A Time to Talk About Values

There is an interesting debate going on these days about whether American public schools can teach values without accidentally or illegally teaching religion. I no longer have a personal stake in that fight, but I do have an opinion about its opposite. I believe that you can’t teach my religion without speaking about values. The story about Naboth’s Vineyard (I Kings 21:1-19) is a good place to climb out on a limb and question the ethical values church goers are cultivating and displaying in today’s world.

 

Pentecost 5
Sunday, June 16, 2013

Are Pastors and Churches Interchangeable?

It is the season of the year when one quarter of all United Methodist clergy will be packing their books, pianos, exercise equipment, etc., and moving to greener pastorates.  A similar percentage of Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc., move each summer, and anxiously enroll their children in a new school district. We all wish that pastorates were longer. There is a high cost to moving; not just to those who pay the bills and those who mourn the loss of a favorite pastor, friend, or healthcare provider, but also, in the lost momentum of congregations that are feeling their way in a changing religious marketplace.

Pancakes Every Day!

Elijah providing pancakes for the Darfur Duo is undoubtably one of the great under-told stories of the Bible. No, Elijah doesn’t flip the flap jacks, but he does give daily bread to a hungry widow and her son. And no, the story doesn’t take place in Darfur, but in Syria (currently Lebanon). Still, note the coincidence, Darfur and Syria, two misery riddled war zones led by (unrelated) dictators named Bashir. In both places, hunger walks among the innocents stealing children from their mother’s arms.

Pentecost 4
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Nike Spam
Good blogs generate fun and helpful comments. Your comments are appreciated, but you need to register first. Recently BillKemp.info was hit with a rash of robots trying to sell shoes in the comment box. To remedy this, I added a captcha and some additional requirements to insure that users are human. From now on User Names must be your real name. Church affiliation and general location are now also required.  Please allow a day or so for me to validate your registration. - Bill

Do Clergy People Age Like Fine Wine?

In last week’s blog I speculated on how productivity varies over the thirty odd year career of the average clergy person. Let us be blunt; the United Methodist church, and other mainline denominations, are moving towards a system that reduces professional productivity down to one factor, the capacity to add members or grow a church (sometimes called ‘metrics’). Elsewhere I have cautioned that we need to read this as an institutional concern, which may have little correlation to God’s calling on a particular pastor’s life or the God-given vocation of the church that they are serving.

 

Three Kinds of Faith

+ I have not found such great faith even in Israel +

“The Great Gadsby” is really about faith and character. Nick seems to be searching for something to believe in, a guiding-principle for his life. He has left the stable confines of his mid-western upbringing. New York is chaotic in its rebellion against prohibition. New York is problematic in its failure to deal with social issues or provide an examples of great persons living noble, charitable, lives. Nick begins the book (or the movie) in need of a Christ-figure. This is what makes it a good launching off point for discussing people like the centurion, and ourselves, that put their faith in Jesus. 

Pentecost 3
Sunday, June 2, 2013

Age Appropriate?

The life cycle of a congregation is often described a bell curve, mapping out membership growth over time. Martin F. Saarinen (The Life Cycle of a Congregation -Alban.org), and others, chart how a congregation is born with enthusiasm, has significant yearly growth for a decade or so, enters into a long period of stability, then falls into decline, leading in time to death. My first response to seeing this curve was to ask, what about Canterbury Cathedral? Obviously there are outliers, that is churches whose lifespan is so unexpected that it skews the chart.

The Value of Suffering

We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. +

This passage gives us the great equation of life; suffering leads to perseverance, this persistent patience then leads to our having an improved character, this, in the end, leads to hope. The three terms of the equation can be variously translated and this is one of the passages of the Bible that becomes more transparent when you look at a variety of translations. There is a form of group wisdom (mass Holy Spirit group-think) when you lay the various words side by side. Paul is reaching to describe something that is so universal that a single English or Greek word cannot contain it. Yet each committee when they translate brings some aspect of the jewel to light.

Pentecost 2
Sunday, May 26, 2013

Consider the Lilies

Jesus said, “Consider the lilies...” (Matthew 6:28) Why?  Please note that these flowers have three strikes against them:

A Community of Individuals

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place... tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of them +

I went to a large used book sale this past Saturday. Reading is such an individual thing. I usually get in trouble when I read over someone’s shoulder or read my book out loud when others are trying to sleep. So, when I shop for books, I shop for my personal enjoyment. Yet, as is often the case, my book shopping this weekend was very communal. I had four other family members with me. As we rambled through the aisles we kept separating and coming back together in little clumps of twos and threes to compare finds. Together, apart. Apart, together. The mix and match of the Kemp family’s communal love of books.

Pentecost 1
Sunday, May 19, 2013

Understanding precedes action

Most things that fail in the church, do not fail for lack of trying. They fail because the groundwork was not done to prove the project worthy of the required effort.  Here is how it goes; one or two leaders become excited about a new program for their church. They work hard to get the votes needed to initiate it. There are stories told about how well this program worked elsewhere. It sounds like fun, and perhaps a little mysterious. The vote passes through council and money is set aside for it. The innovators wipe their brows, thinking the hard part is over. The new program now requires broader support. The various church leaders who ‘liked the idea’ before, back away. They didn’t think this thing would require anything from them. Who understands the next step?

When is a sequel, not a sequel?

In my former book...

What if Luke had really wanted to only write one long book, instead of the Part 1&2 of Luke-Acts? There were serious publishing restrictions on written works in the first century. A single book the length of Luke-Acts would be too long for standard scrolls and  create problems for copyists. If it were really intended to be one book, then is it possible that it really has one plot, one theme, and a single central element. I want to propose that the focus is Church, with a capital ‘C.’ 

 

Easter 6
Ascension
Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Desires of a Congregation's Heart

An important promise in the Bible reads, "Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." - Psalm 37:4  But, where do the desires of my heart come from? I suspect the significant ones come from God. When He promises to give me my desires, He is not agreeing to buy me a Porsche. He is instead agreeing to fulfill the very impulses that He has already wired into my being. Something has to change in me so that I delight in God, however, before I discover the deeper desires of my heart. I have found in my own life that there is a circularity to what is being promised here. God is glad to give me the things he already wants me to want. If my deepest desire is to communicate, God helps me to learn how to write.

How are churches made?

“Come over to Macedonia and help us...” +

Before thinking too hard about Acts 16, it might be good to look up your current congregation’s history and reflect on it. Every church has its own founding story, but most are similar to the story of Paul and the people of Macedonia. PS: Since this was the first congregation birthed in Europe, most American congregations should see themselves as distant descendants of the Macedonians.

Packing for a New Reality

This week my new Reality Check 101 book became available. The back cover reads:

As a tightrope walker alone on her path, so each church must discern a way forward. Reality Check 101 provides a process for congregational dialogue and a dozen exercises for implementing change. Five years in the making, this workbook follows Bill Kemp’s Ezekiel’s Bones and The Church Transition Workbook as a practical guide for lay and clergy leaders.

 

Tightrope walker by Segal

What Church Means

+ Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another... +

Did you know that the dictionary definition for church doesn’t contain the word love. It goes as follows: “Church is a particular Christian organization, typically one with its own clergy, buildings, and distinctive doctrines.” (Apple dictionary)

 

Easter 5
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tightrope Walking

You may have noticed that problems in the church have a tendency to cascade. An idea that someone has seen working elsewhere is tried here. It falls flat. The initiator(s) is then criticized for wasting church resources. The initiator(s) comes away from this experience wounded and more hesitant about sticking their neck out in the future. The council and/or clergy leadership also wants to prevent future failures and protect church resources. So, they renew their commitment to micromanaging and the rigid enforcement of standing policies. Without realizing it, they stifle creativity. This leads to less enthusiasm in the church. Young people depart. Stewardship falls and budgets go unmet.

How do I get to Heaven?

The Lord is my shepherd..

I did it again this past week. I quizzed a class of lifelong Methodists (average age 67) on how to get into heaven. One said she didn’t know, but hoped she that was doing OK. Two or three others nodded, as if to speak of our blessed assurance would be a sin of pride. One woman ventured to give the answer that she had been taught, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Yes,” I said, “But does that mean believing anything in particular, like the color of his eyes?” 

 

Easter 4
Sunday, April 21, 2013

Money and Church Planning

Paul warns Timothy about the dangers of loving money: 

“If we have food and clothing we should be content with that” 

                            - I Timothy 6:8 

What's in it for God?

What gain is it if I go down to the pit. Can the dust praise God?

Psalm 30 asks The Question, bluntly. If God has made us in his image (Genesis 1:27) and we experience our relationship with God as an interaction of respected individuals, then how would it benefit God to simply let us die? The whole of the Bible, and particularly Psalm 30, describes the human condition as a series of strange, beautiful, and often painful events, which only receive meaning when we gain spiritual eyes. When we are able to see, we look back on each moment of trouble and see how it connected us on a personal level with God. Life is a tale told by an idiot, unless God whispers into our ear the translation of each word. 

Easter 3
Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tall or Flat?

The one fact that no one can dispute is that fewer people today are interested in organized religion. Most Americans don't want to pay for some religious monstrosity or attend a Crystal Cathedral. To put it in biblical terms, they have forsaken the Temple that Herod is building in the city, and gone looking for  the burning bush. They are a generation like the one that met John the Baptist on the border of the wilderness and accepted his casual dress. They long to gather on the hillside and hear Jesus tell them about the Kingdom of God and how it is relevant to daily life. 

What would Lazarus say to Thomas

The disciples said to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” John 20:25

The day after Easter and everyone is talking about somebody who broke their leg and baseball’s opening day. What have you been talking about this week? I have to confess that I have been meandering through the mundane, mostly. Mary Magdalene has been on my mind, however. She doesn’t ‘bury the lead,’ like one Easter sermon that I heard. She doesn’t talk about the little resurrections that we experience every day or how spring feels Easter-like. She says, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

 

Easter 2
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Speaking of Death and...

[The women] came back from the tomb and told all these things to [the men]

I remember my first funeral, it was Flo Chisholm. I was a halfway through Dr. Zeigler’s dreaded Systematic Theology student pastor who had just been hired to drive the hundred miles from Bangor to Danville and bring the word. Flo was beloved by the whole congregation and they spoke her name in a worried tone during the morning prayers. I visited her as she lay upon her rented hospital bed, parked in the living room. For a month of Sundays, I chitchatted and she gave me wise insights into life as it is lived in a quiet Maine village. The last of those Sundays I arrived in a new three-piece navy blue suit with a reversible vest. She appreciated it and I said, “Yep.

Easter
Sunday, March 31, 2013

Perhaps this year we (in the North) can add a tradition to our Holy Week of  constructng liturgical snowpersons. This one reminds me of Psalm 22

Top 5 Barriers to Evangelism

Zig Ziglar says that every sale [of a product] overcomes five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust. This list deserves our attention; witnessing involves selling the church and our Lord. The five barriers translate easily into five problems that every congregation has to solve. For the average congregation trying to sell the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their unchurched neighbors, Ziglar’s list is in a rising order of importance. 

 

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