April 28, 2006
The current mantra in the church is ‘It’s not all about you’. If you question one of the leaders about the direction the church is going, or ask them about more balance in the worship service, you’ll hear ‘It’s not all about you’. What a great conversation stopper! There’s nothing you can say in response, it’s like a train derailment. I find this catchy phrase has guilted older members of the congregation into saying, “I really don’t like all the loud music and the drums, but ‘It’s not all about me’. OK, OK I get it…it’s not all about me, but can anyone please tell me who it is about?
April 27, 2006
Recently on a TV news program one of the talking heads commented, “Everyone knows politics is all about perception.” Well…not everyone, because I’d never thought of politics in those terms. However, now that I have thought about it, I can see it’s not about the truth, but about the spin. I tire of the political spin shouting matches, but at least the media attempts to hear both sides of an issue. I believe the biggest drawback in church politics is the monopoly on communication. When I hear something in church which paints only half of the picture, I’d like to raise my hand and say, ‘Wait a minute, there’s another side to the issue.’ One of our past ministers desperately wanted our worship attendance to increase, and it did…on paper. Being the final editor, his statistics reported his goal. I will admit that for Sunday evening Bible study we occassionaly do a ‘preacher’s count’ where 68 rounds up to 70, just in case we miscounted. If we're going to over count, I think the dust bunnies under the pews should count for something!
April 26, 2006
There are some areas of service in the church in which our older folks are no longer able to participate. For instance, you wouldn’t expect to see a 70 year-old serving as youth sponsor. I think one area of service ideally suited for seniors is the position of greeter for the morning worship services. I learned, however, that not everyone agrees with me. Apparently there are those who think the senior population doesn’t project the ‘image’ of the people the church is trying to attract. Speaking bluntly, greeters make the first impression on visitors and most churches are not trying to attract older retirees. Sadly, greeters are no longer just a friendly face of welcome; they’ve become a marketing tool.
April 25, 2006
Often our older folk worry about what will become of the church if the next generation doesn’t step up to the plate and start getting more involved. You’ll hear them say, “Who’s going to replace us when we’re gone.” Actually, I think the generation prior to theirs probably said the very same thing about them! Understandably, when we love the church and have labored for her, we want to know we’ve left her in good hands. Biblically speaking however, our responsibility isn’t to find our own replacements. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor 3:6-7, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” The church is indeed in very Good Hands.
April 24, 2006
There’s a saying, ‘If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck’. While experiencing church growth, our congregation has been told we’re not trying to become a mega church, but I’ve got to tell you I feel like a duck in progress. The staff position titles resemble that of a mega church. Our leaders attend conferences and seminars at mega church facilities. We implement methods and programs developed for mega churches and read their books and training manuals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against mega churches, but I wonder why we, as a midsize church, are conforming to the likeness of a mega church if we aren’t trying to become one.
April 21, 2006
I think I underestimated a mother’s encouragement until I started watching American Idol. Only a mother could tell some of those contestants they can sing! Actually, I too am guilty of giving undeserved praise. I think it’s a hold over from being taught ‘If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything’. I especially struggle with what to say to an experienced preacher or teacher who presents a less than adequate message. You know the type of presentation where the speaker tries to wing it, or deliver a personal agenda message, or they pull a re-run lesson out of the file when they don’t want to prepare a new lesson. When I shake hands with a speaker I want to compliment them on their message and say, “Good job!” But when it wasn’t a good job, what do you say, “I like your shoes…”?
April 20, 2006
Our Sunday school program for children and youth has been reconfigured and the new system requires parents (or an adult) to attend Sunday school with the children. Children who try to come to the class without an adult are sent to the worship service in the auditorium. Needless to say, attendance has dropped dramatically. Admittedly there are some positive aspects to having parents actively involved in the children’s class; however I’m not convinced that they outweigh the negatives. Consider the obstacles for single parent, grandparents, and those with two or three children. And then consider the child whose parents don’t go to church at all. Matthew 19:13-14 says, “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”
April 19, 2006
Simply repeat after me, ‘Sunday school is no longer effective’. Now, tell that to the congregation, repeat it to one another, and report it on surveys. Walla! Your Sunday school program now begins a slow death. As children, the majority of us were introduced to the church through Sunday school or VBS (Vacation Bible School). Because of that, I find it surprising that we so easily buy into the propaganda that Sunday school is no longer effective in ‘today’s church’. It’s my belief that the problem isn’t the Sunday school program, but rather it’s the lack of support from the directors, ministry leaders and administrators. Leaders weary of teacher training, recruiting teachers, unreliable volunteers, and restricted funding find eliminating a program to be a quick fix to their problems. My hat goes off the Baptist churches who continue to place great emphasis on the importance of Sunday school.
April 18, 2006
Esau was famished and said to his brother Jacob, “What good is the birthright to me?” So, for lentil stew and bread, Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob (Gen.25:29-34). Scripture clearly gives elders the leadership-right in the church, but I wonder if the elders have the sold their leadership-rights to the church staff? I’ve noticed that as the church staff increases, the role of the elders decreases. Part of my observation is based on the lack of elder visibility. You can’t follow leaders if you don’t know who they are. Since the New Testament church was elder led, whose leading today’s churches, the elders or the staff?
April 17, 2006
Many people move to Colorado because they love this area, the lifestyle, and the community. However, no sooner do they get their change of address to the Post Office than they begin trying to reshape the community to resemble the place they just left. Interestingly, the same thing happens in the church. People will place membership in a new church and then try to reshape the congregation to resemble their old church. Just as a young couple shouldn’t go into marriage thinking they can change their partner after they’re married, neither should one contemplate membership in a church with the idea they are going to fix the church after they’ve joined. I can just imagine how responsive a California church would be if I placed membership and then tried to improve them!
April 14, 2006
It’s obvious that God ‘targets’ (calls) individuals for specific areas of service, such as a youth sponsor or Sunday school teacher. However, I reject the current thought and trend that God would have a church target a specific group for developing the body. Acts 10:34-35 says, “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Have you noticed that the targeted group for today’s churches is never widows, orphans, singles, the elderly, or the handicapped? I know what targeting is, I experienced it in high school, and it’s called a clique.
April 13, 2006
I know a large company that has taken the ‘casual Friday attire’ to such an extreme that you can’t tell the CEO from the janitor. Even in church we often see people dress as though they’re going to a BBQ or a volleyball game rather than going to worship. Twice in a general assembly I’ve seen men behind the pulpit wearing shorts. On one occasion the man was preaching and the other (a different man) was delivering the communion meditation. I was offended by their lack of consideration for their audience. These men would never dress so causally to attend a funeral, a wedding or a business meeting with clients. I wonder, is there more respect in ‘marrying and burying’ than there is in worship?
April 12, 2006
We once had a preacher who memorized his weekly sermon word for word. The sermon was perfectly orchestrated with cues for lighting, music and video clips. When I discovered the minister shed tears on cue for both worship services, I became a little disillusioned. The morning worship service was so perfected that there was no room for spontaneity…or emergency. Sadly, as the nation grieved, the unscripted attack on 9/11 didn’t make it into our Sunday morning worship service. What a shame the Holy Spirit was confined to the script that day.
April 11, 2006
A reader’s email asked me to address the issue of using church equipment and not returning it to its proper place. A couple years ago my newly purchased stools for the adult Sunday school teachers went missing from their classrooms. My search lead me to the auditorium where I discovered the confiscated stools sitting proudly on the platform waiting for the musicians to use during worship services. A youth minister once told me his philosophy was ‘It’s easier to ask forgiveness, than it is to ask permission’. Embarrassingly, many of us use the same attitude in the church when dealing with one another. Come to think of it, in my confiscated stool situation, no one asked permission or forgiveness. Do you suppose that’s why I still remember it?
April 10, 2006
During my adult Sunday school class I’ve heard Republicans take a sidebar in the lesson and fire verbal shots at the Democratic Party…always on biblically moral issues of course! Some in the class will stifle a laugh, others may interject an additional crack, but I assure you the true blue Democrats in the group are fuming. In a ‘perfect’ church, Republicans wouldn’t throw ‘humorous’ barbs at Democrats. Personally, I think there’s room for politics in the church, but not at the expense of our worship time, the Sunday school lesson, or alienating a brother in Christ. Actually, rather than smoldering, I’d like to see a Democrat fire a rebuttal shot!
April 07, 2006
Over the last several years some of my congregation’s leaders have embraced Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church. Adding to the enthusiasm for Warren’s book, we’ve experienced many changes in ministerial staff which in turn has led to changes in ‘visions’, mottos, logos and newsletters, not to mention furnishings and equipment. I think the loss of our church identity is the result of not heeding Warren’s warning on pages 179-180 of the Purpose Drive Church. Warren says, “Reinventing the congregation is when you intentionally change the makeup of your church in order to match a new target. You completely replace all the old programs, structures, and worship styles with new ones. I want this to be very clear: I do not advise this! …Don’t even consider this option in a church with over one hundred attenders unless God tells you to do so.” In my100 year-old congregation with an attendance of over 600, I no longer know who we are. Change isn’t bad, but I’m concerned that we are paying a high price for being ‘reinvented’.
April 06, 2006
The writer of an email to the Christian Ear implied concern that my articles might somehow hurt the reputation of my church. The early church was not free from problems. Quite honestly, if the Apostles hadn’t heard about issues in the churches, most of the Epistles wouldn’t have been written. We are at liberty, and in some cases commanded, to expose problems we see in our churches. I wouldn’t want to tarnish my church’s reputation, but in a sense, the church is no different than we are as individuals…we make our own reputation.
April 05, 2006
Church leadership doesn’t want to deal with members who keep raising ‘red flags’. I know red flag waving members who’ve left our church after being told, “Maybe you’d be happier at another church.” Isn’t it interesting that God is the one who combined the body parts of the church (1 Cor. 12:24) yet some leaders not only encourage people to go to another church, they seem to hold the door open for them while they go. Diotrephes is a church leader mentioned in 3 John 9-10 who had habit of putting people out of the church. Rather than shrugging it off, the Apostle John prepares to handle the situation by “call[ing] attention to what he (Diotrephes) is doing…”
April 04, 2006
In the sporting goods department at Wal-Mart the advertising on an air mattress grabbed my attention. The mattress was described as ‘Self-Inflating’. Isn’t that a great word? Picture a group of Christians standing around visiting with one another when someone begins ‘self-inflating’. What a hoot! Normally we let him ‘inflate’ away. After all, who’s going say, “Ah, John, don’t you think you’re being a little bit boastful?” The Lord hates pride, but most of us don’t recognize it in ourselves. Actually I can’t ever remember hearing anyone confess to the sin of pride. I don’t think of myself as being prideful, but I can recall ‘self-inflating’ a time or two…thankfully the Spirit deflated me privately.
April 03, 2006
Our church music over the last few years has become predominately praise songs and loud bands, while the hymnals and pianos have become dust collectors. A few weeks ago we set aside a Sunday evening for a hymn-sing. It was an emotional hour as we became reacquainted with old favorites that brought tears to our eyes and lumps to our throats. Many of us are starving to death from hymn deprivation. I know, I know, can’t you just hear music leaders across the nation collectively groan, “Just let it go!” As much as church leaders would like to put the ‘hymn vs. praise songs’ conflict to rest, the issue is not going to go away, nor are people going to just let it go. Most people are willing to accept compromise, but leaders don’t want compromise, they want surrender. This brings to mind the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8. Apparently ‘surrender’ was not in the widow’s vocabulary.