Posts Tagged ‘Crap-Cutting’

The Cat’s Out

For My Next Trick...

Wilson Valdez won his first professional baseball game as a pitcher on May 26, 2011.  The game began on May 25 and lasted 6 hours and 11 minutes.  His team, the Philidelphia Phillies, used 21 players and had run out of pitchers in the 19 inning game.  19.  That’s more than 2 full games worth of innings.

Everyone was tired.  Fans were literally asleep in their seats until Valdez came to the mound.  It’s a big deal because he’s not a pitcher.  Well, he wasn’t a pitcher, but he showed there was more to him than everyone thought.  He normally plays 2nd base, but now the cat is out of the bag.  Now everyone knows he is capable of doing so much more than they ever thought.

And now, of course, the cat is squirming in everyone else’s bag and going for daylight.  What else is hiding underneath everyone’s facade?  What am I capable of when the innings grow long?  What gifts lie hidden in the church that only come out when they are desperately needed? 

I say, let them loose.  It’s good to have people doing what they do best, but let’s face it: there are a lot of people in our churches who ride the pine and we have no idea what they are capable of because they never step up to the pitcher’s mound and give it a try.  I’m not sure whose fault this is, and I don’t think it’s important.  What I do know is that Valdez, a journeyman infielder, threw a 90 mile per hour fastball and got the win.  What can you do?


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.

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.

Easter Invites

April 15, 2011 1 comment

I’m planning on having  little improvisation on Sunday morning with Brett VanderBerg my seminary intern.  I can see that making an invitation to a friend is scary for some people.  I can understand that.  It’s not so with me because…well…it’s part of my job and natural for me, but it’s not for other people.

So, we’re going to do a little improv before we part ways after worship this week.  I’m sure it will go well.  Brett is really good at stuff like that, and I’m not too horrible myself.  My hope is that it will give people some picture of how it can go.  “Hi Bill, wondering if I could borrow one of those funky wrenches that are specifically for replacing kitchen faucets.”  “Sure, it’s the kind of thing you only use once or twice.  Otherwise better to borrow than buy.”  “Definitely.”  “Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No, we’ve been meaning to ask around a bit, but haven’t gotten to it.  When’s Easter this year?”  “The 24th.  We’d love it if you two would join us at our church.”  “I’ll check with Jen, but…yah, sounds good.  Thanks for the invite.  Here’s that wrench.”

See, that wasn’t too scary.  But…I do know it can go the other way:

“Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No, you know, we just don’t really get into church that much.  I think we’ll be heading up north that weekend.”  “Oh, that sounds relaxing.  I hope you have a great weekend.  If you’re ever interested, you know the invite still stands, right?”  “You bet, man.  Hey, here’s that wrench.”

That’s not even that bad.  It’s certainly not what people are afraid of.  And you might be thinking that people are afraid of the angry response:

“Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No, and dammit, you’re like the 5th person to ask us.  We aren’t interested in church, Ted.  Jeesh.  We think it’s a bunch of hypocrits trying to make themselves feel better by making others feel like they’re on the outside.”  “Here.  Here’s that wrench.”

True, that stinks, and can happen, but more than likely people you would invite are your friends and wouldn’t blow up.  People aren’t really afraid of that.  What they’re really afraid of is this:

“Say, have you and Jen found a place to go to church on Easter morning?”  “No.  Actually, I’m glad you brought it up.  Jen and I were having a discussion about church the other day and I was hoping you could answer a couple questions we weren’t able to figure out.”

Now, I can understand that fear, but if you are so fortunate as to get that kind of response, then you are in the BEST of places.  It means your friends trust you, and are seriously primed for a season of exploring faith.  You don’t have to have the answers.  Heck, they don’t have the answers.  Here’s a great response: honesty.  Try it.  They’ll love it, and it frees you up completely.

“Wow, Bill, I’ve never thought of that.  Want to explore that over a beer (or coke, if you’re friend has alcohol issues)?”  Or “Good question, Bill.  I’ll have to ask my pastor about that.  She tends to have studied enough to give her a jumpstart on some of those good questions.  I’ll ask, or better yet, you can ask.  She’s really easy to talk to.”

Bottom line.  If you’re feeling like you should invite a friend to Easter…better do it.  Could be the Holy Spirit has prepped the whole thing.

Blessings and bravery to you.

Church at O’Hare

Each stands facing the oval track

It gleams stainless

Steel and black, unmoving

So they stand, and give cursory glances at one another

Mother and child tired with shifting feet

Business man – briefcase leaning on creased trousers

Grandmother sitting nearby knitting needles clacking

College student carefully watching the briefcase, wary

A whirring sound, flashing lights and their number flashing

They gather nearer the track and wait while

Black moves past steel and makes its circuit

Waiting.  For the building to release its hold on what is theirs

Each owns something.  It travels with them, following them

Covered in flowers or understated canvas

Most black or blackened by handling

Sizes and shapes notwithstanding they are all the same

Each focused on the same point

Hundreds of eyes watching with expectation

Awaiting the revealing of what is hidden

And when it does they will pounce – claiming their baggage

So that’s what a child’s bag looks like

And the briefcase matches the suitcase

Knitting needles fit within the worried patches of a carpet bag

Backpack fitted with bedroll a home on the road

And now the oval track comes to a stop

The bowels of the building finished revealing what it knows

One family stands staring at one motionless floral print

Sitting there.  Not theirs.

And each person continues on their journey

Having seen everyone else’s baggage

Leaving by themselves, but knowing they’re not alone

Except that one lucky soul whose motionless floral print

Was left and never claimed

Lucky soul free from burden

Trying deperately now, somewhere,

Not to replace their burden


December 9, 2010 Leave a comment

The red bird in my back yard that caught my breath the other day has gotten me thinking.  Here’s part of my plan for a sermon this week on Luke’s story of the angels’ appearing to the shepherds:

Angels were, among other things, God’s messenger system.  Like power lines spreading from the source to every lightbulbed room they go forth from the throne of God to spread word – the things God would say to humans if the hearing of it wouldn’t break their eardrums or God’s very presence destroy them by sheer purity and righteousness – holiness – complete otherness.  But they must hear.  Some things can’t be guessed at, and must be revealed: good news.  Great joy.  For all the people.  Today!  A Savior!  Born to you.  The Messiah.  The Lord.  A baby.  A manger.

 Clarity.  Such clarity.  Then as if there was just one question left hanging in the air the angel is joined by a dynamic, exploding crew of messengers bursting forth with the one large answer left in the mind of the hearers.  The question must have been, “Is this God?”  Or “Do I worship this being?”  And the answer came back resoundingly, in a way I can only imagine would have shaken the very innards of boys, girls, young and old men alike along with the sheep they feebly guarded in this pasture, “Glory to God!”  Not us.  Don’t lift us above the one who sent us so that you wouldn’t die in the holy presence.

 Oh, and by the way, “Peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”  Peace.  “I’ll know peace when you stop terrifying me with your otherworldliness and leave me to contemplate your message,” they must have thought.  Then, in what must have felt complete darkness in the angels’ absence, the least of these looked at each other and exhaled with a nervous laughter – a smile that said “we’re alive” and teeth that parted to say, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Clarity.  Such clarity.  Everything else wiped aside.  All other thoughts, concerns, pains, arguments, worries about the future, brokenness from yesterday – everything blurred and pushed to the side in the precision and laser-focused clarity given by the news from these…these…voices, these figures, these messengers.  Their brightness, their electric presence, when extinguished left all else in darkness except their message – still burning phosphorous in our minds: The Messiah!  A manger!

Clarity.  Such clarity.  Here is a God who knows how to speak to people in a pre-fireworks light show and using language every Israelite knew “The Messiah” and every shepherd understood “A manger.”  Just people doing what they do in the middle of their every day, every night life.  And God breaks in with clarity and burns off everything else in dramatic power leaving a heart pounding his message in the silence of his messengers’ absence.

Has this happened to you?  Let us listen more closely, for while the night sky may not light up the way it did that night in the pastures, God still wants to give clarity.  And we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves hijacked in the middle of the night or in the middle of our figurative night.