Solo Pastorates Are More Challenging Than Ever

In a conversation with and old friend, discussing the challenges of solo pastorate churches… Years ago, before the advent of the mega-church or the corporate church, I seem to remember seminarians being placed in small pastorates, Solo pastorate churches in established communities.  I was newly saved or not saved yet, so did not understand the dynamics of ministry and expectation.

Perhaps expectations were lower then.  Perhaps the propensity of member or attenders to spectate, rather than participate were lower.  Perhaps we had more common cultural norms and value systems.  I don’t know but I think the challenges of the solo pastorate church were less then.

When I reflect on it now, the challenges of a small urban or suburban congregation are many, and as a much older person, I struggle to imagine a recent seminary graduate having the capacity to lead in this situation without burning himself out.

Here are things that have changed over the last 30-40 years that have made this more (rather than less) challenging: Continue reading “Solo Pastorates Are More Challenging Than Ever”

Why We Often Lack Fellowship

In a recent conversation with my son, who is away at college, he shared that he felt that he was not deeply connecting with other Christians on campus. This is his second semester, and while I heard the same story last semester, I kinda just blew it off, saying “These things take time…” and other platitudes hoping that the situation would correct itself.

This time, my son expressed some self doubt, asking me, “Is it something that I am doing wrong?”, so I took it perhaps a little more seriously. This is somewhat like the conversation we had:

Tell me about a time when you experienced “fellowship” in the past. Was that in your high school youth group?
Yes.
Was it the whole time you were in the group?
No. It was after I started expressing more commitment to my faith, in my Junior year.
Were you involved in serving or helping?
Yes. I was on the worship team, doing “tech”, and in SLT (student leadership training).
So you experienced the deepest fellowship when you were expressing commitment to your faith by serving alongside other believers?
Hmmm.
Are you serving alongside other believers now?
Not really, it is hard to get plugged in, my schedule always seems to interfere.
You are part of Intervarsity, right? Are there ways you can serve in that group, that don’t require lots of time commitment or on flexible schedules?
I don’t know. I suppose. I have wanted to get into the leadership team, and on the worship team, but the schedule doesn’t seem to be working out.
Have you thought about just finding other ways to “help out”?
Hmmm…..

In our conversation, I asked what he thought fellowship was, and what it was for; why God gave that deep connectedness to members of his body? Continue reading “Why We Often Lack Fellowship”

Ecumenical Sectarianism

Some times I am revolted by the Church. I am revolted when I drive down the major street nearest to my house and within two miles there are six churches. If you give yourself a two block radius from that street in the same two miles you can add four more churches.

None of these congregations are unusually large, none of the facilities are particularly stunning. I’ll be honest in telling you that I have ever only been inside one of these buildings. I know people who attend four of the ten. All of these churches have been in existence for 30 years or more. Most were built when the suburb that I live in was developing in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Two of them have “changed congregations” in the past few years – that is that one congregation sold a facility to another. Mostly this happens in suburban churches as members gradually migrate away from a large city toward the outer rim of suburbs in search of cheaper housing and less congestion or whatever. Often times they chose to move their church along with them.

Continue reading “Ecumenical Sectarianism”

The Challenges of the Minority

Recently, I watched as my son went through a simple test of his faith. It has to do with a job that he has and his simple display of faith in wearing a cross around his neck when acting as an agent for his employer. The cross is not tremendously noticeable being made of steel nails hung from a simple leather strap or thong. It is humble and unassuming.

The challenge came from a customer who felt uncomfortable because the promotional material that my son participates in creating features him, wearing his cross. Because my son works for the state university where he attends, this customer felt like somehow having an agent of the university promoting school events and activities while wearing a personal religious symbol was somehow a violation of the principle of separation of church and state. Continue reading “The Challenges of the Minority”

Why We Struggle With Worship

To understand the struggle that evangelicals have with worship you must first define it. Frankly, I think, like many things that we evangelicals struggle with, we have placed our focus on method, rather than purpose. When we argue over music and liturgy and all kinds of stuff “that happens” but what is underneath that, I think, is that we have lost the plot on the purpose of worship.

Worship

Continue reading “Why We Struggle With Worship”

Funky Christians

Over the last few years, some friends and I have compared notes about “funky” Christians we have encountered. Funky for me is not a term of style, but a term of aroma. When something is funky, it smells bad.

 

  • A principal of a christian school who appears to be having an affair with the school administrative secretary.
  • A church that made some bad financial decisions, then tried to avoid paying off their debt.
  • Christians who go to college campuses to yell at students, telling them they are going to hell.
  • A church who has decided it is a good idea to blame every natural or human initiated disaster on God’s judgment for our society’s sinfulness.

All these “Christians” give of an aroma, and from where i sit, it is not the aroma of Jesus. It is funky – like toe jam or worse.

A wise pastor once told me that “The gospel is offensive, so be prepared for people to be offended when you share the gospel. Just be sure that it is the gospel that it is offending them, and not you personally.”

Jesus when he was on this earth, was much more harshly critical of the religious establishment than he was of sinners. He came to this earth to save sinners, including you and me. The problem with the religious establishment of his day was that they weren’t willing to admit they needed His salvation. He criticized their hypocrisy and their tendency to love the honor that was bestowed upon them by their “followers”. He criticized them for making up rules that made it harder rather than easier for people to be in relationship with God. He said in almost as many words, “You Stink!”

At work, we have a saying – “The cream rises to the top, and so does the scum.” It is a rather cynical point of view that says that those that are truly talented and motivated advance, and so do those that bend rules and abuse people. Unfortunately, this can also be true in the Christian world – among the most well-known Christians are truly honorable people and some pretty despicable people as well. When well known Christian leaders fall, their fall into sin and hypocrisy and corruption is perhaps the worst smelling of all.

Let us each resolve, personally to give of a fresh aroma, the aroma of Jesus himself. Lord, help us.

Ambassadors of Christ

What does it mean to be an Ambassador. When I think of ambassadors, I think of our Department of State, and the Ambassadors who are assigned to communicate and coordinate with foreign governments. They are working on behalf of The United States of America executing and supporting our foreign policy in some nation whose government we recognize as having some legitimacy. How is our role as ambassador for Christ’s Kingdom on this earth similar? Continue reading “Ambassadors of Christ”

Fundamentalist or Literalist

I recently saw a Facebook post about a lesson from the bible by the “president” played by Martin Sheen on “The West Wing”.

In the episode, a woman, Dr. Jenna Jacobs, who had a popular talk show (modeled after Dr. Laura Schlessinger) was representing the bible, from a literal point of view. Of course the president did not properly “interpret” the bible, and so his argument was not persuasive to those who believe. In his critique of this woman and her view that the bible was to be interpreted “literally” he presumed that it was also universally applicable, meaning that I can take any thing in the bible, and say that it applies equally to any situation.

But it brings to mind two words that I think that we often misunderstand as Christians, and so our idealogical opponents can wield them against us as a bludgeon from which we have limited defense. Continue reading “Fundamentalist or Literalist”

Leadership Activities – Part II

OK – I promised that I would give some how-to on leadership activities.

1) Cast Vision or Mission (at some level) for the future activities

Vision or mission can start with one person, but often things seem so obvious to that person (who had or received the vision) that it takes other leaders questioning how things work or how things happen to really flesh it out. When you share your vision, you want it to be a relatively complete and comprehensible story. Collaborating with other leaders is a great way to get feedback.

Not suggesting that the vision itself should change, but we need to become better at communication. The communicator is responsible for the content. If you send but nobody receives – that is not communication – that is broadcasting. If you are speaking English but your audience is Spanish speakers – is that going to work? How about if you are speaking martian? Or theological jargon?

Preachers can spend years in seminary developing their ability to communicate biblical truth. Yet when communicating about other things, they don’t practice with the same level or they delegate to other leaders. Leaders should collaborate around the content and communication of vision so that
a) all (leaders) are invested in the vision (there is unity).
b) the communication to the larger community is well thought out and aimed at the target audience.
c) all are able to answer questions and explain the meaning of the vision from the perspective of their role. Continue reading “Leadership Activities – Part II”