Month: January 2009

Sermon: What’s For Lunch?

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. I hope your day is a wonderful Lord’s Day!

What’s For Lunch?
1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Continue reading “Sermon: What’s For Lunch?”

A Global and Mobile Future

Thanks to Bobby Gruenewald at’s Swerve blog for bringing this video to our attention.  It’s about 5 1/2 minutes, but you will be amazed.  Watch it.  The future is here.

The question of beards and pastors

hatcherwilliamSince our church was founded in 1857, only 5 of the 18 pastors  of our church did not sport a beard.  Rev. Hardaway started the beardless trend in 1929 and he served until 1951.  After Hardaway, only one pastor in our history had a beard and he came along in the 1980s.  

The fellow pictured here was Dr. William E. Hatcher.  Hatcher actually preached at our church on a couple of occasions in the late 1800s.  As you can see, he sports a fine beard with mustache, but he was from Richmond, so that accounts for it, I suppose. 

Here’s my analysis of my bearded pastoral predecessors:

  • Most wore beards without mustaches.  
  • Most were really scary looking guys.
  • Most are now dead.  (Actually all of the bearded ones except the 1980s guy.)
  • Nobody had a goatee or soulpatch. 

Which brings me to my point — how many of you guys have facial hair? (I am purposely excluding the ladies here).  Beard, mustache, goatee, peachfuzz, and so on all qualify.  Did you grow your beard after you came to your church or did your arrive in full-bloom?  What did your congregation think?  Is there a difference in the reaction of older members verus younger members to your chin whiskers?  

Beards and hair also have Biblical roots — Samson comes to mind, of course, and the vow of the Nazirites.  Plucking out one’s own beard was a sign of lament and anguish (for real, I imagine), and having one’s beard plucked out was a sign of humiliation and disrespect.  Beards and their grooming also have religious implications.  Old German Baptist Brethren do not wear mustaches because that would be vain, but many grow chest-length beards.  In Iran and Iraq, beards are a sign of manhood, and our troops have grown beards to win the hearts-and-minds of the locals.  

Maybe beards will be the next big denominational crisis — beard-wearers against the clean-shavers — I can see it now.  

As you can tell, this is a very slow news day, and I got to thinking about pastors and beards driving back from making hospital visits this afternoon.  Maybe we’ll do tattoos next.  Just a thought…

Easter Outreach Idea Still Works

Here’s a simple Easter outreach idea that works.  In February, 2007, I wrote the first post on this idea we used in Atlanta (“This Easter Outreach Idea Works”).  One church tried it last year, and it still works.  Read Pastor John Carmichael’s report (Easter Outreach Idea Works…Again!)  of how they doubled their attendance from 105 to 210 on Easter Sunday, and sustained increased attendance after that.  

The key to this outreach idea is personal communication and follow-up.  If any of you try it this year, please let me know how it works and I’ll feature your story right here.  Thanks.

Five Rules for Hospital Visitation

Sitting in my dad’s hospital room today, I found myself seeing things from the patient’s side. Thankfully, my father is much improved and we brought him home tonight.  But just one day in his hospital room taught me some valuable lessons about how a patient’s family feels and what they need.  Here are 5 rules that I wish had been posted in my dad’s room today.

  1. Remember the patient is sick.  That may seem obvious, but a number of people thought my dad was up for the latest joke, or lots of banter and good-humored joshing.  He put on a happy face, but was really very uncomfortable, needed to rest, and coughed violently when he got too talkative.
  2. Don’t sit down.  In other words, keep your visit brief, express your prayerful support, then leave.  A couple of people came in and stayed way too long today.  The patient needs to know you care, not visit with you for 30-minutes.
  3. Offer to help in real ways.  One lady offered to bake some cornbread my dad likes.  He appreciated that because it was something specific.  Others brought food to the house later.  Real help is something the patient wants and needs, not something we want to do for them. 
  4. Knock before entering.  At one point my dad wanted to change his pajamas and 3 people picked that moment to come into the room.  Fortunately, embarassment was averted, but knocking would have helped. If I am ever in doubt about whether to enter a room, I ask a nurse to check for me first.  Saves a lot of awkwardness later.
  5. Pray. Two pastoral care visitors came and went and neither offered a prayer.  I always offer to pray for the patient unless my judgment tells me otherwise.  Prayers should be brief, hopeful, and encouraging to both patient and family.  I was the only person who prayed for my dad in his room today.

Being on the receiving end of care reminds you of how sensitive we need to be about our conduct in pastoral care situations.  Crises provide an opportunity for us to represent God to others.  Don’t miss that chance.

Pastoral care in the small church

I’m in south Georgia tonight because my father is in the hospital.  He’s doing better after a bad bout of bronchitis, but unfortunately had to celebrate his 89th birthday on Monday from his hospital bed.  “The best thing about my birthday,” he said on Monday, “is that I’m having one!”

When we left Chatham today to make the 10-hour drive, we left 3 people from our congregation in the hospital with their families anxiously waiting by their bedsides.  I had seen each one on Monday before we left.  I prayed with each family, and each one expressed appreciation for my visit.

In times of stress, including hospital stays, families and members need the care of their church staff and members.  I got word today that one of our men was making the rounds in my absence, while his wife was calling their families to offer support.

All this is much better than the story I heard recently.  Seems a family member had taken her elderly parents to a special Friday communion service for shut-ins.  The service was very sweet, and afterward this family member expressed appreciation to the minister for having a special service for those who normally could not attend.  His response dashed the whole thing as he said, “Well, it’s better than having to visit each one of them!” 

The longer I pastor, the more I understand how important it is for members to receive care and support during a crisis.  If your care is done with a grudging attitude, its effect will be slight.  If done with love, its impact will bring comfort.  Mother Teresa said, “There are no great things, only small things done with great love.”  That applies to pastoral care, too.

Reggie McNeal: Change the Church Scorecard

missional-renaissance-reggie-mcneal-hardcover-cover-art Reggie McNeal’s new book, Missional Renaissance, calls for a change in what we count at church.  I wrote about counting people being the church in 2007, and that’s exactly what McNeal advocates in his most recent book.  A former denominational executive and now a sought-after missional church guru, McNeal challenges the “baptisms, buildings, and budgets” standards.  I asked Reggie several questions about his book, and about the role of small churches in this new church scorecard.  Here are his responses:

 CW:  In your book you call for “changing the scorecard” for the things we measure in church.  Do you see any prospect for denominations changing the data they require on annual reports?  If so, do you have any specific examples? 

RMc: I am hopeful that denominations will come around, but it usually takes a change in doing business on the front lines to force that.  That lag time is very painful and will keep many denominations from enjoying the association of many new missional leaders who simply won’t participate in a system that is counter-value to what they are doing.  I DO have a specific example to offer as hope.  In December I met with top leaders (denominational execs and pastors) of the Reformed Church in America in Grand Rapids as they convened around this very issue.  The RCA is the oldest denomination in America but is willing to tackle this problem.  The key is that they are committed to it, so I suspect they will get it done over the next couple of years.  They will have influence over other mainline denominations at least.  Perhaps even evangelical denomination leaders will pay attention once the RCA rolls it out. 


CW:  I write for small churches which are often not included as role models for others.  Do you think that small churches can be missional and serve as legitimate missional models?  

RMc:  One of the things about the missional renaissance is that it makes the old pecking order based on size of attractional crowd really irrelevant to missional effectiveness.  I work with congregations from weekly worship attendance of less than three dozen to churches running over 10,000.  The issue is not the size of the crowd, but the impact on the community.  “Small” attendance congregations have been beaten up for decades now in the old church growth scorecard.  Getting out of that game can let them be winners in a missional measure.   I think this is very hopeful for small congregations who really don’t want to consume all the energy to “grow” but to release their congregations to be missionaries.


CW:  You talk about the altruism economy.  Are churches behind the rest of society in giving for the betterment of those in our society, and the society as a whole?  

 RMc:  I really don’t know the answer to this.  I’m more concerned about going forward, since the altruism economy is taking off.  Will churches keep up?  Just this week I was eating in a restaurant.  My server was a believer who belonged to a local very thriving church in one of our large cities.  Her church is planning a $20 million dollar building campaign.  She said, “it just doesn’t seem right in these times.  We should raise that money to help people.”  This is the sentiment that I think church leaders had better pay attention to.  Otherwise we will continue to appear more interested in ourselves than the communities we are called to serve and to bear witness to. 

 McNeal identifies three “missional shifts” in his book:

  1.  The shift from internal to external focus for churches.
  2. The shift from program development to people development.
  3. The shift from church-based to Kingdom-based leadership.

 These shifts, of necessity, change the scorecard for church leadership, according to McNeal.  Here’s how he says it in the book:

 “The missional expression of the church will require new metrics to measure its vitality.  The current scorecard for the North American church is tied to the definitions of church as a place and church as a vendor of religious goods and services.”  Missional Renaissance, p. 37-38

 And to make his point that missional is the future of the church, McNeal concludes his opening chapter with these words:

 “The missional renaissance reflects the church’s response in a time of remarkable manifestation of the kingdom.  Those who miss it will find themselves on the other side of a divide that renders them irrelevant to the movement of God in the world.  Those who engage it will find themselves at the intersection of God’s redemptive mission and the world he loves so much he was willing to die for it.”  Missional Renaissance, p. 17

 If nothing else, maybe small churches will be able to model missional engagement measured by new metrics.  That in itself would be a welcome shift for missional churches of all sizes.