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Posts Tagged ‘church’

Church and State, Part 17,402

December 2nd, 2014 No comments
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Congregations Dying and Rising

November 13th, 2014 No comments

In his own blog, Bishop Grant recently brought my attention to a blog post entitled “A Growing Church is a Dying Church.”

I liked what the blog post said about the role of the pastor:

What then can your pastor do? She can make your board meetings longer with prayer and Bible study. She can mess with your sense of familiarity by changing the order of worship and the arrangement of the sanctuary. She can play those strange new songs and forget about your favorite old hymns. She can keep on playing those crusty old hymns instead of that hot new contemporary praise music. She can bug you incessantly about more frequent celebration of Communion. …

and:

What can she do to grow your church? Nothing. There’s nothing your pastor can do to make your church grow. She can’t save your church. Your church already has a Savior and it’s not her. She can push you. She can open doors. She can present you with opportunities. It’s up to you to take advantage of them.

But the greater point was that churches often look for numerical growth and a prolonged lifespan, which isn’t very Christian. More bodies, sometimes, is precisely what God refuses to provide. And as for length of days: we of all people should not be afraid of death like those who have no hope. Resurrection can’t happen until there’s been a death.

My only quibble with the article — not, I think, with its main thrust, but with its wording — was that it conflated two ideas: transformation and resurrection. Resurrection includes transformation, but not all transformation is resurrection. (Consider the transfigured Jesus and the risen Lord. Consider the Peter of Luke 5 and the Peter of Acts 4. He’s been transformed, but neither one is the Peter we will know in the age to come. Or the Paul of Acts 7–8 and Acts 21. He’s been transformed, but not yet resurrected.)

In the case of a local congregation, what the pastor is trying to orchestrate (midwife?) is transformation, not resurrection. The congregation may resist that transformation. It may prefer to die with dignity than to contextualize the gospel for neighbors who don’t look or sound or behave like the people who paid for the organ or put in that stained glass.

What happens when a congregation dies? Sometimes, our church buildings are recycled as restaurants, or even homes and condos. But sometimes they are resurrected for new worshipping communities, like when the small foreign-language Pentecostal congregation buys the old First Mainline Protestant church downtown. May God bless them and give them a fruitful ministry.

I can’t criticize those few survivors hanging on in First Mainline. They’re tired and dizzied by the way the culture has changed under their feet and overwhelmed by the new demographics of their community. I can understand why they might be ready to go home to be with the Lord, just like Paul.

But life is a gift from God, and we are called to make good use of the time we have been given. Paul himself says it: “if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”

So let’s let God take care of resurrection, and in the meantime, apply ourselves to the work — and it is work — of being transformed so we can be agents of transformation.

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Barriers to Giving

November 12th, 2014 No comments

Everybody talks about how their church is (or tries to be) friendly. But “friendly” is more than just shaking your hand when you arrive. It encompasses seeing things from your guests’ point of view and asking yourself what they want or expect. A case in point is giving (although, churches should be even more friendly about giving, because guests are probably a tiny fraction of the people who give to your church). From the Lovett and Weems Church Leadership website:

When you design and communicate financial policies, make sure they are done from the perspective of the giver and not simply to satisfy rules. Make sure that readers know your interest is primarily in them and their desire to fulfill their giving goals, not for the convenience of those handling the funds.

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Driving Away Visitors

November 12th, 2014 No comments

I meant to blog about Thom Rainer’s survey of how churches drive away visitors, but hadn’t gotten to it. Now that Chris Thompson mentioned it in a recent ADN blog, so now I’m finally blogging it. I won’t quote the whole article, but here are some impressions I took from it, and my early evaluation about how we might respond.

Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service. This response was my greatest surprise for two reasons. First, I was surprised how much guests are really uncomfortable during this time. Second, I was really surprised that it was the most frequent response.

I was surprised that the greeting time makes guests uncomfortable, since it’s a part of the service at some churches that seem pretty guest-friendly. We have one, but not as a welcoming device at the beginning of the service. Instead we give it a theological spin as the passing of the peace. In light of how uncomfortable it makes our guests, we should give some thought to how important it is.

Unsafe and unclean children’s area. … If your church does not give a high priority to children, don’t expect young families to attend.

We are working on it, but this is truly one of the areas where we can always be improving.

No place to get information.

This is why we have 400 words of boilerplate information on the back of our Sunday bulletin. I’d like to have more things people can take away. My top two priorities are: a brochure about the church with lots of color pictures, and a brochure about our mission partnerships with lots of color pictures. As an introvert myself, I also want us to have a visitor booth where people can go chat up a single volunteer, instead of having to plunge into the crowd of fellowship time.

Bad church website.

It’s been awhile since I did much with this. I need to raise it in my priorities. I’d like to get more people to visit our Facebook page as well.

Members telling guests that they were in their seat or pew.

Regular attenders need to be aware that if I find out this happens at JLP, I’m going to call them out by name during each of the next three worship services. Or maybe three dozen. By the time they feel safe returning, no one will remember it was “their” seat.

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What to Sing During Advent

November 12th, 2014 No comments

Reaching people during Advent. How (especially during Advent) does the church reflect and embody Jesus’ mission to the lost?

Churches that refuse to sing Christmas carols until December 24 are in danger of being the only venue where such music is not sung during December. The church, therefore, becomes a place people may avoid, since the experience of hearing and singing this music is offered abundantly elsewhere.

A Hospital for Sinners (Part 7,133)

September 10th, 2014 No comments

There’s a saying that goes, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” One of my favorite churches has a slogan of “Me Too.” I met someone at the Tuesday AA meeting at church who told me, “I’m a drunk, and the only thing that helps me stay sober is being with other drunks.” Put all those thoughts together and you get something like Tim Chailles’ review of Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice.

 

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Multisite and Bivocational Ministry

July 24th, 2014 No comments

One of the topics we discussed yesterday, when I was meeting with some local pastors, was the megachurch-and- branch-campus model used by churches like Saddleback and North Point. (This model is also important to Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, as discerned by Christianity Today but — curiously — not the PC(USA) in its own reporting.)

None of the pastors I met with were very enthusiastic about this model. We can look at a John Ortberg or an Andy Stanley and recognize what great preachers they are, but it’s hard to be enthusiastic about being a “campus pastor” with modest or minimal opportunities to preach. (This emphasis on sermonizing is reflected in the polity of the PC(USA), where pastors are “teaching elders” — and before that, “ministers of Word and sacrament.”)

But the pastors I met with were all full time ministers. There are reasons to believe we are not the wave of the future. Rather, the church seems to be moving toward a model of bivocational pastors, as described last year in the Presbyterian Outlook, where pastors have a day job to pay the bills, in addition to their vocation as a pastor. This week, the Atlantic wondered about this trend:

Working multiple jobs is nothing new to pastors of small, rural congregations. But many of those pastors never went to seminary and never expected to have a full-time ministerial job in the first place. What’s new is the across-the-board increase in bi-vocational ministry in Protestant denominations both large and small, which has effectively shut down one pathway to a stable—if humble—middle-class career.

What happens when you combine this trend with the multi-campus, multi-venue model with the trend toward part-time ministry?

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Fancy Church Buildings

December 14th, 2013 No comments

I’m preaching a message on Haggai 2:1-9 inspired by the phrase “Desire of Nations” found in the advent song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The point of the passage is that the Second Temple that Ezra was building didn’t look very impressive to anybody who could remember the first one built by Solomon four centuries earlier.

Haggai was writing about 520 BC, so there’s nobody today who remember’s Solomon’s Temple. Apart from what the Bible says, we do know a little bit about the Second Temple from the Arch of Titus in Rome that celebrates its destruction in AD 70. Clearly, they used menorahs:

Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus



(Click on a picture to see it enlarged).

What might Solomon’s Temple have looked like? From the text of Haggai, it seems to have had a lot of silver and gold decoration. How much? We can look at some churches built in the past for a clue.

Here’s the altar of the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Worms, Germany:

Cathedral of St. Peter

Cathedral of St. Peter


Apart from its altar, St. Peter’s really a pretty austere place, as Gothic Cathedrals go. But it’s decorated with some seriously weird art. For example, what’s with this guy?

Death? or Resurrection?


Of course, Germany’s no patch on Italy. Here’s the church of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs in Rome, across the street from the train station:

Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs

Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs


(For some scale, the guy tying his shoe in the second picture is leaning on the wall located about 4 o’clock across the floor from those two people in the foreground of the first picture.)

But that’s just a church in Rome. What about the Vatican itself? Here are some pictures from the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica:

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica


There’s a statue on your right when you enter the building:

Michelangelo's Pieta


But even the Vatican isn’t fancy, compared to the Co-Cathedral of St. John in Valetta, Malta.

Co-Cathedral of St. John

Co-Cathedral of St. John


The only problem is it needs more gold leaf, don’t you think?

More gold leaf? Coming up:

Co-Cathedral of St. John

Co-Cathedral of St. John



“I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more gold leaf.”

Beside gold leaf, they also used a lot of Maltese Crosses in their decorating.

Maltese Cross

Maltese Cross


But it’s not just gold leaf and Maltese Crosses. There’s also a lot of marble. The only problem? They use it to make skulls and skeletons:

Skeleton in Marble

Skull-Themed Art

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Pope Francis Interview

September 19th, 2013 No comments

I’m working my way through the interview with Pope Francis appearing today in the Jesuit publication America, but I liked this bit. Important word to people in leadership positions, especially in the church.

John XXIII adopted this attitude with regard to the government of the church, when he repeated the motto, ‘See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.’ John XXIII saw all things, the maximum dimension, but he chose to correct a few, the minimum dimension. You can have large projects and implement them by means of a few of the smallest things. Or you can use weak means that are more effective than strong ones, as Paul also said in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

Francis is talking about the corrections John XXIII oversaw with the Second Vatican Council. So some people might say that’s a pretty big “little” that John XXIII tackled. And if that’s the minimum dimension, it gives you a sense of how big the maximum dimension must be.

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Builder’s Remorse

August 15th, 2013 No comments

Whenever I visit a church with a huge campus — or even a disco ball — I always remind my self that covetousness is a sin. A recent article by Ed Stetzer suggests I might not feel that way if I pastored the church meeting there.

I think many churches are going to wish they had not built gigantic multi-thousand seat auditoriums… I served as an interim pastor for a church in Nashville with a 3,000-seat auditorium. Meeting with the staff before I left, we all agreed that if the church were started today, we would not build in the same way.

It’s a good article. (As usual; if you’re not following Ed Stetzer on a regular basis, I recommend you do.)

But on the question of buildings, what makes a great place to worship? How does that assist the entire mission of the church? How does it compete with the church’s mission?

I know a church that’s under tension as one bloc within the congregation advocates for leaving the denomination. Suppose they succeed, and their opponents leave the congregation. Or suppose that first bloc becomes discouraged and they leave. How will the remaining members pay for that awesome building? How will that financial burden take away from the rest of what they’re doing?

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