Archive for discernment

Knowing Your Why, Baseball Edition

Church revitalization begins with knowing your why, your reason for existing, the irreducible minimum that everything else either supplements or, occasionally, is at odds with.

If you know your why, it’s easier to figure out what you must do, what you can do without if you have to, and (sometimes) what you need to stop doing. But it’s hard, because everyone in a church already has a why, a reason they attend church, support it financially, and participate in its community and ministries. Most if not all of those why‘s are good reasons, and most are roughly aligned with the why‘s of the other people in their church.

Probably.

But most churches don’t do the hard work of figuring out their why. If it ain’t broke, why make waves, etc. What if you figure out your why and your best friends at church have a different one?

But it’s not just churches. Major League Baseball has the same problem. (And they charge a lot more for season tickets than churches do!)

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Doing Something About Hunger

You may not be aware, our church is one of four that supports a local food pantry, the Joshua Tree Community Food Pantry. (Watch the video some of our kids made about it.)

There are still hungry people in America:

However, national food insecurity data reveal that about 45% of those struggling with hunger actually have incomes above the federal poverty level and 53% of poor households are food secure1. Thus, measuring need based on local poverty rates alone provides an incomplete illustration of the potential need for food assistance within our communities. More accurate assessments of need across all income levels within our service areas can assist Feeding America and our network of food banks in strategic planning for charitable food services that best support hungry Americans, as well as inform the public policy discussion so that vital federal nutrition programs can better serve those in need.

And by “America,” I mean “next door.” (See the map here.)

There are a lot of reasons for hunger, including the utterly insane use of food for automobile fuel. We can hope and work for non-stupid public policy to help with the problem. But in the meantime, one of the ways you can help is to donate food to a community food pantry, or volunteer at one.

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Picking Elders

It’s time to pick new elders. If someone on the nominating committee calls you and asks you to serve, and you ask what you have to do, they might go to that horrible laundry list in G-10.0102 that enumerates all the specific areas of responsibility held by Session.

But that’s the wrong place to start. It leads to Sessions full of people who want to balance the budget or fix the roof. Those are great people, and every pastor wishes their church had more of them who were willing and able to serve.

But you can’t start there. In this brief video, Gradye Parsons, the PC(USA) Stated Clerk, argues instead that the right place to start is G-6.0304, and specifically the following sentence:

It is the duty of elders, individually and jointly, to strengthen and nurture the faith and life of the congregation committed to their charge.

That’s what we’re here for, after all. It’s what distinguishes the church from every other type of business or civic or fraternal organization. We desperately need people who can balance budgets and fix the roof. But if we aren’t helping people grow in faith, there’s no point in being here.

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Stewardship Information

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.—1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Fall is the traditional time for churches to emphasize stewardship. And while that emphasis may not be limited to a discussion of the church’s finances, it is almost always a part of the discussion.

You may recall our annual congregational meeting back in January, where I laid out a rather sobering assessment of our finances. Since then, we have actually had some encouraging developments. So far this year, we have reduced our average monthly loss almost by half, from more than $2,000 to about $1,200. In fact, we actually made a modest “profit” during August.

I’m looking forward to some occasions where I can share this information with you in more detail, but the short version is this: We aren’t out of the woods yet, but we’re in much better shape than I expected us to be. Partly, this is because the leaders of the church are being very careful about every expenditure. But the main reason for our improving situation is your generosity and commitment to carrying out the mission of this church.

In our stewardship conversation, however, I don’t want to limit our discussion to the church’s finances, however, or even to money. Stewardship is about how we all use God’s gifts to accomplish the work God calls us to do. It’s about money, certainly. But it’s also about what we do with our property, our innate abilities, our likes and dislikes, the skills we’ve acquired—everything. It is about everything we have and everything we are, for it all belongs to God—every penny and every second. We are only its managers, or stewards. (Matthew 25:14-30)

For that reason, I hope that you will do some serious, prayerful consideration about how God might be calling you to use your gifts to support the church’s mission.

Maybe you should join the choir, or volunteer to work in the sound room on Sunday morning. Perhaps you should be doing cleanup after the fellowship time, or greeting people before worship. Possibly you should be serving as a Sunday school teacher, or their helper. You might be called to service in an ordained capacity as a deacon or elder. Or something completely different. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t know either. But God does know.

As we begin our stewardship emphasis this fall, I hope you’ll make a commitment to ask God’s guidance in this area. Don’t wait for the nominating committee to call, because if you do, you’ll probably say the first thing that comes to mind. (“No!”) Instead, put some effort into it. Talk with God about it. Remind God about all the other things you’re trying to get done, and ask God to guide you in setting your priorities.

My prayer for each of us is that God will reveal how he wants us to participate in what he is doing in, and through, Desert Hills church.

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What Are You Doing Here?

He went … to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:8-9

Do you ever wonder what you’re doing here? I do.

The story of the prophet Elijah begins in 1 Kings 17, during the reign of the evil king, Ahab. Ahab adopted the religion of his foreign wife Jezebel, and suppressed the worship of God in Israel. In the next chapter, Elijah sends a message to King Ahab, proposing a contest to prove whose religion is authentic and whose is false. Ahab agrees, and summons all Israel to Mt. Carmel to watch. On Ahab’s side were hundreds of prophets in the cults of Baal and Asherah, pagan deities imported to Israel by Jezebel. On the other side, Elijah. The prophets of Baal spent the whole day crying out for a miracle from Baal. Elijah spent it taunting them with coarse humor, saying they should shout louder, in case Baal was in the bathroom relieving himself. At the end of the day, Elijah offers a single prayer to God, and fire falls from heaven, proving to Israel that God is real and Baal false.

Then, astonishingly, having triumphed over the forces of Baal, Elijah flees into the wilderness to escape from Ahab. It is in the wilderness that Elijah hears this question from God: “What are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:9)

“What are you doing here?” Elijah needed to be asked, because he forgot what God was doing and neglected the work God had assigned to him. He had to be asked because what he had achieved for God in the past did not automatically ensure his future success. It’s a good question for churches to ponder, too.

What are we doing? Is it what we ought to be doing? Our Book of Order speaks of “The Six Great Ends of the Church”-proclaiming the gospel, spiritual nurture and fellowship, divine worship, and so forth. Which of those ends are we advancing? Are we neglecting any? Why? Should we be neglecting some of them?

Who are we? What unique experiences has God used to shape who we are? What gifts and talents has God blessed us with? Are we using them effectively to advance the great ends of the church? Who are we becoming? Elijah thought he was the only one in Israel still faithful to God, but God knew there were seven thousand who had not worshiped the Baals. Who is God calling us to reach? How will they become part of us?

What are we doing here? What are we doing here in Yucca Valley? Why has God brought us here? Why are we here now?

Desert Hills has a worthy history of ministry in and to the Morongo Basin. Our history might not be as illustrious as Elijah’s — Elijah was, after all, the greatest prophet in the Old Testament, after Moses, with whom he appeared when Jesus was Transfigured (Mark 9:2-8) — nevertheless, we have been faithful and, I think, effective in our ministry here. Even so, it’s still worth asking these questions about what we’re doing here.

So that’s what we’re going to be doing this summer. We’re going to conduct a study of our church to answer these questions about what we’re doing here.

You’ll be hearing more about this process in the next few weeks. We’ve asked our Presbytery’s Congregational Nurture Team to help us get started. In the meantime, let me invite your prayers as we get this effort underway.

Nobody’s making us do this. But if we go about it prayerfully and sincerely, I’m confident that God will show us the answers to these questions. God will tell us who we are and who he wants us to become. God will make it more apparent why we’ve been brought here to the high desert right now. And God will enable us to discern what we should be doing here.

Let’s talk about it.

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