Thinking Out Loud

February 12, 2022

Planning Women’s Ministry Events

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:35 pm

I know what you’re thinking…

Why is HE writing about women’s ministry?

Don’t worry, this isn’t mine. It’s actually a Twitter thread unravel of something that landed in my feed a few days ago from someone I don’t actually follow.

Gena B. McCown is the author of Women’s Ministry with Purpose: A Vibrant, Gospel-Centered Approach (Leafwood Press, 2019). Admittedly, the phrase “gospel-centered” is a trigger phrase for me, as it often means “Neo-Calvinist,” but let’s not allow that to make us miss the wisdom in what follows.  You can follower on Twitter at @GenaBMcCown or learn much more at her website, GenaBMcComb.wixsite.com.

This really resonated with Ruth, who has had experience with women’s ministry, and even more experience avoiding women’s ministries in various churches. The complete thread, with comments, may be found at this link.

Women’s Ministry Leaders:

When you are planning your events please remember not every woman in your church is a wife or a mother. You can have amazing events that cater to women without focusing on these 2 roles.

Not every woman in your church has the ability to go hiking, sleep in a bunk bed, or icebreaker games that involve moving around spaces. You can have amazing events that are accessible by all of your women, regardless of age and health.

Not every woman in your church is an extrovert. You can have amazing events that factor in the introvert. Where we do not publicly put people on the spot, or incorporate times of quiet and solitude (especially at weekend long retreats) for our introverts to reset.

Not every woman in your church has childcare support (even if she is married), budget for expensive trips, or a home that she can entertain in. You can have amazing events that provide childcare, are affordable, and can allow women to come to a safe space.

Not every woman in the church is going to be excited by the same things you are. You can build a Women’s Ministry team with a diversity of women, so that you can build up a Women’s Ministry calendar that has a little something for everyone.

Not every woman in the church is looking for another place to socialize or fellowship. Some are looking for discipleship, mentoring, and even deep theological training. You can build an amazing Women’s Ministry that includes both social opportunities and spiritual growth at varied levels.

A vibrant women’s ministry is one that sees the fullness of the women of the church and says there is room at the table for all of us. All are wanted and welcomed.

…I thought that was worthy of being seen by more people. There are also some principles here for which application can be extrapolated for the church as a whole. Thanks, Gena.

 

January 15, 2022

Skye Jethani on Pastors Creating “Mini Me” Parishioners

Over the years, dinnertime conversations at our house have had a recurring theme. When pastors do a series of teachings on discovering and using your spiritual gifts, the conclusion is often self-serving, inasmuch as the deployment of those gifts always involves serving the church’s own agenda, its own programs, and activities limited to its own physical building.

So the end appeal is, ‘Volunteer for our church clean-up day, volunteer to teach Sunday School, sing in our choir.’ Sadly, we’ve also known people who stepped up to the plate, only to be rejected in the particular area of service where they felt they could help.

In a recent Twitter thread, Skye Jethani (author of the three What if Jesus Was Serious books) pushes this one degree further. He suggests that the pastor has a vision and calling on his life, and thinks that everyone else should have that same vision and calling, forgetting that God has planted them within their own context, consisting of a unique neighborhood, extended family, workplace (or school), and network of friends.

by Skye Jethani

posted to Twitter by @SkyeJethani on 1.14.22 [link] in response to an article at Christianity Today on 1.13.22 [link]

I have so many thoughts about this. It bugs me beyond words when I hear church leaders say people are “apathetic.” No they’re not! The people rightly care more about their own callings and too many pastors want them to care more about the pastor’s calling.

A pastor’s effort should not be to convince more people to give more time and treasure to the pastor’s ministry activity. It should be to shepherd people to live with God in the places and vocations he’s called them to in the world.

The problem isn’t that people are apathetic about what church leaders are called to do. It’s that church leaders are too often apathetic about what God has called his people to do Monday thru Saturday. Get outside the church, pastor. Genuinely seek to understand the lives and vocations of your people. Seek to equip them for the works of service they are called to in the world (Ephesians 4:12). It will transform you and your people and you’ll discover they are not suffering from apathy; it’s pastors who are suffering from myopia.

Few will admit it, but too many pastors believe their calling matters more than others’. I know, I was a pastor and I had this same delusional arrogance. I tried to convince non-pastors to abandon their callings in order to do more activities that looked like my calling all in the name of “mission” or “purpose” or “significance.” But I gave little thought to the value of what God had called them to do 40+ hours each week. And I had little vision for the true scope of God’s redemption of “all things” (1 Corinthians 15). I ministered as if God only cared about the institutional church. I preached “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth” but I pastored as if “God then retired into full-time ministry.” If this is the vision church leaders have, it’s no wonder we give so little energy to what happens beyond the church.

It wasn’t always this way. In the past, most pastors spent the week outside the church ministering to the sheep where they were—homes, hospitals, fields, factories, prisons and schools.

Today, we’ve reversed that. Pastors stay inside the church and people must come to them for care. This professionalization of pastoring means few pastors really know what life looks like for their people outside church walls. Few know the dignity and difficulty of vocations of their sheep and therefore few know how to truly minister and equip them.

What they see are passive, tired people on Sunday morning reluctant to sign up for yet another commitment or another church program and interpret this as “apathy.” It’s not apathy. It’s exhaustion. And rather than alleviating this burden, too many churches make it worse. Rather than offering rest for the sheep, too many churches want to extract more work from them in order to validate the pastor’s calling by growing the church or expanding its influence.

Pastor, spend one year outside your office with the sheep and then tell me if they’re “apathetic.” If you still think so, I’ll repent.


Skye Jethani is the author of several books including Futureville, With, and Immeasurable; is the co-host of the Phil Vischer podcast; and is the creator of the With God daily devotional.

November 29, 2021

Mixed Ministry Motives

This material appeared this weekend at Christianity 201 as a two-part article. The content has been combined here to a single article.

Last week, tongue-in-cheek, I posted two mis-quoted passages on social media:

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds … to be seen on Instagram. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

and

And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s branding?’

As one gets older, it becomes more apparent when people are doing ministry for the purpose of promoting themselves and their church or organization. The blurred ministry motives become so blatantly obvious, that you have to ask yourself why the people are not more spiritually self-aware to realize the pride which drives much of their activity is staring them in the face.

First, let’s look at the verses as they actually appear:

And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49 NASB

The context is the short snapshot we have of Jesus at 12-years of age when he gets separated from his parents. They retrace their route and find him back “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” vs. 45

The phrase in vs. 49 that Jesus is “being about my Father’s business is unique to the KJV. We’ve never discussed it here before, but the phrase ‘kingdom business’ gets used to describe all manner of church activity (and busy-ness), but it’s important to notice that Jesus was discussing theology, not planning a building program, or starting an organization, or discussing a stewardship campaign.

Our satirical ‘my Father’s branding‘ is seen so frequently these days. It’s about lifting up the name and tag line of a single congregation or organization, not the name of Jesus who ought to be the central focus of the worldwide church referenced in The Apostle’s Creed.  (‘Catholic’ in that context meaning universal.)

The other verse alluded to is

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1 NIV

which is echoed a few verses later:

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. – 6:16 NLT

Practicing good works to be seen on Instagram is more common than you might think. It’s all about optics.

Back in 2014, I looked at this writing

I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7bI do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

Creating Instragram moments in ministry is more commonplace than you might think. Perhaps in some small way it can be justified in that it models or encourages others to think about their own Christian service or lack thereof.

But it’s often a thing in and of itself.

And therefore it’s not about Jesus.

The last part of Matt. 6:5 reads,

I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full. – AMP

This self-promotion mentality goes all the way back to Babel.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:14

They wanted to make a name for themselves; “…This will make us famous…” (NLT) This is so backward and the polar opposite to the upside-down kingdom of Christ which is characterized by humility. Philippians 2: 3 begins

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes…

Four times at Thinking Out Loud, you’ll find this quotation which we heard in a sermon and it has stuck with us.

“There is no limit on what can be done for God, as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.”

If that’s true, then if a church or organization is always consciously aware of building their own brand, logically, there are going to be limits on what they will be able to accomplish…

…The next “Evangelical obsession” I want to touch on quickly here is a preoccupation with numbers.

Earlier this week we listened to a podcast where a pastor was clearly boasting about all that his church has accomplished in the last several years and it came out in phrases (which I’ve altered slightly here) like,

  • We have 150 people serving in this department of our ministry
  • We’ve prayed for a thousand people in this area alone
  • We want to be a church of 12,000 people

The numbers I’ve changed, but the substance was real. It was about building a brand, promoting a book, and, inevitably, hosting a conference.

Sadly, it somewhat undermined the good things he shared. Let me clear on that, there were some excellent takeaways that I will remember, but I’ll also remember the attitude and how reminiscent it was of another pastor we’ve been examining on another podcast who eventually crashed spectacularly.

Instead, we should be looking at partnerships where we work in cooperation with other ministries to build the Kingdom.

The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. – 1 Cor. 3:8 NLT

The passage that comes to mind here is one where John expresses concern to Jesus that a group that is outside their circle of disciples is ministering in the name of Jesus. Mark chapter 9 (CEB) reads,

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”

39 Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. 40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. 41 I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.

I once heard someone’s unique interpretation of the “mark” in Revelation represented by “666.” They said the mark was simply numbers. It was an interesting take, and one that fits our data-driven society.

We in the church can indeed be easily obsessed with likes, website stats, church growth, average attendance, yearly budgets, numbers of people baptized.

Numerics are simply not the name of the game.

Later, I felt there were a few more things that could be said about pursuing church growth at all costs, and doing ministry for the sake of having good optics online. This verse definitely should have been part of the discussion:

Proverbs 16:2

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

Because we just spent time in this verse two years ago in a piece titled Motivation Matters, I don’t want to spend a lot of time except to note that God is concerned with the why we do things as much as the what we do.

The apostle Paul saw this happening even back in his day. In Philippians 1 he wrote,

15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.

I think this is an important passage in our time because ministries do compete with each other, so let’s visit the same verses in The Message:

15-18 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them. So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul was able to see the good that could come out of such proclamation, even when the motives were suspect. The grace he shows in this situation is remarkable. In I Cor. 4:4-5 he again says,

My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.  So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. (NLT)

The last two sentences suggest that are reward will be based on the motives which drove our activities. (Someone has quipped, ‘There will be a lot of surprises in heaven,’ for reasons such as this.)

Although I don’t have a copy, earlier in the year I was intrigued by this book title: Rooting for Rivals: How Collaboration and Generosity Increase the Impact of Leaders, Charities, and Churches (Bethany House, 2018).

When the church growth movement is analyzed, it’s said that much of the growth that takes place is transfer growth, in other words, people moving from one church to another. (This isn’t always true of fresh church plants however, in which genuine overall growth can be measured.) Transfer growth means that church leaders are competing for the same people, the same bodies if I can use that term.

But rivalry can also get to the point of bad-mouthing another organization without justification. The blurb for the book says,

Faith-based organizations are sometimes known for what we’re against—and all too often that includes being against each other. But amid growing distrust of religious institutions, Christ-centered nonprofits have a unique opportunity to link arms and collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda.

In today’s polarized world this comes as no surprise…

…Although I’ve looked at our opening verse many times, it was only today that I caught that it’s repeated at 21:2. Taking one last look, I noticed something at BibleHub.com that I’d also not seen before, the inclusion of the Brenton Septuagint Translation. Its rendering of 21:2 is:

Every man seems to himself righteous; but the Lord directs the hearts.

We can genuinely deceive ourselves sometimes or decide that the end justifies the means. But God’s concern is always deeper.

January 29, 2021

Evangelical Flashback

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:00 pm

It was customary in our 11:00 AM service to have as many as four “performed” music pieces each week and two at 9:30 AM. We had gifted people who were able to do three services per month but on the fourth a guest would come to do “special music.”

One Sunday I invited Grant, who I had known back when I lived in the city. I had no doubts that he would do well. He arrived early and satisfied that his sound system check had gone well, he went out into the lobby to be sociable with people arriving for the service.

When it came time to sing, Grant made the obligatory opening remarks, such as one does in these situations. “It’s really great to be with you all this morning;” etc.

But Grant wasn’t just a gifted musician. He was also gifted in sales; the type of guy you would hire to be part of your sales department even if he didn’t know much about your particular industry or product. He was that good.

Part of being good in sales is learning to remember peoples’ names when you meet them. I confess, I sometimes struggle with this. Introductions are made and I converse for ten minutes and then I have to say, “Sorry could you just give me your full name again so I can remember?” Of course the “full” in “full” name is the cheat; I’ve forgotten both.

…and I see Mary, and I see Ted, and I see Jacob, and I see Alice…

But as good as Grant’s giftedness in name-remembering was, his hearing was apparently a little off. Furthermore there were people in this church who had names which sounded close to some familiar names, but weren’t exactly the same.

So Grant launched into a weird litany of names while glancing around the room but not specifically looking at any one person to the degree we could figure out who he was referring to.

When he said “Elisabeth” we all knew who he meant. Each of us had done that once upon meeting her. But who was “Alice?” We never did figure that out.

It was awkward.

Then he did his selection of songs…

…I was thinking about this story last week. I wasn’t sure if I’d shared it here before or not, but I’ve always thought it was rather funny. It’s also a good case for asking “How do you spell that?” if you’re unsure.

Then a new thought hit me.

How would I explain this to my high church friends?

How do I tell someone raised Anglican what “special music” is and that we had guests who would “perform” very non-liturgical pieces from available compositions in contemporary Christian music?

How would I tell my Episcopal blog readers that rather than just stand to sing at an appointed time, it was normal to do a mini-monologue; stating that it’s “really good to be here this morning?” Why not invoke the name of a local sports team at the same time?

And how would I tell my Church of England contacts in the UK that Grant then launched into this unusual roll-call of names which, by this point, even by our standards, was out of place?

Here’s the thing: In an Evangelical church the first two were not unusual and the third was not a service-stopping moment. This type of unscripted patter was and still is the norm in Evangelical churches. Some revel in such informality, but it’s also a distraction. It adds to the view of the congregation as audience to what is enacted on the stage instead of as participants in an act of worship and proclamation.  This is still normative in a few churches.

But such was life.

I hope Alice enjoyed his songs.

January 18, 2021

Is Your Church Board (Elder Board) Theologically Minded?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

After taking several weeks off, we’re back!

Last week Ruth and I were discussing the composition of church leadership boards. Some of you are familiar with the Brethren model whereby the elders of the church take turns doing the weekly teaching. It’s not a requirement for each and every elder, and some clearly have other gifts which they bring to the board of which teaching is not one of them, and those other gifts affirm their calling to serve at the highest level of lay-participation in local church leadership.

Some other types of churches have been toying with this model and inviting people in the broader congregation to identify and nurture their preaching gift.

Our discussion tied in with one of last week’s posts at Christianity 201 — the blog to which most of my attention is now devoted — and what’s called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church,” sometimes  just abbreviated as APEPT: Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher. Michael Frost said that he believes that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

I would agree and further pursue this to add that I think that the people on church leadership boards should show evidence of, at the very least, a propensity toward one of these ministry gifts.

But this is often not the case.

Some people are chosen because they have done well in business. That can be helpful, given that one estimate is that 80% of local church board meetings are dealing with capital concerns (budgets, expenditures, etc.) and property issues (facilities, maintenance, etc.).

Some are chosen because they are highlight regarded in the community. I can certainly see what outgoing, gregarious, extroverted people would come to mind. Church nominating committees do indeed look at the outward appearance.

Some are selected because their family has a long-running history with the church. To not select one of these people would be considered almost scandalous.

I could go on, but you see that it’s not always spiritual considerations that drive the process.

You could argue that the Biblical model is to have two leadership levels; a nuts-and-bolts leadership team that can attend to the aforementioned facility and financial issues; and a spiritual issue that can look at programs, ministry teams, preaching topics, small groups, etc. That’s great, but the one guy we know from the nuts-and-bolts team, Stephen, was selected on the basis of spiritual qualifications. He was “a man of faith and full of the Holy Spirit.” And he preached! Boy, did he ever preach, becoming the first Christian martyr for the force and trajectory of his message. (Don’t mention this to prospective board candidates!)

I don’t think every board member should preach. But in the average small-to-medium-sized church they should be seen at least once a year doing something in public ministry. A scripture reading. The announcements. Assisting with a baptism. Sharing a word of recent testimony of what God’s doing in their life.

More simply stated, there ought to be reason as to why each was chosen, and it ought to be a spiritual reason.

September 21, 2020

The Spirituality of Nations and Churches

Filed under: Christianity, leadership — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am

At least 20 years ago, I heard someone ask rhetorically ask, “What is the most religious nation on earth?”

The answer given at the time was India. I’m not enough of an expert in world religion to dispute this, so I took it as given.

Then they asked, “What is the least religious nation on earth?”

The answer given was Sweden.

Then the person continued, posing the question, where does (or did) Canada fit into this imagery?

The answer given was that in terms of this analogy, “We are nation of Indians, governed by Swedes.”

In other words, at the time — and I would dispute this today — the impression was that in the heart of Canadian people was a hunger to maintain a committed and meaningful spiritual life; a sentiment that was not echoed by those same peoples’ representatives in government.

The phrase “a nation of Indians governed by Swedes;” has haunted me ever since. (For those who tuned in late, we’re talking about people from India, not North American aboriginals; and the statement is a metaphor only.)

Yesterday, I asked myself if that’s not true of churches.

I would say yes. Often there can be a disconnect between the hearts of the people in the chairs each week — the members, adherents, parishioners, congregation; call them what you will — and the people being paid a salary to provide for the spiritual direction of the church, as well as the volunteer leadership tasked with overseeing everything, whether we call them deacons or elders or wardens, or directors.

One particular church came to mind.

The church prospers I believe because the people have a love for each other and a love for God that is better reflected in their personal interactions throughout the week, and in some respects, their small group involvement. In other words, not “because of” but “in spite of” the church leadership.

The leaders meanwhile are preoccupied with projects and goals and visions and programs that often may be described as shallow and superficial. Wood, hay and stubble. With the occasional mix of a tempest in a teapot.

I know this because I’ve been, at times, shallow and superficial. It takes one to know one.

The disconnect is huge however, and once one becomes aware of it, it’s hard to continue to be as supportive of that church as perhaps one once was.


Flag images: Wikipedia, though in fairness to Wikipedia, I need to say I cheated with the dimensions of the Canadian one, which in reality is much wider horizontally (stated redundantly for emphasis).

 

September 9, 2020

Making God’s “Plan A” Known

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Church, current events, social issues — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:49 am

The focus of my writing over the past six months has been Christianity 201, where I’ve been sharing more original content than in times past. This one is appearing later today; you’re seeing it first!

Acts 20:27
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)
For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

Many times in the church, the leadership is asked to comment on the social issues of the day; including things that simply never existed at the time the scriptures were written; but also including things which were the same in their day as they are in our own.

A pastor may feel pressed to comment on homosexuality, but I guaranty that a minister who is in the least compassionate will temper that message, or at the very least phrase things very gently, if he knows there are lesbian or gay people in the congregation, or people who are related to (by being parents or brothers or sisters) someone with that orientation. Even the most conservative sermon approach will, I hope, offer God’s “Plan A” in loving manner; and hopefully some will allow for the possibility of other interpretations where their theology and convictions permit.

When it comes to abortion, in a congregation of any measurable size, there is even more likelihood that someone listening to the pastor’s words have walked down that road. The sting of those memories is still strong, and dredging that up in a weekend worship service may seem like the last thing they needed.

This bring up the question of, ‘Why bother to address these things at all?’

There is some wisdom which must be credited to those who follow a Lectionary approach to preaching. Prescribed readings for each week offer a compendium of scriptures over a three year cycle. There aren’t “sermon series” topics running consecutive weeks, or room to maneuver the preaching focus to social issues or political ones.

That said though, the scriptures have application to so much of every day life. A pastor who goes off on a rant on abortion at least once a month runs the risk of appear obsessed on the topic, and as stated above, may be trampling on the sensitivities of individuals in the church. A pastor who ignores the possibility* that abortion grieves the heart of God runs the risk of making the Bible seem irrelevant to social issues and practical concerns.

[*Okay, more than possibility, but this is what I meant by speaking things gently. In fact, having presented some foundational scriptures, making the point in an interrogative form — “Do you think perhaps this grieves the heart of God?” — is probably closer to how Jesus would handle this.]

But on the off-chance your church doesn’t have people who are homosexual (or leaning in that direction) or have had an abortion (or are close to someone who did), it is entirely possible that you have people in your church who have been through divorce, or are even about to proceed in that direction. Statistically, it is far more likely.

The most cited phrase is “God hates divorce;” but notice the difference in two popular translations’ rendering of Malachi 2:16

“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. NIV

“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” NLT (NASB, NKJV, GNT, NET, are similar on the key phrase)

But even with the NIV rendering, it’s clear that God’s original “Plan A” was marriage for life.

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9 quoting Jesus

Some will ask, and the disciples did ask,

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

to which

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. (Matthew 19: 7 above, and 8, NIV)

Even there we see grace, and in similar fashion grace* should be at the center of our proclamation.

[*Sadly some pastors don’t read Jesus this way and prescribe that people should stay together even in the middle of a physically abusive situation. Hardliners, including some pastors and authors whose names you would recognize, would insist that saying otherwise is creating situation ethics. But that’s a topic for another article.]

I mention all these things not because today’s devotional has in any way been an attempt to cover the subject of divorce, although if you’re interested in an exhaustive 3-part research piece on the effects of divorce on children, I encourage to read the one we ran here, here and here.

Rather, I am to say here that in the course of the life of a church congregation, certain topics should eventually surface in its preaching and teaching ministry, and at that point, one cannot avoid lovingly declaring “the whole counsel of God.”

So I want to end where we began:

Acts 20:27:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)

For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

 

August 21, 2020

After 5½ Months Away from Church, Will They Return?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:43 am

With most of the media focus on high profile churches which have been defying local and state laws on assembly, we can forget the many congregations which have been faithfully obeying the authorities and meeting through YouTube or Zoom.

With so much time away from their home church, Skye Jethani wondered if people had returned now that restrictions had eased and did a Twitter poll with 1,741 results; with most respones from the U.S. but some from other parts of the world. Here’s what they told him:

Many also added comments. Here’s a sample:

  • It was great to be in-person. But it was not normal.
  • we won’t be comfortable with in-person services for awhile anyway. And I never felt like I could get on board with virtual church.
  • I’m currently hired by a church to make their service videos, I’ve become somewhat burnt out by it. Having said that, the reason I’m burnt out is because the video follows more or less exactly the same as the service and disregards all the amazing possibilities media offers.
  • it feels like we’re herded to our seats and out the building like cattle.
  • I think we all have to just come to the realization that the old “normal” is gone forever and we have to just appreciate and be thankful for whatever semblance of normalcy we have right now
  • Our family uses @bibleproject Church at Home instead of streaming our service. The mandatory quarantine gave us the opportunity to step away from serving at the coffee bar every Sunday and reconsider church. My teenagers prefer the deeper discussion over 4 part sermon series.
  • Went to a live service for the first time in about 5 months. To be honest, I spent a lot of time wondering why most people weren’t wearing masks and how it showed a lack of concern for others there.
  • During this season our house church gathers and participates together online, we don’t “watch online” ;) – This moment seems a perfect opportunity to shift from church being a spectator sport into an actual conversation of a community.
  • Sometimes watch church online while multitasking. Used to be regular attender. Miss the in person fellowship. Huge loss in worshiping God.
  • In- person. But no where near back to normal. We ended up leaving our church and finding a new church body.
  • I’ve mostly tuned out the digital Sunday stuff and just listen to the sermon on podcast, but our missional community has continued to Zoom every week.
  • I selected that I’ve tuned out. In reality I attend when I am scheduled to run the sound board and stay home and stream services from other churches when I’m not.
  • In person with masks, limited to 30% of building capacity. I’m grateful that I was able to be there all along though – when gatherings in my province were limited to 5, I was one of those 5 who still got to go to each service to help with music etc for the livestream

And then there was this one:

  • Wish I could go, but too many people at my church aren’t taking it seriously. 1/3 singing without masks. Some showing up sick. Some even showing up with pending COVID tests. Trying to determine what faithful involvement can look like.

What about you? Comment here, or click the link if you have a Twitter account and comment with everyone else.

Churches will need to identify that 20.2% and reach out to learn if they’ve relocated or encourage them to return as things stabilize.

Photo: ABC News

August 16, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

We continue sharing a 4-part series from Christianity 201 that was presented there last weekend; a four-part look at the other teaching blocks — since the Sermon on the Mount is so often covered — in Matthew’s Gospel


For the last two days we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

■ Take time now read all of Matthew chapter 18.

The idea of ‘church’ as a building would have been a very foreign concept on the day Jesus had this particular huddle with his followers. Rather, He is talking about the relationships in the new community of believers.

This chapter deals with relationships in the new, emerging community that Jesus is shaping; these called-out ones; followers of what will be called The Way. This is sometimes referred to as The Ecclesial Discourse, and there is an extensive (i.e. quite lengthy) study page on this, including a helpful Q&A approach at this link.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. Matthew 18:1-3

This theme is recurring throughout the Jesus narrative. The mother of James and John dares to ask if her sons can sit to the left and right of Jesus, and then we have that embarrassing scene right after He has washed their feet and given them the symbols of his broken body and shed blood:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Luke 22: 24-26

The answer is always the same, a reminder of the “upside down” nature of His kingdom.

Causing Others to Stumble

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6

Here Jesus warns about something that is going to be a great threat to the new community He is building: Corruption from within. How many times have you heard quoted — both from people inside the church and outside — that the greatest stumbling block to Christianity is Christians.

This situation can develop when Christians let down their guard and become lax about moral and ethical standards. However, it can also happen when well-meaning people impose rules and regulations on what Romans 14 calls those whose faith is weak.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Romans 14:13b

The Sheep Who Wander

While we left the “parabolic” discourse behind yesterday, this chapter does contain two parables. This very familiar one is a continuation of the thoughts above, told in terms of one sheep out of a flock of a hundred who has wandered off. In Luke 15, this story will become part of a trilogy including a lost coin and a lost son.

In the NIV, the first part of verse 10 begins, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones….” The full verse in The Message reads, Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

A Pattern for Confronting Sin

Jesus issues a four-step guideline for dealing with sin in the community, which is totally connected to the idea (above) concerning those who cause others to stumble:

  1. Go directly to the person
  2. If they don’t listen, repeat, but bringing a couple of others with you
  3. If they still don’t respond, bring the matter before the assembly; the congregation
  4. If they are still not repentant, treat them as a pagan.

It’s not step four implies a complete excommunication, though some groups today practice this type of shunning.

This brings us to the verse,

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18: 18

At this point in church history, many different opinions exist as to the meaning of this verse, and we’ve covered (perhaps inconclusively) that a few years ago in What is Meant by Binding and Loosing.

The Forgiven Servant Who Doesn’t Forgive

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18: 21

This is the longest section of Matthew 18, running to the end of the chapter at verse 35. Even beginning Bible readers will see a connection between this parable and the familiar words from Matthew 5:

and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Matthew 6:12 NLT

The servant is let off the hook, but refuses to do the same in the matter of a much, much smaller debt. As I mentioned two days ago, I owe this attention to these discourses to Michael Card who writes on this passage:

One of the key concepts of mercy (hesed) is that once we are shown mercy; we become obligated to give mercy. On realizing that the person from whom we have a right to expect nothing has given us everything, we must reciprocate. –Matthew: The Gospel of Identity p166

There is one more block of teaching to follow. Stay tuned!

August 10, 2020

“Isn’t it great? All the new people have left.”

I was thinking about this story today, which was posted five years ago; this edition includes some updates…

homeschool fishFor seven months, Mrs. W. and I (but mostly her) were forced to become homeschoolers during a period when Kid One wasn’t quite fitting into the public school near our home. Despite the short period in which we did this, we became immediate friends with other people in the homeschool movement, and I would say we can somewhat understand their motivation.

So if you’re a homeschooler, let me say that I get it when it comes to not wanting your children to be under the influence — for six hours each weekday — of people who do not share your core values, some of whom may be 180-degrees opposed to your core values.

What I don’t get is not wanting to put your kids in the Sunday School program — some now call it small groups for kids program — of your home church. Not wanting anyone else to teach your kids anything. If your home church is that lax when it comes to recruiting teachers, or if you are that concerned that any given teacher in your church’s children’s program could espouse some really wacky doctrine — or worse, admit that he or she watches sports on Sundays — then maybe you should find another church.

To everyone else, if these comments seem a bit extreme, they’re not. Apparently, in one particular church, the homeschool crowd — which made up the vast majority of those in the ‘people with kids’ category at this church — had decided that absolutely nobody else is going to teach their kids anything about the Bible. (Those same parents said they’re too tired from teaching their children all week to take on a weekend Sunday School assignment.)

In other words, it’s not just people in the public school system who aren’t good enough to teach their kids, it’s also people in their home church.

I am so glad that my parents didn’t feel that way. I think of the people who taught me on Sunday mornings, the people who ran the Christian Service Brigade program for boys on Wednesday nights, the people who were my counselors and instructors at Church camp, and I say, “Thank you; thank you; thank you! Thank you for sharing your Christian life and testimony and love of God’s word with me when I was 5, 8, 11, 14 and all the ages in between. And thank you to my parents for not being so protective as to consider that perhaps these people weren’t good enough to share in the task of my Christian education.”

I also think of Donna B., the woman who taught Kid One at the Baptist Church that became our spiritual refuge for a couple of years. He really flourished spiritually under her teaching, reinforced of course, by what we were doing in the home.

What message does it send to kids when the only people who have it right when it comes to rightly dividing the Word of truth are Mommy and Daddy? And what about the maturity that comes with being introduced to people who, while they share the 7-12 core doctrines that define a Christ-follower, may have different opinions about matters which everyone considers peripheral?

Where does all this end? Are these kids allowed to visit in others’ homes? When they go to the grocery store, are they allowed to converse with the woman at the checkout? My goodness; are they even allowed to answer the phone?

I’m sorry, homeschoolers, but when you start trashing the Sunday School teachers at your own church, you’ve just crossed the line from being passionate, conservative Christian parents to being downright cultish.

…There was more to the story — A critical factor was missing in the original article that couldn’t be shared at the time. Because homeschool families made up the majority of this church congregation, it kind of stopped the Sunday School in its tracks. But more important, it ended up preventing any kind of mid-week program that would have been an outreach to neighborhood families that the pastor regarded as a vital element of the church’s ministry; and ultimately the church simply never grew.

However, when all attempts at outreach were ended — the pastor was forced to give up that agenda — one of the core family parents said, and this is a direct quote, “Isn’t it great; all the new people have left. That’s right, the new families that had wandered in got that spidey sense that told them they just didn’t belong and they all left that church, and the remaining families were glad that they left. Talk about backward priorities.


Epilogue — In 2015, the pastor of that church ended up leaving the denomination and continues to enjoy a ministry on another part of the continent. I do seriously question any Christian denomination allowing all this to happen without severing ties with the church in question. In that particular town, that particular denomination has a reputation and it’s not a particularly good one. If I were part of a district or national office staff, I would be quite concerned.

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