Thinking Out Loud

February 15, 2015

Weekend Link List

Crossing the Red Sea - 21st Century Edition

Crossing the Red Sea – 21st Century Edition

Some really good story teasers here; pick a few and click through to read…

  • Paying the Price of Criticizing Your Church – Byron King, who is what we would call a district superintendent in the Mormon Church, has informed popular Mormon podcast John Dehlin that he is no longer part of the LDS church: “‘I acknowledge your right to criticize the Church and its doctrines and to try to persuade others to your cause,’ King writes in the letter. ‘But you do not have the right to remain a member of the Church in good standing while openly and publicly trying to convince others that Church teachings are in error.’ In addition to the charges listed in the letter, Dehlin claims he’s being targeted for expressing public support for same-sex marriages, and the ordination of women.”
  • Sermon Feedback in Real Time – “Whatever your background, most communicators…enjoy having people in the audience provide feedback… Verbal call and response feedback. Responding in the moment… [S]ome of you that are immediately thinking if anyone spoke up during our Sunday services that they would be immediately removed… Now in the church I group up in, there were only a few folks who had ‘permission’ to respond to the sermon on a Sunday morning, and they usually went with the traditional  ‘Amen’ or ‘Hallelujah…'” What follows this introduction is a wild and wacky list of 50 alternative words or phrases you can use to encourage the person up front. (Or throw him or her completely off their game.)
  • The Pendulum Swing of Ministry - “1. I’m doing an awesome job vs. I’m doing an awful job. 2. I’m completely overwhelmed vs. I’m so bored 3. Things are going great personally vs. I’m in the ditch. 4. I love the church vs. I’m so frustrated with the church. 5. Micromanagement vs. Abdication.” “Knowing the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership can help you manage the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership.”
  • Proof-texting the Quran – “Instead of taking the time to actually read the Quran ourselves and listen to faithful Muslims tell us what their faith is actually about, we’ve allowed ourselves to buy into the hate-filled lies of fear-mongers on the Internet, cable news, talk radio, and even the pulpit. We cling to the cherry picked verses they throw out from a book they’ve never read and rally around the converted outliers they parade out to confirm our suspicions of a secret Muslim conspiracy to take over the world.”
  • Anatomy of a Transition – “…The all-white church moved to its current location in a mostly white neighborhood in the early 80s — and its new neighborhood began to change. In addition to a racial change, the neighborhood’s major employers moved to other places. And we realized we needed to bring in younger, more diverse members to help our church thrive. Our church had to make big changes or die…While our diversity is increasing, we must continue efforts to reflect the racial makeup of our neighborhood. But after much prayer, strong lay leadership and a willingness by many to be courageous, change has come… We have made the change from survival mode to the hope of thriving.”
  • A Different Take on Free Will – A book review: “I also wonder if [author Vincent] Bugliosi has thought about what the elimination of free will would accomplish. This of course would not be difficult for God to do. He would simply reoccupy the space He has created between us and Him and would force us to do His will. Whatever God wished to do with us, whatever task He had in mind, we would simply do – without complaining, without resisting, without evading. We would be, in effect, machines. If God ever does listen to Bugliosi and grants this wish, I certainly hope that He also eliminates our self-awareness. I can think of no worse fate than to spend endless time being controlled, directed, adjusted, worked – totally devoid of any ability to plan or to choose or to accomplish.”
  • Christian Fiction Sales Down 15% – Publishers Weekly reports the drop in one particular category of Christian book sales, “Many see what [Tyndale’s Karen] Watson calls ‘a winnowing away’ of Christian houses publishing fiction as part of the reason for the drop in sales. Moody Publishing’s River North imprint moved from 8-12 releases in 2013 to 3-5 in 2014. Abingdon Press ‘paused’ in acquiring fiction in August 2014, pulling back from its 25-35 fiction titles per year; and B&H Publishing Group ‘realigned’ its fiction strategy to only publish novels tied to brands such as B&H Films or other cross-platform initiatives.” But the article stresses that the publishers are “not in panic mode.”
  • Describing Your Dream Church – “Talking about one’s “dream church” is–increasingly, I’ve come to think–an exercise in not only futility but flat-out gospel denial. The church does not exist to meet our every need and satisfy our various checklists of tastes and “comfort zone” preferences. If anything it exists to destabilize such things. The church should draw us out of the dead-eye stupor of a culture of comfort-worship. It should jostle us awake to the reality that comfort is one of the greatest obstacles to growth. The two years I’ve attended my current church have been difficult and full of discomfort, but also probably the most spiritually enriching two years of my life.”
  • When a Social Media ‘Friend’ DiesHow do you mourn someone you only knew as an idea?” Right there, you may disagree with the premise. The article continues, “I will experience more death than my parents, because I know more people than my parents. People I haven’t given any thought to in years, people who – for all generations before mine – would have simply slipped out of mind, can remain on my social radar simply because there they are, archived. Here, look: a wedding album. There: a birthday reminder. And inevitably, at some point: a death.”
  • Atheist Reaps Huge Profit from Bible App – “A self-professed atheist is reportedly making over $100,000 a year selling a Bible app that he designed… Trevor McKendrick found a gap in the app market for a Spanish translation of the Bible and made the app for about $500. He now makes about $6,000 a month for his app and has added an audio version as well. The Mormon-raised app designer said that he feels guilty about profiting from a book that he believes to be a work of fiction.”

Short Takes

 

Literal Bible

 

Inclusion of stories here does not imply endorsement.

February 12, 2015

The Sin of Embellishment

Filed under: Church, ethics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:55 am

Brian Williams NBC Nightly NewsNightly News host Brian Williams was in a war zone traveling in a convoy of airplanes. One came under attack. It was not the plane in which Williams was a passenger. But over time the story morphed into one in which the aircraft he was in sustained mortar fire. Or something like that. The allegation is that the story was therefore falsified by a person of trust, a network news anchor.

He certainly embellished the story. Or fell victim to false memory syndrome. As a result, he’s been suspended, without pay, from hosting the NBC national newscast for six months.

Some say it’s the end of his career.

For readers here, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Williams’ embellishment and Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, though in Driscoll’s case, it may have been but one of many issues that brought down the end of the Washington state megachurch franchise known as Mars Hill.

But when it comes to embellishment, we do this don’t we?

By this I mean both we as individuals, and we as the church.

Individually, we paint an artificial picture of ourselves on social media. We idealize our children’s accomplishments and our recent vacation. We make sure our profile picture minimizes silver hairs or bags under the eyes. We minimize reports of failures and defeats.

Corporately, churches are known for enhancing numbers: Attendance figures, budgets, baptisms, altar call responses, and the number of kids on the Sunday School bus. Whether you call it an ethical lapse or deliberate dishonesty depends on how you interpret what’s been said, where you set the bar, or perhaps recollection of your own failings in this department.

It’s certainly akin to the fishing story; each time around the size of the fish caught gets larger and longer.

We can avoid being guilty of deceit or falsification — those are harsh words after all — by using terms like “approximately” or “as I remember” or even the euphemistic “evangelically speaking;” but the fact remains we tend to recollect the data in an upwards, not downwards direction.

So we need the Brians and the Marks; they serve to remind us that being ‘lax with the facts’ can catch up to us, that sometimes we have to pay the price for not being people whose accounts of things are reliable and dependable. We have to face the consequences of what scripture might describe as not ‘letting our yes be yes and our no be no.’

February 1, 2015

Weekend Link List

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama Crashes the Party Exactly One Year After His First Visit Here

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama makes his annual appearance

Once a year the List Lynx gets bumped. If the llama sees his shadow…

  • From Worship Leader to Lead Pastor - Of course they don’t use that terminology in the Church of England, but Tim Hughes is moving from the church that gave the world The Alpha Course to be “Priest in Charge” of a church in downtown London. “While a significant change for the worship leader, he’s keen to point out he won’t be putting his guitar down anytime soon. Inspired by a book called Chasing Francis he says he wants to become an ‘artist pastor’ who leads in creative ways. He said: ‘You lead out of who you are. I don’t want to think the leader who works in a church is someone who does x,y,z. It’s what are my gifts? What are my strengths? The big thing is leading with a team, and a community. I’m not gifted in everything so I need people who can help supplement that.'”
  • David and Goliath is Next in a line of Religious Epics – The film’s director: “‘Well first off, I’m not only a director, but also an evangelist,’ says [Tim] Chey who has spoken at some of the largest churches in the U.S. and abroad. ‘So obviously I’m not going to make a film that’s Biblically not correct or does not give honor to the Lord.’ David and Goliath is considered one of the big three Bible movies hitting theaters after Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings. The film wrapped principal photography in North Africa and in studios in London and opens as a platform release nationwide on April 3. Chey refers to the backlash of the film ‘Noah’ which many Christian pastors and leaders shunned. The film still was a box office hit at $120 million, but Christians stayed away in droves.”
  • An Open Letter to High-Profile Pastors – “Famous pastor, your actions and words (written and preached) have ripple effects which reach into the churches whose pastors do not carry your clout. It’s not because they are less gifted or less faithful. It’s because the famous man’s words carry more weight, even in our churches. So when you mess up and preach things that fail to square with God’s Word or you appear alongside false teachers it leaves the rest of us to deal with it in our own churches. These are people we love and pray for and visit in the hospital. You don’t know them. You’ll never meet them. But they listen to your teaching and read your books. Because they never see your own faults they tend to place you on a pedestal.”
  • The Theology of Afterlife – Even within Evangelicalism, there are differences as to what happens when we die, or more particularly, what happens to the unbelieving, unregenerate upon death. Views range from annihilation of the soul to eternal conscious torment. Scot McKnight has assembled a number of texts from the period of Second Temple Judaism that show an equal diversity of teaching. He presents them raw and without comment, except to note that, “Into this kind of diversity Jesus and the apostles stepped and spoke of judgment.”
  • Ultimately, the Kids Don’t Want the Y-Min to be Cool – “I think there is a reason youth ministers on average only last 18 months before they move on to a new church. Teenagers are stress machines with enough emotional baggage to sink a ship. You can be great at playing games, planning outings, and writing jokes into lesson plans, but if at the end of the day if you don’t love your kids I don’t know how you are going to make it…In spite of what people might tell you, teenagers don’t really want a youth minister who is “cool.” …What youth really want is the freedom to be who they are, and to be loved for who they are.”
  • Church Staffing: Smaller is Better – You’d expect a pastor on the frontlines of multi-site to be all about growth and numbers, but when it comes to staff size, Craig Groeschel leans toward the idea that a few too few is better than a few too many. Sample: “In ministries, a bigger staff often means a smaller volunteer base. When you start to hire people to do what volunteers once did (or could do), you rob your church members of the blessing of using their gifts in ministry. When you stop empowering volunteer leaders, you lose a great source of future staff members and ultimately weaken the strength of your church or non-profit.”
  • NYC Too Pricey for this Non-Profit – The American Bible Society is moving to Philadelphia:  “‘New York has become so extraordinarily expensive that nonprofit staff cannot afford to live in proximity to headquarters,’ said Roy Peterson, the society’s president and CEO. ‘We don’t have a cohesive, synergistic global headquarters staff right now. And that’s why we wanted to find a city that was diverse, rich with culture and churches and language, but yet affordable.'” The new home is just a block from the Liberty Bell.
  • Preaching to the Crowd You Wish Was Present – Some fairly standard advice is that if you’re a church of 50 and you’d like to grow to 250, start preaching like there are 250 people in the room. But an expert on small(er) church ministry rejects that: “That’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever received in ministry. And I’m not the only one who’s received it. Many of you have heard it too. Some of you may have repeated it. If so, stop. It’s not a good idea. In fact, it’s a very bad idea. The only time we should preach like the room is full is when the room is actually full.”
  • Not Enough Links for Ya? - You can always check out our weekend competition at Internet Monk. If you prefer story leads more related to pastors and church leaders, check out Dash House.

We end with Mark Gungor’s 9-minute rant on the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings.

January 28, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Jesus is my Coach

First, we’ll look at what PARSE readers are seeing today, and then we’ll add a few bonus links:

  • Work Out Your Salvation in Fear and Publishing – Philip Yancey sits down with World Magazine: “I tell people I write my books for myself, and that’s true. I grew up in an unhealthy church. I’ve talked about that very openly in my books. It was almost a toxic church. I went through a period of time where I threw out that whole church background because I realized there were some things they had lied to me about… [W]hen I started writing, I realized I had the opportunity to pick up pieces, one-by-one, of things that I had learned in church, and examine them, kind of, dust them off, and see what the truth was. You can almost tell from the titles of my books…what interests me.”
  • Up in the Sky, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Super Apostles – An excerpt from a new book appears in a review by Tim Challies: “Some readers may suspect that the authors are anti-charismatic. They may expect us to argue that the miraculous gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12—including the gifts of prophesying, healing, and speaking in tongues—are no longer active in the church today. This is not our objective. Many Christians around the world, including charismatics and classic Pentecostals, believe that the miraculous gifts are still active, and we do not dispute their belief. We’ve tried to show that [New Apostolic Reformation] teachings do not represent the views of most charismatics or classic Pentecostals, but are, rather, entirely different.” Read the review of God’s Super Apostles.
  • Three Things Megachurch Leaders Get Right – With 300 members, you may not feel you’re playing in the big leagues, but you can borrow their strategies. “In our experience, it is common for churches to accumulate a variety of ministries over time. Some of them get the attention of senior leadership while others seem to float along under the radar. If you’re looking to lead a church toward a unified vision, build accountability by keeping everything tied to your senior leadership team.”  Which brings us to…
  • A Liberal Gay Jewish Man Walks Into a Baptist Megachurch - After constantly driving by Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, curiosity gets the better of him: “First, these churches deliver powerful, personal spiritual experiences — which is a primary reason they’re winning over lapsed Catholics and mainline Protestants. The pastors talk directly about their conversion experiences. The service that I went to was a carefully, skillfully choreographed crescendo designed to inspire (and, judging by the enthusiasm of the congregants, successful at doing so). The theology is personal and experiential; you’re meant to talk to God, and hear God talking back…
  • Academic Avenue: The Role of Oral Tradition in the Synoptics - I thought we’d toss in some meat in the middle of the snack food: “But why can all three synoptics sometimes provide different wording regarding either the story or quotation of Jesus, yet some quotations will be exactly the same in all three synoptics? Scholars call these similarities and differences the Synoptic Problem.” Later on, “[E]xperts now tell us that ancient oral tradition was not only formed but performed. That is, early church communities further remembered Jesus by performing plays about these remembered incidents in his life.”
  • The Things Educators Believe Matter – Despite having high academic test score averages, a Christian school in the UK is in danger of losing its certification and having to shut down because inspectors felt the school reflected homophobic attitudes. Parents have rallied to fight the assessment carried out by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, a government agency. A ten year old girl was put on the spot by the question, “What is a lesbian?” and was asked “if she felt trapped in someone else’s body?” Worse, the girl now feels the school’s rating by Ofsted is her fault.
  • Why We Won’t Lose the War - Author Anne Marie Miller doesn’t ignore the statistics, in fact she loves stats. And she knows that many under-35s are leaving the church. “Some leave and go to the church down the road. And then to the other church farther down the road. We commit just long enough to wonder why we haven’t found community only to start all over again.” Yet, despite all this, she remains wholly optimistic; “…quietly hoping, seeking, praying, pleading, trusting and living out the Gospel that the numbers and statistics don’t matter.”
  • Sorry, It’s In Your Contract – I knew a youth pastor once who worked in a megachurch that can only be described as a “sweatshop.” The week after his father died he asked if he could be exempted from having to be part of the platform party — it was the type of church where all the ministers sat on the stage during the whole service — and they refused him. And so he sat there, in full view of everyone, in tears.  I think of him whenever I see this healthy contrast:  The annual list of the Best Christian Workplaces.
  • Short Essay of the Week – A Michigan pastor escapes the frozen north to Cancun only to come face-to-face with with his own susceptibility to consumerism. As a member of the resort staff leads him into temptation: “It’s ironic, but our ‘all inclusive resort’ turned out to have some exclusions after all. Now here’s the thing: I was completely happy with my little corner of paradise until Shakira (yes, that was really her name) told me that there was more, and that – for only $70 more per day – we could have it all.” Did he purchase the upgrade?
  • Why Speak in Tongues When There’s Christianese? – “The Sea of Forgetfulness. Partaking in Christ’s body and blood. Dying to yourself. The mark of the beast. Getting caught up in the air. Out of context, some of the language used regularly in church sounds more like it belongs in some sort of weird horror movie…Some strange church sayings are direct quotes from the Bible, but to someone not familiar with the whole story of the Bible, they’re mind-boggling.” And speaking of our family dialect, the most recent post at The Dictionary of Christianese concerns the word televangelism
  • She’s Back! –  After a long absence, former co-host Sheila Walsh returns to The 700 Club for a 9-minute interview, speaking of her battle with clinical depression.

The family in the UK school story has the same last name but is no relation.

Now on to some bonus links for readers here:

Finally, one of the great products to come out of the Emergent Church movement, Emerjeans:

Emerjeans

 

January 24, 2015

Weekend Link List

Carlos Whittaker explaining technology to Pete Wilson:

Pete Wilson and Carlos Whittaker

In order to highlight that the links are now on PARSE on Saturdays, I’m running the latest list here. Remember that these are especially keyed for pastors and church leaders, but I try widen that focus a little with things of interest to all of us. Feedback from Thinking Out Loud readers is always welcomed.  The decision to move to Saturday was made by CT, but we’re now in direct competition with our friends at Saturday Ramblings at Internet Monk, where you’ll also find a great summary of the week in religious news; and an especially busy list this week, too (including a sermon excerpt that’s not safe to play if your kids are in the room).

  • A New Church Metrics Paradigm – Instead of counting bodies in the pew, you could count the times members invited their friends, relatives and neighbors. “I want to suggest a measurement that I believe would bring many benefits. This key measurement stat is ‘how many people have you asked to church this past week?’ Why that question? …[I]t does measure how enthusiastic the congregation is to want to talk about their church and what is going on there.” The writer sees eight benefits resulting from stressing this type of measurement.
  • Americans Need a Counter-Script – Brian Zhand: “As Americans we are given a script from birth — it is our shared and assumed formula for the pursuit of happiness. Without even being aware of it we are scripted in the belief that our superior technology, our self-help programs, our dominant military, and our capacity to obtain consumer goods should guarantee our happiness. Said just so it sounds silly, but when it is communicated in the liturgies of advertising and the propaganda of state it becomes believable…  But it’s a lie. It’s a false gospel, yet enormously popular. The only possible way to resist that dominant script is through the adoption of what Walter Brueggemann calls a counter-script. For the Christian that counter-script is the gospel of Jesus Christ — at the center of which stands a cross!”
  • Sunday Night, February 22nd – Is your church calendar open that night? Author Phil Cooke has an idea which, even if you don’t pursue it, will definitely get you thinking: Host an Oscar Party. “Recently, as I’ve been speaking at conferences and events around the world I’ve been urging Christians to stop looking at Hollywood as the enemy, and start looking at Hollywood as a mission field. After all, what if Christians stopped just criticizing, and actually started praying for the most influential industry in the world?” This isn’t a packaged simulcast; you’re on your own as to what it might look like.
  • Essay of the Month: Our Hunger for Transcendence – “These men go to church on Sunday with the question of why eating holes in their guts, and the church tries to answer that transcendent question with a supposedly transcendent answer, yet nothing of those men’s experience in church from week to week ever takes them anywhere into the genuine transcendent light of God. You can’t meet transcendent needs of people who are stuck thinking only of fish, if all you can talk about is the fish itself. And churches today are absolutely mired in talking about the fish. You can blame the leaders, but the fact is, most of them are generations removed from the last transcendent moves of God in this country.”
  • After a Year Without God, Pastor No Longer Believes – You’ve probably already been tracking the story of Ryan Bell, the pastor now turned “agnostic atheist.” Branson Parler writes: “Bell illustrates that our beliefs and life practices are inseparable. We can’t act as if God doesn’t exist and assume that we’ll keep believing. In the context of his famous wager, Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal recognizes that believing is not merely a matter of reason and the will, but of our heart, habits and passions. We can’t just will ourselves to believe something; the process is more mysterious than that… Bell is Pascal in reverse. If I spend a year living like God doesn’t exist, it’s not surprising that after a year of living that way, I believe it.”
  • Unconditional Election, Meet Modern Worship – There are some who will disagree with this song’s theological mindset, the manner in which it is adapted from another well-known chorus, or both. No matter, it’s an eye-opener. The author justifies some of this in history: “One of the things [Thomas] Cranmer did was to take the Church’s inherited worship practices and, in a sense, “hijack” them… He took people’s beloved traditional prayers, for instance, and “edited” them to emphasize God’s work and de-emphasize our work.” In a second article: “We’re attempting to capture the spirit of the Reformation for modern times.” Listen to the remake of “I Have Decided” and decide for yourself.
  • An Addiction You May Share – “On November 7, 2012, I stopped watching the Fox News Channel (FNC). That might not seem like a big deal if you didn’t know that I probably averaged 7-10 hours a week for years. I was a news junkie. I LOVED watching the news, hearing different angles on the news, and listening to incredibly smart commentators share their opinion about the news. I watched other channels too, but I was probably 90% watching FNC…I just knew my steady diet of Fox News wasn’t good for my soul. So I walked away. I’ve noticed several things have changed in my heart and mind as a result…”
  • One Christian’s Reasons for Marrying Someone Divorced - “[E]ven though God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), he doesn’t hate divorce in isolation, as though he just thought up something arbitrary to hate. He hates it for a reason, and that reason–stated in the verse–is because divorce is a form of violence against the person one has married… God is in the business of redeeming messed-up, broken, and sinful people, not avoiding them… He didn’t abandon Adam and Eve to their fate, and create a new pristine pure species who had never fallen to be his people. His plan for salvation didn’t involve a command from On High, but rather involved God himself becoming human, choosing to be one of us, mixing together with sinful humanity… the truth is that God has involved himself with sinful humanity throughout history, and I for one am deeply grateful.”

 

December 5, 2014

Proof That Your Local Mainline Church Isn’t Dying

Introducing:

Thinking Out Loud’s
Positive Research Service
For Mainline Churches

Tired of being told your denomination is declining?
Depressed by statistics the spell the end of your local congregation?

Our Positive Research division selects only the few churches in your denomination that are seeing growth, and then we use them as our entire sample size.  While other researchers will tell you that the sky is falling, our theme is optimism and each page of our report has a smiley face in the bottom right corner. Don’t delay, call or write today for a research report that sounds just like what you want to hear.

Call 1-800-555-123 or send check or money order to Box 130467

October 22, 2014

Wednesday Link List

John Calvin Pumpkin

Can you guess who that is in the pumpkin?  Details below.

Welcome to the World Series of Christian news and opinion stories. Two teams: People who are screaming to be heard, and people with stories they wish we didn’t know.

 We leave you with the many creative camera angles of The Phil Vischer Podcast. (Bonus points for naming the guests in the comment section.)

Phil Vischer Podcast YouTube

 

October 5, 2014

Names You Should Know

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

Outreach Magazine is out with its latest list of the 100 Fastest Growing Churches in the U.S. and the 100 Largest Churches in the U.S. You can download a free 23-page .pdf copy of their latest data at this webpage, and learn how you can order the full magazine in single copies or in bulk.

There are however some churches which are conspicuously absent, including Lifechurch.tv (Craig Groeshel) and Lakewood (Joel Osteen), and we need to remind ourselves that as great as its influence is, the Christian world does not end at the U.S. borders.

Some of these names will be new to you, and some will be familiar. Either way, these are names you should be aware of. Download the full report to get the church names, locations, attendance numbers, website links and other stats. These are for the largest churches (in order, in groups of 25). We also did one for the fastest growing churches yesterday at Christian Book Shop Talk.

Lead Pastors of 100 Largest Churches

October 1, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Gospel Van

Photo: Drew Dyck

A fresh crop of October links! Mind you, they’re all dated September. But they’re new to you.

Yes! The links are still also at Parse, the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today. Click here to read there!

For our closing graphic we return to TwentyOneHundred Productions’ Facebook page, the gift that keeps on giving. 2100 is the media division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  (We poached another one from them for tomorrow…I feel like I should make a donation to my local IVCF chapter…) Click the image to link, or follow them at this page.

Books of the Bible

September 21, 2014

Climbing the Ministry Ladder

Filed under: Church, ministry, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 am

Conrad sat in the living room staring at the “yearbook” that Central Church had given him when he resigned several years ago. Well, “resigned” wasn’t exactly the right word, but other than that, there was nothing about his time pastoring the 700-member church that did not evoke fond memories.  He was only the third pastor Central had ever known, and while he did not experience the rapid growth of his predecessors, he’d seen the church grow from 556 members to 703.

Not that it was about numbers.  Well, maybe it was. His first church was 168 members, but he was only there for three years. Then he jumped at the opportunity to go to a 289 member church, where he stayed for five years. Next, he entered a four year term with the 374 member — oh, my goodness; it really was about numbers; he couldn’t believe he had remembered all that detail.

Short StoriesBut Central was the pinnacle as it turned out, twelve years, and average weekend attendance just under a thousand in two services, with 703 of those people full members.

And then he got sent to East Valley on an interim pastor assignment, that ended up lasting six years. Smaller numerically. A little backward culturally. He was balding now and the 414-member church was an older demographic that signified, along with his own age, the numbers might start dropping. And then it did.

Before he knew it, he was doing a meaningless job in the district office waiting out the years to retirement. He had ridden the entire parabolic curve of church size.

He put the yearbook down and sighed.

“You’d better get ready to go;” his wife Carla admonished from the kitchen, “The service at Whispering Willows starts at 2:00 PM.”

So this is what it comes to, he thought.  Sunday afternoon chapel services in the local seniors’ home.

The pianist assigned from the Salvation Army didn’t know any of the hymns he’d bookmarked. “We tend to do Army music;” she confessed, “But I can do Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.”

“That’s all they ever want to sing anyway;” Conrad told her, and at 1:55 Whispering Willows staff started wheeling in the dozen-and-a-half women and three men who had signed up to go to chapel that week, plus two staff. Okay, a few of the residents used walkers, but he noticed that everybody that week had some type of appliance necessary to get them around.

At 2:00 he opened in prayer.  At 2:01 they sang How Great Thou Art. At 2:05 they sang Amazing Grace. At 2:08 he asked the pianist if she would play a little number from her Salvation Army hymnal. She gladly obliged, but the tune was unfamiliar and the melody was incomprehensible. But now it was 2:10.

Conrad checked his watch again. These services ran an hour, usually 40 minutes of singing and a 20 minute message. He knew he needed to stretch, so he asked if anyone had any prayer requests. “Just put your hands up.”

Surprisingly a woman in the second row did just that. He nodded toward her to share anything with the group and she said, “This isn’t the dining room.”

“No it isn’t;” Conrad replied.

Silence.

More silence. He noticed the ticking of a mantle clock he’d never noticed before. Things had never been this quiet.

“You know;” the retired pastor said, “I come here each month and I’ve never really told you much about myself, so before I share today’s scripture reading and message, perhaps I should share my story.”

So he spoke about his call to ministry late in high school, and how he had gone off to his denomination’s Bible college, and how he graduated and started climbing the ministry ladder. The problem was, as he had done before leaving for Whispering Willows, he was sharing more about the metrics of the various churches than about anything else that had happened in those various communities.

There was no story about Fred, or Jill, or Michael, or Jennifer, or anyone else. It was about the 168 and the 289 and the 374 and the 703 — there’s the high point again — and down to the 414. There was no reference to Carla standing by him in all those years in ministry, or raising a daughter and two sons in those various churches.

And then Conrad stopped. He had been listening to his own story. And he realized that it sounded pathetic.

It wasn’t that all he cared about were the numbers; it’s that he was bitter about never again getting the adrenaline rush associated with being able to speak to a thousand people each weekend. About being bounced down to a smaller church. And then left to deteriorate in a useless administrative position in the district office.

Another resident raised a hand, this time one of the men.

“You left out a number;” he said; “22. There’s twenty-two of us here, twenty-four if you count yourself and the woman who can’t play the piano.” (Of course he had miscounted by one, but…)

“Well actually;” he said, trying to do some damage control, “I think she did those hymns really well, she just doesn’t know the ones that are in your book.”

“Well I grew up Salvation Army, so hey, Miss, do you know Thou Christ of Burning, Cleansing Flame?”

“I don’t think we know that–” he started to say, but the pianist suddenly lighted up and launched into a rather rousing introduction, uncovering previously hidden keyboard skills, and the man stood to his shaking feet and in a loud and clear voice sang verse after verse.

As it turned out the song had a hook, a line that repeated constantly and by the 4th verse, all the residents were singing. Singing loudly, “Send the fire, Send the fire, Send the fire.”

By now it was 2:40 and he was back on schedule.

He read the text for the message, a sermon from the files of the glory days at Central Church, slightly shortened to fit the 20-minute window. In his mind he was back there. Two services. A thousand people every weekend.

One of the two staff members held up a cardboard sign that said “One Minute Left.” He thanked everyone for coming and gave a short benediction.  The staff members started getting ready to pull wheelchairs out of rows and into the hallway.

“Wait a minute! Stop!” yelled the man who had introduced the last song into the service mix; “That number you forgot. We aren’t 703 members, but there’s twenty-two of us, and we’re the best damn twenty-two people you’ve got right now.”

Conrad looked deep into the man’s eyes, and then noticed the smile.

And then he smiled back.

And then time froze and the staff stopped moving wheelchairs and everyone waited for Conrad to say something in return, except he couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. So he said the first words that popped into his head.

“This isn’t the dining room.”

 

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