Monthly Archives: November 2020

How to Wrap Your Mind around Advent in a Pandemic

When all is not well
When all is not right
When life is tiring, exhausting, frustrating
When avoiding people is easier than interacting with them
When staying in bed all day seems like a reasonable desire
When lonely
When surrounded by grief
When prone to wander
When feeling insecure, increasingly irritated and overwhelmed
When people are hidden behind their masks— Who are they? What are they thinking?
When people are suspicious, a coughing shopper is like starters pistol
When people disappoint with gossip or smugness or pettiness or meanness
When I am smug or petty or mean or any of those things I despise
When life seems like it will never be the same
When life is not fun… not fine… not fair.

Jesus came.
Jesus experienced all of our emotions.

Jesus knows…
Our sorrow
Our sickness
Our suffering
Our grief
Our frustration
Our loneliness
Our wounds
Our fears, doubts, depression, worries, and pain.

He came; He lived; He died; He rose and He calls us.
In spite of our all our unwanted baggage
…and having nothing to offer.
He calls us to join Him.
It’s not an escape
It’s not a free pass to miss the sufferings around us
It’s an invitation to join in the sufferings around us.

But not as before.
Not trapped. Free
Not afraid. Hopeful
Not weak. Strong
Not forgotten.

Here I am Lord, send me!
Send me to those who are just like me– people in need of you
Send me into the messy world for whom you came
Send me to sow your hope, peace, joy and love.
This Advent season, Lord, send me.

Thanksgiving Jokes– Central Church Version

What do you call it when these Flint Central ladies (Mrs. Bradley, Mrs. Daly, Mrs. Fyock, Mrs. Metzger, Mrs. Willyard and Miss White) march down 6th Avenue on the fourth Thursday in November?
Stacy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Thanks to Covid, what is the most popular side dish this Thanksgiving?
Masked Potatoes.

Why was Pastor Joey insulted at the free turkey giveaway?
Someone gave him the bird.

What hymn was Nate Degner singing when the turkey escaped?
His Eye is on the Sparrow

Why did Pastor Jon Livengood turn red?
He saw the turkey dressing

What does Pastor Jon Gildner call his brother when he falls asleep after Thanksgiving dinner?
His Napkin.

When Megan Cousins asked the sweet potato if it was tired of the Lions losing, what did it say?
Yes, I yam.

How did God save Daniel in the Lions’ den?
God placed a goal line between Daniel and the Lions. The Lions never crossed it.

Why didn’t Pastor Wendy season the Thanksgiving turkey?
There was no thyme.

What part of the turkey does Mark Routt, Landon Fee and Tyler Chapin eat every year?
The Drum Stick

How did Bethany Hack win the fight with the turkey?
She knocked the stuffing out of it

What did Gary Queen serve for Thanksgiving dinner after he sat on the sweet potatoes?

What did Pastor Anthony say when he was asked to say grace at Thanksgiving Dinner?

What kind of music was Pastor Enosh playing when the Pilgrims arrived?
Plymouth Rock

Why did Pastors Todd and Roshanda call the police on the turkey?
They suspected fowl play

What did the turkey say when Pastor Don Phillips went turkey hunting?
Quack, Quack!

How is Covid and a Turkey similar?
To save your neck you have to socially distance (People from the virus; the turkey from the axe)

If Pilgrims travelled on the Mayflower, what do our Olivet Nazarene Chenoweth Award winners travel on?
Scholar Ships.

What happened when Deb LaVictoire’s cranberries became sad?
They turned into blueberries.

Why did Kristen Bedell, Sue Weinand and Dean Weir (Central Church’s finance secretary, business manager and church treasurer) advise the church to not buy the Thompson Ranch Turkey Farm Restaurant on Hill road?
They thought it would gobble up our savings.

How is standing in Pastor Rob’s backyard this spring and on Plymouth Rock in 1620 similar? (Hint: Karla’s middle name is May). Both times you’d see Karla May’s Flowers.

What Thanksgiving treat is most popular in Children’s Church?
Pastor Janet’s Crayon-berry Sauce

What did Jordan Loudermilk say the day after Thanksgiving?
I liked the leftovers before they were cool.

What did Justin Hilliard get when he divided the circumference of the pumpkin by its diameter?
Pumpkin Pi

Why was Karen Donaldson’s Thanksgiving soup so expensive?
It had 24 carrots.

How is Pastor Rob’s Thanksgiving Jokes and butter similar?
They are both on a roll. (“No, they are not,” groans Pastor Tyler)

What did Pastor Rob say when all the other pastors begged him to quit telling these terrible Thanksgiving Jokes?
I can’t quit cold turkey.

OK, yes, I can. You may stop your groaning.

And stop groaning about Thanksgiving 2020. This Thanksgiving may be different than in most years, but Jesus is still King! We all have blessings we can count! And we can always be thankful for Jesus and His great love!

Praying you and you your family have a blessed Thanksgiving Day.

Do this when your M.Div Degree seems like it stands for “Master of Dividedness”

My degree from Olivet Nazarene University was in psychology. I knew I was going to be a pastor but I’d joke, “I wasn’t a religion major because I couldn’t afford the pocket protector” (it was a jab at my perception of the nerdy-ness of most religion majors). Truth was, sporting a big afro on my 105-pound frame, I was easily the biggest nerd on campus. My elevated nerdy-ness aside, the plan was to go to seminary all along: not because of the high cost of pocket protectors, I wanted a discipline outside of religion before heading off to Nazarene Theological Seminary (I still think that was a good plan, I’m not sure, if given the chance, I would be a psyc major again, maybe English, business management or even computer science, but I digress).

Following my time at seminary I was awarded an M.Div. or a Master of Divinity. My formal training title is Rev. Robert S. Prince Jr., M.Div.  Don’t be too impressed. Honestly, I am not a “master” at all. These days my M.Div feels much more like a Master of Dividedness. Maybe more accurately, my degree should be a N.Div—Novice of Dividedness.

I am so incredibly saddened at divisions within churches. I am heartbroken over the reckless use of social media to demonize those with opposing views. I am dismayed that politics and masks have divided people. Worse than a couple of decades ago “worship wars” or two generations ago “carpet wars,” the divisiveness within today’s church is playing right into the Enemy’s slimy hands. Will the remnant of Christians that remain in the next generation look back on these years with disgust and say, “The body of Christ was divided over politics and masks? Masks? Seriously? Masks?!” 

Every pastor I know has tried to navigate through these divisive waters. It’s as if we are in a contentious hurricane on a flimsy surf board. The task is not just “not easy,” it’s impossible. Often it feels like we are going it alone. Like Peter in the Sea of Galilee, some of my colleagues have sunk in this storm. The gale force winds of dissention were too much. 

What’s my advice to the beleaguered and battle weary pastor? Listen to Jesus. Is he saying to you what he said to sinking Peter so long ago?  Matthew recorded the events on the stormy Sea of Galilee. Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). There has been plenty of times in stormy county of Genesee (my home county), Jesus has “reached out his hand and caught” me and said the something similar about my flimsy faith. Jesus will see us through this storm. Don’t doubt. Hold on to Jesus for dear life (literally).  Grab ahold. Don’t let go. Jesus will keep your head above water, if you don’t let go. Make 1 Thessalonians 5:21 your survival tool: “Hold on to what is good.” All storms pass. This one will too. Just hold on to Jesus.

Counting My Top Eleven Blessings at Central Church during 2020 Pandemic

(Honestly, I tried to have a “Top Ten” blessing list, but I couldn’t cut out any of these happenings, so you get a top eleven blessings that I am counting in the pandemic this thanksgiving season.)

11. Picking the locations for two billboards in the upcoming Christmas season proclaiming the message of John 1:14. Billboard #1 (at Bristol Road): The Word became Flesh… (with a nativity scene pictured), and Billboard #2 (between Hill and Fenton Roads): …and moved into the neighborhood (with some iconic Flint pictures). Look for the billboards on Southbound I-75 beginning on Sunday, November 29.

10. The 2020 High School graduates paid a price for graduating in the Covid year. A lot of wonderful things were cancelled, but our church had a long car train that delivered a bag of goodies to our grads and a yard sign for their front yard to say, “Congratulations.”

9. The new sound system in the sanctuary. Last week, was its inauguration. Four words to describe it: Wow! Wow! Double Wow!!! But even better than the new speakers, cameras and projectors is our team of faithful volunteers and their great leader, Jordan Loudermilk. Usually the tech people only getting noticed if something goes wrong, but 99% of the time everything goes great and it’s because of their diligence to excellence!

8. Partnering with Flint Township. During our divisive national election, Central Church provided gift bags to the poll workers in our building and bottled waters and pre-packaged snacks to voters. We were thanking everyone for participating in the voting process. We love our neighbors!

Central Church is also teaming with Flint Township and the Meijer corporation hosting a Free Flu Vaccine clinic. (Happening TODAY, November 19 from 2PM to 6PM). We want our neighbors healthy!

7. Scholarships to Olivet Nazarene University! We loved having Arlene Chenoweth in service as we announced the newest Chenoweth Scholarships. This scholarship fund, which began with an initial investment of $165,00, has given out over 200 scholarships, with more than $200,000 awarded, and (here’ the cool part) there is even more money in that fund ($191,305.91) than when we started!  Wow! This summer, we also established the Marilyn Faris Scholarship. Education major, Kelli Randazzo was the very first recipient. 

6. Missions. Missions. Missions. When the Covid shut-downs started in the spring, Central Church’s medical missions team was in Panama. The Panamanian government also was shutting down and cancelled our last remote clinic day. What did the team do?  They held a medical clinic for the hotel workers where teams have stayed in nearly all of the trips. What wonderful servants of the Lord!  Also during the pandemic we gave $10,000 to Nazarene Compassionate Ministries following the devastating Beirut, Lebanon explosion to rebuild some Christian schools.

5. Wonderful unity in the pastoral staff and church board! Our pastors have made thousands and thousands of contacts during the pandemic. Twice a month they’ve attempted to contact every family that attended (signed in) last year at least three times. They’ve have all worked incredibly hard in trying circumstances. When the District cancelled its pastors retreat, we had our own in Traverse City. Dr. Dan Gildner (Jon’s brother) led us and it was rich and wonderful! Just before Covid shut down the world, Pastors Jon Gildner and Tyler Sauer, added the title “Executive Pastor” to their job description. They are terrific and lead our staff well!  

Honestly, our pastors wouldn’t be half as good without our assistants in the office. They are terrific too!  (No, my assistant Deb LaVictoire did NOT edit this list and add the previous sentence, I, Rob Prince wrote it with my own hand, read on…) Speaking of awesome, the Central Church Board led by board secretary, Mr. Larry Weber and church treasurer, Dean Weir, is a wonderful group of people. Every one loves Jesus, loves Central Church and are extremely supportive of the pastoral team during this very strange year. 

4. Food Distribution every Tuesday and Friday helping hundreds of local families. Central Church has distributed (hold on to your hat) over 600,000 pounds of food in five months!  There are nine such pods in Flint, but Central Church has disseminated 33% of the food. WOW!

3.  Our facility crew for keeping our building clean and virus free (as much as we are aware, we have not had a single case of Covid from anyone in the building). Facility crew = heroes!

2.  Eliminating over 9 million dollars in medical debt for 7,200 families in 9 counties in southeastern Michigan! The best way to be Jesus in a pandemic? Help eliminating crushing medical debt for thousands of people! This will go down as one of the most exciting things that any church I have pastored has accomplished.

1.  The many people who have found Jesus and/or have moved forward in their relationship with the Lord during this time. People finding Jesus is always #1. It’s why our church exits!

Central Church is blessed. I am blessed to be the pastor of this wonderful church. As I begin my eighth year of ministry, I have a lot for which to be thankful, even through a pandemic!

Has the Pandemic Killed the Church Growth Movement?

The Church Growth Movement can be summarized in two words: Numbers Matter. The more noses in the pews and nickels in the plate, the more successful are the church and pastor. The mantra: “We count people because people count.” Additionally, the Church Growth Movement promoted the notion that churches grow best as homogeneous units. That is churches grow bigger and better when people with similar background, socio-economic status and/or skin color cluster together. Grow a crowd where everyone looks the same was the goal. But is that the description of the church or a political rally?

Numbers didn’t seem to matter to Jesus. He frequently refused to do the popular thing, in order to do the right thing. Often those on the receiving end of a Jesus miracle were told NOT to tell anyone. He seemed to be more (or at the very least as much) interested in the twelve who gathered for the last supper, than the 5,000 who benefitted from the free fish and bread lunch. Moreover, the picture of heaven with “every nation, tribe, people and language” (see Revelation 7:9) standing before the throne tosses homogeneous units onto the trash heap of bad ideas. 

Maybe the best outcome of the pandemic is to put a nail in the Church Growth Movement coffin. Tabulating numbers in a pandemic is impossible. Who really knows who is being impacted by a church on-line? Three of the twelve people in my current church membership class have barely been in the church building. They started “attending church” in earnest when the church went virtual. Yesterday a lady, who had been “attending” church on-line since March, was in the church building for first time.

If attendance and dollars aren’t the best indicators of the health of a church, what metrics should be used? (True confession: I still look at attendance and offering totals. You can take the kid out of the church growth movement, but you can’t take church growth mentality out of the kid. At least not easily).

The church is to be a fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer that the Kingdom of God would come and God’s will might be accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. It’s doing the things Jesus did– caring for the sick and lonely. It’s being the best neighbor. It’s fulfilling the great commission of baptizing and teaching the ways of Christ. The church doesn’t have to be “cool,” but instead should strive to be warm, inviting and safe. But how do you count “warm”?

When the pandemic is done (and it will be done), when people are healthy again, let’s make our churches healthy too. Our metrics for success must shift from butts in the pews to hearts in discipleship, hands in service and voices in kindness and praise. Counting hours of service, discipleship and prayer groups started, baptisms, people helped, individuals involved in ministry are just a few countable ways to better determine the church’s effectiveness and health. Church health is more important than church growth. Let’s let  Jesus worry about any future church growth and let the church endeavor to be faithful. 

Rest in peace Church Growth Movement. The new church health movement will strive to be more like Jesus!

Is Jesus’ Presence in all the Rooms of your House?

I’m theoretically switching internet providers and yesterday I received the new modem which provides fast home internet (theoretically). It’s a little white box about the size of an Oreo cookie package. There are indicator lights to let me know if it’s plugged in and operating. Theoretically, one plugs the gizmo (I hope my technical language is not confusing you) into a wall outlet and before you could say, “Goodbye Comcast,” the great world wide web is throughout the house (this is what the friendly sales representative presumably from a call center located near the Taj Mahal assured me). 

The use of the word “theoretically” in the previous paragraph is because I have yet to find a spot in my lovely 1687 foot ranch where the signal strength is above “Weak,” and most usually it is considered “Poor.” There are five different options of signal strength—Great (apparently your home must be located directly underneath a cell tower to achieve this level of internet strength): “Very good” (your home’s proximity to the aforementioned cell tower must be about the distance a kindergartener can throw a Frisbee against the wind); “Good” (you must be able to see the cell tower from your back porch); “Weak” (if the wind is blowing in the right direction and if the sun is shining and if the cell tower does not have any birds sitting on it, then you may for a brief passing moment have a “Weak” signal in your home); and “Poor” (this is the status that we “enjoy,” which is great to hear if you are asking your doctor “What are my chances to develop bubonic plague?” but not–so-great if you are asking your little white internet provider gizmo the strength of your internet signal). 

I tell you my internet gizmo woes because I wondered: What if we had a little thingamabob (sorry, more technical talk) that determined the strength of following after Jesus throughout the rooms in our house? How much is Jesus influencing these areas of our lives?

For instance, Is Jesus the Lord of my….

  • Living room? Does my TV viewing glorify him?
  • Kitchen? Does the talk around the dinner table indicate our love for one another?
  • Office? Is my computer safe from harmful websites?
  • Bedroom? Does my marriage reflect the words “Holy Matrimony” for better or worse?
  • Bathroom? Do I allow the Spirit to shower over me his presence in all areas of my life?
  • Basement? Are the things I keep stored away—burdens, hurts and unforgiven pains or is it filled with blessings and memories of the times when God carried me through the storm?

Would an imaginary “Jesus indicator Box” reflect a Great, Very Good, Good, Weak or Poor presence of Jesus in your life?  My prayer is Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians: 

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Ephesian 3:16-17

May Jesus’ power be at work deep within our hearts, so that whatever room in which we find ourselves the “Jesus Presence Indicator” would be “Great.”

What Bible Verse Should Guide Election Week 2020? Here’s my Choice

November 1-7 will be a week like none other for our nation. No matter how long we live, we will never forget the first week of November, 2020. Mix up a contentious presidential election, a global pandemic and the potential of civil unrest following the election and we have guaranteed historic outcome. The losing candidate’s supporters could respond in a manner more suited for a horrific movie. But this isn’t fiction, it’s real. 

The secular world is preparing for this week. Walmart pulled its ammunition off the shelves in fear of post-election violence, then put it back. Businesses are boarding up their front windows. Police are on high-alert. News outlets have cameras rolling. Our nation is on edge. 

Followers of Jesus should be prepared too. Christians operate in the tension of knowing that we are passing through this old world but we are also Christ’s ambassadors in this old world. We are “in it” but not “of it.” So how should we respond in times like these? 

The Christian’s preparation for any circumstance is standing on His Word. It is our guiding light. There are plenty of Bible verses that will help prepare the people of God for the week ahead. But is there a Bible verse that qualifies as our “verse of the week,” no matter who wins the election? Here are a few options:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior 1 Timothy 2:1-3

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 1 Thessalonians 5:14

Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:17

Those are all great reminders from Scripture, but my choice for the “Bible Verse of Week” in this contentious week must be Philippians 1:27:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Philippians 1:27

There are no exception clauses in Philippians 1:27. No fine print. Moreover, my brothers and sisters, this simple reminder about “whatever happens”: Our hope is not in a donkey or an elephant. Our hope is in the Lamb!  The Lamb wins. When we place our loyalties with the Lamb, we win too. Paul wrote it best:  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57

This week (more than any week in a long, long time) pray, love and conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ!