Author Archives: Rob Prince

What can a 1936 Nazarene Sunday School Rally teach us? A Lot Actually 

A lady from our church, while in used book store, found a 1936 Central church flyer buried in a book (see above). It announced a Sunday School Rally focused on “The Causes of Crime Among Youth.” Not sure what crime youth were committing 87 years ago, but some of the subjects covered were: Why Boys are not in Sunday School; How one teacher saved 1000 boys; and last, but surely not least, “How Young People Commit the Unpardonable sin” (Yikes… I hope not). Not sure how many youth were grieving the Holy Spirit back in 1936. Apparently, it was a problem, and, from the week’s topics, it looked like it was a mostly a boys’ problem.

The flyer is a fun little blast from the past. Quaint, even. 

But it tells me a few things about Central Church in 1936.

  • They were concerned for young people (it was a “youth” rally)
  • They were evangelistic (the theme, The Causes of Crime Among Youth, was surely evangelistic)
  • They sought excellence. (Other lessons included: How to build a Sunday School; Four Essentials to Building a Sunday School and the Sunday School teacher who succeeds)
  • They set goals and made a plan to achieve it (the target: 100 souls)
  • Leaders were held accountable. On the side tear-off portion of the flyer, the information collected was: the prospective youth’s name, address, age, whether they already were attending Sunday School and at the bottom, (here’s my point) the name of the “solicitor.” They were tracking which lay leaders were actually inviting young people to the rally. Interesting.

The world has changed a lot since 1936. The methods used 87 years ago, will not work today. Still a 1936 youth rally can teach us a few things in 2023:

  • Without young people the church dies (maybe that’s why Central Church is in year 103 and going strong).
  • Sin is real and evangelism is important. (see the above parenthetical statement).
  • Wishful thinking doesn’t achieve results. (Needed are: strategy, goals, and those willing to execute the plan)
  • Church members must be responsible for the growth of the church (it’s not just the pastors’ job).

Most churches understand (even if they aren’t acting upon) the truths of the first three bullet points. What seems to be missing is the personal involvement by everyday members in the mission of the church. Too often the evangelism onus is on the pastor’s shoulders. Pastors alone (even with a large staff) cannot be the sole evangelizers in a church. Individual members must be given the tools (even if it’s a flyer with a tear off accountability section) to be witnesses in our lonely world. In a previous blog, I quoted Dr. Stan Reeder, who said, 95% of Nazarenes have not led one person to Christ. Pastors can’t evangelize alone. For growth to occur, more than 5% of believers must be inviting, sharing and leading folks to Jesus! 

The numbers are numbing. Church attendance across America is in deep decline. More people than ever are stating that they are atheists, agnostics or have no particular religion. Maybe those 1936 Central Church folks were on to something:

  1. Prioritize youth;
  2. Recognize sin;
  3. Believe Jesus changes everything;
  4. Make an “all-hands-on-deck” appeal for participation;
  5. Pray, plan and execute a strategy for making disciples

I hope in 87 years (2110) someone finds what we were doing In 2023 and says, “It’s kinda quaint, but they were being faithful to Jesus.”

36 and 95: The Numbers That Help Explain What’s Happening in Our Country

I live in Michigan. It’s a beautiful state with many nice people. In 2008, 26 percent of my fellow Michiganders said they were either atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” as it relates to religion. In 2020 that number was 36%. (see the chart for the statistics of your state). That is a huge increase and should rattle us to our core. A 10% jump in 12 years? Social scientists say that number is on the rise. It hasn’t flat lined. In fact, thank you, Covid, no doubt that number is higher than ever in 2023.

This means, when I go to the grocery store, more than one in three people have no context, no understanding, no feelings one way or the other for the Good News of Jesus. They literally have no clue of the peace Jesus offers or the freedom that could be had. It’s sad. Terribly sad. More than sad, we believe in a heaven and hell. At least we say we do. Shouldn’t that make us consumed with a fire deep in our bones to do whatever it takes to reach these people?

If we were on a boat and it was sinking, we’d turn on the pumps or grab buckets, while trying our best to repair the hole. We’d do whatever it takes to make that boat float or to get folks into life rafts or to toss them a life preserver. We’d want to save as many as we possibly could. Shouldn’t we take the same approach to our society? Shouldn’t I care for my fellow Wolverine-or-Spartan-shirt-wearing neighbors in the grocery store?  Of course, we should. 

Want another number? Maybe it’s worse than the fact that 36% or more of my neighbors are atheists, agnostics and “nothing in particulars.” 95% of Nazarenes (so says USA/Canada regional director, Dr. Stan Reeder) have never led a person to Christ. Maybe that’s why the number of atheists, agnostics and “nothing in particulars” is on the rise. Only 5% of us are tossing out life preservers. Here are the steps to leading people to Jesus. It’s easy. 

1. Pray that the Lord would lead a non-believer to you (He probably already has).
2. Be that person’s friend. Love them. Care for them. Earn the right to share Jesus.
3. Be open to the Lord’s prompting. (The Lord will open that door, of course, Jesus will).
4. When the door is open, share your story. What has Jesus done for you?
5. Tell them having Jesus in their life is as simple as A-B-C
 A.  Admit you need Jesus.
B.  Believe Jesus is who he says He is: The Savior of the World.
C.  Confess your sins and commit your life to him. 
6. Pray with them. Simple is good. “Dear Jesus. Help my friend. Forgive all their sins and set them on the road of following You all the days of their life. Give them a fresh start, a new life, a hope and a future.” 
7. Don’t stop. Keep praying for this new believer. Help them. Disciple them. Keep on loving them. Answer their questions. Bring them to church with you. Set them up in a small group. 

The numbers are staggering. Wake Up my fellow believer. Get to work. Our world needs Jesus. Let’s share Jesus with our friends and neighbors! 

Does it really matter who is elected as General Superintendent?

Proviso #1: I love our current Church of the Nazarene (CotN) General Superintendents (GS). They are all are qualified and have had distinguished ministries prior to their election as GS. Their love for the Lord and for the CotN is undeniable. 

Proviso #2: The GS life is a difficult one. It’s not a cushy job. The schedules we ask them to keep are terrible. It’s not glamorous. Those that serve in this role sacrifice much. Too much? Maybe. Thank you Board of General Superintendents (BGS). We love and appreciate you!

Proviso #3: The title seems to indicate that the following article is a little like Ecclesiastes 1:2: Meaningless, Meaningless, everything is meaningless. That is not my intention. I have hope (even if it doesn’t sound like it). This hope springs from a belief that the message of holiness is still what our world desperately needs to hear.

Acknowledging those three provisos, here’s the point:

We have elected great people to be General Superintendent. Prior to their election all have been capable, wise and independent. All have a certain amount of entrepreneurial innovation. They’ve been visionary. They’ve been wonderful servants of the Lord. You don’t rise to be a Regional Director, great pastor and Sunday School ministries director or seminary president without many gifts and abilities. 

Here’s the problem: Something happens when these gifted leaders pass through the doors of the Global Ministry Center and take their place at the BGS table. They lose something. I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. I don’t think it is intentional. Maybe it’s inevitable. Whatever the reason, they lose something.

It’s hard to be innovated and creative when sitting on a committee of six people. Prior to their election, in their various positions often they had the final word in decision making. The buck stopped with them. Now there are six people with equal input. It’s hard to be a prophetic “voice crying out in the wilderness” when you need the approval of five other voices before one can speak. The necessity (either real or perceived) to be united in all things from the BGS board room reduces imagination and originality. 

Moreover, there is a certain amount of trepidation that comes with the job. No one wants to be the GS if/when the wheels come off the church and all is not well. No one wants to make a “big mistake” (whatever that might be). Leading from a worst-case scenario mindset is not freeing. Cultural, moral and denominational shifts and movements seems to be the enemy feared, not the challenge excepted.

The subtle change from innovative leader to disaster-avoidance-manager might occur from the weight of carrying the denomination on one’s shoulders. So, instead of innovation we get inertia. Instead of prophetic wisdom, too often profit and loss seem to be the concern. Instead of vision, a level of blindness (maybe that’s too harsh), a looking back to the old ways of dealing with today’s challenges seems to takes over. The desire to be globally minded (a worthy aspiration), fails to acknowledge (like it or not) the fate of the denomination rises and falls with the health (and wealth) of the USA/Canada Church (95% of WEF comes from USA/Canada). We place a lot on the shoulders of the BGS and the weight of the job changes them.

Who will get elected? Who knows? Will it even make a difference?  No doubt, a very capable set of leaders will be elected. I’m worried that no matter how innovative and creative they are in their current capacity, when elected they will walk through the sacred doors of the GMC and they will change. But maybe not… (you see, I do have hope).

Let’s pray for the two new GSs who will be elected in just four months. Let’s pray that these two individuals will have visionary and prophetic voices that the denomination and our world desperately needs.

Why We Should Be Worried about General Assembly 2023

In June Nazarenes from around the world will gather for the 30th General Assembly. The meetings should have taken place in 2021, but our microscopic “friend,” covid, delayed our gathering.  Because of this interruption, General Superintendent David Graves will need to retire because of his age. Had the assembly taken place as scheduled, he would not have been able to serve two additional years. Covid cheated us of Dr. David Graves, which is disappointing, because he has served the church so very well. But that’s not the biggest problem with the upcoming General Assembly.

Many of our elected delegates will not be able to obtain visas. This happens every year, but this year will be especially challenging. Less international delegates mean, a more USA/Canada influenced General Assembly. The numbers are usually skewed in favor of USA/Canada anyway (because of the preponderance of North American leadership that is included in the delegate count), but this year’s assembly will be even more laden with a USA/Canada tilt. As big of a problem as this is, it’s not my biggest worry.

I am apprehensive because it seems that the church is fracturing into various camps to express their perspective upon the Church of the Nazarene. There have always been factions (not a particularly healthy admission), but in our social media age splinter groups form quicker, gather supporters more rapidly, and take on a strength that was difficult to accomplish in the non-digital age. I’m worried that the 1908ers, Holiness Partnershippers, Progressives, fundamentalists disguised as Wesleyans, the “Signs and Wonders” charismatic-ish crowd and who knows who else will come with an agenda to “change” the Church of the Nazarene. 

Change isn’t bad. The Church of the Nazarene changes every four years. We don’t believe the Manual is divinely inspired and every General Assembly, corrections are made; new paragraphs added, wording is made more understandable. Agreement and unity is a beautiful thing as together we take steps forward.

The difference is that in years past, maybe a few delegates from a district or region would get together to discuss resolutions submitted or their preferred candidate for General Superintendent. Talk among friends always happens. But in a social media age, this chatter is raised exponentially. Splinter groups with their preferred agenda are more tempted to strategically plan to “purify” the church to their liking. In essence, it moves the Church of the Nazarene away from a “big tent” family to multiple “little tents” pushing various agendas. It hinders unity and augments division. We need only to look at the United Methodists to see the results of a church that lacks unity.

People are more and more influenced by the social media vacuum in which they live. This phenomenon is true as it relates to politics, sports loyalties, and even the church. Listening and reading only those who agree with one’s pre-determined ideas, hinders diversity and unity. In Post-Christian America and Europe, the church faces enough challenges without having splinter groups disrupting unity. The General Assembly emphasis on “Jesus is Lord” should be unifying as we “Go, Follow, Worship, Share and Love.” “Jesus is Lord” is a message that must be heard by all who gather no matter the faction of which they most closely align. 

Let’s return to P.F. Bresee’s charge (and several others before him): “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”  A church that is not united will not survive. 

Don’t be like that Pennsylvania Groundhog.

Apparently, a rodent, whistle-pig, woodchuck or if you prefer, a ground hog will awaken this morning somewhere in Pennsylvania– without the aid of weather maps, Doppler radar, wind vanes, weather satellites or balloons, barometers, thermometers, and not even the Farmer’s Almanac–  and declare whether (no pun intended) we will experience six more weeks of winter or not. Evidently, this furry creature with no college degree or meteorological credentials of any kind is the great predictor of climate happenings across our varied states. What is the basis of his potentially horrid declaration?  His shadow. The varmint awakens; ventures outside his abode; and should he see his shadow then pull out the parkas and mittens because we’ve got more freezing wintery blasts on the way. That’s it. His fearful response to his own shadow dooms the rest of us to endure ice and cold for six more weeks. Ugh!  I hate that pretentious, overgrown rat!

Are we any different from Punxsutawney Phil? I’ve known plenty of people who base their decisions on fear. Their fear-based decisions and actions occur primarily because of being afraid of the potential outcome. There is the fear of not being liked (people pleasing); fear of conflict (don’t rock the boat even if the boat is being swamped by poor decisions); fear of someone different (can’t love your neighbors if you’re avoiding them); fear of being rejected (can’t delve into any evangelism– what if the person says, “no thanks”); fear of not enough (is the recipe for greed not generosity), fear of death (leads to a conflicted and worried heart) and so many, many more fears. 

Unlike the furry, fraidy-cat-like, Pennamite, Christians know that “perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18). Believers remember Jesus’ words, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” (John 14:1) and “Fear not, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The author of Hebrews wrote: “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6). Moreover, Bible believing followers of Jesus have probably heard that the Scriptures say to “fear not” exactly 365 times (once for each day of the year). In other words, Christians are to be the most fearless people on the planet. 

Sorry, O Abysmal-prognosticator-of-the-Keystone-State, I choose to not make decisions like you—based on fear. Instead, I’ll follow the faithful Way of Jesus. What would Jesus say? Where would Jesus go? How would Jesus respond? Would Jesus be generous in this circumstance? Life is a giant game of follow the Leader (although it is no “game”). My Leader does not cower to fear but is the One who left the majesty of heaven to save us from our fears and to bring us into glorious hope. Don’t follow the way of a fearful groundhog on the 2nd of February. Follow the Way of Jesus all year long.

The Spoiled Fruits of the Wrong Spirit

Here is my list of the opposite of the Fruit of the Spirit that is evident in too many Christians and too many churches:

Fearful Indifference
The opposite of love isn’t hate but indifference, so wrote Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel. John seemed to indicate fear would be the opposite, since “perfect love casts our fear” (1 John 4:18). In combining Wiesel and John, we get the picture of love’s opposite. It’s an indifference fueled by fear. Instead of loving our neighbor, it’s fearing anyone different from ourselves. Instead of helping the outlier, it’s fearing they may harm us in some way. Jesus said to “love our neighbor,” we all know this. We would never “hate” them, but our fearful indifference has the same outcome.

Too often in the church, the criticism is not “constructive.” It might be called “constructive criticism” by the criticizer, but generally it is the garden variety, old fashion criticism. Often followed by the words, “so what are you going to do about it, pastor…” Cue: Hands on hips and rapid foot tapping. One can’t be critical and have Joy too. It’s Impossible.

Same with pride and peace. There is no peace when pride is present.

Since patience reveals the Fruit of the Spirit, impatience is its spoiled opposite.

Can a person be kind and complain too? You know the answer to that.

As opposed to goodness. Goodness flows into generosity. Greed keeps anything good to themselves.

I’ve yet to meet the person who is being faithful to God and grumbling too. Three words: Can. Not. Happen.

Cowardly Anonymous letter writing
 Cowardly anonymous letter writers are anything but gentle. They are BOOM! Here’s-what’s-wrong-you-or-wrong-with-the-church kind of letters. I’ve yet to read a cowardly anonymous letter that displays “gentleness.” (FYI: It’s one of my life rules– whenever I write the words, “Anonymous Letter,” I automatically must add the adverb “cowardly” before it. I once had a cowardly anonymous letter writer upset at my use of “cowardly” when referring to the cowardly anonymous letters. Suffice it to say, the coward was mad and not very gentle about it. True story).

No control 
The tell-tale sign of the spirit filled life: Is self-control present? Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed church leaders show a lack of self-control all the while claiming to be entirely sanctified. The outburst wasn’t like a Jesus-chasing-the-money-changers anger. It was more in the category of a toddler saying “I’m-throwing-a-temper-tantrum-and-there-is-not-a-single-thing-you-can-do-to-stop-me.” In other words, no control. The lack of self-control is why churches split, pastors walk away from assignments, and why little is accomplished in the Kingdom of God. 

As you know, spoiled fruit stinks. It attracts fruit flies and other pests. It’s no good. Same with these Spoiled Fruits of the Wrong Spirit. Don’t let them be a part of your day.

These Fruits are Not of the Spirit

Bad Apples. Every barrel (read: Church) may have one or two, don’t be that one.

Sour Grapes. Don’t let the rainy days of life ruin your outlook.

Thick melons. Think: Stubborness. Be open to fresh ideas.

Boo Berries. Be a cheerleader not a grump, grouch or grinch.

Bitter Herbs.  Are herbs fruit? I don’t know. It’s my list. Don’t be bitter.

Rotten Tomatoes. Tomato is a fruit and people with rotten attitudes are no fun.

Top Bananas. You need not be first, best or champ. Be faithful.

Cherry Picked. We are all special – not one over the other. All have been extended the invitation to follow Jesus.

Lemonhead. Don’t look and act like you are sucking the life out of room. Be a joy. 

Instead of those fruits, be a peach. Cool as a cucumber. OK, technically a cucumber is not a fruit. You probably are not a botanist so does it matter? You are the apple of God’s eye. Life might not always be a bowl of cherries, but give a fig and go bananas. You’ve got a plum assignment: Love God. Love people. 

P.S. Can you tell Fruit of the Spirit sermon series is coming? It is. Starting on January 29.

Is someone you love de-constructing or leaving/losing their faith? Try this

What do you do when someone you care for is going through a dark place spiritually? When they use words like “de-constructing” or “leaving/losing” their faith, what’s the answer?

Love them. Don’t stop loving. Whatever you do, keep on loving them.
Remind them of the Joy in the Lord they once knew. There was joy. They know it.
Pray that the Peace of God would flow in them.
Be Patient. Don’t rush things along.
Keep showing Kindness. Don’t give up on them.
And Goodness. Just flow with good news, good things. Be positive.
Keep being Faithful yourself. Don’t get down. Keep the faith. Hold on to Jesus.
No rushing, bullying (duh) or cajoling. Think Gentleness. 
And finally use self-control. When you want to speak. Think. When you want to argue. Think. When you are starting to get defensive. Stop. Breathe. Think. Pray. Then, respond.

What’s the answer to friends de-constructing their faith? Let the Fruit of the Spirit be evident in your life. It’s the “in-it-for-the-long-haul answer, it’s not a quick fix. The fruitfulness of the Spirit of God is compelling and true.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25).

Wrong Church. Right Decision.

Last Sunday a lady came to Central Church for the first time. Some friends had invited her. Only two problems: she couldn’t find her friends and no one knows her friends. No one. She described them to me. The guy was tall with a long ponytail. Nope, doesn’t ring a bell. I know most folks here. Not everybody, but most everybody. We’ve got a few fellas with ponytails. But none of our ponytailed gentlemen would be described as particularly tall and none have a wife by the name she gave me. I think she came to the wrong church.

Or did she?

The lady stayed for the service. The music was great. The sermon spoke to her. At the end of the service, Pastor Tyler in his benediction asked for folks to come forward and talk to a pastor if they needed Jesus. The lady moved out of her pew and walked down the aisle. She talked and prayed with Pastor Tyler and invited Christ into her life. She was planning on coming to our lady’s Bible study last night to continue these first steps with Jesus. Praise the Lord!

So, the big question: Did she really end up in the wrong church? Or did she have a divine appointment with God Almighty at Central Church? Here’s what we know for sure: God loves this dear lady. God knows all about her hurts and hang-ups. Knows her past. Knows her present. Knows her future. God loves her and she ended up at Central Church on Sunday.  Subsequently, she made a life changing choice, because Jesus changes everything (See what I did there? It’s Central’s Core Commitment #1: Jesus Changes everything). She came to the wrong church, but made the right decision. She is now a brand-new follower of Jesus. It was no accident. 

I sure hope that this week another someone will come to Central Church on “accident.” Or better yet, you don’t have to grow a ponytail to invite a friend to Central Church. Ask and they shall come. Your friends will be glad you asked and if your spouse is like Karla, you will be glad you didn’t need to grow a ponytail (she’d not be a fan of a me ponytailed). 

The “I-never-Attend-Church” List is growing and what are we doing about it (or NOT doing about it).

Never. Not in a million years. Have you said those words? Sure, we all have.  My list of “I nevers” include the following:

I never eat liver. (Actually, there is a lot on my “I-will-never-eat” list. Karla says, “I’m finicky.” I say, “I’m choosy”).
I never run out of gas again (I learned my lesson over Christmas).
I never cheer for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Never. Never. Never.
(I used to say, I would never see the Lions win a Super Bowl, but the feisty Motor City Kitties have left me hopeful for 2023). 

There are a few politicians on my never-vote-for list. There are other “nevers” too. But one thing NOT on my list is “church.” Sadly, those that say they “Never” attend church is growing (see chart). 

The numbers show a rather dramatic increase caused by the pandemic. Will historians write the death of the American Church as we know it was caused by Covid? (Listen I do not believe anything can kill the Church. Not Jesus’ Church. Even the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That being said, it could very well be that the church as we had known it prior to 2020 will not survive). 

The numbers are startling.  One in three people you see say they never go to church. 43% of people under 30 never go. That is a particularly scary number in that historically the great number of those accepting Christ were under 30. Now 43% say they never go to church. When/where will they find Jesus if they never go to church?

The numbers on the chart should cause us to re-think our approach, re-imagine our message and take a good long look at what we are saying and how we are saying it. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” clearly does not apply. Something is broken. The way we have done things in the past, will not work today. 

I wish I had the deepest answer to this dilemma, I don’t. But I do think, we need to get back to the message of Jesus. Not backbiting. Not moral failures among leaders. Not politics. Not all the things that distract us. Keep on the message of Loving God (always). Loving People (without exception).

It’s getting back to the basics: 
1) Jesus changes everything. 
2) We Grow Better when we are together. 
3) We must be the best neighbors. 

That’s it. It’s praying that God’s will would be done and His Kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. It’s working like everything depends on us, and praying (knowing) that everything depends on God.