Month: February 2009

Lent: Seeking the desert

I’m away from my pulpit this weekend, but here’s a link to a lenten meditation I preached last year titled “Sent Into The Desert.” I hope you find it helpful.  May you find the wildness of God in the desert during this season of reflection. — Chuck

The purpose of this blog

I’ve seen an increase in readers to this blog since the fall, and I want to say two things:

1. Welcome!

2.  Here’s why I do this:

  • To be helpful. I try to offer practical, effective, and affordable ideas for small churches (and other sizes, too) that really work.  I’ve tried most of the things I tell you about, so I know they worked at least once.
  • To be encouraging. I’m a small church pastor.  Small churches have their own set of challenges, and I want to encourage small church leaders — that’s you — to hang in there.  To enjoy your ministry.  To know that God put you where you are.  To rejoice in small victories, and keep on keeping on.
  • To be positive. I try to keep things positive here.  The blogosphere has plenty of criticism, negativity, personal attacks, and general nastiness — it doesn’t need anymore.  Sometimes I’ve forgotten my own rule, and when I do, I apologize, take down the post, and start over.
  • To be informative. I try to post ideas, information, and inspiration here that you won’t find anywhere else, especially about small churches.  I read books, scan blogs, review news sites each day, all with the goal of bringing fresh thinking to this page.
  • To bring people together. Too often ministry is competitive.  It shouldn’t be.  I am not diminished by another pastor’s success, and I want to rejoice with him or her when they do succeed.  I also want to weep with those who weep, to encourage the discouraged, and to provide a safe place where comments are respected, and participation welcome.

I probably have some other reasons I write this blog.  I enjoy it. I like to start a conversation. I like to get to know other folks in other small churches.  But, mainly, I write to help.  I hope I do, and I thank you for dropping by from time to time.  Invite some others and let’s keep the conversation going for a long time.

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‘Emerging Adult’ new term for 20-somethings

515bxkgrdll_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_Today Amazon delivered my copy of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett.  A research professor of psychology at Clark University, Arnett became fascinated at the different choices 18-t0-20-something year olds were making compared to preceding generations.  Further research bore out his initial findings:  people 18-29 were delaying their entry into adulthood.

The book covers issues 18-29 year olds face — parents, love and sex, marriage, college, careers — weaving these together with the stories of real emerging adults.  Arnett’s narrative is lively, engaging, and informative, based on 10-years’ of research in this age group.

I was particularly interested in the chapter, Sources of Meaning: Religious Beliefs and Values.  Here are some of Arnett’s research findings:

  • This group falls into 4 categories: agnostic/atheist 22%; deist 28%; liberal believer 27%; conservative believer 23%.
  • 58% said their religious beliefs were Very Important or Quite Important.
  • 79% believe a higher power watches over them and guides their lives.
  • Only 25% think attending religious services is Very Important or Quite Important; 42% said Not Important at all.

Other observations I found interesting included:

  • Several students believe that God is like ‘The Force’ in Star Wars.
  • Disillusioning or bad church experiences result in anger, resentment, or hostility toward religion.
  • Emerging adults tend to “personalize” their own religious views by combining or borrowing from other religions or spirituality traditions.

But I found most disturbing this statement describing the correlation between childhood religious training and the current beliefs of emerging adults:

“In statistical analyses, there was no relationship between exposure to religious training in childhood and any aspect of their religious beliefs as emerging adults — not to the current classification as agnostic/atheist, deist, liberal believer, or conservative believer; not to their current attendance at religious services; or the importance of religious beliefs, or the importance of religion in their everyday lives; not the their belief that God or a higher power guides their lives or to the certainty of their religious beliefs in emerging adulthood.”  p. 174

In other words, childhood religious training appears to have no bearing on religious beliefs or practice when teens reach the emerging adult ages of 18-29.

Reading this book, after reading Lost and Found by Stetzer, Stanley and Hayes, I found Arnett’s book to be more disturbing, and wondered if Stetzer’s book is too optimistic about the success of existing churches with this group of emerging — Stetzer calls them ‘younger’ — adults.

Emerging Adulthood is published by Oxford University Press, and is intended for use as a textbook, but is highly readable, and not geared just to academics.  Churches seeking to engage emerging adults would benefit from reading and discussing Emerging Adulthood before attempting ministry to this age group.

New name, same place

You may notice that the header now says, instead of Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor. I hope this change will make the blog easier to find.

Here’s the skinny:

  • When I won Outreach magazine’s blog contest in 2006, they picked the name, set up the header and turned the blog over to me.
  • The blog name was not the same as the URL, leading to some confusion at the outset.
  • The blog URL was and is — not easy to remember.
  • I didn’t want to change the URL or the feed, but I did want to make the site more accessible.
  • I bought, pointed it to my blog address, and everything is fine.

DO NOT change your feed reader, because it is the same.  No need to change anything.

I realize that this is pretty close to shameless self-promotion, but the tagline still reads “Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor” and we’ll still be talking about small church issues here.

I just wanted you to know what happened and why, and hope you’ll stick around for more small church stuff.  Now all you have to remember is

Of course, Warnock is not the easiest name to remember or spell, but it’s the only one I have!  Thanks for sticking around.   -Chuck

Let’s stop blaming homeowners for our economic crisis

Politicians and pundits quickly found an easy target to pin the nation’s economic crisis on — homeowners who bought more house than they could afford.  I, for one, think we should stop blaming homeowners for bad public policy, poor government oversight, and greedy lenders.

“But,” the critics argue, “it’s the irresponsible homeowners who caused this crisis because now they can’t repay their mortgages. This creates bad debt at banks, further reducing the banks’ ability to lend.”

That argument is flawed and here’s why:

  • Homeowners didn’t package and slice up mortgages into untraceable, unmeasurable and risky economic instruments.
  • Homeowners didn’t relax the rules allowing banks to increase their debt-to-deposits ratio.
  • Homeowners didn’t run the SEC, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac whose lax oversight and loose policies allowed the Bernie Madoffs to steal billions, and predatory lenders to defraud millions.
  • Homeowners didn’t create the shellgame called credit default swaps, a house of cards created by the lenders to provide the illusion that real “insurance” covered their loan portfolios.
  • Homeowners didn’t create the housing bubble, or inflate the market price of property, or assure others that “your house value will always go up.”
  • Homeowners didn’t rate the riskiest of financial instruments as sound and solid, like the rating agencies did.  Those same agencies are supported by the companies they rate.

No, homeowners didn’t do any of those things.  I personally know of instances where bankers encouraged borrowers to borrow more, to take out 100% loans, to apply for no-money-down loans, and to accept variable rate loans with ridiculously low initial teaser rates.

I also know families who have lost their homes during this crisis.  Families for whom the American dream came within reach while both were working, but when the husband lost his job that dream evaporated quickly.  I do not blame hardworking families for trying to better their lives by buying their own home, or by moving to a newer home in a newer neighborhood with better schools and services.

Were there abuses?  Absolutely.  Two houses down from us is a house bought under a government program by a family who never paid a penny on its mortgage, and rented the house to any and all comers.  When the bank foreclosed, it wasn’t a bank here in Chatham, or Danville, or even in Virginia.  The bank that held the mortgage on that little house in Chatham, Virginia is headquartered in Texas.  How did that happen?  Bad policy, poor financial oversight, lax government regulation, and, in that case, unscrupulous borrowers.  But let’s stop blaming all families who dreamed of a better life for the misdeeds of the few.

What does this have to do with churches?  Just this — the people who live in your communities and mine may have made mistakes, may have taken on too much debt, and may be in trouble financially.  Churches can minister to these families with solid financial training, personal support, financial help, and spiritual encouragement.

In the past few months our church has helped one family stay in the home they were going to lose, helped another family pay their rent during an illness, and found a better house with lower rent for a third.  These are real problems faced by real people who only wanted to live a better life.  Now we in churches in these communities have the opportunity to stand with them.  And when we do, we must not be tempted to explain this complex economic crisis by blaming our neighbors.  That’s my opinion, what’s yours?

It’s no longer about programs

I grew up in churches that had programs for everybody and everything.  We had programs for preschoolers, children, teens, adults, and senior adults.  And, we had missions programs, Bible study programs, training programs, music programs, and sometimes programs about programs (I am not kidding about that last one).

Well, it’s no longer about programs.  I read lots of blogs. Lots.  The trend I see is churches and pastors talking less about programs and more about helping others.  That is a good thing.  Even the Episcopalians are saying it:

For the past 25 years, since Arlin Rothauge wrote Sizing Up a Congregation, the “gold standard’ for most congregations in the Episcopal Church (not to mention churches in lots of other denominations as well) seems to have been “let’s work toward becoming a Program Size parish.”

So, if it’s such a great model, then why isn’t it working? Churches are cutting their associate positions right and left. Congregations that have languished with an Average Sunday Attendance of between 100 and 150 for the last 50 years have never “gotten over the hurdle”… despite well-meaning clergy and lay leaders; despite every new gimmick, or program, or study, or consultant they’ve tried.

So there you are.  It’s no longer about programs.  It really is about people.  That’s what it’s supposed to be about — loving God and loving others.  Pretty simple.  You don’t even need a program to tell you that.

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Church is a conversation

The buzzword in marketing now is “conversation.”  The Cluetrain Manifesto popularized that idea with its statement that “markets are conversations.”  The authors describe a dialogue between marketer and consumer, not just the old one-way deal — we make it, you buy it, that settles it.

Now consumers want to interact with their brands.  If you want proof of this among 20-somethings, read Ruby Pseudo Wants a Word, a blog by a young woman who interviews young people in the UK about fashion and brands.  Or read threebillion, a blog by a guy who is tracking the under-25 culture.

Which brings me to church.  If people are passionate about something as mundane as shoes, and become “fans” on Facebook of their favorite brand, wear them, talk them up, Twitter about them, text their friends about their shoes, and generally go crazy over a brand, shouldn’t churches learn something?

Like what, you ask? Like let’s create conversations where we might learn something.  Rather than trying to figure out how to get people to do what we want them to do — attend, give, care, serve, study, and so on — why don’t we talk to people about what they need from God?  What they expect from a community of faith?  What they hope their faith will enable them to be?

Which, of course, brings me to Jesus.   He actually did all of that.  Not that he needed to learn, but he used those conversations to engage the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, blind Bartimaeus, his own disciples, his friends, his family, and his followers.  How did we lose the simple idea of one person talking to another about things that matter?  How can we move the community of faith back into conversations with each other and the world?  That’s the challenge we face.  That’s the future of church.

Sermon: Let Light Shine Out of Darkness

This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, February 22, 2009, on Transfiguration Sunday.

Let Light Shine Out of Darkness

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (NIV)

Continue reading “Sermon: Let Light Shine Out of Darkness”

If churches got reviews

Shaun KingFilms get them, so do books, and even products.  What are they?  Reviews.  Five stars.  Personal experiences from real people who used/read/saw whatever it is they are reviewing.  But what if churches got reviews?  Well, if they did, here’s one you’d like to get.  Thanks to Shaun King at Courageous Church in Atlanta for the link.

The “reviewer” attended Courageous Church as a favor to his sister, but found a home.  His blog post recounted his life story of church experiences.  And then he came to Courageous Church.  Keep reading:

Then I came across the Courageous Church. I went initially to support my sister. But I found myself in awe. While I sat waiting for the service to start, a dj came on stage and began spinning. Puzzled, I wondered if he knew that service was about to start and prayed that he didn’t play something inappropriate. He didn’t. As it turned out, that was part of service. Folks were dressed in all manner. Some wore jeans some were more dressy. They came as they were. Not how they wanted the world to believe them to be. I was intrigued.

President Barack Obama said in a speech on race that Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America and he was/is correct. This is when our hidden bias’ both Black and White dress up in their Sunday best demanding homage. We oblige by surrounding ourselves with those that look like us, talk like us and know, even unconsiously, the “proper” color of the Creator. Imagine that. This church was equally comprised of Black and White members, who not only shared the same service, but were warm and gracious in their greetings and conversation.

Pastor Shaun is younger than me and I’m 40. Yes, you will have to pray over that if you are old like me but that’s another post altogether. He said something during the first service that struck me. He was discussing the urgent need for us to get involved in the missions Jesus had undertaken. Specifically, he was dealing with hunger, you can check out the church’s work initiative at But he said that, “We need to feed these folks, they don’t have to accept Christ, we just need to feed them.” That sold me. No agenda. Genuine love for others.

Service is short and the emphasis is not on Sunday, it is on living and working during the week to carry out the mission Jesus came to complete. And moreover, to “do ye greater things.” I’m excited about church again and no, this is not your mama’s church.

Five stars, I’d say.  Wouldn’t you like to get a review like this?  I would.  Thanks, Shaun.  I give you two thumbs up!

Styrofoam cups and plastic plates

plastics-avoid-2-6-mdWe buy them by the case — styrofoam cups and plastic plates.  We use lots of them, cases and cases each year, because we’re Baptist and we eat a lot.  We wouldn’t think of making you eat with plastic forks and knives because they break. Nope, we use real stainless steel silverware, but we pour our tea and coffee into styrofoam cups and eat off of plastic plates.  Why?

We probably use throw-aways so we don’t have to wash dishes.  We don’t have a kitchen staff, only volunteers, and nobody likes to wash dishes.  Washing the silverware and serving pieces takes long enough.  But we’ve never really had a conversation about why we use styrofoam cups and plastic plates.  We need to.

Not only are these products made from petroleum, but they also take forever (almost literally) to break down in the landfill.  Plus, The Daily Green contends polystyrene (brandname: Styrofoam) can leach harmful residue into food and drink.   In other words, we are facing not one, but three problems: energy, environment, and user health.

Today I’m adding a new topic — Ethics — to this blog’s categories.  I dealt with ethical issues at my other blog, Amicus Dei, for awhile, but congregations need to grapple with ethical decisions, too.  Watch for more posts on ethics.  As my seminary professor, Ebbie Smith used to say, “Ethics is the part of theology that really counts.”  His point being that how we live expresses what we believe.  If we could apply that to our covered-dish suppers that would be a big step.