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One in the Parenting “Win” Column

September 28, 2011 2 comments

My son is an american.  He’s into baseball, potty humor, and canned ravioli.  He’s also into having more money – always looking for ways to make money: sell this, go door to door that, “let you pet my dog for a dime” kind of things.  So, when I walked into his bedroom a couple of nights ago I was not surprised to see him with a pile of change.  His sister was with him, and they were counting.

“What’s with all the money, Alex?”

“Bis gave it to me.”

“Oh……………Why would she do that?”  At this point I’m expecting an explanation of an older brother’s well-executed scheme for getting money from a little sister.

“I’m going to help hungry people.”  Not what I was expecting.  Knowing my son, I knew that if anything good was going to come of this, I had to let him make the next move.  So…I let it sit.  The next day he approached me.

“Dad, want to make a donation?”

“A donation to what?” I’ve heard this before.  Usually it’s a donation to the ‘Buy Alex a Puppy Fund.’

“I’m going to help hungry people.”

“Of course I will make a donation so you can help hungry people.”  My heart is swelling.  It’s not that my son is more selfish than any other 8 year old boy, but I haven’t seen this out of him very much.  “Would you like me to help you get it to the right place, and see if I can get more people to give?”  I’m going to pour gasoline on this small fire.

We opened the computer and looked at our denominational website and found a way to feed kids in Malawi.  We’re going to enlist the help of our church (and you, if you’re interested).  Of course dad the church planter is going to let the paper know about his plan to help hungry kids.

The goal is to get a mile of pennies.  If you lay 84,480 pennies end to end they reach one mile.  They also feed 17 kids from Malawi, Africa for a year and give them the chance to hear that God loves them and cares for their well-being inside and out.  We have little cardboard donation boxes coming that we can color.  I picked up some flyers and posters the denomination has available, and we’ll have a special offering.

Later in the day I asked Alex what made him want to raise money for other people.  “I was sitting in my room thinking I didn’t have enough money, and trying to think of ways I could get some money,” (all this is exceptionally believable, by the way), “Then I started to think that there are people who don’t have ANY money, so I started thinking of ways I could help them get some money.”

As a good friend of mine always says, “Parenting is not for the faint of heart.”  And this is true.  I stumble along and do the best I can and trial and error my way through parenting, like most people.  But a moment like that is what keeps me going.  It’s like the one shot on the golf course that keeps you returning.

So, celebrate with me, and if you feel so inclined send some pennies to our church’s mailing address: 630 State St., Holland, MI  49423.

Emotional Rollercoaster

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Hands in the air!  Weeeeeeeeeeeeee!  Oh!, Oh.  I think I’m going to be sick.  Nope, close, though…  Awww, I’m kind of sad.  That passed.  Weeeeeeeee!

This was my morning.  First day of school today.  Bis is now a Kindergartener and Alex is in 3rd grade.  I’m not going to lie to you.  The end of the summer was rough.  The kids were at each other’s throats and the fighting seemed non-stop.  I’m definitely a proponent of year-round schooling.

So, there you have it.  We’re not perfect parents.  Astonishing, I know.  And now, I will add to your disappointment by showing you a picture of how we felt when we realized that our kids were back in school:

Notice my nice hat.  Also, notice that my wife has a bit of a red nose.  That is because just before this picture was taken, I took this picture of her getting her last glimpse of Bis before she went in for her first day of Kindergarten:

Hanky, please.

She was fighting off tears.  I don’t have that problem, usually.  But today I got a little choked up myself.  It passed, though when I realized that my kids are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.  They are growing up, and they have new challenges to overcome and new things to learn and new things to create and new ways to think and live and be a part of the world: 5 years old and 8 years old.

What they are doing is perfect for where they are in life, and that gives me joy…they are right on target – no matter how I feel about it.  I can be scared of the unknown.  I can be excited for what I hope will come of their year.  I can be nervous of the obstacles they will encounter, but…it’s time.  It’s right.

This is the case with our church right now, too.  In two weeks we’ll go to two services, and I have all kinds of mixed emotions about that, too.  I’m scared of the unknown, excited for what I hope will come, nervous of the obstacles, but…it’s time.  It’s right.  We are exactly where we’re supposed to be, and the emotional roller coaster is moving.  Pray for us!

Moving to Two Services

Embody has come to the place of making a big decision: do we move to two services or move to a new location?  We’ve been worshiping for nearly 2 years now, and this is an exciting delimma to be in because it means we’re growing.  The leadership team has worked on this for quite a while and looked at options, prayed, and discussed the matter and come to the conclusion that it’s time to go to two services.

This causes some concern amongst the Embody family because it means not worshiping all together.  It bumps up against the value of community that we have forged and honed.  So, I was not surprised that the church went into anxiety mode when they heard about the change.  Now, I should say that this is not the first that they had heard about it.  We met 6 months ago to discuss the possibility and heard concerns and questions at the time…and decided that then (6 months ago) was not the time to start moving in that direction.

But now our growth is dictating that it’s time to do “something.”  It’s well-documented that when a church is 80% full (or feels that way) that the church won’t grow.  Our capacity is 100 and we start to feel full at 85-90 (something we’ve had about 7-8 times).  In the summertime (a slower time in West Michigan) we have been in the 60’s and 70’s with a few 50’s and 80’s.  If everyone who calls Embody home were to come at the same time we would be over 120.  As the Fall approaches, people will find a routine that includes worship – and people for whom worship is not part of their routine…they may be looking for a safe place to explore faith.  It’s a prime time for growth.  The way I see it the options are these:

  1. Move to a new location – (problem…there are not new locations available in our area – the place we are called to minister)
  2. Alter our worship space – (problem…we did that and created space for more people…now filled up often and feeling full)
  3. Alter our worship space further – (problem…doing that would mean more money than we have, and we can not get a loan until we can cover our own expenses – something we can not do yet)
  4. Buy the land and build something – (same problem as further altering our worship space)
  5. Worship in two seperate services until we reach the amount of people or offering to cover our expenses and make a change to our space where we can worship together again…which is a goal – (problem…many are concerned that we will become two churches)

These are tough choices to work through. It comes down to a choice between two values: 1. the value of ministering to a locale underserved by churches and 2. worshiping in the same space at the same time

Both of these are important values.  One of them, I believe, can be overcome by intentionality of community-building and spending time together as a people outside of set worship times.  The other places us outside our sphere of influence and inevitably within a snowball’s throw of another church.

Way to solve the problem #1: immense donation by a rich uncle (this I don’t want because it keeps us from working it out together – that and I don’t have a rich uncle. #2 Become tithers (this takes time and a growth in discipleship) I anticipate this coming over time, but it is not something I can push because many in the church have been burnt and feel that churches just want their money.  #3 Grow in number of regular worshipers (this takes time – unless I went around to all the churches in our area and tried to skim off the top – something I won’t do because it’s not what I’m called to do, and…it tends to gather malcontents.)

I hate having to focus on numbers of people and $, but they are a reality if not the focus.  You can’t hide from them, just deal with them.  The reason to have more people is not because they bring a pocketbook but because they have an opportunity to engage God, God’s word and faithful people in a meaningful and authentic way.

So…here’s where we are: the decision has been made, the concerns and questions heard (they have been very helpful), a “make-it-happen” team formed, the anxiety raised, the plea for help raised to our God, and I’m asking you to be in prayer for Embody as we start this next phase of growth.  (Oh, and if you’re a rich uncle – anybody’s rich uncle – call me.)

Disney and Dice

In February, while it was cold and snowy in Michigan, my family travelled to Florida and spent a week at Disney.  At one of the parks there was a ride in a haunted hotel.  The ride was inside an elevator that mysteriously rose and then suddenly dropped to a random floor then rose and fell and rose and fell until your insides couldn’t decide whether inside or outside your body cavity was the right place to be.  My bride loves rides like that.  Me…not so much.  I know the ride will even out and we’ll step off the elevator to a nice, calm stable ground until the next ride, but…not knowing if the floor was going to drop out from underneath you at any moment – or whether or not you’ll surge upward causing all the blood in your body to fill your toes – these are not my favorite things.

Church planting can be like that ride.  We’ve been keeping track of attendance to give us a good idea of where we are and what the reality on the ground is.  One week it’s up to 93 then 48 then 78 then 67 then 80 then 54.  I’m in that ride all the time.  When there are 93 or 80 our space is too small, and it’s time to have two services.  When there are 48 or 54 we are fine in our renovated office space.  It can be frustrating for me not having an calm, smooth even uphill gradation of numbers.  Granted, summer in Michigan is spotty at best, and every pastor I talk to (even in an established church) has the same struggle.

Difference being that I am trying to lead our church into the next chapter of our story.  When someone walks into a room and there are no seats for them, what’s to keep them from saying to themselves, “Selves, there’s not room for us here” or “Selves, I don’t think they need us here.”  On those weeks one of those statements is true, the other not.  We don’t have room on those days, but we do need them.

The answers lay before us: move to a bigger space and risk having 60 people in a big old hollow space on a given week; move to two services and roll the dice (not a very reformed thing to say) with what happens.  I am leaning toward rolling the dice because I know who’s rolling them, and he already knows (in fact commands) the outcome.

Confidentially

There are three entrances/exits to Lemonjello’s.  It’s a coffee joint in my town.  I use whichever one is closest to where I parked my car, and that usually turns out to be the small backdoor rather than the glass-covered-in-band-promo-posters ones that are larger and more obviously entrances and exits.

Today I met with Steven, my summer intern.  He’s preaching his first sermon on Sunday while I’m in Iowa participating in the ordination service of a friend.  We sat for a couple of hours discussing the fine-tuning of the sermon that will forever be his first sermon.  He’s well prepared and well thought out.  The kinds of things he’s coming up with are really great, and I am excited to hear how it goes.  Steven is going to be a great pastor, and I’m sure to many he already is.

But like most students there are a lot of things he’s unsure of…things that make him nervous or even a little scared.  I had my issues, Steven has his.  I’m not a master mentor or coach extrordinaire by any stretch of the meanings, but I think there is probably one thing that every student needs to overcome…same thing for 92% of them: lack of confidence.

It’s expected that they wouldn’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going.  But the thing they need to do (myself included) is simply believe in themselves and the gifts God’s given them, step up to the plate, take a few swings, miss a few and hit a few.  Just do it and believe that God’s going to make something good come of the hard work you’re putting in. 

After Steven and I met I was going to give him a ride home.  We each headed for the door, and by the time I realized that he hadn’t followed me to the door I was using, he was outside one of the large poster-covered doors.  He looked like I feel sometimes.  He was standing outside looking left and right – probably trying to figure out where I went.  I opened the door and said, “I’m parked out back.”

Confidence.  He was showing it in the wrong direction.  I will take it!  God will definitely use it.  That’s why we have coaches and mentors right?  Producing and directing confidence.

You Name It

May 12, 2011 7 comments

Here’s something interesting: starting this summer I’ll be keeping a web log (otherwise known by the general public as a “blog”) for the Reformed Church in America.  That’s the denomination I’m a part of.

So, this web log here (the one you’re reading) will still be pretty much the same, but the other one will be focused on church planting.  So there won’t be any stories about my kids or strange observations.  It’ll be business-y.  I asked if I can still be cynical and a little rude.  They said that would be fine.  So I said I was “in.”

Here’s the thing: I am not good at naming things.  If it were up to me, Alex would be named Efton – no lie.  I want your ideas.  What should I name this new blog?

When we named Embody it took forever and we spent tons of energy on it.  Let’s face it, folks, I am on the lazier side of things when I get an option to be so.  Therefore I introduce this blog’s first competition.

I don’t have a name for the competition (if you have one, let me know).  But the competition is this: name my new blog.  The winner will receive the prestige of being the person who named my new blog that will be read by literally 10’s of people.

So, submit your blog name idea either here in the comments or on facebook.  The competition ends when I need to come up with a name.  I’ll let you know what we come up with.

Primum Non Nocere…or…The Hippocratic Christian

April 29, 2011 1 comment

My friend, Chris, is a pastor in town.  His church has a building with a gym in it.  It’s medium sized, but very useful and they use it.  On Tuesdays about 30 guys from the community show up.  3-4 of them go to his church, 3-4 others go to other churches, but the rest have no connection to the body of Christ…except of course that they gather every week in the church building for fun and fellowship: pretty close.

Chris is one of my heroes.  He showed up in town about the same time I did and started serving a church that has been around exactly 100 years.  This church has tons of tradition, and they are just down the road from an alternative school…a school with no gymnasium.  You see where this is going, right?

Church reaches out to school of troubled kids, basketball team has a place to play, troubled kids do better in school, school starts to trust church, kids start to look up to pastor who shows up frequently to mentor kids, kids tell their friends about the gym, friends…older and a little rougher…show up on a weekly basis, pastor communicates to congregation what God is up to with their building, people start praying, pastor asks the question: “What am I supposed to do with these guys?”

Primum Non Nocere.  That’s the latin for “First, do no harm.”  These kids now have, perhaps, their first connection to a church, and are really skeptical.  The whole thing is tenuous at best, and my friend, Chris is wondering how far do I go with the whole “Don’t look now, fellas, but you’re in a church building” activities.  I say first do no harm. 

There are a lot of well-meaning Christians who feel the need to immediately present the gospel message to anyone and everyone.  I understand this impulse.  There is a certain immediacy to responding to Christ.  But.  But what if God’s not in a hurry? What if your neighbor or your brother-in-law or your friend at work needs to experience Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God in you and your life before they are anywhere near able to hear the message?  What if your immediate words are lost on someone who is skeptical, and your anxiety-laden pleadings will make things more difficult for them?

Why not get Doris and Philbert to pray for these basketball-loving twenty-somethings?  Why not invite some more church guys to come and just play…just play.  Why not get Sara to bake those award-winning pies and surprise the guys with goodies – no strings attached – just pies because it would be nice?  Why not be there when there’s an inevitable crisis?  The pastor who is there every week and plays ball shows up in the emergency room to be present and offer a prayer.  The lady who baked a pie brings by a meal while someone heals up from surgery.  Doris and Philbert drop a card in the mail saying that they are praying for a quick healing.

Let things happen.  Let life happen and let Jesus show up in His own timing.  Do no harm.  Be a Hippocratic Christian.