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Archive for Church

Skye Jethani has written an incredible piece titled, “The Rise and Fall of Celebrity Pastors.” Its thoughtful, well written, and worth your time. You can find the article by clicking HERE.

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Rainer research is offering more insight on the worship preferences of young adults. To read the research click HERE.

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Book Review: Dakota

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I grew up in small towns. The small town that served as my home during my middle school and high school years is all but gone. Beginning in seventh grade, I was bussed some 20 miles one way for my education, but the small town still provided an elementary school. During those years there were two garages, one of which provided gasoline and a vending machine. There was an agricultural co-op that served farmers’ needs with seed and fertilizer. A small grocery made sure that any one could pick up some items without making the long trip to the county seat for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread. The heart of this small town revolved around the restaurant that served plate lunches, sandwiches and gallons of thick, dark coffee. As you sat in that restaurant you could watch people walk in and out of the local post office to pick up or send mail. Two churches graced the town’s landscape, one Christian and the other Methodist, neither of which ever had large attendances and were cared for by circuit riders. Each of these establishments is now gone. Many of the buildings have been torn down, leaving empty lots across the community like a checkerboard.

This memory came back as I read Kathleen Norris’ book, Dakota. The book is not necessarily autobiographical, although it does represent a substantial subset of her life. As a writer based out of New York, she and her husband moved to South Dakota to live on an ancestor’s farm. The most interesting part of her presentation is her depiction of life in and around the small towns of the Dakotas and the observations she offers regarding them. Her theory, one that I am inclined to accept, is that many of the things that small towns do to try to hold on to life and vitality are actually the very things that destroy them. I offer below some of her observations in no particular order for your consideration.

1. The departure of the young.
Many of the community’s young people receive their high school diplomas and leave for college never to return, due to the lack of employment opportunities. These young people are rewarded for stepping into their future and simultaneously punished for moving on by being treated as outsiders. Small towns across the nation are losing their best and brightest resources every year at graduation.

2. The mythology of history.
Many small communities possess a selective memory about yesterday. Stories become legend and the legends grow beyond truth to the point that it is often difficult for citizens to come together and work for things that might benefit all. Says Norris, “Local control, a value to be cherished above all things, makes these communities more, not less, vulnerable to manipulation by outside interests.

3. The belief that a return to the past will heal all present ills.
Somehow the residents of these small towns believe that if the clock could be turned back 20 years or more that everything will be ok. Norris observes that “paradise wasn’t self-sufficient after all, and the attitude and the belief that it ever was is part of the reason it’s gone.”

4. Change is an enemy.
Norris observes that resistance to change and the ability to adapt to change is rooted in diminished points of reference. As the community shrinks, so does its willingness to look beyond its own borders into other communities to see what is working. And the lack of point of reference is devastating. “With resistance to change comes resentment toward anyone who demands change, yet this ultimately shortchanges the community.”

5. Finding refuge in conspiracy theories.
Many who cannot or are unwilling to cope with change will find refuge in the arms of conspiracy theories that provide easy targets of blame versus confronting the present realities of their situation. Unfortunately, these conspiracy theories cultivate fears that cannot be overcome by even their close-knit neighborliness.

6. The reluctance to allow outsiders to benefit individuals and the community as a whole.
Ministers, teachers, librarians and physicians are often grouped as “outsiders,” and their expertise is limited because of that label. In some of these small communities, professional standards are questioned and invalidated which fosters mediocrity. Often these outsiders are made to be scapegoats by citizens that cannot resolve their own internal differences. Writes Norris, “Small towns need a degree of insularity in order to preserve themselves. But insularity becomes destructive when ministers, teachers, and librarians grow weary of pretending not to know what they know, and either leave or cease to offer themselves as resources whose knowledge could benefit the community.”

Norris has correctly observed that “it is the town’s cherished ideal of changelessness that has helped bring about the devastation, and it is the town’s true history that is lost…disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future.”

And I suspect what she has observed in small towns across the midwest is also, unfortunately, true of small churches as well.

Categories : Books, Church, Church Growth
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Barna Research has published a new report on the importance of church attendance among Americans. You can read the report HERE.

According to Barna, approximately 50% of believing Americans do not feel that church attendance plays a significant role in their spiritual formation. In fact, church attendance didn’t even make the top ten list of practices believers find helpful in growing their faith. The top two reasons people attend church are to learn about God and feel closer to Him. But according to the report, ” Adults are aware of their very real spiritual needs, yet they are increasingly dissatisfied with the church’s attempt to meet those spiritual needs and are turning elsewhere.” The irony I find in this research is that the more the church strives for cultural relevance, the more distasteful it becomes in the eyes of culture.

So what do we do with this information? First, I believe we need to be unapologetically biblical in our approach to worship and discipleship. When I go to a restaurant I expect food. I’m never surprised or indignant that food is offered to me. Along the same line, I believe people come to church and expect to hear and understand what the Bible has to say. We should not be apologetic to offer the “Bread of Life” to all ages. Second, I think we need to do our best to live the Bible authentically. One of the reasons people in the study cite for their withdrawal from church is the hypocrisy of the members. The word hypocrite finds its etymology in Greek theater. It means, “one who wears a mask.” The Christian faith must be practiced with deep intentionality. When we fail to live within range of Christ’s expectations, we wear the mask of something we profess but don’t actually believe. And that hypocrisy is what makes churches irrelevant.

Next month we celebrate Holy Week and Easter. My hope for us is that we will not limit our celebration to one week a year, but will discover the joys of the power of the resurrection each and every day we live!

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10 Symptoms of an Inwardly Focused Church.

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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Post Cards from the Edge

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This Sunday I begin a new sermon series on the 7 Churches of Revelation titled, “Post Cards from the Edge.” Each post card that John wrote and addressed contained a powerful word that was true for the church then and remains true for the church today. Here are the titles and texts for the series.

February 2 “Post Cards from the Edge” (Revelation 1:9-20)
February 9 “Love” (Revelation 2:1-7)
February 16 “Faithfulness” (Revelation 2:8-11)
February 23 “Truth” (Revelation 2:12-17)
March 2 “Holiness” (Revelation 2:18-29)
March 9 “Spirit” (Revelation 3:1-6)
March 16 “Opportunity” (Revelation 3:7-13)
March 23 “Passion” (Revelation 3:14-22)

If you do not live in central Iowa you can listen to the weekly podcasts at www.fbcdsm.org. Of course I’ll be posting about each sermon during the days following each message.

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Here’s and interesting post on the recent trend of millennials leaving evangelicalism for churches with high church traditions. You can read Jake Meador’s post on Mere Orthodoxy HERE.

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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Why We Resist Change, part 2

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You’ve done the research. You’ve considered the options. You’ve communicated clearly and have covered all the bases. You’ve presented the benefits and the opportunities that the new change will provide and have given reasonable expectations for outcomes you hope the change will produce. It seems like a no brainer. So why is the recommendation met with resistance?

Over the last few years I’ve learned that sometimes people resist change, not because of the change itself, but because of the uncertain next step(s) that follows. The unspoken question among some congregants is, “If we do that, then what?”

If you present change as movement from point A to point B, not knowing point C will be a sticking point for some. Change for the sake of change uses a point A to point B with no certain following step(s). True transition is always a process with many purposeful steps. If you don’t have a point C, then maybe its best to wait on the change to allow time to develop clarity on the bigger picture. If you do have a point C, then I recommend letting your followers in on it, even if the picture is not fine tuned.

Categories : Church, Leadership
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Why We Resist Change

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I’ve been thinking a lot about change recently, especially wondering why people seem so swift to resist change. One reason I think we resist change at church is because of the chaos we have in other areas of our lives. We have unpredictable family members and uncertain careers. Our physical health is always in imminent peril and if we learned anything about our personal wealth in 2007 its that it can virtually vanish with one sudden downturn of the economy. Most areas in our lives are not in our control, leaving “church” as the one thing we can “control.” In turbulent times we look for security and predictability, and if our churches maintain the same week in week out, year in year out predictability, we can find comfort and tranquility. Therefore, even the smallest adjustments on the church landscape may be met with resistance just to maintain that one sacred space of sameness.

People may fight change in our churches simply because they cannot fight change anywhere else in their lives.

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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Ministry Decision Filters

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Every church and its leadership is faced with choices. There are multiple decisions that are made every year that impact the future direction of the congregation. This weekend in worship I shared three questions that should serve as filters for every decision we face.

Filter #1: Are we being faithful to Christ and His Word?
I am a homeowner. After work I go to my house. Sometimes my wife and I will invite people to come to our house. But its really not my house. Every month I get a letter in the mail from my mortgage company that reminds me that they are the true owners of my residence. Though they rightfully own my house, I have a responsibility to care for it. I fix things that break. I pay for utilities and cut the grass. I decorate, furnish, insure and even pay taxes on it.

With that in mind, it’s not my church. It’s not your church. It’s not even our church. It’s Christ’s church. Sometimes we need a Vince Lombardi, “this is a football” kind of reminder of whose we are. I get that we will refer to the church as “my church,” but its good for us every now and then to stop and reflect on who really owns the Church.

Filter #2: Are we being faithful to the great commission?
Churches have invested a lot of time and energy to nuance and wordsmith elaborate mission statements that can be printed on the back of a business card or articulated on an elevator ride. They pursue brands, logos and icons that accompany the mission statement and serve as visible reminders of why they exist. All of that is to be commended as long as it reflects the great commission. Jesus did not delegate to us the responsibility of figuring out why we exist. Its his church and we must passionately pursues his mission and purpose for it. If anything we do does not reflect the great commission it should be viewed with suspicion if not altogether invalid.

Filter #3: Are we acting in the best interest of the whole?
Patrick Lencioni wrote a helpful book about silos, politics and turf wars. In it he describes the dangers that come upon any organization that operates independently versus interdependently. The desire for everyone to win and for everyone to be happy is completely understandable. But sometimes that’s not possible. Sometimes churches have to make decisions based on whats best for the whole, even if it comes at the expense of one or more parts.

Last year I led our church to make a change in our staffing structure. The decision allowed us to virtually double the time investment in our youth and children’s programming and at the same time freed up tens of thousands of dollars that could be reinvested in ministry. Unfortunately, not having an additional full time clergy on board increased my personal workload in the areas of pastoral ministry and administration. The decision I led the church to make was not best for me personally, but it was the right decision and the best decision for the whole.

There may be additional questions that serve as possible filters for ministry decisions. But I think these three are a good start. What filters do you have in place?

Categories : Church, Leadership
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