Posted tagged ‘church’

That Judgmental Evangelical Church!

March 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     March 4, 2019

                      

Carol and I sat back and watched an episode of Criminal Minds last night. We can’t keep up with all the recorded episodes we have on our DVR, thus the episode we watched was from last October.

Without going into the plot too much, a woman is killed and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) team is sent to investigate. In looking at the way the woman has been murdered, investigating who her friends are, and her routines, they summarize that there is some connection between what has happened and the church she attends.

That’s when the term “evangelical” gets used! She was involved in an EVANGELICAL church. The way it’s said you could almost put in parentheses after it “You know…one of those!” as the person turned to the side and spat!

The next scene has the team interviewing the pastor. His character comes off as self-righteous and judgmental. Envision a pastor with a whip! The viewer immediately does not like him and, after all, he’s the pastor of one of those EVANGELICAL churches! You are given the impression that “fun” is a four letter word for him.

Several other indicators are that he and his church are narrow-minded, critical, ready to shun sinners, and legalistic. They probably don’t even drink root beer!

Such is the general public’s, or at least those in the entertainment world, view of evangelicals! I wouldn’t have been as bothered by the episode if they would have just said “church”, but those who produce the show probably don’t understand what evangelical means.

The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word “euangelion”, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, an evangelical church focuses on the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ.

That good news includes the grace of God, forgiveness, love, acceptance, hope, and peace. 

Some evangelicals, rightfully so, have made a mess of evangelicalism! They’ve reversed the mirror of Jesus. Instead of people seeing the image of Christ in his church they see a bunch of people who seem to have been sucking on lemons too long! I’ll be honest! There are a number of people in churches I’ve served who are about as pleasant as hemorrhoids!

It should not be! “Good News” has become religious rhetoric, and grace has been replaced with guilt. 

One of my closest friends in ministry, Rev. Tom Bayes, recently urged me to write a book about “church stuff”. Tom and I, along with our other clergy friend, Rev. Chuck Moore, spent years serving churches in the Lansing, Michigan area and sharing stories over lunches. There was a lot of laughter in the midst of our burger-munching. I think I’ll take him up on his request. The book, however, will revolve around a pastor who laughs, jokes around with the people of his congregation, enjoys life, and exhibits the Joy of life. AND he will be a pastor who firmly holds to the belief that Jesus is “Good News”!

Maybe I’ll even make him…you know…one of those Baptist pastors!

The Sound of Squeaky Shoes

August 10, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         August 10, 2017

                                   

A couple of Sundays ago I was walking up the sidewalk to my sister’s front door. She was trailing along behind me and she said “Your shoes are squeaky.” We had just come back to her home from church and I was wearing my “Sunday-go-to-meeting shoes”.

I hadn’t noticed a squeak until she said that, and then I noticed…yes, they do squeak! Of course, at that point all I could hear for the next few minutes WAS the squeak…every step…every high squeaky octave of their connection with concrete, carpet, or wood.

“You hadn’t noticed the squeak?”

“No, not until you called my attention to it!”

My wife and I have a similar situation at home. I like a fan on at night when I sleep. The coolness and the background noise helps me fade off into a slumber filled with dreams of dunking a basket, eating Vietnamese egg rolls, and winning the Pike’s Peak Ascent…well, okay, not really the egg rolls. I just threw that in there because I’m thinking about them right now! Carol likes quiet at night, meaning no background noise. She hears the sounds, but I don’t! Ironically, during the day if I’m reading I like quiet, whereas she likes the TV on during the day for the background noise. Call us weird, but we’ve been okay with our quirks for 38 years now!

All of us have “squeaky shoes” in our lives that go unnoticed. Being a retired pastor I now have the opportunity to visit other churches besides the one I had spoken at for so long. So I notice things that probably go unnoticed by the “regulars” of that congregation. For example, I notice the usher/greeter who is handing out bulletins to people who are entering the sanctuary for worship and seems like he put a “grouch patch” on that morning. Or how fast people seek to leave the building following the worship service! Or how much “insider language” is used in the worship service! Or if there is a clear understanding as to what families with young children are to do, or are they just expected to know! If there’s coffee available (And you usually know because a few people are walking around with coffee cups in their hands!) is a visitor invited to have a cup of coffee?

Every church has a few squeaky shoes that go unnoticed by the “wearers”, but are revealed to the new “hearers”. New hearers don’t know the history or the circumstances. They don’t understand why a congregation stands and reads the church covenant every first Sunday of the month, or why Baptists are prone to celebrate communion on the first Sunday of each month, or why only men seem to be the ones involved in positions of responsibility but those involved with children’s activities or care are always women?

Some squeaks just are, and others have reasons! Although ‘’squeaks” are rarely based on some kind of doctrine, once in a while a congregation’s “squeak” is the weirdness of the sermon or some kind of issue that the pastor just won’t let go of. There’s a difference between a driving force or a passionate cause and an annoying squeak! Many years ago I remember a pastor chastising his congregation over the fact that the wedding reception of a church family the night before had included alcohol. I got the feeling that he would have been annoyed by Jesus turning the water into wine. Forty years later I still remember the “squeaky sermon” that was excessively guilt-based!

That Sunday I went in and changed shoes right away, taking off my squeaky dress shoes and putting on my Nike’s. There was no squeak, although I always have to check to see if they are leaving a trail of mud. Slinging mud, however, is another issue entirely!

The Entitled Church

March 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 March 23, 2017

                       

     A few days ago I wrote a piece on the entitled church attender. I presented the idea that there are a lot of church attenders who mirror one of our cultural themes as they relate to the church. That is, there is a heightened sense of entitlement, and focus on what the church can do for “me”, as opposed to how I can join a community of believers in service and ministry for Christ.

An old friend of mine responded to that writing with another view that got me thinking. Having lost her husband in the last year she experienced a church that seemed to place its needs above her grieving. She had held a couple of positions within the congregation, and it seemed as if the church was more concerned with her continuing on in the work of those positions than it was in her journey of grief.

She was right on! The shoe is on the other foot this time! There are a number of churches who treat their servants like the Borax Mule Team. The focus is on getting things done, as opposed to being a community of believers who lean on others and are available to be leaned on.

We talked about it quite often in my years of pastoring: burn-out! The exhaustion of the saints and the pastor. It seemed that there was seldom good balance; that it was either the pastor burning the candle at both ends, or the twenty percent of the saints who were doing too much. Sometimes it was the pastor who drove “the mules”, and sometimes it was the church leaders who barked behind the pastor like an army drill sergeant!

Rarely were there situations where the rhythm of the saints and the clergy found a healthy balance.

And so my friend finds herself, after years and years of serving, now wondering about the church. Did it consider her to be like middle-management in a corporation? Did it really care for her, or simply care when it was convenient?

Honestly, that scenario has been played out too many times. Sometimes the church even uses the excuse of the Great Commission to minimize the importance of its messengers! “We’re all about Jesus, so put your pity party on the back burner!”

Entitled churches are simply gatherings of entitled church attenders who have control of the reins!

“Hahh, hahh!” says the guy with the whip riding behind the mules.

Church Going To the Dogs

February 13, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 13, 2017

                     

A few decades ago I remember being on the front steps of our church, First Baptist Church of Ironton, Ohio. An elderly man was coming up the steps just as a dog bounded up the steps past him. The man stopped for a moment and I heard him mutt-er “Dogs going to church!” He climbed a couple more steps and paused once again, and with a grin on his face he said, “Church going to the dogs!”

Recently we discovered a church where people can bring their dogs. The worship service is transmitted on an AM radio station to the cars parked in the parking lot. Some of the cars are occupied with people who have difficulties with crowds or allergic reactions to perfume scents. But many of them are occupied with canines brought to church by their owners. Attenders never have to get out of their car, unless Fido has to relieve himself!

Unique, yes! It’s not my cup of tea, but for some people it obviously works. After all, there was a film a few years ago entitled “All Dogs Go to Heaven!” So, perhaps, going to church is the prequel!

Staying in the car with the pooch has a downside and an upside. The downside is that the attender never enters into “community.” Church is about much more than an order of worship to go through, message to hear, and the offering plate to pass. Being the community of believers is the oft-forgotten part of it. It’s the meshing of lives in the progression of the journey.

The upside is that the dog-loving attender can escape the drama of church that often focuses on the petty and ridiculous. Stay in the car and get spared from the stupid! Let’s face it! Some church folk are more concerned about keeping the carpet clean than they are about people being cleansed!

So…I’m not sold on the dogs-going-to-church idea, but, of course, I don’t have a dog! I might feel differently if Lassie came home to live with me.

What do you think?

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!

 

The Going Into Church

October 2, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           October 2, 2016

                                    

I’m about to go to Simla on a beautiful Sunday morning and worship and speak to the small gathering of God’s people at First Baptist Church.

Notice my language…”going to!”

In recent weeks I’ve been asking the congregation some guiding questions about who they are and what they are about. Without roping them like calves I’m seeking to lead them to the point where they are “a going church!” In essence I’m seeking to add two letters to their mindset about their church…from “going to” to “going into!”

It’s a challenge that most churches face. I compare it to businesses being mall-based versus amazon.com. Amazon came to me yesterday…on-line…and gave me a free Kindle book which I’ll read on an upcoming vacation. Amazon comes to me. I haven’t been to the mall in about six months. It is to imposing to me…parking, lines, trying to find one thing in the midst of hundreds of things, over-priced food at the mall food court! The last time I went to the mall was to get new “Roundstreet and Yorke” dress shirts at Dilliards during their annual Clearance Sale. It took great shirts that were marked down 50% from the already 60% off price tag to get me to go to the mall.

That is also the mentality of most people about church. It takes a Harvest Festival or a kid’s basketball program to get many folk to go to church. The language of the church, therefore, needs to be shifted to “going into.”

It’s interesting that the first church in Jerusalem, according to Acts 2:46-47, met daily in the temple courts, and they broke bread together in their homes. They had that “church connection” in the temple courts…although it was a bit different than our present day idea of what that means…and they met in the homes of the city. An important part of their faith was spent where people lived.

Last Sunday while I was at Simla my wife visited a new church that just recently launched. It is within walking distance of our home. She knew about it because our area has been saturated with signs stuck into every corner…right next to the “Vote YES for D20 Kids” campaign signs that deal with the new school bond issue. At this new congregation, meeting in a high school auditorium, she was taken back by the dominant point that the pastor was focused on…that if each person invited someone else to come the next Sunday, and someone else new the next Sunday, and on and on…then this new church would be the largest church in the city in a year. He seemed to be fixated on that, which still flowed out of the old mindset of getting people to go to church!

Scripturally, the body of believers…the followers of Jesus are to go into the world. If we trust that God knows what he is doing then we will understand that he will bring people into our lives, or has already brought people into our lives, who we can reflect Jesus to. It doesn’t have to be forced or manufactured. We don’t even have to have a pocket full of spiritual tracts to hand out. Reflecting Christ can simply flow out of our intimacy with Jesus.

It’s kind of like my face at the end of football practice each day. I leave practice and go to the store where I encounter someone I know. My friend says something like “You got some sun today, didn’t you?” I don’t have to say to him, “Did you notice that I got some sun today? Do you know what that means?”

The Going Into Church uses language that flows out of life and relationships. Kind of like what Jesus did!

Failure To Lunch

March 2, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              March 2, 2015

                                                  

I’m trying to slow down! Yes, I talked about that last week…and here goes again! If I repeat myself often enough perhaps i’ll start hearing what I’m writing.

I had my moments last week where I remembered my words and fasted from going fast. I sat and pondered at times, did not speed on the ice-covered roads that covered our area, went to bed at decent hours, and even took in a movie with my wife (McFarland).

But there were the other times! I slowed down enough that a cold caught me.

Here’s my challenge this week. Sometimes fasting from going fast isn’t the answers to all the ills and problems. Another challenge for me this week is not just slowing down, it’s also to not pile the plate high with the week’s buffet of things that need to be done.

The excuse that I so often use is that they need to be done! If I don’t do them they won’t get done! As a pastor it’s easy to get whirlpooled into that trap. Every congregation has people within it who think the pastor has all the time in the world and are very free to assign him something else to do. And most pastors are not good at saying no. It’s the Baptist guilt element rising to the surface, that tells us that we can never do enough for Jesus. Baptist pastors have a hard time with those verses in the Bible where Jesus goes off by himself and takes some time to ponder. We can’t relate!

Last week I had one day that was loaded with this, that, and the other…little of which had any eternal value connected to it…and at about 3:00 I realized I had failed to lunch. Perhaps it was the three month old cookie that I consumed at 10:00 that made me forget, but regardless…lunch came and went and I ne’er noticed!

The tyranny of the urgent will always attempt to keep us from caring for our soul!

One good thing that happened last week was a gathering on Wednesday of a pastor’s group that I highly value. We intentionally take time to be still, reflect, pray, and share. It’s called a “Together in Ministry” group, or TIM group, and it causes me to value the sharing with the saints.

Now I come to another week of possibilities and problems, people in need and people in peril. How will I journey through this week? Reflectively? With eyes seeking glimpses of Him? How will I journey through this week with those who I love the most? With the third grandchild due to emerge into this world any day now will I be able to fast from going fast look enough to celebrate a new gift, a new grace?

I’ll let you know…in a while!