What are the greatest challenges facing your congregation?

abandoned churchEvery church is in its own context. We face different challenges, depending on many factors. There are common struggles, like the realities of sin and its effect on our members. There are highly specific problems, ranging from the effort required to begin a new work to the terror of external persecution. Some churches find themselves in communities that are dying, small towns where the younger families move away and the population slowly shrinks. Others find themselves in changing communities, with a new socioeconomic standard or racial/ethnic makeup.

For some churches, the problems are internal. Bad leadership. Rebellious members. Sin that has struck at the very identity of the church.

For others, the problems come from outside. Pressures from neighbors and city officials. Resistance from other religious groups.

For some the problems are about material things, like lack of building space for a growing congregation or lack of funds to support existing structures for an aging congregation.

For some, the problems are deeply spiritual. Ingrained legalism. Unloving attitudes. Disregard for biblical teaching. Factions and divisive spirits.

So what’s going on where you are? What are the things that the church must handle in the next few years? What are foreseen obstacles to new growth or causes of decline?

Links To Go (May 5, 2015)

Gnostic Sex

We can’t consistently explain why homosexual activity is wrong if we can’t emphasize the goodness of the human body, and we can’t consistently do the latter unless we emphasize the goodness of creation. Our bodies are not just temporary residences for our souls. They are vital to the real us, and their gendered expressions will be raised on the last day.

The Lord’s Supper: N. T. Wright’s The Meal Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion

And so it only makes sense that anytime we are drawn into the presence of Jesus — who lives in heaven — that the ordinary rules of time and space might be suspended, that the Eucharist might in some sense join us with the leaders of Israel at Mt. Sinai, the disciples of Jesus in the upper room, the early church hiding in their homes and eating a love-feast and Lord’s Supper huddled together, hiding from Roman persecution, even in Nepal with the Christians mourning their lost, the Anabaptists fleeing death at the hands of both Catholics and Protestants in the Reformation, and countless other Christian communities all over the world gathered, gathering, and yet to gather on the first day in remembrance of Jesus.

Missional Angst and Western Church Norms

I love the radicals and I want to give space, permission, and blessing to their movement. But I also love the people who show up for church on Sunday and really like to sit in those rows. (I probably have a lot less patience for people who rail against the system while getting paid by it.)
We can learn from the example of Jesus. He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. We all should afflict the comfortable, no matter the context, so that our people would live as radically on mission as possible in a sustainable way for their congregation.

The Most Important Step In Becoming More Like Jesus Christ

The first step to become more like Christ is to behold his glory in his Word. That’s why it’s so important for us to regularly take in Scripture. For as we read or listen to God’s word we behold Jesus, and the Holy Spirit transforms us into his image.

Ten Ways to Have More Energy for Your Work

  1. Rest and sleep are very important.
  2. Regular breaks are important.
  3. Journaling can help me monitor how much energy I actually have.
  4. I will work for 25 minutes and then take a break.
  5. I am now very intentional about placing items on my actual calendar with a start/stop time scheduled.
  6. I have become very conscious about how much time I spend on the Internet.
  7. Read what energizes you.
  8. Exercise.
  9. Know that your attitude can make a big difference in your energy level.
  10. Pay attention to your personal growth.

73-year-old man punches bear in face

Moore says he went to check on his dog, Lacy, and found her whimpering, as the bear was inching closer.
He says he tried to scare the bear away, but when it didn’t leave, he punched it in the face.
“The man or beast that I run from ain’t been born, and his momma’s already dead,” he said.

New seminar (under development)

drawingAs part of my work with Hope For Life/Herald of Truth, I’m developing a new seminar for churches. I’ve been doing the “Christ and Culture” seminar for several years and would like to have something else to offer as well.

I want to do something that will address a need felt by many churches and do it in a practical way. I’ve decided to focus on how to get church members’ focus outside the building in order to get outsiders in. I want to look at analyzing the community in general, the neighborhood around the church, and each member’s immediate neighbors. I plan to talk about how a church can make itself more open and inviting to outsiders. I want to look at the topics of evangelism and discipleship.

What do you think? What topics do you think your congregation would want to see addressed? What items do you yourself see as important?

I’ve got a working title, but would definitely be open to suggestions on that as well.

Image courtesy MorgueFile.com

Culture: The Uninvited Guest

Three_wise_monkeys_figureWe’ve been talking about Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience as they speak to us about religious matters. They form part of what is come to be known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. But as David noted last week, there’s another voice that speaks loudly as we discuss spiritual things: Culture.

If Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience are we voices that we accept and choose to listen to, Culture is all too often the uninvited guest. I’ve come to believe that when someone says, “Culture has nothing to do with this discussion,” that’s when Culture is playing its biggest role. Its influence is most effective when it goes unseen and unnoticed. Culture thrives on denial.

The hot topic at my home congregation is the role of women in worship. Everyone wants to claim that culture has nothing to do with their viewpoint. And that’s a big part of the problem. Let me explain:

  • Culture is a big part of the Bible. The Bible was revealed in cultural contexts, across many years. It was written in human language, not divine language. It addressed people living in a cultural context and expressed itself in ways they could understand. The New Testament letters, especially, were occasional documents, written to address a specific situation. That situation almost always had something to do with culture: misunderstandings of doctrine due to culture, churches following cultural practices, churches deciding how to resist cultural practices. Then add to the fact that we read the Bible in a translation in the language of our culture!
  • Some of the instructions about women were specifically tied to cultural things. The discussion of head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 is an obvious example.
  • Those of us who read the Bible read in terms of our culture. When we read “church,” we think of a group of people that gather in a large auditorium, even though such things almost certainly didn’t exist when the Bible was written. We read “preach” and think of a man standing before an audience. We read “Scripture” and think of the bound Bibles that we hold in our hands.
  • The traditional view of the role of women is full of cultural influences. We’ve made standing in front of the assembled church, such as standing to pass communion trays, a sign of leadership. We’ve created, please note, we’ve created a Sunday assembly where there are song leaders, communion leaders, prayer leaders, and preachers. That’s not straight out of the pages of the Bible. That grew up out of culture.
  • The move toward an egalitarian stance has been heavily influenced by culture. Had there been no shift in the view of women in our culture, these discussions would not be taking place. It’s silly to deny that. I wouldn’t argue that the influence has been greater nor lesser than that on the traditional side; both sides have gotten where they’ve gotten with the aid of culture.

That’s just one example. The same happens with almost every Bible discussion. The question isn’t whether or not Culture will influence. The question is to what degree we will recognize and try to temper that influence. We don’t want to be led or controlled by Culture. But we do want to take a message from thousands of years ago and apply it to our current cultural situation.

Maybe Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience can lend us a hand.

Links To Go (May 1, 2015)

Baltimore and Community Reconciliation

Yesterday I joined Lawrence Rodgers, Winston Curry, and Jo El Berean along with several other people from the Westside Church of Christ and we went into Baltimore. There we stood among a group of peaceful protesters just to listen and observe. We wound up talking with a couple of people, just asking them questions… to listen, learn, and pray.

Open Letter to the Woman Who Lost It on Her Son in Baltimore

Anyone can recognize that you love your son, and you wanted him to be better than he was being at that moment. He never raised a hand to you in the video; so clearly he’s not someone whose go-to solution is violence. You must have taught him that. Reportedly, you are raising Michael and five daughters on your own. That’s enough to push anybody over the edge. I just want to go have a lie-down at the thought of it.
Mostly you reminded me of Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, where she marches into the alien’s den. And not just because she’s also wearing yellow and employing curses to make her point. It’s how ferociously she wants to protect the child in her care.

Why Not Gay Marriage?

The issue is not about controlling “what people can do in their bedrooms” or “who they can love.” The issue is about what sort of union the state will recognize as marriage. Any legal system which distinguishes marriage from other kinds of relationships and associations will inevitably exclude many kinds of unions in its definition. The state denies marriage licenses to sexual threesomes. It denies marriage licenses to eight year-olds. There are almost an infinite number of friendship and kinship combinations which the state does not recognize as marriage. The state doesn’t tell us who we can be friends with or who we can live with. You can have one friend or three friends or a hundred. You can live with your sister, your mother, your grandfather, your dog, or three buddies from work. But these relationships—no matter how special—have not been given the designation “marriage” by the church or by the state. The state’s refusal to recognize these relationships as marital relationships does not keep us from pursuing them, enjoying them, or counting them as significant.

New York Times goes to the zoo and reports on those strange Southern animals who oppose same-sex marriage

With a few quick clicks on Google, though, a fuller picture of Kallam emerges. While he opposes same-sex marriage, his bigger issue seems to be one that the Times story downplays: religious freedom.
Yes, the report makes a brief reference to “so-called religious freedom bills.” But the newspaper doesn’t bother to give Kallam an opportunity to discuss his concerns or provide relevant background on his case, such as the fact that his departure as a magistrate prompted more than 500 residents to rally on his behalf this past October.

Fetal Homicide Laws Are a Problem for Pro-Choicers

Even though the bill specifically excludes deaths caused by the mother’s choice, the pro-choice politicians are objecting to it. They don’t want to set a legal precedent by calling an unborn human being a “person,” even if the cases it applies to are strictly limited. This fear is understandable. In order to protect abortion, they can’t allow a logical foot in the door. Once you admit that a fetus can be “murdered,” you raise questions that are difficult for pro-choicers to answer.

Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church

He then closed with an address to men in particular:

Men of Bethlehem, let me address you. I will lay it on the line. At first glance, it looks like there are three possible doors the men of this church can take.
Door 1: side with the abusersm
Door 2: take no side, or
Door 3: side with the abused and stand up to the abusers.
If you are tempted to open Door 2, please know that it is a slide that just takes you to the same place as Door 1. Doing nothing is doing something: it is looking the other way so the abusers can do their thing without worrying who is watching. Saying nothing is saying something—it’s saying, “Go ahead, we don’t care enough to do anything.”

Baptism, the Church of Christ, and an apology…

I am sorry if we ever made baptism the basis of judging others. I believe God is the judge. If he saves every non-baptized believer I will be thrilled. But that is his call, not mine. So I won’t tell you that you are going to hell if you are not baptized.
And I apologize if we ever gave the impression it does not matter if you are baptized or not. As if baptism was a Church of Christ requirement but it is fine if your church has a different requirement to respond to Jesus. Baptism does matter. To all of us. Not just the Church of Christ.

How the Early Church Viewed the Old Testament

While we may sometimes be quick to ignore the Old Testament, we must ask how this aligns with the restoration of New Testament Christianity. If New Testament Christians highly regarded the Old Testament, and if they used it in their preaching and teaching, why would we claim to want to restore New Testament Christianity when we want to throw out what they held dear?

I Can Do All Things

Out of context, Philippians 4:13 is used as a blank-check promise for whatever is desired. But in context, it is a verse is about contentment. It’s not about your dreams coming true or your goals being met. Rather it’s about being joyful, satisfied, and steadfast even when life is hard and your circumstances seem impossible.
You see, this verse is not about winning the football game; it’s about how you respond when you lose the football game, or get injured for the season, or fail to make the team altogether. It’s not about getting that new job, that new house, or that new outfit; it’s about finding your satisfaction in the job you already have, in the house you already own, and in the wardrobe already hanging in your closet.
This is not a verse about being empowered to change your circumstances; rather, it is a verse about relying on God’s power in order to be content in the midst of circumstances you can’t change.

A fan asked J.J. Watt for a ‘get out of work’ letter, and he obliged (Update: it worked!)

Now if only Watt would write us a letter, too … because … you know … we also bought tickets … yeah, that’s it … we totally bought tickets.
UPDATE: Sanchez’s boss — Eric Garza, the district clerk of Cameron County — could not say no to Watt’s request — despite himself being a Dallas Cowboys fan.