Church and State, Part 17,402

Fine with me: Most Americans Say the State Should not Define Marriage.

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Congregations Dying and Rising

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

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

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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“We Are Not Enough in Awe of God”

In support of his new book Miracles, an interview in Christianity Today with Eric Metaxas.

I began with the parting of the Red Sea, healing a tumor, curing blindness—things that aren’t fluffy like a kitten in the sunlight. People say life is a miracle, and yes, this can be a cliché that doesn’t mean anything. But if you look at it in a different way, it’s a miracle and maybe the most hard-to-fathom and mind-blowing miracle.

H/T: E.M. on Twitter.

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What to Sing During Advent

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.

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Majoring in the Majors

The color of your Advent candles doesn’t matter. Nope.

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A Hospital for Sinners (Part 7,133)

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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God’s Great Dance Floor

“Praise and worship” differs from other forms of Christian popular music because of its explicitly stated purpose for facilitating experiences of worship. This is music designed for use by Christian believers to actively negotiate their relationships with God. … the standard of quality is ultimately curatorial rather than performative. Like the deejay, worship leaders are judged on their ability to enact a meaningful encounter for the gathered community rather than their ability to correctly realize a pre-determined musical product.

and

Popular music actually shapes the ways that believers come to know themselves as religious subjects in worship.

and

… I do not mean to suggest any degree of insincerity or inauthenticity on the part of the music’s devout practitioners. Rather, by describing evangelical worship music through a syncretic lens, I argue for the importance of music as a primary theological discourse which allows parishioners to construct, contest, reify, and transgress the boundaries of official “orthodoxy.”

Kudus: Ethnomusicology Review.

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Sermon

One of the students in my preaching class in seminary used to preach a sermon based on a sticky note in his Bible. I was preaching from a written manuscript. Over time, I replaced the manuscript with a detailed outline, then a smaller outline. And now I have arrived at the point where my colleague was 10 years ago:

Sermon

(A recording of the sermon is available online. Start at the church website and follow the links.)

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