Posted tagged ‘church life’

Muttering and Complaining About Church

July 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 20, 2018

                         

My friend, Ed Stucky, recently preached a sermon on the “First Church Business Meeting.” Coincidentally, the small town small tiny congregation where the two of us speak and worship was scheduled to have a church business meeting that morning after the worship service. 

Ed used the text from Acts 6 that tells of the crisis that the first congregation in Jerusalem had to contend with: the taking care of a group of widows who were “different from the rest of us!” These widows were Jewish, but had come to Jerusalem from other cultures and regions. At some time and place they had become followers of Jesus. One of the repercussions of that was the loss of a care system that the Jewish synagogue provided to its widows. The Jews took care of their own. Now…what about the new Christian church? And these women weren’t even native born! They were transplants…immigrants, if you will!

And there’s a lot of them! 

And the group of immigrants that the widows are a part of are “murmuring and complaining” against the native Hebrews. That is, the newbies are complaining about the people who have always been there! Today we’d describe the native Hebrews in this story as the people who would say something along the lines of “This is OUR church!”

It is the fertile soil for a cultural battle. I can hear the excuses.

“We’ve only got so much food.” 

“We can only do so much.” 

“We’ve got to take care of our own first!”

“Y’all eat different kinds of food than we eat!”

“It’s not our responsibility!”

And so the Grecian Jewish Christians muttered and complained, and the Twelve said let’s figure out a solution to this problem! 

The process was quickly defined. 1) A meeting was called of all the disciples. 2) The problem was identified. 3) It was determined that what was happening went against the core values/beliefs of the church. That is, it needed to be solved, not neglected! 4) The solution was found, put into practice, and the way the church functioned was changed accordingly. 

Huh! How ‘bout that!

The thing is this first century crisis could have torn the church apart. Just imagine a new church plant today that has half of its attenders wanting to meet on Saturday night and half who are firmly anchored to Sunday morning. Or half the people who mutter and complain about having a woman as the lead pastor for the congregation and half who believe she is who God has called to be the leader, that gender has no bearing on God’s calling.

The disciples decided that the widows of the Grecian Jews had a legitimate complaint and took care of the matter. They didn’t let it fester. Shortly before this they had witnessed the “drop dead” experiences of Ananias and Sapphire. That was an awakening moment for the Jesus followers, just as the two deceivers crumpled to the ground. It was a moment when the church got serious about this Kingdom business.

Let’s be honest! There have been numerous churches in recent times that have exploded because of muttering and complaining attenders/members who don’t feel they are being heard; and there’s churches that have people rushing for the exits because of complainers who want it their way or the highway. 

We live in a culture of entitlement, and that has filtered- sometimes like a flash flood- into the church. Some followers of Jesus feel entitled, while others are prone to discount anyone who differs from them. 

We’re like a bunch of dysfunctional Baptists! Oh, wait! Dysfunctional is not a term that has to be used with Baptists these days. It’s now just implied!

And yet the first church was able to figure it out! Huh! How ‘bout that!

Oh, and by the way! Our church business meeting right after Ed’s message that Sunday was productive, punctuated with laughter, and…short!

Two Double A’s!

January 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                January 1, 2018

                                             

I arrived at Simla First Baptist Church yesterday as usual…about 10:00 for the 10:15 worship service. Simla First Baptist is one of those older small town church structures, white on the outside and dated on the inside. Pleasant looking enough, but it’s far from contemporary. People don’t go to Simla for contemporary and fashionable, let alone church in Simla.

I walked into the sanctuary and was immediately greeted by Laura, who was shivering in front of the communion table. The temperature in the worship space felt forty five-ish!

“Ray went to get new batteries!”

“New batteries?”

“Yes, the batteries in the thermostat died.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Wish I was! Two AA batteries, that’s all it is!”

The death of two Double A’s had rippled into a lack of life in the furnace on a Sunday morning when the temperature outside was hovering around twenty degrees. The sun shining through the east side sanctuary windows was not going to lesser the lack of heat. We proceeded to light every candle at the front of the sanctuary, but fifteen wax candles are not the same as a campfire to warm your hands beside.

The blankets were dispersed amongst the pews. We usually prayed for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to be upon us. This morning we grabbed comforters and wrapped ourselves within them.

Two Double A’s!

There’s a lesson to learn in that. Here’s the cold hard facts! (Sorry! I couldn’t resist using a pun here.) It’s the small things that bring warmth to a church!

When perfection is more important than the person a coldness descends.

When grace and forgiveness get smothered by program and performance the temperature of the church plummets.

When ministries that care for the poor, displaced, and discouraged are seen as being of less significance than ministries for the well-to-do, established, and encouraged the warmth of community flickers away.

It’s the small things, often unseen, that cause a congregation to experience authentic fire and relational depth.

Two Double A’s!

Thank you, Lord, for the lessons you teach us in the little things of life!

Dog Lovers And People Who Walk By

September 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 7, 2017

                      

At Starbucks this morning a woman walked her dog up to the restaurant, leashed him to a chair right outside the entrance, and went in to get a cup of coffee. The canine lay down and waited. I watched with interest as a number of people entered and exited the business. Several of them noticed the dog and, with smiles on their faces, bent down to give him a few strokes and pats…a few moments of dog lover’s affection!

Others walked in and out and either didn’t notice or didn’t care. They had places to go, mobile orders to pick up on the counter, kids to get to school…life to live in other places!

Dog lovers are passionate about their “best friends”. You’ve got to be passionate if you’re going to walk him with a plastic bag in one hand and the leash in the other, while allowing him to lift his leg at every tree or bush he comes upon. If you’re willing to pick up your pet’s poop you are passionate!                      

My neighbor up the street has three Yorkshire Terriers. Three! He is often out in front of his house with his “three ladies plus his wife”. They have a bond, and I’m sure that when one of them passes on Ralph will experience deep grief. If the loss of someone grieves you…you are passionate about that person…or pet!

So what about being passionate about following Jesus? There are many of us who are, and many others who, like the dog at Starbucks, just walk by and don’t notice. Jesus followers smile at their Savior and get caught up in the journey that makes a difference in their life and life pursuits. Those who don’t know Jesus walk by with minimal interest. Many of them see the passion of Jesus followers as being comparable to dog lovers who have to pick up their pet’s poop. In other words, if you’re not in love with Jesus why would you want to mess with it?

Let’s be honest! Many of us have enough drama in our lives as it is. Why would someone want to add the drama of church to it? Some of the deepest wounds come in the midst of people who are deeply involved in churches.

And yet…with passion comes drama! If Fido doesn’t get his walk, or he rips up a pillow in the living room when unattended, or it seems that there’s something wrong with him health wise then the drama gets elevated in the house. Amongst people who are passionate about Jesus drama and intensity go up when things like injustice, the death of one of the saints, or a crisis of disagreement surfaces.

Passion holds hands with drama.

A dog gives a dog lover someone to walk with. Jesus gives me someone to follow. Now, if I could just convince my wife to let me have a dog that I could walk as I follow Jesus!

The Key To the Church…Literally!

May 9, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 8, 2017

                           

I arrived with my friends Ed and Diana at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado this past  Sunday for morning worship. We parked in one of the “parking suggestions”…that means there are no lined spots to steer the vehicle into. You just park it in the general vicinity!

Thelma, one of the church saints, was standing on the front steps. And then it hit me! I didn’t have a key, and Thelma, who had arrived early to prepare communion, didn’t have a key.

“Do you have a key, Pastor Bill?”

“No, Thelma, I don’t! And I’m assuming that since you’re standing here on the steps that you don’t either.”

“No, I came early to get communion ready.”

“Oops!” I walked around to the area on the other side of the steps that disguises itself as a landscaped garden of shrubs and plastic flowers. In the past it also had served another purpose. A key to the church was hidden underneath one of the rocks that decorated the area. I commenced to turning each rock over and seeing if a treasured key was to be discovered.

Polly came walking around the corner with a cane, but no key.

“Good morning, Polly!”

“No key!”

“Not yet! We may have to worship on the front steps this morning.”

“That would be okay!” she replied. One of the wonderful things about this small congregation is that no one gets bent out of shape when a crisis…like no key…happens. In a town of diminishing population and limited opportunities…life happens! Polly had been gone from the church for years and has recently returned. When she attended years ago she didn’t have to have a came along wth her, but now mobility issues abound. Her church family offers her encouragement for the slowed-down journey.

I came up empty on my hidden key search amongst the rocks. John and Sherry pulled up and we all looked towards them with limited hope.

“Good morning, John! Good morning, Sherry!”

“No key?” they question.

“Not yet!” The probability of worship on the steps was increasing! John and Sherry were okay with that. They’ve headed up a summer experience called “Cowboy Camp” for years. It meets in the midst of someone’s pasture for five days in late June. People from miles away bring their campers and lawn chairs for the preaching, teaching, and music. It’s all outside, so John and Sherry might feel more at home on the steps than in the pews. John’s cowboy hat is an indication of this.

“I wonder if Henry and Mildred have a key?” Thelma asks. “I know they did years ago.”  Henry and Mildred are the ninety-somethings of the fellowship. They are about the dearest people you could ever meet, now in the last years of their journeys. Henry has limited vision and Mildred has limited hearing. Mildred went through a tough time recently when their family dictated that she could no longer drive. It was a hit to Mildred’s independence and purpose. Struggling through each day with limited energy, driving the Town Car around town whispered to her that she could still do things. Taking the car keys away, even though it was a decision made in love and a needed development, edged Mildred towards the pit of depression.

“I think Angie is picking them up today, so we’ll see soon,” Sherry said.

Our growing cluster stood around the steps and chatted about communion grape juice, rain showers, and the Methodists. I was formulating a revised worship order in my mind that could be accomplished on the steps. We could pick out a couple of songs that we all were familiar with and go to town A cappella with them. John’s cowboy hat could be the makeshift offering plate. It was doable!

But about that time Angie arrived with her two kids…and Henry and Mildred.

“Good morning!” everyone greeted one another.

“Any of you have a key?” Thelma asked.

“I do!” replied Angie.

“Praise the Lord!” echoed a couple.

“I’m not sure if it fits the front door or the back door.”

“As long as it fits a door that’s all right,” I chirped.

It fit the back door! Angie’s daughter, Lena, made her way from the back of the church to the front and we all laughed and gleefully chit-chatted our way into the sanctuary.

I thought to myself that whether a key was found that day or not, we still were going to have church…and we were the church!

 

The Church’s Go To

March 8, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 8, 2017

                                     

In sports there is a saying that rings true. If a team needs a basket, a first down, or a final out they have a “go to” player or play that they are confident will give them the needed result. It is not a coincidence that the Cavaliers get the ball to LeBron James in crunch time, and that the Golden State Warriors get the ball to Kevin Durant…er, Steph Curry…er, Klay Thompson. Okay, okay! The Warriors are not a good example for me to use!

Back to the point I was trying to make!

Churches have a “go to” also. Once in a while it’s a person, but usually it’s the bottom line of their congregational culture. Whereas with professional sports teams the “go to player” is a positive most of the time, in churches the “go to” is more often than not a negative.

Churches, in general, resist change. At best change is tolerated as long as it doesn’t threaten what people are comfortable with. When changes threaten the congregational culture there is almost certainly going to be a shaking that happens. Picture a tree in autumn. If a strong wind happens most of the leaves on the tree get blown or shaken off. What remains, however, is the tree trunk and branches. A church’s “go to” is the tree trunk. New ideas and thoughts might be present, but a wind of unrest will scatter them, leaving the church’s trunk in place.

Spiritually sounding churches will say that their “trunk” is Jesus, but reality says something else. Sometimes the “go to” is whatever the power family in the church says is going to happen. Pastors may come and go, but the power family dictates what will be and what will not be.

Sometimes the “go to” is more aligned with Old Testament judgment rather than New Testament grace. Church discipline becomes punitive and harsh rather than restorative and healing.

Church budgets are often indicators of what a congregation’s “go to” is. For instance, how much of the budget is focused on building maintenance and property compared to missions and community outreach? Going back to the power family, what do they support? Is their influence apparent in the breakdown of the budget?

The Cavaliers go to LeBron because they want to win. Churches yield to their “to go” because they fear losing. Losing, however, is defined as a family getting upset and leaving over a change they don’t care for; or it is defined as the loss of the church’s comfort zone; or “too many new leaves on an old tree!”

What is your church’s “go to?” How does it tend to react to problems and/or changes? More often than not, going to LeBron produces a victory. For churches, the tendency is to yield to the “go to” because they can’t afford to lose!

Being the Listening Church

February 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             February 5, 2017

                                    

In the New Testament letter of James he writes, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19, NIV) The church has, quite often, stuttered its way into deafness. Our loudness has clouded our hearing!

It’s a balance beam position to be in. On one hand the church is called to be the prophetic voice of God, speaking of hope and singing of God’s unwavering promises. And yet, like someone with a box of chocolates, the church has a hard time understanding that there is still a need for moderation, and we blabber all over ourselves.

Give a preacher a pulpit and he will build a church around it! What begins as divine opportunity escalates into an enterprise that we mistake for a movement!

It occurs to me that there are plenty of people willing to talk; even an overabundance of congregations willing to condemn and mandate…no matter their theological leanings. I’m just wondering if the church has lost its capacity to listen? The concern seems to be that if we aren’t speaking we aren’t saying anything, but perhaps if the church recovered its ability to hear that would speak volumes.

In a time of polarized populations, who is committed to keeping their ears unplugged? In a time of verbal venom who will, as James said, “be quick to listen?”

There are people that I avoid conversation with because they seem to be more interested in sharing lengthy diatribes than they are in whether or not I might have a thought. In admitting that I’m also confessing where many of us have holed-up! We reside in the shadows of quiet avoidance, fearful of expressing our beliefs and what it is that we really value.

Can the church regain its ministry of listening? To do so it must recommit itself to the urgency of mutual respect. Can the gathered saints sometimes agree to disagree?

My friend, Greg Davis, who passed away less than four months ago at the age of 41, would often get into political conversations with a woman named Terri Inloes, the librarian at the middle school he taught at. They disagreed more often than they agreed, but they always listened to one another, and they always discussed their views based on a foundation built with mutual respect. Terri recalls the specialness of those conversations and how they deepened their friendship with one another. It is a life story that the church needs to hear and understand.

Honestly, I’ve seen more examples of the contrariness of church people than the potential for peacemaking…and that’s just in reference to how people from the same church treat each other! Being listeners is a hard thing to be for people who are set on destruction!

My recent three weeks of teaching seventh grade social studies revealed a number of things to me. One of those that applies to this area of listening is this: Listening is a commitment, and there are those who refuse to listen because their lips get in the way of their ears!

 

Congregational Flossing

June 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 5, 2016

                             

My son-in-law, Dr. Michael Terveen, is a dentist. He and my daughter, Lizi, moved to Colorado Springs back in November, and Mike now operates a dental practice in the midst of the city. Flossing is a big emphasis in our family. In recent years I’ve been much better about flossing than I used to be. Perhaps it’s been the fear of losing my teeth and looking like a real Goober, or the fact that the rolls of floss are available in just about every room of our house, but whatever the reason or reasons I floss…often!

As a result, my check-ups where they take the x-rays and then rub that wintergreen tasting stuff on my teeth have been much more positive experiences. It’s like the final exam of a philosophy class where you aren’t quite sure you understood the meaning behind all of those deep run-on sentences that require a nap in the middle, but then your exam comes back with a solid “B!”

Flossing is that practice that doesn’t seem to have any immediate benefit (unless those annoying remnants of the corn on the cob need to get vacated), but results in long-term dental health.

Churches need to floss more!

What?

There are certain disciplines, certain practices, that churches should be about no matter what the budget says, how many people want to do it, or how mundane it may seem…like flossing!

Here’s my thinking!

  1. Prayer Flossing– Every church has those few people who are intimately engaged in prayer. Meetings are opened with prayer, almost like an elementary classroom saying the Pledge of Allegiance as a school day begins. Every worship service includes a couple of prayers. The real flossing with prayer, however, happens in those other settings and encounters of each day. Getting a church congregation to believe in the importance of prayer is equivalent to getting a five year old to believe that cooked broccoli is good for him. He will look at you with an expression that says it is all a conspiracy theory to get little boys to eat disgusting food. Floss with prayer deliberately, several times a day, and have it reach those hidden pockets of life that often get ignored.
  2. Scriptural Education and Understanding- I admit that there are certain books in the Bible that I dread reading. Listen! When I have to munch on a few chapters of Job’s friends rambling on and on and on I want to just say “Get on with it!” No matter now many times I read the book of Revelation it’s still weird! But most churches don’t do much in the area of teaching the background, the purpose, and the history of the Bible. The thing is…we are rooted in scripture. Flossing with scripture helps in alleviating the need for a root canal later on. As followers of Jesus become less familiar with what he taught the risk of spiritual decay heightens.
  3. Community Connectedness- As my son-in-law tells me, floss those areas that you can’t even see. The church needs the discipline of “flossing” in those areas, those lives, that they don’t see on Sunday mornings. Reach those people, and those places in the community that need the loving touch of the hands and feet of Jesus. Too often a congregation, especially the leaders of a congregation, take the view “None of THOSE people come here on Sunday.” The wording is important for it voices two entrenched beliefs: THEM and US, and we will care about you when you come here. Perhaps the church needs to be more like Mother Teresa and live by the belief that everyone is loved by God, even though we have a hard time seeing them. Floss outside the walls.
  4. Have Fun!- My son-in-law gave me a sucker on the way out of his office from my last appointment. Sugar-free, mind you, and in some weird way…good for your teeth, but still a sucker to slowly lick on the way home. A moment of fun after getting drilled! Churches need to floss with fun. Follow me on this! Usually when I eat beef or chicken there is one gap between two of my back upper teeth that meat gets trapped in. I feel the discomfort. I’m not such a flossing addict that I carry it around with me to use at restaurants, so after a restaurant meal I just have to live with the discomfort until I get home. Flossing at that point is a welcome event. It takes the pressure off. I compare a church having fun with that. Since I retired from pastoring last December I have intentionally kept my distance from the congregation I pastored for the past sixteen years, but last Friday night I joined nine others for an hour of recreational volleyball in the church gym. Let me make the point that it is extremely non-competitive volleyball, more along the lines of standing in one place volleyball and once in a while hitting it. But it was fun fellowship. There was much laughter and light-hearted razzing. How often do people leave church frustrated or disengaged with what they were just a part of? Floss with fun to take away some of the discomfort of life.
  5. See the Picture!- Let me close with this! At my first appointment Dr. Terveen used some nifty dental camera to take pictures of my teeth. Then he showed me the pictures and explained to me a few things that were going on in my “community of teeth.” It was disturbingly revealing. I couldn’t see the decay that was progressing, but it was there. That’s kind of like the lives of most of the people who show up in worship on Sunday. Most of the damage in their lives can’t be seen, and most will be reluctant to reveal any of it. Floss with love, floss with care, floss as if their health depends upon it…because it does!