If you’re keeping up, you know that our church is celebrating its 150th anniversary — our sesquicentennial year. Try making that announcement on Sunday morning! Anyway, our committee is doing a wonderful job of inviting former pastors, musicians, and members, and gathering photos and other memorabilia for our 7-month long celebration. Among the artifacts, clippings, and records that we have found, several small ledger books stand out.
I was out-of-town for the weekend and attended an Episcopal church today. The church is much larger than mine, but had a similar gothic design so I felt at home in the sanctuary. I love the Episcopal liturgy, but was concerned I might not be familiar with what this church was going to do. But, they had already anticipated people like me attending.
Tom Holland and I have been emailing back-and-forth about how small churches keep their members. Tom and I have both experienced families leaving our churches to go to larger churches where the programs are a draw. If the two of us are dealing with this issue of “closing the back door” as Thom Rainer puts it in his book, High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church, some of you must be also.
“I imagine our congregations becoming smaller, not bigger, yet teeming with the life of his body. And I hope there are more of them, so many of them in fact, that they become the alternative to the Starbucks of our day. I hope our churches become known for servanthood in the neighborhoods and warm hospitality that invites strangers into our homes. I pray that the home of every evangelical person becomes an incubator of evangelism, inviting strangers to the gospel out of their lostness and into the love and grace of life in our Lord Jesus Christ. I imagine real fellowship in our congregations, the kind that shares joys and suffering and potluck meals. I pray our leaders take on the form of humble servants who sit, listen, and suffer with real people through many years of leading them through this life in Jesus Christ. I hope we leave behind the CEO models of leadership. I look for our worship services to become liturgical places that form our people into faithful participants in the life of God.”
— David E. Fitch, The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church…, pg 229.
This is what I love about the internet. I ran across a site called eHow.com — a virtual “how-to” about everything, even religion. So I look and sure enough, there is a post on “How To Make Lutheranism Part of Your Life.” Not exactly the way I would phrase that, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Then I see “How To Make Methodism Part of Your Life.” Just as I am starting to think that Baptists — my flavor of the faith — are being given short-shrift, I discover this insightful article, “How To Make Baptism Part of Your Life.”
Wait — Baptism, not Baptists? I guess if Lutheranism is the beliefs of Lutherans, and Methodism is the beliefs of Methodists, then Baptism is the beliefs of Baptists! (I am not making this up, I promise.)
That’s what it says, but as I am reading I recognize that the illustrious author really means Baptists, not Baptism, so I am feeling better. I keep reading and discover there are 7 steps (is this symbolic?) to making Baptism part of your life.
I’m reading and I’m with this guy on Steps 1 thru 3. However, we hit a major snag on Step 4. See if you can figure out why I am concerned:
“STEP 4: Know that within this faith, baptism does not grant you salvation. The Baptist church does not believe that just because a person is baptized it necessarily follows that he or she will be saved. Baptists believe that good deeds on Earth and living by the word of God are the way to salvation.”
Okay, I have no problem with the first part of this — “baptism does not grant you salvation.”
But, here’s where the wheels come off — “Baptists believe that good deeds on Earth and living by the word of God are the way to salvation.”
I take exception to this strongly. Baptists — and I speak for all of us — certainly do not believe in good deeds. Period. Didn’t we do the whole Reformation thing so we wouldn’t have to do good deeds? Anyway, we do not believe in good deeds, or that living by the word of God is the way to salvation. If we did, we’d all be in church each Sunday. No, sir. We’ll not have any of this works salvation stuff. Sole fide forever, and we can prove it.
But Step 7 is my favorite — “Attend weekly mass and Bible study. Soak in the Baptist beliefs and begin applying them to your life.” Spoken like a true Baptist!
See you at mass this Sunday!
Ray Chan was my first appointment on my first day in Hong Kong in the spring of 2002. Ray was the sales manager for a windchime factory. I had found his factory on the internet before I flew to Hong Kong. I had exchanged emails with him, and now we were meeting for breakfast at the Holiday Inn on Nathan Road in Kowloon where I was staying. Ray was on time, I overslept, but when I got to the lobby he was waiting patiently for me.
A young man in his 20s, Ray was well-spoken, poised, and interested in me, his new customer from the US. After breakfast Ray drove me to his factory showroom in an industrial section of Hong Kong. I selected some windchimes, we agreed on a price, and Ray was to have a sample for me when I returned from Shanghai in about 10-days. He took me to dinner that night, showed me photos of his wife and family, then drove me up Victoria’s Peak for a wonderful view of Hong Kong harbor. We hit it off, and I looked forward to seeing Ray again.
I spent several days in Shanghai, then flew back to Hong Kong on Wednesday. My appointment to see my samples was on Thursday. I called his office and Ray’s associate answered. I asked for Ray. He paused, then said, “Ray is not here. His brother was killed in an auto accident two days ago.” I expressed my sincere sorrow for Ray’s loss and then arranged to come in on Friday instead of Thursday.
I had not expected to see Ray, but he was there waiting for me on Friday when I arrived at his office. I sat down in the showroom with Ray and said, “Ray, I am so sorry to hear that your brother was killed.” Both of us had tears in our eyes as Ray said, “Thank you. He was a student, my younger brother.” Then Ray said, “We are Christians. We believe we will see him, again.”
Sitting in an office in Hong Kong, seven thousand miles from home, I wept with my brother. I have not seen Ray since that day, but we are Christians, and I will see him, again.
Anybody doing anything with the SuperBowl this year? The big game is Sunday, February 4, with kickoff about 6:30 PM (I think, but the SB site is not clear). Anyway, we’ve done a couple of things from in-home fellowships to last year’s big 8’x10′ screen in the fellowship hall. We’re not doing anything this year because I’ll be at Fuller in my DMin seminar.
I know some of you are doing something, so how about sharing? Let’s hear it from “da Bears” fans and Colts fans, too! (Of course, if you hate football, that might be an angle as well — church as a football-free-zone. Has possibilities.)
Lyle Schaller, my favorite church consultant, led a retreat for the Atlanta Baptist Association when I was pastoring in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Schaller said two things I remember from that conference:
- Act your size. Average US church attendance now is about 90. If your church is larger, you’re bigger than average — act like it. His point was churches tend to think of themselves as smaller than they really are in comparison to other churches. For instance, our target for this blog, Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, is churches running 300 or less. But a church with 300 in attendance is in the 90 percentile of all churches in the US. Not really small unless you only compare to megachurches. Tell your folks they are above average and leverage that in planning and dreaming.
- The umpire calls the game. Example: Say your attendance is 100, and you want to have a high attendance day. Your church sets a goal of 150. The big Sunday comes and you have 134 show up. Success? “Absolutely,” Schaller says. If you call it a winner, it’s a winner! Calling it helps frame the outcome and encourages those who tried. Plus Schaller contends that the congregation is looking to leadership to validate what has happened.
The next time there’s a judgment call to make, remember you’re the umpire. Call the game!
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If you read my post, Don’t Quit!, you know that I left the ministry for 13-years. Much of that time I spent trying to get back into the pastorate, and that was hard. But the really hard part was finding a church where we could worship and fellowship. So much of a pastor’s life is tied up with the congregation. Church members are your congregants, but they are also your friends and your social circle. When you lose your church, you lose your whole social network.
That’s what happened to us when I left the pastorate. Lonely and looking for a new church home, our experiences visiting other churches were usually disappointing. When we visited a new church and the people discovered I was a “former pastor,” they either asked —
- 1) “what happened?” or
- 2) “could you teach Sunday School next week?”