Categories
Church Leadership

The Economics of Preaching

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Have you ever thought about the economics of preaching?

Probably not. 

If you were to take a moment to think about the value we ascribe to the action of preaching in the American church, you may start to wonder if we’ve overvalued it.

Think about it from an organizational economics perspective.

  • The Sunday morning sermon is seen as the single most important activity in the action of the American Protestant week.
  • Take away the sermon and you wouldn’t call it a worship service.
  • If you don’t have anyone to preach you may think about canceling church. You couldn’t say that about any other element of the standard worship service. (Music, public reading of the Bible, receiving offerings, testimonials, etc.)
  • Ask anyone in the pews what the most important qualification for a senior leader is? Preaching.
  • In many contexts the title “preacher” is a suitable substitute for the more proper title of pastor, elder, or overseer. But the connotation is clear, the main value in the senior leader is his/her ability to preach. I’ve never heard a pastor’s title swapped out to “host” or “Mr. Gentle.”
  • If a person isn’t a good preacher, even if they are good at a lot of other things, they don’t have a reasonably good chance of a career as a senior leader.
  • When a church grows, most often it’s because people say the church has a great preacher.
  • When a church dies most people blame the preaching.
  • People will put up with a lot from a pastor if that same person delivers good sermons.
  • Organizationally, you could argue that the Sunday morning message is the fulcrum for the whole organization.
  • Want to launch a new initiative? You better preach about it.
  • Want to address an issue in the congregation? You guessed it, the sermon is the best way.

Think about it from a monetary economics perspective.

  • The senior pastor makes the most money in most churches.
  • The one activity the senior pastor works the most consistently on? Preaching.
  • The highest employed staff person’s most important task, the one task costing the most amount of money per hour to the church? Preaching.
  • 30 minutes of speaking costs the church at about 25% of their highest paid employees time.
  • You’ll pay the drummer $75. But the pastor? We don’t disclose that. 

A hermeneutics problem.

You cannot argue, hermeneutically, that the New Testament values preaching to the level the American church places on it. When Paul gave Timothy qualifications for overseers he didn’t give special attention to preaching. “Able to teach” is one of 14 the qualifications listed. Preaching, specifically, is not mentioned. (Able to teach could mean a lot of things.)

If anything is emphasized by Paul it is matters of personal character. You cannot argue by Paul’s emphasis or in his order that we should value an overseer purely by his/her ability to preach. “Able to teach” is buried in the middle. If it were first on the list you could say Paul was emphasizing it. If it were mentioned twice, likewise. But stuck in the middle of a phrase like that? It’s just one of the regular qualifications.

Yet, in America we value preaching above all else. Think about it from an governance perspective. Your church could have 6 elders and 1 of them is the senior pastor. The primary difference in that person’s organizational responsibilities compared to the rest? Preaching. In most cases, the other 5 elders wouldn’t even consider payment for their service. But the preaching elder? You have to pay that person.

Here’s what we know. (We could each point to specific examples) If a person is a good preacher we will choose to overlook obvious character flaws. Even flaws that clearly disqualify a person from the role of overseer. 

The over-valuation of preaching in the American Protestant church is a classic example of syncretism.

And this one syncretism is a primary feeder for our denial of the priesthood of all believers. When you over-value preaching… you’ve created a new priesthood.

Question 1: What does it reveal about our view of God to over-emphasize the role of preaching in the local church?

Question 2: If we didn’t have regular weekly preaching what would our gatherings look like? 

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Categories
youth ministry

Teenagers are Desperate for Good News

One reason youth ministry is flatlining is crappy theology.

Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute, was recently interviewed by Relevant Magazine about the present reality that youth ministry presents a faith students easily walk away from in college. She was asked, “Do you think there are any misunderstandings or misconceptions that contribute to young adults leaving the church?”

Her response:

The students involved in our research definitely tended to view the Gospel as a list of dos and do-nots, a list of behaviors. We asked our students when they were college juniors, “How would you define what it really means to be a Christian?” and one out of three—and these were all youth group students—didn’t mention Jesus Christ in their answer; they mentioned behaviors.

Source

Allow me to translate that. Students are learning really crappy theology from their culture, their parents, and their churches.

Is your Gospel even Good News?

Here’s what I encounter when I talk to students in our ministry and even random students I talk to out on the street. They are desperate for Good News. They are looking for Good News. In their honest moments they are desperately searching for Good News. (From Jesus, Buddha, or Katy Perry)

Their lives need Good News. Somewhere. Somehow. In some fashion… they are hard-wired for and looking for Good News. Why? Because their lives are surrounded by bad news. They need a Jesus who is real, who can help them, or their life isn’t going to get any better.

If God doesn’t show up they are in trouble.

And what do they get at a church? Not much. A 30 minute pep talk, some laughs, and some songs. Or, at best– a Christian version of Dr. Phil with an invitation to talk to someone after church.

But a God who meets them where they are at? Or people who are willing to intervene? Nope. And forget about delivering anything that is actual Good News in their lives.

I meet students who are struggling with stuff like this:

  • Have hurts I can’t talk to my mom about.
  • Hurts caused by a mom and dad who love themselves more than they love me.
  • Does anyone love me? Am I even worth loving?
  • Why isn’t my dad around?
  • Who the heck am I? What am I going to do with my life?
  • Sex is like a big rock rolling me over. I am so confused and hurt about sex.
  • I’m stuck in the same problems my parents are, can I break the cycle?
  • My family is late on the rent again. We can’t pay our bills and I feel like a big burdon on my parents.
  • I have big dreams but no one can help me get there.
  • I’m stuck in drug and alcohol abuse and I can’t talk  to an adult about it.
  • I’ve been molested by someone in my family and I can’t talk to anyone about it.

These aren’t rarities. These are just below the surface for a majority of students I interact with. And the churches answer? Come to church. Listen to a message. Attend a Bible study.

Is there any doubt why 95% of teenagers opt-out of that? They are saying, “I need Good News. I need Jesus to be real because I have no other options.” And the churches solution for everything is prayer, Bible study, and attending worship services?

Really?

That’s not Good News. That’s Good Behavior. 

It’s inadequate. It’s a failure. And it’s certainly not the Jesus they encounter when they read the Bible. You know–  the Jesus who was so desperate to help them that He gave His life for them. They want that Jesus and when He doesn’t show up at their church…

They are leaving and I can’t blame them. 

Teenagers desperately need a roaring lion Jesus who will come into their lives, protect them, and help them figure stuff out. They will give anything to a God big enough to do that. Instead they are presented with a smiling, carefree, half-empty suburban-friendly Jesus like substance which cares more about their surfacey behavior than the condition of their heart.

It’s crappy theology. No pastor would admit to teaching it. But that’s what students are learning.

And we arrogantly say we don’t need radical change? Hmph.

Flatliners logic.

Students are trying everything they can to find Good News! They need Jesus to help them with their real, physical problems. 

Will your ministry be the one who steps up, gets messy, and points them to the messy, grimmy, grace-covered Good News of Jesus Christ that touches not just their soul but the sole of their feet?

You want to flip the world upside down? Become Good News to a teenager.

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Categories
Church Leadership

To go deep, you have to go wide

Photo by ??’ via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our students so quickly dispatch their faith in early adulthood.

As I’ve read Sticky Faith, Almost Christian, Christians Smith’s research, and played host to the Extended Adolescence Symposium last week I’ve been taking it all in and trying to figure out “why.”

Why is it that so many students walk away from their faith in early adulthood?

And I can’t get away from this: The Jesus we present is often times shallow, weak, and boring. He’s easy to walk away from.

It’s not that following Jesus is any of those things. It’s just that we present him that way.

I think a lot of young adults walk away because we are shallow, weak, and boring.

They are thinking deep thoughts about important things, they are reading Joyce and Emerson and wrestling with the Pythagorean theorem while we spend countless hours debating the merits of pop-culture Christianity. We care more about Rob Bell’s glasses than we do why Jesus is allowing hundreds of thousands of children to starve in the horn of Africa. We care more about next week’s worship set than we care about what’s happening on their campus.

Our students are learning from their own experience that if you want to go deep on things you have to go wide– and they look at us and see us trying to go deep on things we aren’t very wide about.

  • They observe we only read from people we already agree with.
  • They observe we only listen to vantage points we are likely to already hold.
  • They observe we are only stretched intellectually unintentionally.
  • They observe we are avoid big theological questions.
  • They observe we seek training and education for our limited scope and see little value in getting outside of our discipline.

I’m struck by the reality that most high school sophomore’s have a more mature reading pallete through their literature classes than the average pastor.

A sophomore is reading Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Arthur Miller, Twain, F. Scott Fitzerald, Maya Angelo… to name a few. The average pastor is reading Francis Chan, a couple of commentaries from the same theological spectrum, and a book about leading small groups.

You might have an MDiv but you’re looking pretty intellectually thin next to a 15 year old getting a C- in British Lit. 

We make a mistake when we try to simplify the Gospel. We make a mistake when we try to dumb down what Jesus is saying to what we think our students can understand. We make a mistake of trying to neatly wrap up a Bible lesson into 3 easy-to-remember points.

Because our students know life isn’t that easy. They expect an infinite God to be infinitely deep and infinitely wide. And what they see presented from their leaders lacks both.

I think the thing I’m wrestling with is  the reality that students aren’t walking away from Jesus necessarily. They are walking away from the cheap, easy,uninteresting, anti-intellectual, shallow, weak Jesus we have presented them in high school.

Categories
Christian Living

The gradual transformation of evangelical eschatology

Those raised in evangelicalism were taught to believe that the world will only get worse until the Lord returns. Culture degrades, morality disintegrates, and the world falls apart to the point that only Jesus can rescue us from certain self-destruction.

Listen to almost any traditional evangelical voice and you’ll hear this language peppered in. Things are getting worse, of course they are getting worse, things have to get worse for Jesus to come back. (This implies that they kind of WANT things to get worse so Jesus can come back.)

This isn’t a historical eschatology of premillennialism and the general belief that Jesus would return to establish his Kingdom. Currently, much of this vantage point seems to be seated in a dispensational premillennialism which took root in the early 1900s, but was originally penned by John Darby in the 1830s.

How did this become popular?

The atrocities of World War I radically shifted people’s worldview. While the industrial revolution seemingly made life better and better, the Civil War brought an end to modern slavery, and modern medicine went about ending disease had elevated people’s general perception that the world was getting better. Those same technologies were used to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Europe– which dramatically flip-flopped the worldview the other way.

People began to look at science, invention, and modernization with a new lens. We enjoyed the benefits while always giving a suspicious eye to how evil men and women may use this against us. (This is alive and well today, isn’t it? Read Christian advice on any technology and you’ll see them dance this line of benefit versus danger.)

Evangelicalism became popular in that environment. People generally had a negative view of the world’s future and dispensationalism provided an explanation for it. It was the right message at the right time and lead to the rapid growth of the evangelical movement and the continued degradation of the mainline denominations we continue to see today. (Most of the mainline denominations rejected dispensational)

Much of how we view the world today as American Christians is heavily influenced by a a relatively new eschatological view (non-historical) and one which relatively few Americans understand or hold dear. (dispensationalism)

What does this have to do with me?

As a student at Moody Bible Institute I was taught dispensationalism and pre-tribulational, pre-millennial eschatology as bona fide fact. (I always felt it was a little weird to be taught the future as fact. I guess I was alone in that!) We were all required to take classes which indoctrinated us in the tenants. We all passed tests. And to graduate we all had to sign that we believed in a pre-tribulational rapture. Yes, every graduate of Moody has signed this… forever!

In a school that was so well-rounded in almost every other area this was the one thing they held onto as a distinctive! (And some silly rules about dancing, because we know dancing leads to amillennialism.) Moody isn’t alone. This is a core belief for traditional evangelicals.

What does this have to do with you?

I’m not saying dispensationalism is bad. And I’m not saying there’s no way there is a pre-tribulational rapture. (Though I do find the hermeneutics and evidence which lead to this conclusion as thin) Technically speaking, I’ve always affirmed premillennialism while holding views of a rapture at arms length… I’m not betting the farm on that one.

This is important to you because it impacts the tone with which so many traditional evangelicals approach issues of the day. There is an implied negativity. You’ll hear phrases like, “This is really a shame. Of course we expect it to continue getting worse until the Lord returns.” It’s a tone and a stance that they don’t intend to do anything to make it better– because that’s the way it has to be for Jesus to come back!

The shift to something else…

Most evangelicals seem to be softening on this hardline view. Even as you read this you probably felt like there was a shadow of truth there but it isn’t really how things work in your life or ministry. That’s because we’re seeing things change in evangelicalism. The rise of the neo-reformers (Piper, Driscoll, Keller) has introduced a Reformed theological perspective, which flirts with the notion of things getting worse while affirms that Jesus makes things better in society when his people are at work in society.

It doesn’t feel like people have landed, yet. But it it is clear that the traditional evangelical view of eschatology is having less and less impact on the ministry churches are doing on a day-to-day basis. In my view, this is great!

Here are a few facts that might shock you:

And just like the scary things of World War I brought about the rise of one theological perspective… The end of the Cold War and drops in these big, scary things are impacting how Christian view their place in the world.

Where is this going? I’d love your thoughts.

Categories
Church Leadership

Jesus is the worst sales pitch ever

I'm sure this is a real page turner...

Have  you ever sat in on a timeshare presentation? You’re on vacation, spending $100 every time you get out of the car with your family, and a very nice front desk person tells you… “Mr. McLane, if you’d be willing to sit down and talk with us about our vacation packages, we’ll give you $100 in cash and free tickets to a show. It’ll only be about an hour.

It seems like it will be worth it until you actually do it. For an hour they berate you with every sales tactic in the book. They show you the property. They say, “Imagine coming here for two weeks every year, wouldn’t that be great?” Or “You can trade your weeks for points and go anywhere in the world! And it’ll already be paid for.” Or my favorite, “Mr. McLane, you work hard. Doesn’t your family deserve a vacation like this every year?

It’s moment of insincerity, remembering your kids names, relating stories of other pastors who have joined, on and on. The more they talk the more you want to punch them in the face. It’s hard to say $100 for an hour of your time isn’t worth it. But it’s not worth it.

No offense to those who have bought timeshares. But you go into the presentation either knowing you want to buy one or you don’t.

In which case, since I’m already wanting to buy in the pitch is useless. And for the person who already knows they don’t want to buy the salesperson is just going through the motions and so are you… you just want to be nice enough to get the $100. (And those who get talked into it are more preyed upon than sold on it, right?)

It’s all just a game, isn’t it? I know I’m not going to cave and buy a $30,000 timeshare because I don’t want one. And before I arrived at the presentation my wife and I already told ourselves that no matter what, we’re going to be polite, but we’re just taking our $100 and going to the beach later.

We are not buying a timeshare in Ft. Lauderdale.

Selling Jesus

Photo by David Prasad via Flickr (Creative Commons)

This is, at it’s core, the problem with the “If you build it, they will come” strategy so popular in Christianity.

The sales manager (aka the pastor) polishes up his sales pitch and tells his sales team (congregation) that if they can bring the prospects, (non-church goers) he will close the deal. (I mean, get them to give their lives to Jesus.)

When pastors tell their congregation to do this, there is always a sly little smile, as if to say… “They’ll never know that what we’re about to do is tell them about Jesus.”  Yeah– as if visitors are surprised that your marriage seminar is really a Gospel presentation? Doubt it.

The problem is that the psychology doesn’t work.

Put yourself in the car of a non-church goer about to visit your church with you. You are either interested or you aren’t before you even get there, right? If you aren’t interested in church you are thinking, “No matter what, just be polite, drink the coffee, and peace out ASAP. I’m doing this for my friend.

No amount of manipulation or sales pitch methods will get that person to change their mind. Why? They are locked in as uninterested. And one could argue that those who get talked into it are more preyed upon than sold on it, right?

The problem is that the theology doesn’t work.

Jesus isn’t a deal.

  • Regeneration of the soul happens only when the Holy Spirit calls a person to Himself, right? (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter X) A sales pitch can be used by the Holy Spirit. But, as I heard over and over again in Haiti, an earthquake can be just as effective a call.
  • A life with Jesus is messier than a tight 35 minutes with 5 points, isn’t it? While a presentation of the Gospel is excellent at piecing things together in someone’s mind, coming to faith in Christ is more an unwinding of life’s ball of yarn than winding it up into a ball.
  • Jesus promises that a life lived in relationship with Him will be more difficult than a life without Him in your life. (Romans 12:1; John 15:18) That is a pretty tough thing to “sell” from a platform. Come and be like Jesus, who died on a cross penniless and almost no friends!
  • In a world that lives for today, an assurance of heaven, pearly gates, and a mansion tomorrow is a program they don’t want. That doesn’t make salvation any less important. You just can’t stand in front of people and say, “If you were to die tonight… would it be heaven or would it be hell?” Culturally, that’s just not what people are thinking about!
Categories
Christian Living

Lead us to the river bank

Photo by Patrick Medved via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Can you imagine what was running through Moses’ head as he stood there on the bank of the Nile waiting for Pharoah to arrive? (Exodus 7)

  • I’m doing what God told me to do. (Kept on Repeat.)
  • Uh, why didn’t I write that down? Did God say today or was it next week?
  • Why didn’t God turn like a master blaster grenade launcher into a snake? Why this stupid stick? I feel like an idiot with a stick.
  • This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Aaron, is this the dumbest thing I’ve ever done? Don’t answer that.
  • God didn’t say what Pharaoh and his posse might do to me. Aaron, did God say He’s got our back if they shoot arrows at us?
  • What if this doesn’t work and I’m just a moron yelling at Pharaoh on the side of the river? A burning bush told me so, yeah that will stand up in court.
  • I look like an idiot. What am I doing here?

Standing there. On the banks of the Nile. Pharaoh shows up and Moses only has plan A. If this doesn’t work he’s a dead man.

Faith Like Moses

Has there ever been a time in your life where you’ve stood on the river banks yelling and demanding something so big and so important that you were willing to stake everything for it?

These are questions I’m asking myself as I start this week…

When does my theology get in the way of my faith? Are there things I believe God can’t do? Are there problems I’ve been told are unsolveable? Am I afraid to seek the miraculous? Am I afraid what might happen if I am dumb enough to obey God’s command, wake up in the morning, take my brother and my staff and just wait on the banks of the river and say the exact words He gave me to say?

The Bible is full of stories of men and women dumb enough to believe in the impossible. Today we look at them as heroes. But they defied logic, they felt dumb, and their friends/family probably told them they were dumb. (Until they pulled it off.)

They pushed aside Plan B, C, and D and just obeyed the Lord’s commands. They stood on river banks yelling at Pharaoh. They lit soaking rocks on fire. They gave birth to children in their nineties. They looked at blind men and told them to see. They got out of the boat and walked on water.

My prayer for the week: God, lead us to your river bank. Make us a people stupid enough to obey you. Bring miracles which explode our theology. Allow us to put your commands above our plans. We are desperate for you to be God and for us to be Your people.  Amen.

Categories
Christian Living

Minister by doing

Religious leaders get hung up in theological ideological debates, Jesus did not.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Luke 6:1-5

Or…

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man,“Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.Mark 3:1-6

Or…

At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:35-51

The list of examples goes on and on in the Gospels accounts. Once you start to look for it you see it in nearly every story about Jesus. Religious leaders of Jesus’ day approached everything with a lens of theology and ideology. Meanwhile, Jesus went about His Father’s business.

The same is true today. Religious people tend to care far more about “who, what, how, when, and why” than they do about living out their Father’s business. O, that we would be different. That today’s leaders would reject the meaninglessness of theological debate for the sake of theological debate and wrecklessly serve the needs of the people.

Morning prayer

Lord Jesus, allow me to be a man who lives like you. Let me see my ministry through your eyes and not the eyes of a religious person. Keep me from stupid debates about who, what, how, when, and why. Instead, help me to define this day around my Father’s business. Amen.

Categories
Church Leadership

It’s going to take all types

The church in America isn’t growing

In every community around the United States only about 5-10% of people attend a church on any given weekend. (Easter & Christmas, let’s bump that to 15%.) If you believe that Jesus intended His church as the primary instrument of the Gospel spreading and prevailing in a community… this is a problem we need to deal with.

First, some people question my math. My encouragement, do the math for yourself. In the next hour call every church in your zip code and ask them for last Sunday’s actual attendance. Then divide that by the number the census bureau says lives in that zip code. You’ll see I’m being very generous by saying 5-10%. It is likely 4% or less. Even less when you consider that each church you called probably rounded their numbers up and there are a good number of people who are actually actively involved in 2 or more churches.

We don’t have anything to be proud about

I cringe when I see church leaders bash one another. Gluttony, arrogance, and pride are the sins of pop culture Christianity today. Everyone has something smart to say. Everyone thinks their theology or practice or church or worship is somehow morally superior to everyone else’s. When people comment on blogs they say, “I agree with you ___, but I disagree with you ____.” David summed it up well, “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” (Psalm 36:2)

None of us have it 100% right. All of us are equal in our failure to reach more of our community. Save your swagger for going out dancing with your “smoking hot wife” on Friday night. Name the biggest church in the country and then do the math. You’re rocking 25,000 in a metro area of 2 million? (1.25%) You have nothing over a church of 250 in a town of 14,000. (1.78%)

We are all just doing the best we can to figure out how to reach our communities. We should encourage one another– instead of wasting our time lining up to bash people.

Your theology isn’t any better or more perfect than the church across the street. (Within the confines of orthodoxy, of course.) And no one is impressed with your ability to make yourself look intellectually superior. If those theological legs aren’t walking next door to love your neighbors… well,  perhaps you’ve made Jesus your hobby and not your Lord?

It takes all kinds of churches

It’s easy to look at the style of church you like and say, “The world needs more of that.” But the reality is that each community needs all kinds of new churches. We should celebrate rich diversity in the body of Christ as opposed to espousing that one way is ideal and the rest are second best.

We need big megachurch-copying-rip-off-artist churches. We need Jim-and-Tammy-Faye-money-grabbing churches. We need earthy organic churches. We need old-skool-indie-fundy churches. We need go-to-church-to-watch-a-dude-on-TV churches. We need stiff-necked-hymn-loving-Presby churches. We need clothing-sharing-community-development-loving-missional churches. We need almost-disneyland-just-built-a-slide churches. We need honky-tonk-country-music-loving churches. We need hip-hop-driven-urban-family churches. We need big-hat-potluck-loving churches. We need all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people with the love of Christ.

There’s no room to say what kind of church is right and what kind of church is wrong when you are only reaching 5-10% of the population. We just need churches and we just need to reach people!

What’s worthy of celebration?

Churches working together. Churches loving one another. Church leaders choosing to unite. Churches choosing to reconcile age-old problems. Churches sharing resources. Churches sharing staff. Churches coming together for the greater good of the community. Churches flinging the doors open to newfound ethnicities in their community. Churches feeding the poor and caring for widows, orphans, and otherwise needy people. Churches tearing down the walls of their fifedoms for the sake of the spread of God’s Kingdom on earth.

Let’s celebrate and talk about that. Tearing one another apart? I’ve got no time for such worries.

Categories
Christian Living

I’m a walking contradiction

My life in a Bible verse:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” Romans 7:15-17

I’m a walking contradiction.

Outside of the sin world– and boy am I a sinner– this verse speaks into a lot of other areas of my life.

And in the gray areas of life, things where it isn’t abundantly clear it’s a sin issue, I’m literally a contradiction.

  • I love my kids, but boy do I love to spend time alone with Kristen.
  • I love spending time with the students in the youth group, but every Tuesday night I struggle to make time to go to youth group and hang with them.
  • I love my church, but I’m quick to wonder if we’re going to the right church.
  • I love the people of Haiti, but to live there? Not in this lifetime.
  • I hate big box stores, but when I need something in a pinch you’ll find me at Target, Home Depot, or Costco.
  • I hate disappointing my children, but I also know that if I give them whatever they want they won’t become the people we hope they become.
  • I hate discrimination against people, but if I’m honest I do it without thinking all the time.
  • I hate people who talk on their phones while driving… even with a headset on, but I do it all the time.

This is the problem I face every day. I want to be a person of integrity. I want to be a person who makes the right choice for the right reason every time. But life is full of so many contradictions that I’m often left feeling like a hypocrite. I intend to do everything based on my convictions… but I fail a whole lot.

I do the things I don’t want to do and I can’t stop myself. I even do the things I don’t want to do without thinking about if I want to do them or not. People say I’m a good person and I’m quick to say thank you. But when someone points out my faults I’m just as quick to try to justify myself.

What’s the moral of the story?

I’m no better than anyone else. I’m just as much a mess as the guy next door. I need to remind myself constantly that the Gospel is just as much for me as it is for my neighbor.

To take a stance that I’m somehow better or less a sinner only validates a position that I’m a hypocrite.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Through Christ, I’m a walking contradiction, forgiven purely by grace.

Categories
Christian Living

The God of Discomfort

God doesn’t call us to a life of comfort.

As an overweight, gainfully employed, hyper-educated American Christian– that phrase convicts.

Recently, when I spend time in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit has illuminated in me this truth in a brand new way. God doesn’t call us to live a comfortable life. He calls us to a radically life of discomfort.

I tend to read my culture and my experience into the Bible so much… my life is pretty cushy. I tend to think that since I’m typically comfortable in life, the people God lifted up to me as examples must have lived equally comfortable lives, right?

Wrong.

On and on, the Bible is full of stories of people called to live uncomfortable lives. There are endless examples!

When I hear people talk about what they like or dislike about their church it bothers me to hear so much talk of comfort.

  • We want music we are comfortable with.
  • We want to be around people like us, people who make us feel comfortable.
  • We want the preaching to challenge us, but never to make us uncomfortable.
  • We want a church with a great kids ministry so we can feel comfortable about leaving our children there.
  • We want comfortable seating.
  • We want to serve the church in ways that are convenient and comfortable for us.

When I hear Christians (myself included) talk about the life we want to live, we all desire comfort!

  • We want jobs we are comfortable with.
  • We never want to be sick, that’d be uncomfortable.
  • We want comfortable shoes.
  • We want a comfortable bed.
  • We want a big, cushy Lazy-e-boy recliner to watch football.
  • We want to marry someone who is comfortable to be around, and our friends are comfortable with.
  • We want friends we are comfortable with.
  • When we think of vacation, we want things to be über comfortable!

As I stare at my Bible this morning and ponder this, I’m left with this question:

What if God is calling me to live a life of radical discomfort?

What if following Jesus makes those around me uncomfortable?

What if the church I’m called to be a part of never feels comfortable?

What if steps of faithfulness lead me to great and greater steps of discomfort?

What if my desire to be comfortable is leading me further away from Jesus instead of closer to Him?