Posted tagged ‘congregation’

Naming Churches

August 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          August 4, 2017

                                     

My family, growing up and current, has always been a part of Baptist congregations. The church I was first carried into as an infant was Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky. It was called Central Baptist because…it was centrally located in Winchester, just a couple of blocks off the main street that ran though the downtown area.

We moved from Winchester to Williamstown, West Virginia and began our association with a series of First Baptists.  Our home churches in Williamstown, Zanesville, Ohio, and Ironton, Ohio were all named First Baptist because they were the first Baptist churches established in those communities. In Ironton the First’s were all situated within about three blocks of one another…First Presbyterian and First United Methodist. The Catholics turned up their noses at being “First” and moved right on to one of the saints, Saint Lawrence. Not to be outdone the Lutherans went for St. Paul even though they were first across the street from First Presbyterian.

Church names became connected to either “First” or “Second”, indicating their timing in the community; or a saint to indicate their…saintliness!

There was usually reason to the naming of a church. The last church I pastored, Highland Park Baptist Church, was situated in an area of Colorado Springs known as Highland Park. Interestingly, as the city has grown and mushroomed very few people know that area is known as Highland Park, but, originally, location determined the name.

My cynicism is now going to splat all over the rest of these words. It seems that a new wave of churches are looking for a “catchy name!” It’s like the intriguing name of a new development of homes that is underway. Across the highway from our subdivision there is a development called “Wolf Ranch.” I’m somewhat drawn to the name. We could be the Wolfe’s of Wolf Ranch. To the north of Wolf Ranch there is Cordera. In their publicity they make it shown exotic and sexy as they say the name, like Gloria from Modern Family saying it. Houses are being built at a crazy pace there…for a couple hundred thousand dollars MORE than what homes in our subdivision are valued at.

It seems that the new wave of churches is looking for that name, that name that sounds like a destination, a vacation spot, or at least a weekend service spot. People aren’t drawn to the new church in town that decided on the name…First Baptist! It needs to have essence, depth, be sweet-sounding and peaceful, relevant but sophisticated! I was traveling along an Ohio Highway yesterday and passed a church that is called “The Point.” The Point is probably a happenin’ place to be, and when people say they are going to “The Point” it doesn’t even sound preachy! It sounds hip and cool and whatever other words that are being used today to indicate relevant.

It seems that there are more of The Points that are getting the point. A church doesn’t need to name itself the First Holy Apostolic Freewill United  Church of Temporary Insanity. According Thom Ranier new churches are keeping it simple and short, like a church outside of Greeley, Colorado I’m familiar with called “Grace River Church.” I kind of like that. Another one in Colorado Springs is called Hope Chapel. Short and easy to remember.

A couple of new churches that have begun recently are focused on verbs. One close to us is called “Thrive Church.” Sounds energetic! There’s another one named “Venture Fellowship!” Sounds like an entrepreneurial deal!

Here’s the thing! No matter how sophisticated or mission-focused, doctrinally-connected, or hip-sounding the church is named people won’t land there unless what happens in and through the congregation speaks to the spiritual yearning of the visitor. Sometimes the true environment of a church gives it a different name than the outside sign reads. There’s been a couple of Grace Churches that could better be named “Judgmental Fellowship.” A couple of places with peace in their name that get known more as the Church of Sunday Morning Fights. First Baptist might better be described as Bitter Baptist and First Presbyterian could be renamed “Peeved Presbyterian.”

Names are nice! They are even nicer if they are also the reality!

Conversing with Church Runaways

July 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 July 16, 2017

                             

Josh Packard wrote a book a couple of years ago entitled Church Refugees. A sociologist, Packard had noticed that there had been a good bit of research and writing about the “Nones”, those people who select “No Religious Affiliation” when they are filling out a personal information sheet; but there hadn’t been that much study conducted that dealt with the “Dones”, those people who had been involved in a church and left it to go…nowhere!

It doesn’t take me very long to recall a number of “Dones” that have been involved in a church that I’ve pastored. Packard labels the “Dones” as “church refugees”, meaning that they have left where they were a part but aren’t quite sure where they will land. There is a vey good chance that where they land will not be in “churchland!”

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who would classify herself as a church runaway. I deeply respect this person, and value the conversations I’ve had with her. She exited the church of her upbringing mainly because of the judgmental posture of some of the church people she had known for years. They assaulted the experience of community that she longed for. She observed inconsistency in their words and actions and finally exited by whichever door was closest and never looked back.

The thing is…I can not argue her reasoning! She’s right! Church people often ration out grace and pour out judgment. Grace is too fluid and judgment is very clear, so judgment becomes the “go to.”

Some of the neatest, most incredible people I know are intimately involved in churches…and some of the meanest, most vindictive people I know are involved in churches. The blessing of the church is that everyone is welcome (At least that’s what the marquee says!); and the curse of the church is that it will accept people that no one else would put up with!

And it’s not like the church at one time had it all together and then lost its way! 1 Corinthians deals with a dysfunctional congregation that needed an outside consultant to come in and do a full body analysis! Spain didn’t join the American Colonists in their Revolutionary War fight against England because Americans were “too Protestant!” In other words, they did not belong to the one true church. On the other hand, in the early 1800’s very few Protestants celebrated Christmas in America because it was “too Catholic!” Churches have been prone to pointing their fingers at other churches and shaking their heads in contempt.

And so many churches are no longer seen as being safe locations but places that are caustic. And we have no one to blame but ourselves!

Here’s the interesting, and perhaps disturbing, thing! I feel much more comfortable having a conversation with my church runaway friend than I do with a lot of people who sit in pews each Sunday morning. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it is a bit unsettling!

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!

The Fifth Grade Congregation (Part 2)

April 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 23, 2016

                            

I recently substitute taught in a fifth grade classroom. What an awesome experience! It gave me several revelations about the fifth grade and a typical church congregation. I wrote in Part one about “the system”, and how foundational it is in both groups. In Part 2 I’ll ponder another discovery- personalities.

It only took a few minutes of being present in the classroom to discover the personalities of this fifth grade class. Most of them were delightful in their uniqueness and yet predictable in their reactions and responses. It was very similar to a congregation, where uniqueness is applauded in terms of callings and giftings as long as they don’t upset the system.

There were the two or three students who saw their role as being the “irritators.” They were the ones who seemed to always drop their books at the quietest times, the ones who made farting sounds, and comments that brought laughter and attention for a moment. The typical church has a few people like this as well. Sometimes it is “the sacred child”, who has grown up in the church and can do no wrong…and offer nothing positive, as well! Sometimes the irritator is the one who wants the pastor’s attention and time. He/she is usually spiritually immature and wants to be needed. In the classroom the irritator is the one who slows down the completion of the day’s objectives and learning. In the church the irritator is the one who could care less about movement and progress. The church is their playground.

There were also the class leaders. When I started straying outside “the system” the class leaders steered me back onto the road. Class leaders can lead to achievement or lead the herd to run off a cliff. Thankfully the two class leaders I had were more like Moses and less like Aaron.

In the church the leaders are not necessarily the elected officers. They are the ones who guide officially or unofficially. There are leaders who lead the congregation to their kingdom and leaders who understand that they are servant leaders for the kingdom of God. I remember Bill Hybels giving a talk about getting the right people on the bus. That is, the right people to lead the church need to be on the bus. Too often the wrong people are the ones who fight to get on the bus. The right leaders will rarely push to be in a seat of power.

The fifth grade class had a couple of “helpers.” They were the students who picked up paper off the floor or straightened the desks at the end of the school day without being asked. It was part of who they were. They were self-motivated to help. If we had been in a rowboat they were the ones who would have manned the oars without being directed to do so. They saw their role as helping the class get to the finish line of the school day.

In the church the helpers are God’s blessings upon the pastor and leadership. Sometimes they serve in recognized positions, but “the helpers” stand out on a Sunday when the pastor is gone, or people are absent because of sickness. They fill in the gaps. They pick up trash off the floor…naturally…without thinking “That’s the custodian’s job!”

Helpers need leaders, but, in the loneliness of leadership, leaders are extremely indebted to helpers.

The fourth group of the class were “the silent.” They were the few students who never raised their hands to answer questions or offer opinions, the ones who needed encouragement and to be valued. The silent can easily get run over by the irritators and leaders. Like scared kittens they need to be coaxed to come out of their hiding places.

The congregation has the silent group as well. The interesting thing about the silent is that they will often come out of their hiding place in the pew if the leaders personally encourage them, or if one person invites them to come alongside him/her in some simple ministry. The silent can be there every week and yet be invisible.

Finally, in that fifth grade classroom there were “the outliers”, the couple of students who stood outside the expected, and surprised the teacher. They didn’t fit into any one category, and could not easily be described. They were the ones who didn’t fit in the grading curve, like the one student who was in our seminary Hebrew class and had studied Hebrew for years in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah! What!!!!

Outliers are simply surprisers! They hadn’t read the manual on what a fifth grader is suppose to be like. They were the special secret spice in the class recipe.

A congregation has outliers as well. They are the ones who surprise the pastor with a theological insight dealing with social justice, and yet are also card-carrying members of the NRA. They vote Republican and watch CNN, play the saxophone and run marathons. Congregational outliers are the few people who the pastor has a hard time getting a handle on how to describe. They often are the few who have a completely unique perspective on the church that is a revelation to the ears who are willing to hear it.

A fifth grade classroom….and a church congregation- different, and yet so similar!

Preaching With Them

July 26, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          July 26, 2015

                                              

This morning in worship I told the story of Legion from the Gospel of Mark. I was led to do two things this morning that I hoped the congregation caught. So often we tell the story from the view of outside eyes and distant ears. We minimize its relevance to our lives by speaking about it as if we are in the balcony.

So this morning I told the story and brought the congregation into it by referring to them as the people of Gerasena where the demon-possessed man was from. I came at it from the perspective of the congregation being the ones who drove off the man to the tombs. We went through the life stages. I admit that I envisioned the man’s childhood…the beginning signs of a troubled mind and spirit, the increasing tension in the city whenever he was around people, the heartbreak of his parents in knowing they couldn’t make him better. I led us through the story carefully, drawing in the emotions that we felt as Legion became more apparent.

The second thing I did was use the pronoun “we” instead of “you.” In fact, I only used “you” once and that was towards the end of the story in asking the worshipers “You remember, don’t you?”

I did not preach at, but rather included myself as one of the Gerasenes. I was simply the one who was re-telling the story about us.

I’m sure if I looked back through my old sermon manuscripts I would be embarrassed by the number of times I preached to “them”, heaping accusations and a John the Baptist call to repent! In my elderly state I’m acutely aware of my need for the grace of God in the midst of my blunders and shortcomings.

And so I preach more and more about us.

I don’t know if those who journeyed with me this morning noticed the different perspective of things. I was not driven from the sanctuary like the man was driven from the town. I noticed, however, that some of the usual slumbering saints had their eyes open throughout.

That in itself is somewhat of a miracle!

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!

To The Newly Ordained

August 19, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         August 19, 2013

     My son! I hope you don’t mind that I call you that, even though we aren’t blood relatives. But I feel, in many ways, you are my son. Lord knows I’m old enough to be your dad!

I thank God for your obedience to the call. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for you. I can remember there were a number of times in the past three years where you were discouraged, tired, ready to lay things aside for a while. Going to seminary full-time, being a father and a husband, being involved in various ministry initiatives at church…your plate runneth over!

And now your name is preceded with the title “Reverend.”

I know it doesn’t change who you are. Humbleness is a part of your DNA. If someone refers to you as “Reverend” you will probably look behind you to see who they are talking to. The titled doesn’t change you. You are who God has transformed you into. That happened a long time before you got an official title.

See the title as simply a confirmation of those who have journeyed alongside you these past years that you are called…you have a special calling that has been placed upon your life.

Sometimes the calling will weigh heavily upon you. As you stand at a pulpit you will see the faces of people who need a word of hope for their lives, a word of encouragement. And yet, there will be other times when you stand at a pulpit there needs to be a “hard word” said. You must always seek to led by the Spirit of God. the temptation to throttle a congregation will be strong some weeks, as well as the tempting to be soft. Seek to lead the people of God closer to a holy fellowship with God. Don’t get carried away by personal agenda and political referendums. Stay Word-focused!

My son, as you enter a hospital room, or meet with someone who is about to enter into surgery, or gather with a family of a deceased loved one, understand that you are a representative of Christ. In fact, you are more than that. To those who are grieving you are the presence of Jesus. Without making you think that you are a Savior, you are in those moments Jesus to them. They are looking to you for a “word from the Lord”, a prayer for healing, comfort in the most trying times.

I know in your eyes you are “small” (Your word!), but to the family of a person who is about to have open-heart surgery you are a rock. Rocks are seen as being planted, strong…something that can have tough things, like the hard questions of life, brought to and there on’t be a shying away.

Be steady! People are sometimes fickle. They get attracted to the latest and greatest, but when the road gets rough, when the weariness of life leaves them gasping,  they look for that pastor who is steady and a servant. Seek to move the people of God ahead. The faster you expect them to move the gentler you must be.

People will follow the leader, even with some grumbling, if they are sure that the leader loves them and desires the best for them.

My son, always be teachable, no matter your age! Seek wise mentors who are not only close at hand, but also far away. And, hear this…seek mentors who are teachable. If you accept the guidance from someone who no longer seeks the wisdom of others, two people are about to take a plunge.

Finally, your family comes before the people of God. There have been many great pastors who have lost their families. That, my friend, is not God’s design for this whole calling of being a pastor. You must be wise in your spirit. Sometimes the people of God can overwhelm you with demands and responsibilities at the expense of your role as a father and spouse. Keep a balance. Discern what is really crucial and what can wait. Your daughter’s school production is more important than a meeting of the Finance Committee. Protect your family time while letting the people of God know you care.

There are so many other things I could write to you, but some of them are best learned on your own. Always know that I’m praying for you, and will be there for you no matter if you’re on a peak or trudging through a valley.

You are called! Fight the good fight!