Posts Tagged ‘church’

Letters To My Sheep: I Need Sunday

~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t have weeks you would rather forget.  Like last week for me. It’s not that anything was awful, but maybe the accumulation of struggles, disappointments, frustrations, etc…
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t deal with illness or illness your family.  Last week, Ethan & Kara both stayed home from school during because they had some type of  stomach bug.  Though I never came down with it, I suspect I was dealing with something as I felt bad most of the week from Wednesday – Sunday.
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t wrestle with the sometime difficult dynamics of personal relationships.
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t have professional disappointments.
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t find yourself getting cranky, or irritated, or mildly depressed, as I realized I was becoming as the week wore on, even though there isn’t any particular big reason for it.  I really started to feel it when my installation of some quarter-round in Ethan’s room took a frustrating turn on Saturday afternoon.  It wasn’t that big a deal and I was trying to do something productive – even though I didn’t feel great – but I realized I just needed to stop.
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t lose perspective by letting small things become big things.

~And maybe you’re not like me and don’t need Sunday Worship as much as I do.  Sunday’s are obviously a big part of my job – while much happens behind the scenes, Sunday is when most of you see me being a pastor.  And so Sundays, in some ways, are just something I do.  That is one of the hazards of ministry – letting what we do become who we are (that’s true for anyone really).  I didn’t realize how much I needed to worship until after I got home from church on Sunday afternoon.  Usually, I am emotionally, physcially, and spiritually drained after teaching, preaching, and pastoring on Sunday afternoon.  That’s another thing that comes with the territory.   But Sunday was different.  I felt energized and felt that my countenance had been lifted – I felt different than I had all week.  But more than mere feelings, as important as those may be, something else was going on.   Here are five things I think about why I needed last Sunday’s Worship and every Sunday (whether I realize it or not).

  • I was doing what I was made to do.  I don’t mean my job/vocation.  I mean giving glory & praise to our Lord (makes me think of this – Q. Why did God make you and all things?  For His own glory).
  • Worship gives and restores perspective – through our songs, our prayers, the Preached Word (even and especially if it’s coming from my mouth!), the Sacrament of Communion, our fellowship, etc…
  • Worship isn’t about forgetting our troubles, but about our being transformed from the inside by our Sovereign Lord.
  • Worship, when we recognize that it is corporate, also helps to see that we are not alone in our challenges & struggles.
  • Worship places our focus squarely where it belongs.

~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t need Sunday Worship as much as I do, but I think you probably are.  Even if you don’t want to admit it.

Group Blogging Project: Simple Church (Chapter 8)

This is my contribution to a group blogging project using Simple Church.  Essentially, a blogger writes/reflects on one chapter and hosts the discussion on their blog/website over the course of two weeks.  Go to Andy’s website for links to the previous chapters/discussion or the last one (chapter nine).

Without further a due my reflections on Chapter 8 “Focus:  Saying No to Almost Everything”:

Yesterday, I had the chance to go out to eat with a friend and leader.  We went to a typical American chain restaurant with reliable food.  As often happens, I arrived at the restaurant with my stomach growling.  I didn’t have a clue ahead of time what I wanted to eat.  As a result, I flipped restlessly through the menu.  The problem, apart from my hunger, was the multitude of options that were before me.  In addition to the menu, there were a couple of other special menus with even more choices.  You would think that all the choices would make it easy, but in this case, it actually made it difficult to decide what to eat (I eventually settled on a burger & fries – living on the edge, I know).  Same thing happens when we go to get deodorant from the store – so many brands, smells, and promises.  Even though my problem is relatively simple (I’ll stink without it), all of the choices can make something easy – difficult.

The same multitude of choices is being introduced into the church to satisfy a consumer-oriented & elevated culture that feasts regularly upon fast-food diets and wants church the same way (more choices, faster response).  The authors call this “fast-food spirituality” and say that this approach is killing our churches.  It requires us to “say no to everything” that does not fit into the simple process of disciple making & building.  And constant vigilance, evaluation, and courage are required to say no.  But “[f]ocus is a truth taught and affirmed throughout Scripture. The focus of individuals in the Bible is humbling, and principle of one thing emerges…focus is the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.”

The authors suggest the following helps to maintain focus:

  1. Eliminate:  eliminate programs/ministries that are not directly related to a designed discipleship process.  I appreciate that the authors acknowledge the great difficulty in doing this.  It is far better to be simple to begin with, than to try to go back.
  2. Limit Adding: Though it may be hard (and necessary) to eliminate, it should be easier to limit the addition of new events, programs, or ministries. The difficulty here is when the new thing is designed to meet a real or perceived need.  And sometimes new feels very appealing (ah, this is what will help us grow…).
  3. Reduce Special Events: “In general, simple churches are so focused on their ministry process that there is little time for special events.  Special events would get in the way. They would distract.”  The difficulty in this is similar to the problems in numbers 1 & 2 – eliminating somebody’s ministry and the appeal of a special event.
  4. Easily Communicated
  5. Simple to Understand:  The point with both points 4 & 5 are that a discipleship process is that cannot easily understood or communicated is by nature not simple and therefore will not keep the church focused on a simple process.

Focus requires saying no – and even saying it a lot.  This, to me, is the great difficulty.  I don’t like to say no and not many of us want to be the ministry killjoy.  Maybe we could borrow something from the world of pro football.  Every team has that guy that the players striving to make the team avoid at all cost.  He’s the guy that asks for the playbook and tells you you’ve been cut.  Maybe we could have a guy like that in the church:  “I’m sorry your ministry has been cut.  Hand in your keys to the church.  Don’t worry, Jesus still loves you.”  Err, maybe not.

Seriously, as a pastor in a small church, the notion of focus (and simplification more broadly) are challenging.  In our church, we have a lot of people who work really hard to serve the church and the Kingdom of God.  As a result, they are fulfilling the call and command of God in many ways.  At the same time, I often see tired people too.  What is appealing to me about focus and simplification is the ability to free people from the burden of ministry and channel them into the joys of ministry because they know what we are doing is essential to the life and growth process of the church and they are a vital part of that.

But even more than focusing on process, I want people to learn to focus on the Gospel on a daily basis.  Then maybe we can talk about process in a much healthier way.  But I guess that’s another book.

Your thoughts?

Group Blogging Project: Simple Church

I am participating in a “group blogging project” on Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger’s Simple Church.  Essentially, a group diverse group of bloggers will each take turns hosting a discussion on a chapter of the book over the next two weeks.  I will be hosting the discussion on chapter nine eight, next Wednesday.  To read more about this and to see the schedule (with links to the other bloggers) go here.  And to read or join the discussion on the first chapter go here.

Quote: Churchless Christianity

From Ministry Today Magazine:

QUOTE: “I see the church derided with mockery and scorn. I see critics exaggerating her weaknesses and incapable of affirming any of her strengths. I see many leaving the church instead of loving her for better or for worse. I see lots of my peers who have 20/20 vision for the church’s failings, but are nearsighted to their own pride, self-importance and mutual self-congratulation. … Increasingly, we hear glowing talk of a churchless Christianity. …These days, spirituality is hot; religion is not. Community is hip, but the church is lame. [But] we don’t want Christians to give up on the church.” —Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., on why he and a member of his congregation decided to co-author the book Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion [, 7/20/09]”

DeYoung has turned into a prolific blogger, especially compared to this one, with great original thinking and reflection.  I read the first book that DeYoung authored and loved it – hopefully I can pick this one up sometime soon.

Church Reductionism

I was very happily reading this article on the innovative church and their new “free group chat translation tool” called  From the article: staff members recently rolled out, a free group chat translation tool that allows participants to communicate in real-time using up to 45 languages. Developed in-house as a Web-based Google app, isn’t just for members, but can be used by any business, church, mission group or individuals hoping to expand its message globally—or simply to communicate more effectively in such languages as Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi and Spanish.

That sound cool, though I can’t think of an immediate application for myself.  Then I got to the very end of the article to read this, which really has nothing to do with the above new tool, but with streaming services on iphone or ipod:

“We are always looking for ways that we can leverage technology to reach people where they are at,” said Peter Thourson, New Hope’s interactive developer. “[Now] users across the globe will be able to continue to attend church regardless of where they are.”

It’s not the first sentence that is troublesome, but the second.  This would seem to reduce what the church is and is about to attendance at a worship service (whether in person or online).    Now, I believe that this is enough of a problem without new technology, but this certainly doesn’t help.  When we reduce church to this level, then we will lose our ability to carry out our comission.  We will lose our ability to establish authentic community in a fragmented world.  We will lose our ability to call people to live for something much greater than themselves.  I can see some application for the homebound and the ill, but so much more needs to be said.  Without accountability, we will do what pleases us and what makes us comfortable.  Church, without reducing it to only worship service attendance, will not always please us and should make us uncomfortable.

Thoughts?  Am I being too harsh or ungracious?

2 Posts for Pastors or understanding pastors

First read this post titled Why are pastors so needy? (HT:  Matt via facebook)

Then go read my friend Ken’s post Every pastor needs a pastor

Maybe it’s me…

I just have trouble getting excited about a pastor’s statement regarding the growth of his church in a difficult locale:

Does frozen ground necessarily imply hardened hearts? Not if a charismatic congregation in Connecticut is any indication. This thriving assembly is challenging the notion that churches in New England won’t grow beyond a few hundred members.

Faith Church in New Milford, Conn., is growing 25 percent annually, and today has roughly 2,000 members in a region considered one of the most difficult to evangelize in the U.S. “People are people, and the gospel is the gospel no matter where it is preached,” said Faith Church pastor Frank Santora, 37. “My message is, ‘With Christ on your side, you can win in life and you can overcome.'”

I hope there is more to the message than that and I wonder how that message would “preach” in Communist China or in Saudi Arabia.

What’s been going on…(Feb 09)

Or why Adam hasn’t been blogging as much recently…

I have found that blogging is one of those things that I enjoy doing out of the margins of my life and my thoughts.  Sometimes those margins are razor thin, if present at all, and this winter has been one of those times.  Thankfully, the reasons surrounding this have been very good:

The command center for helpmyunbelief will be relocating to the Huntsville, Alabama area in the coming months.  The Lord is bringing my term of service here to a close and has given me a new calling:  to serve North Hills Church (PCA) as Senior Pastor.   I have been especially privileged to serve at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, Virginia for the past five years after graduating from Covenant Theological Seminary at the end of 2003.  Calvary and her people will always hold a special place in my heart and in my memories.

Here are some of what has happened in the past few months.

  • Beginning of January:  Candidating trip to North Hills.  The church extended a “call” to me after that trip – a call we were excited to receive and felt let by the Lord to accept.
  • We then began working feverishly (mostly on the weekends) to prepare our house for sale.  There has been much painting, fixing, sprucing, cleaining, packing, staging, etc…  Our house went on the market on February 12th.
  • February 10th:  I was received by Providence Presbytery and thus approved to begin serving North Hills.  This required my traveling back down to Huntsville.
  • Much time has also been spent praying, thinking, discussing, re-discussing, etc.. all of these matters.  We seldom (if ever) enter into anything of this nature lightly.  In this regard, I am very thankful for the many prayers that have been made by a close group of friends who have been following this matter closely, as well as the members of both churches.

So, I am sure life will continue to be interesting and provide a good opportunity to continue to grow in faith in the Lord.  So much more could be said regarding theses circumstances, but I will leave it for another time.   Blogging will continue to happen in the margins as I have them. Prayers are always accepted.  The thanks is mine.

Ugh…church signs

Have I mentioned that I don’t like church signs?  Here’s a new one I get to see on my way to the church:

The Pastor saw his shadow…another six weeks of lousy sermons.

I know this is suppose to be funny, but this kind of stuff drives me crazy.

October Books

As of writing, I need to complete seven more books to reach my goal for completing 52 books this year.  Here are the books that I completed reading during the month of October.

  • What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris
  • When gods Die by C.S. Harris:  These are the first and second books in a new series of a mystery series centering around Sebastian St. Cyr.  These books are set during the Regency period of England and so have an interesting historical/societal/political element that helps to frame the mysteries.  These are well-told stories and each book asks a philosophical question in the midst – these questions from the title of each book.
  • Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Brashears:  Excellent book that seeks to answer twelve critical questions about Jesus.  The book follows Driscoll style that sometimes offends but I think he uses his wit and cutting edge effectively to communicate the Biblical teaching about Jesus and His importance to those who trust Him for salvation.  This would be a very good resource for helping someone who is wrestling with various questions regarding Christ including the Virgin Birth and His Resurrection.
  • Half-Life/Die Already by Mark Steele:  I really liked this book.  I cannot remember where I had heard about it, but I started reading it during a trip to Barnes & Noble.  I ended up spending most of time there sitting in a big comfy chair reading this book…I decided I ought to buy it.  This is a laugh-out-loud memoir of a couple of years of his life that really helped me think through some of my frustrations and wrestle with my jaundiced perspective.  Steele is a Christian and writes as one, but the book is not didactic in nature.  I hope to read Steele’s first book, Flashbang, soon – I found it the used bookstore!
  • Total Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis:  Great book that really challenged me in several areas about the way I think about church and how church is done.  While I didn’t agree with everything or some thoughts gave me pause, I found the authors to be incredibly humble, Gospel-centered, and biblical.  The subtitle of this book is “A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community”.  After arguing for both from Scripture, Chester and Timmis show how these apply to various areas of ministry and practices of the church.  Very helpful and persuasive and I am inclined to believe that when we miss on one area (gospel or community) we will miss out on the fullness of both – ultimately they are intertwined.  Just found this (Audio/Video from a Total Church Conference), but have no idea when I might be able to listen to some of it.
  • Watchman by Ian Rankin:  I started reading Rankin a few years ago with the Inspector Rebus series books, which tend to be dark in content and feel.  This is a stand alone book, was actually Rankin’s second book to write and this is the American publication of that work.  The writing is not as strong as Rankin’s other works, I think partially due to his attempting to build suspense.  Watchman is essentially a spy novel but the main character is more of an everyday spy than a Jason Bourne type.  Anyway, decent and entertaining read.

Adventues in Church Signs

You may have heard or seen this church sign tomfoolery featuring dueling church signs regarding perspecitves on the eternal salvation of animals.  While amusing, the signs were faked/photoshopped using Church Sign Generator.

Well, going to church this weekend we passed a Lutheran church that had this sign up:

Did you enjoy the warmer weather?  Just kidding! – God

That’s exactly how I want the Lord to be presented to our community.  You know, a capricious deity that messes with us for his entertainment or on a whim.  No, I don’t want people to know that the Lord is a good God who sovereignly ordains all that comes to pass for His glory and the ultimate blessing of those who turn to him in faith.  Yep, let’s go with a fickle, flaky, or arbitrary God – that’s what people believe in anyway.

August Books

I don’t know why, other than sheer optimism, but I keep taking massive piles of books with me on vacation and touch/read/open very few of them.  I suppose it’s not a bad thing to take a break from the reading, especially since a lot of the reading that I do is tied to the church/my work.  Once again, I present to you a list of books that I completed in August – all three of them!

Manalive by G.K. Chesterton:  Chesterton is one of my favorite writers/thinkers and he did not disappoint with this story of Innocent Smith, a man who does some strange things – all to show others what it means to truly live.  While the reading was slow due to Chesterton’s style and how language usage changes over a hundred years (Manalive was written in 1912).  This was a laugh out loud kind of book and full of great thoughts.  One of the ways that Chesterton makes you think is by showing the logical conclusions of our own philosophies, a place we often do not go.

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You know you are a mega-church pastor if…

you use a helicopter to get between the various sites where you preach.  Unfortunately, the neighbors don’t like it and the city council said to stop.  This happened in Virginia Beach: read about it here.