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!”


March 27, 2017

Loss of Church Leadership Position is Like a Death

It’s now been seven years. Sometimes when you lose a relationship with a church it’s like a death in the family. My wife and I have been through this with respect to one particular church both individually and collectively, but because of our long history with the place, seven years ago she went back for another final run at it, which means that this death for us has been somewhat recurring, much like the plot of The Terminator.

Much of the bridge burning took place on Thursday, March 4th, 2010 at a meeting my wife was summoned to attend in response to a request to have her volunteer position reinstated. Nearly a full fortnight later, she finally committed her thoughts to writing on her blog. The day after she allowed me to run this at Thinking Out Loud, I came back the next day with what I felt was an objective discussion of some of the other larger issues her meeting raised. That will appear here tomorrow.


By Ruth Wilkinson

I’m reading a book right now called Introverts in The Church by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh is a pastor and a self identified introvert who has struggled with the American-extrovert personality of so much of the Church.

It’s a very cool read for someone like myself. We’ve grown up in the church being told, explicitly and implicitly, that to be introverted is at best a character flaw and at worst a sin.

It’s refreshing to read a book that takes us seriously, as a group of people whose brains are hardwired differently from those of the majority, with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and pitfalls.

Especially after the latest chapter in my adventures with the churchIusedtogoto.

I used to be a volunteer worship team leader there and got fired by a pastor with whom I’d had some philosophical differences. He and I are friends again, both of us now being ex- of the aforementioned church.

But at the time, and since, I’ve mourned the loss of that ministry. Leading worship in a congregation is something I love love love doing. I told someone lately that losing it was like losing a finger. Especially since it ended so abruptly with no chance to say goodbye.

So I took a risk recently. I got in touch with the people at the churchIusedtogoto who are in charge of these things and asked them whether I could come back one time. Just once, to have a chance to stand in that space once more, to lead worship with a bunch of people I care about, and to close the door for myself.

They said they wanted to have a meeting and “discuss this.” Which is never good.

But I said “OK,” and one evening the three of us sat down to “discuss this.”

I wasn’t optimistic. I’ve known enough people who’ve been alienated from churches to know that you just don’t try to go back. You just don’t. Because it hurts.

One time a few years ago, I got a call from a woman who’s the wife of a former pastor of another church in town. Their time there had ended very stressfully and he’d been fired. But she had founded the local chapter of a national prayer group and they were having their annual shindig. Guess where. She couldn’t bring herself to walk into that building alone after what they’d been through and just wanted somebody to go with her. I said sure. She met me in the parking lot and we went in together. Those kinds of forays are tremendously difficult for the wounded.

Lately I’ve heard a couple of preachers say that “You don’t have to forgive a church that hurt you. You have to forgive the particular individuals in the church who hurt you.”

They’re wrong. Completely wrong.

Anyway, my meeting at the churchIusedtogoto was cordial. The answer was no. Or rather, “Maybe someday.”

Maybe someday. These are obviously people who’ve never read Proverbs 13:12.

The condition they set on the “maybe” was this: That there are people at the churchIusedtogoto who don’t know who I am. People who would wonder, if they saw me at the piano, “Who is that?” And their policy is that “We don’t have guest worship leaders.”

That’s it. That’s the reason. Not that I’ve failed morally. Not that I’m a bad example. Not that I’m incompetent or dangerous. Not that I’m a communist, or a heretic, or I dress funny. Just that somebody might not know who I am.

And their solution to this “problem” was that I should attend the church regularly, spend time after the services talking to people, shaking hands, chatting, getting to know folks and to be known.

Then, once I’d built these “relationships”, then “maybe someday.”

As I said, I’m an introvert. I think about things. I use my brain to ask myself questions. People say things and I actually listen, and then give them thought.

I thought about this. And decided it was bumph.

After a few days, I wrote them back. In part:

I respect your answer, and won’t pursue the question anymore, in spite of the fact that I really don’t believe I was asking for much. Just one Sunday.

But your reason for saying no was so absurd. There are people there who don’t know me. You don’t have guest worship leaders.

All through school, children show up in the morning, occasionally to discover that they have a substitute teacher. People turn on the Tonight Show to find that the host is away and there is a guest host. The evening news anchor goes away for a few days and his seat is filled by a guest anchor. Just the other week, you had a guest speaker as churches do all the time.

And you’d ask me to believe that your congregation is so simple minded that they wouldn’t be able to cope with a guest worship leader. It’s almost funny, if it weren’t pathetic.

I don’t know what you think you’re protecting them from, but if you treat your congregation like simpletons, don’t expect them to challenge themselves.

Not my most diplomatic, but I figured, hell, the bridge is on fire. What have I got to lose?

(Yes, I know I said hell. See above.)

There might be a few things at play in their response.

First, this is a church that had a burst of progressiveness in the 80’s and then just stopped. Since then the leadership has become dominated by policy wonks who seem to be always looking for one more loose end to tie down.

Second, we ‘worship leaders’ have been done a grave disservice over the last couple of decades by being given an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We’re told that we’re ‘leading people into God’s presence’, that we’re ‘temple musicians’ and stuff like that. Rather than that we are just one part of the body of Christ, whose diverse giftings are all of equal value and sacredness.

Which is all another post for another blog.

But reading McHugh’s book has given me the language to better define the vehemence of part of my antipathy to their reasoning.

McHugh points out that, since we introverts usually struggle with social interaction, we find our ways into community by different paths than extroverts and normal people do.

He makes me smile when he describes the hellishness of “unstructured social events”, and writes of a man who leaves church a few minutes before the service ends to avoid “the agony of the fellowship hour”. I love that phrase. It warms the cockles of my contemplative heart.

Those of us who can’t function in the schmooze and chat world of North American evangelicalism connect with their churches through the roles they find to fill. Having a place to step into when you get there is a tremendously valuable thing. It’s a piece of ground from which to meet just one or two people at a time, to find like minded friends and to, yes, build real relationships, not ersatz hi-how-are-you-fine ones.

To insist that one of us has to run the gauntlet of coffee time in order to reach that place, is cruel and unusual punishment. Like telling you that you have to park your car a mile downhill from your house. If you want to go home at the end of the day, you have to sweat for it.

Screw that. Guess I’ll have to make do with one less finger.

Which might be just as well.


To this day, I still get comments from people as to how much they appreciated Ruth’s worship ministry in that church. I may be biased, but it was awesome. Vast song selection. Custom made video clips. Dramatic readings. Times of bold proclamation and times of deep introspection.

Some even go so far to ask if she might consider a reprise of that role. Without going into detail, I tell them to contact the church with that suggestion.

Since the article appeared, the wounds simply have not healed. At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight — and we’ll get to this tomorrow — 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.

There was another change of pastoral leadership after this was written and on hearing the full story the new pastor basically said, “He would never do anything like that.” In addition to what we’ve already had to deal with, I’ve now had to suffer the loss of credibility for attempting to defend my wife’s version of the events. 

Finally… saving the best (or worst) for last… Not more than three weeks later they had a guest worship leader. A recording artist who was also doing a worship workshop with them that weekend.  

It had to have already been booked at the time she was told they don’t bring in guests.

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 21, 2010

The Top 100 Issues That Divide Us

When the blogger at Free In Christ started his blog in July of 2008, he noted his indebtedness to a book by Cecil Hook also called Free in Christ.   Not being a regular follower of that blog, and so not having read everything in between then and now, it does appear that 21 months later, he hasn’t stopped blogging his admiration for the book.

Recently, he cited Cecil Hook’s list of 100 things people disagree on in the churches of Christ.    Rather than simply link to it — many of you never click anyway, and even fewer leave comments — I wanted to have this list recorded here.    I’m not sure about the order in which these are listed, but here it is:

1. taking of oaths
2. serving in the military
3. inflicting capital punishment
4. using force to defend oneself or others
5. voting for political candidates
6. serving as a government official
7. engaging in political activism
8. Christmas or Easter programs
9. letting a non-member lead prayer
10. lifting hands while singing
11. joining a ministerial alliance
12. indwelling of the Holy Spirit
13. work of the Holy Spirit
14. baptism of the Holy Spirit
15. prayer for healing
16. the Trinity
17. special providence
18. how God answers prayer
19. fasting
20. translations of the Bible
21. use of Thee and Thou in prayer
22. authority of elders
23. who selects and appoints elders
24. qualifications of elders
25. tenure of elders
26. elders presiding at the Lord’s Table
27. qualifications of deacons
28. deaconesses
29. enrolling widows
30. addressing disciples as Major or Doctor
31. long hair on men
32. midweek contributions
33. dimming the lights during prayer
34. singing as the emblems are passed
35. use of church buildings for secular activities
36. use of pictures of Jesus
37. use of symbols such as the cross
38. use of steeples and stained glass windows
39. use of the term Sunday School
40. passing of the collection baskets
41. eating in the church building
42. grounds for disfellowshipping
43. support of colleges from the church treasury
44. divorce for any cause
45. remarriage of a divorced person
46. preacher officiating at a wedding of a divorced person
47. disciples marrying non-members
48. preacher officiating for a mixed marriage
49. use of an instrument in “church” weddings
50. method and type of inspiration of the Bible
51. re-baptism of Baptists and Christian Church members
52. the “five items of worship”
53. use of choirs, choruses, quartets, solos, etc.
54. serving the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
55. serving the Lord’s Supper other than in assemblies
56. integration of races
57. smoking
58. total abstinence from alcoholic beverages
59. membership in fraternal orders
60. contributing to public charities
61. use of Bible class literature
62. youth directors, youth rallies, youth camps
63. the six days of creation being literal days
64. the extent of evolution
65. the operation of Christian hospitals
66. awards and prizes for church activities
67. debating religious issues
68. ministers of education, ministers of music, etc.
69. benevolence to fellow-disciples only
70. the baptismal “formula”
71. formal confession before baptism
72. going to law against disciples
73. dedicating babies
74. signing contribution pledge cards
75. children’s homes under eldership or a board
76. dancing
77. women wearing shorts and slacks
78. women wearing slacks to church services
79. girls leading prayer in family devotionals
80. girls leading prayer in youth devotionals
81. clapping hands during singing
82. buying VBS refreshments from the treasury
83. the present day activity of demons
84. applauding in the assembly
85. use of God’s name as a by-word
86. use of euphemisms of God’s name in by-words
87. use of contraceptives
88. abortion
89. adopting out an illegitimate child
90. women working outside the home
91. Children’s Bible Hour
92. busing children to services
93. “What is to be will be.”
94. bodily resurrection
95. if we shall know each other in heaven
96. degrees of reward and punishment
97. whether heaven and hell are literal places
98. dress code for men serving the Lord’s Supper
99. whether Christ came in AD 70
100. a name for the church

The unnamed blogger follows the list with a brief discussion here, but I’m wondering if you think there’s anything there that shouldn’t be or anything that got left out?

And now, for today’s bonus item:

This is the “disagreement hierarchy.”  Anyone know the origin of this?   Here’s an article (without the chart) which would seem to attribute this to Paul Graham.

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 19, 2010

Recurring Death in the Family – Guest Post

Sometimes when you lose a relationship with a church it’s like a death in the family.   We’ve been going through that loss for the past two weeks now, but because of our long history with the place, we’ve gone back several times for another run at it, which means that this death for us has been somewhat recurring, much like the plot of The Terminator.

Much of the bridge burning took place on Thursday, March 4th at a meeting my wife was summoned to attend, and nearly a full fortnight later, she finally committed her thoughts to writing on her blog.   Although it’s longer than many of my own posts, I wanted to kick off the discussion with her version of it, and then come back tomorrow with an objective discussion of some of the other issues her meeting raised.


By Ruth Wilkinson

I’m reading a book right now called Introverts in The Church by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh is a pastor and a self identified introvert who has struggled with the American-extrovert personality of so much of the Church.

It’s a very cool read for someone like myself. We’ve grown up in the church being told, explicitly and implicitly, that to be introverted is at best a character flaw and at worst a sin.

It’s refreshing to read a book that takes us seriously, as a group of people whose brains are hardwired differently from those of the majority, with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and pitfalls.

Especially after the latest chapter in my adventures with the churchIusedtogoto.

I used to be a volunteer worship team leader there and got fired by a pastor with whom I’d had some philosophical differences. He and I are friends again, both of us now being ex- of the aforementioned church.

But at the time, and since, I’ve mourned the loss of that ministry. Leading worship in a congregation is something I love love love doing. I told someone lately that losing it was like losing a finger. Especially since it ended so abruptly with no chance to say goodbye.

So I took a risk recently. I got in touch with the people at the churchIusedtogoto who are in charge of these things and asked them whether I could come back one time. Just once, to have a chance to stand in that space once more, to lead worship with a bunch of people I care about, and to close the door for myself. (more…)

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