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Butt

June 15, 2011 2 comments

We’re easing into summer in West Michigan.  One day warm the next cold the next after that really hot and muggy.  Can’t make up its mind around here.  I’m ok with that.  The day I’m remembering was a really hot day.  I’m driving in the family van on my way to a meeting at our parent church about parent church things.  The meeting has very little to do with Embody, but I go because I want to stay connected to the folks over there.

In front of my van is an SUV with the window down.  And I see a frequent flick of cigarette ashes out the window.  Too frequent, I think.  So I start to count how many seconds between each time this person sticks their butt out the window.  Flick.  6 seconds.  Flick.  9 seconds.  Flick.  4 seconds.  Flick. 14 seconds.  Flick.  10 seconds.  Flick.  6 seconds.  I’m not making this up, I remember the numbers.  Now I’m starting to do the math in my head…that averages to about 8 seconds a flick. 

Through my mind I start to wonder about this person.  Mind you I’m still completely focused on their flicking.  I’m wondering if they are finding time to suck on that cigarette between each flick.  I’m also wondering how long that thing will last, and how long it would take them to light up another one.  Would they wait for a red light?  Would the use the dying cig to start the next one?  How would they do that with the responsibility of driving?  And that brings me to it…

The thing that is really bothering me is not that this person is smoking a cigarette.  I’ve had a few in my time (sorry to break it to you, mom).  So I’m not judging them on that.  As I’m thinking through all these questions the one that really starts to get my knickers in a twist is that it seems entirely too dangerous to be smoking in such a flick-often fashion while driving.  It must distract them from paying attention, right?

They get to South Washington and turn right.  I continue on 32nd to my meeting, and it strikes me: I haven’t been paying attention to my driving.  I’ve been watching so intently the frequency of this person’s ash flicking that I’ve been on autopilot.  Guess it’s safer to drive with your butt in your mouth than with this plank in my eye.

Categories: Friday Mornings, Ranting Tags:

Church Secretary

May 30, 2011 5 comments

And you are...?

One day I may be at a place where I need to hire a church secretary.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  That’s a whole can of worms that deals with values and such – I’m not going into that right now.  However, I do know what I’m going to look for when I look for a secretary.  Here are my thoughts on the important ministry of church secretary.

Hiring a good church secretary is difficult.  You might have to beg the right person.  You might have to go outside the congregation.  You will probably need to pour money into training the right person.  You’ll especially have to train them on the mission and vision of the church.  But one thing you can’t do is train them in hospitality.

Hospitality is the thing.  If your church secretary doesn’t have the gift of hospitality, you’re sunk.  They are the first person of contact for most people entering or calling the church building.  A grumpy voice is death to any opportunity for ministry.  An attitude that seems to say, “I’ll do this for you, but only because it’s my job, not because I love my job” will leave the inquirer or person needing help feeling like an imposition.

Hospitality from the front desk means making people feel like they are the most important thing in your life and your job at that moment.  Printing the bulletin or stuffing envelopes can wait, and the person coming in from outside or calling from wherever need to feel that.  Because, in fact, they are the most important thing in your life and job.  I realize that it can be a meticulous job that requires a detail-oriented mind and a person who can get on task and complete it in a timely manner, but it must all be hung on a peg for a few minutes to deal with people.

Something else important in hiring a secretary (I’m using that word, but you know I mean whatever the politically correct version is, right?) is treating them like they are actually part of the ministry, and not just a part, but a vital part of the church’s work in the world.  If your secretary doesn’t see that they are, in fact, the most important link in the ministry, they will miss the mark.  He or she needs to see that they are the main supporting ligament in the body of Christ.  They connect, they hold up, they support – and nobody else is going to do that.

They protect the pastor, they keep their mouth shut when they know something that’s none of their business, they advocate for those not noticed, they are the eyes and ears where the pastor can’t go.  They have, without a doubt, the most crucial “job” in the church office.  Church’s run just fine without a pastor, but without a secretary?  Huh uh.  They need to be held in high regard and paid a serious remuneration – not just a minimum.

I wrote a few days ago about Barb the church secretary who said, “yes.”  It shows that the secretary is the doorkeeper.  He sees the mail and throws out the rubbish.  She can put your request on the fast or slow burner.  The secretary wields an enormous amount of “power” in the church, and next to hospitality the most important thing a secretary must have is a humble, teachable, gentle spirit that isn’t looking for power.  I guess what I’m saying is this person must be spiritually mature, and her or his level of maturity will directly correspond to the level of ministry the church is able to accomplish.

Big job.  The right person can make the church flourish.  The wrong one can bring it to a grinding halt.

Categories: Ranting Tags: , ,

Preaching a God you do not like

May 10, 2011 1 comment

I suppose if I did the math (and I did do the math) a person who is my age has had 1,836 Sundays.  I was a camp counselor for 6 summers: that’s about 300 campfire times.  I’ve also had chapels at both college and seminary.  That’s 7 years of chapels making roughly 910 chapel services.  Then there are all the worship services after that which break down to probably 750 where I’ve preached or participated in leading worship.  A rough total of about 3,800 corporate worship services.  I’m not trying to brag.  I know my heart, and I could have used twice that for sure.  But I want to make a point with the number.

I have never once heard a preacher, including myself, say the thing I want to say this week.  “I don’t like the God I see in this passage.”

Why is that?  Well, it’s either because the person preaching does like the God they see in the passage, or they’re afraid of admitting what they feel, or it’s just taboo to be honest in that way from behind the pulpit, or church politics would usher them out the door afterwards, or they are stuck on the idea that a worshiper must be in a perpetual state of praise.  I understand all that.  I do.  But the fact of the matter is that this week I’m preaching on Genesis 22.

It’s where God asks Abraham to take his son, his only son, Isaac, the one he loves and sacrifice him on an altar.  What kind of a person does that?  What kind of a God does that?  This is the son God promised an old barren couple.  This is the son who is to be the beginning of a world-wide blessing.  This is Abraham’s flesh and blood.  What kind of misuse of power is this by God?  Why test someone like that?  I don’t like the God I see here.  I would not want to go out to lunch with this God.  This kind of God should not expect my love and gratitude and worship.

You might be thinking, “Yah, but God supplies a ram before Abraham can go through with it.”  So?  The boy was bound, laying on a pile of wood, and the knife was on its descent toward his lifeblood and it’s supposed to make it OK that God stopped him at that point?  Not for me.  I don’t like it, and in this story…I don’t like God.

I have to be able to say that.  I have to be able to say it in church on Sunday because of the kind of faith community we want to be.  We desire to be a place of authenticity – where you can be yourself and honestly engage scripture and the living God who breathed life into both the words and into us.

Pastors are given a big responsibility – be honest with God’s word and with God’s people.  And while I have great love and respect for Bill Wayland, my boyhood pastor, camp chaplains, college chaplains, seminary speakers, Perry DeGroot and others who have preached God’s word to me in the past, I’m hoping to break the cycle in a healthy way.  I don’t think any of them ever lied to me, but they protected me, and I’m not sure that’s a service to the hearer.

I’m no homeletics professor, but I know this: preachers are not only teaching God’s word, they also are teaching how to honestly engage God.  And in a church plant I’m surrounded by people who can sniff a half-truth better than most.  And if I ease past something like this, I’ve lost them…and I really shouldn’t be surprised if they never came back.  People are looking for a lot of things: comfort? yes. inspiration? yes. But they also look for truth – and not the “we can stand in the face of the world holding this truth to their noses” kind of truth.  Sometimes just a little “I don’t like the God I see in this passage” kind of truth goes a long way.  It’s permission, basically.  Permission to feel what they feel – or maybe just what I feel.

This story may not show a God I like, but it’s the God I have, and…the God I dearly love.  I think I may need to end there both today and on Sunday.

Countdown to Easter

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

If I’m playing by the “church planting rulebook” then I’ve got about 8 months to make things happen. 

The rulebook, which nobody likes to invoke or even think about has a lot to do with numbers and money.  On our current trajectory we will need to double our offerings (whether by doubling our attendance or our giving) by January 1, or… well, let’s say the trajectory will need to change.  Outside funding covers roughly 50% of our budget right now, and we’ve bumped up against the very common 75 person wall.

New churches tend to hit a plateau at about 75.  It’s where people start to feel really comfortable.  They like the people they’re worshiping with, they enjoy the size, knowing everyone, feeling like afamily.  It’s really nice, and it can lull you into a comfort coma.  The comfort coma ends up ending a lot of church start-ups because people get stuck and can’t move to self-supporting.

At the same time, the “church planting rulebook” kind of makes me nervous, if I’m honest, because it doesn’t feel very “organic” or “authentic” or whatever catchy word you want to use that actually does carry a meaning that jives with me.

Enough about that.  Let’s just say this: Easter is one of the prime opportunities before us to get to meet new people.  Unfortunately, the best case scenario doesn’t help us much.  It’s this: Best Case Scenario: the church’s invitations to their friends, the mailers that go out bring in 70 more people.  20 of them stay and begin to grow in faith from wherever they are on the continuum.  This is really what I hope for ( and I’m remembering that God can do immeasurably more than I hope for).

These new folks have no reason to give to help support Embody.  Many of them won’t know Jesus yet, and, honestly, how could I ask them to or expect them to give in the offering plate?

Ok, here’s where this posting turns into a short rant:

The “church planting rulebook” stinks.  We encourage churches to start, but give them only 3 years to get off the ground and onto their own feet.  But the reality is something very different.  We’re not trying to steal sheep from other churches.  We’re trying to bring good news to people who haven’t been walking with Christ.  And any pastor will tell you that no matter what church they’re leading they see this: sacrificial giving…no, even tithing doesn’t come until someone is far along the path of discipleship.

Something’s not quite right about the whole system.  OK.  Enough about that.  I look forward to reading this posting some day and saying, “O me of little faith”.  God’s going to show up.  I just have to do my part, right?  Right.

Hutchmoot Frustration

April 7, 2011 4 comments

Last year I really wanted to go to Hutchmoot.  It’s a gathering of artists (musicians, writers, visual artists, etc.) who are also thoughtful Christians.  They are the type of artists I dig on and who encourage me in my little corner of the world.  But, Hutchmoot sold out before I could get in.  I was determined to get in this year (they only take 100 people).  I found out that it sold out in under 6 HOURS!!!

So…I’m a bit frustrated because I was really looking forward to using Hutchmoot 2011 as my professional development.  I’ve been saving my prof. dev’t money in preparation, but now I’m at a loss.

See, there are tons of opportunities for pastors to gather and grow and learn and professionally develop, but…  Well…  I’m kind of picky and want to use my time not necessarily to take a class or listen to 20 steps to making your church become a megachurch or how to start a small group this or how to successfully do this or that.  I’d rather do something that fills my soul, empowers me and propells me in a similar-yet-nuanced trajectory.

So…if you’re interested in helping me out.  I’m up for suggestions.  Please don’t send me any ideas that start with “3,000 people will gather” or “Vendors will be present between sessions at…” or “Famous person so-and-so will share their helpful tips”.  If you do I will send you this reply: “Thanks so much for your suggestion of how I can spend my professional development time.  I will most likely attend said opportunity directly after I finish sticking bamboo shoots under my fingernails.”

Sorry for that…it’s a mixture of frustration about Hutchmoot and a cynicism around those types of big gatherings.  If you’re offended by me slamming your kind of gig, I’m sorry.  I can see the validity and importance of those things.  They’re just not for me right now.  Are we good?  Thanks.

But, if you have a good idea or you’ve done something that filled you up in a healthy way, let me know and I’d love to check it out to see if it’s for me, too.  Really…don’t be afraid to send me ideas.  I won’t be mean.

Rob Bell Rant

March 14, 2011 4 comments

I’m finding out that there are a lot of different types of bloggers.  All of them, however, are a bit narcisistic.  It only makes sense: “Hey, listen to what I have to say, it’s really interesting, and you need to hear it!”  That’s what sums up about every blog ever written.  Some people are covert about it, and some are in your face regarding their opinions.  I think that today I’ll try to be the latter.  Here goes:

ROB BELL!!!!!!!  There, that should get some hits off of google.  I have read a little Rob Bell and I’ve seen a few of his videos.  I like him ok.  He says some things that make me think.  I don’t agree with everything that comes out of his computer or mouth, but…he seems to be voicing the questions, at least, of a generation.  This causes a huge commotion in the conservative blogosphere.

Everytime he writes a new book the world of evangelicalism explodes into controversy.  Do you agree with Bell?  Can you believe what he said this time?  What an epistomologically, ecclesiologically, theologically, soteriologically, totally depraved person!  AAARRRGGHH!  He doesn’t agree with me, and what’s worse, he has the audacity to question what we have nailed down through years, nay, centuries of being right.

So here you go: “Hey, listen to what I have to say, it’s really interesting, and you need to hear it!”  and here it comes:

If you are interested in reading something that challenges you, do it.  If you’re not, don’t.  If you disagree, wonderful.  If you are the type of person who gets a high off of disagreeing and arguing in a way that makes Christians look like fools…that is not of the Spirit of God.  “They will know we are Christians by our love.”  Read, agree or disagree, have a decent discussion with an open mind and heart for the purpose of discerning God’s will for the church, leave your discussion partner with a blessing and then (and here comes the biggest challenge) go out and be the hands and feet of Christ.

God gave his people hands and feet and eyes and ears…all of them in duplicate. Then he gave us one mouth a piece (one of the rare singular items each individual has).  Let’s use it half as much.  Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “yah, but I blog and I have been given 10 fingers (nine of which I use for typing because I only use one of my thumbs for hitting the space bar – the other one is just hanging in mid-air there without ever helping out), so I’ll blog about it with all my might.”  If that’s what you’re thinking, you should be smart enough to know what I mean!

Rob Bell has an opinion and whether you agree with him or not, you might want to consider it and move on.  Maybe he’ll help solidify what you think or challenge you.  No matter what you do, don’t be a turd.  Just stop embarrassing your fellow Christians by acting like my two kids when they argue over who’s right. 

Have a blessed day.

Categories: Ranting

Sermon Notes

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Pastor Dan from First Church and I swapped pulpits today.  I told Alex that I wanted to know what Dan preached about, so I was asking him to take notes during the sermon.  The passage was John 2:1-11, Jesus turning water into wine.  Following are the notes he took, separated by commas:

old scripture, dan doesn’t understand it, cind of a part of a puzzle, Angels talking about what Jesus might do, wedding in Gallale, Jesus, Deciples invited, talking about wine the best is Jesus blood, smart guy named rodney – studies gods and goddisis, jurny found 1 temple with 100,000 skulls, sacrifice them to the gods, mean guys thats wat people in the olden days were like, they came to Isreal to do bad stuff, wedding whole comuniys there, wine gone, weddings usaly 7 days of food, wine dude screws up, peple laugh at them, its not there foult, there misreble, Jesus comes up with a plan, they have no more wine, Jesus: I’m no longer just belong to you, I belong to the world., saves them, first mericle, turns water into wine, happiest day of his and there life, take big stuff to him, take little stuff too he cares about everything, what matters to you matters to God, this scripture takes along time to understand

Those are the notes he took.  Not bad.  Kind of proud of the little guy for paying such good attention.  I can see that kids of that age are definitely able to pay attention and get a lot out of a sermon.  I should never discount their presence and their ability.  Perhaps we should start expecting a little more out of children in worship and in life.

At what age do we start allowing children to lead us in one way or another?  At what age do we allow children to make important decisions alongside the adults?  I have a bit of a grip with the church, and it’s this: I hear complaints from pastors all the time about the missing generation (people from 18-28).  Seems we lose our children for about 10 years after graduation and only get them back (maybe) when they have children of their own and remember the importance of raising your children in the company of other believers.

I don’t have the answers to this challenge, but I propose this: why not treat them like part of the church before they’re 28?  Why separate them all the time?  Why not incorporate them in important decisions, ask them their opinions, take their point of view into council?  Why not have a teenager on every important task force or ministry team?  Help them prepare for being an adult in the church by taking them seriously.

Maybe, just maybe their involvement will give them enough ownership in their own faith and faith community that they’ll know how to act as an adult believer when they come of “age” … whatever that means.  Perhaps we should be taking a few sermon notes from them, huh?