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. is up and running again

new-church-report1 gathers the best of blogs, news services, and articles about church from around the internet.

Scott Linklater, the creator of  New Church Report, handed the site over to me a couple of weeks ago.  With the help of Nathan White, we’ve made some changes to enhance the content on the site, but we have kept many of the sources that Scott used.

New features at include:

  • Spotlight. An outstanding article positioned at the top of the site that will change daily.  I select this article each day.
  • News. This column aggregates the best and broadest church news possible. Please suggest other church news sites you’d like to see posted here.
  • Featured. These posts are top-drawer ideas and inspiration from technical experts, the business world, church leaders, and other outstanding ministry personalities.  I hand-select each post each day to pick the best-of-the-best church stuff out there.
  • Blogs. Guest bloggers are featured in the right-hand column everyday discussing everything from theology to outreach techniques to personal opinions.  These bloggers are real people in real ministry with helpful things to say.  I pull from the same list Scott did, with some new additions.  I welcome additional blog suggestions for this feature.
  • Feed. Nathan has installed an RSS feed, so you can read in your feedreader now.  We still have an issue with Google Chrome, but the feed works in IE7 and Firefox. is a one-stop source for the latest in church news, ideas, inspiration, and opinions.  Let me know how we can make it better.  Of course, I’m still here most every day writing about small church ministry, too.

Sermon: Everything Is Changing!

Everything Is Changing!

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
29What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Waking Up To a New World

One of my favorite short stories is The Metamorphosis  by Franz Kafka.  It is the story of Gregor Samsa, a young traveling salesman who lives with his parents and his sister.  A rather non-descript life, except that one morning Gregor awakens to find that sometime in the night he has changed into a large cockroach.  Or as Kafka puts it, “a monstrous verminous bug.”  A cockroach.  

Here’s how Kafka begins the story:

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

“What’s happened to me,” he thought. It was no dream. 

The story goes on about the difficulty Gregor faces as he comes to grips with his new form, the struggle simply to roll over from his back, and the reaction of family and his employer.  It is a great understatement to say that Gregor Samsa went to sleep in one world, and woke up in another world entirely.

The Situation in Corinth

In the brief passage we read today, Paul is writing to tell the believers in Corinth that “the world in its present form is passing away.”

The city of Corinth that Paul visited had been rebuilt less than a 100 years before, after its destruction in 146 BC.  Paul arrives there about 50 AD, and finds a thriving, prosperous cosmopolitan city.  Jews are among the inhabitants of Corinth because all the Jews have been made to leave Rome, and many resettled themselves in Corinth.  

The Corinthian church is composed of many faithful members — Aquila and Priscilla perhaps form the core leadership there. Acts 18:1-11 provides the historical background for us:

1After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 

4Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.[a] 6But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.9One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

The church in Corinth was also home to many new believers and we get an insight into the struggles of new Christians who are seeking to live life differently than they did as former pagans.  Paul writes to the church in Corinth about:

  • Divisions in the church.
  • Immorality among the membership.
  • Lawsuits among believers.
  • Sexual immorality.
  • Marriage
  • Food sacrificed to idols.
  • The difference between the feasts of idols and the Lord’s supper
  • Order in worship
  • The proper preparation and observance of the Lord’s Supper
  • Spiritual gifts — prophesying, speaking in tongues, knowledge, miracles
  • The body of Christ in the church
  • The resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead
  • Offerings
So, they had lots of problems, but were well on their way to being a viable church made up of both Jews and Gentiles.
It’s A New World
But in the passage we read today, Paul’s instruction for them is “the time is short — the world in its present form is passing away.”  In other words, everything is changing!
Now, we’re no stranger to change ourselves.  In the last 100 years we have seen amazing changes:
  • Invention of the automobile
  • Invention of the airplane and manned flight
  • Invention of the telephone
  • Invention of electrical distribution systems and the light bulb
  • Discovery and harnessing of atomic energy
  • Space flight
  • Man walking on the moon
  • Discovery of antibiotics
  • Cure for diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries
  • Invention of the computer, the internet, and all electronic devices
  • Life that gets cheaper, easier, and busier
As a matter of fact, social scientists tell us that we encounter so much change that the only thing we are certain that will not change is change.  And, change is not what it used to be.  During much of the 20th century, we lived in an era of continuous change — by that I mean that one change led to another.  The invention of the internal combustion engine led to its use in the horseless carriage — the automobile.  One invention led logically to the next.
But now sociologists tell us, we live in an era of discontinous change.  Change no longer takes place in an linear motion.  Change is all around us, popping up in places we never imagined from our cars to our computers to our economy to our politics and even to our religion.
Everything is changing!  We can learn something about how we cope with change from Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians.
The Church’s History of Dealing with Change
Now, the Christian church has not always dealt very well with change.  Let me give you a quick run-down to illustrate my point here:
  • Less than 200 years after Jesus, the church in the 3rd century has already become corrupt.  So, a group that came to be known as The Desert Fathers (although there were women, too) left the cities and moved to live an ascetic life in the barren deserts.
  • In 313 AD when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan and returned property back to Christians, the church entered a new era, the era of politics.  Constantine saw the rising population of Christians as a powerful force in his empire.  Whether his conversion was genuine or not, Constantine managed to bring the church under the political umbrella of the Roman empire, leading to her further corruption.
  • About 300-years after that, others decided that the way to preserve the church was to form bands of the highly dedicated.  The monastic movement gathered devotees who would dedicate themselves to work and prayer.  No longer would they live alone as hermits, but would band together into communities to work together, to share the gospel, to bring salvation to new lands.  
  • Around 1000 AD the church dealt with the rising Muslim world by engaging in military campaigns to drive the “infidels” from the holy city of Jerusalem, to eradicate entire populations of unbelievers, and to impose Christian rule on the entire civilized world.  Not our best moment, and we still reap the whirlwind today.
  • In the 1500s, many in the church saw its corruption, and armed with the emergence of rational thought of the Enlightenment combined with the invention of moveable type, the Protestant Reformation set about to reform the church, and then, when that failed, to reinvent the church.
  • About 200 years after that, Christians rallied to the cry from freedom, and Christians from around the globe sought countries in which they could worship freely.  Our own nation became a refuge for a wide variety of religious expressions — as long as they were Christian — as we developed freedom of religious practice and expression led by Christians, and Baptists in particular.
  • The darkside of those colonial years was the affirmation of slavery by many Christians, including those who would later become the founders of The Southern Baptist Convention in 1845.
I could go on and on, but what picture do you see emerging here?  It is the story of a church which is reacting to the changes it sees around it — changes in politics, money, and power.  
That is not what Paul is suggesting to the Corinthians.  
Not The End, But the Beginning
It is not the end of the world that Paul warns them against.  It is not his advice to gather all the believers on an high mountain top and wait for the second coming of Christ.  No, the change Paul speaks of is not the change of a church reacting to the world.  It is not the change of a church adapting to the world around it to become more powerful, more wealthy, more worldly.  Paul says, “The world as we know it is passing away.”
Why?  Not because God is destroying it, but because Christians are remaking it.  Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth about marriage, money, and worship matters because Christians are different — we live in such as way that we reflect the coming kingdom, not the current kingdom.
That’s why Christians should not live their lives like everyone else — we serve a different king, a new world order, a coming regime, that is present and will one day be pervasive.  Until then, things are changing. The world is being transformed, Christians are empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit to bring life, not death, to this world that is God’s creation.
The world as we know it is passing away, but it is because we live our lives differently than others.  We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, love is our language, hope is our watchword.  We are changing the world by our lives.  
A Story of Change
In David Augsburger’s book, Helping People Forgive, he tells this story:
During the 1915 massacre of more than a million Armenians by the Turks, a military unit attacked a village, killing all the adults and children and taking the young women as hostages.  An officer led a raid into a home in which he shot the parents, gave the younger daughters to his men, but kept the oldest daughter for himself.
After months of captivity and unspeakable abuse and servitude, she escaped.  Over the years she rebuilt her life, and took training as a nurse.
One night while on duty in a Turkish hospital, she recognized the face of a desparately ill, comatose patient in intensive care.  It was her captor and abuser, the murderer of her parents.  He was unconscious and required constant care to survive.  A long and difficult convalescence followed, with the man too ill to recognize his surroundings.
One day as he was much improved, the doctor said to him, “You are a very fortunate man.  Had it not been for the devotion of this nurse, you would never have made it, you certainly would be dead.”  
The officer looked at the nurse a long time.  ”I’ve wanted to ask for days — we have met before, have we not?”
“Yes,” she replied, “we have met before.”
The officer knew instantly who she was and what she meant. “Why did you kill me when you had the opportunity? Or why didn’t you just let me die?”
“Because,” the nurse replied, “I am a follower of one who taught, love your enemies.”
That is why the world as we know it is changing.  It is changing because we are changed.  It is changing because we as followers of Christ live by new rules.  It is changing because God’s kingdom is finding a home in hearts and minds.  It is changing because we follow the one who said, ‘Love your enemies.’”



The power of a true story

At our church last night we discussed the inauguration.   Those commenting spoke of hope, joy, inspiration, and goodwill.  Others have expressed similar feelings, and while I know there are detractors and naysayers seeking to steal the spotlight for themselves, our nation does seem to have shared a special moment on Tuesday.  I believe there were tears and laughter and joy and hope, not because one political party triumphed over another.  I believe Tuesday was historic, not just because a person of color assumed the Presidency.  I believe the inauguration of Barack Obama returned the nation to our true story.  

Stanley Hauerwas says that a true story offers a moral framework to a community.  True stories, he asserts, contain these characteristics:

  • A true story should have the power to release us from destructiveness;
  • It should provide a way of seeing through our current distortions;
  • It should have room to keep us from having to resort to violence;
  • It should have a sense for the tragic, for how meaning transcends power;
  • It must be one that helps me go on. *

I believe that we as a nation returned to our story on Tuesday.  America’s story had been one of creation, not destruction.  Our story had provided the hope of the American dream to immigrants who flooded onto our shores.  Our American story had said that we do not start fights with other countries, that we will take the first blow, that we are never the aggressors.  Our nation’s story had survived a war of independence, a fledgling government, a civil war that almost ripped us permanently apart, two world wars, a great depression, the immorality of slavery and the injustice of segregation.  And yet we went on, we learned from our own mistakes, we gave the right to vote to women and minorities, we continued to believe that America stood for the best in our common humanity, that we were a global lighthouse to others who yearned to be free.

On that September 11th morning in 2001, Americans were doing the things we had always done.  We were working, going to school, shopping, calling our families, and planning our futures.  But terror struck more than buildings that day.  Terror struck our own national psyche.  

Maybe we were wrong, we thought.  Maybe our story was no longer valid in a rapidly changing world.  Maybe instead of taking the blow, we needed to take the first shot.  Maybe instead of abiding by the Geneva Convention in the treatment of prisoners we had to suspend the rules to protect the homeland.  Maybe the old story didn’t work after all.  We would live by a new story.

This new story no longer called for sacrifice in time of war; it called for shopping and traveling to keep the economic engines turning.  This new story we tried to tell ourselves forgot that our own grandparents were immigrants, and sought to keep immigrants from coming and shouted for the deportation of those already here.

This new story dashed our ideals of constitutional guarantees in the face of imminent danger.  This new story we tried to tell ourselves sought to shock a perceived enemy population with the awe of our sophisticated weaponry.  

But the more we told ourselves this new story, the less satisfied we were with it.  We grew tired of the bombings and death tolls reported by our media.  We chafed at the suggestions that the war might go on 100 years.  We bristled at privacy lost, freedoms abridged, hopes dashed, and fear rising.  

And finally, when all the shopping failed and the banks collapsed, and the stock market sank, we wondered if this new story was only a phantom, an invention, a reaction.  

We sought a return to the old story.  The story of hope, of peace, of responsibility, of opportunity, of community.  The story of faith that unites rather than divides.  The story of helping each other, of learning from our mistakes, of picking ourselves up, of calling on God.  We began to believe that the old story was a better story, it was our true story.

I believe that is what happened on Tuesday.  America reclaimed her story.  For in the end, the story is all we have.  The story is what makes this country great. The story begun in the hearts of those who sought a different life — a life of freedom, in a land of opportunity, where everyone could realize their God-given potential.  A story that was not segmented by class or color or creed.  A story that was true, and that could be true again.  

*Helping People Forgive, David W. Augsburger, pg. 119