Monthly Archives: May 2016

What I learned growing up in a small church

The little church that I attended as a child never grew much. We tried to grow. We had Sunday school drives, revival services, brought in a “Christian” clown and once a year had an “Old Fashion” Sunday where people would dress up like the pioneer days. Nothing worked much. I guess the unchurched folks in Michigan didn’t want to be entertained by a Bible quoting clown or dress like Laura Ingalls to worship God. Who knew? Today the church building is a doctor’s office.

Maybe some would look back at the church that is now a doctor’s office and say: “What a failure.” I don’t view it that way. I have many fond memories and was taught some important life lessons at the Elmwood Church of the Nazarene.

Mr. Kipp always had candy for the kids. The lesson: Boys and girls matter to Jesus.

Brother Bond (I’m not exactly sure why some folks were “Mr.” or “Mrs.” and some were “Brother,” “Sister” or “Aunt”) helped me with school wood working projects. Lesson Learned: Helping pre-teens not cut off a finger with a power tool is part of being in the family of God.

I mowed Mrs. Buckley’s lawn. She always called me Freddy (my brother). Lesson learned: Mrs. Buckley had a bad memory but that was okay.

Nell Norton was the church piano player. She played most songs a little slow except for Wonderful Grace of Jesus. She raced through that one. I liked singing Wonderful Grace of Jesus. I think Nell did too. Lesson learned: God can use even a half-a-beat too slow talent, if you let Him.

Mary Vail (my Jr. High Sunday School teacher) took us to fancy restaurants and baseball games. I don’t remember any specific lesson she taught but I know she cared for us. Lesson learned: Junior Highers matter to God.

I remember Mrs. Van Dyne’s meatloaf (Lesson learned: Nazarenes are good cooks) and Norm Fisher’s haircuts (Lesson learned: Maybe the original first century “Nazarene” had long hair, but the 1960’s and 70’s variety of Nazarenes
definitely did not). There was Brother Sexton singing with his guitar (before guitar playing in church was considered “contemporary”); and Aunt Myrtle getting pinched by the rickety old theatre seats and letting out a holler. We thought she got “blessed.” Blessings and pinches sounded similar from Aunt Myrtle, I suppose.

All this to say, my home church was small; never grew; and probably could have done a whole lot better in reaching people with the Gospel. Still I learned plenty of good lessons: followers of Jesus love boys, girls and teenagers; church is a caring family not just on Sunday; and old and young people can share in life together. I honestly don’t know if I’d be pastoring today if it weren’t for some of those people and some of those lessons.

In many ways, I hope Central Church can be that kind of intergenerational church minus the “Old Fashion” Sunday and the rickety pinching seats.

Nazarene Pastors are old, white and male

13164455_848285413720_8989139978775525704_nThe above graph (thank you Joe Foltz for posting it) is from Pensions and Benevolence Office of the Nazarene Pastors Age distribution in the USA.  When I look at this graph I see some disturbing trends.

  1.  Nazarene Pastors are white.  Every pastor in the picture is a white guy.  The USA is changing.  If we aren’t reaching other ethnic groups we will continue to lose our influence in society.
  2. Nazarene Pastors are male.  We are losing our top female pastors (Tera Beth Leach is the lone exception).  I believe of the top 100 churches in the USA only one (Pasadena First church and Tera Beth Leach) has a sole lead pastor that is a woman.  We need our women pastoring and speaking into the life of the church.
  3. Nazarene Pastors are old.  The largest group of active pastors is over 65.  I’m thankful for the wisdom of these pastors but if we are not calling and using our young women and men we will be in trouble in the next few years.  The church is dying and will continue to die if we do not have young women and men serving in our churches.

What this graph tells me (again) is that following the status quo will kill our church.  We need fresh ideas, new vision, and a mission strategy to reach younger adults.  The above graph gives zero indication that the Church of the Nazarene in the USA will rebound from our flat-lined (at best) attendance and growth numbers.

On this Pentecost Sunday, I remind you of a portion of Peter’s sermon:  “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people, Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”  (Acts 2:17-18)

Lord, let it be so!



Are Nazarene Taxes Equitable and Capping the Franchise Fees


The funding of the Nazarene mission includes the World Evangelism Fund (5.5% of total income), Pensions and Benevolence (2.25%), Educational support (2.25%) and district ministries (various percentages). No one I know legitimately argues against Pensions and Benevolence funding.  We need to take care of our retired ministers. While the World Evangelism Fund may have those that wonder how the funds are dispersed or the openness of the expenditures (for the less than complete view of spending and how the nearly 39 million in WEF funds were utilized see the 2015 Annual Financial Summery), still few argue against missions giving.  The college funds are less enthusiastically embraced by those in some regions of the country, but again most Nazarenes appreciate the core commitment to higher education. But legitimate questions can and should be raised in relation to the inequality of the district apportionments.

Why, for example, should a Nazarene in Wisconsin have 9.39% of their tithe used for district management, when a Nazarene in Kansas City pays only 3.25% and in Oregon only 3.05% of their tithe used in district apportionments?  I guess that means you get 6% more for your ecclesiastical dollar in Kansas City or Portland than in Milwaukee.   In 2015, Nazarenes in USA gave over 31 million to fund district management.  31 Million!  Did we really get 31 million dollars’ worth of benefit from our district taxes?   Last I checked districts didn’t baptize anyone. Districts don’t dedicate babies. Districts don’t lead anyone to Christ.  They don’t make funeral dinners.  But we spent 31 million dollars for their oversight.   Africa spent a little less that one million and has nearly twice as many districts (130 to 76) and about the same number of members.

I’m not advocating eliminating district budgets, but developing a more equitable system. More specifically, there should be a limit on district allotments and a cap on how much an individual church should be required to pay.  If the district can not make ends meet on a 3 or 4% limit then maybe it is time to consider merging districts.  Or maybe like in other parts of the world, the District Superintendent also pastors a church.  This bi-vocational DS in other parts of the world hasn’t hindered growth.  In fact, quite the opposite, those are the areas were the church is growing.  The amount of the cap on district apportionment could also be debated, but it seems that no church should pay more than $25,000 toward district management.  All this to say, districts in the future will need to get more lean or creative as local church dollars stay more local.

As USA church dollars are stretched more and more, it seems legitimate discussion should be had on how to keep more monies with the local church and less toward the costly endeavor of district management.