Thinking Out Loud

February 25, 2019

“Harvest Could Never Happen At Our Church”

 

Harvest Bible Chapel Elgin Campus

It’s easy to sit back and self-righteously congratulate ourselves on not attending a megachurch with a megalomaniacal pastor. If your weekly attendance runs 200, or 400 weekly and your pastor is a grandfatherly type trying to build God’s Kingdom and not a personal empire, it’s somewhat comforting to be able to relax and say, ‘That could never happen here.’

Harvest Bible Chapel – Elgin campus

But I would argue that on closer observation it can, and possibly does.

In the last six months, we’ve seen people at various levels of leadership at Harvest defend the institution and its pastor or both. While at least one former Harvest elder has stepped forward and apologized, there are no doubt others who will want to defend its decision-making processes, past and present.

I would suggest that this practice of putting spin on things is alive and well in many of our congregations. People get hurt because leaders have some agenda probably contrary to God’s, but are able to make it seem somehow correct and appropriate for the situation at hand.

A few days ago I re-ran something that Ruth wrote in which a church which is always telling people to know and employ their spiritual gifts pulled her aside and told her that this somehow didn’t apply to her and gave her a cease-and-desist order because she dared to demonstrate pastoral compassion in the face of a situation facing a particular family that a new pastor could not have articulated.

Years later, she asked if she could have a reprise of her former worship leadership role, not regularly, but just for a single Sunday; as an opportunity for healing all round. The elder she met with concocted the most foolish of all reasons for saying no, simply because otherwise he had no grounds for so doing. “We don’t have guest worship leaders.” Again, I gave opportunity for her to explain how this was both insulting to her and the congregation.

In my mind, it was a case of spiritual abuse; an example of an elder putting spin on a situation.

And guess what? Not three weeks later, they had a guest worship leader; a recording artist whose commercial success gave him a pass on their unofficial rule. In a postscript to her article, I wrote,

“At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight what he did at that meeting at night constituted spiritual abuse, not to mention certain aspects where we now know he was lying through his teeth. He continues in a leadership role that leaves me totally mystified.”

In her case, the woundedness was overshadowed by ministry opportunities elsewhere. The Bible states that a person’s gift will make a way for them. Just this weekend, I saw those gifts affirmed in her life on a level which is unprecedented. But the Harvest situation reminded me of the lengths that some in leadership will go to in order to fulfill a role they believe God gave them to keep things orderly. That reminded me of another article I wrote where I asked the questions below.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for a short time truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back several decades?

4. Are the elders in your church really Biblically qualified to be called “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

6. Is the elders’ board of a church even truly where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

9. Why do we keep coming back?

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

Remember, I wrote this in a small-town context and long before we had the colossal present-day failures involving churches pastored by Perry Noble, Tullian Tchividijan, Mark Driscoll or James MacDonald. But the presence of spin is identical in both, until you reach the point where you just can’t keep pretending.

Unfortunately my wife never got to see such vindication in terms of that church, but was able to find it elsewhere.

 

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September 16, 2018

Culture of Confrontation

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:37 am

One of the great axioms of church leadership is that if you grew up in a denomination where church discipline and even excommunication is practiced, you approach church fully expecting that at some time you will be called upon to administer said discipline and may in fact always be looking for situations where it needs to applied, even among (or especially among) other people in church leadership.

The corollary to the axiom is that if you grew up in a denomination having a culture of confrontation, and you look down the block at other churches and observe situations (especially the recent #MeToo type of situations) where absolutely nothing was done, or it wasn’t done quickly enough, you are going to be completely appalled.

Where nothing is done (or not done soon enough) the reasons are spread across a spectrum ranging from an attempt to mete out grace and mercy, to simply bad leadership.

On the other hand, not every church has a scandal; each is not in the middle of a crisis; and the leader (deacon, elder, board member, etc.) who is looking under every rock for evidence of someone to persecute has completely missed out on an understanding of not only grace, but what the church is and what the church is supposed to be about.

March 28, 2017

When You’re Unfit to Serve at Your Church

Today’s post is a continuation of my wife’s guest post yesterday. I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively. So this post is a continuation of that; you really need to read it first.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Many years ago, Andy Stanley hired a Fortune 500 survey company to interview people at their church and found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement. On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year! Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.” Where’s the balance? Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before. One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough ‘capital ‘ in years of service to be trusted…” Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected. For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” was simply equestrian feces. Which brings us to…

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other. But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know. (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.) Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age. There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator. Which brings us to…

4. Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Typically, in many churches today board members are people who are successful at their vocation. Is your insurance business or car dealership doing well? Expect to be asked. Ditto teachers. But some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons. (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.) Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it. Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members. Again, another comment received in response to the first article; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’ It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike and run the show.” Which brings us to…

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had seven years ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs. (I’m being polite.) They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week. (See also the footnote to yesterday’s article; turns out they brought in a guest less than a month later.) My wife was baptized there. Our children were dedicated there. Her husband served on paid staff there for four years. And nobody would know her? Maybe what this is all about is really…

6. Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that. In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction. “Run, Forrest, run!” Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office. And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service. And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge the carefully developed status quo. People like that are, simply put, a threat. This is not where powerful, fruitful, organic ministry is taking place. Which bring us to…

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt. Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their jurisdiction. Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace. Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely. People are flawed. They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife. Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there. (As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”) It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. What my wife was subjected to in that hour was simply not of God. So the obvious question is…

9. Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns simply don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church. The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve; all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go. (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on hiatus for other reasons.) Besides, this church is our HOME. Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry really have only four or five years left themselves. And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them. (‘What goes around…’) But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts. So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I’m watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better. Things can only improve. Of course I’ve said that before…

Related post: April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post: May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”


August 18, 2015

Kickin’ Off the Fall Season at Your Church

fall ministry season

Like the school year, unless your church is glued to the liturgical calendar, the days leading into Labor Day are critical as many programs which were suspended for the summer kick back into high gear. Here are a few things for your consideration.

1. Connecting with the community: Inbound – Think of something you can do that is going to attract — yes, attractional, getting people through the doors — people from the broader community in an area within a zero-to-five miles radius of your church. (If that doesn’t get you past your parking lot, your church is too big; but make it ten miles.) A one-night program to help parents (while their children attend a mid-week mock up of what you do for kids on Sundays, if you can pull this off securely) or an all-family event such as a concert artist or a magician or a movie. Make sure it’s free; print tickets and distribute them widely (at least ten times more tickets than your auditorium can hold.) Include distribution to businesses in your catchment area, as many business owners and employees don’t live where they work, but they see your building all the time and would be open to bringing the family to something. Send press releases to the local media. Adjust this plan if your neighborhood as a high concentration of singles so your event isn’t too family oriented and it excludes them. And don’t sell it to your congregation as a great show or great concert; promote it as the best church invite opportunity they’ll have this fall. 1

2. Connecting with the community: Outbound – Find something you can do for your church’s immediate neighbors. If you have a lot of seniors, perhaps your youth group has gone door-to-door and offered to rake leaves. That’s the idea, but I’m thinking here of something more on a mega scale if you’re a mega church, and involving more than just the youth group. A community dinner in a park is another idea. One church suspended its morning service entirely so that everyone could participate in a charity walkathon. One smaller church put a Bible in every residential mailbox in the entire town; over 10,000 addresses.

3. Explain to your congregation where you’re going this year – Don’t just get up and say, “Today we’re starting a series on…” Rather, outline your entire series map for the next 12 months. We know a church that does this; giving people the big picture of planned teaching series and missions foci a year ahead. It also gives them lots of time to think of a target individual or family for the type of event described in (1) above.

4. Debrief last year – In a similar vein, don’t just jump back in without gathering people from various departments of your ministry who can sit at a board table and bring critical thinking to what it is you do. End with some brainstorming for the future. Let them know that no question or comment is off limits, no matter how insane it looks.

5. Develop the means to connect with people connected to your core members and adherents – Everyone in your church is part of a neighborhood, they work or go to school, or they have friends, or they have extended family some of whom live near your church as well. Offer the means to your people to share their faith with those contacts. For the last several decades The Alpha Program has served this purpose, as has similar programs such as H20. 2 But perhaps your greatest need and best initial contact is simply a sewing circle for moms, or a ‘hanging out’ opportunity for men who work shifts and are looking for daytime human contact.

6. Reach out to the people whose attendance is waning – Some churches have done a homecoming weekend, another popular format a few years back was called Back to Church Sunday. This works better in a small-to-medium sized church where people can strategize who is going to get in touch with whom. Sometimes this type of focus — thinking in terms of particular people instead of broad form programs — may reveal that there has been illness, or financial reversals or there is difficulty with transportation to church.

7. Find out what happened to lost adherents and members who haven’t been seen in the last one-to-five years – Obviously some have moved to other cities and states, but for the most part, these are people with whom contact has been broken but you want to reach out and let them know they are remembered and that you care. I think that one way to approach this is as a survey, one which many will cooperate with if you keep it to 90-seconds and make it clear that you’re calling because they attended the church in the past. Find out if they are going somewhere else. (You might want to ask them to name that church, because some people say they go to church, but can’t remember what it’s called.) If not, ask if they are still engaged in prayer or Bible reading. Ask what they see as the one or two key factors that keep them away from church at the present time. Invite them back to something described in one of the above sections. You might get some people slam the phone on you, but many will be glad you cared. You can offer a dedicated web-page for these people to follow up with, and perhaps communicate more in writing than they’re willing to do by phone. (Call it ‘Reuniting with Your Church Family.’ Don’t call it ‘Prodigal Page.’)

8. Create a context for ministry to happen organically – There are some good concepts here, but sometimes the Holy Spirit just needs room, or in this case, a literal room. In an era where hospitality is waning, perhaps people are reluctant to invite people to their messy house, or offer that intimacy of fellowship with people they’ve only just met. So… even if your church wouldn’t dream of serving coffee on Sunday — but especially if it does — open a room a few days a week with tables and chairs and offer free coffee, donuts and something healthy. See who comes. See what happens. People can arrange to connect at the church instead of a coffee shop, and you can have a box for donations. Make the room and chairs comfortable and have some Christian music playing in the background. If you can afford it, have a free literature rack with booklets that connect people with felt needs and issues, or explain the basics of faith. 3

Note that the focus here is people.

…Please forward the link to this article (click on the title at the top) to anyone in your sphere of influence who is a decision-maker at a local church.  Ideas4 and additions are welcomed in the comments.


1Read just the opening paragraph (above the picture) to this article.
2If you’re not familiar with Kyle Idleman and H20, read this review.
3Check out the Hope for the Heart booklets from June Hunt and Rose Publishing
4We’ve run it three times already, but if you missed it, here’s Pete Wilson’s fall priorities.

July 11, 2010

Discover Your Spiritually Gifted

I think we’ve been to enough seminars on “discovering your spiritual gifts” to last awhile.   But what happens to the “spiritually gifted” after they’re done doing the survey, taking the course or completing the booklet?

You’ve all heard the verse, “…Your old men will prophesy; your young men dream dreams.”   This implies that God will — both in general and in the last days in particular — be raising up people of vision.

But what opportunity do the visionaries have to implement those forthtellings or visions?   In the average church, both the power base and the vision base is concentrated in the hands of a very few church staff members and church board members.

Our churches are actually “prophecy protected” to the point where, even in Pentecostal circles, it’s getting harder and harder for a person to say, “This is where I think the Lord would have us go;” unless they are the pastor or chair the deacons board.

I believe God still births vision in the hearts of old men and young men (and women) but that there are few places in the average church for their prophetic vision to be heard.    This only leads to a great deal of discouragement and frustrated.

I’ve known what that’s like.   Fortunately, I’ve also known what it’s like to have the freedom to develop new ideas.   I’ve worked in three places where I was told to create new initiatives.   In the one, I came up with new ideas every two to three weeks.   In the other, I came up with a new program every month.   In the final one, I came up with new concepts on a daily basis.   But I was paid staff.  The church, historically, does not function solely with an elitist hierarchy.   It’s a community.   It’s organic.   It’s grassroots.

So have your seminars.   Do your spiritual gifts series.   But balance it out with means for people to take those visions and turn them into realities.   If every time a member of the laity walks into your office with a concept, and your response is a default “no” answer, your spiritual gifts series was a complete waste of time.

Don’t tell people to discover their spiritual gifts until you, as leaders, learn how to discover your spiritually gifted.

May 4, 2010

The Busyness of Church Business

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:30 pm

It was a classic house church moment.   Not just any guest speaker, but the itinerant minister who was different than the rest; who was shaking things up.   He spoke with authority.   He proved that authority.     It was a meeting you didn’t want to miss.

Too bad one of the co-hosts missed a lot of it.   Two sisters.   Two different takes on what mattered most.   One busy in the kitchen doing all those behind-the-scenes things that seem so necessary at the time.   Like, these gatherings don’t just happen by themselves, do they?   The other intent on getting a good seat to not miss anything the guest might say or do.

…Twenty centuries later…

I couldn’t help but notice that his wife and kids were saving him a seat.   It was an aisle seat.   Easy to slip in and out with minimal disturbance to the other people at church.  The service was just about finished when he finally appeared, though when the preacher was pronouncing the benediction, I noticed he had disappeared again.

He had to.   He’s a very important person in that church.   He had some very important things to do.   Most Sundays I observe him taking over a desk in the church office from where he does the things that need to be done.   Church management and organization doesn’t just happen by itself, does it?

Some of his counterparts on the leadership board don’t interpret their role in exactly the same manner.   They seem genuinely intent on getting a good seat so as to not miss the worship; to not miss the teaching; to share in what the entire church family is experiencing;  to take a few minutes out from church government to rest in God’s presence.

I would send the link to this, but it would not be well received.   I would be told I don’t understand the complexities of his role.   I would be told, as I have been, “There are things going on that you don’t know about.”

Yes.   Things that can’t wait another hour.

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things;  but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”   ~Luke 10: 41-42 NASB

March 20, 2010

Unfit to Serve: Issues Raised

Today’s post is a continuation of my wife’s guest post yesterday.   I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively.

1.  How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Andy Stanley’s Fortune 500 survey company found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement.   On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year!   Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.”   Where’s the balance?    Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2.  When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before.   One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough “capital ” in years of service to be trusted…”    Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected.   For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” is simply too much to swallow.    Which brings us to…

3.  Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other.   But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know.   (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.)   Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age.   There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator.   Which brings us to…

4.  Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons.   (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.)   Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it.   Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members.   Again, another comment received this week; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’   It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike  and run the show.”   Which brings us to…

5.  What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth?   Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had two weeks ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs.    They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week.   My wife was baptized there.   Our children were dedicated there.   Her husband served on paid staff there for four years.   And nobody knows her?   Maybe what this is all about is really…

6.  Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place?  Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that.   In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction.  “Run, Forrest, run!”    Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office.   And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service.    And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge their carefully developed status quo.  People like that are, simply put, a threat.   This is not where organic leadership is taking place.   Which bring us to…

7.   Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt.    Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their province.   Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace.   Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8.  Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely.  People are flawed.   They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife.   Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there.  (As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”)     It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. So the obvious question is…

9.  Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church.   The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve;  all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go.   (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on hiatus for other reasons.)   Besides, this church is our HOME.   Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10.   Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry have only four or five years left themselves.   And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them.    But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts.   So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I keep watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better.   Things can only improve.   Of course I’ve said that before…

Related post:  April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post:  May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”


March 5, 2010

Lost Voice 1 – Rick

More than three years ago when this blog was an e-newsletter, I announced something I was working on called The Lost Voice Project. Today, I thought I’d give you a sample chapter, and I’ll post others here from time to time.   After all, why have one unpublished book when you can have two?

You don’t notice it at first when you visit Rick and Emmy’s house, but after a minute or two you are somehow conscious of it:   The house is totally wired; totally high-tech.

Rick’s ability in electronics includes a specialty in the interconnecting of various devices, a specialty that pre-dates the modern computer age.   One of my personal favorites is subtle:  It’s a reading lamp next to a big chair near the television.    It’s wired into a master system that controls all the household lighting, making changes while the family is on holidays; but it’s also sensitive to someone walking into the room; it’s also voice activated; and just to make it interesting Rick added a fourth parameter, you can clap it on or off.   He admits that one is a bit over-the-top.

You’d notice more if you went to his large workshop on the north end of the house.   All kinds of things in process, some for himself, some things he puts together for friends.    Leaving church the other day, he dialed a code on his cell phone that warmed up the food in the stove for lunch.   That’s rather commonplace today, but Rick’s device was installed in 1995, when he had to use a land line to activate the thing.

By day, Rick works at something similar.  Though he’s hoping to take an early retirement in about six years, he’s kept up with all the latest technology and is one of the top guys at his office.   Mostly, he goes out on assignment to other companies; of the three portfolios he currently carries, the one that takes the majority of his days is with the State Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

In every casino, there’s an office somewhere staffed with people keeping minute-by-minute tabs on what each and every slot machine is up to.   Constant updates are now linked to video cameras.   Some can open an audio channel and listen to conversations taking place at the machines.   Rick is the guy who makes all that inter-connectivity possible.

Twice, they’ve offered Rick the same job working directly for them.    Right now his company keeps a very fat portion of the consulting fee.   Rick’s take home pay — already nicer than most peoples’ — would instantly double, but Rick’s not sure about the idea of a Christian working for the Lottery Corporation; this way he feels he’s at least one-step removed, and he can always ask to be assigned to another project.

But for Rick’s church, the decision has already been made.   He’s been pigeon-holed, typecast and labeled.   His association with the casino — which by implication is an association with gambling — simply makes him, in their view, a risk for any ministry role in the church, and because, as I said, his work for them pre-dates computer technology, that means he’s been doing projects for the lottery people on and off for most of the 23 years he’s attended Forest Ridge Church.

In practical terms this means he’s:

  • never been asked to be on the leadership board, even though he’d normally be prime candidate and make a major contribution
  • never been asked to lead a small group, even though he’s both knowledgeable and conversant about various Bible subjects
  • never been called on to read a scripture, open in prayer, or even make an announcement

Rick is one of the lost voices in the church; marginalized for what the leadership at Forest Ridge considers good reasons, but set aside nonetheless.

Rick and Emmy are faithful in attendance, though there are times in the summer when they opt to go for a drive in the country instead of attending a service; their aching to be involved more deeply is hard to bear.   And Rick is using his gifts; he’s on the board of two small parachurch ministries in the city, and at least once every six months writes a letter to the editor of the local paper that truly speaks to an issue on behalf of the Christian community.

But somewhere along the line, Rick’s name was crossed off the list of the board nominating committee, he was passed over for consideration for small group leadership, and mostly Rick does not have a ministry role or leadership role in the church because he’s never had a ministry role or leadership role in the church.

Too much time has passed, and a new generation of leaders have written Rick off.   Rick is one of the lost voices in the modern church, and it’s a shame, because he has so much to contribute.

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