Thinking Out Loud

August 15, 2017

Pastoral Communications – Part Three

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:36 am

Well, I thought it was good idea. Two ideas really.

The first was something that’s commonplace in Mainline Protestant churches in the summer but not so big among Evangelicals. I thought it would be a good fit.

The second was something that actually happened in the church parking lot rather serendipitously which I thought should be a permanent feature.

I sent it to two people on church staff. There’s a problem right there. Each probably assumed the other would reply to it. (Okay, I’m being charitable with that.)

Just suggestions. No personal agenda. No history of making this type of suggestion in any recent memory.

No reply.

We’ve written about this before here, so I don’t want to belabor the point, but shouldn’t churches be pleased when someone cares enough about the church’s programming, image, environment, etc. to write a short note? They could even send me a form letter for the wrong response as in, “Thank you for your suggestion, we’ll consider adding both books to the church library;” or “We apologize for the shortage of diapers in the nursery you experienced.”

Rather, I got silence.

Working in Christian camping, I learned that first impressions count and the camps have increased their attention to making each week’s Opening Day a big welcome both for the kids who are staying and the parents and guardians who are dropping them off. It’s not just a matter of saying ‘We’re glad you’re here;’ but actually putting some energy into it.

I thought I was on to something. I’ll share the details with you in the Spring so churches that want to have time to ramp up, though I suspect many are doing similar things already.

When a parishioner cares enough to make a suggestion, even if the idea has flaws, they should at least get an acknowledgement of their contribution.

 

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August 11, 2017

Pastoral Communications – Part Two

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:00 am

On Tuesday, in Part One, we talked about the potential for misunderstanding in business communications when the writer uses emojis along with text, along with the risk of simply being too informal.

Today I want to look at the opposite situation, the pastor who doesn’t write at all. In the time it takes me to complete this article, I could probably send between 15 and 20 emails. They’re an easy way of keeping in contact with people, especially if the content is only one or two short sentences. What’s more, they’re free. That is something younger readers cannot possibly grasp; the idea every written communication involved addressing an envelope and placing a stamp on it, and if it was of any importance making a photocopy for the files. The third advantage is that they are immediate. Decide it’s what you want to say and hit send, and it’s on the recipients email server in seconds.

So where is the downside?

The Pastor Who Never Writes

The problem is it’s so easy that some people, if they are a part of email culture at all, can’t understand why the pastor doesn’t do it.

A couple of things here. First, some people don’t have email, don’t have a smart phone and are not part of the aforementioned culture of email or texting. Those people need to be connected through different means.

Second, some of you attend a megachurch where you’ve never even met your pastor face to face. He either isn’t at the door (or atrium, or patio, or what one pastor calls the crush) or you just haven’t felt the need to walk up to him and introduce yourself. You either maintain more personal connection to the church through your small group leader, or simply don’t have that type of contact.

Keep those things in mind as we continue.

The Personal Email

This would be an email sent to one recipient only. It’s less likely to happen in a megachurch environment, which begs many other questions we won’t get into here.

This is the letter that says,

  • Hey, Jennifer; it was good to see you and the kids on Sunday; hope Mark is feeling better.
  • Hey, Jason; thanks for stepping up at last minute when we needed help this week.
  • Hey, Joanne; I checked out that book you mentioned and ordered a copy.
  • Hey, James; I sent your contact info to a guy at another church who is hiring in your field right now.

It’s personal. Plus, you can even write to people whose name doesn’t start with the letter J.

The Form Letter Email

This is something any pastor (or associate pastor, or student pastor, etc.) can do, small church or megachurch. But it can still be written with a personal touch. Rough outlines might look like:

  • Dear Church Family; Wanda and I are back from our yearly vacation at the lake; we had a great time of rest with friends and family; we’re looking forward to getting into the fall schedule.
  • Dear First Assembly Family; Over the summer I’ve been reading some great books and wanted to share what I’ve learned in three of them.
  • Dear Westside Friends; We had a great mission trip this past two weeks in Peru; we’ve posted some pictures to share with you at this link; thanks for your prayers.

Not rocket science. Easy to do. Not as personal as a personal letter, but still a great way to keep in contact. (I would suggest the pastor have a distinct address for this, and budget some time for reading responses in the 2-3 days that follow the email distribution.)

So how’s it done where you worship? Do you get communications from your minister or do church emails tend to be a reminder of upcoming services, programs, seminars, or events?

August 8, 2017

Pastoral Communications – Part One

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:56 am

An article in my weekend newspaper warned business people about the casual tone to today’s communications and in particular the use of emojis.

More than ever, businesses are turning to instant messaging apps such as Slack, Hipchat and Skype to facilitate communication and collaboration. As this informal communication becomes the norm, so too do the tiny pictographic characters known as emoji.

Emoji have become so ubiquitous they have even been turned into a movie. But lawyers are increasingly encouraging companies to keep them out of their workplaces, cautioning that what a given emoji means can change depending on the context and culture in which they’re used.

Marissa Lang wrote the article for The San Francisco Chronicle adding,

Devised as a way to clarify the tone or emotion of a message, emoji can also muddle meaning and lead to workplace misunderstandings that legal experts worry could soon get someone sued.

The potential for hurt and misunderstanding in church and ministry life is the same if not greater. Some pastors eschew email, texting and Facebook altogether, while others are extremely cautious as to what they put in print. Even so, I’ve been the receiving end of pastoral communications that I am sure would have, with an extra five minutes of thought, not been sent.

Most of the church leaders I know got to be where they are because of wisdom and discretion. But it’s so easy to type a reply very quickly and hit the send button.

Before all of this, there were formal processes to correspondence. Most people in leadership had a secretary who would either take dictation — anyone remember Pittman shorthand? — or would type a handwritten script. One very successful businessman I knew well would hand-write all his communications on lined paper, and then, using the same pen, would go over each letter of each word. Every single item to be typed by his receptionist would consist of cursive writing which had been traced over a second time.

Today, many executives handle their own memos, proposals and responses. It’s easy to be too fast.

Ministers and church staff often find themselves writing first and thinking later. One particular email, noted above, left me devastated for several days. Were I to quote it, I know you would agree. Fortunately, my relationship with this pastor survived the hurt. 

The article’s primary takeaway is that emojis should not be used at work at all. They’re just too informal.

If your boss is God, you have to be held to highest standard. 


Some church emojis:

 

January 7, 2017

Counseling the Counselor

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:58 am

This first appeared in January, 2008 at Internet Monk and was re-posted yesterday. It would be great if you read it at source by clicking the title below.

Fridays with Michael Spencer: Jan 6, 2017

by the late Michael Spencer

Note: The following incident is fictionalized from real experience.

I look at my watch. It’s time for a counseling appointment. I clear my desk, bring in the extra chairs and wait.

My appointment arrives and the conversation begins. This is a first time conversation, with someone I don’t know. I spend a lot of time listening. Then questions. More listening. I try to put what I’m hearing into some kind of order; to make some kind of helpful response.

michael spencerI’m not a quick thinker. My feelings are always way out in front of my thoughts. So I have to be cautious in counseling to be sure I’m doing what’s needed and helpful.

My counselee says the conversation has been helpful. He leaves. It’s been an hour and fifteen minutes. Longer than I like, but not unusual for a first conversation.

What did I hear? I heard what it means to do the best with what you have, as God brings all things into himself through Jesus Christ.

I hear about a broken marriage. Silence. Distance. Public pretense. I hear about broken children. The fear of what’s next and the impact of what has already been. I hear about ministry; a ministry that goes on under stress that’s unimaginable to me.

I hear about faith and its stumbling steps to do what is right. I hear of guilt, the certain knowledge that one has fallen short. I hear the cry for restoration of broken relationships; the longing for Christian community and the church to be what family and friends have failed to be.

I hear about secrets and the reluctance to speak of them. I hear of the learned response of looking away; the habit of staying busy; of attending to “real life” and never looking at the inner world. I hear of the pain of sin’s lingering work, its blindness creating deception and its deep roots that drive us away from God, others and even ourselves.

I hear of persistent belief in God, prayer, the Bible, the work of the Spirit. I hear the ache for a pronouncement of forgiveness.

I hear the mystery of God’s call to be a servant and a minister when life is broken. I hear the mystery of God’s presence in the midst of brokenness that is not healed and darkness that does not lift. Yet, I hear of love for others and a simple, loyal, persistent love for Jesus and for the people Jesus loved.

I hear about doing the best you can with what you have, even when what you have is broken, wounded and bleeding from our human frailties and cruelties.

The world loves to point out hypocrisy among Christians. I want to point out the inexplicable, amazing absurdity of people who continue on with Jesus when any rational, reasonable person would abandon all hope. Of course, love is not reasonable or rational. Love suffers long, all the while rejoicing in the truth.

If you are a person who believes that all ministers and their families are picture postcards, let me break this to you gently: many ministers and their families are living in hell, and you don’t know it. Perhaps right in front of you. For them, the ride to church to face you may have filled them with fear that somehow you might see past their facade and into the failure and hurt.

The tendency these days is to project the image of the minister as young, absurdly happy, socially perfect and free from care and hang-ups. In fact, many ministers are living lives of pain and facing situations that would make you wince, if not curse. The price of being the shepherd of Christ is often high; so high ordinary persons could seldom stand to see it.

Perhaps some Christians are masochists. Or truly warped from being around so much need and paying too little attention to their own lives. I cannot say what is motivating an individual person to carry burdens that would break others, and do to it for the sake of Christ, his gospel and his church.

Part of me wants to say “Go fix your marriage. Be 100% available to your kids. Let the ministry go for a while.” That’s probably very good advice.

But another part of me senses that brokenness is part of ministry, and it is not for me to say to God or another person what forms of brokenness should stop the show, and what others can be carried on and through.

I do know that my eyes are opened, again and again, to the immense pain that surrounds me in the Christian family. So many of God’s servants are hurting in their body, families, marriages and in ways I cannot label or identify.

Yet these are some of God’s best servants and most Christ-filled saints. Some of his most useful, loving people. The crucible does not need to be approved by me or you to be effective. God chooses his own instruments, preparing, sharpening and equipping them as He chooses. His agenda is Jesus. Mine would be comfort, wholeness, happiness and so forth, with Jesus as the end result. God is only interested in making us like Jesus.

So the cross, and the instruments of crucified glory, are his doing. I am a listener; an observer.

I bow my head and pray for what I’ve heard and seen. I will do so many times in the future as I realize I am watching, in the midst of pain, a kind of holiness that is only a rumor for me.

We do the best with what we have given to us, or what we have left over or with what still works after the latest wreck. And God forms Christ in us, brings Christ through us, glorifies Christ in us and all in all.

In such colors, the Spirit paints the Incarnation every day, and presents the painting to the Father. And each picture looks more and more like the Jesus we have never seen with our eyes.

Or have we?

 

December 16, 2016

The Resource Nobody Wanted

Short Stories 2When Pastor Craig and his wife Linda were one of three hundred couples in ministry selected to fly to El Paso last winter to preview a new type of video teaching series, they knew right away it would be a great fit for their church. Churches had two weeks to consider the series and get introductory pricing, but Craig completed the forms signing up on the spot.

The series was a hybrid of every elective the church had offered before rolled into one super-course. The twelve weeks were divided into three weeks each on marriage, parenting, spiritual development and finances; but all interwoven with material from the other sections to form a holistic approach to Christian family life.

Craig’s hunch about the series proved correct. They did registration by families, irrespective of whether one or both spouses would attend, and out of a just-under 500-member church with weekend attendance averaging around 900, he was thrilled when 154 people signed up representing 96 families. In other words, during the course of the 12 weeks, about one in every 6 people in the church were taking the course.

During each session of the videos, there were promotions for something called the Home Resource Kit. While these were available from the same source as the course itself, they were also sold in Christian bookstores. Craig was a bit wary of the $40 per kit price, but when he found a store willing to sell it to him for $30 — albeit non-returnable at that price — he figured about a third of the families would buy-in and committed to 32 kits.

The 96 families paid a $29 fee which covered the cost of buying the videos, renting a neutral auditorium in the community and also having coffee and snacks. A future showing of the series would someday put the church ahead financially. But immediately Craig saw that selling the Home Resource Kit was going to be a challenge. About half of the people really didn’t think the teaching offered anything new, although they stuck it out with only a handful dropping out. But the other half felt the course material was so helpful that no further aid was needed.

So Craig cut the price to $25 with the church taking a loss of $5 on each kit, but again found himself with no — as in zero — interest in owning the home kit. When he cut it to $20, it soon became apparent to everyone that he was holding a fire sale, which resulted in him finally announcing in week twelve that if there were families that would commit to using the resource kit, they could have it for free. All but a couple of the kits were then claimed; after all, the price was right.

church-budgetBut there was this small matter of the bill for the 32 kits, which was over $1,000.00 with State Tax. The problem was, that while Craig and Linda had gushed over the course and got the church finance committee to approve the cost of the seminar series at the last minute — confident that it would be recovered — there had never been a budget approval for the resource kit purchase; and in their denomination, purchases over $500 needed to be pre-authorized.

While $1,000 in a 500-member church averaging 900 people per weekend may not seem like much to you or me, this was a church that took their finances seriously and there was considerable discussion that the pastor had acted unilaterally without going through what is, in church governance, called process.

So Pastor Craig found himself the target of a very upset group of board members on a Thursday night just two weeks after the course had ended — they quickly named another similar transgression a year earlier which apparently they had quietly voted to overlook — to the point where he started to reach in his wallet for a blank check before realizing this was the very day of the month the payment for his daughters braces was due to come out of the account…

So what do you think? Was this expense, not covered by a line item in the church budget, the unforgivable sin? Was there not a reasonable expectation that participants would purchase the Home Resource Kits? Should Pastor Craig pay this out of his own pocket just to keep the peace? Also, why did Craig and Linda stay an extra night in El Paso? And how will Max the dog communicate effectively to the church finance committee that little Timmy has fallen down the well behind the church parking lot?

 

November 7, 2016

The Brant Continues

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:53 pm

As most of you know blogs are called blogs because it’s a shortening of web-log. The original intention may have been more of something closer to diary, which is a void that Facebook presently fills.

A lot of what takes place in the blogosphere is ranting, therefore I propose a better name would have been web-rants, which would now be brants.

In yesterday’s brant, we looked at how Christian organizations which serve the public should be committed to the highest level of customer service. This reminded me of two other areas I’ve written about in the past, which involve the Christian commitment to excellence.

treble-clef1The first is church music, but I will be the first to admit that many congregations simply don’t have the vocalists and instrumentalists needed to pull of studio quality covers of today’s popular worship songs or classic hymns. There needs to be some other measurement of what constitutes good worship in those environments.

church email etiquetteThe other however has to do with answering correspondence; phone calls and emails in particular, and as I’ve stated before, this is a giant fail for many churches and parachurch organizations, which is strange because unlike the (music) example above, no special skills or training are needed to practice the common courtesy of responding to an email with an email, a phone call with a phone call, or a letter with a letter.

But I’ll stop there, because we wouldn’t want this to become a brant would we?


Related: Excellence in the details: How’s the coffee at your church?

September 22, 2016

A Pastoral Career: The Parabolic Curve of Church Size

Filed under: Christianity, Church, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

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

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

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

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

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

He put the yearbook down and sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No it isn’t;” Conrad replied.

Silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he smiled back.

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

“This isn’t the dining room.”

 

June 7, 2016

Rewind: Visiting Past Themes

We don’t…

Not AllowedAs someone who has spent a lifetime in and around Christian music, whenever I visit a church I often make my way to the front after the service and converse with the worship team, especially when I know one or two of the musicians.

A few weeks ago I did just that, and we started talking about songs that have the possibility of two parts being sung at the same time. Then we talked about ‘call and response’ songs where the worship leader sings a line and then the congregation repeats it. Then we talked about songs that parts for men and women.

At that point someone on the team said, “We don’t do men’s and women’s parts here.”

Days later, I was sharing this story with someone who knew exactly where I had been and they made an interesting comment, “I wonder how many times in the course of a week someone at that church begins a sentence with ‘We don’t?’

So true. So sad. Some Christian institutions have policy after policy; operating guidelines carved in stone for no particular reason. My feeling is, if you don’t have worship songs that offer something where women’s voices and men’s voices can highlight their unique giftedness, then next week would be a good week to start.

I hope the place where you worship isn’t characterized by a spirit of ‘We don’t…’


Children at Church: The Place for Inter-Generational Worship

At your church are the kids off in another part of the building throughout the service, or are they dismissed to the basement part way through? Perhaps another world is possible.

The YouTube channel that I oversee is named after our retail covering, Searchlight Books, but consists almost entirely of classic Christian music songs that you can’t buy at Searchlight or anywhere else. More recently however, we’ve been including some sermon excerpts and this weekend we posted an eleven-minute segment from the Phil Vischer podcast where Wheaton College Associate Professor of Christian Formation Scottie May spoke about visiting inter-generational churches during her sabbatical. The full podcast runs about 45 minutes, and I knew no matter much I mentioned enjoying these each week, the click-through ratio would be fairly low, so we created this highlight.

This is a must listen-to segment for anyone who cares about church and especially for people in children’s ministry or youth ministry.

This is an audio-only clip with no moving images, so even if you are not on a high-speed connection and don’t normally click on video links, you should be find with this one.


Paul Vaughan on 90% of the Work is Done by 10% of the People

Paul was a Canadian pastor who, after a successful insurance career, served as a missionary in Kenya; a place so arid that converts were baptized in sand. Returning to North America, he dedicated his time to the type of causes that nobody else wanted to embrace. He was a big influence on me…

It’s probably accurate that 90% of the work of the church is done by 10% of the people. The problem is that those who do the work, if they do it anonymously, receive all the glory. If they do it publicly, they ruffle feathers. Those who take the lion’s share of the life of the church are denying the body of the church the blessing and the opportunity. Probably the most blatant thing is that if a few are doing the work of many, then why would the Lord surround himself with a number of people with which to share the ministry? Why would he commission and ordain and send them two by two. Let’s ask ourselves the basic question, why isn’t all ministry, preaching, teaching and healing done by legions of angels? Why does God choose the fallible, unreliable, flesh-covered method that he did?

He chose us knowing that, through the Holy Spirit, we are capable of fulfilling the task given to us. But in addition, his constant emphasis of community of family — in the Hebrew, hebron; in the Greek, koinonia; in English, fellowship — is critical in church life. If it’s going to be a one man band then we will certainly stir a lot of people, but I wonder if we’re praising the Lord, serving the Lord, healing the hurts, and reaching the untouched.

One of the reasons that the modern day cults are successful is that they have clearly grabbed the demonstration given in scripture about assignment of tasks. If you become a Mormon, you owe their church two years missionary service. So if an apostate church demands that, why are we humming and hawing and hoping that if someone accepts the Lord, they might ask for offering envelopes and maybe they’ll join a small group and wouldn’t it be wonderful if they offered a musical gift, or taught children, or could sweep the floor. Why are we not a little more bold in demonstrating that millions haven’t heard and there’s work to be done?…


Paul Vaughan on Over-Commitment

There is a natural fear within a man that he is either going to overextend himself — because he knows the effect of a shotgun scattering small pellets is not as effective as one shell under high velocity compressed into a small area — and some people are able to so spread themselves that they are ineffective in any one area. But I believe that God who has given us mercy, grace and wisdom and peace also gives us the opportunity to exercise prudence and in doing so we are led to resign from one particular organization — graciously — in order to amplify and reapply ourselves with greater intensity in another area.

One of the measuring sticks of that might be that you decide which talent you have is least likely to be accepted by the mainstream of Christianity. And that’s where God really wants you. …He does release power, long-suffering, endurance and incredible energy to apply ourselves in the hard places of the world.

…I suggest to everyone who is seriously to apply themselves before the Lord to ask God, who is the creator of time; and God, who will cause time to stand still; to direct them toward a specific plan and program of action, suited to their lifestyle under the Lord and suited to the gifts and talents that God has given them.

 

April 14, 2015

A Letter to the Pastor

Filed under: Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

The Lost Voice ProjectDear Pastor,

I know we’ve never quite gotten together as I had hoped we would, but I kinda had to write this letter to you today.

I think you are quite familiar with the work I do in the next town over, and because of that work and the nature of its environment, people tend to dump a lot of their stories — especially church stories — on me. I guess they feel it’s a safe, neutral place; a sort of ecclesiastical Switzerland.

Anyway, some of the stories are about your church, but that’s not a big deal because given the numbers, there is bound to be some restlessness and dissatisfaction out there. There are stories about several churches, though a few seem to be somehow exempt. I don’t really expect Pastors and church leaders to put a lot of stock in what the critics might have to say anymore than you would expect me to give a lot of weight to comments people leave on my blog. Sometimes it’s just best to ignore them.

But then again, I’m writing you a letter, aren’t I? So there must be something troubling me.

Here’s the deal. I don’t personally believe that people get hurt by this church or that church. But people do get hurt by people in a church. Sure, sometimes it’s about the sound system, or the parking lot, or the color of the new paint in the Fellowship Room; but more often than not it involves a fellow human. People say things and do things and while some people are thick-skinned, some people are not, and there is always going to be some hurt and wounding in any institution, especially one which operates with a volunteer army and a presupposed adherence to the highest of ethical and moral standards.

Honestly, I’ve probably done my own share of the hurting. Wait, not probably, definitely. I was on staff at a local church once and the way the story is told, I got rather firm with a student who was helping out on the sound system after a particularly mistake-filled first service, and told him we really needed it better for the second service. Apparently he was quite hurt. I’m told he didn’t come back. I don’t remember him not coming back. In fact, I don’t remember a whole lot of this story; it all got told to me years later. Ouch!

My point is, a lot of the stories I get told about your place of worship come down to one person. One guy. One individual. He’s a member of your church board, or deacons, or elders or whatever you call it your denomination. He’s a bit of a one-man wrecking machine.

On the other hand, he’s probably among the people in your church you are closest to. You and your wife probably socialize with him and his wife. He probably gets things done at a board level. You can count on him for support. You can’t imagine him being cast in a negative light.

Here’s the thing: Over the course of many years, because of him, you’ve lost a lot of good people. People who, if you added them all together, had so much to give to the life of your church. We’re talking a cumulative loss that’s worth more than whatever benefit you might see from one single leader.

At the end of the day however, I can’t be more specific. It’s all just random noise from the discontented being vented to a third party. But I think that, after many years, I’m a good judge of character. I think I can discern the sincerity of those dumping their stories on me, and it resonates with my own impressions of the person in question.

I hope you can connect the dots at this point and figure out who and what.

Sincerely,

Paul.


Though the format today was different, today’s piece continues The Lost Voice Project, a continuing series of articles about people whose circumstances have resulted in their contribution to the local church being diminished; their voices not being heard.

February 21, 2015

Weekend Link List

Pete Wilson is one committed pastor.  Here’s what he did this week to create a sermon illustration:

Now on to your weekend reading:

I don’t usually write an introduction to the news and opinion selections here, but I wanted to say that while it’s not represented in these pieces, it’s difficult to ignore what CNN called “Religion’s Week From Hell.” Our thoughts are with the brothers and sisters worldwide and their families who have experienced horrible atrocities committed against them simply for being Christians. It’s hard to find words.  “…We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us…” (Rom 8:26 NIV)

Must Read: Christian Moms of LGBT Kids Speak Out – “This week…took me to one of the most sacred spaces yet; a private online support group for a couple hundred Christian moms of LGBT children. Each day they gather virtually, to share a unique, incredibly difficult journey. I was there as a temporary guest, to be a resource for those present; to answer questions, and to encourage them in any way that I could. During my three days with these amazing women, I was incredibly moved by their honesty, their vulnerability, their thoughtfulness, their strength, and most of all, their deep and abiding faith. It was inspiring and humbling… Knowing they were safe to speak honestly in anonymity, I asked these moms of LGBT children one simple question: ‘What do you want Christians and church leaders to know about you, your kids, and your family?'”

Maximizing a Snow Day – I know, we should have had this at the start of the week. “My weeks are full and if I don’t go into the office on a day I had planned to be in the office, everything I had planned on that day backs up to a future day. I feel so trapped and unproductive.” Sample: “Special projects. What is a new project you’ve wanted to think about and haven’t had time?” Seven short suggestions to keep on file.

The Scriptures in Their Own Place and Time – Because of my interest in John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, I was interested to see what reviewers said about his new release (co-authored with D. Brent Sandy), The Lost World of Scripture. (I guess this is a brand now!) One reviewer explains, “The primary emphasis in the book regards the distinction between literary production in a hearing-dominant world and literary production in a text-dominant world.” Another review quotes, “If we question the continued sufficiency of the term inerrancy, it is not that we now admit that the Bible has errors. It is rather that the term inerrancy may no longer be clear enough, strong enough or nuanced enough to carry the weight with which it has traditionally been encumbered…If the term inerrancy, however, has become diminished in rhetorical power and specificity, it no longer serves as adequately to define our convictions about the robust authority of Scripture.”

Leadership Library – Something completely different this weekend, a book list. “Churches can’t say they don’t have resources for effecting change. …33 books that help you do just that. All have something helpful, but I have bulleted ones that have stirred my passion for change.How many of these do you own?

The US Has Testamints, The UK Has The Real Easter Easter Egg – “When in 2010 a team of Christians decided to launch a chocolate egg that contained the authentic message of Easter – and which also used high-quality Fair Trade chocolate and gave away a hefty portion of their profits to charity – it was met with a complete lack of interest by mainstream retailers. The Meaningful Chocolate Company might have had great chocolate and a noble ethic, but their religious meaning didn’t sit too well alongside Lindt bunnies and Chocolate Krispie chicks. So the company turned directly to churches and church schools, and received an overwhelming response.” Now some of the region’s top retailers realize they made a mistake.

Giving Up Lent for Lent – “God has called me, and you, into ministry to serve God. Not to have a paying job, not to pay back our seminary loans, not to create the programs we’ve dreamed of. No. We’ve been called into ministry because God called us and we said yes. At least, that’s my story. I was thirteen years old, and I felt God’s call to ministry. Some days I lose sight of that. I am frustrated at a board meeting or sitting at a blank screen trying to type a sermon, or looking at the decreasing funds and wondering if they can afford to pay me in the next few months, but I need to go back and remember, I am in this because I said yes to God.”

They Sure Get a Lot of Press Coverage – A UK Christian magazine is the latest to devote a cover story to Christian rap music. “I loved the music and I loved the culture, but as I became more of a fanatic I realized that most of the content stood against everything that I stood for. The glorification of drugs, money and misogyny never sat well with me, not to mention the bad language. Back then, clean versions of records were few and far between, so I found myself rapping along but taking a deep breath of silence whenever a swear word appeared. That all changed one day while I was watching a Christian TV channel…”

Bobby Schuller’s Two Churches to Merge into One – I kept thinking I’d heard this story before; it’s reminiscent of the situation where Tullian Tchividjian assumed the pastorate of Coral Ridge and the church merged with New City Presbyterian, which he had founded. “Tree of Life Community church, founded by the Rev. Bobby Schuller, will merge into Shepherd’s Grove church, home of Crystal Cathedral Ministries and the Hour of Power with Bobby Schuller television program, on March 1. Members of both congregations approved the consolidation last month. Schuller had pastored the two churches since assuming leadership of Shepherd’s Grove in January 2014. ‘This move is a natural progression of what we feel God wants to do with our ministries,’ said Schuller. ‘The transition from Crystal Cathedral to where we are now was seamless, and the Hour of Power continues to grow and reach more people with the gospel.'”


This was from the Twitter feed of Unvirtuous Abbey:

Honestly, we have no idea what's going on in this picture, but they gave it the caption, "For cats who are compelled by the power of Christ, we pray. "

Honestly, we have no idea what’s going on in this picture, but they gave it the caption, “For cats who are compelled by the power of Christ, we pray. “

 

 

 

 

 

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