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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?

When “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” Doesn’t Work

Christians have long voiced the opinion to, “Hate the sin. Love the sinner.” But is this realistic? In case you are wondering, “Hate the sin but Love the sinner” is not Biblical. In fact, you would probably have an easier time finding Old Testament support for the saying “hate the sin and hate the sinner even more.” (See any number of psalms of David when he was running for his life and asking God to strike down his pursuers). “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is an attempt to keep our judgment from getting too personal. But is it possible? Can Christians separate sin from sinner?

Here’s the problem: 

If the “sinner” doesn’t: 
a) believe what he/she is doing is “sin”, and
b) don’t feel loved in what he/she is doing; 
won’t even the use of the terminology of “sinner” and “sin” lead non-believers to conclude that the “Hate the sin, love the sinner” mantra-following-Christians are hateful? If the “sinner” doesn’t believe he/she is a “sinner” and doesn’t “feel loved” or “accepted” because of their behavior– are they truly loved? 

It has been often said that Jesus was a “friend to sinners.” Apparently, he figured this dilemma out. The Apostle Paul might suggest putting all interactions between the followers of Jesus and “sinners” through a “fruit test.” Are our posts, speech and thoughts full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (the fruit of the spirit)?  Wouldn’t we say exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit is having the mind of Christ? So do our words, actions, posting on social media reflect those characteristics? I’m convinced as we live into the Fruit of the Spirit and in so doing have the mind of Jesus, those who are far from God will still know they are loved (and in turn give God Almighty the opportunity to work on their hearts) even as we disapprove their behavior.

Notice what’s not on the Fruit of the Spirit list. The characteristic may be important (some are, some aren’t), but it’s not on the list.

  • Truth-telling? Important, but not a Fruit of the Spirit. 
  • Criticizing? Not important and not one of the fruits (although I’ve had church members who were convinced criticizing was their spiritual gift).
  • Being right? Not on the list.
  • Holier-than-thou attitudes? Are you kidding me? Not on the list.
  • Corrector-of-all-things-on-social-media? Not on the list. 
  • Defending the Almighty? Not on the list. 
  • Being popular? Not on the list. 
  • Passive aggressive? Really, really not on the list. 

Listen, don’t buy into the extremes in this debate. It’s not:
1) To Love me, you must affirm my behaviors; or 
2) If we love them, then we affirm behaviors that we don’t want to affirm.

Here comes the deep theological rebuttal to both extremes: Baloney.

It’s complicated. It’s messy. I still can’t get away from Jesus call to “Love our enemies,” which, in effect, means love everybody. Since we are already loving our friends and family. Hence our job is to love; run our actions through the Fruit of the Spirit; and God’s job (as I understand it) is to convict wrong behavior. Let’s do our job and let the Almighty do his job. It’s hate the “sin” (even if we have a different definition of “sin”), but love the “sinner” (even if the one in question doesn’t believe they are a “sinner.”). Or to make even simpler: Just love people and let God take care of the rest. 

Animal Idioms and God’s Kingdom

To all the eager beaver followers of Jesus who want to be the top doghold your horses and let’s talk. The straw that will break the camel’s back is trying to be a road hog on the highway to heaven. I’ve watched like a hawk this old world, so take it straight from the horse’s mouth, don’t be a copycat or a monkey see, monkey do sort of person. Also, don’t be cutting kitty corners and taking cat naps. Be fully aware, fully awake and fully aligned with the Spirit. If it sounds fishy or smells like a rat it probably is. Don’t go rushing in like a bull in a china shop. More than likely you’ll be opening up a can of worms as you go off on a wild goose chase. Folks like that drop like flies as the dog days drag on. It’s a rat race out there. A real dog eat dog world, where ungodliness is raining like cats and dogsTake a gander, our Enemy is like a fox in the hen house these days. But his swan song is coming, He’s about to eat crow and a whole lot worse.

But I’m putting the cart before the horse. If you work until the cows come home, you might think you are casting pearls before swine or beating a dead horse. You may be poor as a church mouse with no nest egg for the future. Following Jesus is no cash cow. You probably won’t be a fat cat, but don’t let it bug you, just be faithful. Here’s something to crow about, Jesus loves you. You’re not in the dog house or a black sheep

Be busy as a bee, until He returns. You might have butterflies in your stomach or ants in your pants, but no need to go cold turkey. There are plenty of fish in the sea. It might not be like shooting fish in a barrel these days, but you’ll get the lions’ share, if you don’t clam upchicken out or let the cat get your tongue. Just take the bull by the horns, and share who Jesus is. Holy cow, people are still hungry as a bear to see faith in action.

Of course, the elephant in the room is: can you be faithful to the end without looking like what the cat dragged in? Yes, you can kill two birds with one stone—loving God and loving people! Listen don’t be a fish out of water or have a bee in your bonnet, get in church. The Church is not a “birds of a feather flock together” kind of place; think of it more like Noah’s Ark– where the lion and the lamb are in the same boat. 

Allow me to let the cat out of the bag, it will be no kangaroo court, when the Great Shepherd separates the goats and sheep. The sheep will be in hog heavenpigging out at Banquet of the Lamb. The goats will be sitting ducks. And our Enemy? Will he go free? When pig’s fly! The worm has turned. He’s a lame duck. His chickens have come home to roost and his goose is cooked.

Maybe I’m a one trick pony, but Jesus is more than enough for me. 

FYI… If you think this article was for the birds, just know that there are 67 animal idioms in it. Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? Make that 68.

General Superintendent Powerball

Has the Church of the Nazarene (CotN) been choosing General Superintendents (GS) all wrong? The current way makes perfect sense. Duly elected General Assembly delegates vote (if they get a visa and are in Indianapolis for the election) for any ordained elder between the ages of 35 and 68. It seems downright democratic the way GSs are chosen. But is it the best way to govern a church? Is it truly democratic? Is it Biblical?

Questions rise each presidential election cycle as people wonder if the nation’s best and brightest two people out of the 330 million citizens are on the ballot?  Could Nazarenes wonder if our democratic system produces the best and brightest too?

This new method of selecting a GS is fundamentally biblical, albeit uses a biblical model that has been rejected probably since Luke put it to writing. My reference is the selection of Mathias as the apostle to replace Judas. If you will recall, in Acts 1, the disciples gathered, prayed, narrowed their choices to two individuals and then in a purely undemocratic way, cast lots to see who should be apostle #12. Mathias was the lucky winner. There is no evidence that the early church used this method for choosing leaders again (there is also no Biblical evidence of elections either). Before scoffing, at the foolishness of the method, maybe we should rethink it.

General Superintendent Powerball is putting all qualified candidates in a hat (granted it would need to be a really, really big hat) and drawing out six random names. The GS candidates would be any elder within the age requirements who is willing to serve the church. Any elder? That’s right. Surely there are plenty of Holy Spirit-filled men and women worthy to fill such a role. This random selection method would not be limited to regional directors, college presidents or prominent pastors who are favored in the current system, but every eligible elder could put their name in the hat. Picking six random names would eliminate the “popularity contest” feel of the election of a GS. Small church pastors, minority pastors, those ordained elders serving in remote locations, and all elders who don’t have a chance in our current system would be given an equal opportunity. No more ballot after time-consuming-ballot at General Assembly. Put the elders’ names in a hat, have the General Assembly pray and then pick out six names. The whole process would take ten minutes. It’s General Superintendent Powerball.

Much more than a time saver, General Superintendent Powerball would bring a new, diverse committee every four years. It would essentially limit the term of a General Superintendent to one four-year appointment (the odds that the same person being chosen in consecutive General Assemblies would be very slim). General Superintendent Powerball could bring a new perspective to the church. No politics in the process. No popularity contests. No gossip and whispers of who might be elected. No feelings of entitlement would exist since the selection is for only one term. Moreover, once randomly selected, our current system of the necessity of a unanimous agreement of the BGS for major decisions would neutralize a possible rogue or completely unqualified person serving in this role. (finally, a good reason for the current committee leadership structure). The General Board and General Assembly would still set policy and give direction. 

Besides it’s biblical roots, it isn’t a totally novel idea. Malcolm Gladwell, in his Revisionist History Podcast (Season 5, episode 3. Hear it here) interviewed Adam Cronkite who is a co-founder of a non-profit organization called Democracy in Practice. The organization believes lotteries are the most democratic method of choosing leaders. Lotteries give an equal opportunity for everyone to participate; empowers those who under normal circumstances would not have a meaningful voice; and rotates leadership. Those three qualities would be worthy goals for the BGS.

“A General Superintendent Powerball would not bring the most qualified leaders to this role,” someone from 17001 Prairie Star Parkway (home of the Global Ministry Center of the CotN) might grumble. 

To that worry, I ask two questions:

1) How do you know those chosen would not be qualified? 
There are plenty of good, holy-spirit filled, well-qualified leaders in anonymous places who would prayerfully and wonderfully serve. 

2) Is a strong “leader” needed? 
Strong leaders have been elected. The current BGS are all leaders who have risen in the church ranks and have been in positions where the “buck stopped with them.” But that’s not conducive to the BGS system of a ruling-by-a-committee-of-six. Can a “the-buck-stops-here” leader thrive in a collaborative environment like the BGS?  Or should the CotN choose individuals who work well in groups and who best understand collaboration? Truth be told, the CotN needs both leaders and collaborators. Again, who is to say that such a leader/collaborator would not be chosen in a random selection process? 

Someone else might descent to the General Superintendent Powerball notion by saying, “We could get six GSs who don’t speak English and would need a translator wherever they went.”  

To that objection I say, “Yup. It would complicate things, no doubt.” Then, I would ask, “Are we truly committed to being an international church or not? I’ve read and re-read the manual and the ability to speak English does not seem to be a requirement. Maybe a rural pastor faithfully serving in remote Bangladesh could bring a perspective to the BGS than has never been brought forth. Maybe a modern urban pastor in post-Christian Denmark could likewise bring an assessment not often seen in the hallowed halls of the GMC.”

Do I seriously think General Superintendent Powerball system will happen anytime soon?  No. 
Do I think we need to rethink who and how we pick leaders? Yes. 
Do I think we need to redefine the role of General Superintendent? Yes.
Do I think term limits should be in place for General Superintendent? Yes. 
Do I think we need to rethink the value of a singular one-term General Superintendent? Most definitely, yes.

Think about it. If nothing else, General Superintendent Powerball would shake things up (literally) in our 114 year old denomination.