I talked with a well-trained, dependable, and highly fruitful youth pastor yesterday. Such creatures do exist. He was even the product of my own denomination (United Methodist), though now, is serving on the staff of a non-denominational church. His story speaks volumes about what needs fixed in the church and provides insight about what needs to be done to reach the next generation with the gospel.
Fixing Church - Bill's Thursday blog for Church Leaders
In San Diego there’s a boat museum with three old submarines tied to the dock. I was visiting the Russian Whisky Class submarine from the 1970s, when I noticed a beautiful sailboat tacking against the wind in the harbor. What’s the difference between these two boats? The sailboat is dealing with wind and current. It is taking risks. The Russian sub is securely fastened to the shore. It is a museum piece. I find that when I talk about the church in the postmodern world, the image of the sailboat resonates with only a few church leaders. Most pastors and lay people would prefer to have their house of worship firmly entrenched in tradition.
Jesus tells a parable about your church in Matthew 13:31-32. He says that your congregation is like an acorn which is planted and becomes, in time, a mighty oak. OK. Jesus uses a mustard seed instead of an acorn. If he were preaching in your church, I’m sure he would choose a plant familiar to your people. His parables were meant to be simple. Too often we get hung up on the fact that there are other seeds smaller than the mustard and other plants more majestic than the mustard bush. This all misses Jesus’ point. The church (kingdom of heaven) is meant to grow until it becomes shelter for the birds of the air.
Bill: When a married United Methodist clergy is up for a change in appointment, how much consideration should be given to the spouse’s career?
Back in the 1960s I learned that if you wanted to do ‘real’ photography, you had to learn to think like Ansel Adams. He was a perfectionist who carefully measured and noted the tone values of each scene into his notebook before snapping a photograph. He hiked with a huge, 8x10 camera, into the mountains in order to capture Yosemite at sunrise. He mixed his own chemicals and spent hours with each negative in the darkroom until he had the perfect print. I wouldn’t hesitate to call him the greatest photographer of the twentieth century. But today, teenagers with iPhones routinely capture better photographs.
Science Fiction teaches us that when a space ship approaches a black hole, gravity becomes infinite, things spiral down and get worse until the luckless crew passes the inescapable event horizon. Many churches are captured in a similar death spiral and I am convinced that elevating Spiritual Passion is the only answer.
With all of the “secret” Trump supporters lately, I have begun to fear that he might win the popular vote in November, but lose the presidency in the Electoral College. This has happened four times in the history of the United States. In Bush verses Gore in 2000, over a half million more people cast their ballots for Senator Gore, than for George W. Bush. When the loss of Florida’s electoral votes tipped the balance towards Bush, Al Gore graciously conceded. This is not something I expect Donald Trump to do.
For the next month and a half we will see the bedraggled dipping man come in and out of our holiday readings. Oh, here’s that old voice in the wilderness fellow again. He eats locust and wild honey, even though these items haven’t been approved by the FDA. Even though John the Baptist is a key figure in premodern church art and drama, he doesn’t get much attention now. I think many local church problems, as well as our general failure to witness to contemporary culture, is rooted in our failure to appreciate JB’s message.
I want to thank the many Facebook friends who commented and shared by recent Facebook posts on why I, a conservative christian writer, am standing with PP against Trump-care. One of friends pushed back with a link to an organization that claims PP’s statistics are inflated and that they are only interested in providing more abortions. This bit of fake news was rebutted by the many women who shared personal stories of how they had been helped by Planned Parenthood, and even given the medical care that they needed to successfully become parents. It hit me as I scrolled through these comments that acts of genuine kindness are rarely reported because of privacy concerns. Stories need to be shared. Hope triumphs over hate.
I rushed to get to the bank and found it open. Good thing, because we chose this bank for its multiple locations and convenient hours. There was a time when people chose a bank because it looked like a bank — big vault, rigid hours, paternalistic attitude, etc. There was a time when people chose their church because it looked like a church. Big vault = high theology, rigid hours = fixed-in-the-marquee service times, paternalistic attitude=paternalistic attitude.
Many churches are in conflict today. Often these fights have become abusive, traumatising parish leaders. I can give at least three reasons for why the American church scene has become so rancorous:
1) The steady decline in American church participation has caused us to feel depressed in our church work. Depressed people are risk adverse, passive aggressive, and argumentative.
2) The constant emphasis on church growth and how laity are keeping their pastors from being successful, has made us all feel ashamed. Shame-based cultures shuffle blame around rather than dealing problems in an objective fashion.
Recently, I attended a church where the pastor told a story that I suspect he got from a homiletics service. The problem was, he told the story in first person, i.e., “This is what happened to me.” He then proceeded to use the story to reinforce a theological point that I found questionable. I doubt that anyone else was as troubled by this as I was. First, because most people of that denomination are okay with the theology which I found questionable. Second, because the average church goer doesn’t expect their pastor to lie.
In Reality Check 101, I make a point of stating that churches have souls. By this I mean that each congregation has an intrinsic worth. There is a value to the local church that far exceeds its statistical strength or the value it may have for the denomination that holds the title to its building. Pastors come and go, but a church’s soul remains constant. Like the soul of a human being, the congregation’s soul represents more than the current state of the body.
About once a year, I attend the contemporary worship service at a church adjacent to the University of New Mexico. I like this church and enjoy the informal, but well organized, youth-oriented service. The praise band is lively, but punctual. The pastor knows how to give an appropriate message for that setting. The church has invested heavily in lighting and sound, so that the fellowship hall is ideal for contemporary worship. But, where are the college kids? I didn’t see any.
Whenever Captain Kirk takes the starship Enterprise out to explore the cosmos he issues a single command, “Engage.” What follows next is always an adventure. In some episodes frightening alien creatures take over the ship shutting down propulsion and life-support. The captain and crew struggle not only to get essential systems back online, but also to understand what these strangers want and how to reason with them. The captain seeks to open a channel of communication so that he can tell them that mission of the ship is peaceful.