Archive for May, 2011

The Near and Future Church

May 31, 2011

When I was about 19 years of age,  I went to a youth conference on the future of the church. This was an important topic for me. I had accepted the call to ministry, been licensed to preach by our district and was headed toward seminary and ordination. The speaker was a nationally known church leader and writer,  Dr. Jamison Jones. His footprint on the world church has been significant. One of his sons is now a bishop. Another is the Dean of Duke Divinity School and his grandson is a missionary and a future pastor.

Dr. Jones’ prophesies about the church shaped an entire generation including myself. He predicted that the church would shrink to about 25% of the culture and I can see that occurring. Our attendance figures may hover around 40% but real followers is closer to his 25%. He told us that small groups would dominate church life and be the place where real growth in faith occurs. He was right on. He predicted that the youth would lead the way calling for a church centered in action and radical living. That is so true.  Today’s youth choose a church that is authentic, engages the culture and makes a difference. And they serve with their hands and feet. Just like my church’s youth group – we have 54 on a mission trip this week serving among the very poor in the Bahamas.

Dr. Jones predicted that for awhile megachurches would thrive and people would flock to stadium-like worship services. Then they would flock back to more intimate worship settings. We are seeing this everywhere. Growing churches in the next century will offer multiple services that are more intimate in size, that cater to particular styles and offer both ancient and contemporary forms of Biblical worship: gathering with other believers, singing that is simple and powerful, teaching the word, testimonies, litanies of what we commonly believe and taking an offering for the poor and the ministries of the church.

Dr. Jones also predicted that churches would unashamedly state the expectations of being a follower, a member of the body of Christ. This would include daily prayer, weekly worship, small group study and fellowship, a place of service based on one’s spiritual gifts and tithing as the minimum, New Testament standard for all the baptised. And he said that churches that practiced these things would see steady growth and deep commitment. It would not be popular yet it would attract those who were serious and wanted real faith.

Oh, I love it when the faithful prophets are proven true!

 

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The Rapture and Lunker Bass Fishing

May 24, 2011

I just returned from a retreat that included time for my favorite hobby – lunker bass fishing! I caught some nice large mouths and monster catfish. As I tossed my plastic lizard, I thought about the big news story from last week about the rapture.  A radio host had predicted that the rapture would occur May 21. Wrong! Jesus said that no one knows the day of Christ’s return, neither the angels in Heaven and not even the Son. Only God knows. We can live in that peace. God will send Jesus Christ in the perfect time when God is good and ready. In the meantime, we are to live in such a way that we do not have to worry about tomorrow.

Sometimes I think God keeps it all a secret to reveal what is really in our hearts. What we believe and how we live regardless of when Jesus comes again reveals who we really are and in whom we trust and follow. Back when I was a Boy Scout, our scoutmaster would often leave camp and place us, the senior leaders in charge. We could make the tenderfoot scouts do all the work and we could just lounge around. Or we could be team players and mentor the younger scouts so if the scoutmaster returned unexpectantly he would find us diligent and doing the honorable thing. I often remember this lesson when I consider the return of Christ. Our task is to live in joyful expectancy and simply be faithful to Him as we wait in faith.

I only have one caveat before his return. I want to catch a largemouth bass over 8 pounds and boat the monster! Well, I realize that too is not worth His delay. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. And in the meantime, I plan to be diligent, faithful and hopeful. And work in some serious bass fishing as often as possible!

TRANSITIONS

May 18, 2011

I am now preparing to leave one congregation and be the spiritual leader of a new one. I have done this four times previously. It is never easy and if it was, I would not be the kind of shepherd I was called to be. The best way to leave is to admit the grief, celebrate the good times, thank God for the lessons learned in the hard times and tell folks how much they mean to you. I spoke to two folks today among the thousands who have blessed me in my present church. The first I was his mentor, officiated at his wedding, ushered him through the process of deciding to attend seminary and watched him grow into a visionary leader in this church. Wow, God blessed me so much through this guy’s faith journey!

The second was a dear saintly lady in her eighties. The last year she has had a host of physical ailments. Yet none of this dampened her faith or stole her sense of humor. Every time I call her I know she will cause me to laugh and to be glad I called. These two folks are the kind of fellow believers that make being a pastor such a joy and a privilege. They are part of the reason I never say good-bye when departing. We will still be brothers and sisters in the kingdom and we can still be friends and fellow sojourners on the path to Heaven. This does not change.

There are some definite changes. I will no longer be their pastor or spiritual guide once I depart. I want them to call on their new pastor for prayers, spiritual counsel and to visit them in the hospital, officiate at their weddings and lead their funerals. I plan to only return for these functions when their new pastor says I am needed and can join him in these duties and privileges. I will be leading a new flock, mentoring leaders and staff in the new church and seeking to be faithful in that parish.

Yes, transitions are tough when you have grown to love a community of people. St. Paul wept at the remembrance of the churches in Rome and Macedonia. I know how he felt. I also know God always has many blessings in store. The best is still to come for my present church and one I prepare to meet and lead. God is good…all the time!

WELCOMING A NEW PASTOR

May 9, 2011

If you are a Methodist, there is a one in four chance your church is about to receive a new pastor. How can you best welcome a new pastor to your church? Some people think the best way is with a meal, a warm pie or a pounding (the old Southern custom of bringing fresh produce from your farm to fill their pantry.) These are all thoughtful and nice gestures. Let me suggest some more ways from my 30 years of experience. First, introduce yourself and give the new pastor time to learn your name. Take time to ask them about their hobbies and interests and share your interests as well. Make a point to share a cup of coffee and engage them in conversation.

Second, pray for them and let them know they can count on you to be a prayer partner. Inquire about their prayer needs and when they study for sermons. Pray for them on that day and during that time of study and meditation. Third, do not criticize their predecessor. This is not Christ-like and is unhealthy for your church. I have found that the folks who criticize my predecessor will eventually be critical of me as well. Reserve making judgements or quick decisions about the merit of their preaching or leadership. Give them time to adjust to your church and get comfortable with your congregation.

From the beginning,  respect their family time and encourage them to care for and spend time with their family. This is one of the best examples your pastor can give the young parents in your church – a professional who makes family a priority and a joy. Give them ample time for prayer, study and meditation. To spiritually lead an effective congregation requires a leader immersed in prayer and listening for God’s leading and will for the church. And, if I am your new pastor, just a hint, I love pecan pie!

Changing Pastors, Changing Churches

May 3, 2011

I have never liked pastoral changes. I was raised in one church from birth to age 19. During that time, we had 5 pastors. It seems every time I got used to a pastor’s style and felt close to him, he was moved. The positive side is our church never became dependent on our senior pastor and I got to know and be shaped by 5 different and very gifted men of God.

When I was ordained, I remember that key question: Will you go where you are sent? I answered yes, so you may say I asked for this nomadic and transitory way of life. I have now served 5 different congregations and each appointment has shown God’s hand and the bishop’s wisdom in sending me to a particular place. It is miraculous how well these matches work out given all the human factors and the nature of relationships.

Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus and Epraphus to Colossae. Both struggled with being in a strange place, trying to make disciples and bringing order to the life of the church. Both knew detractors and supporters. Both wrote letters of complaint and seeking counsel from their leader, Paul. Both served with courage, faith and learned important life lessons. I stand with them in this itinerant ministry. It comes with blessings and challenges. In every church there are folks who try your nerves and challenge your authority. In every church there are many saints who warm your heart and remind you of the goodness of God.

At times like this, it is important to do certain things for your pastor and his or her family. First, pray for them and thank God for what you have learned from them. Every pastor leaves his footprint on the life of the church. We always stand on the shoulders of our predecessors. Second, celebrate their ministries and write them a letter or email naming the blessings they have brought your way. Third, forgive them for their mistakes and shortcomings. I know I have not been perfect or always been as responsive as people expected. Forgive and make peace with those who have shepherded you as best as they could.

Pastoral changes are difficult on both pastors and churches because we love one another and serve faithfully for kingdom purposes. Always remember that the real head of the church is Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday, today and forevermore.  Our churches stand on this firm foundation. We are to keep our sites on Christ and remain loyal to his call on our lives. Pastors come and go, the mission of Christ for his church stays the same. Glory to God. Amen.

(more on this next week – like how best to welcome a new pastor and their family…)