Monthly Archives: May 2023

Stop Me If You’ve Heard this Before: The Church of the Nazarene “Ain’t” What She Used To Be.

Of course, the Church of the Nazarene isn’t what she used to be. She is 115 years old. Find any other institution that’s been around for that length of time and tell me it’s the same. I’ll save you the trouble, you won’t find it. It doesn’t exit.

Not a shocking admission: The world is different from 1908. So is the church. But is it worse? That’s what the aforementioned headline implies. It’s not the same and it’s worse. But is it?

When I was a kid there was no dancing. My folks sent a note to the Fifth-Grade gym teacher, Miss Norton, informing her that I was not to participate in the group square dancing. I was a Nazarene. If I could have had a membership class right there, every fifth-grade boy would be a Nazarene today. Fifth grade square dancing isn’t a slippery slope into a life of sin. 

My boys went to their senior proms. Most Nazarene teenagers do too these days. Nazarenes attending prom was unheard of 40 years ago. Instead of the prom, me and two other seventeen year old classmates drove to Cleveland, Ohio (from Detroit) to see the Cleveland Indians play the Boston Red Sox. We stayed in a seedy hotel that night and went to Cedar Point the next day. Looking back, we could have found far more trouble on our excursion than anything that occurred at the Garden City West Senior Prom. 

We couldn’t go to the movies either. I snuck out of the house as an eleventh grader to see Disney’s cartoon, Lady and the Tramp. It was my first movie. I was surrounded by second graders, thinking I was going to the Bad Place if Jesus returned at that moment. I’ve bumped into District Superintendents on my way out of the theatre now. 

The church has changed in ways besides the rules. 

There are more Nazarenes in Africa than in the United States. This is not a fact to be mourned but a reality to be celebrated. World Missions worked and is still working. Wasn’t seeing Africa turn to Jesus the goal when the first Nazarene stepped foot onto Capo Verde or Eswatini (Swaziland)? We might need our African brothers and sisters to return the favor (Praise the Lord!).

The Foundry and the Global Ministry Center are far less populated than in days’ past. And yet, ministry is still happening. Holiness publishing is still taking place. The work of the church continues. The valued employees of both entities work hard and are committed to the Church of the Nazarene. Is it different? Yes. Is it worse? Not necessarily.

The colleges and universities aren’t as “Nazarene” as they used to be. It’s true that the percentage of Nazarenes is at its lowest point in the USA/Canada schools, but is that a bad thing? My son married a non-Nazarene girl he met at Olivet. She’s a wonderful Christian. The addition of students from other traditions doesn’t water down who we are. It enriches the experience. 

There are challenges, factions and the church is faced with economic and ecclesiastical disaster as funds dwindle and clergy age. All true in deed. But is it worse than the challenges faced in the Great Depression or during world war time? Every generation brings challenges, but that doesn’t doom the church. The Church of the Nazarene is not yours, mine, Phineas F. Bresee’s or anyone else’s, it’s the Lord’s. As long as the church keeps her eyes on Jesus, she will be just fine—no matter what changes occur in the world. 

The headline is right, the Church of the Nazarene “ain’t” what she used to be. Neither are we. But that doesn’t make it bad. It makes it different. Sometimes different is OK. 

Hooray! I’m a Grandpa!!!

A new Prince has finally made his entrance into the world. The boy (I thought it was going to be a girl) was born on Thursday at 11:26 PM. After an all-day affair, he came into this world via C-section weighing 6lbs, 15 ounces. Both mom and baby are doing great. What’s his name? Good question. They’ve had nine months to figure this one out… and they are still deciding. Stay tuned.

I am not biased in any way (cough cough), but he is the most handsome boy that has ever been born. I know what you are thinking: “There have been approximately 117 billion people born on planet earth. Roughly half of that number have been male. So how I can be certain that he is the cutest boy ever born?” Well, let’s just say, I have it on very good authority (Read: Karla).

Since this is my first piece written as a grandfather, I feel obligated to say, “Hey you kids get off my lawn! Don’t you know I am watching Wheel of Fortune and Matlock reruns?” (that was a joke, I rarely watch Matlock reruns). Grandparents already know the jumble of the emotions I’m feeling today. Joy. Love. Hopes. Dreams. Thankfulness. Nervousness. Faith. Worry. Trust.

I have so many questions: Will he dream of becoming a doctor, in healthcare IT (like his dad), a baseball player, carpenter, President or preacher? What will the world be like when he graduates high school (class of 2041)? Class of 41? Yikes, I’m old!

I never knew my dad’s dad. He died before my mom and dad even met. My Grandpa Keach died when I was 12 or 13 years old. He was a Ford Motor retiree from Missouri, smoked filter-less Camels, and drank Falstaff beer. He went to church one time in his life. As a teenager in Mexico, Missouri, he went to church wearing overalls (Probably holey. He was very poor). The “greeter” informed him that he wasn’t dressed properly and to return when he was wearing better clothes. He never went back. Not there. Not anywhere. My grandpa was a good man. I like to think that he had a relationship with the Lord, even if he didn’t feel welcome in the Lord’s House (thank you, Mr. Goober Greeter).

All this to say, I am not experienced in grandpa-ing. Of course, I saw mine and Karla’s dad as they “grandpa-ed” for my boys. My dad was slowing down a bit by the time my boys came around. Karla’s dad was a little more active (before Alzheimer’s Disease robbed him of his memory and life). But one thing is for sure, my boys knew that their grandpas loved them and loved Jesus too. 

I hope this lil’ dude sees that in me too. I want him to know that he is deeply loved by his grandparents (not just Karla and me, but Blaire’s side too) and, even more, loved by Jesus. I won’t be standing on the platform (unless I’m officiating) when he is brought forward for infant baptism or dedication, but I want him to see a grandpa that is dedicated to living before him a godly life. I’ll be praying for him daily (I’ve set my alarm to pray each day at the time he was born—11:26… AM…not PM… and probably not on Sunday’s since, I’ll be preaching most weeks).

We’ve got to get to Kansas and greet him properly (next week). We need to give the Hugs, Kisses and Michigan/Motor City Sports gear. Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it… (I don’t think that verse was referring to Tigers, Lions, Pistons, Red Wings of the Wolverines), but you know…

Hooray!! I’m a grandpa today!

The USA/Canada Church of the Nazarene is Experiencing Unprecedented Decline– What Are We Doing Wrong?

Since the last General Assembly, the Church of the Nazarene has grown in every region except USA/Canada. The losses in the USA/Canada are staggering—down 57,279 members and 172 churches. One wonders if the numbers were based on worship attendance (and not membership) if the losses would be even worse. I suspect they would be.  

There have been numerous reasons given for the American church demise. Life in a post Christian America is hard; notable Christians’ infamous failures/sins; the development of growing factions within the church; the politicization of American Christianity and the questions revolving around human sexuality are just few reasons given. Maybe the reason is much simpler. It doesn’t involve looking in the Bible for answers or the latest census numbers for clues. It involves looking in the mirror. Maybe the problem is us.

Admittedly, my perspective is limited and purely anecdotal. In the last ten years, I’ve been to Panama several times. No where else, just Panama. What I’ve seen there is a commitment to the cause of Christ that puts Americans to shame. 

There is a unity among churches that leads to cooperation not competition. Work projects at fellow churches bring out people from across the district to help, not simply a handful of old men and women with nothing better to do. 

Money isn’t wasted on unnecessary things. I asked a missionary friend recently if he knew of a District Superintendent (not in the USA/Canada) that was not also pastoring a church. He could not think of a single one. Most all DSs on the mission field also pastor a church. Why does the USA/Canada think DSs need to do that job exclusively? Most international DSs don’t have an assistant. Is the job that much more difficult in the US? Would our numbers be worse (how could they be worse?) if our DSs were also pastoring a church. Instead of taking some of our best pastors out of growing churches and making them a DS, what if they could pastor and be DS. It would cut district apportionments and the strong local churches would not lose momentum.

Maybe there are foolish debates among the believers in Panama, but I have not witnessed it. There is a focus on preaching the gospel and going to the places that most need Jesus. It seems the USA/Canada have been committed to going to places that are fresh and new, and have abandoned the cities and places were ministry is hard but most needed.

Moreover, the folks in Panama know how to pray. They really pray. Could our demise be as simple as weak and feeble prayer efforts? Call a prayer meeting and a handful show up to quietly pray. Call a prayer meeting in Panama, the church shows up for a loud, boisterous, holy gathering. We need to learn how to pray once more.

Instead of sending our best and brightest to the world regions to teach and instruct pastors and leaders in the ways of the church. Maybe the world areas should be sending teachers/missionaries to us. It seems we have much to learn from them. Maybe what the USA/Canada church need most is a dose of humility to learn from our brothers and sisters in the regions of the world where church growth is happening.

The Grandbaby is Coming, But I Need a Name

My daughter-in-law, Blaire, has been given a date on which her doctors will induce labor if the baby has not already arrived. She goes in the hospital on Wednesday night. That means– this time next week, I will be a grandfather. I’m still not sure how I want the newest Prince to refer to me. Karla is going to be “Mimi.” We’ve called her Mimi for years.  So Mimi seems to fit. But what should the whippersnapper call me? I still haven’t decided. Here are a few options…

Pops (If I move out west would I then be called “Soda” or if we move down south would they call me “Coke”?)  

Paw Paw (There’s a town in Michigan by this name. Listen, If I’m going to be named for a city in Michigan that kid better call me “Ann Arbor”). 

PeePaw (this would be appropriate for the grandfathers who wear Depends)

PooPaw (see the above parenthetical comment).

Ice Cream Pop (I do like Ice Cream, but I’m afraid Karla would start to call me “Chubby Pop”).

Preacher Pops (this is what my buttons are called when my shirt is two sizes too small from eating all that ice cream).

Pop Daddy (sounds like something P-Diddy would say. If you don’t know the P-Diddy reference chances are you are already a grandfather) 

Pop Pop (apparently, this is what Alice Cooper’s grandchildren call him. If you don’t know who Alice Cooper is you might think Alice is a woman. He’s not). 

Gee Gee (this sounds too much like the lesser known 80’s brother band who sounded eerily similar to the Bee Gees. If you’ve never heard of the Bee Gees count yourself “blessed and highly favored”). 

Italians call grandfathers, Nonno, which sounds like something Mork from Ork might say (if you know the “Mork from Ork” reference you are probably already a grandfather).

I heard of a set of grandparents who go by the names “Honey and Poo Bear.” (I’m not sure which moniker “honey” or “poo bear” is worse. No thanks).   

Some have told me let the kid figure it out. (I’m afraid I’d be called “blah blah” or some other bodily function noise the rest of my days).

Last week, my friend, Tom Ireland, told me, “You can call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner.” It’s an old joke, but hearing Tom say it made me laugh. 

In the end, it doesn’t matter what name I’m called by my grandkid (In case you are wondering, my rotten son and daughter-in-law still haven’t told us if the soon-to-be-born child is a boy or a girl). What does matter is that my grandchild knows that he/she is loved by Karla and me and more importantly knows the love of God and decides to follow Him all of her/his days!  3 John 4 is still my verse, but I’ve had to add a parenthetical comment (the comment is mine, not John’s): I have no greater joy than to hear that my children (and grandbaby) are walking in the truth.

Why the Upcoming General Assembly is the Most Important One in Decades (maybe ever)

All General Assemblies are important for the life and health of the Church of the Nazarene (CotN), but the 30th General Assembly convening in June will be the most significant in decades. The 2023 vote for General Superintendent (GS) will have long lasting consequences. 

The re-election of the four-current, eligible GS’s is a fairly safe assumption. The last GS to not get reelected was Orval Neese in 1944. There were accusations of improprieties relating to nepotism that kept him from being reelected. Apparently, all was forgiven by 1948 when Dr. Neese was elected GS once more. Not the silence of the Board of General Superintendents (BGS) over social issues; nor the recent controversy regarding the BGS statement on what defines doctrine will be consequential enough for any of the four GSs to not get reelected. GSs are always reelected.  They will be again this time.

Moreover, all four of the GSs who are to be reelected in 2023 are under the age of 64 meaning all will be eligible for reelection in the 2027 General Assembly (GA2027) too. Assuming the two newly elected GSs are also under the age of 64, they also will be eligible for reelection at the next GA. In other words, barring unforeseen circumstances, GA2027 will not be electing a new GS. Not since 1956, has a General Assembly not elected a new GS.

No GS election will make GA2027 a little less dramatic, but it also makes GA2023 that much more important. For all practical purposes, this eight-year-termed BGS will oversee what could possibly be the most tumultuous period in the CotN’s history. There are numerous challenges awaiting: 

1) The CotN in USA/Canada is in massive decline.
I wrote about this reality here and here. The denomination will look very different in 2031 than it does today. The attendance drop will not only impact delegate counts for GA2031, but more crucially it will affect the economics of the church.  The exodus of people and the closing/merging USA/Canada churches ultimately will affect the World Evangelism Fund and thereby the funding of the church’s worldwide mission. (Between 94-96% of WEF comes from USA/Canada churches). The BGS will have tough decisions regarding sending of missionaries, funding projects, and doing the basic work of the church with far less dollars at their disposal in the next eight years. 

2) Factions are real.
The fundamentalists inside the church are making noise. The CotN has never been a fundamentalist church and the “standard” the fundamentalists are defending and the means by which they often defended it—void of the Fruit of the Spirit– is at odds with the church regarding scripture, holiness and polity. Similarly, the progressives within the church are pushing the church towards a United Methodist-like schism over human sexuality. The BGS must tightrope-like walk through increasingly loud factions on all sides. This delicate walk will only increase between now and 2031. 

3) The world is changing…fast.
The rule-by-committee approach of the BGS may have served the church well in the past, but it slows decision making when strong leadership is needed. Again, in the next eight years the church will need leaders who boldly and courageously lead, not hunker down in the Global Ministry Center hoping the storm passes them by. 

The newly elected (in all reality, eight year termed), BGS must navigate the coming economic tsunami; noisy factions, and give strong unwavering leadership in our ever-changing world. There will be tough decisions between now and 2031. That’s why the GA2023 election of the BGS is the most important vote in nearly 70 years, possibly making GA2023 the most important General Assembly ever convened. 

How to Show General Assembly Generosity

According to the Church of the Nazarene’s General Secretary’s office, delegates from places outside of USA/Canada will receive a “Purchase Card” (credit card) to help with food costs throughout General Assembly. These cards will only work for food and beverage purchases at the convention center food stands, local restaurants, and/or grocery stores (following GA they have no value). The most any delegate is eligible to receive is $280 (I’m guessing this amounts to about 28 bucks a day). Assuming the delegates are housed in a hotel that serves breakfast, they have 28 bucks for their other two meals. In downtown restaurants, at $28, no one will be ordering filet mignon. (FYI, the IRS standard per diem rate for Indianapolis is $69). 

Obviously, this is one reason why GA is so expensive. Providing food and lodging for delegates that cannot afford to come without assistance is a necessity. It’s costly to be a global church. For the record, I do not begrudge giving the purchase cards, nor do I fault the church for giving cards valued $41 less than the standard IRS rate. Did I mention General Assemblies are expensive?  

Part of the goal of General Assembly is to deepen our world-wide family ties. One way to do this (following the Acts 2:42 model) is to eat and fellowship together. To that end, on the Saturday night of General Assembly weekend before the evening service, Central Church will host the Panamanian delegation to dinner. We did this at the last General Assembly back in 2017 too. Of course, back then, we were only two years into our partnership and our friendships were new and fresh. Six years and several work and witness trips in-between our friendships are much deeper. The folks from Panama are family. 

By taking our Panamanian friends to dinner one night, not only does it show hospitality and encourage fellowship, it is also one less meal that has to be placed on their “purchase card.”  It helps our friends to better budget their meals for the rest of the week. They still won’t be ordering filet mignon. 

For most USA/Canada delegates their district is footing the food costs. Many churches assist their pastors who are not delegates with the funds for food and lodging. Even those USA/Canada members attending General Assembly without any church assistance can probably afford to do so. My point, I hope other USA/Canada attenders will find some international friends (or make new international friends), share a meal, then generously pick up the tab. It’s a way of showing hospitality and participating in fellowship. It also helps our international brothers and sisters spend just a little bit more on the rest of their meals during their time at General Assembly. 

Hospitality must be intentional. It doesn’t just happen. Our friends from around the world are converging upon Indianapolis. May we USA/Canada delegates look for ways to be kind and generous. May we exude the love of Christ even if languages and cultures separate us. May we live out the holiness message as we eat, share and care for one another.

Practice hospitality.” -Romans 13:13b

How are you Feeling Going Into General Assembly 2023?

Is there anyone in the Nazarene world who (like me) is going into the Church of the Nazarene General Assembly 2023 with a little bit of hesitation? 

Maybe it’s me and where I am in life, but this General Assembly just feels different. 

Maybe I’ve seen too much church politics. 

Maybe I’m fearful of USA national politics seeping into our church gathering. 

Maybe I have trepidation because this General Assembly is two years too late. 

Maybe the various noisy factions within the church are shouting too loudly for my liking. 

Maybe it’s because a longtime friend who is a part of one of those factions (of which I am not) wondered “if we can still be friends,” since I don’t associate with his clique. Is this Middle School? 

Maybe I’m diffident because I don’t seem to fit into any of those moving-to-the-edges divisions. Instead, I am trying to walk the tightrope of the via media (the middle way) that (in my opinion) the Church of the Nazarene has historically followed. 

Maybe it’s because I’ll look around the assembly floor and wonder where are some of my world-wide friends who could not obtain visas or where are the millennials or theologians or people of color who couldn’t get elected by their district assemblies. 

Maybe all the junk going on in the United Methodist church has me wondering if that will be the Church of the Nazarene sooner rather than later. 

Maybe because so many churches haven’t bounced back from Covid, I feel a bit discouraged. 

Maybe social media has allowed us to better connect to old friends from long distances, General Assembly will feel less like catching up. 

Maybe I’m less starry eyed when I go to these affairs than I was in my younger years. 

Maybe I’m just getting old.

I can’t put my finger on it. It just feels different. 

Worse, not better.

I hope I’m wrong. 

I hope that I don’t feel awkward when greeting some people who have put passive aggressive things on social media. 

I hope people don’t feel awkward around me. 

I hope we can smile, hug, laugh and talk even with those with whom we might disagree over little things here and there. 

I hope we can elect two individuals who can help lead us through the ever-changing waters of modernity. 

I hope that the Spirit will move upon all who gather.

I hope the theme “Jesus is Lord” is a unifying call. 

I hope the music is terrific and the General Superintendents’ sermons hit home. 

I hope I am surprised by the freedom and love expressed. 

I hope and pray that I’ll be amazed at what God is doing and going to do through the Church of the Nazarene. 

I’ve always been an optimist. 

I hope I still am when I return home from General Assembly.

Paul’s Epistle to the Church in America would be Brief and to the Point.

When Paul was urging the Colossians to “be wise in the way we act toward outsiders,” he understood that “outsiders” are watching. If alive today, Paul would have frowned upon those who put on Facebook veiled passive aggressive statements directed toward other believers (whom the post-er views as in theological error), and where everyone can see. He would have taken issue with those who are “protecting the doctrine” while being jerks about it. Likewise, he would have been shocked by those who pompously display for their new-found liberty in deconstruction while bashing everyone and everything along the way. It’s not being very wise.  

We are to “make the most of every opportunity.” That means to always be ready to love; ready to share God’s love; and ready to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

“Seasoned with salt” means letting our words (whether in person or on social media) flavor the conversation with the love of Christ. Let them bring words of grace not condemnation; words of hope not fear. 

“Ready to answer” is simple to understand; hard to accomplish. It involves knowing the Bible. Knowing the truth and have the ability to explain it in a loving manner. Preparedness only comes through study and conversation with other believers. There is no short cut. 

If Paul were living today, we would have already received the “Epistle of Paul to the Church in America.” It would be a brief and to the point letter. Probably the first words would be: “Stop it. Stop fighting. Stop arguing. Stop posting garbage on Facebook concerning other believers. Stop being pompous jerks. This isn’t rocket science (Paul would know what rocket science is? Sure. Why not). Outsiders are watching you and they have concluded church folks are nothing like Jesus. Start acting like Jesus and get your act together. It’s no wonder the church in America is in decline. People have seen your actions and concluded, “Thanks, but no thanks!” Wise up!!!

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5-6

The Case for an every four year General Assembly

In each of the recent General Assemblies, a resolution has been presented to move to an every five year General Assembly instead of four. In 2017, every General Superintendent spoke in favor of the move. The retired Generals did too. If the powers that be could have brought back from heaven a few dead GSs, they would have.

I get it. General Assemblies are expensive. Really expensive. They are a lot of work too. No sooner does the poor General Secretary’s staff get through one General Assembly, they are on the clock for the next one.

It would be easy to think, “Well, we’ve just gone six years between General Assemblies, moving to every five years wouldn’t be so bad.” But is that true?

Look what has happened since the last General Assembly. The pre-Covid, 2017 world doesn’t exist. No one could have imagined the changed world in which we now live. Of course, delaying the planned 2021 General Assembly was necessary. Why would anyone willingly delay the gathering when the world and the church change so rapidly. An extra year, simply puts the church that much further behind and allows cancers within the church to metastasize.

For example, the big tent of the Church of the Nazarene has been fracturing (“faction-ing”) into pup tents. One faction’s periodical even had an article opposed to the “Big Tent Concept.” It seems like Nazarenes are going to their corners, putting on fighting gear and looking nothing like the holiness people they aspire to be.

There are many groups organically forming around their particular theological, geographical or sociological perspective. A non-exhaustive list includes: The Holiness Partnership, the 1908 project, affirming Nazarenes, Naztoo, Nazarenes for peace, various geographical Nazarenes, Boomer Nazarenes, Millennial Nazarenes, Gen X and Gen Z Nazarenes, Nazarene college fandom, fundamentalist-like Nazarenes, progressive Nazarenes, you name it. The list is long and getting longer.

Of course, our social media, react first (before thinking), blog first (ahem… sometimes guilty), anger and angst world is conducive to factions. These groups would, no doubt, develop no matter how frequent General Assemblies occur, but a more frequent gathering could help alleviate the fracturing (faction-ing) that all non-casual observers have witnessed in the last couple of years.

The only way Bresee’s mantra (not original to the founder), “in essentials unity, in non essentials liberty, in all things charity” can happen is through personal, face to face interaction. It’s much more difficult to demonize people with opposing views if one has seen, talked, worshipped with, and maybe even had a meal together. Even more than the official meetings of General Assembly, the casual conversations in the Exhibit Hall and before and after services in the meeting places are crucial to the unity and charity within the church.

A four year, family gathering is crucial for the survival of the denomination in our ever changing world. Zoom meetings, email, social media conversations can be helpful (they can also be disruptive as we all know) but none are substitutes to the friendships developed among those who disagree about various non-essentials. The recent dust up concerning what constitutes an “essential” might have been avoided (maybe not) if people were not quick to jump to conclusions, assume the worst, and demonize those with whom they disagree.

The cost and work of an every-four-year General Assembly is high, but it’s worth it if unity, liberty and charity are the result.