Posted tagged ‘Community service’

Believing A Small Church Is Worth the Effort

October 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            October 15, 2017

 

Yesterday twenty five people descended on an aging church building in a town of five hundred people to be a help. Bill Hale, nine days my junior but years ahead of me in wisdom and craftsmanship, developed the idea along with our area denominational staff person, Mike Oldham.

The idea was to invite a few churches and individuals to come to Simla, a small town on Highway 24 that you would have no reason to go to if you weren’t heading someplace past it, and provide some labor for a few hours that would allow the church to get a few needed projects completed.

The First Baptist Church of Simla is a congregation of about twenty dear people. Bill Hale, Ed Stucky, and myself have been sharing pulpit responsibilities there for the last year and a half or so. They do not have a pastor, although they do have a parsonage right next door to the church.

The group of servers came from Pueblo, Greeley, Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Texas, and, of course, Simla! They ranged in age from four to seventy-four. One man, who owns a company in Colorado Springs, brought his “bucket truck” that allowed limbs and branches from the trees in front of the church that are about as old as sarcasm to be cut back. The carpet in the sanctuary was shampooed, the church sign was touched up with paint. There was painting done to the outside of the building after a power washing was done, and the wood frames of the stained glass windows got a needed fixing up. Sidewalks got edged, weeds got pulled, and the lawn got mowed and trimmed. Massive efforts that meant so much to the people of the church.

What I’ve learned from Simla is that small churches are worth the effort. For me Simla has become my home church. Most Sundays when I’m not speaking there I still travel the forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs to worship with the “salt of Simla.” Small churches have a purpose. It may not revolve around budgets, staff, and packing the sanctuary, but they have a purpose. The Simla Saints have started doing community ministry efforts with the United Methodist Church a block down the street. They’ve even had discussions about how the three churches in town might have occasional worship services together, interchanging the pastors as the speakers. This past summer they made a good-sized contribution for the beginning expenses of a missionary family who had already been commissioned  by the American Baptist Churches to go to Chiapas, Mexico, but were trying to raise the last few thousand dollars that were needed as seed money. The Simla Saints gave the contribution and also started supporting the missionary family on a monthly basis.

They will never be a mega-church. They wouldn’t know how to handle that. The town of Simla has shrunk by two-thirds in the last twenty years. Mega-churches rarely happen in villages of diminishing size located between here and nowhere. Every week, however, fifteen to twenty people gather in the sanctuary of this church. They don’t whine about their size. Size does not effect the purpose or change the mission. Their purpose is to be Light in a community that struggles to keep on going.

Too many churches are trying to be great! Churches already have the greatest story to share. Sometimes it seems a congregation is trying to be greater than the story!

Simla is a love story of hope that tells of God’s love story. Call me simple, but when I retired from the ministry that’s what I was looking for…and it causes me to keep on keeping on!

No Grow and No Go

May 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 7, 2017

                                     

Recently a pastor friend of mine was sharing his church’s “simplified plan.” Our ministry support group of five people was sitting in a restaurant having lunch together. The noise and my aged hearing caused me to misinterpret what he was saying. His congregation’s simplified plan is “Know. Grow. Go.”

I, however, heard him say “No grow and go!” I thought to myself, “That’s an unusual plan…no grow and no go!’ I asked for clarification and my friend corrected my understanding when I told him what I had heard. All five of us got a good chuckle out of it, but then I thought about it a bit more. “No Grow and No Go!” might better define many churches of various flavors around the country.

There are many reasons why a number of churches don’t desire to grow as disciples and go and make disciples of others. First of all, growing requires commitment to something and surrender of part of my agenda. “Growing” is a marathon race and the church is crowded with sprinters and jumpers. In sports there are “fair weather fans”, and in churches there are “fair weather attenders.”

Growing requires change and, whereas we are fluid in many areas of our lives when it comes to change, we are also entrenched in other ways. For example, I need a new pair of jeans but I love the pair I’ve been wearing for about a decade. The pocket that I’ve carried my wallet in has a hole in it that resembles a woodpecker’s carving. I’ve tried changing pockets, but then I feel like I walk funny. I’m considering the option of not carrying my wallet with me rather than buy a new pair of jeans that I have to get used to. That’s how we are in various areas of our lives. I drink my morning juice out of a certain plastic cup, but I drink my dinner milk from a glass. I write my blog from a certain stool at a certain Starbucks. To vary that always gives me the feeling that the quality of the writing has diminished…unless I’m visiting my dad in southern Ohio, and then it’s okay to write from the Starbucks across the river in Huntington, West Virginia.

On the other side of the equation are churches that have a hard time figuring out what that “growing” element looks like. Our recent history shows the jumping around of churches trying to nail the discipleship block. But growing followers of Christ is not easily contained in a program or a curriculum, and that’s a hard truth for many of us professional church leaders to admit. It’s not that programs and curriculums are bad or unnecessary, but rather that we often put all of our eggs in one basket and there’s, so to speak, a growing number of spiritual egg-haters!

Moving on to the “go” part we’re often unmovable! Jesus’ Great Commission too often is the great omission in congregations. To sum it up, most of a typical church’s budget goes for what happens inside the walls, and what is designated as the mission budget is what gets sent outside the walls to support people not from the church in mission work. When the budget gets evaluated each year the mission budget lies there like a clay pigeon ready to be shot at. Want proof? Just notice how many people in your church come to a potluck dinner, and compare that to how many people participate in a community service or ministry project!

“No grow and no go!” symbolizes the “standing firm congregation.” We’ve mis-translated that great hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” a bit! Jesus didn’t intend for us to be stationary and anchored to what has always been, protective of our resources and unsympathetic towards a broken world around us.

The Need To Be Served

June 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 24, 2016

                                  

As I was driving along yesterday and listening to the radio an interesting statistic was shared by the radio host. He said that a recent study revealed that the typical American family now spends more money in restaurants than it does at the grocery store. In other words, we eat out a lot and spend more of our food budget on a bacon cheeseburger at Applebee’s than packages of ground beef and buns at Safeway.

It also indicates that we are accustomed to being served by others. My driving destination was the car wash to have the layers of Midwest bugs cleaned off my car. It occurred to me that I was served by the man who welcomed me and took the order of what I wanted done; I was then served by the hospitable lady at the register who took my payment and chatted me up for a moment, and then I was served by the man who did the finishing wipe down. In the simple task of getting my car washed three people had directly served me.

After that I went to Sam’s Club to buy some items that I didn’t really need. I almost always use the “self-checkout” lane at Sam’s Club, but even in that lane an employee came up to me and asked if I had found everything I was looking for.

Earlier that morning I had been at Starbucks. No surprise to those who know me! The employees there served and engaged me in conversation. Once in a while I get an email from Starbucks asking me how my recent visit was. There is a short survey that pointedly focuses its questions on how the service was in my visit.

In other words, my morning was punctuated with various people in different locations whose mission was to serve me.

Yes, they were being compensated for their service, but the point is that “being served” is now a major part of the fabric of our lives. When we receive poor service we usually react in negative ways. During our recent cross-country road trip from Colorado to Ohio and back, Carol and I were on the receiving end of great service and really, really…I mean, really bad service. We stopped at several McDonald’s along the way. Most of them had adequate or good service, but one of them stood out with the lack of service. I don’t usually do customer reviews, except when Starbucks offers me a reward for feedback, but I felt compelled to evaluate the experience at this McDonald’s. It was an on-line evaluation, and at the end of it there was a question asking if it was okay if a McDonald’s management person called me on the phone. Surprisingly, a few days later a lady named Nancy called me and asked me about the poor service I had received. She was extremely apologetic and promised me that she would be addressing the issue.

When bad service is given people are concerned. Bad service is an indication that the customer isn’t that important, and customers expect to be served.

I think there’s a lesson for the church in all of that. Our roots are firmly planted in servanthood. Jesus is known as “the servant king.” The early church was about serving. The first restructuring of the first church was because certain people weren’t being served (Acts 6). Deacons came about because of the need for people to be served. The Christians in Rome around AD 250 took charge of people who were infected with smallpox. Families would turn their backs on the sick, but the Christ-followers cared for them in their last days, even to the point of laying down their own lives. Serving was part of their DNA.

We live in a time when many people come to church to be served, which is okay…but they’ve missed part of the message. As followers of Christ we serve and are served. The church is not a gathering of consumers. We’ve been consumed by the love of Christ. That realization changes us!

Carol and I are fixing dinner tonight for two of our children and one son-in-law. It would be easier to go out to a restaurant and be waited upon, but that “food budget stat” has stuck in my gut. I’ll grill, Carol will make a squash casserole and another side dish, and, I guess, we will serve!

I think it will be a good evening!

Dr. Anne

June 10, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 9, 2014

 

                                              

 

She greeted us with a smile. The smile arrived shortly after her walker did. Anne was her name, and she had realized quite a while ago that she couldn’t do the gardening, weeding, and outdoor grooming that she had done for decades. So she called us.

Three of our neighborhood churches join volunteer help together on a Saturday in the Fall and a Saturday in the Spring to help some of our neighborhoods out. Most of them are elderly or disabled in some way.

That’s how we met Anne. A door-to-door offer to help with simple tasks around the houses of the community had resulted in her call, so we went.

As our work team trimmed bushes and pulled weeds Anne engaged us in conversation. She leaned on her walker as she pointed out certain things to our crew members.

Sometimes we assume things about the people we meet. We see their inability to do certain things and we take a mental leap in thinking that they were never able to do much of anything.

We may have thought that about Anne, until she began sharing life experiences. She holds a doctorate in education. She is extremely well-read, and familiar enough with current events and politics to debate the person she is talking with.

Life has dealt her some hard blows, including multiple hip surgeries and the inability to stand but just for a few moments.

Perhaps that’s why she was so grateful for our help. Her backyard was filled with numerous kinds of plants, bushes, and flowers, but it was obvious that its glorious seasons had passed. Anne’s sadness about that was easily sensed, but there were new flowers roaming in her yard for a few hours. Some were Presbyterian, some Mennonite, and some American Baptist.

There are people who thank you because it’s the polite thing to do, and then there are people who thank you because they are filled with heart-felt gratitude.

Dr. Anne fell into the later category. We were blessed for having met her.