Month: January 2008

Sermon for Sunday, Jan 20, “Invite Others”

This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow. My apologies for posting so late in the week, but it’s been an interesting week here. Maybe I’ll tell you about it later. Until then, have a great day on Sunday!
Invite Others
John 1:29-42
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

What Kind of Inviting Are We Going To Do?

For the past two Sundays, we have been talking about our theme for the year –

  • Tell the story.
  • Invite others.
  • Bless the world.

On both the first and second Sundays in this month we focused our attention on “Tell the story.” We said that the story we are to tell this year is –

  • God’s story.
  • God’s story found in the Bible.
  • God’s story found in the Bible which will be accepted by some and rejected by others.

Then, last week we talked about this story being our story, too. We said that we are not just actors on a stage, but when we find ourselves in this story of God that has been going on since before creation, we become what God intended for us to be. Our story is found in the story of God and among the people of God.

So, today we come to the second part of our theme — “Invite others.” Now, you may think you already know what I am going to say about this simple and obvious phrase — invite others. Baptists have been doing this for about 400-years now. We’ve been inviting others to our churches, and to our socials, and to our Sunday School classes, and to our church activities for as long as we can remember. And, we’re good at it. Southern Baptists are almost 16-million strong now, although Frank Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention says himself that we couldn’t find more than about 5-million of us on any given Sunday. That may be optimistic.

When we started our church in Greensboro in 1986, we knew we had to invite others because there weren’t many of us. So, we did. Before the days of the “do not call” list, we conducted the first church telephone campaign in the state of North Carolina to introduce folks to our church. I will tell you that after calling over 10,000 homes, all those phone calls didn’t produce a single new member for us. Lots of work, and not much to show for it.

We also mailed thousands of direct mail pieces, did door-to-door flyers, neighborhood surveys, and advertised in the Greensboro paper when we had the money to do it. We were serious about inviting others. And, we were successful by church growth standards. After three years of meeting in the convention center at the Greensboro Airport Marriott Hotel, we bought property, built a beautiful worship center, and had over 400 in attendance on the Sunday we moved in. Amy, our youngest daughter, told me this week that she found the video tape of our first service in the new building at Cornerstone.

But, that’s not the kind of inviting I’m going to talk about today. It’s not that we don’t need to do that kind of inviting, because we do. We do need to invite folks to come to Chatham Baptist Church. We do need to reach out to our friends and neighbors more than we do, and in more effective ways than we do. But that kind of inviting is like “Phase 2″ to the kind of inviting I want to talk to you about today.

The Story of John and Jesus

To understand what I mean, we have to look back at the story in our scripture reading today. Last week we looked at the baptism of Jesus from Matthew’s perspective, but John has a little different take on things. John the Gospel-writer mentions John the Baptist early in his account of the life of Jesus — verse 6 of chapter 1 to be exact.

There was a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.

Pretty well sums it up, but John goes on to mention that John the Baptist was not the light himself, he just came to testify of the Light that “gives light to every” one….

You might think that after that introduction, John the Gospel-writer would then shift his focus to Jesus, but he doesn’t. He’s not through with John the Baptist yet. In the next scene in Chapter 1, John the Baptist is asked by the religious leaders who he is. Is he Elijah? Is he The Prophet?

Now why are they asking him that? Because in every Jewish home, at sabbath and at Passover, a seat was reserved at the table for the Prophet Elijah, who was expected to return before the Messiah. The same thing is true about this unnamed Prophet from the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses says –

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

So, even though the Jewish religious leaders of the first century don’t get many points for flexibility, they at least wanted to find out if John the Baptist was somebody they should listen to. And, of course, John the Baptist tells them that he is neither Elijah or The Prophet. But then he quotes another prophet, Isaiah, to say that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness to make straight the highway for our God. Pretty significant stuff, I am sure they realized.

And then the big question from the religious leaders — “Well, if you’re not Elijah, and you’re not The Prophet, why are you baptizing?”

John then has the opportunity to talk about Jesus. He says “there is one among you, you do not know.”

Then, the next day, Jesus appears again, and John cries out –

Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And, John goes on to tell those gathered around that Jesus was greater than John because he came before John. Which, if you realize that John is really about 6-months or so older than Jesus doesn’t make any sense. Except that John was speaking in theological sense.

Then John says something here that no other Gospel writer records. John gives the reason for his baptizing. John says that he baptizes, not because he is Elijah, and not because he is The Prophet, but so that Jesus might be revealed to Israel. We saw that story last week. Jesus came to John to be baptized. John does so, and the heavens open, the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus, and the voice of God says, “This is my son in whom I am well-pleased.”

Jesus is revealed to Israel because John was baptizing in the wilderness. And, John tells that part of the story, too. He says, “I didn’t know this about Jesus except that the One who sent me to baptize told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’”

John then says, “I have seen and I testify that this is the son of God.”

Jesus Is The Lamb of God

Back to our story. So, when John the Baptist sees Jesus that day, and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” those who heard him, knew what he meant.

It’s interesting that John the Gospel-writer says that “Jews from Jerusalem” came to question John the Baptist. These religious leaders were from the Temple priests, no doubt. For in Jerusalem stood this magnificent edifice, covering an immense hillside in the city. The gold grape vine and cluster of grapes that adorned the entrance to the Temple dazzled all who saw it. The white marble and stone of the temple complex appeared to those approaching the city from a distance as though the sun were rising in the sky again. The Temple was a magnificent structure.

And, each year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter alone into the most sacred room of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, in which had rested the Ark of the Covenant, long since lost, but, still contained the Mercy Seat.
On the top of the Mercy Seat, the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb, a lamb without spot or blemish — as perfect as a lamb could be — to atone for the sins of the people for one more year.

In another ritual, the Scapegoat would have the sins of the people pronounced on its head, and it would be led off into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people away from the presence of God. In these two symbolic acts involving animals, the nation of Israel hoped that its sins would be forgiven and removed from the sight of God.

John proclaims that here, in their midst, is The Lamb of God, not a lamb, but The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, not just the nation of Israel, but of the entire world. This is big news, bigger than anything they had ever heard before. And, so they paid attention.

Jesus Invites His First Followers

Two who heard John that day ran after Jesus, and when Jesus heard them behind him, he stopped and asked, “What do you want?” Later in his ministry, Jesus would ask that same question of James and John, who asked then for a seat for each of them at his right and left hands. Jesus, of course, corrects them, but then turns around and asks a blind man the same thing, who replies “I want to see, again.” Jesus heals him instantly.

So, Jesus was always probing people to find out what they wanted from him. Maybe he asked these two what they wanted because they were really John’s disciples and now had run after Jesus. Maybe he wanted them to question their own motives for following him. Kind of like the religious celebrities of today, who draw crowds to their conferences. As soon as they fall out of favor, or something new comes along, the crowds run to the next celebrity of the day.

Debbie and I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, which is called Music City USA. Quite embarassing when we were teenagers, I must admit. But now we have a new appreciation for the whole country music industry. Not too long before his death, Johnny Cash took on the big record companies and high-powered country radio stations, accusing them of not playing his newest album, which would go on to win a Grammy award. So, it wasn’t that the music wasn’t good, or his name wasn’t known Cash said. They didn’t play his records because he wasn’t new.

Maybe Jesus wanted these two to think about why they were following him. We don’t know, but they reply rather weakly, “Where are you staying?”

Jesus says, “Come and you will see.” Later, he would tell his disciples that the birds had nests and the foxes had dens, but the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. But this time he’s staying with friends or family, so they follow him. John says they spent the day with Jesus.

Now, here’s where we have to fill in the gaps, with a kind of holy imagination. What do you think they did that day? Did Jesus tell them things about God they had never heard from their priests. We don’t know. Or maybe Jesus told them the entire story of God, and what God was really up to in this world, and the role that he was playing. We don’t know. Or maybe they just walked together, and these two saw Jesus put his hand gently on the head of little child playing along the roadside. Or heal a person with a life-long illness, or speak a kind word to someone who needed one. We don’t know. But we do know that after that day was over, at least one of them, Andrew, runs home to get his brother, saying, “We have found the Messiah.” And he brings his brother, Simon, to Jesus also.

And Jesus welcomes Simon by saying, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas (meaning Peter).” The Rock. Jesus invites Simon to join him, by giving him a new name, The Rock. Which is not what Peter is, but is what he will become.

Invite Others Into The Story of God

And, that my friends, is what we invite others to. Not to church, although we should do more of that. Not to Sunday School, although I could stop right now and invite some of you, but I won’t put you on the spot. No, what we’re inviting others to is to become what God knows they can be. In Peter’s case, it was a Rock. What is it in your life? Did Jesus give you a new name like Joy or Hope or Peace or Servant? Because that’s what he does. He calls out our true selves, not just our potential, but our real identity, the reason for which he made us.

We are inviting Jesus, just like Andrew did, to come and see because we believe we’ve found the One for whom we have been searching, the Anointed One.

You see, we are not inviting others to a set of doctrines. We’re not inviting others to a denomination. We’re not inviting others just to our church. We’re first of all, and most importantly, inviting others to “come and see” Jesus. Himself. In person. Live. Now. Here. Today. Because we have found him. Of course, Andrew will understand later that Jesus found him, and so do we. But for now, we are inviting others to meet our new best friend Jesus.

Now, this year we could launch a witnessing program. I’ve been in some of those. I’ve taken Evangelism Explosion, and a bunch of other courses that I can’t remember the names of now. But, as useful as those can be in some settings, that’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to do what Andrew did before he invited Simon to meet Jesus. We’re going to “spend the day” with Jesus ourselves. Get to know him. Find out what name he has for us. Listen to him. Talk to him. Watch him work. Follow in his footsteps. Be his disciples.

Because you can’t invite others if you don’t know the story yourself. And you can’t know the story without knowing Jesus. Not the Jesus of doctrine, but the Jesus of daily living. The Jesus who asks, “What do you want?” And our answer will be, “Where are you staying, because we want to be there with you.”

Willow Creek Analysis by Wright picked up on Out of Ur

Out of Ur, Christianity Today’s blog, features Dr. Brad Wright and his analysis of the Willow Creek survey and REVEAL.  Of course, this blog had that info on my January 8 post, Willow Creek Study Flawed Says Prof.  If Out of Ur picked it up here, it’s nice to be noticed. But whether they did or not, it means that Dr. Wright’s analysis is getting noticed by the wider blogosphere, which will be helpful for all of us in the church conversation.  I encourage you to read Wright’s 11-post analysis for yourself.  Good insights.

Sermon for Sunday, Jan 13, 2008 — Tell the Story, Part 2

Tell The Story, Part 2

Matthew 3:13-17, NRSV

3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

3:14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

3:15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

3:16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.

3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Is That All There Is to Our Story?

Last week we talked about our theme for 2008 —

  • Tell the story.
  • Invite others.
  • Bless the world.

Continue reading “Sermon for Sunday, Jan 13, 2008 — Tell the Story, Part 2”

How does your church observe Martin Luther King Day?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaching Does your church have special plans to observe Martin Luther King Day on Monday, January 21, 2008?  I wish I could tell you our church has observed MLK Day before, but that’s not true.  Like most white congregations, we just didn’t mention it.  We did close the office last year out of respect for our African-American neighbors, but that was all we did.

This year I am happy to say that we are hosting an MLK Day event.  We were asked to host the youngest African-American CEO of a publicly traded company in the US, Ephren Taylor.  Mr. Taylor is a 25-year old millionaire entrepreneur, and will bring a message of hope and encouragement to our community which is undergoing tremendous economic challenges.

But we were asked to host this event because we also host the Boys and Girls Club of Chatham at our church.   By our willingness to open our facilities to others, especially the children of our community, our church is becoming known as a uniter.   If you think racism is not a part of 21st century church culture, read Les Puryear’s blog posts, “Are Southern Baptists Racist?” and a follow-up here.  Les pastors a multi-ethnic, multi-racial congregation in North Carolina, and lives spiritual leadership on this issue.

This year talk about what you can do to honor the memory of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor, civil rights leader, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. has excellent resources for observing “a day on, not a day off.”  Even the simple gesture of closing the church office will be recognized and appreciated in your community.   Small steps toward racial reconciliation will mean a great deal to those who have experienced social injustice.

90% of SBC churches have 300 or less in attendance

Over at Les Puryear’s blog, he posted some interesting stats on the number of small churches across denominations.  Noting that more than 2/3s of all Episcopal, Lutheran, and Nazarene churches have about 100-or-fewer members, Les asked LifeWay to run the numbers on Southern Baptists.  Here’s the result:

In my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I asked the good folks at Lifeway to run a report for me to count the churches based on Primary Worship Service(s) Attendance in 2006. They very graciously attended to my request and sent me the following report:

1-99 attendees = 25,217 churches (62.7%)
100-199 attendees = 8,305 churches (20.7%)
200-299 attendees = 2,850 churches (7.1%)
300-499 attendees = 2,126 churches (5.3%)
500-749 attendees = 788 churches (2.0%)
750-999 attendees = 336 churches (0.8%)
1,000-1,999 attendees = 425 churches (1.1%)
2,000+ attendees = 139 churches (0.3%)

Total Churches = 40,186

Conclusion:  Over 90% of SBC churches have less than 300 in attendance.  And, as noted above, other denominations are similar.  We are a nation of small churches, even though big churches get most of the attention.  Les has several posts after this one about the strength and vitality of small churches.  Interesting reading and good stuff!

Willow Creek study flawed says prof

bradley-wright.jpgBradley Wright, associate professor in the sociology of Christianity at the University of Connecticut, has the best analysis of the Willow Creek study I have seen. Wright comes at it from a social science viewpoint, which is appropriate. He commends Willow Creek for tackling the survey, but critiques their methodology and interpretation.

Wright says that Willow Creek made the following mistakes:

  1. Willow Creek’s study is a marketing study more appropriate for “brands” than people.
  2. Willow Creek over-interpreted the data. Social science studies are more nuanced and results are less dramatic. Particularly helpful is Wright’s discussion of ‘regression to the mean’ in understanding spiritual growth.
  3. Willow Creek’s 4-stage spiritual growth categories are weak. Wright introduces Starke and Glock’s more detailed identification of religious categories.
  4. Willow Creek has no control group in its survey data. The result is that there is no benchmark to gauge how other non-WC church members or even non-church members of any group ‘grow’ compared to WC members.
  5. Willow Creek’s survey is a snapshot, but a longitudinal (long-term) study needs to be done to track the same group over time.

Wright’s analysis is helpful and if you can read all 11-posts on the WC survey, you’ll come away with a lot of good info. Before we all follow Willow Creek off another cliff, Wright offers solid, congenial, and helpful perspectives that should be a lesson for all churches in understanding spiritual growth. Also shows that even a Willow Creek doesn’t get it right all the time.

(Clarification:  The use of the word ‘flawed’ in the headline is my choice, not a quote from Wright who avoids using that term directly.  However, Wright’s 11-post series analyzing the survey design and execution led me to the conclusion that Wright is telling us there are serious flaws in every aspect of WC’s process. — cw)

Techno Tues: Think your TV is big? and other stuff…

panasonic-150-in-plasma-tv.jpg At CES in Las Vegas today, Panasonic showed off their 150″ plasma TV — just in time for the Super Bowl!  But, before you rush out to Circuit City, apparently there’s only one right now.  Here are some more fascinating tidbits:

  1. Girls blog, boys watch YouTube according to PSFK’s summary of Pew Research’s study on the media habits of families.  Implications for youth ministry?
  2. For those into live blogging conferences, Kevin Kelly has a link to a free article for newbie or wannabe live conference bloggers.
  3. Want a free 1500+ page, beautifully illustrated physics book?  Here.
  4. Quote from Seth Godin’s post about the music industry —

7. Remember the Bob Dylan rule: it’s not just a record, it’s a movement.
Bob and his handlers have a long track record of finding movements. Anti-war movements, sure, but also rock movies, the Grateful Dead, SACDs, Christian rock and Apple fanboys. What Bob has done (and I think he’s done it sincerely, not as a calculated maneuver) is seek out groups that want to be connected and he works to become the connecting the point.

By being open to choices of format, to points of view, to moments in time, Bob Dylan never said, “I make vinyl records that cost money to listen to.” He understands at some level that music is often the soundtrack for something else.

I think the same thing can be true for chefs and churches and charities and politicians and makers of medical devices. People pay a premium for a story, every time.

 Now, if only we had a good story…..

‘Small’ no longer means ‘small’

A long time ago, before Al Gore invented the internet, small churches were thought to be, well, small. Which really meant that small churches suffered from —

  • Lack of resources.
  • Limited reach.
  • Low quality.
  • Little impact.
  • Less appeal.

The Five Deadly L’s, I call them. But no more. Now small churches have nothing to apologize for in any of these categories, and here’s why:

  • Resources. Small churches have access to the same resources as megachurches, but may need to partner, collaborate, or join in with others to share and complement. Remember how the internet could make a small business look really big. Works for churches, too.
  • Reach. Small churches now send international missions teams, email prayer partners around the globe, and touch lives directly anywhere. Reach is no longer limited to large congregations.
  • Quality. Years ago Lyle Schaller suggested small churches take advantage of video to provide high quality teaching to their congregations. Now that is easier than ever, but it’s also easier than ever for small churches to produce quality in their own audio, video, websites, printed materials, congregational care, and ministries thanks to low-cost, low-threshold entry for technical solutions.
  • Impact. Small churches like ours are impacting their communities by partnering with others to offer arts, sports, training, help, and economic redevelopment. Church size is no longer a barrier to community impact. When our state Baptist paper reported on our community projects they titled the article, Small Church, Big Impact.
  • Appeal. See my post on the appeal of small churches in of the Long Tail of diversity and choice that many people are seeking. Not everyone wants to be a mini-member of a mega-church. Small churches appeal to the people who like opportunity for involvement and hands-on participation.

That, my friends, is why ‘small’ no longer means ‘small.’ Small, as Seth Godin says, is the new big.

Small Churches are important in The Long Tail

Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, describes the effect of more choice on consumer sales. Anderson explains it this way –

Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail. The Long Tail, pg 52

In other words, the more stuff there is to choose from, the more choices we make. Take books, for instance. The typical Borders retail store carries 100,000 titles. Amazon offers 1,000,000 titles. And, here’s the long tail — 25% of Amazon’s sales come from outside the top 100,000 titles. Again, more choice, more sales.

W hat does this have to do with church? Here it is:


  • The red indicates the 10% of the churches that account for 50% of church attendance. Megachurches dominate the church world, like Top 10 hits dominate the music world.
  • But, the other 50% of church attendance (in blue) is spread throughout 90% of churches, and most of these are small by comparison.
  • The median church worship service has 90 people (the black line indicates the approximate median). In other words, half of all churches have more, half have less on a Sunday morning.

Small churches account for about 25% of all church attendance, but provide more diversity, flexibility, and sustainability than megachurches. 

Small churches are part of the long tail of the church world and are filling a niche that megachurches cannot fill.  Plus, small churches “fit” the culture of the 21st century — more choice, more diversity, and more discretion is what people are seeking.

The next time someone mentions “small churches,” just remind them that we’re part of the new economy and make up the Long Tail in the church world.

Sermon for Epiphany Sunday, Jan 6, 2008

Here is the sermon I’ll be preaching on Sunday, January 6, 2008 – Epiphany Sunday.  Have a great day Sunday!

Tell The Story, Part 1

Matthew 2:1-12 NIV

Continue reading “Sermon for Epiphany Sunday, Jan 6, 2008”