people. I was coasting on spiritual euphoria from a summer at a Christian camp and just couldn’t get enthused about going back to business as usual at my local assembly. It took a month before Bill, a friend at the time, told me I’d been away long enough and it was time to share who I had become with the people who knew me best.

The best way to get these people back is to invite them to serve. Give them a challenge or a vision which engages them and causes them to want to get excited about church again.

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February 16, 2019

When Serving in Ministry is an Afterthought

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 am

It was 1989. The big city Christian bookstore closed at 6:00 PM on Saturday nights. At 5:30 he walked in and we got into a conversation where he let it be known that his reason for shopping was that he needed to buy an accompaniment tape as he was booked to be the “special music” at church the following morning. He wanted to listen to a few songs and “get some ideas.”

This wasn’t a small country church. This was a church that would have about 1,500 people in each of two services. The next day. In 15 hours.

img 021316He had left it to the very last minute.

I was reminded of this on Thursday when something similar happened at another Christian bookstore about an hour from where I live. The people needed six copies of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala.

They needed them for Saturday. The owner of the store wondered if I had any ideas.

Yes, I do! Plan ahead!

It amazes me how people can show up for work on time, pay their bills before the due dates, and never miss an oil change on the minivan, yet seem totally ill-equipped to do anything related to the church until it’s the last minute.

Historically, the typical stereotype was the Sunday School teacher who pulled out the lesson plan after supper on Saturday and spent ten minutes “going over it.” Is it too idealistic of me to imagine that somewhere there were Sunday School volunteers who began the process mid-week and actually allowed their minds to consider the lesson and fresh ways to present it? I certainly want to think that.

There’s a law in economics that states that everyone’s property is no-one’s property. What that means in this context is that many in the local church have simply never taken ownership of the life and ministry efforts of their local congregation.

img 021316aOne of the worst musical habits I picked up involved a group of instrumentalists who would be tuning their guitars or bass guitars and then, at a certain point, stop and exclaim, “Well… Good enough for gospel.”

Good enough for gospel? Is that what we’re aiming for? Simply good enough? Close enough? Whatever happened to “Do everything as unto the Lord?”

I was in church the next morning when the guy sang his solo. He did good, but not great. And I couldn’t enjoy it because I knew the story; the half-hearted, last-minute approach that had gone into preparing to minister in music that day.

February 1, 2019

The Walk-Away Factor

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:14 am

One thing I’ve never been able to understand is:

  • How someone could serve in a local church and then, when the job ends, stop attending (any) church altogether
  • How someone could work in a Christian bookstore and then, when the job ends, simply stop reading Christian books
  • How someone could attend seminary and then, upon graduation, lose all interest in doctrine and theology
  • How someone could live on the mission field and then, on return to their home country, not continue to follow the news from that nation

I know there’s a burn-out factor in some cases, but I don’t get how it’s possible to simply compartmentalize several years of your life and then simply move on to something.

There had to be some passion, some spark which drove that person to that area of service, and I have to believe that there’s still some of that passion and spark left.

Or is it like a marriage that breaks up, and they simply lose their love for that church experience, those books, those discussions and that part of the world?

October 19, 2018

When Words Fail

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:56 am

Very suddenly this week, our community lost someone who was known by people in many churches here. A few years earlier Alison had left her Pentecostal church to return to her Salvation Army roots. Two of her and her husband’s three children had elected to pursue a vocational ministry career in the Salvation Army.

And then this summer, a must unusual thing happened. Alison herself — never having taken the Officer Training Program — was tapped by district officials to jump in to, by herself, lead an army ‘corps’ in a city three hours away from us near the Quebec border. And she said ‘yes’.

Alison died on Tuesday at age 53. Those who knew her are in shock. While I didn’t know her as well as others, we spent nearly an hour in conversation the week before she moved, as she described the uniqueness of this particular ‘call’ to vocational ministry. I’ll simply never forget her story. Although she we will undoubtedly be remembered by closer friends or family for other things, this willingness to serve on such short notice is a tremendous legacy to leave.

She will be missed.

September 10, 2018

What Does All This Accomplish?

Thinking Out Loud ScreenshotAs a content creator, I try to deliver a decent product 7-days-a-week to my readers. I want there to be value in exchange for the time people spend reading what’s posted. Here are some questions I must ask myself…

1. Is it informative?

My opinions leach out all over this blog, but hopefully I also provide raw information, spot new trends, help readers make connections to other resources, and even educate my readership about things they didn’t know.

2. Is it helpful?

The passing on of information by itself doesn’t really guarantee that reading said articles will make any difference in the life of readers. My goal should be to communicate for life change; to write in the hope that the day’s topics and focus is not only interesting but practical and beneficial.

3. Am I authentic?

People create all types of false personas on social media. I don’t want people to meet me in the real world and find me to be anything less than what my online trail would indicate. That includes the possibility of me deceiving myself into thinking that by virtue of this blog — and its numeric success — that I’m something I am not.

4. Is it positive?

In the last few weeks I’ve been getting messages from one reader who feels that the type of things posted in the Wednesday column each week simply aren’t encouraging. I did an analysis of last week’s and found it to be a rather mix of basic links but also containing some cautionary tales. I am to celebrate the good that God is doing, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand, either.

5. Is it fruitful?

The first four questions were probably sufficient, and I could have left it there, but one of the things I long for on a personal level is to see the fruit of the various endeavors that occupy my time. It’s not a matter of looking for validation as much as simply wanting to experience that organic moment when the seed takes root in the lives of people both individually and collectively.

I think these are questions we need to ask of anything we’re involved in.

April 15, 2018

People in Your Church: Beautiful He and Beautiful She

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:48 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

It’s pouring rain. Buckets. Pissing down, as our English friends would say.

And it’s moving day.

S. and her family, including young K., are on their way. Everything is in boxes, the key has been arranged for. All there is to do now is actually go.

I had to work today, but swung by to say good bye and see if I could lift a few boxes and feel like I’d helped. When I got there, the truck was full and the trailer almost. S.’s man, the cranky Dutchman, was wrestling one end of a big wooden thing into place while the other end of it was being wrestled by Beautiful He.

Beautiful He and Beautiful She are a couple I’ve known for years and they get lovelier the longer you know them. He’s a builder and she’s an artist, both on canvas and in the kitchen.

They were both there today to help S. move with their big black truck and their trailer.

I first met Beautiful He and Beautiful She at a church I used to go to.

As with any ‘church’, there are people who do different jobs and, as with any ‘church’ there are jobs people want to do and jobs people don’t. Most of the ones people do want involve the use of microphones and rehearsal.

Most of the ones I’ve done involve the use of microphones and rehearsal.

One Sunday morning, we’d just finished our final practicing and I was heading down the hall to go check on my son in the nursery.

The soundcheck was done, the arrangements finalized. My head was full of songs, and key changes, and harmonies. I needed to check my hair and make sure my skirt was turned around straight and my mascara hadn’t run and then I was headed back to the platform for the ‘pre-service song’ (of which there would be one, followed by a spoken welcome, 2 songs, a pastoral prayer, 3 songs and then, after the sermon, one more.)

As I headed down the hall, I saw Beautiful She coming the other way. Also wearing a skirt, also with her hair done, also wearing heels. Carrying a bucket, and a mop, and a plunger. She smiled as she passed and said good morning, Ruth, the practice sounded good. And away she went, turned down the hall to the bathroom and disappeared through the door.

I thought, “That’s who I want to be.”

I want to be someone who can get all dressed up but be willing to wield a plunger. To put on a pair of high heels, and go stand in a puddle. Who doesn’t take themselves so seriously ‘as an artiste‘ that they’re no use to anybody. Someone who can be beautiful while cleaning up a mess because cleaning up messes is a beautiful thing to do.

Someone who’ll be truly available to what ever God puts in their path, to serve and to give and to love.

Someone who’ll put down her paintbrush and leave her easel, long enough to get soaked to the skin by cold September rain, helping a virtual stranger move.

That’s who I want to be.

January 22, 2018

Not Uniquely Gifted

You’ve been there and I’ve been there also. It’s usually the first Sunday of the New Year, or the Sunday the church launches into Fall kickoff mode.

The appeal for help. The big ask for you to consider using your time and talents to serve your church.

You know the word…your gifts.

My wife and I have mixed feelings about these appeals at one particular church. Here’s why…

…Without sounding arrogant, when we arrived at our new church home 28 years ago, I’m sure there were people there who thought we were God’s gift to that church. The church had undergone a radical change in direction that meant some key people had departed for the church down the road, and that left the first church in dire need with someone who possessed musical talent.

Working entirely alone for four years, I organized a palette of worship materials to be used in three different services on Sundays, and then chose from that to create distinct worship sets for each. Using only the electronic piano provided, I had to create the momentum of a band on high energy songs at our outreach service, but still be able to bring the volume down a notch for the hymns at the traditional service.

It was exhausting, and my wife will tell you that I frequently spent an hour or two lying on the living room floor on Monday morning…

…The efforts paid off however. The faithful team of Sunday School teachers, ushers, offering counters, church board leaders and one musician eventually caught on with our town to the point it is today the most growing church of the two dozen or so in the immediate and surrounding area.

But with that growth, some other musically talented people showed up and I took what I thought would be a break. Possibly even a short break.

At first it was just the new pastor’s wife. She was busy with two infants who eventually freed her up to take my place leading worship. It turned out that one of the elders was a lapsed drummer. A guitarist showed up after another church in the area closed. A bass player was transferred to the area by a large utility company. A couple who once traveled to different churches doing duets decided to settle down and become backup vocalists for the slowly expanding church.

She had enough people for one team, and that was all she needed…

…Fast forward a few years. Right now, by my last count there are eight people at this church who are capable of organizing worship sets, procuring chord chart sheets and running a rehearsal for a group of 5-10 musicians and singers. That’s right; this one church has eight worship leaders. There are at least five rhythm guitarists. Four keyboard players. Three bass players. Two drummers drumming. And many, many capable backup singers. Furthermore, this doesn’t include the youth band, which is building its own roster of capable players, many of whom grew up with modern worship and have always considered this the normal way to do church.

It also means that there is a generation of people at this church — I would estimate at least 80% — who have never heard me play an instrument or lead worship. When I tell them that I simply was the worship team for four years and that I was on paid staff at the church, they are always a bit surprised. What I don’t tell them is that I’m also an example of how this particular church puts people out to pasture. I would have thought that at least once someone would have reached out and asked me to join a team for old time sake. Or even organize a retro worship set featuring some of the songs we did in that era. (Some of them are still viable, and there are many worth re-casting with a modern sound.) That never happened. And regular readers here know what happened when my wife tried to suggest such a thing, and the wounding that occurred in that process.

Fortunately, I get to apply those gifts elsewhere. There’s another church where I am occasionally put to use and am able to bring a lifetime of experience with church music teams and church orchestras to bear on helping younger musicians.

But this article wasn’t supposed to be about me…

…There are many people who have gifts, but they just aren’t unique gifts. Or they’re gifts the church isn’t particularly interested in using. While they might help out in the church kitchen, or drive the church van to winter camp, etc., these are often one-time things that aren’t very fulfilling, never get recognized, and are not the best use of that person’s unique talents.

If anything, the glut of volunteers prepared to do exactly the same thing just makes them feel average. The church has needs in other areas, and while one wants to be adaptable and keep a servant attitude, the fact is they are not able to use their full potential. I am not able to use my full potential. You are not able to use your full potential…

…When we arrived at that church, there was a month where we got invited to lunch every single week because we were perceived as offering something which the church needed. But when your gifts are or become commonplace nobody really cares or notices. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd. And if you have for example, the gift of singing like my wife does, and it’s part of the essence of who you are, and you never get to use that gift again in the church, then the people there don’t truly know you, because they don’t know that dynamic that is a central part of your life.

Unfortunately, the church cannot accept every volunteer in a ministry department that is already highly subscribed to. So, church; please stop guilting us once or twice a year with your requests to sign up and start using our gifts.

Preach a different text that Sunday.

 

 

December 31, 2017

My Year in Review

Redeem the time - Stewardship of timeThis is certainly the year in review time for many writers. But what about my year or your year? I’m definitely not a KJV guy, but there’s a phrase in it I’ve always particularly liked.

Col 4: 5 KJV Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 5:16 KJV Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

and in the Voice as

make the most of every moment and every encounter

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

Again, The Voice has

Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2017?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?

While some writers emphasize the importance of rest — including it among the spiritual disciplines — others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for rest — Be still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2017?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2018?

How is your year in review?

Nobody said this was easy…

…To my Thinking Out Loud online community, I wish you God’s best in the New Year.

July 11, 2017

Post-Camp, Post-Festival Spiritual Highs: When they Crash

From the moment she got in the car for the one hour drive home, she didn’t stop talking. It had been an awesome two weeks. God was doing incredible things. She started talking about the people she wanted to take from her home church the following year. She described the insights the weekly speaker had shared on one particular Bible passage. When she got home she went into her room and for another hour worked out the chords for various worship songs she’d learned that week. 

So what happened? Over several days she got very sullen. On Sunday she seemed a little unsure if she even wanted to go to church. “Don’t you want to tell your friends about your great week?” you asked her. She had come down off the spiritual high and simply crashed

image 073115…Over the next few weeks, teens in your church will return having spent some time this summer

  • going to a Christian music festival
  • attending a Christian camp
  • working at a Christian camp
  • serving on a missions trip.

They return spiritually energized only to discover that their church experience now seems rather flat by comparison. Suddenly, business-as-usual or status-quo church holds no interest. I say that from personal experience. One summer, after the spiritual high of 13 weeks on staff at large Christian resort, by whatever logic it seemed to make sense, I simply dropped out of weekend services for an entire month, until a friend said something that gently nudged me back.

On the other hand, there are other teens in your church whose summer experience has not been so positive. They’ve been negatively influenced through contact with people

  • hanging out at home
  • vacationing at the campground, cabin or RV park
  • met on a road trip
  • interacting in the virtual world online

For them, returning to church has lost its appeal because they’ve either backslidden a little, or taken a nose dive into the deep waters of sin. Perhaps they’ve made new friends outside their Sunday or youth group circle.

Either way, summer is always a transitional time for preteens and adolescents, and while that’s true of mental, physical, emotional and social development, it’s also true in terms of spiritual development; and while some have soared spiritually, others have taken one step forward and ten steps backward.

The first challenge is knowing the difference between the two types of summer experiences. Identifying the source of the first type of disillusionment is easy because you probably already know the youth went to camp, the music festival or the mission field. It’s then a simple matter of probing what is they are now feeling after having had such an inspiring and uplifting summer experience. That might consist of finding ways to get them soaring again, although here one is tempted to caution against having teens live a manic life of going from spiritual high to spiritual high.

The group in the other category might not be so willing to open up. There may have been factors that drove them away from the centeredness of their past spiritual life. Perhaps their summer has been characterized by

  • a divorce in the family
  • an experiment with drugs or alcohol
  • delving into alternative spiritualities and faith systems
  • a loss of someone they loved or a pet
  • depression following a regretful first sexual experience.

They are dealing with pain, or doubt, or guilt, or uncertainty. Restoring them gently, as taught in Galatians 6:1, is likely your strategy at this point.

The second challenge is that many of these youth were, just a few weeks ago, on a parallel spiritual track. In post summer ministry, you’re reaching out to two very different types of kids: Those who prospered in their faith and those who faltered. Either way, they now find themselves back into the fall routine and the spiritual spark is gone.

A temptation here might be to let the first group help and nurture the second, but I would caution against that. The first group needs to sort out their own spiritual status first. They need to process how to return from what they did and saw and felt and learned and apply it to life in the real world. (One only goes on a retreat if one expects to go back to the battle and advance.) They shouldn’t live off the experience, but rather try to keep the closeness they felt to Christ during their time away.

The group which experienced everything from a lessening of their faith to a spiritual train wreck need a lot of love. They need to be reminded that their church or youth group is a spiritual home to which they can return, no matter how they feel, what they’ve done, or where their summer experience has left them.

Youth ministry is not easy. I only worked in it as an itinerant presenter, not as someone facing the same group of kids over a period of several years. If you were to graph their spiritual life, some would present an even line rising to the right, while others would show erratic ups and downs.

Either way, I think the greatest challenge would be those critical roundup weeks in the early fall when you’re trying to assess where everyone is at, and then try to collectively move on. For teens, and for all of us, the spiritual landscape is always changing.

February 20, 2017

Two Worlds: The Cuba Caste System

poverty-in-veradero

Perhaps it’s not a caste system the way we normally use the phrase, but there was something eerie about the way two worlds seem to coexist in Cuba: The tourists and those who work in tourism.

In one resort at Varadero, a tunnel is used to get workers from the street into the basement level of the hotel. There were no doubt staff entrances at all of the 40-or-so resorts on the peninsula, but it was the tunnel that caught our eye.

Workers arrive by bus, not the air-conditioned ones known to the tourists, or even the double-decker versions, but older, hotter, more crowded ones.

For the non-tourists, there is also a different currency. We paid for things in CUCs, the convertible, tourist version of the Cuban Peso. Residents pay in CUPs. One Cuban Convertible Peso equals 24.728383 Cuban Pesos. Some stores accept the one, some accept the other, some accept both.

So we find ourselves in a country where there are two sets of currencies, two sets of buses, two types of taxicabs, etc…

…Another lifetime ago, I worked for a musician who played a number of Jewish venues including the banquet halls of major hotels as well as synagogues. It was customary to unload and load equipment through a service elevator or even through a kitchen. I am personally acquainted with what it means to be part of the service staff in a place where, on the other side of the wall, wealthy people are enjoying unlimited food, drink and entertainment.

There was something about this trip however where it reflected differently. I was, for seven short days, one of the rich tourists. As noted in yesterday’s article, for our tour guide to stay one week in this place, he would have to spend the equivalent of 19 months’ wages. As noted the day before, there is something unsettling at the fragility of the curtain which separated our tour guide from we tourists.

I say that not because I’m not wanting to associate with the waiters and chambermaids, but rather because I don’t want them to be invisible; don’t want them to have to be quietly ushered in through a tunnel…

…Last week in the Canadian parliament, a member stood up and mentioned in passing that before his government career he was a bus driver. And guess what reaction that got?

The members of the opposition party laughed at him.

I want to emulate the Nazarene who “humbled himself, taking on the role of a servant.” I want to be able to come alongside the waiter who is carrying too many plates, or grab the other corner of the bed-sheet while the maid makes up the room.

But the world doesn’t like it when those barriers are not firmly set in place.


Thanks for your indulgence during these 3 articles. There’s one more which will come a few days later, as I want to share our impressions in a tourist environment that is devoid of Americans and consider the potential of an influx of US tourists on Cuba.

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