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June 18, 2015, 10:40 AM

Date Stamping and Your Church

Date Stamping and Your Church

Earlier this month  (June) I was having a conversation with a staff pastor of one of our GBA churches.  We were talking about leadership things, pastoral things, no need to try and detail the conversation in its entirety.  In the midst of the talking he made a comment to me that really hit me, in a great way and the more I’ve thought about it also in a bad way.  The comment included a question when looking at your individual church – “What is the “date stamp” on your church?”

What a great question!  When people come to your church, when you consider where your church is really at – what would be the time frame the church is existing in?

There are several arenas to think about this in.  Probably the most obvious would be the physical plant itself.  What era does your church facility represent?  Here’s a story, and I do not mean to speak ill of anyone in relating this, and the current pastor has done a great job at bringing things up to date, but it makes the point.  The church I pastored in Texarkana had like so many churches of that era, a parlor.  Sort of a formal meeting room.  Used for special occasion fellowships, brides and bridesmaids would prepare for a wedding in this room, you get the idea.  I was pastor there from 1997 to 2001.  This parlor had a large elegant table in it, a large chandelier with a lot of glass things hung from it right over the table.  The room had light green shag carpet, heavy fabric light green drapes hung from ceiling to floor over the windows.  There were gold fabric high back wing chairs and a paisley light green couch.  The floor, drapes, couch and even the walls all had water and drink stains in various places.  One day there was a reception for a couple in the church having their 50th Wedding Anniversary and a lot of people had come back to the church to celebrate with the couple.  At one point during the reception my wife was sitting on the couch and an elderly lady was sitting with her.  She was a member of the church many years ago.  She made this comment to my wife, “Isn’t this the most beautiful room you have ever seen?  I was on the committee when we remodeled it.”

The date stamp on the room must have been late 1960’s early ‘70’s, but this dear lady still saw it as newly remodeled and in that era.  She couldn’t see the stains, the outdated colors and style.

The problem in this arena is that the longer we are in something, the less we see it as it really is.  We tend to view things as they were when we first arrived or when the facility or situation was new.  The church facility is a big one in this regard.

What’s the date stamp on your facility?  Realizing that you probably can’t do anything to the outside or main structure, but on the inside is it time for a remodel?

But then what about the way you “do” church?

This is where the question goes bad for me.  The dilemma that I am wrestling with is “To what, or with what” are we to compare ourselves as a church?

I mean, we see all the articles about being “relevant” and “up to date” and “cutting edge” but compared to what??? 

Sure I think some of it is easy.  I mean light green shag carpet?  That’s an easy one.  But when we start talking about the education arm of the church what is the comparison in the argument to change or stop what has been known as the “Sunday School” part of church?

And then the really big one – Worship!!!  “In order to reach new people we MUST move to a more contemporary format!”  What “new” people are we talking about reaching?  Because if we are seeking to reach lost and unchurched people, then may I remind us, if they are lost and unchurched they don’t know what “churched” looks like to begin with.

“Off site, small group, home meetings is the new thing.”  No it isn’t, that’s the original way it was done!  That’s where it all began.

Well, choirs are old school, we need a praise team and lights and props and …  Again I ask, to compare with what? 

Sure, to an extent I think the way the church looked and acted in the 1950’s through the ‘70’s is outdated.  I know only a handful of pastors who still wear a suit and tie on Sunday’s and really never during the week.

I do think it is important to take a look at the church and ask the question “What time period are we displaying?”

But not for the sake of throwing everything out to look cool and exciting in an effort to attract people.

These thoughts are leading directly into the next blog I am working on, how are we considering what we do and the effectiveness of it all?  I don’t like the word “success” when talking about the church, I prefer to ask if we are being “effective.”

And even with that, what is the measure we are using to determine what effectiveness is?

In some ways I am just putting in print some of the things I am battling with regarding the church and the future of the church.

Here is my take on the summary – be who God is calling you to be.  Trendy is not always a good thing.  Relationships that foster the love of Christ are what consistently draw people and impact people.  So considering the culture of your community is more important than trying to be or do what the latest mega church is doing, or the latest book, conference or television cool church is detailing.

I believe it was Dura Cell Batteries that once had a commercial I liked.  They didn’t compare themselves with other batteries, they didn’t say how much better, stronger and longer lasting than other batteries they were.  They would say something like, “25% stronger than last year’s Dura Cell.”  I like that, they compared themselves to where they were a year ago.

Perhaps that is the best way to see how you are doing.  Compared to the same time last year, how are you doing?  How much better are you doing this year than you were last year?

More to come…




May 12, 2015, 10:57 AM

Is There Hope for the Church today?

At the Leadership Summit in our area that was hosted by Parkway Baptist Church, I heard Bill Hybels make a comment that I completely agree with.  He said he believes that "the local church is the hope of the world."  I agree, in that he is stating that as the local church declares Jesus and preaches and teaches the Bible and seeks to evangelize - that is the hope of the world.  I agree.

However,... the thought, concern that has been going around in my head for the past few weeks, and bouncing around the walls of my heart is this - Believing that the local church is the hope of the world, BUT IS THERE HOPE FOR THE LOCAL CHURCH?  In today's America, is there hope for the church?

I truly believe this is a legitmate concern and even problem.

More and more blogs, articles and even books are being written by people I would consider "experts" - Thom Rainer, Ed Stetzer, ChurchLeaders.com, writing about how to revive the church, church renewal, how to identify if your church is sick or dying or already dead.  (I highly recommend Rainer's book "Autopsy of a Deceased Church")

So what's going on with the local church?  Is there hope for the church?  And by this I mean the institution, the local church of today.

We have read recently about the new identified group the "nones".  Those people, mostly Millennials, who simply have no interest in the church.  They are not opposed to religion, they just don't have it on their radar, they are not interested.

But more recently a new group is being identified as the "Dones".  And this group has no set age definition.  In fact this group covers the spectrum of ages.  People who are leaving the local church because they are simply "done" with the politics, pettiness, lack of Great Commission vision.  They are tired of the religious social functioning that too many churches are stuck in.

Is there hope for the church?

ChurchLeaders.com posted the article about the "Dones" a few months back.  I shared it on Facebook, that evening I received a Private Message from a friend I went to college with.  He admitted to me that he and his wife were a part of this new group.  He had been teaching a large Sunday School class in a good church for a number of years.  He and the church staff were in agreement that to reach new people it was a good time to create two classes out of his one class.  The class members would not allow it to happen, their comments, "We won't allow you to break up our fellowship."  He felt like he had failed (which he had not).  The people enjoyed their social sunday school hour, but didn't want it to change.  He and his wife left the church, he also told me that they were having a hard time finding a church that was focused on the Great Commission.

I must also confess that since becoming a Director of Missions and being able to observe a number of churches, and also have conversations with other DOM's, they are seeing it too, and it is very discouraging.

Is there hope for the church?

On one hand I don't know, I fear in the days ahead a dying off of a multitude of churches.  The internal pettiness, immature fighting and power struggles, the ego's and personal agenda's, and even more the cliques in churches of all ages at war with each other, this is going to kill many churches.

I am also concerned about the trend of America's culture.  As Terry Coy writes about in his great book "Return to the Margins" the church will more and more be pushed to the fringes of society.  Less influence, less exposure, in some cases with the activists of our day churches will either out of fear be silenced, or many will cave to culture and abandon the Word of God for acceptance in society (by the way, this is already happening and why several denominations are drying up).

So, on one hand the church is already in trouble.

And then with what looks like a more radical tactic of the enemy, persecution in certain forms is/will grow in America and cause churches to cave to pressure, as stated above for the same reasons.

There will, Thankfully, remain pastors and churches who will find their strength and purpose in the Lord (sort of scriptural by the way) and stand against and grow stronger in the face of these changes and pressures.

So there is still hope.

What's it going to take?  Ah, yes, there is an answer.  And it's rather simple, well, simple in reminding us, apparently either forgotten or too difficult to inact.

I personally don't believe it is an answer that needs new "conferences" to attend to find out how to go about it.

I also acknowledge that I am a very simple thinking, practical person.  And so to some my next thoughts may be tossed as "too simplistic".  That's okay too.  But afterall this is just a blog, and anybody can blog.

In light of that, I offer the following for consideration.  Keep in mind however, that for these 5 things to help - there must first be the most difficult step of all...

People, Christians, church members and even some church staff members need to - get over themselves, get back to living humbly before the Lord, and lose the personal agenda's.

With that as the beginning here are the 5 things I believe will work.

1.  Micah 6:6 - 8 Especially that last part - :8 "And what does the Lord require of you, But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?"    Hmmm, remember that one???

2.  Mark 12:28 - 31  Known as the Great Commandment.  I think it is self explanatory.

3.  Matthew 28:19 - 20  Known as the Great Commission.  Again, following the Great Commandment it's pretty self explanatory.

4.  James 4:6, 10  Humility, humility, humility.

5.  John 3:30  John said speaking of Jesus "He must increase and I must decrease."  That one verse, that one statement I believe is transforming, revolutionizing and just plain helpful.

I would add one last thought.  These verses of scripture above, they don't need any "deeper study" into them.  I quit believing that comment people would make to me years ago, "Preacher, what we need is some deeper Bible study."  No we don't, we already know more than we are doing now.

What we need is to allow what we know, these verses above, we need to let them go deeper into us, let them change us.  Then change will begin to show, it's not more head knowledge of Biblical facts, it is to allow the truths of Scripture to change us and then to live it.

Is there hope for the local church?  My church friends, that is up to you.

 

 




October 1, 2014, 11:05 AM

The silence from the pews

A friend that I have known since college is regularly asking me and challenging me concerning what he sees as a "silence from our pulpits."  We communicate often through Facebook, texting, email and occasional phone calls.  I commend John for his diligence in keeping on top of the political as well as church culture of America today.  He wonders why it seems that so many churches/pastors seem to be silent in regard to preaching sermons that address more of the social decay and political corruption of America.  He questions the "silence of pulpits" in regard to these issues that I agree are very relevant and important today.  However, I have shared with him that the pastors that I know are very bold in their preaching and unapologetic and unashamed to declare the truths of God's Word.  And when in how they feel the Holy Spirit leading them with sermon preparation they come to a passage of scripture that deals with an issue of the day, they approach it with great boldness.

Last night as I tried to fall asleep the thought dawned on me seeing it from the pastors point of view, and now as someone who has the opportunity to be in a number of churches on a regular basis - what about the silence of the pews?

Why are the pews of our churches so silent on matters of the day?

Think about this folks, any given Sunday in America the number of people attending Bible Believing churches is a number so large that we should be able to make a radical difference in this country drawing it to righteousness, to truth, to justice.  And yet, our country is spinning out of control and as the saying goes "going down the toilet" at an exponential rate.

The political corruption and division is higher than it's ever been in our history (Benghazi, Fast & Furious, IRS, ISIS or ISIL or IS as a JV team).  Economists tell us that it's not a matter of "if" but "when" we will see a financial collapse like never before, add to that the $17 TRILLION debt (thank you Mr. President) that we now have.  Radical Islamists have begun to exercise their will on innocent people right here in America, that is, submit to Islam or die.  There is seemingly no moral compass anymore.

Why the silence from the pews?

Add to the situations in our own country the global situation.  The tender box known as the Middle East, Israel under constant attack, Ebola in Africa which as of this week has made it's way to our shores right here in the great state of Texas, the Southern Border somewhat erased and under attack.

Why the silence from the pews?

Are these things not enough to drive us to our knees?  Why are we not hearing of spontaneous or planned special prayer meetings where the people in the pews crowd the altar to cry out to God for help?

Why during the invitation time at the end of the service are the altars not crowded with people from the pews asking God to move among our nation again?

Is the world situation not serious enough yet?  What does it have to get to to be that serious?

I don't lay the blame at the foot of the pulpits but the pews.  The average church attender is there because they expect the pastor to be on call for their every need, the church is there to meet "my" needs and desires and those of "my" family.

And there is such quick action if the pastor seemingly ignores me, or misquotes a scripture reference, or the music is too loud, or the sanctuary is too hot or too cold, or the service ran long, or the committee didn't take my suggestion...

All the while the lost outside the church wonder why no one cares about them?  All the while the world around us is spinning out of control without any helpful direction.

I know this reads rather harsh, but let's be honest with each other.  There are more people in the pews than pastors in the pulpits. 

It is past time for the Christian church to take it's stand.  A line from a song that my all time favorite Christian group - DeGarmo & Key - sang says "There is a time to be on our knees, and there's a time to stand and fight."

It's time to make sure the atheist who is SO offended by a small cross sticker on the back of a football helmet to be told to get over it!

It's time to tell the atheist who is SO offended by the cheerleaders praying to go get a coke at the concession stand during the prayer if you don't like it!

It's time to tell the media and the politicians that we all understand that what happened at Ft. Hood and recently in Oklahoman was not workplace violence by an upset employee!

And as Christmas approaches it's time to tell the atheist groups that  Christmas IS Jesus and the Nativity scenes are going to stay!  After all, we Christians don't complain about their holiday on April 1st.

There is a time to be on our knees and there is a time to stand and fight.

Why the silence from the pews?

I know there are pockets of great activity where God is at work, I know that there are churches that seeing people come to the Lord, often in significant numbers.  But why is it not widespread?  Why are the pews so silent?

The challenge is to begin to live boldly, to live as singer Steve Camp one time sang - to live abandoned to the cross!

Take the stand that needs to be taken, speak out in the name of Jesus boldly, firmly and yes, with grace!

Get to the altar at your church and ask God to move in you and in your church and in this nation again!

We cannot afford any longer to have silent pulpits or silent pews. 

 

 




June 25, 2014, 1:57 PM

3 Steps Forward 2 Steps Back

We know our enemy, the Bible describes him quite well.  He is cunning, strategic, manipulative and opportunistic.  He doesn't mind giving up some of the ground he takes knowing that his next moves will be with progress already made.  It is my opinion that we are seeing this strategy being played out here in America at an exponential rate. 

Yes, these things have been going on since Jesus was here, and yes, they are much more at work in other countries than ours.  But for those who have carried the idea, "Oh, that won't happen here, not in America."  Please pay attention.  It has been slowly growing here for years only in recent days are we seeing a ramp up in the rhetoric.

Our religious freedoms are being stripped away.  There is more and more talk in public and political circles that are moves to push us even more inside the walls of our churches than we have been acting on our own already.

It is obvious that the rights of everyone's free speech are being protected, except those of the Christian church.  We are being pushed on to either shut up, or be forced to change.

Without going into a political quoting mode of recent comments made, just let me say, get ready.  And I would plead with you pastors, to make sure your church people are ready and not buying into the rhetoric.  But at the same time, do not remain silent thinking it won't happen here - it is happening here.  Consider the recent decision by the mayor in Houston to make public restrooms gender free, yes, that happened.  Now the Christian body is rising up and speaking out.  Don't wait until it happens to react. 

Remember, the enemy will use whoever he can and whatever he can.  So, the strategy... grab 3 steps forward on an issue, when confronted, he will gladly back up 2 steps, which means he has still gained 1.  And this also means that when he is ready to move again, he's already one step further along than he was before.

I know there are some who say the "frog in the kettle" is an untrue reality with frogs, but the idea is true and works with us humans.    As maddening and mind numbing as it can be to watch the national and world news, at least on occasions tune in.  Be proactive with your church so that when the persecution arrives at your door, your people won't be caught off guard.

I'm not a "doom and gloom" kind of preacher or Christian for that matter, but I am one who attempts to be alert to the realities at hand.  And we are in a day where even in America, our freedoms as Christians are being stripped away. 

The warning in Scripture is to "be on the alert, your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."      I Peter 5:8

 




June 2, 2014, 1:19 PM

Connecting - Then & Now

Yesterday (Sunday, June 1) I wasn't preaching and decided to attend a church I had not been to in a while.  I was sitting behind a young lady, I'm guessing teenager.  When the sermon began she pulled out her smartphone and I waited with hopes to see what she would do with it.  And, Yes, she logged into the churches site and pulled up both the scripture for the sermon and the notes posted online.  I wanted to cheer for her, but thought that might be a bit out of line.

I love the possibility of this technology and that churches are using it to help people connect and stay focused.  Personally I'm a page turning kind of guy, and prefer to carry my Bible to church.  Of course some of that is because I don't know how to connect with my smartphone to those opportunities.

So I was glad to see this young lady following along with the Pastor.  She was connecting in the "now" just as I was connecting I guess with the "then" of connectivity. (I don't know if that means anything but it sounded good)

And then it happened.  She quickly went from following along on the smartphone, to clearing the screen and taking out her stylus (yes, it was one of those kind of phones) she began to go through different styles of writing her name, changing the color of it, adding hearts and flowers above it, changing the style, erasing and starting over.  Well, then I wondered just how connected was she?

Something else came to mind as I was on my way home.  Just because I was sitting there with my Bible open in my lap, how connected was I?

Whether we choose the "then" or "now" format of connecting, how connected are we?

I mean, if you prefer the paper version of the Bible, but the only time it is picked up and opened is when you are at church, you are no more connected than the person who pulls it up online and then quickly switches to playing with the art app or Candy Crush or Angry Birds or whatever.

I became distracted by what she was doing in her distraction.  But if it wasn't her writing her name in various colors, there could have been another distraction.

Connecting.

It's the word of the day right now, and the possibilities are seemingly endless.  But are we really connecting or are we merely brousing?

There is a big difference.

The first entry in Webster's Dictionary for "connect" is - to join.

I believe that is the goal regarding the Word of God.  To join in on what God is saying to us in His Word.  It is after all "Living and active" according to Hebrews 4:12 (Thank you Brother Billy Crosby for buring that one into my life).

And so when we connect, join in God's Word, whether reading at home, on the job or during the sermon - the goal is to be to hear from God, to connect with Him.

Seeing it by dialing it up, or turning to it on the printed page, the important thing is to connect.

Personally, I know I still need to work at that, cut down on the distractions and get connected.  I encourage you to do the same.

 

 


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