Monthly Archives: January 2019

How cold is it in Michigan? It’s so cold that…

It’s cold in Michigan. Really cold.  How cold is it?

It is so cold that….

  • I stepped outside and my whole body had a Slurpee Brain Freeze
  • When the Starbucks barista handed me a steaming Venti Pike Place at the drive thru window, I instantly had iced coffee
  • After shoveling my driveway I thought about jumping in the freezer to warm up
  • No matter what movie I choose on Netflix I get “Frozen”
  • Even your friends give you the cold shoulder
  • Folks at the First Baptist Church changed their name to Zero Degrees Calvin (Kelvin)
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses are calling themselves the “frozen chosen.”
  • Streakers are known as “Polar Bares”

Baby, it’s cold outside!

But there is another type of coldness that is far worse than anything happening outside today.  Jesus warned us about the last days with these words:

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  (underlining mine. Matthew 24:10-13)

Are these the last days? I can’t say with absolute certainty. I don’t know when our Lord will return. But I know that many folks have “turned away from the faith” like Jesus said they would. There are plenty of folks spewing all kinds of hate these days. False Bible quoting prophets are not hard to find. There is an undeniable increase of wickedness in the land. Finally, I know plenty of folks whose love has grown cold—which has nothing to do with the subzero temperatures.

It’s easy to spot a cold heart. Cold hearts are selfish hearts, angry hearts, and gossip spreading hearts. A cold heart is a blaming, shaming and judgmental heart. A cold heart thinks they have been the one wronged, all the while they are harming others. A cold heart doesn’t see the hurting neighbor, the troubled child, or the sick saint. A cold heart finds fault with the church and God’s people. A cold heart may talk about Jesus, but hasn’t known Jesus for quite some time. A cold heart, in other words, is a carnal heart that will be in deep trouble on Judgment Day.

How can we insure that our heart doesn’t grow cold?  Simple. Stay close to the flame. Stay close to Jesus. Peter got it right.  He knew in the middle of the storm (polar vortex or otherwise), the safest place isn’t in the boat, but next to Jesus. The key, Jesus said, is standing firmly next to Him. Someone who’s staying close to the heartwarming love of Jesus will never grow cold no matter what the weatherperson says is happening outdoors.

Stay warm, my friends! Stay warm!

The Day America Should have Cried Instead of Cheered.

From my vantage point, yesterday was not a good day for America.

Not a News Flash: Vulgar rhetoric has been increasing in recent years. Specifically, the use of the F-word seemingly has become acceptable language. Not just from a shock inducing comedian doing his routine in a darkened comedy club but from politicians, students, everyone. I received a business form letter yesterday from a lady wanting to sell the church some sort of photo software. In one of the opening sentences she wrote, “Your work in the world is so f–ing important, and I am so passionate about it that I am offering my gifts to help YOU reach more people…”  I wrote her back, “Dear Heather, here’s a tip for you:  Don’t use the F-Word in an e-mail to a pastor if you are trying to sell him some kind of service.  He will think that you are not professional and will automatically unsubscribe from your email list.”  What is happening to our language when this is an acceptable business practice? The de-evolution of our language hit the accelerator in the last election when both the Elephants and the Donkeys seemed to think crass talk was standard election verbiage.

Respect and love for our fellow humans has taken a hit yesterday too. We have seen the stories on the confrontation that took place with earshot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC between a group of Catholic high school students and a native Americans and other protesters.  Honestly, I don’t know who was “right” and who was “wrong” but I know this, we are far from the dream of Dr. King when he concluded his famous speech with these words: all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” (Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream).  Clearly, we are not free at last from harsh and vulgar rhetoric, misunderstanding, blaming, shaming and demonizing those who have a different view from ours.

Then in what could only be described as the low point in our Republic’s history took place yesterday. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that allows late term abortions up to the point of birth in the State of New York. This infamous moment was met with cheers from the people assembled when the bill passed the state senate. Cheers as if the New York Yankees had just won the World Series. Cheers? The soul of our nation was being ripped out and there was applause and revelry. Praying, weeping, not cheering should have been the response. We have devalued life so much that we cheer when the potentiality of the most innocent ones in our society are allowed to be exterminated. Dear God, this was not a day to cheer, but to confess and weep for our Nestea plunge into the abyss of darkness.

Ironically, at a Florida bank yesterday, five people were murdered in the latest mass shooting when a 21-year-old gunman entered the bank and started shooting. It’s barely a blip on anyone’s radar this morning.  We’ve grown accustomed to these stories and tragedies. Life has taken on such little value that the horrific is cheered and the tragic is ignored.

What is wrong with us? Our moral compass is not simply veering us off course. It has been shattered and we are wandering aimlessly and directionless. Isaiah’s warning is as true for 21stcentury America as it was for Judah in the 8thcentury BC when he wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20).

More than ever, we need “God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done in America as it is in heaven.” Yesterday was not that day. Let’s pray that today and tomorrow can be.

The Enemy HATES what’s happening at Central Church

(The following is what I wrote to our leaders this week in my weekly weekend recap. I thought all Central folks might want to read it too):

Let’s be clear on this one: The Enemy HATES what is happening at Central Church!

He HATES it.

He HATES that people are seeking Jesus.

He HATES that we are focusing more and more on our community (He’s no dummy. He knows that when the lonely and lost in our community find Jesus they will tell others… who will find Jesus and then tell others… and so on and so on and so on).

He HATES that the Peak Building is now in constant use.

He HATES that our Age-Level team is working together better than ever.

He HATES that we have over 300 people involved in the Community Bible Experience.

He HATES how so many people are being helped in ministries like Divorce Care, Grief Share and Celebrate Recovery.

He HATES that we are involved in the GROWING YOUNG initiative and that we are committed to seeing Central Church make a difference to today’s and tomorrow’s generation.

He HATES reports like I heard this week how an alcoholic daughter of a member of Central is tuning into the Livestreamed Services every week and that she is making life changes as a result.

He HATES that we are going on the offensive and that the Gates of Hell are being stormed as we are rescuing the perishing!

He HATES all of it. So…

Don’t be surprised if petty arguments begin to pop up.

Don’t be surprised if some folks get their eyes off the prize.

Don’t be surprised if the enemy attacks.

Did I mention HE HATES WHAT’S HAPPENING at Central Church?!

Do your best to avoid getting caught up in petty arguments or discussions. Stay away from them. Run away if need be.  Keep your focus on Jesus. In everything we do– in everything we are about—we must be ALL about Jesus.

Paul wrote Timothy good words for us to remember:

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. (2 Timothy 2:23).

Keep praying that God’s will is done and His Kingdom comes in Flint as it is in heaven!

Will the 2020’s Be Known as the “Decade of Death” for Your Church?

A pastor friend, who serves on his district’s advisory board, recently indicated that his district needs to close 40 (you read that right… forty) churches! That’s a lot of dying and already dead churches.  If you look close at his district’s office building there may be a sign in the lawn that reads: FIRE SALE!  If there’s not a sign, there should be.

It’s not just my friend’s district. The 2020’s is going to be known as “The Decade of Death” for many churches.  Members (and givers) are getting older or dying off. Stories of sacrifice where lay leaders put a second mortgage on their farm to keep the church doors open don’t happen anymore. Pastors will be retiring. Providing the pastor a living wage and health benefits is becoming more and more of a challenge. Aging buildings and the resulting bills will make operating a brick and mortar church very cost prohibitive. Moreover, our culture is less engaged with the things of God than ever before. All of these factors and more will force many churches across the country and across denominational identities to close in record numbers in the next decade.

Fear Not!  Your church need not succumb to the Decade of Death. The churches that not only survive but thrive in the 2020’s will be the churches that learn to quit playing catch up with the culture, and instead go on the offensive. That means: Preaching Jesus. Caring for the needy. Being the best neighbors. Engaging the younger generation. Prioritizing families. Refusing to be defined by what they are against. And not allowing the message to be co-opted by politics (from either side of the aisle), power or petty arguments.  Those churches will not need to plan their funeral.

The truth is that no church (whatever the cultural realities exist) that allows Jesus to build it and keeps their eyes fixed on Jesus will be dying anytime soon.  Jesus words in Matthew 16 are still true in these contentious days: I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18).

 

Does the Church of the Nazarene (USA/Canada) have too many preachers?

There is no shortage of opinions on why the Church of the Nazarene (and most other churches) in the USA/Canada is in decline. The downward trajectory has been at work for a while. I wrote about the disturbing trend nearly a year ago and submitted my own two cents into the debate that we need to get back to good old fashioned evangelism (you can read it here). I still think that is true.

Too many have read this opinion and concluded: If the clergy were more evangelistic then the church would be growing again. Preachers need to preach more evangelistically. Pastors need to spearhead new and better evangelistic efforts. Send our ministers to conferences on reaching the millennials, train them what to do and all will be well. But is that the answer?

Here are a few interesting statistics:

Over the last decade, the Church of the Nazarene grew in five of the six regions. Only the USA/Canada region saw a decline. The most impressive growth came in these three regions:

Africa                         83.93%

Eurasia                       112.53%

South America          55.98%

And just so you know, the USA/Canada region dropped 4.57% over the same period.

Now check out this statistic that compares Organized churches and Not Yet Organized churches with the number of elders and the number of churches per elder on the region:

Region             Org     Not yet Elders      Elders per church

Africa              4656    3973     1569                5.53

Eurasia           3973    1728      858                  9.93

South Am        2419    372       1645                1.7

USA/Can         4602     734       11,104             .48

The fastest growing areas of the church have more churches than elders. In the case of Eurasia there are nearly 10 churches per elder. But in the USA/Canada, the numbers are reversed with over 2 elders per church.

What does this mean?

The short answer: We have too many preachers.

The long answer: When the churches did their best in the USA there were fewer ordained elders. Lay people took on leading children and youth ministries. Lay people were involved in evangelism (anyone remember Evangelism Explosionor The Master’s Plan of Evangelism?). The ministries of the church were driven by the members of the church. People had more time and they used their time for the work of the Lord. Churches also had less money and needed the free labor of the ministry volunteers to carry on the mission.

Then the church became more affluent. Paid clergy replaced free lay people. People became busy with their lives. So much so, that we now count ourselves happy if “regular attenders” show up 1.7 timers a month for a one hour worship service. When people are less involved, they have less ownership, less commitment and tend to be more critical of the work that is being done.

Maybe the answer to our lack of growth and lack of commitment is less preachers, not more.  The key to growth is discovering how to involve our people and get them to take more ownership in the ministries of the church. Fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples is not simply the task of clergy but of all believers. We Protestants need to reclaim the belief in the Priesthood of all believers and re-engage the laity in the work of the church.

Seminaries and church leaders see the writing on the wall that in 15 years we will have a clergy crisis in the USA/Canada.  Today’s clergy are old and getting older. In 15 years, they will retire or die off. Moreover, many of the baby boomer members, who are paying much of today’s church bills, will be retired, on fixed incomes or have passed on.  In other words, in a decade and a half the church will have less preachers and less money to spend.

This soon-to-be-here storm may not be the end of the church as feared, but could actually be good news. With less money and less available clergy, lay people will be forced to take on more leadership and more of a role in the ministries of the church once more. Will they?  Well, that’s the big question, but the health, life and future of the church in USA/Canada will depend on an engaged laity making disciples and reclaiming their role in the Church of Jesus Christ.

New Year’s Resolutions Flint Central Church style

No one at Central Church shared with me their New Year’s Resolutions, so I took it upon myself to make New Year’s Resolutions for the them.

 Justin Hilliard (Our Lighting genius protégé). Resolves that when given the green light (figuratively speaking of course), he will make a Trans-Siberian Light show look like child’s play compared to our Sunday Morning services

 Deb LeVictoire (my terrific and talented assistant): Resolves to take a scribble reading lessons so she can read the memos that I give her.

Our Great Facilities Crew: Resolves to not pour hot wax on people who mishandled their candles on Christmas Eve and dripped wax on the pews, carpet and hymnals.

Jordan Loudermilk (Our tech hero): Resolves to not jump off the balcony when someone says “I need more monitor volume.”

Our Funeral Dinner Committee: Resolves to have even more fun as they prepare the meals for those who are grieving.  (This is impossible.  This team put the “fun” back in funeral and have been a blessing to countless people.  Thanks for all you do, Funeral Committee Friends!

Joey Wood and Tyler Sauer (Youth Pastors Extraordinaire). Resolve that should they decide to run the Detroit Marathon again, they will wear matching the shirts that say: Other Youth Pastors Eat my dust

 Karen Donaldson (The Facilities Manager and defacto manager of all-things Central Church): Resolves to pray for a little Sodom and Gomorrah action the next time someone tells her the sanctuary is too cold. That’ll heat them up!

Wendy Eaton (Early Childhood Pastor): Resolves to beat up anyone who says, “Toddlers can’t learn about Jesus.” Of course, she said the beat down will be given in a loving and Christ-like manner.

Deb Pruitt (Our Wednesday night chef and plenty of other things chef): Resolves to make a meal so scrumptious that Food Network decides to make a reality show on her life called, Pruitt Can Do it.

 Janet Benjamin (Children’s Pastor): Resolves to not sue rapper and movie star Ice Cube  for failing to mention her in his movie “All About the Benjamins.”  Clearly the movie was not all about the Benjamins as she and her family were left out completely.

The Central Church Security Crew: Resolves to arrest anyone for failure to tithe 10% (they really don’t arrest anyone, but they do keep us safe).

 Jon Gildner (Discipleship Pastor and a bit of a competitive guy): Resolves to beat every pastor in Pickleball this year.

Our Amazing Tech Crew: Resolve not to show a Joel Osteen sermon clip instead of our service during a boring sermon from yours truly.

Karla Prince (the lovely and talented one): Resolves to stand to her feet with her hands on her hips and shout out, “All right buster it’s my turn!” the next time her name is besmirched in a sermon.

Steve Antony (Senior Adult Pastor and current Snowbird in Florida): Resolves to not pitch a fit when Michael Phelps is selected over him as the greatest male swimmer of all time.

Todd and Roshanda Womack(Community Connections Pastors): Resolve to debate with anyone who says “Flint is done.” They know better and so will their soon-to-be-head-spinning and reduced to mumbling a defeated “I’m sorry” Flint hating debate opponent.

 Mark Routt (Drummer and all around great guy): Resolves to tell anyone who asks how he learned to play the drum, “Beat it.”

Jon Livengood (Young adult and Missions Pastor and Kentucky Basketball fan): Resolves to not breakdown into fits of uncontrollable sobbing when Michigan wins the NCAA Basketball National Championship

Enosh Fee (Worship Pastor and Superhero fan): Resolves to not lead worship while wearing a cape and a T-Shirt with a big “S”  following reaching his weight loss goal.

Nate Degner (Worship Pastor and Green Bay Packer fan): Resolves to not wear a bag overhead while leading worship this Sunday, even though the lowly Detroit Lions beat his team twice, the last one being Sunday’s 31-0 blowout.

Rob Prince (me):  Resolves to not make any New Year’s Resolution lists for exactly 365 days.

The End.