Monthly Archives: April 2022

“IN FLINT” Longer than Any Place Else

As of May 1, I will have officially been at Flint Central Church longer than any of my previous churches. I’ve been around these parts for 8 years and 6 months. My next longest tenure was Lenexa (Kansas) Central Church, 8 years and 5 months. Apparently, I like “Central” churches. I suspect I will retire here. Lord (and congregation) willing. The good people of Flint Central church have put up with my silly stories, my head slapping, my high-pitched exclamations, my stories of Karla, my love of Michigan sports and all the rest of my antics longer than any other church. 

Maybe we should give everyone who calls Central Church “home” a medal. The “I-Survived-Rob” medals should not be made out of gold, silver or bronze, but the jury is still out on which medal type is appropriate. Should it be platinum to reward those who have endured my goofiness or tin to reflect my goofiness? Hmmmm….

A few years ago, I was going through some deep soul searching. There was some trouble and drama. Aging and dealing with dementia In-laws. Personal health issues. Church messiness. Kids too far away. You know the deal. Blah. Blah. Blah. Ugh! During that time, I prayed, “God did you call me to the city of Flint or to the Flint Central Church of the Nazarene or to someplace else?” Should I “like a bread truck, move my buns” or like an oak tree plant my roots deep, deep, deep in the ground?

We decided to plant our roots deep. I’m glad we did.

Like all storms, the sun was always shinning. I just didn’t see it. The clouds moved, many of the troubles passed and God’s faithfulness was new every morning. Now, I’m amazed at the transformation taking place in our church.

  • I love our pastoral staff.
  • I love our church board.
  • I love our office staff, facility crew, and tech people. They are the best!
  • I love what God is doing here.
  • I love the generosity displayed in our IMAGINE Initiative.
  • I love that our nurseries are being refreshed. After 25 years, it’s time. The offices too.
  • I love that there will be new signage around the building
  • I love that our kiddos will have a place to play outside. Central Park is coming in 2023.
  • I love that our debt will soon be gone and we will be able to better invest in Flint in 2024.
  • I love how the Spirit of God is moving in our services.
  • I love what Central church people are doing for Jesus outside of our church walls.
  • I love that God is calling young people into ministry.
  • I love that Jesus is not done with our older people. (Myself included. You don’t retire from the Lord’s Army. You re-enlist).
  • I love that the Spirit is drawing new people; they are staying and getting involved. 
  • I love our church. 

All this to say: thanks for putting up with me. I love you all and can’t wait to see what Jesus does next at Central Church.

Fine Print at the bottom of the page: Central Church is not a perfect church. There is no perfect church. I’m the pastor and I’m far from perfect (ask Karla). The Enemy is still at work. He’s no dummy. He can see the good things God is doing too. Don’t be surprised if that Old Snake ups the attack. He hates what’s happening. Drama and messiness could return. Personal health isn’t guaranteed. Family junk happens. That’s why it is vital for all of us to keep our eyes on Jesus. You can be sure that Jesus never disappoints. Greater is He who is in us than he that is in the world!

The Demise of CNN+ and the Church

Did you see the news that CNN+ (the streaming service established by CNN) stopped operations just weeks after it was launched? Hundreds will lose their jobs. CNN lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the ill-fated attempt to enter the streaming world. While spending all that money hyping the new venture, CNN+ was averaging just 10,000 viewers a day (not exactly a flood of viewers in our connected planet of 7 billion people). This may go down as a bigger blunder than the “new Coke” fiasco in the 1980’s. I was not one of the 150,000 CNN+ subscribers (they wanted 2 million in the first year). I had no skin in the game (in other words).  Whatever your opinion of CNN, there is value in looking at what went wrong. Clearly, I don’t know the inner workings of a media giant. From an outside observer who is interested in the long-term health of an organization (the church), here are a few of my takeaways:

1) Count the cost. 
I’ve written before if you are not failing sometimes you aren’t trying. Sometimes things don’t work out. You gotta try. But whew… you also have to count the cost. Unlike a media giant my church (and probably yours) can’t afford to lose thousands (let alone millions). It’s important to know the cost whatever the task. This is a good lesson for trustees or building and finance committees. 

2) Understand the need (and what is not needed)
Was CNN+ trying to scratch and itch that no one had? Apparently. Most people thought they could find similar content for free elsewhere. The need for a news streaming service, simply wasn’t there. This point will come into play most with our mission endeavors. Churches need to assess the community needs and determine what can and cannot be done to make the biggest impact on their city for Jesus.

3). Unity is Essential
CNN’s former CEO resigned in a scandal; other scandals have rocked the network; and a merger happened where the new CEO viewed the CNN+ reality differently than the previous leadership. Instability and upheaval could best describe life at CNN. All this to say, it’s a mess. Jesus was so incredibly right (duh) when he said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25). The equation is simple: Division equals death. For any organization to be successful (churches included), it must be united. The old line is still true: In Essentials Unity; In non-essentials liberty; In all things Charity. 

4) Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Clearly there was a failure to communicate in this process. Some people must have known this was coming; knew the trouble looming; knew the errors made and details but the message either wasn’t heard or wasn’t spoken. In any event, there was a failure to communicate. In new ventures, in any changes, in any mission type endeavors communicate the happenings to the church body to the point you are sick of it. Communicate and over-communicate. There must be buy in from the church to the mission at hand.

5. The Church isn’t a Media Corporation.
File this under: “It’s so Obvious, why are you pointing this out?” The Church isn’t a media corporation, but we have the BEST NEWS. As such, let’s keep proclaiming Jesus using whatever tools our modern world provides (read: print, social media, texting, anything, everything) to proclaim the good, good news! We don’t need CNN+. Let’s participate with God Almighty making the Church+. 

Twas the Day after Easter

‘Twas the day after Easter, and this preacher is spent
my energy’s missing. It got up and went.

The lights are all off. The Sanctuary’s bare
The pews are all empty, not a person is there,

The nurseries are closed, the children are gone,
remaining are only cross pictures they’ve drawn.

The staff’s ready for jammies, and I in my cap,
Everyone’s dreaming of a long Nazarene nap.

When into the office there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.

Away from my chair I flew like a flash,
ran into the wall, what a terrible crash.

when, what to my wondering ears should I hear,
but Karla saying, you’re not done, my sweet dear.

My little old lady, will be mad as a whip,
The moment she reads this silly little quip.

The Attendance Queen listed all the people who came,
 she whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“There’s a Joe and Shirley, a Billy and a Bob!
All these visitors make my pretty head throb!
On, Johnson! On, Smith!
On, Jones and On Jack!
To the top of each page!
the folder is packed!
Now write away! Write away!
Write to them all!”

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
I have no time to question or wonder why?

Each guest needs a note or a visitor letter
From the pastor saying church would be better

If only you’d only come more than twice a year
My preaching has a story you simply must hear

The Savior loves you so very, very much
He’ll bless your days with His gentle touch. 

His eyes–how they love you! His hands, how strong!
His message is always, you truly belong!

So come every Sunday, unless you are sick
Then watch on-line and get better quick.

We want you here, as much as you’re able
Sharing bread and wine at the Lord’s table 

But If your next visit is for a candle to light
You’ll hear me exclaim,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

What NOT to say when inviting your friends and neighbors to Central Church for Easter Services.

This Sunday is Easter, which is a great time to invite friends, neighbors and family to church services. People are inclined to attend on Easter if invited. The easy method is simply this: 

“Hey, this Sunday is Easter. I love Central Church and know we are going to have a great service. I’d love for you and your family to join me.” 

(Bonus stars given if you add: “And how about coming over for lunch following the service.” In a moment of full disclosure, “bonus stars” are referring to nothing in particular. Not jewels in your heavenly crown or anything at Starbucks, it’s just nonsensical fun.). 

 Here is what NOT to say when inviting friends to Easter Church:

1. Easter at Central Church is like eggs sunny side up with grits and gravy. (What does that even mean?)

2. If you come to Central Church on Easter Sunday you are entered in a contest to win a giant Easter basket. (Umm… no one will win an Easter basket—large or small–  for coming to Central Church).  

3. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir? The Beatles? Pavarotti? Adele? Tin-voiced, amateurs in comparison to our choir, band and singers!  We do have wonderful singers and musicians, but it’s not a competition. Those others can sing a little too.

4. Four out of five dentists recommend Central Church (that’s Dentine gum). 

5. Our pews are like lazy boys, only with no foot-rests; and they don’t recline or swivel; and there aren’t armrests unless you are on the end. OK… our pews are nothing like Lazy-boys, but come anyway.   

6. Get a picture taken with the Easter Bunny. Photo Booth? Yes. Easter Bunny present? No.

7. If you come to Central Church on Easter, Tax Day is delayed until Monday. (Tax Day is Monday whether your friend comes to Central or not).

8. If I fill a pew with friends on Easter, I get a giant Easter basket. (I thought we already established that no giant Easter Baskets will be given out for any reason).

9. Come to Central Church, our pastor is more hippity and hoppity than Peter Cottontail (I don’t believe that is true at all) 

10. Easter Sunday—if you ain’t at my church. You ain’t my friend. (Friends might respectfully decline your invitation. That’s OK. They are still your friend. Be kind, respectful and please don’t use the word “ain’t” in your invite.)

Ok… this is pure silliness. 

Inviting friends to Central Church for Easter Services is not silliness. Who knows? Your friends might join you, discover Jesus and be forever grateful that you cared enough to invite them to Easter Services.

The Results Are In (see declining church numbers): The Church Growth Movement and the Church Leadership Development Movement have failed. What’s next?

The Church Growth Movement didn’t produce lasting growth (the Church is in massive decline in America). The Church Leadership Development Movement hasn’t produced effective leaders. (See the aforementioned parenthesis about church attendance tanking and think of the vast number of ineffective “leaders” that you know). We need a new, effective model, if we want to build back the body of Christ.

Maybe, I know this sounds wild and crazy, maybe we should be putting our emphasis on disciple making. Isn’t that what Jesus called us to do in the Great Commission?  “Go and make disciples”? I almost wish Jesus hadn’t said the second part of the Great Commission (please don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me for even suggesting such a thing). I wish Jesus hadn’t said the “teaching them to obey” part, because I think that’s where the disciple making hits a major snafu. 

Every believer knows we need to make disciples, the problem is how are we going to make them? Most Christian folks hear “discipleship,” and think “Teach them the Bible.” That’s what Jesus said, “Teach them to obey…” Fill their brains with Bible teachings, then they will be better disciples. That’s the thinking of most Christians, but is it correct? Is head knowledge, knowing the “dos and don’ts” of Christianity, the main thing? Is sitting in a class or memorizing mountains of scripture (as important as that can be), what “making disciples” is all about?

I suggest it is not (again please keep the rotten tomatoes to yourself). I am not opposed to learning the Bible. We need to read God’s word and get it deep in our bones. But I’m not sure head knowledge alone will make the kind of disciples we are after. Who were the most learned men of Jesus day?  Wasn’t it the teachers of the law, the high priest, the religious scholars?  They knew the Torah, like the back of their hand, but they missed Jesus. Could the same malfeasance befall us?

John in his first letter wrote this:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18

Putting John’s advice into practical disciple making terms, the discipleship method we should strive for is not with words or speech (read: head knowledge alone) but “actions and truth.”  

Actions = serving. 
Truth = personal experience with the Truth (Capital “C”). 

How do we make disciples?  We serve with people. Some Christians. Some not. The far-from-Jesus people see and hear through serving (read: love with actions). They see and hear the Truth lived out through the relationships built into serving alongside one another. Over time, prayer and the prevenient grace of God, these far-from-Jesus people will be drawn to and encounter the Truth.

This approach is not down playing the importance of the Bible. The Bible, following serving, reinforces the Truth that people have encountered. The Bible is the word that points us to the Word. The Bible strengthens our resolve to serve more and better. The Bible is essential. But let’s start with serving. It’s being a living example of the Word and Truth, before anyone reads the word.

Serving leads to making disciples. Continued serving makes better disciples. How are we going to bring God’s Kingdom on earth? It happens through serving, not teaching, not preaching. Serving. We don’t need “servant leaders.” We don’t need to use the word “servant” as an adjective. We need “servant” to be a noun again. The next big thing needs to be the old, old thing: Making Christ-like servants. 

The Week Before Holy Week Job Description: Pray and Invite

Easter is less than two weeks away. Most generally, a pastor will tell you that Holy Week is one of the busiest weeks of the year. There are three extra services (Easter Jam, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) and of course, every preacher wants his/her Easter sermon to be a “home run.” We want everything to be perfect (as perfect as can be). The week is hectic, tiring, and demanding. But this week (the week before the week of Easter) is just as crucial. This is the week for prayer and invitation.

We need to pray. Pray for the services. Pray for the pastors, office staff, facilities crew, singers, musicians, tech people, ushers, greeters, (did I miss anyone? If I did, pray for them). Pray that everything we do is pointing people to Jesus. Pray that we are prepared to welcome and show our guests love. Pray that when people enter they will sense the Holy Spirit is at work and when they leave they will not be the same person that entered. That prayer, by the way, is not simply for the newbies walking through the door, that prayer is for all of us. Me included. Pray for a Jesus-led transformation! 

We need to invite. Lately, I’ve written a few blogs about the “rise of the nones” (those people that claim no religious affiliation); the increase in “de-constructionists” (folks walking away from the church or faith) and decline of the church in general. But here’s a secret: most people (even the aforementioned groups) are curious about Jesus. Most people like Jesus. (It’s hard not to like Jesus). What better day to invite them to hear about Jesus than Easter? It is the most Jesus-centric service of the year (every Sunday should be Jesus centered but Resurrection Sunday for sure must be).  

I’m convinced that God is not done in our world. I’m so ready to see some of our loved “none” friends flip into becoming “Jesus followers.” I’m dying for revival. TRUTH ALERT: God wants revival even more. As such, I’m convinced that God will give each of us opportunities to share and invite folks this week. So pray for God to open doors to invite people to church this and next week, then boldly walk through those doors with the love of Jesus. Make the most of the opportunities that God’s prevenient grace provides. 

Be a part of God’s redemption plan for our world. May his Kingdom come and His will be done in Flint (on earth) as it is in heaven. And may he use you and me to accomplish this goal!

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:5