Are you imaging tents,old fashioned fire and brimstone preachers, while “When the Saints Go Marching In”? Revival services have disappeared from the mainstream. My wife will talk about the revivals she had at her church growing up. Last year I got a flyer about a local revival and I looked at the flyer with skepticism. What is it that draws such apathy and reluctance? Could it be simply that we are Presbyterians and think those that do it are “other churches”? Maybe or maybe it could be that we don’t know much about them.
This past month I have been preaching through a series that originally was focused upon the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit moves us. That was MY plan… what actually what has happened is more than that. Our church for awhile has been feeling the tug that we need to make a impact in our community. Not one in voice, but one in our actions. While many are getting this nudge, moving ourselves out from the pews has become difficult. We, along with many Christians have become too comfortable with our faith. Stepping out is something that other people do, because it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t want to be labeled as “one of them”. Turning the corner to a much more outreach based church has not happened as fast as we have wanted. It is a work in progress.
It was in the planning and discerning process for this month that I began to hear a theme of “revival”. I had my first sermon beginning to be sketched out and realized that I needed to go further. It was on Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of Dry Bones. The question of how far could I really push the idea of renewal was constantly on my head, besides how much could I really teach in one Sunday? While that lesson came to being, the second one on John 15 and how we are to be transformed developed. I was beginning to sense a theme, AND I felt that our church was called to spend ernest time in prayer. Being the Associate Pastor while the Senior Pastor was gone, I couldn’t simply call for a season of prayer. So I took it a bit lightly, but the nudge and prodding remained. The anxiety level at our church was high due to the Boston explosions as well some serious medical issues with some core church members. I did call the church to prayer and over 30 members showed up! Wow. Tonight I continue to plan for this Sunday’s sermon, which has a deep revival theme. For all the preaching I do on it Sunday my words alone will not start a revival. It starts when we as followers of faith and when we the church long for something more to the extent that we are willing to submit ourselves.
Our churches need a revival. Not one with tents and everything having a “revival” theme. But a revival where we turn with brokenness to God. Our church longs to help the community, and that is great. Before we can go out into the community we must ourselves get on our knees and ask God to move. We need God to move within us, to move us from complacency to following God’s will. Revival first starts within us before it can even reach the house across the street. God will not use the “frozen chosen” with barely a heart beat to transform the world. The ones that are used are the ones with the heartbeat of God.
Tonight I pray for revival within our community, region, nation, and the world. But it must start with me.
What does a Session, Presbytery, or a denomination do to change the tide of shrinking churches and non- relevant ministries? What are we doing to change the tide? Should they sit in their board rooms sketching out what needs to be done? Probably not. A groundswell needs to be created by the people themselves and not from a top down structure. In essence it cannot be created artificially but must be created organically. This is where we have gone wrong in the past as we have made decisions from the board room instead of with the community that we wish to be with.
Your probably wondering what a groundswell is? Simply it is a group of people that begin to gather for a particular purpose or not. Many times it is simply for community. Then community happens, then a movement. It was not artificially created by a demographic study, but simply happens. As our church has been looking at growing many have told us that we need to simply create a “Contemporary Service”. The problem is that our church does not have critical mass in order to sustain a new service. What must be done is that we need to begin gathering people. This is not going to happen over a new service. By adding a new service we would be hoping that people would come in our doors. This is not how ministry is often done today. We don’t even know what a “new community” would even want. This is where a groundswell comes in. By creating community, and undercurrent is created by the community. The community gets excited and determines what suits their needs. It is not a professional survey, but programming is determined by the people.
In light of this I have been fortunate to be a part of a team that is trying to create a groundswell through a growing community. What we are doing is not very traditional in many senses and even raises an eyebrow or two. Our team has created a monthly even called Wing Fest where we go to the local bar and simply have wings. At first it was pretty awkward because I am not a bar person. As the months have passed the staff some of the locals have begun to recognize us. Also running into previous members is an interesting experience. More than a few times I have been told that it was good to see me where everyday people are. That is a great compliment! I have also taken an idea from a good friend of mine where they go to the local bowling alley to hang out. Currently we are going monthly to the bowling alley for $1 shoes, $1 games, and $1 food night. It was packed with people! People to interact with and maybe want to be a part of our growing community. As we head into the summer we will go weekly. Those are only a few of our ideas, the general idea is to simply not do everything in the church but be places where you can meet people.
If I can do it, so can you. Creating groundswells and community is not hard. At first it is awkward, but isn’t God calling us to be out in the community instead of waiting for people to walk in the doors. Ministry in this new climate is vastly different than previous generations. We have all the tools to start a groundswell within our church and denomination. All it takes is a bit of creativity and willingness to go there.
I hate when people say all the church wants is my money. Or when people say that you got to give God something in order to receive blessings in return. Have you ever heard the church asking for money in such a way that it gives you a shooting pain behind your eyeball? You probably have and if you are not rooted in the church it probably turned you off. Even being a Pastor at a church it turns me off.
This past week I have been pondering Stewardship and giving. It all started when I heard that KLOVE was doing their annual pledge drive. I understand that they do not do commercials and are donor supported. BUT how do we ask for money and why? It is usually during their pledge periods that I turn the station until it passes. Simply because some of the illustrations that they use cause me to cringe. Many of them revolve around the the idea that if we give to the station, God will bless them back. That someone gave in faith and “BLAM” something happens. Granted I do believe that God can do and will do whatever God’s will is. But still we perpetuate the vendor mentality of God. That if you give, then you will receive. If we look at the book of Matthew:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?- Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)
We need to realize that God takes care of us despite ourselves. That God gives, and gives abundantly. Many times it is not exactly what we want, but we are cared for. Simply by giving an extra $50 will God open the treasure chest and your life will be so much better. You and I are valuable to God and we are taken care of.
There is also a perception that we view people entering our churches as “giving units”. That if we bring in so many people we can continue to operate as we have been. Or as members move on (in many ways) we need to offset their giving by bringing in new members. Too often I hear rumblings that “All we want is people’s money”. In some sense that is true. The lights, heating, repairs, and programs have to be paid for. Without members giving how would we continue? When we begin to look at people in the church as dollar signs to continue the church’s way of life we lose focus. When evangelism is not about bringing people into a deep understanding of the grace that God has given them… we miss the point. When programs become more about the church’s members entertainment, then its core focuses than we have missed the point. In giving we are responding and giving back to God what is not ours… it’s God’s. That is the essence if giving. Giving is not a bill or a fee to be in “the club”, but understanding all of what God has done for us and wanting to give back in some part.
Too often we portray a bad theology of giving. Instead of giving being all about our response to God it becomes all about us. When we are dealing with ministry and money it is important to point it at the right direction. No matter how good the intention is sometimes… we just miss.
What if I put out in my blog I was was against semi sweet chocolate? That somewhere in the Levitical laws it was declared unclean and remains unclean to this day. So if you were to eat semi sweet chocolate you were to be condemned by God. Anyone seeing this post and liking semi sweet chocolate would feel judged and not likely walk into the doors of your church. While God has been prompting that person to go to church, we may have simply gotten in the way. Instead of working for the good of God and our church, we become a hinderance.
Lately I have noticed an increased amount of articles and blogs written about how we need to hold onto our faith stances. Whether those issues are sociological, theological, or whatever they may be. I do hold onto some deep theological stances whether they be about justice, the Bible, social issues, and a myriad of other issues. But I also realize that I am called to be a Pastor or the technical term for me within the Presbyterian Church, a Teaching Elder. In that I am called to be pastoral in how I apply my own personal beliefs. The world and our community is large and I doubt that we all agree on every issue. Why do we make some larger than others? Why must we agree on every issue beyond our essentials? We will not, but if we let the issues divide us then we have larger issues. Issues with our own community or lack or it, and our ability to reach those around us with the Gospel.
By coming out for or against semi sweet chocolate, I immediately endear my self to some colleagues and to others I am quite the opposite. This does not help in creating unity within our Presbytery or other circles. Many of us have experienced it. The looks or the unwilling to talk with other people with dissenting viewpoints. In the past couple years, there are colleagues that will not acknowledge me beyond a head nod simply because I am one of “them”. Too bad they do not know me, but I am categorized and moved on. I am not saying my semi sweet chocolate haters are right, but simply over a disagreement we have chosen not to have community with those that are in the same profession.
The outside world sees our infighting, and wonder why they should even enter a church that cannot get along with each other. Earlier I talked about how I am called to be a pastor. I am not called to be a pastor of those that agree with me. My primary job as a pastor is not to do the bulletin or make sure the Sanctuary is properly decorated. It is to follow the prompting of the Spirit to lead people to a deeper understanding of God and faith. By stating publicly that “I”, the pastor do not believe that semi sweet chocolate should be eaten we only further entrench those outsides thoughts about the church. Those thoughts are simple: we are judgmental and hypocritical. We as the church have not done a good job in trying to change this perception. I am not saying that we should not talk about our viewpoints of the tenants of our faith, but how do we do it. Is it done in a way that that divides or in a way that offers differing viewpoints in attitude of unity?
I am grateful that I have found a community both locally and larger that sees me as who I am and not for my stances. I can look around the table, Facebook group, or prayer letter and see differing chocolate views but sense unity around it. While we may disagree on some issues; we care and want the best for each other.
All this talk about chocolate is making my sweet tooth take over.
It seems everywhere we look there is conflict. This past week I saw a number of my friends change their Facebook profile in support of marriage equality. As many supported it, there were others that did not. As I scanned through my newsfeed at times each others “passions” turned very personal. An “us vs. them” mentality emerged on both sides.
While the marriage equality issue was raised this week, it was not the only issue that raised an “us vs. them” mentality. Some of the issues might have been over people’s right, a decision, or a change in course in business. Which makes this conflict more than a simple issue, as it can enter into our relationships in a local or national. Recently our Session spent some time discussing the issue of conflict or rather what to do when conflict arises. I remember many in the room discussing that we would not have conflict, but as we work to transform and engage in outreach opportunities… it will arise.
As our staff and Session work on transformation, the key word is “change”. No one really likes change and inevitably it causes conflict. Too easy situations can turn into a “us vs. them”. While our church has often talked about the need to be unified through this process, it does not necessarily happen all the time. When an issue is not addressed or defused it can easily jump in the stages of conflict. Truly I do not believe that our church is to sit idly by, rather we are to be innovative and creative in what our church is to be a part of. On the other hand, are we willing to engage in conflict? It is a hard decision for any Pastoral leadership team or Session to want to make.
The above arrow shows the stages of conflict if unresolved. It is easy to move from a lower stage to a high one without much effort. We discussed that in order to avoid the “trigger” events that cause an escalation there must be constant dialogue and a diffusing of the “us vs them” mentality. This mentality does no church any good as it simply makes everyone angry.
Life is not pretty, there will be conflict. Conflict in the church, conflict in our work, conflict in our relationships, conflict over our ideals, conflict in our families, conflict over national issues, conflict within city government… you get the picture? There is nowhere we can escape conflict, but we can help diffuse the situation or ignite it further. Which are you?
I just read an ABC News article on how a Porn Star is becoming a role model to underage kids. Really? Or the admission by one interviewed that she first started looking at pornography at the age of 10. As I had been and continue to dip into Youth Ministry, I am constantly shocked by claims of underage drinking, sex, drugs, and so forth by JUNIOR HIGH STUDENTS. Sure I am concerned but not shocked by High School students, I understand the culture. That is to understand the culture that is prevalent, but not condone it.
Throughout Lent I have been leading discussion groups on The Power of A Whisper by Bill Hybels. The purpose of the whole study brings you to a point that you look within yourself and ask the question what breaks your heart in the world. Is it human trafficking, is it latch key kids, or simply the issue(s) that cause you to weep. In understanding that it is God what whispers those places of discomfort to us. While there are many types or styles of whispers given to each of us, there is one that leads us to react. That whisper is the whisper of discomfort. Perhaps we cannot get a news piece out of our mind, watched a documentary which was moving, or lived a life that caused discomfort.
Our reaction may be small to start. A desire to want to respond. Perhaps we will give up some measure of personal comfort to start to engage in the issue. Then the time will come when we are asked to respond and our choices simply are yes or I am comfortable where I am. Which choice will you make?
I realize as I watch the news or read articles the world is a huge, ugly, and scary place. The issues that are in the forefront is not the issue for me. I could not be part of the solution for multiple issues. While I agree wholeheartedly that human trafficking is immoral and wrong, it is not where God is leading me. My issue is not your issue. But hear this… you have a God given issue. Find it… and engage it.
I was searching the internet for some ideas for my installation and ran across a newsletter for the now Rev. Isaac Chung’s new church. I was intrigued by what his pastor wrote on ordination from a Reformed perspective.
Ordination holds opposites in tension. It sets individuals apart for a particular purpose, but calls them to carry out ministry in community. For pastors in particular, ordination rises “from below” – an act of the whole church, carried out by the presbytery, in order to choose and propose the candidate – and “from above” – a gift of God bestowing both skills for pastoral ministry and a recognition of dependency upon the Holy Spirit for their use. It is both the culmination and the beginning of the call to ministry. While God ﬁrst calls individuals to a life of service, the church then conﬁrms this inner calling, through Committees on Preparation for Ministry, Seminary, and even Pastoral Nominating Committees. Ordination, then, serves as the culmination of that initial call, with installation marking the beginning of service in the calling community.
The central act of ordination is prayer and the laying on of hands. It has been said that in this act, the candidate is overwhelmed by two conﬂicting feelings – a strange burden and a strong support. In those hands the weight of the church’s faith, the witness of the saints, presses down. Yet in those same hands, the candidate is upheld, given that which he or she does not have through education or natural inclination. It is truly a mystical event.
Finally, the pastor is a leader, but this role only arises because of those whom he or she leads. Martin Luther said that “there is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests… except for the sake of ofﬁce and work, but not for the sake of status.” If it were not for the laity, there would be no need of pastors, and the work of the church would collapse before it began. We are all part of Christ’s work, and are called as such. As Luther said, “we are all priests, as many of us are Christians.” The question, then, is not “Am I called to ministry?” but rather, “To which ministry am I called?” In the Reformed tradition, pastors are called to preach to the congregation, in the name of Christ, so that the congregation may preach to the world in the name of Christ.