Thinking Out Loud

February 6, 2018

First Church of Apathy

Sunday morning began with my wife stirring rather early. She was on worship team and needed to be there, on the platform, ready to sing at 8:00 AM.

It was then my phone went off. I was being called in to check a relay station about 30 minutes from my house. They were getting a warning light, which was probably a faulty sensor. It was usually matter of verifying nothing more serious was happening, and then replacing the sensor module. But the rules stated I couldn’t do this alone, just in case. My partner would be Derek.

Derek was a fairly new Christian with whom I had numerous conversations on jobs, in the truck, and in the lunchroom. I texted him quickly and said there was a church almost next door to the relay station if he was interested, since I wouldn’t make it back on time for our own. He said he was open to the visit.

Rock Heights is a beautiful subdivision. The church has grown quickly and while I wouldn’t call it a megachuch, it’s certainly bigger than where our family attends.

Sure enough, it was a sensor module. We exchanged it, locked the gate and had 5 minutes to make it to the 10:00 AM service. We could see the church parking lot, which was rather small, from the ridge and it was already full, so the plan was to park in a strip mall next door which was mostly tenants who would be closed on Sunday. Other people from the church also parked there.

We arrived and ditched as much of our work clothes as possible, though I regretted not taking different shoes to replace the work boots. When we walked in, I was disappointed to see it was some type of children’s service, and they had roped off a large number of the center rows for the kids to sit. Everything else was full and people were walking in circles trying to figure out where to land. We found some extra chairs that had been set up in a corner, but one of them was really wobbly and they were quite uncomfortable, mostly because the floor sloped at that point and the chairs weren’t made for that.

So we made our way to the balcony. I’d never sat up there before, and you had to look twice to realize it was there, since it was somewhat off center to the main floor. Seating only about 125 people, it looked more like someone had cut a hole in the wall just in case they needed more capacity. It was about half full, which surprised me, given the crush of people downstairs. It had its own speakers, since a lot of sound would be blocked by the wall. Ambient sound from the main level was not to be expected.

And those speakers seemed not to be working. There were announcements, and then a woman did a solo number with piano accompaniment. Even the piano sound didn’t carry into this upper perch. Derek said he couldn’t hear anything. That was obvious. Other people up there started complaining to their seatmates and I’m sure the people on the lower level were aware that some commotion was taking place upstairs.

Nobody seemed to be in charge. I figured we were all visitors, but I’d been here a few times and knew where the audio room was; it was on this level. I would get this fixed faster than you could exchange a relay sensor. The door wasn’t locked and I walked in. Three people working hard. Sound inside was state of the art. One head turned so I quickly said, “We’re not getting any sound in the balcony.”

There was no response. The person simply pointed at some rack mounted sound equipment, and gestured toward one which had been labeled, ‘Not Working.’ Then he shrugged his shoulders and turned away. There was to be no discussion.

How could they not bother fixing it? They knew this would be a busy Sunday with lots of kids and the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles of these same children, some of whom had been sitting the row in front of me.

I went back to the balcony, which was now filled because of the time it took people to find parking and realize there was no seating left. The murmur of complaint had turned to anger. Heck, if I could slip downstairs and place my cell phone next to a speaker, I could send the audio to Derek’s cell phone which had a great speaker. At least someone would hear. Couldn’t they have thought of something like that, or better?

But Derek wasn’t there. A woman turned to me and said, “Your friend wasn’t sure where you went, but he said he’d wait for you in the lobby.”

Another church. Another Sunday. Another overlooked detail. Probably none of the people in the sound room had ever been forced to sit in the balcony. They had no experience of it.

I brought Derek back to my place and we watched a televised service instead and had a good talk afterward. Morning redeemed. In spite of everything. But for me and up to 123 other people who were at Rock Heights Church that Sunday, it was a case of never again.


This object lesson should lead you to think of at least FOUR things this church could have done differently, and probably a few more as well. What comes to mind?

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June 6, 2016

Would Your Church Welcome These People?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:37 am

What is that person doing in our church

At least until they got to the door, the gay couple walked from the church parking lot holding hands. One was wearing a rainbow belt. The other had rainbow earrings. There was no denying the identity they wanted to register with everyone else at worship that morning. Some people were visibly uncomfortable.

Today however, I want to look at some other possibilities for discomfort. How would your church react in these cases:

  • The man who has been at the center of an ongoing local television news story concerning the alleged misappropriation of public funds.
  • The woman who, a few years ago, was charged with careless driving after a vehicle accident which left a pedestrian permanently disfigured.
  • The heavily tattooed man who shows up for church wearing a leather vest but no shirt or t-shirt underneath.
  • The girl wearing a hoodie with the logo of a chain of sports bars where the female staff are dressed provocatively.
  • The local newspaper writer whose most recent article was very critical of an evangelism program offered by another local church. 
  • The family that shows up; two boys, a girl, a husband, and a wife who is wearing a hijab.

Two questions might come to mind:

  • What on earth is he/she/they doing here?

and the very similar:

  • Of all the churches in town, why did they have to pick our church?

I believe that the church — both the local assembly and the collective Church — need to consider our responses before some people show up at weekend services.

Eugene Peterson translates the beginning of Romans 14:

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

Ken Taylor’s original restating of the same passage reads:

Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

Interesting story behind the latter version: A bunch of us from the youth group were sitting in the church auditorium balcony waiting for the service to start when we noticed a guy heading toward us who we simply didn’t want to sit with us, near us, or even in the same building.

“Spread out so it looks like there’s no room;” one person said.

“Avoid eye contact;” someone else said.

“Pretend you’re reading something;” I added.

So I opened my copy of The Living Bible and there it was, “Give a warm welcome to the brother who wants to join you…” Yikes!

Perhaps my story seems a little distant from where we started — the gay couple holding hands in the parking lot — but really the principle is the same.  A chapter later, Paul writes to the Romans:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring glory to God.

Later in 1 Corinthians 9:22 he takes this further. I like how J.B. Phillips translated this:

To those who were under the Law I put myself in the position of being under the Law (although in fact I stand free of it), that I might win those who are under the Law. To those who had no Law I myself became like a man without the Law (even though in fact I cannot be a lawless man for I am bound by the law of Christ), so that I might win the men who have no Law. To the weak I became a weak man, that I might win the weak. I have, in short, been all things to all sorts of men that by every possible means I might win some to God. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel; I want to play my part in it properly.

This isn’t easy. Not at all. The church faces challenges all the time, but one thing we’re not is a private club for the pious and the religious. We’re a service center for the broken, the hurting, the needy…

If you’re uncomfortable around certain types of people, make sure at least that you have someone in your church family who is comfortable. But don’t use this strategy as an excuse for not recognizing what it is God is wanting to cultivate in you.

I usually quote from the more modern translations, but I want to end with this KJV phrase reminder from 1 Cor. 6:11

And such were some of you…

 

February 6, 2016

Can Internet Tirades Accomplish Any Good?

img 020616

It started with an article on Huffington Post. In A Tirade For The Trendy Church, writer Jack Levison described a field trip — he’s a professor at Seattle Pacific University —  to a hipster church where his non-conforming band of visitors was somewhat ignored by the regular attenders.

You don’t shake our hands.
You don’t smile.
You don’t tell us your name.
And admit it. You know we’re not one of yours…

And then:

I’m angry.
I’m bored by hipster inhospitality.
I’m irked by Bohemian indifference.
I’m annoyed by trendy aloofness.
No, that’s not right.
I’m sad. Disappointed that a church which, on its website, claims that thousands have been touched by its members, couldn’t greet strangers in their midst.

which I condensed and posted to Twitter with a link to the HuffPo story.

And then a longtime acquaintance replied:

I am bored of complaints about Churches, bored of complaints period, but I guess positive blogs don’t get noticed as much.

Which really got me thinking.

It got me thinking because the same thing happened to us, not once but three times as we occasionally frequented one of the more “cool” churches in another city. A church where the welcome time happens in the middle of the service with many types of beverages and snacks including fresh strawberries in February.

And we didn’t know anybody. And nobody wanted to know us.

So I Tweeted back:

I hear you. But the ignoring of visitors is a recurring theme in the modern church; something that needs to be addressed.

To which he replied:

I agree – but I still think to people who are not Christian it all sounds like whining and bickering.

I give him the last word:

Maybe instead of a blog post – they should request a meeting with the Pastor. This blog post doesn’t achieve anything.

It doesn’t?

So as I said I kept thinking about this for nearly two weeks. Here’s what I’ve concluded:

First, the airing of issues affecting the church on various forms of social media has helped bring about much positive change. Thanks to the whistle-blowers, the watchdog websites, the survivor blogs, the abuse confessionals; we have a handle on church life in North America, Australia/New Zealand, and Western Europe as never before. It’s now difficult for a pastor, or Christian author, or televangelist to act anonymously, secretly or with impunity. From megachurch pastors to shepherds of congregations that are lucky to get 50 people on a Sunday morning, everyone is subject to scrutiny; everyone is under the microscope.

As a result,we have unprecedented accountability. While this seems to reveal a horrid list of sins including financial improprieties, moral failures and control issues, I would argue that it also prevents a whole lot more from taking place. The walls have ears like never before. The internet makes it difficult for people acting inappropriately to do so in secret.

Second, with the internet there are few Christian-only websites, blogs and news feeds. Everything is open to the broader populace unless you go out of your way to restrict membership and require passwords. Even in those cases, there’s bound to be someone in the closed group who knows how to copy and paste. So my Twitter correspondent is correct, these things are seen by people who aren’t Christians.

To some, this probably does sound like bickering and whining; a tempest in a teapot if you will. But to me, it shows we’re willing to be transparent. It shows that our institutions, made up of people like ourselves, are fallible, fragile and fraught with failures. We, the church, are indeed the community of the broken. We get it wrong sometimes. And that hurts. We don’t meet our ideal targets.

Third, as a general rule, pastors are not interested in service reviews by people outside their community. As one church leaders said to me once in another context, “We’re here to serve our people, not the city of _______.” (Yes. Actual quote.) In other words, take it or leave it; we’re doing what we do, and if you come into it as an outsider, your perspective is irrelevant because we’re not here to serve you.

A meeting with the pastor is useless if you’re not part of the target demographic. It would be like me demanding to meet with my pastor to offer my opinions on having visited their women’s Bible study. (‘The leader didn’t make a single sports reference, and they served cupcakes instead of donuts.’) My opinion doesn’t matter in this context because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

…I would definitely send the pastor a copy of the blog article after-the-fact though. Well, maybe. There are times you have to choose your battles. I’d like to think the pastor would think about maybe doing something to create a more welcoming church culture. But maybe he already knows. Maybe he’s satisfied with the status quo.

One more time, here’s the link to Jack’s article: A Tirade For The Trendy Church

 

May 7, 2015

Thursday Link List

Monday night we went to see Do You Believe? but it’s so late into the theatrical run, that I decided to hold comments until the week the DVD releases. For now, suffice it to say I think that in many ways it improves on God’s Not Dead which is by, I think, the same producers.

So there was no blog post scheduled for today, and rather than a re-run, I thought we’d just do what we do best, with some material that didn’t make it in time for yesterday.  But first, a random page from The Brick Bible:

Brick Bible

Amy Julia Becker at the Washington Post on the National Day of Prayer:

But if Christians want a National Day of Prayer that invites people from various faith traditions to join together in what we hold in common — a belief in a good, active, creator God — and implore that God to work through us and in us for the good of our nation and our world, then we need to do so in a way that creates common ground rather than reinforcing the theological points that divide us.

Thom Rainer’s list of 10 Things Never to Say to a Guest at a Worship Service:

“That’s not the way we do it here.”Of course, you can’t have a worship service where any behavior is acceptable. Most of the time, however, the varieties of worship expressions are absolutely fine. I heard from a lay leader recently who witnessed that sentence spoken to a guest who raised her hand during the worship music. She never returned.

Pete Wilson’s 4th book launched Tuesday, What Keeps You Up at Night?

It’s easy to feel paralyzed by uncertainty.  We want our questions answered, our decisions affirmed, and our plans applauded.  But life doesn’t come with an instruction manual and rarely follows a straight path. How would your life change if you learned to lean into uncertainty instead of waiting on the sidelines for just the right moment or opportunity?

For an international body concerned with religious freedom, Russia is now on their watch list.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reports Russia is now a country to watch. The USCIRF issued their report April 30. According to the 232-page document, there are 17 nations listed at Tier 1 abusers of religious freedom. There are 10 on the Tier 2 list, including Russia. Mission Eurasia Director of Religious Freedom Issues, Wade Kusack, says Russia being on the list is a big deal. “This is a first official announcement, or recognition, of the persecution from the U.S. government’s side.”

Purposeful Parenting: 5 ways to avoid raising ‘It’s all about me’ children.

A recent study on the origins of narcissism in children concluded, “narcissism in children is cultivated by parental overvaluation: parents believing their child to be more special and more entitled than others.” The abstract of the study further explains, “children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them.” Unfortunately, the “you are so special, so smart, so beautiful, so talented, so gifted—you can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be—mantra” is often believed, and our children suffer because of it.

“I’m into Jesus, but not all the technical, big-words stuff.” Sorry, but in many circles,doctrine really matters.

Indifference about doctrine is the mother of every heresy in all of history, and in our day indifference about doctrine is spreading like wildfire in the pulpits and pews of our churches. Ironically, the assertion that doctrine doesn’t matter is in fact a doctrine in itself. When people tell me they are into Jesus but not into doctrine, I tell them that if they are not into doctrine, they are, in fact, not into Jesus. We cannot know Jesus without knowing doctrine, and we cannot love God without knowing God, and the way we know God is by studying His Word.

 

 

Songs with substance
If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

 

 

 

October 29, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Orange Curriculum Parody Poster

Our graphic image theme this week is parody. The upper one is a supplement to the Orange Curriculum, a weekend service Christian education experience for children. You can click on the image and then surf the rest of the web page to learn more.

A bumper harvest this week; get coffee first.

The rest of the week Paul Wilkinson offers you a daily choice between trick at Thinking Out Loud, or treat at Christianity 201.

What a Mug I Have of Coffee

September 5, 2014

If You Lived Here, You’d Know How to Get There

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 am

confusing street signageBeing unable to fully use our mobile phones (see yesterday’s post) we’ve spent the last 4 or 5 days at the mercy of others giving us directions.  This is a basic skill that apparently is not covered in the education system.

 

I am reminded of the classic comedy line where somebody is on a bus (or train or trolley) and asks for directions to a given place and is told, “That’s easy; watch me and get off one stop before I do.”

 

Being told that the restaurant in question is next door to Red Lobster is of no use if you don’t know where Red Lobster is.  Somehow, even though it’s rather plain that you need help, there seems to be an assumption that everybody knows everything there is to know about your home town.

 

This has got me wondering if we do the same sort of thing in the Church; if people are entering into our congregational life as outsiders and we’re simply assuming they know all the basics of both the Bible narrative and the way we do church.

 

Several years ago, we attended a church that had as a staff position, ‘Pastor of Assimilation’.  While there are negative aspects of the word ‘assimilation’, the position recognized the fact there were people who were potentially confused and the need to point them in the right direction.

June 25, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Church Organ - Air Conditioner Combo

While this is list number two-hundred-and-something at Thinking Out Loud — and probably about the 400th link list over all, it’s list #52 at PARSE. A year! Time flies when you’re having links. Since Leadership Journal owns this weekly piece, clicking anything below takes you to PARSE where you can then link to the item you wish to read first.

Thursday through Tuesday, Paul blogs at Thinking Out Loud, both writes and steals devotional material at Christianity 201, and provides hints of the following week’s link list on Twitter.

 

It's not every day that we see a Jaguar X16 with a Jesus fish in our part of the world. Mind you it's a gold fish, nicely framed and matted.

It’s not every day that we see a Jaguar X16 with a Jesus fish in our part of the world. Mind you it’s a gold fish, nicely framed and matted.

June 21, 2014

Welcome to our Church Family

coffee time

Michaela and Brett have been attending Neighborhood Community Church for three consecutive weeks now and are at the post-service coffee time in the facility’s large activity room.

BRETT: I’m gonna see if there’s seconds on this decaf.

MICHAELA: Sure, go ahead mine is still too hot to drink.  [Brett exits]

[A woman walks up to Michaela]

HANNAH: Hi, my name’s Hannah, I’ve noticed you’ve been here three weeks in a row and —

MICHAELA: Hi, I’m Michaela; yes we’ve been attending here while–

[Hannah reaches inside a large brown envelope and pulls out a keychain with a key and and a white business-card sized piece of cardboard attached to it.]

HANNAH: Well, here’s your keys to the church.

MICHAELA: (pauses, not sure what to say) My keys?

HANNAH: We want you to feel part of the family and if there’s anything you want to do to volunteer, we don’t want you sitting in the parking lot waiting for someone to arrive.

MICHAELA: Actually, the reason we’re coming here–

HANNAH: The four digit number on the card is your alarm code. Just make sure you enter by the back door or the front door; although the key opens other doors.

MICHAELA: (tries to give the keys back) I don’t think I can–

HANNAH: Oh it’s easy, as you walk in the box is beeping and you just type in the number.

MICHAELA: I don’t want to have to–

HANNAH: (sees someone in the distance) Oh, sorry, I gotta run.  [Exits]

MICHAELA: (to herself) Well that was weird.

The Pastor walks up to Michaela guiding a woman he wants to introduce.

PASTOR: It’s good to see you back again, Kayla.

MICHAELA: Actually it’s Michaela–

PASTOR: Right. Michaela and Jeff.

MICHAELA: No, he’s–

PASTOR: This is Sarah, she’s in charge of our–oh my, I see someone I’ve been trying to catch up with for weeks; excuse me.   [Exits]

SARAH: He’s too busy, that guy. Anyway, I noticed you signed up to attend the banquet on Saturday and wondered if you had any time in the morning to be part of our kitchen team to help us get started.

MICHAELA: That would be nice, we don’t have anything planned.

SARAH: Good. We need someone to start the potatoes. They need to be washed and peeled and cut, so we need that to take place early. Now, I noticed that Hannah gave you a key; we thought if the potato person started around 7:00 AM–

MICHAELA: Potato person?

SARAH: Yes, you’d be the first to arrive. The potato bag will be on the counter, there’s peelers in the top drawer to the left of the sink, and we’ll leave out a few big pots you can put them in.

MICHAELA: Well, I once did a 20-pound bag at church camp, so I suppose–

SARAH: Well these are 48-pound bags. Oh my! Is that Esther? This is her first Sunday back at church after her–well I’m not supposed to say am I?  [Exits]

MICHAELA: (calls after her) Wait! Bags?    [Brett returns]

BRETT: (holding a hot coffee and a large binder under his arm): Who was that? Did you find a set of keys? We should turn those in.

MICHAELA: It’s the keys to the church. I have to be here at 7:00 AM on Saturday to peel potatoes for the banquet, and I think I’m going to be working alone.

BRETT: They gave you keys to the church?

MICHAELA: Yes. I think we need to tell these people we’re only here for ten weeks while our place back home is getting renovated.

BRETT: Yeah, I tried that once a few minutes ago and it didn’t work.

MICHAELA: What’s with that binder?

BRETT: Oh, they found out what I work at, I’m now the chair of the finance committee.

[End]

September 30, 2012

Finding A Good Church Fit

A strange thing happened in church this morning.

During the first verse of the first worship song, a family came in: Husband, wife, teenaged daughter.  They took a seat in the 2nd last row. Then we started into “One Way Jesus,” about the edgiest song we do, or as edgy when it can be when most of the worship team is in their mid-forties and the sound is being mixed by the most conservative sound team member in the rotation.

And during the first chorus of that song, the family headed for the exit.

Apparently our church had one chorus to ‘wow’ them and we didn’t. Or maybe they were expecting a more conservative church that would sing from a hymnbook. Either way, it was like we were all X-Factor and the three judges has just given us all three giant Xs. (Or is that X-es?)

I wanted to run outside after them and get the backstory, but I was actually part of the worship team in question and dropping my guitar and running out the back door would probably have alarmed some people, including my wife who was leading the worship this morning, and would have assumed me to be in some type of physical distress.

I wanted to do this for two reasons. First, of course, I wanted to know where our church let them down. Did they not phone during the week to find out about the style of worship? Should they have done more research?

Second, I have an unusually high degree of knowledge about what’s going on in other churches in our community. I could have hooked them up with two churches within a few miles that do actually still use the hymnbooks, both of which have a start time a half hour later than ours, putting them there right on time.

But I don’t even know if it was a music thing. Someone suggested they had seen that the building was open and had come in to use the restrooms, and found themselves ushered to a seat in the auditorium. Now if that’s true, then I really would have wanted to hear that story, just because it’s so funny…

What I did find however, is that witnessing the whole thing from the rather clear vantage point of the platform, the whole scenario completely unnerved me. I played a couple of wrong notes and was completely distracted for the rest of the worship set and well into the sermon. Why had they come in only to leave so quickly?

So, today’s question: What’s the weirdest thing that ever happened in your church involving a visitor or group of visitors who clearly didn’t fit in, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time?

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