Warning If You Track Church Attendance: The Numbers Are Lying to You

There is much conversation in my church right now about whether we are a declining church body and whether or not we will survive this decline.  So, purveyors of statistics tell us that we are in for a long slow, steady dip before we hit rock bottom and recover.  Not exactly the message you want to hear if you are a believer faithfully caring out the work Christ left the church to do.  Here’s the thing, the numbers are the numbers, right?  We have to trust the numbers, the numbers wouldn’t lie, right?  Na, Na I say the numbers are lying. Here is what we know about the church. Chuck Colson summarized it nicely in his book, The Body, 1992, Word Publishing, p. 70.

“Yet membership in a confessing body is fundamental to the faithful Christian life. Failure to do so defies the explicit warning not to forsake “our assembling together.” His understanding of this prompted Martin Luther to say, “Apart from the church, salvation is impossible.” Not that the church provides salvation; God does. But because the “saved” one can’t fulfill what it means to be a Christian apart from the church, membership becomes the indispensable mark of salvation.

“So highly does the Lord esteem the communion of His church,” Calvin wrote,” that He considers everyone a traitor and apostate from religion who perversely withdraws himself from any Christian society which preserves the true ministry of the word and sacraments.””

The Lie.

If we measure the success of the gospel by church attendance and dollars in the offering plate, then we have to also admit that the life-saving message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins is not working.  That is what the numbers say, right?  No matter how faithfully you preach and teach the gospel and administer the Lord’s Supper and baptize, it won’t change the numbers.  We continue to see a steady decline in the numbers of people coming to church and supporting the work of the church.  What we don’t want to deal with is that if we believe the numbers, our work is ineffective.  The gospel has lost its power.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  Is that what is deflating morale in our churches?  We see the numbers, and our answer to stop the decline is to do what God called us to do, and it is not working.  The numbers do not define the power of the gospel.  Attendance is not a reflection on God’s word.  The lower offering numbers do not mean we have no mission left to accomplish.  It’s lies all lies.  God made us a promise, and God keeps his promises. In Isaiah 55,

10 Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky
and don’t return there without watering the earth,
making it conceive and yield plants
and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater,
11     so is my word that comes from my mouth;
it does not return to me empty.
Instead, it does what I want,
and accomplishes what I intend.

 

The numbers do not define us, they serve as useful data.  But God’s mission is still needed.  If anything, the numbers prove that God’s mission is needed more than ever.  The church is facing stiff competition for the heart of culture.  This writer captures the challenge well by comparing the church to sports.

“Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring and summer. This pastor has been an avid sports fan all his life. But I’ve had it! I quit this sports business once and for all. You can’t get me near one of those places again. Want to know why…

Every time I went, they asked me for money.
The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.
The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable.
I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me.
The referee made a decision with which I could not agree.
I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites — they came to
see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game.
Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.
The band played some numbers that I had never heard before.
It seems that the games are scheduled when I want to do other things.
I was taken to too many games by my parents when I was growing up.
I don’t want to take my children to any games because I want
them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.”- Author Unknown, At Calvary, Covington, KY.

Be Encouraged.

One of the most hurtful things the idea of church attendance has planted in the America Christian psyche is that “if you are not growing as a church you are a failure as a pastor and congregation.” So, we play the comparison game with our younger self.  So, how were we doing 10 years ago today?  Imagine doing that in your life now.  Compare your fifty-year-old body to the body you had in your twenties, how is that comparison going to turn out? And we judge our shepherds on the number of new converts.  And our church body on the number of new churches planted.

If you want to stop that madness, then we need to find new ways to gauge the congregational health and denominational health.  By putting the health report numbers of attendance and weekly offerings in the Sunday bulletin, we are asking those reading it to judge our success based on those measurements.  And we are buying into a false narrative about the effectiveness of the Word of God.  When the church continues to miss the mark of the weekly recording of those numbers it only serves to further demoralize the membership and even an entire church body.   So, if you don’t want to be judged by those figures and feel like you are losing the battle, start tracking other things.  Not to mention the numbers are Holy Spirit driven numbers, and we can’t control His work anyway.

Instead, track numbers that help hold your church accountable for those things that the church in Acts was measuring: people studying God’s word, the number of individuals engaged in living life together in community, the number of people helped with the offerings of God’s people, the number of prayer gatherings and the number of answered prayers.  Imagine measuring in church what God is doing among his people vs. the number of individuals coming on one day a week?  Isn’t faith a 24/7 thing not just one hour on Sunday?

Discussion questions for your leadership:

What are the things we want to measure?

What steps do we need to take to accomplish this shift in our culture?

More on Metrics:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/09/new-metrics-for-the-small-congregation/

How Our Understanding of Vision Impacts Our Ministry Capacity

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In my work with congregations, besides stewardship programs and evangelism causing a rip in the congregational space and time continuum, talk of vision and vision planning also creates havoc. With stewardship, the issues are guilt and often a struggle with trusting God to provide. In evangelism, we feel inadequate. Believers do not feel equipped to talk about their faith with any level of confidence. Vision is problematic because it feels too corporate America. Fortune 500 companies have visions, goals, and strategies. Churches are faith-based. We trust in the divine direction of God. Planning is taboo. Goals are ungodly. Measuring outcomes seems to reduce people to products, right? Vision is often misunderstood. Vision was God’s term first. Let me explain what vision is from a biblical, Christian worldview and explain its role in the life of the church.


 
A Biblical View of Vision

 



There is a place for vision in the church because vision comes from God.
2 And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:2-4
We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about. – Charles Kingsley, Bits & Pieces, December 9, 1993, p. 16.

Vision is often misunderstood. How do you define the concept? Vision is characterized by a ministry focus geared to share the gospel with those souls who are outside God’s grace. I love this more in-depth explanation. “What is a vision? Where do they come from? Visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be. Anyone who is emotionally involved – frustrated, brokenhearted, maybe even angry – about the way things are in light of the way they believe things could be, is a candidate for a vision. Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo. Vision carries with it a sense of conviction. Anyone with a vision will tell you this is not merely something that could be done. This is something that should be done.” (From Visioneering) When vision is the driving force in the ministry front, it can create energy and deeper engagement from members.

Why Does Vision Matter?


“But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for the many act out their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible…”– T.E. Lawrence.

When our vision is from God, it reflects God’s passionate love for people. It aligns our hearts with the heart of God and refreshes our desire to reach the community in which God has placed us. It is compelling and motivates us to action. Things get done because the vision is integrated into the life of the congregation. It becomes the driving force in all decisions. We will take all of our resources of money, people, time, and talents and focus on this one thing God would have us do. Leaders and laity have a clear picture of what role they can play in carrying out God’s mission. This becomes the first item discussed at the council meeting or voter’s meeting even before we get to the news about the finances. The vision becomes the thing that must be done!
Christ Church, Anywhere, USA needed to discover God’s vision to give energy to a congregation that had become stagnant and aimless. Maybe you can relate to their situation. Perhaps you are looking for answers. It is possible you see around you, and you see the writing on the wall. Like a line in my favorite Christmas novel by Charles Dickens, “I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.” So many congregations see the grisly reminder every Sunday of the fate that awaits if the images remain unchanged with continued dwindling attendance, shrinking income, and eventual death.

So, what do you need to do? You need to start by asking the right questions. Do you have a good vision statement that points you to your reason for existence? Who are the people God has called you to connect with in your community? Once you figure out if your vision statement is pointing toward those outside your walls is this vision from God?

These are the fundamental questions a compelling and inspiring vision statement will answer:
• What are the results you see when this vision is accomplished?
• Who in the community is being impacted by this vision?
• How are you developing a discipleship culture? That is a culture of equipping the saints, multiplying and sending the followers of Christ into the mission field.
• How are the members living out the vision and what impact does it have on them and the community we are called to serve?

The power of a “God-sized” vision is that it gives energy and direction to the church. It unites and inspires people around God’s plan. As we hear from the wisdom of Solomon, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people perish,” Proverbs 29:18. If you need help with that process, there are many options. Lutheran Church Extension Fund has a method called VisionPath. I have also led congregations through a process. No matter what path you take, vision can energize a group that is just going through the motions. If you want to talk more, let me know, and I can point you in the right direction.

 

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A Deeper Look at The Good Shepherd?

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“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

 Most of us are not familiar with shepherds.  I bet we would have a hard time naming three off the top of your head.  Just to test this theory name three now, and Jesus does not count (his profession was a carpenter).

To help us better define what a shepherd is we will use as our primary text Psalm 23 written by a famous shepherd, David. We hear the scriptures describe the Lord as a shepherd, and Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep, but we don’t resonate with that. However, Jesus provides some context for his definition of the role the Good Shepherd plays in the life of his flock of believers.  The Shepherd heals and restores the broken.  You see that demonstrated in John 9 when Jesus heals the man born blind.  Jesus also heals the sick, brings back the lost and provides for the needs of the sheep, i.e. the feeding of the 4,000 and 5,000.

Over the next several weeks we will look at a few aspects of how King David defines the Good Shepherd.  I think it will help you better understand Jesus’ identification of being the Good Shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; Psalm 23:1a

 The shepherd is the only real line of defense the sheep have.  Sheep are like babies.  They are entirely dependent on the goodness and care of the shepherd.  Jesus points to this in John 10, 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” The sheep have no way to protect themselves when the wolf comes.  If the one protecting the sheep abandons them, they are toast.  All the sheep can do is run.

 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

 Most of us are not familiar with shepherds.  I bet we would have a hard time naming three off the top of your head.  Just to test this theory name three now, and Jesus does not count (his profession was a carpenter).

To help us better define what a shepherd is we will use as our primary text Psalm 23 written by a famous shepherd, David. We hear the scriptures describe the Lord as a shepherd, and Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep, but we don’t resonate with that. However, Jesus provides some context for his definition of the role the Good Shepherd plays in the life of his flock of believers.  The Shepherd heals and restores the broken.  You see that demonstrated in John 9 when Jesus heals the man born blind.  Jesus also heals the sick, brings back the lost and provides for the needs of the sheep, i.e. the feeding of the 4,000 and 5,000.

Over the next several weeks we will look at a few aspects of how King David defines the Good Shepherd.  I think it will help you better understand Jesus’ identification of being the Good Shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want. Psalms 23:1b

Madonna, the singer not the Mother of our Lord, once had a song called, “Living in a Material World.”  And that title is so telling.  We do live in a very materialistic society.  To counter that Jesus makes a bold claim, “I am the Good Shepherd, I care for the sheep.” Translation “You shall not want.” Notice Jesus did not say you shall not desire.  Jesus never promises to satisfy all my desires, and that is a good thing.  I have lots of desires.  I love shoes.  That drives my wife crazy.  I have shoes for every mood I am in. Lately, I have given away most of them some only worn three or four times.

Best Buy is always a bad idea for me because I love technology.  I saw this brand-new television that curves and is in 3D with surround sound speakers so you can feel like you are in the movie theater. And on top of it when you watch sports on it you can see the sweat drop off the players.  Do I desire that? You bet, does Jesus promise me I will get that, No!  Jesus says you shall not want, in other words, the Good Shepherd promises to provide me with the basics in life, food, drink, tranquility, to rescue me when I am lost, give me freedom from fear and death.  Jesus never promises to grant all my desires, if he did I would need a bigger barn to store all those things.  Jesus gives me what I need so that I am not in want.  He knows me.  He understands my situation. I can put my trust in him for the things I need today.  Jesus reminds us that in Matthew 6, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Read more as we continue our walk through Psalm 23.
https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/25/still-waters-runs-deep/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/31/are-the-needs-of-the-one-greater-than-the-needs-of-the-many/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/06/07/how-to-navigate-the-valley-of-death/

Missional Communities Can Connect Us With Our Unconnected Neighbors

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I love to study movements and I have run across one that really intrigues me. It is a vision that has the goal of sending believers into neighborhoods to live, breath and eventually reach, with the gospel of Jesus Christ, their unconnected neighbors. You might think this is revolutionary if you have not been aware of a movement started nearly seven years ago. As I was when I attended a convention on Church planting, Exponential. This idea was at first soundly rejected, before becoming the featured topic two years later. The movement is a shift from Sunday morning worship being the gathering event to a celebration of what God is doing in the life of the believer and a time to receive the gifts of salvation.

It is a good idea before we go any deeper to define missional community. There are many definitions out there because missional communities take on a life and direction of their own. These communities are diverse and shaped by the direction and passion of their leaders. All that being said, here is a definition that resonates with my heart.

“A missional community is a way to organize the church to gather and send groups of people on a common mission (i.e. to engage artists in the city, renew your neighborhood, or help the homeless downtown). Simply put missional communities are a group of people who are learning to follow Jesus together in a way that renews their city, town, village, hamlet, or other space.” -from “Called Together” by Jonathan Dobson & Brad Watson

I can hear some of my pastor friends yelling at their computers now as they read this quote. That is what the church is already doing! My pushback is yes, some churches do that quite effectively, many do not. We are exceptional and well equipped at gathering people together. Stop, and reflect with me. Is it just us? How effective are we at sending? Every Monday morning when I considered quitting the ministry, it was based on the fact we have a good gathering event. Although since we are being honest and transparent here, those gatherings got less and smaller each year. What caused me to want to quit every Monday were the internal burning questions: “Why I am doing this? What difference am I actually making for the kingdom? Are we changing hearts or just going through the motions? Will anyone leave this gathering today and make a difference in the world?” Those were my internal struggles and yes, I know this wasn’t my doing, it is all the work of the Holy Spirit, but how was I, the one called to shepherd and equip this flock doing with the sending part?

The words of Luke 4 haunted me, Luke 4:18-19
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (CEB)

How do we send our missionary people out to reach those people Jesus connected with, daily? Being an urban pastor, those people were outside the walls of my gathering. We literally had to step over them to get to our fancy new cars to go home. As a sent people we are called to reach out to the poor, to clothe the naked, to speak good news to the marginalized, and set the oppressed free. Missional communities are just one method to send the gathered out on mission. I will spend the next several weeks showing you how to develop leaders for this movement and how to use this as a tool to model what the early church did in a pre-Christian world.

 

Other posts on missional communities:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/07/12/are-missional-communities-a-threat/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/07/19/how-missional-communities-are-not-your-fathers-small-group-ministry/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/01/what-void-are-missional-communities-filling/

 

 

A Story of God’s Love and Redemption

People often asked me, “why did you become a pastor?”  The answer is simple.  I felt called to preach the gospel to people hurting and broken like Tony Nolan.  Listen to his inspiring story of transformation.

Four Ways to Build A Culture of Generosity

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This past year I have been leading many congregations through a stewardship program entitled, Consecrated Stewards. When I come into a church to discuss the issue. I am met with considerable resistance and hesitancy. As I dig deeper into the anxiety what I discovered is that many times the leadership has a “limited resources mindset.” Leaders will tell me, “Our people have limited resources” or “our church has limited resources,” and thus the next logical progression in this line of thinking must be that our God has “limited resources,” right?

Maybe this illustration can serve as a beginning point to shift this unbiblical thinking. For the past forty years, Eunice Pike has worked with the Mazatec Indians in south-western Mexico. During this time, she has discovered some interesting things about these beautiful people. For instance, the people seldom wish someone well. Not only that, they are hesitant to teach one another or to share the gospel with each other. If asked, “Who taught you to bake bread?” the village baker answers, “I just know,” meaning he has gained the knowledge with no one’s help. Eunice says this odd behavior stems from the Indian’s concept of “limited good.” They believe there is only so much good, so much knowledge, so much love to go around. To teach another means you might drain yourself of knowledge. To love a second child means you have to love the first child less. To wish someone well–“Have a good day”–means you have just given away some of your own happiness, which cannot be reacquired. – Bernie May, “Learning to Trust,” Multnomah Press, 1985.

Our God is generous. “Or do you have contempt for the riches of God’s generosity, tolerance, and patience? Don’t you realize that God’s kindness is supposed to lead you to change your heart and life?”-Romans 2:4. Our God is not a limited resource God, He is a God who gave us His best and most valuable gift in His one and only precious Son, Jesus Christ, for the redemption of the world.

Four Ways to Create an Environment of Generosity

1. Inspire – You need to model giving.
“What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop.” 2 Corinthians 9:6
One congregation picks one Sunday to sow seeds with one hundred percent of the offering for that weekend going to a mission cause outside their walls. This act of generosity models for the church that when we sow seeds of generosity God honors and blesses that trust. This does not mean we see that returned in dollars back. We could be blessed by the impact that generosity has in the lives of others.

2. Instruct
Life is a matter of building. Each of us builds something – a secure family, a good reputation, a career, a relationship to God. But some of those things can disappear almost overnight due to financial losses, natural disasters, or other unforeseen difficulties.
What are we to do?

Daniel Webster offered excellent advice, saying, “If we work on marble it will perish. If we work on brass, time will efface it. If we rear temples, they will crumble to dust. But if we work on men’s immortal minds, if we imbue them with high principles, with just fear of God and love of their fellow-men, we engrave on those tablets something which time cannot efface, and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.” – Morning Glory, July 3, 1993.

It is our responsibility to instruct our flock on the use of money. This is not a necessary evil but important kingdom training in discipleship. Instruction engrains on the believers’ heart that their time, talent and treasures are important for the advancement of the mission of Christ.

3. Illustrate
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” – Oscar Wilde.
You can’t just say “do this” and not lead people by getting out front and showing them how it looks to be generous.

4. Ignite
One simple phrase describes how this looks in the life of the community of believers: “Give first, save second, live on the rest.” In this formula giving first honors God with our very best. Saving second builds wealth so we don’t feel the need to hoard or live paycheck to paycheck. And finally, living on the rest builds a life of contentment. Imagine what your ministry and life could be for God if we built a culture of generosity. Imagine the impact we could have for the kingdom.

Who Are You Overlooking on Your Emmaus Road Experience?

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That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (ESV Luke 24:13-15)

“Can’t see your nose in front of your face “

Idiom Meaning – Being oblivious to something obvious, in clear view.

On the Road to Emmaus Jesus had His faithful disciples not recognize him.  It is easy to focus on the disciples short-comings.   To see the disciples as men with a weak faith or just too spiritually dense to be effective witnesses. Why were the disciples unable to see the obvious?  Jesus is right there in front of their face, and they can’t see him.  Could the answer also be obvious?

A Cultural Blindness

Early in the Easter story account, we know that God used the witness of the women at the tomb to broadcast the news that, “Christ, is Risen!”  In that period of history, women were not allowed to testify in a Roman court because they were considered by the men of that time to be untrustworthy witnesses.

I love how God turns man-made customs and rules on their head.  In all four of the accounts in the Gospels, the people who gave witness to the resurrection were not the fear-filled faithful male followers, but women. Society’s second-class citizens were given the honor to announce to the world that God keeps His promise and has rescued Israel.  Is it possible that what contributed to the disciple’s spiritual density is that they were reacting to the societal norms of rejecting the untrustworthy witness of the women?

What is causing you blindness in your Emmaus road journey?  What group of people in your life (if they were the ones God called to tell you Christ is risen) would you struggle to find reliable?

But the disciples did something right in this story.

 

How to Welcome the Stranger?

  1. Be Inclusive-The disciples on the Emmaus road even though they were still dealing with their internal grief were still open to widening their circle to include this outsider. I can’t speak for you, but when a stranger comes near, my first reaction is suspicion and then caution. But to their credit that is not the response of these followers. They don’t walk a little faster to get to their destination sooner. They didn’t ignore the stranger hoping he would just get the message and go away. After, all this is a time of mourning, who has time for idle chit-chat?

 

Even though they did not recognize Jesus, they interacted with him. They had a welcoming heart and spirit to include him in their lives at this most vulnerable time. They had the wherewithal to have a deep faith conversation with someone who seems totally unaware of one of the most epic events in the history of mankind, the Son of God has been killed, which leads to point number two.

   2.  They Shared their Faith. Even though they were unaware of who this stranger was, they shared with him the events of the last three days.

“And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”Luke 24:17-21a

You can hear in this conversation the disappointment in the disciple’s voice.  All their hopes and dreams of who Jesus was and what He would do to rescue Israel were dashed on that Good Friday, but Jesus would not leave them in despair.  He would open the Word of God for them, and He would open their eyes when He is invited to their house.  And that is the final point.

   3.  They Entertained the Stranger in their home. These two disciples do the right thing through their hospitality. In that culture, guests were expected to refuse an offer of hospitality until the host firmly insisted that they stay and eat. These disciples do just that and what a faith-filled blessing that was for them.

So, they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So, he went in to stay with them.Luke 24: 28-29

Jesus not only remains but He takes control of the meal. Jesus takes the bread just like He did at the Passover celebration where He redefines the meal.  He says this bread is my body broken and given to you for the forgiveness of sins.  This wine is my blood, sealing a covenant with God and mankind. Jesus gives thanks and takes the bread, the host, and in the breaking the bread their eyes are open, and they see Jesus.  We too recognize that Jesus appears to us in the meal of Holy Communion, in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine. That was true then, and it is true now. When we are courageous enough to open our hearts and lives to welcome the stranger, we show them Jesus in our midst.

TED Talk: How I Used My Drum to Tell My Story

In this talk-performance hybrid, drummer, percussionist and TED Fellow Kasiva Mutua shares how she’s breaking the taboo against female drummers in Kenya — and her mission to teach the significance and importance of the drum to young boys, women and girls. “Women can be custodians of culture, too,” Mutua says.

Three Steps to Overcome Doubt

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What to do when you have doubts?

21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  John 20:21

Three things:

  1. Live in the Shalom of God.

Peace. It’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Shalom.” Words included in this translation are: peace, wholeness. Fullness. Harmony. As resurrection people, we are called and equipped to live life together in the manner we were created.  We were created to live in community with one another,  sharing the highs and lows of life together.  To model to the world the power of forgiving one another when others offend and cause us pain.  The peace that comes only through authentic fellowship with God openly inviting those who have strayed back to the love of God. Like the disciples discovered over 2,000 years ago, fear short-circuits faith. Jesus short-circuits fear and rekindles faith.

How does Jesus bring peace where there is fear? He shows up.  He encourages.  He breathes on the disciples, a foreshadowing of what is to come on Pentecost.

Jesus is understanding.  He is compassionate.  He dispels doubt.  Jesus meets the disciples and us where we are, in our fears, dealing with faith crippling doubt and He speaks into our lives and says, “I understand you’re afraid, but have Shalom. Know that you are not helpless. You are not without hope. You will never be alone again. I have overcome death and the grave and I am here to help you overcome your fears and doubts. Stop unbelieving and believe. Live in the confident power of the Holy Spirit. Live in faith, trust and hope, and not in fear. I will be with you always even until the end of time.”

2. Realize you have received the Holy Spirit.

22After he had said this, he breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22

 Gordon Brownville’s Symbols of the Holy Spirit tells about the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first to discover the magnetic meridian of the North Pole and to discover the South Pole. On one of his trips, Amundsen took a homing pigeon with him. When he had finally reached the top of the world, he opened the bird’s cage and set it free. Imagine the delight of Amundsen’s wife, back in Norway, when she looked up from the doorway of her home and saw the pigeon circling in the sky above. No doubt she exclaimed, “He’s alive! My husband is still alive!”

So, it was when Jesus ascended. He was gone, but the disciples clung to his promise to send them the Holy Spirit. What joy, then, when the dovelike Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. The disciples had with them the continual reminder that Jesus was alive and victorious at the right of the Father. This continues to be the Spirit’s message.  -Thomas Lindberg.

The same Jesus who sends the disciples and us into the mission field also enables those whom he sends.  Jesus empowers us with the enabling gift of the Holy Spirit.

3. Remember why Jesus came and that now He Sends us to be on mission for Him

As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” John 20:22b

David, a 2-year old with leukemia, was taken by his mother, Deborah, to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to see Dr. John Truman who specializes in treating children with cancer and various blood diseases. Dr. Truman’s prognosis was devastating: “He has a 50-50 chance.” The countless clinic visits, the blood tests, the intravenous drugs, the fear, and pain–the mother’s ordeal can be almost as bad as the child’s because she must stand by, unable to bear the pain herself. David never cried in the waiting room, and although his friends in the clinic had to hurt him and stick needles in him, he hustled in ahead of his mother with a smile, sure of the welcome he always got. When he was three, David had to have a spinal tap–a painful procedure at any age. It was explained to him that, because he was sick, Dr. Truman had to do something to make him better. “If it hurts, remember it’s because he loves you,” Deborah said. The procedure was horrendous. It took three nurses to hold David still, while he yelled and sobbed and struggled. When it was almost over, the tiny boy, soaked in sweat and tears, looked up at the doctor and gasped, “Thank you, Dr. Tooman, for my hurting.” -Monica Dickens, Miracles of Courage, 1985.

That is at the heart of the Easter message.  Jesus came to take the hurt and the pain that was ours to endure.  He went willingly to the cross, with a willing spirit and never blamed us for putting Him there.  And now he sends us His followers out like He did that first band of frightened brothers out to continue the work He began.  But does not send them or us out unprepared nor ill-equipped but He sends us out with all the authority and power of His position as King.

Jesus boldly says to us, “I the Lord, Jesus Christ, who has been given all authority in heaven and on Earth, command you, my devoted disciples in every age to go to the ends of the earth, to teach all people of every tribe and nation my gospel. Make all people my disciples who in turn will produce other disciples to expand my kingdom to the ends of the earth.”

What a bold, majestic command of our Lord and Savior. No one else would dare make such a decree.  Not only does Jesus command we “go out” this same Jesus backs up that order with all the authority of heaven and seals it with the promise of salvation in His precious blood shed on Calvary’s cross and verified with the empty tomb.

Jesus came back to move the disciples from fear to mission.  And He calls, equips and empowers us to do the same.  He reminds us that we have His Spirit living and dwelling inside us and that Holy Spirit points us back to the resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. That same Spirit comforts our soul when it is dealing with uncertainty and doubt so that we can have the peace that comes only from our relationship with God.

Are We Making Decision about the Church’s Future Based on Anxiety?

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 We had ten proposed actions for the Board of Directors and the district president to execute, voted on and passed at the Northern Illinois District (NID) Convention.  For some of those overtures, where simple bylaws changes, there was not much to see.  One created a way to bolster a district ministry, which supports pro-life options.  The rest of the proposals were all about maintaining the institution.

I didn’t pay enough attention when I was a parish pastor to my district and the critical decisions we voted on at the convention. Shame on me for that past failure and I apologize to all the missional leaders I let down by my lack of attention.  What I saw at our convention was a church suffering from symptoms of anxiety.  What anxiety does in your life is leads you to search for certainty.  You want to do everything possible to control the environment around you.  At our NID convention, we had overtures designed to control a church faced with an uncertain future.  George Muller said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”   To ease our mind, we passed resolutions to preserve control of an idea of what we believe the church should be to make us feel secure.  It was all about survival, but my question is, “What are we preserving?”  I know many think we are saving the church itself, its rich history and doctrine.  Are we really? And If so, who are we going to pass it on to, who will hear our message? As less and less European immigrants come to the country, where is our real mission field?

I get that we want to keep the truth of God’s Word at the heart of our church body, and rightly so, it is the foundation of our faith, but you can’t do that with the law.  Traditions alone are not enough.  We can’t circle the wagons and wait for the world around us to come back home to the church.  The way we pass on the church we so dearly love is by professing that truth to a brand new, outside of God’s grace people group.

I am struck by the words of Jeremiah, “Happy are those who trust in the Lord, who rely on the Lord. They will be like trees planted by the streams, whose roots reach down to the water. They won’t fear drought when it comes; their leaves will remain green. They won’t be stressed in the time of drought or fail to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (CEB)

Imagine if we put our full energy and the congregational gifts, of time, talent, and treasure into gathering together and figuring out ways to better reach the unconnected in our community.  Instead, I fear we are trying to control a declining institution by fear and legal maneuvering in a convention. The institution doesn’t have to decline. There are people outside of our church buildings who have not yet been introduced to the Savior we love.  Our gospel is still compelling.  Our Savior still holds salvation and forgiveness in His wings.  The harvest is even more plentiful.

In the end, I realize the reason I never cared about convention results was I cared more deeply for the mother in my school whose child missed significant amounts of school because mom was addicted again to drugs.  I am not implying others don’t, nor is this post meant to condemn anyone.  I wish we could work together for the betterment God’s kingdom.  Someday, maybe we can all walk away from a church convention feeling, “Wow, God has given us a clear missional direction, let’s go after it.”  Instead, after this convention, many left shaking their heads feeling like they were hit by a truck and asking, “what just happened.”  I pray we can come together, talk together, seek God’s plan for our church body together and then go after the ones outside of God’s grace TOGETHER!  We are so much stronger when we do what God has called us to do…TOGETHER!

Other posts on the church:

https://revheadpin.org/2018/01/04/warning-if-you-track-church-attendance-the-numbers-are-lying-to-you/

 

The Untold Truth About Doubting Thomas

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24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord! But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” John 20:24-25

The Biblical account we will focus our spiritual radar on today is famously known as the chronicle of “doubting” Thomas. Many scholars of all theological persuasions have commented that the description of the account of what happened isn’t fair to Thomas, and it doesn’t do justice to the story. A careful look at the translation of the word “doubt” in the original Greek does not appear anywhere in the story. In Verse 27b, a more accurate translation of “Do not doubt but believe,” is “Do not be unbelieving.”

The account of “Unbelieving Thomas” has always been one of my favorites. It’s not just a narrative about Thomas. It’s also an eyewitness account of a group of frightened disciples. So scared in fact, that they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the horrible, humiliating death of Jesus Christ, the one they confessed to being the Messiah.  His disciples stood by helpless as He was betrayed by one of His own, Judas, one of the most famous traitors in history.  Those present witnessed the most lopsided, miscarriage of justice trials in history that the Jewish religious leaders put together in the dead of night.  This mock trial pulled together in a matter of hours, had Jesus tried and convicted by both Jewish religious leaders and Roman civil authorities.  From there they took this innocent man, had him brutally beaten and executed between two guilty criminals.

Stop for a moment and put yourself in the disciples’ shoes.  Is it little wonder they were afraid?  If they could do this to Jesus, as popular as He was with the crowds and did nothing but improve the lives of those He came in contact with, then what is next?  What would those same people who had Jesus killed have in mind for His followers? Logic would dictate that next, they would round up Jesus’ followers and snuff out the movement.  In the midst of all this fear and uncertainty, Jesus reappears alive on the scene, their worries are sweep away and are replaced by unbridled joy.

 

Just the way you imagined faith to work, right? Yes, perhaps you’ve got doubts and questions and fears, but then God arrives and those all fall away, replaced by joy, wonder and, of course, unshakeable faith.

 

But that’s not the way it works with Thomas nor the way it works for us, either.  Thomas is uncertain.  This disciple has questions.  Thomas disbelieves.  For him, he has a moment of shaken faith.  Secondhand accounts do not satisfy the queries.  He wants to see for himself. And who can blame him? He was, after all, one of those who saw his Lord and friend mistreated, beaten, and then crucified. He has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together trying to figure out what to do next. In fact, he might have already moved on with his life.  Why else, I wonder, is he out and about when the rest of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors? Is it possible he thinks it is time to get back to the grind of life and “restart my career that was placed on hold as I chased after this charismatic Rabbi.” But Thomas is not alone in his questioning. He joins a long list of those who struggled to believe.

 

  • Epicurus– Greek Philosopher – “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

 

  • Stan Lee, Comic Artist – “Q: Is there a God? A: Well, let me put it this way… [Pauses.] No, I’m not going to try to be clever. I really don’t know. I just don’t know.”- Onion AV Club Article, Oct. 9, 2002.

 

  • Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft – “Just regarding the allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”- TimeMagazine – January 13, 1996.

 

  • Heidi Klum, Model – “I believe I have a healthy common sense and therefore have no need for religion.”- Vogue(Germany), June 2009

 

  • Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek – “We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.”- Free Inquiry, Autumn 1992

 

Some Questions to Ponder this season after Easter:

Does doubt mean faith is not working correctly?

Thomas comes to faith because he first has the chance to voice his doubts and questions and then experiences Jesus for himself. Perhaps if this is the opportunity before us this week, I want to provide the same opportunities for the many Thomas’s sitting in our churches and traveling this journey of life and faith.

Why Are We Here Questioning? 

Some observations:

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. If ever there was a sure thing, Jesus should have been it. I mean, this was the Messiah, the one Israel had spent generations waiting for. He walked for miles and spent his precious moments healing the sick, casting out demons, verballing challenging the religious institution, and raising the dead. Jesus shook up the world.  Our Savior was on this path to greatness.  And in a week’s time from His triumphant march into Jerusalem to Good Friday, everything is brought to a screeching halt.  Jesus was incredible. Christ should have been their greatest Earthly King.

The disciples find themselves in this odd place. Their world has been rocked, and their faith was shaken to the core with one horrendous weekend turn of events.  Their leader had been crucified.  He died a death without honor, one reserved for the lowest of criminals. If Rome had their say, they were going to prove this Jesus of Galilee was no Messianic king.  And would display that fact publicly on one of the most traveled roads for all the world to see.  Israel would see their king dangling above the crowds on a cross on a hill placed between two thieves.  With a sign above his head declaring to the masses who once followed and cheered him, here is your King.  Bow down and worship him now!

The followers of this disgraced king now spent their frightened, saturated moments huddled together in a room filled with fear and anxiety, concerned at the pending retribution of those who have unfinished business.  They wanted to wipe any memory of this Jesus of Nazareth off the face of the earth. The religious leaders will move swiftly to destroy this grassroots movement of the man from Galilee. This fear was thick and tangible, surrounding everyone, and filling each word and look. We know this fear. Every single day we have very valid reasons to be afraid.  Whether that fear comes from the senseless crimes that happen too often to innocent bystanders. To the fact that many of us are just one paycheck away from financial ruin. That fear could be due to the knowledge that there are dangerous people in the world with a different belief system who seek to terrorize us. There are many trapped with social anxiety that leads to the fear and reality of isolation.  No matter what it is you are afraid of many people are living in fear. And that fear can cause us to struggle with unbelief and doubt the existence of God.  But let’s redirect here and ponder this. Is there a place in our pews for the Thomas’s of the world?

So, here’s what I’m wondering a day or two after a joyous Easter service: do we make room for the Thomas’s in our world? I remember as a teen when in religious instruction class one teen brave enough to raise his hand dared to question “is this all real?”, Only to be quickly shut down. There is no room for doubt, “Stop doubting and believe” we were told.  I suspect that there were those among us this Sunday who struggle with the Thomas syndrome. Who needs a little bit more than, “Stop doubting and believe.” Some followers who would like a bit of hard evidence, maybe even a personal appearance of Jesus.

Ponder this question until we address in the next post, how we deal with doubt:

What is that fear that is pushing faith to the back of your heart?

 

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