Month: February 2008

Share your outreach ideas that worked

Outreach magazine Outreach magazine has asked me to write a piece about great small church outreach ideas.  Outreach’s Jan/Feb issue premiered the section, “Small Church, Big Idea,” featuring small church outreach ideas that worked.

Here’s where you come in:  I need your ideas and your church could be featured in an upcoming issue.  Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • Great outreach ideas for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, graduation, summer vacation, church camp, or any other idea that worked during summer months.
  • Email me with an overview:  What problem were you trying to solve, what steps did you take, what results did you have, and how would you improve the effort next time.
  • Send along the church name, contact info including phone and email, church size (remember:  small church means attendance under 300), and location.

I wish I could give you a prize if your idea is chosen, but at the very least you get to share your idea with thousands of Outreach readers.   Plus, you’ll get credit for the idea and can help others find similar success.   Email me at chuckwarnock [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thanks and keep those cards and letters coming!

Why do I write this blog about small churches?

For those new to this blog, a little orientation might help.  I pastor a small church (avg. 80-attendance) in a small town (1300/population) in a rural county in south central Virginia.  Our growth opportunities are limited, our church is 151-years old, and we have our own set of blessings and challenges.

But, I have also planted a church that grew to 400, and pastored small churches in suburban areas that grew into larger churches running 400-600 in attendance with multiple staff members, and support staff.   So, I understand that perspective as well.

I try to write for a broad spectrum of small churches and their leaders, but one-size does not fit all, and I am well aware of that.  I write mostly about what I have experienced because that’s what I know.  I don’t write many theoretical posts because I’m trying to be helpful, not academic.

I believe that small churches are a good thing.  And, I also believe that not every small church will grow into a big church.  Statistics bear me out on that.  That might sound strange coming from someone who studied church growth at Fuller when it was at its peak, but I think that’s the reality.

Mostly, I’m writing to be encouraging.  I believe that small church pastors are under-paid, under-appreciated, and under-recognized.  I am also convinced that the small church community has ideas, insights, passion, and commitment that equals any you’ll find in the big-church world.  We just don’t have the high profile forums big churches have.  I’m not down on big churches, but I don’t believe that adopting big church methods to the small church world is helpful.

I’m writing this blog to share ideas, invite your participation, and build a small church community.  One day I’d like for us to do our own small church convocation, conceived and led by small church leaders.  I have the dream that a get-together like that would be free, and draw its content from the small church pastors and leaders who participate.  We have a lot to offer each other.  What do you think?

Sermon for Sunday, Feb 10: Turning Guilt Into Gladness

Here’s my sermon for tomorrow, Sunday, February 10, 2008 from Psalm 32. This is the first Sunday of Lent, and so Psalm 32 is an appropriate place for us to begin our reflection during this Lenten season. Have a wonderful day on Sunday!

Turning Guilt Into Gladness
Psalm 32

Continue reading “Sermon for Sunday, Feb 10: Turning Guilt Into Gladness”

Construction progress

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L to R: Me in the future great hall; Debbie in front of the art room off the great hall; exterior from across the street; exterior with Debbie standing beside the entrance to give some idea of the size of the building.

Our community center construction moves forward daily. The roof is completely on now, and the glass in the celestory windows in the great hall is in. Some translucent panels are installed in the gym. Once the building is dried-in, then the real fun begins! The construction folks at Quality Construction say they anticipate “substantial” completion by April 10. We’ll see. At least we’ll be in by May sometime, just in time for summer activities. I’ll keep you posted.

My posts on McChurch removed

I took down my two posts on the McChurch franchise discussion re North Point and Cumberland Church.  These were poorly thought-out, gut reactions to Eddie Johnson’s post at his blog using franchise as a church model.  For a more helpful post, with a more positive tone, try 5 Ways Church Models Can Be Helpful, and Eddie Johnson left a nice comment on that post, I might add.

I try to be helpful here, and my posts on that issue weren’t.  I even tried fixing them with extensive editing, but it still didn’t work.  So, here’s my pledge to you.  I’ll keep it positive, and helpful, and leave the critiques to others.  Thanks.

5 Ways Church Models Can Be Helpful

a_church_model.jpg A “church model.” Not the kind I’m talking about.

Mea culpa. That’s Latin for “I pulled the trigger on my mouth before it cleared my holster, and I shot myself in the foot.” Or something like that. Now that I have calmed down over the McChurch post at Out of Ur, let me do some backpedaling. I now understand —

  1. Eddie Johnson described his church using the analogy of a franchise to point out the very positive aspects of the North Point strategic partnerships.
  2. The franchise description was Eddie’s, not Andy’s, according to Eddie himself.
  3. Eddie is a really nice guy who responds with grace and good humor. Unlike some folks who have called him the ‘anti-christ.’ (And I thought I was over the top!)

Which brings me to a reasoned discussion of the whole business of “church models.” Eddie’s right — we all use church models to describe the approach we are taking in our particular ministry situation. Reference to church models has become a kind of ecclesial short-hand, helping others know who we are and what we do. Church models include purpose-driven (Saddleback), seeker (Willow Creek), video (North Point, Life Church), externally-focused, servant evangelistic, missional, emerging, denominational, and so on.

With that in mind, here are 5 ways church models can be helpful:

  1. Identity. Denominations served the purpose of identifying a church in the 20th century. In the 21st century, affiliations are more in vogue. Many churches advertise that they are Purpose-driven, or seeker-friendly, or video-oriented to identify themselves to their communities.
  2. Processes. Eddie calls this systems, but however you say it, it’s how you do things. Churches that affiliate with a particular model do things consistent with that model. The use of proven methodologies helps jump start many church planting or church revitalization efforts.
  3. Focus. As Eddie said, they don’t offer the church program buffet. They know what they do, and they don’t get distracted by other “good”– but off-message — opportunities.
  4. Support. Most church models originated because someone had done it at least once. I like the Celtic Christian abbey model, and that was done over 1,000 years ago. Others are more current and provide literature, promotional materials, training events, and programs with support on-line or on the phone.
  5. Metrics. Church models usually have measurements that are important to that model such as baptisms, new members, attendance, or participation in small groups. Many have benchmarks that incorporate several measures of mission success. Each model is looking either for growth, development, progress, maturity (Willow’s study), or some other attribute that is measurable.

Church models are helpful in all the ways I’ve mentioned and more. But, church models are just that — models. Our daughter and her husband own a franchise restaurant, and the reality and the model can be vastly different. Models provide a good framework for us to shape ministry around, but I have to constantly remind myself that “God gives the increase.” However you measure it. What do you think?

Sermon for Sunday, Feb 3, 2008 — Going Up To Glory

This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Februay 3, 2008, on Transfiguration Sunday.  I hope yours is a wonderful day with God’s people!

Going Up To Glory

Exodus 24:12-18 NIV

12 The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”

13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”

15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Matthew 17:1-9

1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

6When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Immortality in the Movies

In 1985, a charming movie directed by Ron Howard — remember Opie on The Andy Griffith Show? — premiered. The movie was Cocoon, and the cast included veterans of stage and screen such as Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Wilford Brimley, and Maureen Stapleton. The story line was simple: Aliens led by Brian Denehy, returned to earth to retrieve some of their friends who were encased in “cocoons” beneath the ocean. The aliens made the mistake of temporarily stashing their cocooned friends in a swimming pool located near a retirement home. Several of the male retirees made it a regular habit to break into the pool for a swim. Only one day they encounter a pool full of barnacle-encrusted giant easter-egg-like cocoons. Undaunted the group swims anyway, only to discover the next day that they are youthful and vigorous again. I said the storyline was simple, not believable.

Anyway, the movie is really about the quest for immortality, because the aliens offer all the senior citizens who want to go, a trip to their planet where everyone lives forever. Of course, if they choose to live forever, they have to leave friends and family. And, there’s the rub. Some go, some don’t, some think they will go, then change their minds. The movie was a very clever device for addressing the desire humans have for immortality.

But, that’s not my point. I’m telling you the storyline, so I can tell you this one tiny part. Steve Gutenberg is the young captain of a small fishing boat, rented by the aliens to go out to sea to retrieve the cocoons. Brian Denehy is the head alien, only he looks just like, well, Brian Denehy. No big oval head with almond-shaped eyes on skinny legs. No sir, Brian Denehy is an all-American alien, or at least that’s what we think for a while. Also on board, and helping Brian-the-alien with the retrieval of the cocoons was a beautiful young woman, who also appeared very normal. One day she goes below to change out of her diving gear, and young Mr. Steve Gutenberg peeks in the window. Much to his surprise, not only does she unzip her wet suit, she unzips her entire outer layer of skin, and takes it off like an overcoat on a hot day! Under that human-body-mask, is a creature of light, with an almost human form, but glowing like a star in the sky. Of course, Gutenberg almost faints, and there the story takes off.

When We Think of God’s Glory We Think of Light

Now, I realize I took the long way around to make a very small point, so let me make it. Today, despite what the media says about this Sunday, today is Transfiguration Sunday. We read the passage from Matthew’s gospel about the transfiguration of Jesus, and we have just read the Old Testament precursor to Matthew, the story of Moses going up to the glory of God on Mt. Sinai. Just about every time in the Bible when we encounter the glory of God, we get a picture of blazing light, of luminous presence, of consuming fire. We don’t have time this morning to look at all those places, but you know the stories –

  • The story of creation, where God says, Let there be light, on the very first day.
  • The story of God appearing to Moses in the burning bush. God says it’s holy ground.
  • The story of God appearing to guide the nation of Israel as a cloud by day, and fire by night.
  • The story of God validating the tabernacle, and ultimately the temple, by resting his shekinah glory — the luminous, awesome, visible glory that is God’s — over those structures.
  • The story of God responding to Elijah’s call for consuming fire on the altar, prophets of Baal, and barrel-loads of water, and God does it.
  • The story of Elijah being taken in the chariot of fire into heaven, bypassing death on the way.
  • The story of angels who appear in blazing light to shepherds who are “sore afraid” in King James language.
  • The story John tells of the Light which came into the world who lights all who are in the world.
  • The story of Paul being blinded by the light of God, until his eyes are opened to the truth of God.
  • The story of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, and of God as the light of the city, where there is no need of the sun by day, or the moon by night, for God is its Light.

The glory of God as light comes at us from all directions in both Old and New Testaments. Vladimir Lossky expresses the theology of the Orthodox Church when he says –

In the mystical theology of the Eastern Church, these expressions (of God as light) are not used as metaphors or as figure of speech, but as expressions for a real aspect of the Godhead. If God is called Light, it is because He cannot remain foreign to our experience.

Orthodox folks take this business of God is Light very seriously, and so should we. But, Orthodox Christians are not the only ones to take God is Light to heart. Fifteen-hundred years ago, as Patrick took Christianity to Ireland, the emerging Celtic Christian church believed that the Light of God was evident not only in the Bible, but also in creation. Listen to this ancient poem about the birth of Jesus and the response of all creation –

This is the long night…

It will snow and it will drift…

White snow there will be till day…

White moon there will be till morn…

This night is the eve of the Great Nativity…

This night is born Mary Virgin’s Son,…

This night is born Jesus, Son of the King of glory…

This night is born to us the root of our joy…

This night gleamed the sun of the mountains high…

This night gleamed sea and shore together…

This night was born Christ the King of greatness…

Ere it was heard that the Glory was come…

Heard was the wave upon the strand…

Ere ’twas heard that His foot had reached the earth…

Heard was the song of the angels glorious…

This night is the long night…

Glowed to Him wood and tree…

Glowed to Him mount and sea,

Glowed to Him land and plain,

When that His foot was come to earth.

The Book of Creation, J. Philip Newell, pg 12-13

So, not only does Jesus bring the glory of God to earth, but all creation responds by “glowing” God’s light back to God. The Celtic Christians believed that the Light of God infused all of creation, and that light would respond to God’s presence by glowing back to God in return.

Moses, Elijah, and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration

Which brings us back to our story. Peter, James, and John have accompanied Jesus up the mountain where something wonderfully miraculous happens. As they watch, Jesus is transfigured — changed into something they have never before seen — into a glowing, radiant Light. If that weren’t enough, Moses and Elijah appear alongside Jesus and talk with Him about the future. Moses is glowing, Elijah is glowing, Jesus is glowing — radiantly white, pouring light from their clothes, their faces, their hands, their arms, light floods from all around them.

And God speaks. Again. The same words God spoke at Jesus’ baptism — “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased: listen to Him!” With that, the disciples who are looking at this display of light, fall on their faces overcome by fear. Not surprising, because we would probably do the same.

Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. All who have seen the glory of God, face-to-face, in person. Moses and Elijah both were called friends of God. Moses the lawgiver, who ascends Mt. Sinai to receive from God the Law of God. That Law will distinguish God’s people from all other people on the earth. Moses has stood in the presence of God, closer than any person ever stood; so close that his own faced glowed with radiant light. That glow of God so disturbed the nation of Israel that Moses had to put a veil on his face to keep from scaring the people of God.

Elijah, the prophet of God, representing all the prophets of God. Elijah who has seen God’s provision for a widow and her son, and God’s judgment on a king and kingdom that worshipped false gods. Elijah, so profoundly in tune with God that God sends a chariot of fire, pulled by horses of flame to carry Elijah in their whirlwind to heaven.

Jesus, who himself has stepped out of the throne room of heaven down to earth, and who has cloaked himself in the form of a man, masking His own glory to all the world.

Except on this day, this day we call the day of transfiguration that glory is no longer masked. Now some folks think that the miracle was that Jesus glowed radiantly like the sun that day. And that Moses and Elijah were also luminous with the glory of God all over them.  But I’m not so sure. 

As a kid, did you ever catch lightning bugs? Some people call them fireflies, but in Columbus, Georgia, all the 10-year old boys I knew called them lightning bugs. You could catch them in a jar and watch them for hours.  But without fail, if you were a 10-year old boy, you had to hold one for yourself. And, sometimes if you held one too tightly, or grabbed one out of the air too quickly, your lighting bug met his untimely end. All you were left with was a glowing streak of lightning bug juice on your hand. Well, imagine that all over your body, then multiply by about 1,000, and you have the idea that most folks have of what happened on the mountain that day to Jesus and Moses and Elijah.

But, I think the miracle is what happened to Peter, James, and John. I believe that it wasn’t Jesus who was transfigured before them so much as it was the change that came to those three disciples. And for the first time since they had followed him, they saw his glory. “Glory,” John would later say, “as of the only begotten Son of God.” I think what happened that day wasn’t that Jesus was changed, but that Peter, James, and John were. Listen to Vladimir Lossky again –

The Transfiguration was not a phenomenon circumscribed in time and space; Christ underwent no change at that moment, even in His human nature, but a change occurred in the awareness of the apostles, who for a time received the power to see their Master as He was, resplendent in the eternal light of His Godhead. — The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Vladimir Lossky, pg 223.

The Light of God’s Glory Changes Us

From that time, Peter, James, and John were not the same. They had seen the glory of God and they were changed because of it. Not perfect, but changed. No longer was following Jesus just about wondering how he did miracles, or how the healed the sick, or even how he reimagined the Law of Moses for the people of God. From that day forward, these disciples knew that Jesus was on a mission, a mission to bring the kingdom of God to the people of God.  A mission to make all things new. 

A mission in which the shekinah glory of God no longer rested over the Temple, but on their Teacher. A mission that encompassed the Law and the Prophets, not just a populist revolt. So, they were changed by the glory of God, just as Moses had been changed, and just as Elijah had been changed.

A very sweet, yet powerful story is found in The Revelations of St. Seraphim of Sarov, written in the early 1800s, only a couple of hundred years ago. This Russian story was recorded by Seraphim’s student, who was with Seraphim one morning.

The student said to the monk Seraphim, “I don’t understand how one can be certain of being in the Spirit of God. How should I recognize this should it happen to me?”

Seraphim patiently reiterated the lessons he had already taught this disciple, only to have the student reply, “I must understand better everything you have said to me.”

To which Seraphim replied, “My friend, we are both in the Spirit now…Why won’t you look at me?”

“I can’t look at you, Father,” he replied, “your eyes shine like lightning; your face has become more dazzling that the sun, and it hurts my eyes to look at you.”

Seraphim said, “Don’t be afraid, at this very moment you’ve become as bright as I have. You are also in the fullness of the Spirit.”

Listen to what this disciple, this student monk, wrote then, in his own words,

Encouraged by his words, I looked and was seized by holy fear. Imagine in the middle of the sun, dazzling in the brilliance of its noontide rays, the face of the man who is speaking to you. You can see the movements of his lips, the changing expression of his eyes, you can hear his voice, you can feel his hands holding you by the shoulders, but you can see neither his hands nor his body — nothing except the blaze of light which shines around, lighting up with its brilliance the snow-covered meadow, and the snowflakes continue to fall unceasingly. — The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pg 227-8

C. S. Lewis in his book, The Weight of Glory, said, –

For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophesy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door…We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is on the first sketch.

The Weight of Glory, pg 43.

God’s glory changes us. It changed Moses on Mt. Sinai. It changed Elijah on Mt. Carmel. It changed Peter, James, and John on Mt. Tabor. No, we do not need to build tabernacles to the glory of God. God has already built his own. We see God’s glory in creation, if our eyes are open. We see God’s glory in His Word, if our spirits are open. We see God’s glory in others, if our hearts are open. And the glory we see changes us, so that one day that same glory may rest on us, revealing the Light of God that has long lived in our hearts, eager to be released to a world of darkness.

The little children’s song had it right,

This little light of mine,

I’m gonna let it shine,

This little light of mine,

I’m gonna let it shine,

Let it shine,

Let it shine,

Let it shine.

Finding the rhythm of God’s grace

My post, Is Feb 3 Really Super Bowl Sunday?, rhythm-by-mondrian.jpghas been viewed 1,263 times since I posted it on January 22.  We’re obviously interested in the Super Bowl and how our churches can be effective on that day.  My point was that for followers of Christ, Sunday does not belong to the NFL, it belongs to Christ and His church.  On Sunday morning in Chatham, we’re celebrating Transfiguration Sunday, not Super Bowl Sunday. 

Helping others find the rhythm of God’s grace in their lives is the mission of the church, in my opinion.  If we can lead others to pattern their lives with a consciousness of God’s work in God’s world, we go a long way toward helping people grow in their relationship to God.  Several years ago, I heard a preacher say, “You can tell what priorities people have by looking at two things — their calendars and their checkbooks.”  I think he was right, and the way we not only plan our time, but understand the meaning of time is important for followers of Christ.

So, that’s why I like the Christian Year as a framework for church worship and planning.  And, that’s why I preach from the revised common lectionary.  And, that’s why Debbie and I follow the practice of “keeping the hours” by praying the daily office each day.  Those rhythms govern our lives and remind us that we do indeed live in sacred time. 

The Old Testament examples of yearly festivals (Feast of Tabernacles, Passover, Pentecost, etc), and the 3-times daily prayer of people like Daniel are biblical examples of what I’m talking about.  These practices were long ago reinvented for the Christian church in the form of the Christian Year, the daily office, and recommended scripture readings.  Churches of all sizes — ours is small with about 80-100 each Sunday — can do the very things I am suggesting and bring a new awareness to their members.  We’re doing it here in Chatham in a 151-year old congregation that has embraced positively the Christian Year, the lectionary, and my references to the daily office. 

What’s your experience?  How is your church shaping the lives of your members each week, month, and year?  Others are interested in this issue, and I look forward to your comments and stories about how you find the rhythm of God’s grace in your life and your church.