Thinking Out Loud

September 28, 2016

Wednesday Link List

The worldwide shortage of Christian book titles continues, as indicated by this collection, all recently-released

The worldwide shortage of Christian book titles continues, as indicated by this collection, all recently-released

Your top clicks last week included Should an Egalitarian Date a Complementarian? and the Greg Boyd epic book announcement and Stephen Altrogge wandering to and fro in the history of ’90s CCM. (I normally put these on Twitter a day or two later.) But that was last week, and this is…

As the worship team at Central Neighborhood Tabernacle arrived for a 7:30 AM set up, there was no mistaking that the sound console was emitting a supernatural light.

As the worship team at Central Neighborhood Tabernacle arrived for a 7:30 AM set up, there was no mistaking that the sound console was emitting a supernatural glow.

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.”

 

September 21, 2016

Wednesday Link List

well-played-church-sign

 

young-jesus-at-bath-timeWelcome to WLL #326. The issue of the missing years of Jesus’ childhood is thorny and the ‘infancy gospels’ are long contested. So we don’t lay any claim to the accuracy of the cartoon at right, nor do we know the source. For the more conservative out there, try not to be offended.

When your business has a name client, you want to advertise that:

christian-plumbing-truck

September 14, 2016

Wednesday Link List

It may not catch on like WWJD, but...

It may not catch on like WWJD, but…

 

This Lexus owner is either a NKJV supporter, or expressing a Christmas wish for a new copy of the classic. Will that be 1611 or 1789?

This Lexus owner is either a NKJV supporter, or expressing a Christmas wish for a new copy of the classic. Would that be 1611 or 1789?

the-bard-and-the-bibleWelcome to WLL#325. If you love theater and love God, have we got a devotional book for you; pictured at right, published by Worthy Inspired.

I hope you find something of interest in this week’s list…it was lots of fun putting it together for you.

September 7, 2016

Wednesday Link List

My wife snapped this pic in a thrift shop where, for only $20, you can own a genuine menorah from the Holly Land.

My wife snapped this pic in a thrift shop where, for only $20, you can own a genuine menorah from the Holly Land.

I’m just gonna assume everyone is up to speed that Mother Teresa is now Saint Teresa (of Calcutta).  Here’s the rest of this week’s list:

The Wednesday Link Letter was written by Paul Wilkinson and recorded before a live audience (Paul’s wife). Read more of his work at his Anglican baptism website, Sprinkling Out Loud, or at Devotional Plagiarism 201, where only the best get borrowed.

pi-pie

August 31, 2016

Wednesday Link List

From Reddit: "Had a lady from church ask me to remove an Ouija board from her home because she was afraid to touch it, but I have enough spiritual power to withstand it. So I did. It's burning in my fire pit right now. Sometimes my job is awesome and hilarious."

From Reddit: “Had a lady from church ask me to remove an Ouija board from her home because she was afraid to touch it, but I have enough spiritual power to withstand it. So I did. It’s burning in my fire pit right now. Sometimes my job is awesome and hilarious.”

Welcome to Wednesday Link List #323. Lots of listicles this week.

From Twitter: "Some churchy words for @worldscrabble champs this week, Quinquennial scores at least 30 if you could actually do it!"

From Twitter: “Some churchy words for @worldscrabble champs this week, Quinquennial scores at least 30 if you could actually do it!”

August 24, 2016

Wednesday Link List

Tomorrow is August 25th, which means only 4 months to Christmas. It’s never too early to start planning your advent services:

Advent Service Planning

Wednesday List Lynx

Wednesday List Lynx – Do Not Pet

Today something a little different. Because the 30th Weekend Link List happened on Saturday, I’m going to reiterate all those links at the bottom of today’s, just ICYMI. (Statistically many of you do miss it, and this one contained some important items.)

Adam and Eve

As promised, our first ever reiteration of the weekend list experiment, not including images and witty introduction.

 

August 17, 2016

Wednesday Link List

Saw this one on the weekend; it can be ordered from Grimm.ca

Saw this one on the weekend; it can be ordered from Grimm.ca

Bridezilla of ChristLet’s be realistic here. After last week’s 38-point link list, you weren’t expecting another huge one, were you?  You do know I don’t get paid for this, right? At right, our Book Cover of the Week, published this year by Multnomah, authored by two of the Happy Rant Podcast guys.

 

How many of you have this as your life verse. See the Phil Vischer link above; this shows up starting around the 17:00 mark (or thereabouts)

How many of you have this as your life verse? See the Phil Vischer link above; this shows up starting around the 17:00 mark (or thereabouts)

August 10, 2016

Wednesday Link List

I hereby declare this link list officially opened! Not only opened but jam-packed this week! (I needed to write something here because this is the opening sentence which appears in the Twitter feed.)

GUTS Church

I keep thinking we’re pushing the envelope too far with the way some churches are named. The one pictured above is real, with several locations. I never did get the story of where the name for GUTS Church came from.

Valiant for Truth

I’d like to pretend this isn’t a thing, but I know better. The idea that students are studying and being tested on defending “the Authorized Version” means that valuable learning time isn’t being spent on better things…

Lynx with flowerThe List Lynx wanted to remind everyone that Thinking Out Loud is not an Amazon referrer and tries to avoid links to book mentions which are. Support your local brick and mortar bookstore, even if it means combing your hair, getting in your car and driving a few miles.

This t-shirt is just wrong on so many levels: Misplaced theology, boring graphic design, silly politics…

Trump Campaign T-Shirt

Last night I was still trying to decide whether the image below should be the centerpiece of its own blog post. Not enough is written on what we call “saying grace,” but the contraption below allows a family to basically roll the dice to decide which prayer to say. I’m not sure this is a type of prayer Jesus had in mind, so you might see this picture again sometime soon:

Mealtime Prayer Cube

August 8, 2016

The Minister’s Personal Library: Then and Now

When the books don't sell: Look very closely at the bottom left corner; the picture is actually unsold books waiting to be pulped. Many Christian titles suffer the same fate, but some should never have been printed in the first place.

When the books don’t sell: Look very closely at the bottom left corner; the picture is actually unsold books waiting to be pulped. Many Christian titles suffer the same fate, but some should never have been printed in the first place.

One of the peripheral things I do related to my work involves collecting used books for something called Christian Salvage Mission. I should add that I’m not very good at this as most people simply donate their books to the local thrift shop, but every once in awhile someone will greet me with a trunk load full of boxes, and often it’s a retired pastor who has reached the stage where they are giving up their personal library. They say you can’t take it with you, but these old guys — and by old guys I mean five minutes older than me — would gladly take their theology collection to heaven if they could figure out a way.

Because I’m basically nosy, I usually take the time to rummage through these boxes to see what books and reference materials shaped their ministry. Recently, I realized these books are characterized by what isn’t there:

  • there are no books on leadership principles
  • there are no books on leveraging your platform
  • there are no books on growing your church
  • there are no books on hiring best practices
  • there are no books on promoting your next sermon series
  • there are no books on launching a satellite campus

It was the first one — leadership — I noticed more significantly. I wonder how much of our present emphasis is diverting attention and energy away from pastors simply immersing themselves in the knowledge of scripture. Instead, the libraries I see include:

  • Bible commentaries
  • Bible handbooks
  • Greek and Hebrew word study
  • more commentaries
  • classic sermon transcripts
  • …did I mention commentaries?

Do you think there is something we’re losing — and I mean the church as a whole in terms of where the focus now lies — by getting entangled in so many secondary or tertiary concerns?  

In a few days, the Global Leadership Summit launches at Willow Creek. This is a great opportunity for people in business and service industries to hear from the best, including both Christian and general interest speakers. I know that many pastors also attend these events, as well as a gazillion other conferences where the goal is to extract leadership principles that can be applied to their local church. I am not dissing the idea of nurturing leadership principles in pastors and church leaders.

I’m simply noting that — if their libraries are any indication — such an emphasis did not exist in times past.

 

Theological Books

 


Yes, today is 8/8 so I posted this at 8:08. My own little OCD moment.

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