Monthly Archives: June 2021

Will the Church of the Nazarene be another victim of Covid-19?

With 95% (or so) of the funding of the Church of the Nazarene’s global operations coming from USA/Canada, it is imperative to the entire church that the USA/Canada church emerge from the pandemic healthy. The big question is: Will the USA/Canada church survive the pandemic or will we be another victim of Covid 19?

There are good signs. In spite of early fears of financial collapse caused by the pandemic (how can you raise monies if you are not passing the plates?), those worries did not happen in many places. Our people were faithful in giving. They continued to give on-line or via mail and ministry continued. Many churches flipped on the fly and started presenting on-line services and producing distance Christian learning all in an effort to kept people engaged.

There are also troubling signs. Most churches will see a decline in in-person attendance this year. Some of these declines will make the viability of the tenuous-at-best, pre-covid churches even less possible. People discovered (in their minds, at least) they didn’t need to be in the church building to get Christian content. They could get it on-line sipping coffee on their couch. They aren’t coming back. There are folks on both sides of the Covid-response debate who are not coming back. Those who determined the local church’s approach to masks, etc. was too restrictive and those who thought the local church response was not restrictive enough are not coming back. Others tired of the politicization of the US church are not coming back. The recent in-the-news fighting among the Southern Baptists and the upcoming split in the United Methodist church, splashes onto Nazarenes as we get lumped with these and other church troubles leaving more wondering about “organized religion.” Make no mistake, the Enemy is using all of these (and more) excuses to keep people away from the church doors.

Moreover, the church is getting older. The Silent generation and Boomers are the givers. Gen X, Y and Z not as much. While these groups continued to give at rates (sometimes even higher) than pre-pandemic, a legitimate question is sustainability. If they are not attending in person (and some will never come back, see above) how long until their giving also wanes?  Furthermore, when in wanes because of their lack of connection, how will that impact both the local and global mission of the church?

The Church of the Nazarene dodged the initial financial bullet of the pandemic.  But another shot is coming unless churches return to the pre-pandemic connectivity, work hard on re-engaging people to the life of the church, stress the importance of in-person connections and expand its outreach post-pandemic. Even as life becomes more “normal,” the church will not be the same as it was pre-pandemic. Those churches without a “Come Back” strategy and discipleship plan for those who return will be victims of the lasting effects of Covid-19. Those churches that are pro-active, involved, and evangelistic will survive and many will thrive. 

The Church of the Nazarene does not have to be a victim of Covid-19, but unless the church is proactive in discipleship and evangelism it will be.

Jesus’ Reasons to Stop Attending the Worship Gatherings (FYI… He Didn’t Stop)

When Jesus walked planet earth in the first century, the failed religious system was exposed. Jesus’ most frequent run-ins were with the people that benefitted most from that failed structure, the Pharisees. The self-proclaimed “holiness crowd” (ironic, because of their lack of holiness) were self-serving, hypocritical, arrogant, and Jesus called them “snakes” and “white washed tombs.” They would eventually be key players in Jesus’ crucifixion. These same people who were so against Jesus also went to the synagogue. All the time. Whatever their motive, they were there. All of which makes the phrase Luke uses about Jesus’ regular routine so important. Luke wrote: “As was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:11). 

Jesus didn’t avoid those who didn’t think like him or act like him. He knew the synagogue was full of hypocrites, still he went “as was his custom.” In spite of his conflicts with the “holiness crowd” and their eventual aiding and abetting in his execution, Jesus went “as was his custom.” Clearly, Jesus was revolted by their attitudes and actions (have you ever read Matthew 23?), still they sat down the pew from each other every Sabbath. The Person who need to worship the least, continued to go “as was his custom.” Jesus went because He wasn’t going for those disagreeable and disgruntled people, He attended public worship gatherings to glorify God. That should be our motivation too. 

Does the church have problems? Of course. Are their more problems in today’s church than in Jesus’ synagogue? My guess is that the people attending are not plotting your death. Still people are people. People and institutions made up of people are imperfect. In the off chance, you find a perfect church, DO NOT ATTEND IT. Why? When you show up (or if I showed up for that matter), it will no longer be a “perfect” church. Newsflash: We ain’t perfect (NOTE: the previous use of “ain’t” displays my imperfections). The imperfect gathering of people for the expressed purpose of worship didn’t stop Jesus from attending and it shouldn’t stop us. 

Bottom line: To those who have legitimate reasons for looking around the church and concluding, “these are not my people.” Don’t quit. To those of you who are feeling out of place, you are still needed in the church. Maybe more now than ever. Obviously, there are times when the environment is so toxic and anti-Christ, a person (for their own spiritual and emotional well-being) must exit, but find a new group of imperfect people that calls themselves the church to worship alongside. Your presence will make the group a little less perfect, but join anyway.  Like Jesus, make it your custom.

To: Those Thinking of Leaving a Church

To:  Those thinking of leaving a church

From: A friend

“Don’t leave. We need you. We need each other.”

To the night owls who have thought I don’t need to put on makeup or wash my hair or wear pants to be a part of the on-line service: We need you in the church building (but please put on pants).

To the introverts who have discovered that watching the service on-line is better than being around people: We need you in church too.

To the disheartened who have overheard folks at a church say dumb or non-Christ-like things: We need you in church to say smart, kingdom of God things.

To the busy who have a million things going and catch the service on the fly as you’re multitasking all those other things: we need you in church with your full attention (cell phone in your purse or pocket, please).

To the horrified who have heard derogatory comments about other people (different than the majority): We need you to remind us that Jesus said he when he was a stranger (different), the ones who welcomed Him into their lives are the ones who make it to heaven. 

To the disappointed who have heard, “Money is king” or “a political party is king” or “a politician is king”: we need you to say, “Jesus is King.”

To the lonely who say, “no one thinks like me:” we need you to think like Jesus and encourage the rest of us to do the same.

To the discouraged who say the Church isn’t warm and welcoming: we need you to be warm and welcoming.

To the angry who have said, “Church leaders are (pick your term) corrupt, liars, hypocrites, prideful, inept or all of the above”: we need you to look in the mirror, see your faults, refuse to cast the first stone, and be a new, humble leader that can move away from any power-hungry, political-maneuvering, and self-serving tactics.

To those who’ve been hurt by a church and said all churches are the same: I’m so sorry for your experience. Churches are not all the same. Please come back and experience the healing waters of Jesus flowing upon you. We need you to be well once more.

To the doubters who have said, “If this is what Christianity is, I’m not sure I want it”: we need you! Jesus’ disciples included Thomas (he doubted too). Yes, we need you!

To the tired and weary who say “I can be a Christian without the church”: Jesus says, “The church was my idea, you really need to be a part of it.” And as a friend, I say, “Don’t leave. We need you. We need each other. See you soon!”

How the Detroit Lions and the Church are the Same (this is not a compliment).

The Detroit Lions last championship year was 1957. It was so long ago, they didn’t call it the Super Bowl back them. The Lions, actually, were the “Team of the 50’s” having also won championships in 1952 and 1953. Since those glory years, the going has been rough. And by “rough,” I mean absolutely horrible. They have won exactly one playoff game since 1957. One. They’ve had great players (See Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson). They’ve had accomplished coaches. Well, accomplished before they arrived in Detroit (See Bobby Ross and Steve Mariucci). For a lifelong Lions’ fan, it’s been a sad mix of “maybe next year” and a resignation that like seeing the Lions in the Super Bowl is like seeing a unicorn. It will never happen.

Sadly, the church in America hasn’t fared much better than the Detroit Lions. One could make the case that the church’s glory years were the 50s too. Churches were being built. Communities were glad to have them. There was honor for the clergy and the ministry of the church, even from non-church goers. The church was welcomed. Respected. People believed the Bible was true. Politicians wouldn’t dream of saying otherwise. Prayer was encouraged in schools (not just uttered before unstudied tests by procrastinating students). Church life and our culture were intertwined.

Then the culture changed (read: some changes needed to be made. This article is not glorifying the racism, sexism and the other societal ills that were alive and well in the 50s). Viet Nam happened. So did Watergate; the Iran Hostage Crisis; TV Evangelist scandals; 9/11; Gulf War I and II; the Internet; the Wall Street Crash; a twenty year war in Afghanistan; social media; continuous sex scandals inside the church; Obama; Trump and the great division of the American populace. (There are plenty of other happenings that played a role in getting here, but you get the idea: there’s been a lot of water under the cultural bridge since the 1950s). People no longer view the church with the same optimism. They no longer look at the Bible as authoritative. People think little of the eternity, instead live for the moment. No longer informed by a Truth greater than themselves, one’s personal opinion and self-first perspective is the ultimate value. 

The church has changed too. There is much more to occupy believers time. In the 50s, life revolved around church. Sunday morning. Sunday night. Wednesday Night. Sports took a back seat to church. So did most all other activities. If you even had a TV, there were only three channels. They played in black and white. It wasn’t great, static-y. Life was slower. Simpler. Moreover, today’s believers were not immune to the cultural changes. People don’t live in a bubble. They are aware of clergy abuses and the sins of the church. Some are victims. They utilize social media. They have more information. The promise of power, money and fame have become a driving factor in setting priorities and agendas inside the church, just as it outside the church. The Bride of Christ’s gown is a tattered and people see it.

The result is evident: like the Detroit Lions, the church has been on a downward slide for decades and the numbers reveal it. Every American denomination is in decline. No church is immune. Liberal churches, imitating culture with their promises of tolerance and inclusion are losing members. Conservative churches, with their condemnation and shaking fists at society, are likewise losing members in record level. Churches who have tried to ignore culture and put their collective heads in the sand are losing members too. The dam is broke. All churches are hemorrhaging people. Like the Lions, down through the years, there are a few stars in the church world having a few good years. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Church (like the Lions) are losing. Big time.

The latest rebuilding coach of the Lions, Dan Campbell, at a recent press conference used terms how he would be “changing the culture.” The Lions were going to “do things differently.” They were going to “bite off knee caps” if necessary. I don’t think opposing players need to worry about body parts, he was sending a message to his team: “It’s not the same old Lions.” Time will tell if this latest re-build is more of the same or if things will be different from the last 64 years. As a Lions fan and a prisoner of hope, I want Coach Campbell to be the answer (but I haven’t started a saving for a Super Bowl ticket just yet).

The church needs to be about re-creating culture too. Both inside her walls and outside. Changing culture is hard (see the last 64 years of Lions’ ineptitude). It takes time. It can only happen as the Church gets back to the ways of Jesus. Like Jesus with the woman at the well, we need to meet people where they are. Like Jesus’ interaction with prostitutes and tax collectors, we need to be welcoming. Like Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery, we need to speak with truth and grace. Like Jesus, it might start with a small, imperfect group (see the fraidy-cat disciples). In other words, the change that the church and world needs won’t be dependent upon the perfection of its adherents but the power of the Spirit at work in them. 

The Lions may never win a Super Bowl (it pains me to write that), but Jesus does win. He will be making all things new. He is the Victor. He will have the final word. The prayer Jesus taught us still applies: May God’s kingdom come and His will done on earth (In America) as it is in heaven. I’m a prisoner of hope in regard to the church too!  I believe Jesus wants to answer that prayer!

May it be so (and Go Lions!).