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. 

 

Let the same mind be in you...

The night before Palm Sunday, Jesus was in Bethany and Mary came to anoint him (John 12:1). In the novel that I am writing about Holy Week, I have Mary proclaiming that Jesus is King. Her perfumed oil wasn’t just given in thanksgiving for her brother’s life, but was a well timed political statement. She does this public act, just a short walk away from Jerusalem’s Eastern Gate, where the Messiah (anointed one) is expected to enter. She does it knowing that the thousands of pilgrims camping nearby, know of Jesus’ miraculous power and will rally to bring him to his throne.

 

Those who anoint kings, as Samuel did for Saul and David, know that they are doing prophesy. They are doing a dramatic act and speaking sacred words with the intention of revealing to all a previously hidden spiritual reality. Mary isn’t just voting Jesus king or liking him on Facebook, she putting before the court of human reason, the evidence, the smoking gun, of the fact that Jesus is, and always has been, the Lord of all. One word, “Messiah.”

 

For: 
March 24, 2013
Philippians 2:5
John 12:1
Lent 6
Palm Sunday

In his book “Leading Change,” John Kotter makes the point that nothing changes in an organization until a sufficient sense of urgency has been established. You can have the right people in leadership and a clearly communicated vision, but if a “plenty of time for us to consider this later” attitude prevails, needed change will never occur. This is the missing step in most church goal setting processes.

There’s an old story about a Maine Lobsterman who was caught in a bad storm at sea when the engine on his boat suddenly quit. Anxiously he fiddled trying to restart it. All the while, he heard the waves crash upon the rocky shore. Soon, he’d be dashed to bits. He prayed, “Lord, I have never asked you for anything in the past. If you rescue me this one time, I promise not to be bothering you again in the future.” 

‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’

Today I picked up a book about how blogs are changing the world. The book began with the story of 9-11-2001, as it unfolded in the blog-o-sphere. It was a day that changed many things in America. The day before 911, web pages that provided news content were valued less than the paper they weren’t printed on. In January of 2000, Time Warner had spent half a gazillion dollars to purchase AOL.  In March of 2000, the dot.com stock market bubble burst, making AOL practically worthless. Everyone associated with posting news on the web slinked off the stage in disgrace. On 911, all that changed. The real-time posting of events and commentary throughout the tragedy rolled away any shame the new fangled media might have felt. Before that day, no one would have expected the internet to become the dominant provider of news content that it is today.

 

Joshua 5:9 tells us how on a particular ‘Today,’ God rolled away the disgrace of the children of Israel. They had been slaves in Egypt. Then they became pilgrims wondering across the Sinai desert and depending upon quails, manna, and magical water bearing rocks to stay alive. But this day, this today, they became inheritors of a promised land. On that day, they celebrated the passover with joy and ate the first fruits of Palestine. What is more important, that day they stopped thinking like slaves. They stopped being homeless people. They start being ‘Israel,’ the people who God fights along side.

For: 
March 10, 2013
Joshua 5:9-12
Lent 4

About fifteen years ago, at a church I was serving, a group of forward thinking people came to the church council seeking to start a contemporary worship service on Saturday night. They needed funding for equipment and music. They knew that there was money in the Ford Endowment fund, which was designated for music and worship related expenses. Several in the church council objected, saying, “We knew the Fords. They would be dead set against this kind of thing.” I spoke up and said, “If we are going to resurrect the Fords for the sake of this meeting, couldn’t we at least resurrect them as young people?” The point was taken and the vote went in favor using the funds to support the new worship service.

Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. He thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight..."
“Earth is crammed with heaven, And every bush is aflame with God But only those who see, take off their shoes The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
For: 
March 3, 2013
Exodus 3:1-15
Lent 3

Reality Check 101 is workbook designed to help your congregation understand its unique mission, community context, and divine calling. It can be used as a guidebook for a goal setting (though Bill avoids that word) retreat, or as a group study to discern what the church should focus on in the coming year. Each chapter has study questions and suggestions for implementing what you have learned. The chapters are self contained and can be used in any sequence. Reality Check 101 is designed to be a flexible resource, a tool box for church change. 
Reality Check 1010 topics include:

Reality Check workbook  - ebook
Back cover, print version of Reality Check 101
He shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling...

Psalm 27 does an odd thing, it has a number of high security phrases like, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life,” and “set me high upon a rock.” It appeals to the fortress mentality of our faith, as if to say that is the reason for religion. It being Lent, I was struck by the wilderness and the 'seeking God for God’s sake' quality of the Psalm. David is saying, I only want to seek the Lord’s face, nothing else matters. What David really found in the wilderness wasn’t security from madman Saul, but the mystery of God in the night. Jesus also retreated into the wilderness and into his all night prayer sessions, not because he found people threatening, but because the mystery of seeking to know God is fundamental to the human experience.

 

The common book of prayer does an apt thing in the responsive reading of Psalm 27:5, instead of  speaking about God’s tabernacle, it says, “He shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling...” How important are the secrets of God to us? It is easy to get the wrong idea about our reason for practicing religion. It’s not like we go to church to buy an insurance policy. I know this doesn’t preach as easily as the fortress aspects of Psalm 27. Jesus wasn’t going for the easy message when he told Nicodemus that the spirit of God that allows us to be reborn is like the wind, blowing where you do not expect it (John 3:5-9).

For: 
February 24, 2013
Psalm 27
John 3:5-9
Lent 2

Old technology doesn’t die, it just becomes irrelevant. Think about it, everything from the telegraph to the trebuchet still exists. When humankind moves on and leaves an old way of doing something in the dust, it doesn’t get rid of the old. Things that are irrelevant, are simply parked in a back ally. This is my chief concern as I write a weekly blog for leaders serving mainline denominational congregations.

Churches are in the communication business. We tell people about Jesus, explain the relevancy of the Bible, communicate prayer needs and joys, publish the where and why of our fellowship gathering, and beg people to give. Few things have changed so dramatically in the last thirty years as the ways people communicate and how they prefer to receive information. From the time of Martin Luther down to the time of Martin Luther King, people went to the church and looked at the church door or church bulletin to see if there was anything happening this week. Today, those that faithfully read the bulletin or the church newsletter are few and gray. Even the idea of regularly going to the church building or calling the secretary for information seems quaint. 

A wandering Aramean was my father...

The Old Testament scripture that calls us to confess, “A wandering Aramean was my father...” seems a strange place to begin Lent. I always associate Deuteronomy 26 with Thanksgiving and turkey, but it makes a cool contrast to Luke 4 where Jesus is starving in the wilderness. Lent is a good time to wrestle with the big questions of life and to fast for long enough to get a more spiritual perspective on it all.

 This Lent, lets begin by traveling outside the walls that usually separate church and state and pray a hungry prayer for our political circumstances. There are three questions that we need to ask about our community and nation.  Deuteronomy 26 provides an unexpected answer to each:

Q1) What is the nature of our nation and our civic life together?
A1) We are wanderers. We are a people formed from former slaves, immigrants, and dispossessed native Americans. We started as a weak few, storm tossed and fragile. Now in our state of luxury, we dare not become isolationists or build electrified border fences. Lent should whack us out of social self pity and “let them eat cake” attitudes. 

Q2) What external circumstances should we be aware of?  
A2) The world is a place where oppression is common. In the midst of history, God has acted to take us as a people out of slavery and made us to be a nation. In this land that we did not build or win for our selves, God has made us secure. We have found milk and honey. 

Q3) How then should we live? or What is our vocation as a nation? 
A3) We should enjoy our abundance and be thankful.  We should offer up our due tithes and join in worship. We should invest in the world; do justice, love steadfastly, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

For: 
February 17, 2013
Deuteronomy 26:5
Micah 6:8
Lent 1

Bill is an ordained clergy person in the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, an author, and an unofficial instigator for change. After serving a variety of local churches for 31 years, he switched into full time writing in 2010. He divides his time between nonfiction (books for churches and individuals going through transition) and fiction. He also serves on the board of TIIMSA (Transitional Intentional Interim Ministry Specialists Association) a support and resource group for UMC clergy working in transitional situations. 

Bill Kemp, Author, Playwright, Blogger

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