Author Archives: Rob Prince

The Church of the Nazarene and the Middle Way

Years ago, in the same week, two couples in the church where I was the pastor informed me of their decision to go to other churches (that’s never good). One thought the church was too “liberal.” The other thought the church was too “conservative.” I thought, “hmmm… maybe we are on the middle path and that’s where we need to be.”

During the Pandemic with its vocal adherents on all sides, again in the church where I pastor has tried to walk the tightrope down the middle regarding all of the divisive issues brought on during these times.

I’ve written blogs that my “liberal” friends labeled as “conservative.” I’ve written blogs that my “conservative” friends labeled me as a “liberal.” I don’t like labels much (hence the quotation marks around such terms. Do we really need such labels? Ugh). 

I hope I’m in the “messy middle.” And if I am, I’m in good company. John Wesley in his sermon “The Witness of the Spirit” writes of the need for a “middle way.” He’s not talking much about politics or various opinions, he is talking about behavior. Wesley talks about the “worst kind of enthusiasm” is when a group feels the need to defend God and instead creates division. In contrast, Wesley talks of the Holy Spirit that leads us to “steer a middle course.” He uses scripture, most notably Ephesians 4, that says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” He also uses scripture (Jude 1:19) to warn of the consequences if we slip out of the middle. 

The Church of the Nazarene has historically stood in the middle of many debates. We used to say, “We are a big tent,” meaning don’t all have to agree on every issue because we love one another and the message of holiness brings us together. As such, we don’t have a preferred statement on HOW God created the heavens and the earth. We all agree that God DID create the heavens and the earth. We don’t have a preferred statement on end times. We all agree Jesus is coming back again. We don’t have a preferred mode of baptism. We all agree it’s the amount of grace bestowed not the amount of water used. We don’t all agree on many things, but we say the grace of God keeps our unity in place. It’s our unity and love that best displays our holiness message, even as we disagree (especially as we disagree) on certain things. 

In these divisive times, we need unity. Everyone I know that calls themselves a Nazarene loves Jesus and wants the message of holiness to move forward. Unfortunately, one of the adverse effects of the pandemic includes people moving farther to the edges (in politics, theological opinions, and life) rather than to the middle where there is listening to one another, cooperation and mounds of grace.

If the message of holiness is going to be promoted to our world that desperately needs it, the Church of the Nazarene (and any other body) must be united and usually that means living in the “big tent” in the messy middle. My prayer is that folks on all sides (this applies to any discussion that might be happening), “make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.”

Is the Holiness Partnership good for the Church of the Nazarene?

“Faction” is defined as follows: “a small organized dissenting group within a larger one.” Guess where the word “faction” appears in the Apostle Paul’s writings?  It’s in the list of the “acts of the flesh” in Galatians 5.  Right along with orgies, witchcraft, and fits of rage are “factions.” Factions within the body of Christ are no good in other words.

Instead of factions, in another letter, Paul talks of the importance of unity. He wrote: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-4). Factions are bad. Unity is good. It’s simple.

Using the Ephesians passage as our guide, most Nazarenes would agree that “the calling we have received” is holiness. It’s our “watchword and song” after all. Doesn’t holiness then call us by Paul’s definition to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit?” Wouldn’t forming a faction, splinter group, clique, partnership (whatever word one choses to use to describe an off-shoot) to be contrary to the way of holiness? Even if one calls their group a “holiness partnership,” if it is causing disunity and dissention, then the group would fall into the “faction” category not the “unity” category. Isn’t having invitation only gatherings, starting separate publications, and going after those who don’t hold similar views the stuff of factions and not the unity of holiness? Even if some of the goals of the “holiness partnership” are worthy (and I honestly don’t know the goals of the group, but assuming they are worthy), forming a faction is not the way of holiness. Factions are bad. Unity is good. It’s simple.

The Church of the Nazarene will have enough challenges in the 21st century without having splinter groups dividing the church. Back to Ephesians 4, we need humility, patience, gentleness and bearing with one another in love if we are going to promote holiness in a culture that is increasingly less responsive to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need unity in other words. Instead of factions to promote holiness or any other thing (no matter how worthy), how about if in unity we live out holiness in our deeds and attitudes. If we want to “make Christ-like disciples in the nations,” that will happen as people see and the church proclaims the beauty of holiness at work in us. 

The holiness we need is one the produces unity and grace. The partnership we need is when we are “bearing with one another in love.”  It seems the “Holiness Partnership” is doing neither.

I am not thankful for…

It’s Thanksgiving Day. I am to count my blessing and name them one by one. I get it that by making such a list I am risking forever being known as, “The Prince who stole Thanksgiving.”  But here it goes, my list of what I am not thankful for…

I am not thankful for Covid (but I am thankful for the health care workers who care for those we love—especially as we can’t even visit these sick loved ones ourselves)

I am not thankful for the coming Michigan winter (but I am thankful for a warm house).

I am not thankful for Brussel sprouts (but I am thankful for so many other yummy foods that are available for me to eat.)

I am not thankful for mosquitoes, spiders, snakes, and I am not particularly fond of skunks (but I am thankful for God’s wonderfully diverse and beautifully created world!)

I am not thankful for the political divide in our country (but I am thankful for a country in which civil political debates can happen—I just wish we were a lot more civil).

I am not thankful for mean-spirited social media (but I am thankful for the opportunity to wish merriment on birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, seeing happy pictures of family and even share my faith from time to time).

I am not thankful for migraines (but I am thankful that they are a constant reminder of my needed reliance on God).

I am not thankful for fear that has seemed to grip so many people in the church, in politics and in life (but I am thankful that the Bible proclaims “perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Help me Lord to be more loving to those who are so fearful).

I am not thankful for sins committed in the name of Jesus (but I am so thankful for Jesus. He is the Bride, even as the groom at times is tattered). 

I am not thankful for cranky church curmudgeons (but I am thankful for those curmudgeons whom God is sanctifying into faithful servants, and I have hope God Almighty will transform a few more of my grumpy Gus’s and Gertrudes).

I am not thankful for the times when I am like a “grumpy” Gus (that’s me looking in the mirror right now. But I am thankful for the patience and kindness of a Savior who is not done working on me too). 

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Shallow Waters vs. Diving Deep in Faith

There were plenty of opportunities for me to learn to swim prior to Mrs. Humphrey’s 10th Grade swim class at Garden City West High School. I just never learned. My parents paid for swimming lessons. I didn’t learn. My Aunt Alice and Uncle Dick had a swimming pool. We were at their house nearly every weekend in the summer. I didn’t learn. At the Nazarene Camp grounds, my time at the lake was spent playing in the shallow waters with the other non-swimmers. I never swam.

The shallow waters offered no threat. When at a lake, I could jump and splash in shallow end, never venturing past the rope with the blue and white buoys. I couldn’t swim out to the dock and jump off the ledge like the other big kids. I couldn’t display any feats of strengthen and endurance by swimming across the lake. Shallow water was all I knew but it became increasingly unsatisfying as I grew older. No 14-year-old wants to be splashing around with toddlers in the shallow waters, but that was all I knew.

Churches are full of people living with a shallow faith much like me prior to Mrs. Humphrey’s swim class. Their surface devotion to God becomes less and less satisfying but it’s all they know. Shallow living believers tend to have one foot on the beach (in the world) and the other foot in the living waters of Jesus. It’s easy to be distracted in such surroundings. It’s easy to abandon the lake all together and take one’s toys and go home– just hop out if you don’t like what’s happening. Shallow-watered faith followers don’t experience a deep wholeheartedness that results from being immersed in the fullness of the love of Jesus. They don’t comprehend the profound satisfaction and joy unspeakable that comes from a bottomless trust in Jesus. Shallow living becomes increasingly unsatisfactory and maybe that’s why so many tend to make waves not disciples.

Do not think this shallow brand of Christianity is new or a by-product of the pandemic. Paul and the author of Hebrews didn’t talk about shallow believers. They used a different metaphor (baby-food-eating followers), but it’s the same thing.

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

By this time, you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid fool! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. Hebrews 5:12-13

Jesus talked about shallow people, in his parable of the Soils (using dirt not water as his example) when he said:

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Matthew 13:5-6

According to Jesus, shallow followers don’t last. It’s impossible to have a foot in the world while standing on the promises of Jesus. Shallow-end followers get nervous when the preacher starts using language of a deeper commitment, wholeheartedness and living life with open hands toward Jesus. They are uneasy with diving into the deep end and relying solely on Jesus for their future. Like it or not, this leaves them in the unfulfilled, worrisome, in the muck of doubt-filled shallow waters. Some people spend their entire life splashing around never venturing past the buoys and into the fullness of his grace. Others, unsatisfied, walk away leaving the waters of faith altogether.

My brothers and sisters, we must dive in the deep end with Jesus if we want everlasting joy. Immerse ourselves in His love. Trusting that he will carry us through the tough times. It’s being wholly committed with an undivided heart. It’s the call to the deeper life, the holy life. Jump in with both feet. The living water of Jesus is refreshing and good. 

I didn’t stay in the shallow end. Thanks to Mrs. Humphrey in the 10th grade, I learned to swim. No one will confuse me with Michael Phelps these days, but now I can “Nestea plunge” into the deep end and not worry. I long for that same confidence in all of us in the deep waters of faith.

CPR for the Dying Church: A step-by-step guide.

Is your church on life support? Can you imagine a bright future for your church? Look around your church, will the people you worship with every Sunday be in your church or in heaven in 25 years? 10 Years? Does the church have the resources to be viable, warm, inviting, good-neighborly, evangelistic church in ten years? What steps are you taking to make sure the voice, hands and feet of Jesus will still be active for the next generation?

If you honestly admit to the previous questions, “I doubt that my church will be in existence in 10 years.” Here are some immediate action Church CPR steps to be taken:

1) Pray. No explanation needed. Follow the following prayer guide (never fear, it’s not complicated): Calculate how much you are currently praying and double it. That’s it. Pray more. Jesus told us to pray for workers, not the harvest. The harvest is ready. Pray. Pray. Pray. 

2) Don’t demonize those outside of the church, instead, you too, get out of your building. If your church is on life support, you’ve probably noticed that new folks aren’t coming in. If they come once, they don’t come back. Build relationships outside of your building first, so these folks will know at least one person (you) when they come into the church building. 

3) Don’t cater to the older people (exclusively), actively look for young people. Invite young people to coffee, lunch or even to your house (before inviting them to church). Find children and grandchildren that need surrogate grandparents. Love them. Shower them with kindness. Live before them the fruit of the spirit.

4). Don’t promise perfection. Offer relationships. People long for meaningful relationships. Let young people know what to expect when they enter your building. Say something like, “We don’t have a lot of people, but we do have is a church full of loving, kind, warm, friendly, generous grandparents.” (Of course, then be all of the above attributes). Young adults are not afraid to have older friends. Be that older friend that they can confide in.

5) Don’t be desperate. Be hopeful. You are in sales, not management. No gimmicks. No goofiness like in the old days. No “Break-the-Sunday-School-record-and-the pastor-will-swallow-a-gold-fish” tricks. Trust that God Almighty will provide. 

6) Don’t be despondent. Be faithful. It’s Jesus’ church, not yours. Trust Him. God is with you. Your church can turn around. Your church does not have to die. Jesus raised Lazarus. He can raise your church too. God is on your side.

7) Don’t delay. Start today. When is the best time to be concerned about your church’s future? 20 years ago. When’s the next best time to be concerned for the church’s future? Today.

These are strange times for all us. But God is overall. The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against His church. Be busy. Be faithful. Be constant in prayer. The Lord is coming. Let Him find you doing His will at all times.

Is Fa666eBook the Anti-Christ?

When Fa666ebook went down for a few hours yesterday, that loud cheering you heard may have been coming from my office. Every pastor that I know was near giddy at the prospects that they and their church would not be taking Fa666ebook shots from the nuts, crackpots and antichrists of the world.

Only 1 John mentions antichrists (See 1 John 2 and 4). The folks, John mentions as antichrists (John uses mostly the plural form not singular) are the Jesus deniers in the last days. Seems like Fa66ebook to me. We can debate “the last days” another time, I just know that in the last 15 years, Fa666ebook has done more to harm the gospel of Jesus Christ than any other entity. If that doesn’t make it an antichrist, I don’t know what does. 

Every pastor I know has been attacked. Lies spread. Rumors started. Innuendo suggested all on Fa666ebook. Churches have split over Fa666ebook posts. Marriages destroyed and affairs started on Fa666ebook. Fa666ebook has contributed to the suicide rate as people see phony lives posted and believe their real life doesn’t match up. Do you know anyone who has changed their political leanings, views on the pandemic or switched an already-made-up-opinion-on-anything because of a Fa666ebook post? Me neither. Instead I know plenty who have ended friendships, walked out of churches, wounded pastors and others all because of Fa666ebook. Fa666ebook has done more harm than good.

Some will argue of the good on Fa666ebook. I like wishing “Happy Birthday” to my Fa666ebook friends too. Just yesterday, Fa666ebook informed me of a young lady who’s engaged to be married. From time to time, I will learn of a friend’s passing on Fa666ebook. Our church posts our services on Fa666ebook and there is a Fa666ebook prayer request page for crying out loud (literally). All true. But if I were the real Enemy (and some on Fa666ebook have suggested I am), I wouldn’t make Fa666ebook all bad. No one would participate if it were all bad. Make it good. Make it even mostly good. But then sprinkle in the divisive, corrosive, death inducing, antichrist (anti-Jesus) garbage that so many get caught up in. Seems like a slick strategy from the Father of Lies to me.

HYPOCRITE ALERT: You are probably reading this blog via Fa666ebook. I am on it. I send birthday greetings. I post articles like these. I share our church’s Sunday morning services in hopes that someone might find Jesus as they are scrolling along. Does that make me a contributor to the Enemies destructive plans? I don’t know. I struggle with it. I have a love but mostly hate relationship with fa666ebook. 

Is Fa666ebook “the” antichrist? No. Is it “an” antichrist? It sure can be. So be careful my fellow Fa666ebook users. Limit your exposure. Only post positive things. Be a blessing, not a curse. If Fa666ebook had been around in the first century Paul would have written Ephesians 4:29 this way: Do not let any unwholesome posts be placed on Facebook, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who read it. (Italicized and non-bold words mine).

Please Welcome the newest member of the Two-Shoe Club

In my family, I was the sole member of an infamous club. The “Two-Shoe” Club.  Apparently the socially acceptable practice is to wear two matching shoes in public. I broke this societal norm, by wearing two different (but similar) shoes. Twice. Down through the years, being the only member of this club brought much derision and ridicule from my usually loving family. Most often my dear, not-always-so-sweet wife, Karla, began the conversation like this, “Do you remember, boys, when dad…” Hilarious laughter followed. 

But glory, hallelujah, there is a new member of the club. Please welcome, Karla Prince, to the Two-Shoe Club. Last week, we were at an event where I was speaking, Karla looked down and discovered that she was wearing one black shoe with a big silver buckle on top and on the other foot was an ever-so-slightly-different-shaded black shoe with no buckle. She explained the faux pas by saying she was trying on both shoes to determined which went better with her outfit and then forgot to decide between the shoes.  The result: the newest member of the Two-Shoe club.

My suspicion is that the Two-Shoe mockery will be a thing of the past in our family now that the instigator, Karla, has joined the club. Please let the record show: my two-shoe wearing experiences happened on Sunday mornings, when I was putting on my shoes early in the morning, in the dark, as to not awaken a certain sleeping beauty; her two-shoe episode happened in the light of day. “Aha,” I want to say, “looks like the shoe (literally) is on the other foot.”

It’s not in the Bible (it might be a Native American proverb) but we’ve all heard the saying: Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. It’s a call for empathy. The great theologian Steve Martin once said, “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.” I don’t think that’s the point. 

The author of Hebrews tells of Jesus and wrote: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15). In other words, Jesus knows what it’s like to walk in your shoes. Jesus empathizes with the weak, tired and broken. We should too.

Empathy is a lost emotion these days. People would much rather lash out than have empathy. But as we strive to be Christ-like, we would do well to empathize with the plight of others. Paul wrote “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15). In other words, we need to walk in one another’s shoes, whether they match or not.

Called vs. Hired

The Central Church body did not “hire” me nearly eight years ago. They “called” me. There’s a difference. But before, I get to that, please allow me to walk down memory lane.

As a pre-seventh grader, I was sitting around a very non-cool campfire at family camp. It was supposed to be an “all teen afterglow” following an evening service. The four other nerds and me that showed up, didn’t know that “all teen afterglow campfire by the ‘girl’s lake’” (no mixed swimming in those days) was code for “Nerds Only Need Attend.” Fittingly, I was there. A pastor named, Roy Quanstrom (the father of Kankakee College Church pastor and Olivet Nazarene University professor, Mark Quanstrom), who was very cool, probably thought, “Why am I hanging out with these five nerds?” I don’t remember what Pastor Quanstrom said that night, but I remember looking up at the great big sky and sensing that God had bigger plans for me than All-Star Baseball second baseman for the Detroit Tigers that I had dreamt of becoming (with my athletic skills and size, the only professional athletic competition I might have been qualified for was “jockey.” Besides being a nerd, I had unrealistic expectations of my athletic abilities. Sadly, my golf partners in this Saturday’s Central Church golf tournament are about to learn this fact, but I digress). God called me to become a pastor that night, and I’ve never lost that calling.

Being called by God doesn’t mean “easy.” Ask the prophet Jeremiah or the Apostle Paul as they were sitting in a jail or ask the thousands of Christian martyrs when you reach heaven’s shores. Being called by God doesn’t make you rich. Have you seen the Nazarene pastor’s retirement plan? Too words: “Pa Thetic.” Being called doesn’t make you immune from criticism. Check out my inbox on any given Monday. Being called doesn’t make you perfect. Ask Karla, she can give you a long list of my imperfections.

In my case, being called meant that God (for reason only known to the Almighty) had determined that the very uncool, Garden City, Michigan kid with his unrealistic hopes of becoming the next Sweet Lou Whitaker just might be used by Him in ways only known to the Almighty. It has been that calling that kept me focused when we were living below the poverty line while pastoring in Bad Axe and kept me determined when the harshest carnal critics (believe it or not, pastoring isn’t for sissies. Thank you, social media) come at me with double barrels. That night at the campfire, has sunk deep into my bones and I cannot shake it. God Almighty (for reasons only known to Him) called me.

As such, the church board of Central Church didn’t “hire” me. God called me. God put an unshakable urgency to minister in Flint, even though that meant leaving a great church and our sons behind in Kansas. God calls others too. I was talking to a social worker this week. God called her. I know a police officer who is called by God. My doctor friend, God called him too. There are plenty of non-clergy divine callings that God has placed on people’s lives. God calls people to places of service. We aren’t hired hands doing a job. We are servants fulfilling a calling.

God called me to pastor Central Church and I am so glad He did. I would have been a lousy second baseman.

The Enemy’s Scheme: DIVIDE and conquer

I was a whiz at math growing up. From an early age, my mom and dad had me counting– adding and subtracting. Math was a game for me. I loved it. In the fourth grade, I had a 12th grade math competency level. That led to my skipping over fourth grade and going directly from the third grade to the fifth grade. (It’s a long story, but my parents were not informed of this and did not want me to be in the fifth grade. I would have been the smallest fourth grader, so I was an extra, extra small fifth grader. As a result, I stayed in the fifth grade a second year. I may be the only kid in history to have been “double promoted” and “flunked out” a year of school). All this to say, I was good in math back in the day.

I’m not so crazy about it now–especially division. That seems to be our world’s specialty. Our Enemy will use anything possible to divide the church (see the debates over masks and vaccines as “Exhibit A and Exhibit B”). The devil’s strategy seems to be divide and conquer and he has been working overtime to accomplish this evil agenda. Don’t be a party to it, my brothers and sisters. The church must be united! Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25).

Our world is crazy, angry, and in many ways a tinder box. It seems like folks are ready to explode. Moreover, people’s opinion on the things of God are at an all-time low. More folks than ever claim no religious affiliation. More folks than ever claim to be an atheist. More folks than ever are walking away from faith. In other words, the world needs true followers of Jesus more than ever. We must be united. We must always exhibit the love of Jesus. Let’s not lose sight of the Master!

We have a big job to do! Let’s add love to our world. Multiply God’s blessings. Subtract anything that keeps us away from Jesus and determine to not divide God’s people!

Dear Deconstructing Friends…

My deconstructing blog post from earlier this week brought some interesting responses. Some in the “Deconstruction crowd” concluded that I was (pick your favorite):

Ignorant

Arrogant

Pompous

Naive

Four Letter word

Another four letter word.

Still another four letter word.

And many other responses that would make my mama blush.

They may be correct on all of the above, but I am not so obtuse that I am unable to discern that they didn’t like the blog.

I get it. I haven’t walked in their shoes. They are right about that. I haven’t had their experiences. I don’t know their struggles. All true. 

But I do have friends who have walked away from faith. “Deconstruction” is a new term, but I know folks who thirty years ago (and many since then) walked the same path. People I love and have (contrary to the deconstructed crowd’s opinions of me), talked hours and hours concerning their journey. When you pastor for thirty years, you talk to people a lot at all different places in their spiritual journey, believe it or not. 

I get it. The deconstructed crowd have walked their path and concluded something in the form of “Jesus is not for me.” While in my journey, I have concluded, “Jesus is everything to me.” Everything. The Deconstructed crowd and I don’t agree. But please know, that doesn’t mean that I don’t care for you or want to be a friend. I’m sorry if you concluded otherwise.

My friends walking through this deconstruction path, I don’t mean to minimize your experiences or discount your hurts. If that post did so, again I am sorry. Admittedly and without apology my prayer for you is Paul’s prayer for the Romans: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

I want you filled with joy, peace and hope. For me, that has come from Jesus. He is my source. This is not condescending or flippant. My prayer for you is for you to truly can come to a place to trust in Him. 

That is all.