Thinking Out Loud

November 13, 2016

Discernment

mom-birthdayRegular readers here know that my mom died on the 10th of October. Today would have been her birthday.

We made the decision to take the funeral ourselves, which meant planning something even while in the middle of our own emotional stressor. I did outsource a great deal of the speaking to people who knew her at different times of her life and ministry, and many of those left the transcript of their remarks on the podium for me to go back to.

Keeping track of those people, six songs that were meaningful to her, and a scripture reading (which I almost forgot entirely), means that I didn’t get to say everything I wanted to say, and one of those was to talk about the gift of discernment, the spiritual gift my mom felt was the greatest — despite Paul’s emphasis on tongues — gift needed in these times.

In the times in which her and my dad’s Christian life was shaped, the problem of what we would call ‘cults’ and what they would have called ‘false cults’ was a huge part of their spiritual environment. Even relatively orthodox people often had some pet doctrine which deviated from the norm. It’s not surprising that this problem has always been with us; the problem of false teachers is at the core of several of the Apostle Paul’s letters.

What’s interesting about her feelings about discernment is that it comes from someone who never directly used the internet. As I just stated, this problem seems to have been pervasive throughout church history, but how much more is it needed now when people — and I’m thinking here especially about new believers or nominal Christians — don’t have a frame of reference to know where a particular podcast, book, song, author, pastor, church, or movement is originating. 

We need that online today more than ever.


Here’s the first four of 71 verses on discernment from openBible.info:

1 John 4:1

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.                     (all ESV)


The word discernment has taken on a new meaning lately. Discernment ministries is a term used to apply to watchman or gatekeeper ministries which take the practice of guarding the flock to extremes and are dismissive of anyone whose theology (meaning a compendium of individual doctrines) does not line up 100% with their own. This overboard approach to discernment at times simply fractures and divides the body of Christ unnecessarily. We’re never going to agree 100% on every nuance of faith and practice, but we can agree to disagree on things not central to the gospel. Problem is, some people are convinced that their doctrinal take is central to the gospel.

To read previous discussions here on discernment ministries, click this link, and read the first four or five entries after the repeat of this one.

July 18, 2016

Lost Voice 4 – Dann

Filed under: Christianity, Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:21 am

The Lost Voice ProjectAs important as I think it is, I see I’m posting these Lost Voice stories only every other year. We’ll have to do something about that.

Unlike the other people in this series Dann (don’t forget the second ‘n’) isn’t really in a situation where anything about his career, marriage or circumstances makes him invisible in the local church, in fact he seems to be participating in a variety of activities when something needs doing. The reason his story is here is, when you think of it, entirely superficial. But that’s exactly what makes his situation so ridiculous.

Simply put, Dann — who is Swiss-born and about 55 years old — speaks perfect English, but with a thick German accent. Everybody knows him and he usually sticks around for a few minutes after the service ends, but some people should really come with subtitles. People often have to ask him to spell a word so they know what he’s saying.

So there are, in this small-to-medium size church, opportunities for public ministry which fall to other people that simply don’t fall to Dann.

For example, he’s never been asked to do the scripture reading. Yes, it would be a little unclear at times, but would it be any worse than trying to follow along in the NLT while someone up front is reading from the NASB? I think we’re all accustomed to that sort of thing by now.

Or open in prayer. In his church, this responsibility gets passed around but it never gets passed in his direction…

…Is Dann a Christian? It’s a silly question in many respects, but if you’ve never heard someone give a testimony or had the privilege of listening to someone in prayer, you don’t always know. Even the passion with which someone reads the scripture passage can tell a lot about their faith. After-service conversations often focus on other matters. Katie, who has been a member of the church just wants to go up to him and ask, “When did you become a Christian?” Or, “How did you become a Christian;” because it seems like he’s a bit of a mystery spiritually. It’s hard to see someone as a leader in the church if they never done anything which exposes their spiritual gifts to the congregation…

…This all shows how much the modern church prizes verbal gifts. Guys who can speak well get asked to do the announcements or chair the men’s meeting. People who can orate get asked to fill in when the pastor takes his annual two weeks in Florida. And Anne, who has a beautiful British accent, always ends up narrating the children’s Christmas musical. “And they wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; and the next morning they had scones with breakfast tea.”

Maybe Dann should asked to be baptized again. At the baptismal service, you at least get to share your testimony. In some churches, it’s your only chance to share something from the platform.

In many respects, we are a people of words; the Christian faith is all about being able to articulate it...

…Dann is one of the lost voices in the modern church. His contribution to his local church might be significant, but after years of being marginalized, it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to do much moving forward.


a continuing series about people whose contribution to local church life never happened

May 15, 2016

Open But Cautious

There’s a phrase that I think I first heard used in some Christian and Missionary Alliance settings about the gifts of The Holy Spirit: “Open, but cautious.” Simply put, it represents people who are open to Spirit-led expressions of faith and doctrine but with the caveat of keeping their eyes wide open (or perhaps having one eye on scripture).

While my wife and I don’t attend weekly worship in a Charismatic or Assemblies of God-type of setting, I would say I am very much onside doctrinally inasmuch as I (a) am not a cessationist1, (b) believe in the limitless power of God to do the things people count as impossible2, and (c) believe that the things of God should touch our emotions as well as our minds3.

That said, when info about this camp came across my Twitter feed last night, I found it disturbing:

Signs and Wonders Camp

As regular readers know, I’m a huge believer in summer camp ministry. Find a camp, make sure it’s affiliated with Christian Camping International or Christian Camp & Conference Association or your denomination; and then send the kids as soon as they’re able to be away from home for a few nights. (I even wrote recently about some long-term benefits to be gained, apart from the spiritual immersion value.)

I also recognize that in Children’s Ministry (or KidMin as its now often referred to) there needs to be a point in the curriculum where you emphasize the distinctives of your doctrine, and if your kids are being raised in a Charismatic church, you want them to both have an education and have experiences with different facets of that environment.

So, I like Pentecostals, like camping and like KidMin. So what’s the problem?

Open, but cautious.

I’m not sure; I would just rather it was an adventure camp, or a horsemanship camp; or if you must title it after the teaching theme, a discipleship camp or a Christian leadership camp. I’d rather pin the emphasis on the giver rather than the gifts. I would prefer to focus on the normal Christian life rather than the occasions where God breaks in with the supernatural. I also don’t want to raise expectations for kids about the whens, wheres, whys and hows of sign gifts that could lead to disappointment.

Maybe I’m just a lousy Charismatic. Maybe I’m not attuned enough to the language and culture of some of today’s popular doctrinal streams.

Hopefully I am a realistic Christian who still believes in the ability of God to do the impossible; but with the awareness that the thing that makes the exceptional the exceptional is that it doesn’t happen every day.  So parents, would you send your kid to Signs and Wonders camp?

Signs and Wonders IHOP


1 I have actually never owned a Cessna, nor do I have a pilot’s license. More seriously, I do not see the end of the apostolic age or the completion of the canon of scripture signalling the end of certain gifts.
2 This said, my faith can be as weak as the next guy’s in certain situations, not to mention a trademark Canadian pessimism that at times permeates my prayer life.
3 The things of God should touch our hearts and our emotions, but often they don’t. Spiritual complacency and apathy are always crouching at the door, and when a preacher tries to rev up an audience into emotional frenzy, I am often the first to want to shut down completely.

January 30, 2016

When Worship Leaders Actually Minister

This week, we had much discussion about a pivotal event in my wife’s worship leading career, that came about after I rediscovered this blog post in the archives. Even then, it was many years in the making, and something that both of us had been thinking and talking about for a long, long time before she wrote it.


• • • by Ruth Wilkinson

A number of years ago, a terrible thing happened.

Our local Christian school had just celebrated their Grade 8 graduation. Excited 14-year-olds, proud parents and grandparents, a ceremony, a party.

That was Friday evening.

One of the students, a girl, went home that evening, full of life and fun and hope, said good night to her parents, went to sleep, fell into a diabetic coma and died in the night.

The next day, phone lines burned up as the word spread and the Christian community prayed together for this family and for the girl’s friends.

Sunday morning during the service, the then pastor of #thechurchiusedtogoto mentioned the terrible thing in his ‘pastoral prayer’ before the sermon and the congregation prayed together for the comfort and healing of us all.

Over the next week, it started to sink in as these things will do, and a lot of people, solid believers who love Jesus, began asking hard questions. People deeply wounded by the fact that God could allow this to happen.

We own the local Christian bookstore, and some of these folks came in looking for answers. The best we could do was share their questions and their pain. Because there are no answers, besides the trite ones that don’t work.

The next Sunday, I was scheduled to lead worship. I chose songs that were familiar and simple, songs that spoke only of who God is and always had been and avoided “I will worship you” and “Thank you” types of lyrics.

On the platform, in my allotted one minute of speech, I said that a terrible thing had happened last week. That a lot of us were still hurting and questioning and angry. That it can be difficult to sing praises at a time like this, out of our woundedness. But that God was still God and though we don’t understand, we can trust him.

And we sang.

The next day, I got an email. From the (P)astor. Telling me off.

Apparently I had crossed a line. I’d been “too pastoral”. He said that I had no right to address the need in the congregation that week because he had “mentioned it” in his prayer the week before. And that was his job, not mine.

This was in the days before I was liberated enough to allow myself to ask, “What the hell?” so I went with the sanctified version of same, “What on earth?”. How could I possibly have been wrong to acknowledge what we were all thinking, and to act accordingly?

But, knowing from long experience that there was no point in arguing, I acquiesced and he was mollified.

However.

That episode stuck with me. Like a piece of shrapnel the surgeons couldn’t quite get.

“Too pastoral”.

Ephesians 4:11 speaks about gifts given to “each one of us”. The writer lists 5. Widely accepted interpretation of this verse sees each of the 5 as a broad category of Spirit-borne inclination and ability, with every one of us falling into one or another.

Apostles – those whose role it is to be sent. To go beyond the comfort zone and get things started that others would find too intimidating or difficult. Trailblazers.

Prophets – those whose role it is to speak God’s heart. To remind us all why we do what we do, and, whether it’s comfortable or not, to set apart truth from expediency. Truth-speakers.

Evangelists – those whose role it is to tell others about Jesus. To naturally find the paths of conversation that lead non-believers to consider who Christ is. Challengers.

Pastors – those whose role it is to come alongside people, to meet them where they are and to guide them in a good direction. To protect, to direct, to listen and love. Shepherds.

Teachers – those whose role it is to study and understand the written word of God, and to unfold it to the rest of us so we can put it into practice. Instructors.

I’ll be the first to point out that “worship leader” isn’t included in the list. Which means that those of us who take that place in ecclesial gatherings must fall into the “each one of us” who have been given these gifts.

Every time a worship leader (or song leader or whatever) stands on the platform of your church and picks up the mic, you are looking at a person to whom has been given one of the 5-fold gifts.

But can you tell?

Don’t know about you, sunshine, but I want to.

I think that, after a week or two, you should be able to tell. From their song choices, from the short spoken word they’re given 60 seconds for on the spreadsheet, from what makes them cry, smile, jump up and down – you should be able to tell that:

  • This woman has the gift of an evangelist. She challenges us to speak about Jesus to the world because he died for us.
  • That guy has the gift of a teacher. He chooses songs with substance and depth of lyric. He doesn’t just read 6 verses from the Psalms, he explains things.
  • That kid is totally a prophet. He reminds us of what’s important and what’s not.
  • This dude is an apostle. He comes back to us from where he’s been all week and tells us what’s going on out there.
  • This woman is a pastor. Her heart bleeds when yours does. She comes alongside and walks with you through the good and the bad and encourages you to keep going.

A worship leader who is free to express their giftedness in the congregation is, himself, a gift to the congregation.

A worship leader who is bound by rules and by “what we do” is a time filler.

Church “leadership” who restrict the use of Christ-given gifts are, in my humble opinion, sinning against the Spirit and the congregation.

Those gifts are there for a reason.

Let us use them.


September 15, 2015

Healed or Cured? Illness or Disease?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:18 am

From the July/August issue of The Pentecostal Testimony magazine. Dr. Randall Holm is associate professor of biblical studies and associate dean of student affairs at Providence College and Theological Seminary in Otterburne, Manitoba.

For some time now, medicine has made a distinction between disease and illness.  Disease is an abnormality in bodily function caused by a specific agent, such as a bacterium or virus, while illness refers to the accompanying social, cultural, spiritual and emotional effects of the disease on the suffering individual.

Some theologians, such as Pentecostal scholar Amos Yong, have picked up on this distinction and submit that we should also distinguish between curing and healing.  Curing, they say, addresses disease, and healing addresses illness. Writes Yong, “In relational perspective, healing takes place in community, sometimes including cures, but more often reconciling lives who were formerly strangers to one another.”

August 6, 2015

Best of the Blog

Here are three articles from this time three years ago.

•All Bible Verses are Equal, But Some are More Equal than Others

When it was released in 2011, I expected a bigger reaction to The People’s Bible, a new NIV Bible format that places the verses in a font sized based on the volume of traffic for that verse at BibleGateway.com. After all, we place some verses in red if they were spoken by Jesus; soul-winner Bibles come with “Romans Road” type passages already underlined; Key Word Study Bibles only provide the Strong’s Greek or Hebrew index number for selected words3218 in a sentence; so why not highlight popular verses in bigger type?

Do you think this has merit, or is this Bible destined to remain a bit of a fringe product?

•How to Spot Pentecostals and Charismatics

This was printed in 1978 by Jesus Outreach Ministries in Fairmont, West Virginia. I don’t believe any sarcasm was intended, rather they were trying to make the Charismatic environment more user-friendly for visitors. I only deleted the bottom section because the person who gave it to me had written on it.

•Kyle Idleman on Identifying Your True Idols

On July 15, 2012 at Southeast Christian Church, Kyle Idleman asked the congregation a series of questions that are worth considering:

The answer to these questions points to what might be God’s primary competition in our lives:

  1. What are you most disappointed with? or What do you complain about the most?
  2. What do you sacrifice your time and money for?
  3. What do you worry about?
  4. Where do you go when you get hurt; when life is hard? or Where do you go for comfort?
  5. What makes you mad, angry?
  6. What brings you the most joy?
  7. Whose applause do you long for?

April 8, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Fallon Easter

Featured Stories

Ten Secrets of Senior (Lead) Pastors – “Most pastors walk with a degree of uncertainty about our abilities to do the work we feel called to do. We intellectually know this is designed by God. It keeps us in prayer and walking by faith. But, we are human and the demands upon us and our insecurities in them can also make us question at times whether we have what it takes to do the work before us… A senior pastor’s insecurities can cause them to become overprotective of their reputation and position… The pastor too can experience loneliness…  some pastors have no true friends either inside the church or outside… Most senior pastors have been burned by someone they once trusted.”

Interacting with Your Mormon Friends – “We Christians seem to have taken our worldview for granted. We are apathetic residents of a state while Mormons are passionate citizens of a nation. Many of the Christians I’ve taken to Utah are amazed by how strongly Mormons seem to resist our efforts to share the truth. That’s because we, as Christians, mistakenly think Mormons are as loosely affiliated with their religious worldview as we are with ours. That’s simply not the case… Mormons don’t easily walk away from their faith, even when they’ve discovered it’s untrue.”

On The Religious Freedom Reformation Act – “One of the drawbacks of having friends on both sides of an issue is that they bombard you with articles and stories supporting their side of the issue and this is most likely to happen in our culture on LGBT matters.  My pastor sent me, and the rest of our church, link after link explaining ‘our’ side of the issue and making it clear that ‘their’ side was not only wrong but mean.  My progressive neighbor did the same from the other point of view.  I was tempted to just forward their e-mails to the other… This is life in America today, particularly on LGBT issues.  One side yells at the other that they are ignorant of the law, and that they hate America, Christians and religious freedom.  The other side yells that the RFRA is nothing more than a hidden attempt to legalize Christian discrimination of LGBT individuals.  Everyone is talking; nobody is listening, at least not to those who differ.”

Billy Graham Statue at the U.S. Capitol – “A move is afoot to replace a statue of a racist former governor with one of evangelist Billy Graham in the U.S. Capitol building. The change would mean North Carolina is represented by two Western North Carolina notables in the National Statuary Hall. The other leader honored is former governor and Buncombe County native Zebulon Vance. General Assembly lawmakers have proposed replacing the statue of Charles Brantley Aycock… Aycock was chief spokesman for the White Supremacy Campaign when the bloody riot resulted in the overthrow of the elected local government in the only documented coup d’etat in U.S. history.”

20 Minutes into the Future – It is said that if Americans want to see their religious future, they need only look at their neighbor to the north, Canada: “You don’t need to be a churchgoer to pray. That’s one of the findings of a sweeping new poll on faith from the Angus Reid Institute, conducted in partnership with Dr. Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge. The recent survey of 3,041 Canadians showed that even as our affiliation with organized religion continues to decline we still believe — just in our own, often deeply personal, ways.” Results are presented in The National Post as a large infographic.

It’s Not Just The Marriage Part of Gay Marriage – This article dealt primarily with the impact of a shifting paradigm on homosexuality and its impact on “the Black Church.” But going beyond wedding ceremonies, invitations, cakes and flowers are a whole host of other issues which the author summarizes in a list at the end of the piece; the impact on facility rental, membership, funeral protocols, dedication of adopted children, and also the legal ramifications of any decisions on issues like these.

New App is a YouVersion Meets Instagram – “Parallel feels a lot like Instagram, but instead of filters, it has you tag your photos with biblical verses. In doing so, it attempts to make a universal text feel personal, and shareable, in the same way one might post a photo on any other social media…Unlike Instagram, Parallel seems to do away with geotagging and clear timestamps, so all the images live in a timeless and spaceless world of the biblical verses they represent—and instead of liking them, users can ‘crown’ them. The idea is that, in time, the app will populate the Bible with these photographic interpretations.”

What are Our Children Learning Spiritually? – “Far before a child can comprehend his purpose to worship God, the child learns how to worship. What happens with most parents, though, who see only the need to teach their child’s head, is that in order to teach such truths, they are willing to use almost whatever means necessary to do so. So they use puppets to teach Bible stories, never realizing that their children are learning to view biblical truth as something light and trivial. Or they use cartoons to teach moral lessons, never realizing that their children are learning to view morality as something silly or ‘adventurous.'”

The Pope Has Changed Rome Forever – The Wall Street Journal “In his two years in office, the pontiff has drawn attention for his unconventional gestures—such as personally welcoming homeless people to the Sistine Chapel last month—but those gestures matter most as signs of the radical new direction in which he seeks to lead the Catholic Church: toward his vision of the promise of Vatican II. Both the acclaim and the alarm that Francis has generated as pope have been responses to his role in the long struggle over the [Second Vatican Council]’s legacy. …Pope Francis, the first pontiff to have received holy orders after Vatican II, is very much a son of the council.”

Inside John Wesley’s Prayer Closet – From Jared Brock’s new book, A Year of Living Prayerfully: “…Wesley kept up his daily regimen by going to bed at nine o’clock and waking at four o’clock, insisting that everyone in his household do the same. He would begin his day by studying the Scriptures and praying. The room that would later become known as the “Power House of Methodism” is about the size of a modern walk-in closet, perhaps six by seven feet, with hardwood floors and a large window to let in plenty of light. When we entered Wesley’s study, I noticed a very odd, spring-mounted bouncy chair. ‘This was Wesley’s workout chair,’ the guide said. ‘For doing assisted squats.'”

Rhymes Jan 13 2014Rhymes With Orange – 1/13/14

Short Takes

Digging a Little Deeper

From the creator of Thinking Out Loud, check out Christianity 201. Guaranteed distraction-free faith blogging with fresh posts every day. www.Christianity201.wordpress.com

January 29, 2015

When Unbelievers Get It

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:39 am

I Cor 14 is a passage that deals with spiritual gifts that may be interpreted differently by people depending on their take on the reality of those gifts in the 21st century. So I don’t want to focus specifically on the idea prophecy or prophesying as much as I want to focus on the latter part of verse 25:

24 But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. 25 As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.” (NLT)

What a great moment that would be! Imagine someone coming into one of our meetings who is not a believer, but they observe “God is truly here among you.”

I like how The Message handles this:

But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service where people are speaking out God’s truth, the plain words will bring them up against the truth and probe their hearts. Before you know it, they’re going to be on their faces before God, recognizing that God is among you. (vs 24-25, Message)

There’s a great Old Testament parallel passage to this:

This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ (Zechariah 8:23 NLT)

What a picture that paints!

We had a pastor once whose nearly ten year ministry of us truly came to a dramatic climax with his final sermon. His last sentence of that message went something like this, “I don’t want people to leave here saying, ‘They have a great church;’ but rather, they should say, ‘They have a great God.'”

What a great thing to hear!


About the Blogroll:

This blog has a rather interesting link list in the sidebar. Blogs mentioned are chosen because they are (a) faith focused and (b) posting regularly. The doctrinal flavor of the blogs listed is quite varied, but I don’t include blogs that appear to have more “agenda” than content. Some blogs are listed somewhat permanently, some disappear and return a month later. Together, they represent almost one twentieth or about 5% of the bloggers that I have bookmarked in my computer and read regularly. Some of the blogs appearing in the Wednesday link list end up on this page later on, while others have a key post that I feel is worth mentioning, while at the same time I’m not sure I want to establish them as a link or imply endorsement. Recommendations are invited.

October 10, 2014

The Clergy Caste and the Laity Caste

I originally posted this two years ago. I think I was somewhat angry when I wrote it. Sometimes that makes for the best blog items. Returning to it two years later, the anger is now more of a lament that things are the way they are in the church.

We had the option of staying in Toronto where we attended a church where people in leadership share the Sunday morning preaching responsibilities. But we felt God was calling us to a small town that didn’t have a church of that denominational stripe, or one where shared teaching was practiced. For years and years I had no regrets. But then, about 2-3 years ago, the regret just started pouring out of me.

I also think of how having to prepare weekly messages would have developed my Christian walk. Sometimes, I admit, I need to be forced into situations that create the fertile ground for spiritual growth. Mind you, I did do some messages back in the day that were terrible. It kinda works both ways…

…Anyway, what follows is what I wrote exactly 24 months ago. I believe in the concept of the church “setting people apart” for vocational ministry. I just don’t think that means they can’t share teaching/preaching responsibilities…


When
it comes to the availability of information and resources, these are interesting times. There is nothing that can’t be accessed, and as a member of the laity, it is easy to ‘pig out’ on all manner of commentaries and Bible reference materials that heretofore tended to be the exclusive property of those in vocational ministry.

Nowadays in any given denomination, it’s easy to find pastors who can’t preach their way out of a wet paper bag, and to hear as many stories about an absolutely phenomenal adult Sunday School Bible teacher with great gifting, who works the rest of the week on a automotive assembly line or is a cattle farmer, or sells restaurant supplies.

This week I was hoping to connect with a pastor friend, who mentioned that he had come down with somethingitis. I fired off an email joking, “Let me know if you need me to preach.”

Well, not so joking. I’ve actually done the Sunday morning message in his church many years prior to his arrival here, and for that matter, at six other area churches.

He ended up not being able to preach, as no doubt his somethingitis turned into otheritis. A mutual friend — who happens to be ordained — jumped in and filled the gap. I just chanced to hear about this yesterday afternoon on my way to the bank. After cashing a check, I walked back to my car and a strange thought hit me, “You’re not going to get those opportunities in the future because you’re not part of the clergy class, they are the ones who have the hidden secrets.

You know the hidden secrets, right? Well, actually you don’t; that’s the point. That extra bit of information that does not exist on line; the things passed on when you reach your 32nd degree ordination. The mysteries of faith that cannot be revealed to the common masses. The things not even known to that eloquent adult elective teacher.

That’s why the great chasm between the laity and clergy exists. There are some things simply too great — too lofty — to pass on to the rest of us. And that’s why the next time your church offers to help people ‘develop their gift,’ they do not include you in that gift-development if your gift happens to look terribly similar to their gift.

December 12, 2013

The Christian Service Spectrum

Ted and Tom are twin brothers. In their early 40s. Living at opposite ends of a large city. Both attend churches with weekly attendance in the four-to-five hundred range.

volunteers needed 2At Tom’s church, the Sunday announcements are fairly predictable. More people are needed to serve in the nursery. And the food pantry. And the middle-school boys Sunday School class. And the tenor section of the choir. And a drummer for the contemporary worship team. And the facilities committee. And now they’re asking for people to serve as parking lot attendants.

“Why do we need parking lot attendants with only 250 parking spots?” said Tom aloud to no one in particular.

“Shhhh!” said his wife, as the couple in front turned around and scowled.

“Did I say that out loud?” Tom asked.

…Across town at Ted’s church the situation is much reversed. There are not as many ministry initiatives, and Ted who happens to be a drummer and a tenor and a fairly competent pre-teen Sunday School teacher has nothing to do on Sunday morning. He shows up. He gives money. He has meaningful conversations with people during the coffee time between services. But he always feels a little lost on Sunday mornings and to his credit, he helps out on Monday nights at The Salvation Army and on Saturday mornings he is committed to a men’s group at another church. There just aren’t any pressing needs for anything Ted has to offer.

Ted and Tom often compare notes. While there’s nothing new about churches asking for assistance in various departments, Tom wishes his church was more like Ted’s (and that there were fewer announcements.) On the other hand, Ted his envious of Tom’s situation; he’d like to feel he was needed even if it was the superfluous task of welcoming cars in the parking lot.

volunteers neededSo which is the more healthy situation?  What would the church metrics people say about these churches? Is a healthy church one in which there are always needs because lots of exciting things are happening, or is a healthy church one in which people are stepping up and filling volunteer ministry positions as quickly as they become available?

And what about Ted? Should there be some avenue of service for him to continue to develop his spiritual gifts? Should Ted’s church be creating some new ministry initiatives so that people like Ted can feel more involved or plugged-in?

Where on the continuum does your church lie?

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