Monthly Archives: May 2022

The One Thing All Church Leaders Should Do on Their Summer Vacation

There are plenty of things a church leader could do on their summer vacation. Have someone lead a devotion while in the car. Listen to Christian music. Take a good Christian book to read on the beach or by the campfire. Watch a church service on-line. But the one thing all church leaders should do is find a church to attend on Sunday

You read that last point correctly. All the introverts reading this article just threw up. I’m not kidding, find a church. Go in. See what being a stranger is like. You’ll feel a little awkward. That’s OK. It might be a good service. But even if it’s not, you will definitely be a better follower of Jesus (and a better church leader) if you attend a church on vacation. Notice the signage and how easy it is to get around. Ask yourself, “Is the signage in my church helpful to a visitor?” You’ll see what to do (or not to do) when a visitor sits by you. Were the folks sitting by you friendly? Are you friendly to the visitors that happen to sit by you in church? Moreover, it’s worth taking the family to church on vacation because, in so doing, the message sent to your kiddos is that church, God and “remembering-the-Sabbath-and-keeping-it-holy” matters. 

One time on vacation, we attended a church in Ohio somewhere. It was pre-Google days and pre-GPS days. We had a catalog with all the Nazarene church locations in the entire country and a paper map. It was just before 11AM on a Sunday morning and we followed our map to a little church. Only the church building had been sold since the catalog was printed and it was now a Free Methodist Church (Free Methodists are good people, so we stayed). 

The church had maybe forty people. We were clearly visitors. During the passing of the peace time (pre-covid, of course), a lady in front of us turned around and asked if we were from the town. 

“No, we attend a Nazarene church in Michigan,” was our reply.

“Oh, the Free Methodists have much better preachers than the Nazarenes.”

I’m pretty sure, Karla was about to agree, but the lady quickly turned around and didn’t give any of us a chance for conversation. Maybe since we weren’t from there or weren’t Free Methodists, she didn’t want to waste her “pleasantries” on us. She began to greet others. No one else talked to us. Not. One. Person. Maybe that was one of the reasons that church only had 40 people in it.

Still I was reminded how important it is to notice visitors when they enter a strange building. I was taught that even if the visitor is a “one-timer,” they still might be exactly where God wants them. Maybe, just maybe, God has a divine appointment set up for that one-time only visitor. Maybe that divine appointment includes you. I didn’t get much out of the sermon, but I was taught a lot that Sunday. 

Church leaders need to know what it’s like to be a visitor. They need to constantly be asking, “What’s it like to be a newbie in our church? Are we friendly? Is it easy to find the restrooms, the worship area or the nurseries?” Good church leaders take an hour of their summer vacation to do a little reconnaissance to improve their home church.

Get out of the Church Building and Enjoy the Son (that’s not a typo)

The church has left the building. Literally. Last year Central Church had two outdoor services, on the 4th of July and on Labor Day Sunday. Both were big days. Worship service led from a semi-truck bed and fellowship times following. July 4th had free hot dogs. Labor Day we had food trucks. Pastor Joel and the band were like rock stars (in the best possible way) as they sang praises to Jesus. Prior to the Labor Day Sunday service, while the band was warming up, I went to our neighbors who were setting up a garage sale. I apologized for the noise and offered to buy their lunch from a food truck for the trouble. They gladly accepted the invitation for a free lunch and said music “noise” wasn’t a problem. They liked it.

During the service, Pastor Joel felt led to purchase their entire garage sale (It was mostly baby clothes) and donate everything to Little Lambs, the Nazarene compassionate ministry center that distributes baby clothing and other items. Pastor Joey approached our neighbor and asked how much money they would want for all of the stuff in the garage sale. $100 was the response. Joey offered them $200 and they were overwhelmed by the generosity. Of course, we bought their lunch as promised too. File that under: Be the Best Neighbors (That’s one of our Growing Together core commitments). But something even better began to happen at our 4th of July Sunday Service.

A neighbor from downtown the street heard the music. She came for a better listen and liked it. She called her daughter and they started coming to church. The daughter, Christina, now helps lead a Bible study at the local rescue mission.

During that service, another neighbor named Howard heard the music and walked down the street with his grandson, Trevor. They liked the music too. They returned on Labor Day Sunday for the next outdoor service. After that, Howard and Trevor started attending occasionally and two weeks ago, Howard and Trevor were baptized. If you just heard a noise, it might have been from the angels still rejoicing in heaven shouting, “Praise the Lord!”

Did you ask if our outdoor services are worth it?  Yes. Yes. Yes, they are. Not only does it give us a chance to meet our neighbors, sometimes it gives a chance for our neighbors to meet Jesus. We need to get out of our church buildings and enjoy the Son (that’s not a typo).

This Sunday is the first of our Central outdoor services (all three summer holiday weekends we will be outdoors). The service begins at 11AM. Bring a lawn chair and your Gospel of John Journal as we begin our summer series in John. (Don’t have a journal? No worries. Get your free copy this Sunday). Following the service, we will have free hotdogs, chips and bottled water and the Roaring Twenties Ice Cream Truck will be here for tasty treats to purchase. My weather app says it is supposed to be perfect weather on Sunday morning (oh oh… I hope I didn’t just jinx us. I don’t believe in jinxes, so we should be fine). It’s going to be a great day.

Who knows, maybe next spring (or even later this summer when we have a lakeside baptism), we will see another neighbor getting baptized.

Learning the Hard Way

What happened to Hymenaeus and Alexander? Do you remember these guys? Paul mentions them in his letters to Timothy.
Hymenaeus apparently was teaching a heresy that the bodily resurrection of the dead had already taken place which made everyone in the church a little upset. (See 2 Timothy 2:16-18). Alexander was a coppersmith who did a great deal of harm to Paul (See 2 Timothy 4:14-15). Paul says both fellows were “shipwrecked.” That’s not good. They were so far gone Paul writes, “I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” (I Timothy 1:18)
Would you ever say that about anyone? Seriously, would you ever hand someone “over to Satan”? I’ve just preached a whole series on helping those who feel like the “Odd Man Out” and said Jesus welcomes all. It’s “Odd Man (or Woman) In” with Jesus. Paul’s words don’t sound very “Odd-Man-In-ish.”
“Here, here, Mr. Satan, may I call you, Lucifer? Board member, Mr. Knows-It-All, has been giving me fits ever since I have arrived at this church. Since you are the expert, could you give them a lesson on the “why-nots” of blaspheme? I’m handing him over to you. He’s out.”
You would never ever say that. Me neither. So why did Paul?
Paul is speaking figuratively, not literally. No conversation between the Prince of Darkness and Paul took place. Instead, Paul, in effect, was saying, “These guys have decided to do life in their own strength, power and wisdom, so I guess they are gonna have to learn the hard way.” That’s how we’d put it: “They will learn the hard way.”
Learning the hard way is going at life alone; trying to push through tough times without seeking counsel from the Lord or anyone else; never picking up your Bible (or the danger for preachers: only picking up your Bible for sermon prep not for a “time with Jesus”). Learning things the hard way usually involves falling flat on your face. Learning the hard way is, well, hard.
Learning things the easy way is through listening to godly mentors, reading scripture, trusting the input of other believers, discerning the Holy Spirit’s voice. (Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean life is “easy.” We might learn the “easy way” that life is sometimes very hard. Disclaimer’s disclaimer: Learning the easy way during the hardships in life is a deep and blessed knowledge that Jesus is with us).
I don’t know if Hymenaeus and Alexander ever came around and saw their shipwrecked lives for what they were. I hope so. I also hope that none of us need to learn things the hard way. Instead be let’s open to God’s leading. Find a godly mentor and trust his/her wisdom. Read the Bible for your own nourishment, not to simply regurgitate scripture for someone else’s edification. Seek the Lord in all things.
The easy way to learn is the best way (duh!). I sure hope Hymenaeus and Alexander figured that out.

A day in the life of this pastor

  • Awake at 4:30AM. Up at 4:45AM.
  • Coffee and a bagel thin (Toasted. Butter and jelly. Strawberry, of course).
  • Devotions.
  • Read the news.
  • On Facebook long enough to wish friends “Happy Birthday,” but get off before seeing someone’s conspiracy theory or how a pastor in California is a dope.
  • Do Wordle. “Scour.” Three tries. (FYI… today’s Wordle took me six tries. Ugh!)
  • Work on sermon. Last “Odd Man In” sermon. (No spoiler alerts, just come on Sunday)
  • Exercise.
  • Pray while on elliptical and exercise bike.
  • Shower. 
  • Dress. 
  • Help take down the beds—new carpet installed in the bedrooms today.
  • Leave for the church.
  • Listen to Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful world.”
  • Detour to Starbucks.
  • Get to church.
  • Talk with Deb, my super assistant, about events for the day and week.
  • Spill my mocha drink all over the floor.
  • Am I more upset that coffee spilled or that my $5.25 drink is now a big fat stain on the floor?
  • Try to clean it up. Deb helps too.
  • There’s still a stain. Ugh!
  • Call in the “dream team of clean.” (Our facility crew)
  • Apologize for being uncoordinated.
  • Quickly answer a few emails. 
  • Meet with Vi and Tim McIlvoy to discuss Del’s funeral. 
  • 95 years of life. 55 years of marriage.
  • Wore out four or five Bibles.
  • A great man went to heaven.
  • More emails and a few texts.
  • Leave for Brighton to have lunch with a pastor.
  • It’s pouring outside.
  • Head pounding.
  • Hope it doesn’t rain like this on Saturday for our IN FLINT work day. 
  • Will Panera’s cream of broccoli soup help my head? Can’t hurt. 
  • He shares.
  • I share.
  • Hope the conversation helped.
  • Back home to put up the beds on newly installed carpet.
  • Tigers on the TV while working.
  • Tigers lose (Shocker).
  • Find a house on Zillow that looks interesting. Hello Judy Cox.
  • Going to move? Probably not. Maybe. 
  • Supper: Soup and grilled cheese. (rainy days are soup-for-lunch-and-dinner days).
  • Back to the church. 
  • Try to figure out a closing song for the choir service with Nate.
  • Love divine all love excelling.
  • You can’t go wrong with a Charlie Wesley ditty.
  • Lizzy Benjamin sticks her head in to say “Hi.” There’s great teenagers at Central.
  • Go to the family center where people are eating Deb Pruitt’s tasty dinner (Italian and headaches isn’t a good combo. But it looks good).
  • Go from table to table talking with those gathered for dinner.
  • Dennis Johnson is doing great after so long in the hospital with Covid. A walking miracle.
  • Quay brought a toy truck. He’s letting Dennis Freeman play with it.
  • Jessica Roland, future missionary, did great the night before sharing with the church board her hopes and dreams.
  • Boston and Pastor Amanda are eating with some of our great teenagers.
  • Eat a piece of cake with Deb, Sam and Mary Ann.
  • Shhhh… I’m on a diet.
  • Meet with a young couple for pre-marriage counseling. Hope they have as happy a marriage as Vi and Del. I think they will.
  • Listen to tail end of choir practice. 
  • Did you hear that Dr. Joe Ewing died?  Funeral is Saturday. Joe was my dentist. I also used his Michigan Football tickets a time or two. He was a good man!
  • Say my good byes and head home.
  • Watch a little basketball then the Adam Project on Netflix with Karla. It’s so so. 
  • Bedtime.

Why the daily run down? Pastoring is full of many activities. Old folks. Young folks. Death. Life. Marriage. Worship planning. It’s a smorgasbord of life. That’s why I love it. Today will be different than yesterday. Whatever happens I hope Psalm 118 rings out true for you and me: This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24).

Evangelism: Then and Now

Evangelism 50 years ago went like this: 

Step 1: See person (Personal knowledge of person’s life not required).
Step 2: Invite person to church.
Step 3: Person comes to church, hears a salvation message and accepts Jesus into his/her life.

That’s not how evangelism works these days. Evangelism in 2022 looks more like this:

Step 1: Listen to your friend speak on how all churches either: a) want your money; b) are anti-intellectuals; c) are political hacks; d) full of hypocrites; or e) all of the above.
Step 2: Listen to your friend tell you how they’ve been hurt in churches in the past. 
Step 3: Apologize for the church’s failure in your friend’s life.
Step 4: Serve in the community.
Step 5: Talk (don’t brag about serving in the community. Don’t even mention it, unless your friend says something like: “What did you do on Saturday?” And you say, “Oh, some folks from my church and me were sorting groceries at the food bank. Go back to talking about the weather or whatever small talk is the conversation of the hour).
Step 6: Listen to friend scoff, “Churches don’t serve in communities much.” 
Step 7: Listen some more without getting defensive. Just listen.
Step 8: Talk a little bit (mostly about regular life happenings. Occasionally mention how God helps you. Don’t worry as friend rolls eyes.)
Step 9: Serve in the community again (ask if the friend would like to serve too. Maybe the friend will. Maybe not.).
Step 10: Listen as the friend talks about how churches need to stay out of politics.
Step 11: Listen as friend talks about how bad things are in our world. 
Step 12: Talk a little bit about how Jesus really can help.
Step 13: Friend has personal troubles.
Step 14: Listen to your friend tell about a family crisis.
Step 15: Listen to friend’s worries.
Step 16: Listen about friend’s anxiety.
Step 17: Talk a little bit and offer to pray for your friend (Maybe they will let you. Maybe not).
Step 18: Invite the friend to watch last Sunday’s church service on-line. Tell them it helped you.
Step 19: Listen as friend says they don’t have time. 
Step 20: Listen as friend talks about more troubles.
Step 21: Listen as friend says they watched a little bit of the worship service.
Step 22: Smile. God is working– you know it. It’s a secret. Don’t tell your friend why you are smiling. 
Step 23: Get coffee together and invite friend to join you at church.
Step 24: Listen as friend comes up with an excuse about how busy he/she is.
Step 25: Listen as friend says “Christianity is good for you, but probably won’t work for me.”
Step 26: Talk a little bit and say, “I don’t know, Jesus might surprise you.”
Step 27: Invite friend to watch a church service on-line again and tell friend “If you have questions, I will be happy to talk about it.”
Step 28: Listen to friend say, “Hey, I watched a service.”
Step 29: Listen as friend says, “Thank you. I did feel a little something.”
Step 30: Talk a little bit about how Jesus is speaking and how Jesus loves your friend.
Step 31: Listen to friend’s doubts.
Step 32: Listen to friend’s fears.
Step 33: Tell friend what a change Jesus has made in your life.
Step 34: Listen to friend’s questions.
Step 35: Try to answer friend’s questions.
Step 36: Pray with friend as they invite Jesus to be Lord of their life.
Step 37: Invite friend, who is now a believer, to join you in church on Sunday.
Step 38: Friend comes to church.
Step 39: Begin to disciple your friend.

Evangelism takes longer these days. But it is still worth it!

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

The Most Unheeded and Un-obeyed words of Jesus (by the church)

A DIVIDED world needs a UNITED Church! That’s not my quote, I read those words somewhere last week. It’s true.

What we are experiencing in America is not unprecedented. There have been other times in US history when our nation was divided (Hello? We had a Civil War).  I am not suggesting that opposing sides are ready to bear arms, I am suggesting that there are similarities. The healing remedy then and now is for the Church of Jesus Christ to come together in love and mission. 

Today… it’s not north and south.
It’s left and right. 

It’s not Yankees and Rebels.
It’s Conservatives and Liberals.

It’s not blue and grey.
It’s red and blue.

It’s not slavery v. freedom.
It’s Roe v. Wade II.

Read it again: What our divided world needs is a united church.

“Impossible,” you say. Churches are dividing more than ever (Exhibit A: The schism in the “United” Methodist Church). It’s not just our Methodist sisters and brothers driving in opposite directions on a divided highway. Churches, individual churches of all denominations, are divided more now than ever (Exhibit B: The Mask v. No Mask debates). Sadly, as we in the church debate such things, our world is going down the tubes. 

Under our watch, we are seeing the greatest decline in Christianity in America. Read that previous sentence again. Slowly. We are living in a post-Christian America. It’s an avalanche. It’s happening in our families. People are walking away from the divided church in unprecedented numbers. Now think about what you are actively doing about this reality? The church must be united in love and mission to face this daunting task. Here’s (a seemingly novel) idea: How about if we listened and strove to obey Jesus’ final prayer for us, when He prayed:

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  John 17:20-23

Could it be that those words of Jesus are the most unheeded and un-obeyed words by the church? According to Jesus prayer, when we are one the world will know and hear the message. If we aren’t one, how can they hear? If we aren’t one, how can they see Jesus?

What our divided world needs is a united church. 

Pro-Life? Pro-Choice? I am Pro-People

The cultural wars in our country have been on full display this week with the leaked Supreme Court document regarding the upcoming Roe v. Wade ruling. There is anger and shouting on all sides. I am unapologetically pro-life. All life. Notice I did not write pro-unborn. That’s part of it. I am pro-unborn. I am also… 

Pro-elementary child. 
Pro-college student. 
Pro-everyone else.

I am pro-people. 

That’s what pro-life means to me: Pro-everyone living and breathing on planet earth. No exceptions. As such, I rejoice that the “least of these” might be protected, but I am also heartbroken that we do not have an adequate health and social service system to manage the turmoil, stress and health (mental, emotional and spiritual health) of the women seeking abortions. I am pro-life, but I am also pro-we-have-to-do-better-for-these-women. Is it ok to be pro both of these things? Can’t someone be pro-people? That’s what I am. 

Being pro-people means I am also…

Pro-adequate housing. 
Pro-better health care.
Pro-better mental health treatment.
Pro-better foster care.

Being pro-people also means…

Pro-ending genocide in Ukraine.
Pro-ending gun violence in America.
Pro-ending drug addiction.
Pro-ending the suicide epidemic.
Pro-ending racism.
Pro-ending the vitriol rhetoric.
Pro-ending the demonization of those who disagree with me.
Pro-ending all those things that divide us.

Being Pro-people also means…

Pro-pray harder.
Pro-hate less.
Pro-love more.

I pray that God’s Kingdom would come and His will done in Flint (on Earth) as it is in heaven. That means that I am fighting for the things Jesus would fight for—that is, people. That’s why he came to earth and went to the cross: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Jesus is pro-people. Me too.

The 6 Words Our Society Needs Church Leaders to Say

John Maxwell once said, “If no one is following you. then you are not leading. You are taking a walk.” There is a little bit of pressure in saying: “Do what I do. Follow me” But that’s what great leaders say. Jesus repeatedly said it. Paul did too. Paul gave early church leaders plenty of challenging words in his writings, but his biggest challenge was the one he put on himself. He told the rag-tag group in Corinth: Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1). 

Dear church leader could you say what Paul said? Follow me, as I follow Christ.

Could you tell the people whom you influence: “Put me under a microscope. Examine my life. Look at my social media posts. Notice how I interact with those people who get under my skin. Checkout my time commitments. Look at my bank statements and how I spend my money. Hear my interactions with non-believers. Am I attempting to influence people toward Jesus? Watch me in a crowd or view me when I’m all alone. Look at my life, then do what I do.” Could you say that?

A defeatist would say, “Oh no, don’t look at me, I will mess up.” (Of course, you will mess up. You are a human, the last time I checked).  Visionary, godly leaders says, “I take on the challenge to live in a Christ-like manner in all of my relationships and in all areas of my life. Will I mess up? Hopefully not often. But when I do, I will get back up and move forward, because that’s what Christ-like leaders do. Follow me, as I follow Christ

Dear church leaders, here’s an even bigger challenge: Could we say the same thing about your church to other churches? “Look at us. Not in an arrogant, ‘look-at-me-I’m better-than-you’ sort of way, but look at the way we operate. Audit our books. Notice where we spend our monies. How do we treat one another? Pay attention to how we care for the ‘the least of these.’ Are we investing in our community? What are our evangelism techniques? Look at what we are doing for Jesus and then do that. Follow us as we follow Jesus.”

Could we say those words? Could you offer that challenge to your surrounding churches or to other churches across the country? If not, why not?

“The times– they are a changin.” There are challenges from the left and right. Temptations are all around. People are walking out of churches and not looking back. Our society is becoming more and more post-Christian. Under our watch is the greatest decline in Christianity in America. Right now. It’s happening under our noses. The message of Jesus is being shut out. Can this post-Christian trend be turned around? What are we doing about it?

I believe the tide can turn. I believe God can work in America. I believe revival can come. How? Change occurs when Godly leaders personally and local churches collectively say, “Follow us as we follow Jesus.” Then actually living into those expectations. 

The six words our society needs church leaders to say: Follow me, as I follow Christ.  

Can you say it? 

Will you say it?

Don’t just say it, live it out. Follow me, as I follow Christ!