Thinking Out Loud

May 23, 2016

Engaging With the Community

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:12 am

Imagine being in a church that is just getting by financially and it’s your job to tell the chair of the finance committee that there’s going to be one less offering this year because there’s going to be one less church service. Daunting?

That’s what my church did five years ago, for the purpose of joining in with an annual Multiple Sclerosis fundraising walkathon. Looking back on what I wrote about this then, apparently they did open the doors, but by far the vast majority of the congregation weren’t there.

It’s certainly better than shutting down worship services just because it’s a long weekend and the weather might be nice. Once again this year, North Point will follow this tactic in order to give volunteers the weekend off. Fortunately for people wanting to connect with fellowship and teaching on a weekly basis, this does not appear to be a growing trend. Six different Google and Yahoo searches revealed info about a church in Alaska, and little else.

If you’re going to do this, it’s good to do it for a good reason and not just to head out to the lake and put your feet up. Furthermore, I’m betting many of the North Point people either (a) don’t fit the perfect “husband, wife, 2.4 kids, minivan” model and possibly find the prospect of spending the day alone not particularly attractive, or (b) pack up the minivan and go visit another church.

The local branch of the national charity that became the benefit of the outpouring of love from my church was thrilled of course, though it was disappointing the following year when I’m sure their fundraising totals flagged somewhat. Still, the same church has also been part of multi-church efforts for Habitat for Humanity and Syrian refugee sponsorship. In the case of Habitat, people not only gave money but hundreds (if not thousands) of volunteer hours.

This is the church doing good. This is what it looks like when we break the stereotype of being insular or self-absorbed. At the time I wrote,

“Skipping Church” is a big sacrifice for those who grew up believing the place to be on Sunday morning is singing the hymns and listening to a sermon.

Instead, this congregation will be busy “being church.”

May 21, 2016

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

Today we’re featuring a re-post of an article which first appeared in April at the website I Already Am. To read this at source, click this link.

img 052116

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

By Nathan Lorick

Fifteen years ago, we were living in a less technological society than we are now. Blockbuster, the video rental market leader, was booming with thousands of retail stores scattered across the nation. Millions of customers poured in week after week to rent the newest action thriller or comedy. Blockbuster was simply at the top of their game, or so they thought.

Beyond the glare of the blue and yellow lights, something was happening that went largely unnoticed. A new company had formed with a new creative form of video rental that would push the limits of the norm. This company, known today as Netflix, had the right idea at the right time. However, for various reasons, the CEO of the new company wanted to partner with Blockbuster to create a new dynasty that was sure to take the video rental world to levels not seen before.

In 2000, the CEO of Netflix approached the CEO of Blockbuster and offered to sell the newly formed Netflix for a mere $50 million. While that number sounds large to us, this is a small investment for a major retail business. It wasn’t the money that caused the CEO of Blockbuster to decline the offer; instead it was because he missed the opportunity to see beyond the present market. Hindsight is 20/20. Today, Blockbuster is out of business, and Netflix is the largest video rental company—worth more than $30 billion.

This is a modern picture of what many churches are going through. At one time they were thriving and growing at rapid rates. Their ministries were effective in every way measurable. Things were as good as they could be. However, somewhere along the way, attendance began to drift off, giving became less dependable, and the influence of their ministries became unknown to those outside of the church. Simply put, churches were so focused on the present, they stopped dreaming about the future. They essentially became a Blockbuster church in a Netflix culture.

So what can be done about this if your church is in this stage? What is the key element to moving forward into a new season of growth and vitality? While there can be many answers, I want to narrow it down to one key element: re-launching evangelism in your church’s strategy. Evangelism is the axis on which our church must turn in order to see it revitalized to life and growth. Nothing brings new life to a church more than seeing people experience new life in Christ.

So how do you bridge the desire for church revitalization and evangelism? I believe this is found in three simple answers:

  1. You must create a culture of evangelism in your church. Church members must sense the need and urgency to reach people for Christ and recognize their responsibility in God’s kingdom work to share the good news of Christ. Your church has to create strategies that are focused on reaching the lost with the gospel. When this happens, people begin to expect God to transform lives each and every week. Creating a culture of evangelism in a church will simultaneously create a culture of newfound enthusiasm in a church.
  2. You must create opportunities to train people on how to share their faith and to engage in personal evangelism. People are eager to see God use them for His purposes. They genuinely want to see people come to faith in Jesus; many just haven’t been discipled in how to do it. When your church equips people with the necessary tools to share the gospel, God uses them to expand his kingdom. Once someone leads another to Christ, they develop a new excitement because they know they have been used by God!
  3. You must consistently dream about the future and try new tools for evangelism. In our day, we have more tools and gadgets to share the gospel than ever before. Churches should always evaluate what is out there to utilize as well as continue to be innovative in how they engage those without Christ.

The tragedy of Blockbuster is that they settled for being good in the present and missed the opportunity to be great in the future. Likewise, God has given us an incredible opportunity to shine his light brighter than ever before. I encourage you as a church to be forward thinking in how to engage your community with the gospel. After all, we’re not a part of a video retail business; we are a part of a worldwide gospel revolution.

used by permission | see more at the blog I Already Am

May 20, 2016

Sermon Format Brings Diminishing Returns

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:30 am

 Found this at Thom Schultz’s blog Holy Soup. It’s actually an introduction to a 36-minute podcast which I hope you’ll consider checking out.

After many years in the pulpit, Steve Simms gave up preaching. He turned the floor over to his congregation. And he’s never looked back.

Every Sunday at Berry Street Worship Center in Nashville, Tennessee, the faithful gather to hear and share personally what God is doing in their lives. It’s unscripted, and often surprising. Simms says, “Every Sunday we say we’ve never seen anything like that.” And that’s the way he–and his congregation–like it.

The people of Berry Street follow the advice in 1 Corinthians 14:26: “Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation.”

Simms said, “I’ve seen people grow spiritually far more rapidly in this style than when I was preaching.”

In fact, back in his preaching days, Simms polled his congregants with general recall questions about his sermon content. “Not one person could answer the questions,” he said.

And, the old one-way communication model is a primary reason today’s people are staying away from church, according to research.

In today’s Holy Soup podcast with Steve Simms, he explains how he conducts his participatory Sunday services. And he offers troubleshooting tips for some common worries about this style of message-bringing, including how to handle long-winded individuals, theological impurity, and shy members…

Simms has discovered what others, in other fields, are finding: the monolog lecture method has diminishing returns.

Listen to the entire podcast at Holy Soup or at SoundCloud.

 

May 18, 2016

Wednesday Link List

Too Much ApologeticsBefore we begin, a reminder that Saturday we did a Weekend Link List. A big one. With links… The graphic at right was sourced in a 2013 blog post at Barenuckle Bible.

It’s been a long time since we caught up with our friends at Mainline Memorial Church in the comic For Heaven’s Sake by Mike Morgan, so we’re going for doubles:

For Heaven's Sake - Thorn in the Flesh - 4 25 2016


For Heaven's Sake - Spoke in Tongues - 5 14 2016

May 17, 2016

Without Words

Filed under: Christianity, graphics, Humor — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:09 am

…At least not words that I had to type…

We’re stealing from tomorrow’s graphics since, as of 11:15 last night, I didn’t have anything else prepared. Images from two Facebook pages, Church Meme Committee, and Word of Faith Shenanigans. I think you’ll know which is which.

VBS - Half Time Show


Sermon - Offended


Guitars in Church


Jesus Was Wealthy


Jesus is Here


If it be Thy will


Jesus existed only as an image

May 14, 2016

Weekend Link List

Don't Be Captivated
Sometimes in our quest for a weekly cartoon, we forget that David Hayward aka The Naked Pastor, has been faithfully producing them longer than some of you have owned computers. The ones that make you think are provided at no extra charge…

List Lynx: "Every once in awhile I have to work a Saturday."

List Lynx: “Every once in awhile I have to work a Saturday.”

…Meanwhile, a mix of the sacred, the serious and the silly; this time in no particular order.

Public Notice: “Will link for food.” If anyone out there with a major Christian website and a budget is interested in leasing the Wednesday Link List as Christianity Today & Leadership Journal did, contact me via Twitter. 

Also, I have a birthday coming up. If anyone asks, I want large checks.

Large checks

May 11, 2016

Wednesday Link List

Jake Wilkerson, a disillusioned young pastor who is an expert at hiding his fears, takes on a new assignment in a small, rural church in Coudersport, Pennsylvania. It’s a far piece from anywhere and full of curiously odd and eccentric people, including Sally Grainger, a single woman and veterinarian who dismisses all Christians as “those people,” and Tassy, a young runaway with a secret. His first day on the job, however, Jake is adopted by Petey, a cat of unknown origins and breed, but of great perception. Petey believes that he is on a mission from God to redeem Jake and bring him and his quirky friends back to the truth.

Jake Wilkerson, a disillusioned young pastor who is an expert at hiding his fears, takes on a new assignment in a small, rural church in Coudersport, Pennsylvania.  His first day on the job,  Jake is adopted by Petey, a cat of unknown origins and breed, but of great perception. Petey believes that he is on a mission from God to redeem Jake and bring him and his quirky friends back to the truth.

For those of you who only show up here on Wednesdays, don’t miss an article which ran here Monday on a strange conference which got more publicity by being cancelled than it had in advance. While organizers denied it was about child marriage or arranged marriage, it did have a lot in common with speed dating. Check out the bizarre world of the organization known as Let Them Marry.

Now on to today’s link list:

Early Phil Vischer Podcast

Hidden away on Christian Taylor’s website is this early pic of an audio-only episode of the Phil Vischer Podcast.

 

May 8, 2016

Churches that Post “Gone Fishing” Signs on the Front Door

Then turning to His disciples, Jesus said, “Okay guys, I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to maintain focus during this sticky weather, especially since air conditioning won’t be invented for at least another 1,900 years. So whaddya say we take at least eight weeks off, and then we’ll meet up at Bethany and start planning the fall season.”

Imagine the greatest institution the world has ever seen suddenly shutting shop. Imagine a movement so powerful that nothing can stop it dispersing its followers for an extended holiday. Imagine the Church of Jesus Christ simply not being there for the hungry, the thirsty, the needy.

That’s essentially what many of our North American churches do in June, July and August.

And it’s wrong.

It waves the white flag of surrender to the calendar, the school year, football games, and the arrival of hot and humid weather. It gives up because so-called “key leadership” decided to spend weekends at the lake. It broadcasts the message that summer ministry simply isn’t worth the bother. It says, “There’s a big game being televised so probably nobody is going to show up anyway.”

Sorry, we’re closed.

It turns out this is a topic on which I have both strong opinions and raging passion, because I’ve written about it here twice; in an April, 2008 post, Loss of Continuity, and a May, 2009 post, Summer Shutdown Mentality.

While both posts did some darkness-cursing, they both did some candle-lighting as well; first in 2008:

I have however noticed that among some megachurches the programs just become so overarching that it is impossible to curtail them in the summer months. This may actually be a major positive attribute for megachurches at a time when people are so quick to emphasize their negatives.

We did attend a local church since moving to this small town where the Sunday School ministry didn’t really miss a beat in the summer. I noted their dedication. It was like they believed in a God that doesn’t take three months off each summer.

And then in 2009:

Use the summer to invite people over to your home for informal events.

Can’t lead a Bible study? Just find a good teaching DVD and set up the machine in the living room; make some coffee and then let whatever is meant to happen next, simply happen. There are sermon DVDs from pastors you’ve heard of available as downloads online, you can purchase some from various ministry organizations, or you can buy them at Christian bookstores.

Can lead a Bible study? Don’t do anything fancy. Just pick a short Biblical book, invite people over; make the aforementioned coffee; and start in on chapter one. Don’t even suggest getting together the following week for chapter two; let those who are present suggest that. (Some may offer their home for the following week, especially if you don’t have air-conditioning!)

Counter the summer shutdown mentality with impromptu, informal events in your home this summer. And no, you don’t need your pastor’s permission; in fact, make it a non-church event by inviting some people from a different church. Or if the DVD has good outreach potential, invite some non-churched neighbors.

Just this week, I had a conversation with someone who is operating in a kind of spiritual paralysis because she thinks she needs her pastor’s permission to invite a few friends over for a faith-based discussion; that she needs her church board’s permission for a few Christian friends to pool some money to sponsor a 10-year old girl’s week at a Christian camp.

As the Nike advert says, “Just do it.” 

More recently — well, 2013 actually — David Murrow wrote about another factor: Huge structures we call megachurches are already grossly under-utilized without closing down for a week.

Most church buildings are owned debt-free. Many of these churches sit empty 160 hours a week. And they’re half-empty on Sunday.

The summer is actually a time of great loneliness and isolation for many people. Here’s the conclusion I drew in 2008:

I’m willing to bet there are stories of spiritual starvation that take place when ‘spiritual providers’ take off. I’d like to start a crusade to fight on behalf of those who are simply not looking forward to the next few months of meetings suspended until the fall.


Related: North Point takes Memorial Day Weekend and Sunday after Christmas off in 2015. Excerpt

We live at a time when people are taking an extremely casual approach to church attendance. Families with children have already sacrificed weekly continuity on the altar of getting their kids into team sports: Soccer, baseball, three-pitch, t-ball, gymnastics, swim teams, etc. What hasn’t been destroyed by athletics has been decimated by dads working weekend shifts or moms working retail Sunday openings.

These days, if you can get a family out to church 26 out of 52 Sundays, you’re doing well.

So why chop that down to only 50 Sundays? Why create even the most subtle suggestion that taking time off church is perfectly acceptable?

May 4, 2016

Wednesday Link List

From Shorpy.com: The Church of the Wild Wood, First Wesley Methodist Episcopal is seen in 1912 before the first coat of stucco is applied.

From Shorpy.com: The Church of the Wild Wood, First Wesley Methodist Episcopal is seen in 1912 before the first coat of stucco is applied.

It’s May already! While we like the news items and the weird stories, if you know someone who is consistently doing good writing online, send me a link so we can feature them here.  Meanwhile, sit back, enjoy the list, and try to forget last night’s primary results.

Jesus - Obituary

May 3, 2016

Car Repairs, Hats, and Propriety in Weekend Worship

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

So about three years ago, I was speaking with a couple who operate their own automotive repair business. They were telling me how their primary purpose in attending church is to worship God, but people like to use Sunday morning to discuss car problems or even book an appointment to get some work done.

Okay. In a way I totally get that. Most of the ‘fellowship’ that happens in the lobby before or after church isn’t true spiritual fellowship. It consists of talk about the hometown sports team; how the kids are doing in school, piano and soccer; and the weird weather we’ve been having this year. Not so much of, “So what’s God been showing you this week?” Or, “I gotta share this verse with you I was reading yesterday.” Or, “Anything I can pray with you about over the next few days?”

That doesn’t happen so much. Maybe more in the U.S. than in my home country of Canada. But not a whole lot.

Talking in ChurchBut what really got to me about this couple’s story is that people were requesting consultation and wanting to book appointments during the offering (okay it’s like the seventh inning stretch in baseball at some churches), during worship choruses (well, in some places it is more like a rock concert than a worship opportunity) and even during a prayer (ouch!). Remember, they weren’t standing in the aisle passing out business cards, people were coming to them.

Now, I love that worship services in western Europe and North America are slightly more casual. That necktie was choking me all those years and those shoes just plain hurt. But have we gotten too casual? Is a whole generation of church-goers emerging that has no sense of propriety; no sense of what it is supposed to mean to come into the presence of a holy God?

We got a comment on a old blog post here about guys who keep their hats on in church. Normally when I comment on a post that old, it’s spam and I’m all set to delete it. But this time…

Yes, now it is my turn. We can debate whether it is a matter of “custom” or a matter of scripture; I affirm the later. For 1900 years, the matter was clear: Women are to be veiled in church, men must not cover their heads. This is based on 1Co 11:2-16 and was understood this way – as I said – UNANIMOUSLY in ALL churches of Christ for two millennium! Now, in the WEST women took off the veil and became pastors – which is a severe discontinuation of Apostolic practice UNIQUE to the Western churches, esp. Protestants. And it is in THIS setting, that men became increasingly indifferent as well and started wearing their baseball hats to church a only couple of years ago. Also: Shorts are worn to church, and shirts are no longer tucked in – the body language became totally disconnected from the spiritual language we utter with our lips. Watch out: That’s contemporary Gnosticism! Where are these brave leaders who address misbehavior like this and put an end to it?

Now, you might just dismiss this a comment from an ultra-conservative reader, but I don’t. Not completely. That sentence, “…the body language became totally disconnected from the spiritual language we utter with our lips;” is the part that haunts me.

There’s a trend emerging, but where is that trend taking us? Some say to just relax because in a few years, the men at the bank and the real estate office will be back to suits and ties. (In our town presently, the only person who wears a suit is the funeral director.) But is a whole generation that’s known nothing but casual Sunday likely to go formal? (And don’t even get me started on parents who let their children treat communion as snack time.)

Typically, I find that people in blue collar jobs tend to dress up for church, while people in white collar jobs tend to dress down; at the same time as everybody tends to be very casual in their approach to weekend worship. Even the concept of weekend worship is a compromise which allows those who choose to have their entire Sunday free to play golf, picnic, visit family or head to the beach.

…In the meantime, I feel for this couple who owns the auto shop. When this happens to me, I feign memory loss and tell them, “I can’t remember business stuff that happens on Sunday morning, but if you write it on a piece of paper, I’ll put it in my shirt pocket and deal with it on Monday.” And I actually do try to hold back some stuff to the next day. Furthermore, my job could justify getting them the answers they want because I could argue it’s kingdom business.

The auto repair couple are trying to live their lives by a higher standard and are no doubt unimpressed by those who choose to violate their time of worship. If you were they, how would you respond to a mid-service request for brakes, steering or transmission advice or a service appointment?

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