Monthly Archives: September 2022

When United Methodist Members Change Churches: One Nazarene’s Response

Our United Methodist (UM) brothers and sisters are splitting over Biblical interpretation and LBGTQ+ related issues. Local congregations must decide if they wish to stay with the denomination or exit. As this occurs, many churches will decide to remain UM (some because they agree with the Biblical interpretation shift and some for economics as the price for exiting is excessively high). In those churches that remain UM, some of their members may decide to leave. Since the Church of the Nazarene (CotN) is in the same theological tree, some may look to a local CotN as a landing place upon their exit. 

What should we offer these people?

1. Give them time. Allow them to grieve. Allow them to mourn the loss of their church home. This is hard. People will be making decisions to leave a church in which they have poured their time and resources. Some have raised their children there and it’s the only church they have known. It’s heartbreaking to leave a church you have loved. It will take time to recover.

2. Give them a space. Following months of heart wrenching decision-making both for themselves and their friends who remain UM, those looking for a church home need to simply worship in peace. Let them enjoy the singing and the Biblical preaching from the pulpit. Let them relax and take a deep breath. Invite them to join small groups, Sunday School classes and for dinner in your home. Make your church warm and hospitable. Pray that God will restore their joy. Like with all who grieve, not everyone will bounce back in the same time and manner. Give them space to move at their own pace.

3. Give them a voice. When those bereaving former UM members are ready, let them speak of their sadness. Empathize with this new reality for them. No need to offer pithy clichés like “It-will-be-ok” or “God-is-in-charge,” they know the “Sunday School” answers. Instead, these heartbroken people just need to have someone sit and listen. They will talk about it when they are ready.

3. Give them a place of service, when the time is right. Eventually, these folk, who in many cases, were the worker bees in their former church, will need a place to serve. Talk to them about their strengths. Ask them where they would like to serve and if they are ready. Then put them to work. Let them use their gifts and talents for the Lord. 

The situation in the UM church is heartbreaking on many levels. It used to be said that the CotN was running 20 years behind the UM in social matters. With the speed of communication these days, it appears that the timeline has shrunk. News travels fast. Attitudes and positions change more quickly. Will the CotN debate Biblical interpretation and LBQTQ+ issues too? Of course. The 2017 General Assembly displayed much unity regarding its statement on human sexuality (97% agreement), but that does not mean the issues contained therein will not be revisited. The CotN is not immune from the tilt of our secularized society. In other words, before casting stones at our UM kinfolks, let’s make sure our house is in order.

In all matters, pray that, like Jesus, we will be full of grace and truth.  Pray that we might fulfill Jesus prayer in John 17 to be one. Pray for God’s intervention with our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church. Pray for the new entity, the Global Methodist Church. Pray for a reconciling spirit and the return of the joy of the Lord. No one but our Enemy wins in these types of battles. Pray for God’s peace and mercy to all. 

The lack of Christ-like Leadership and the Demise of Christianity in America

Christian Leadership means leading in a Christ-like way. What’s a Christ-like way? It’s leading in such a manner that those around the person would think, “This person would wash my feet, if needed.” In other words, Christian leadership is all about servanthood. The Christian leader should ask themselves:

Do the folks I lead know I am servant first, leader second?
Do the folks I lead know of my devotion to Christ more than any other aspect about me?
Do the folks I lead look at my Christian walk and think I want to follow Jesus in the same manner?

If not, then you are not a Christian leader. The so-called leader might have a title with impressive letters like M.Div, D.Min. or Ph.D after their name. But if they aren’t leading like Jesus, they aren’t a “Christian” leader.

A recent study showed that by the 2070 less than 50% of Americans will identify as a Christian. See the article here). Why such a downfall? No doubt, many factors are involved. Still John Maxwell’s quote “everything rises and falls with leadership,” would deduce that a major factor for the fall of Christianity in America is the lack of Christ-like leadership displayed in the last few decades.

Too often Christian leaders (in many cases, certainly not all) have…

  • Climbed to the top, using the ways of the world instead of the way of Jesus.
  • Demanded to have their way and their rights, rather than picking up a towel and basin. 
  • Focused more on politics than Jesus.
  • Created boogeymen/strawmen to topple, while ignoring Christ and His kingdom. 
  • Been silent when needed to speak, and spoken when silence was the best response.
  • Kowtowed to those with money rather than being faithful regarding “the least of these.” 

At some point, some of these “the rising to the top” leaders may have voiced the importance of Christian servanthood over an autocratic management style. Only to reach the top of the ecclesiastical ladder, seduced by its power, and have subsequently responded more like a shark, rather than the Lamb of God.

The result? The world has been watching and is now rejecting Christ and His bride. People are walking away in droves. Christian leaders are still responding by casting stones at society and those leaving the church, rather than confessing our own sins. Leaders have no one to blame for the demise of the church in America than themselves. 

Is there any way to turn this trajectory around?  Yes, but it will come from followers of Jesus (leaders first) displaying the attitude of Jesus. It’s leading as Jesus– full of grace and truth. It’s servanthood over salaries, titles and position. It’s the way of Jesus. Unless we walk in the way of Jesus, we are no different than those walking the ways of the world.

The Parable of the Seed on a Shelf

Once upon a time, there was a seed that wanted to grow into a great champion pumpkin. But that little flat, one third of an inch, white pumpkin seed didn’t want any help in doing so. Sealed in his package of seeds and sitting on a shelf in the local hardware store, he declared to the others, “I’m going to grow into a great pumpkin one day. And I’m going to be a champion pumpkin all by myself.”

The other seeds in the bag laughed, “All by yourself?”

“That’s right, all by myself!” he proudly proclaimed.

Well, as good fortune would have it, a nice lady bought the package of pumpkin seeds and took them home. She didn’t have a big plot of ground, so she only planted some of the seeds. The seed that made “the great pumpkin” declaration was not one of the chosen seeds and remained in the bag, on a shelf, in the garage. 

“That’s OK. I don’t need anything else, I am going to grow into a great pumpkin right here!” the seed announced to no one in particular.

The lady tilled the ground and added cow manure to it. Cow manure is an excellent source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium which are all nutrients necessary for plants to grow and thrive. Then she planted the seeds in the rich dark soil. She looked up and smiled as the sun was beaming down on her and her planted seeds. She knew sunny warm days were important for seeds to grow. She made sure she watered the seeds every day without fail. Watering seeds is important too. She used fertilizer on the sprouting plant from time to time. Not too much. Not too little. When birds came to eat the buried seeds or when critters from the woods came to eat the growing vine and subsequent little blooms then pumpkins, she’d shoo them away with a holler and wave. If weeds tried to invade the plants’ space, she’d quickly pull those pesky intruders so they wouldn’t gobble up the nutrients in the soil.

The pumpkins grew and grew and grew. They grew larger than anyone had ever seen in that part of the country. All the nice lady’s friends urged her to take the pumpkins to the county fair. She couldn’t take them all, so she picked out two large, orange beauties and had some strong friends load them into a truck. 

At the fair, the judges inspected and smiled at both big, fat pumpkins. They couldn’t decide which was better, so both pumpkins won first place. Blue ribbons and much fanfare followed. Everyone wanted to know how to grow such large champion pumpkins.

Meanwhile, back in the garage and on the shelf, was the flat, one third of an inch, white pumpkin seed. It was still just a seed. But it had learned an important lesson: A seed can’t become a champion on its own. It needs good soil, lots of water, sunshine, fertilizer, someone to shoo the varmints and pull the weeds and some friends to help along the way. 

A seed on a shelf just cannot grow by itself. To be a champion, you need help.

Likewise, a person only sitting in a pew cannot grow either. To be a champion in our faith and in life, we really do need each other.

The end.

The Answer to Our Troubled Times Might Surprise You

Too many Jesus followers get caught up in the distractions of the today’s culture. We participate in meaningless arguments. We quarrel about things that in the end won’t matter. We debate who should be in and who is out of the church, even as the debates themselves push more and more people out. We say, “we don’t like the direction the culture is moving,” yet we offer no alternatives in our bickering. We make up strawmen-boogeymen, then prove our “intellectual superiority” as we tear down these so-called threats. Those with eyes in the world see through these phony tactics, giving further evidence to ignore the church and the Truth we are called to represent.

“Shout about the evils in the world,” they say. More and more people are willing participants in what was once called sin. “Preach the Bible,” they say. More and more people no longer believe that the Bible is true. Our megaphone yells fall on deaf ears. Our biblical quotes are meaningless to them. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” seems to be the resigned conclusion of some groups. Pretend these unsettling times will simply pass over. They won’t. Short of an all-encompassing, miraculous revival, these days are here to stay. 

Here’s the problem: If we imitate or ignore the culture for very long, the culture will soon ignore us. If we simply spout hate or biblical quotes with no love behind them, the ears of culture will not hear the message.

What’s the answer?

Jesus. 

It’s always been Jesus. it’s not conferences. It’s not gimmicks. It’s not the coolest thing. It’s not gathering in a holy huddle. It’s Jesus. It’s living out the Jesus life. It’s calling people to be like Jesus. The Jesus way has always been counter-cultural (Jesus was crucified by the prevailing culture of his day). It shouldn’t surprise us that in an ever-increasing secular society, the Jesus way seems foreign too. Furthermore (watch your toes), it shouldn’t surprise us when the prevailing religious culture is also offended by Jesus (see the Pharisees). Yet, when those in the prevailing culture see genuine Jesus followers humbly incarnating the captivating love of Christ Jesus in their everyday coming and goings, it is still compelling. 

The Jesus way doesn’t ignore truth (Jesus came full of truth). But the Jesus way presents truth not as a weapon to be brandished, but as a compassionate answer to our broken system. It’s the posture of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery, “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Jesus humbly embodied grace and truth. Our culture is like that woman in John 8. It’s is broken, hurting, and yet also guilty. The answer isn’t picking up stones (or picket signs). We can’t ignore her. We can’t condone her sin. We need grace and truth. Grace is being compassionate and loving no matter what. Truth is being honest, no matter what.

The lyrics of old the hymn, “Tell me the old, old story of Jesus and His Love” is still the answer to our cultural divide. The third verse is particularly true in these loud and continuous days:

Tell me the story softly,
  With earnest tones and grave;
Remember I’m the sinner
  Whom Jesus came to save;
Tell me the story always,
  If you would really be,
In any time of trouble,
  A comforter to me.

To have any effectiveness at all, the church must “softly” and “always” be like Christ Jesus, full of grace and truth.

The Parable of the Zookeeper’s Dilemma

Once upon a time there was a zookeeper with a very nice zoo. There was only one problem with the zookeeper’s zoo. People weren’t coming anymore. They had plenty of reasons, but the truth is people just didn’t seem interested in what the zoo had to offer.

The zookeeper called for a meeting of all the animals to brainstorm for a solution to the zoo’s lack of support.

The alligator opened his very large mouth and bellowed out that the way to induce people to come to the zoo is to growl and howl and even bite a few people (if need be) to show them what an important zoo they are missing.

The monkeys declared that the best way to entice the people to come to the zoo is to imitate the behavior of the world outside of the zoo.  Have the animals working long hours in an office building. Have them busy from morning until night. Make them stressed out about getting their children into the best sporting activities and dance competitions. The fish in the aquarium were very concerned about making sure their youngest were in the best schools (of course). “Imitation is the greatest form of a complement.” the monkeys argued. 

The ostriches stuck their head in the sand. They didn’t want to think about the zoo and its troubles.

The Lamb, on the other hand, lying next to the lion whispered, “Just tell them the truth. We are trying to offer them something that the outside world doesn’t offer. It gets messy. We don’t always get it right. But tell them in here, when we are on our best behavior, they can find rest for their weary souls.” 

Few animals heard the Lamb’s suggestion. The alligators were busy growling and the monkeys were just plain busy. The ostriches asked, “What? Did you say something Lamb?”

A vote was taken and the alligator’s approach won. Growling, howling and bellowing commenced on the terribleness of life outside of the zoo. Most everyone except the lamb and the ostrich participated. 

But their growling and howling didn’t work and zoo soon closed. 

I guess the Lamb was right.

The end.

Describe your Church in Four Words (Bad Answers Only)

If you were asked to describe your church in four words or less what would you say?

Bad answers only:

  • Disliking people unlike us.
  • Holy rollers since 1908.
  • Worst potlucks in town. 
  • Our Music is loud.
  • Our Music? A lullaby.
  • There’s worse preachers (maybe). 
  • Ain’t done that before.
  • Theological water’s shallow end.
  • Alert: There’s Boogeymen everywhere
  • Neither hot nor cold
  • Heaven focused. Earth? Unconcerned.
  • Unchanged decorations since 1975.
  • Only Republicans may enter.
  • Voting Democrat. Hating Trump.
  • Ignoring what bothers you.
  • Biblical Theology? What’s that?
  • Pretending everything is ok.
  • Been there, done that.
  • If gay, stay away.
  • Against most everything innovative.
  • Old fashioned, Outta Touch.
  • Making old people happy.
  • Making young people happy.
  • Making nobody happy (usually).
  • If it ain’t broke…
  • Love it or leave.
  • Theology via Oprah Winfrey.
  • We aren’t perfect, just act like it (and we can’t count).

Those are bad. I hope none of those examples describe your church. What are four good words to describe your church? Our answer at Central Church: 

Connecting People to Jesus.

That’s it. 
Four words.
That’s the goal.
Connecting people to Jesus. 

Everything flows out of those four words.
When we are connecting people to Jesus, guess what? 

  • We are better connected to Jesus. 
  • We connect with others too. 
  • We become the best neighbors. 

As we accomplish that goal, “Connecting people to Jesus,” our prayer (for God’s Kingdom would to come and His will to be done in Flint as it is in heaven) will be realized more and more. 

Connecting People to Jesus is an all-on-board proposition. One or two pastors can’t do this alone. Everyone must buy in for it to be a success. Today’s big question: 

How are you connecting people to Jesus?