“We don’t have any shakes.”

McDonald's Same Store Sales Up 7.1 Percent In JanuaryA few weeks ago I went to visit one of our members (and my friend) David, who has been homebound for a while dealing with aches and pains and cancer and some tough decisions. Before I headed out the door, someone said, “Take him a milkshake.” He hadn’t been eating well, liked shakes and could use the calories. Works for me. I like shakes, too!

There was a McDonald’s on the way to David’s house. Perfect. The drive-thru lines looked short, so I pulled in. One car ahead of me. Five minutes passed. No movement. One car. Patience is a virtue, I’m not in a hurry, no problem. Finally they move ahead and I pull up to the speaker. Continue reading

Call me, maybe…

chatting-tin-can-stringYesterday, as many pastors do, I was out visiting people who were in the hospital. It was a busier afternoon than usual, as I had five people to visit in three different area hospitals. I drove about a hundred miles getting around to everyone. The good news: everyone was recovering and improving and looking forward to going home soon. The not-so-good news: the effort it took to find out who needed a visit and where they were. Spoiler alert: this is a rant, so you can decide if you want to read further or not.
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Don’t do anything!

A few weeks ago when I too a walk through the Indian Trails Sports Complex with my dog, Samson, I couldn’t help but notice how negative all the signage is. Take a look and see if you agree.

No pics collage

Not very welcoming, is it? It’s all negative and frankly, a bit depressing. I know you have to have rules and people need to know the rules and follow the rules, but are’t we getting carried away? I only too a few pictures. My tax money was used to purchase many, many more signs like these.

I’ve walked through the complex many times and never really noticed the signs. Do you think anyone really pays attention to them?

Appreciation

 

It's that time of year again. pastor appreciation month. In a little over a week, it will be pastor appreciation day, October 13. I am not sure who started this movement, but I suspect it was someone in the greeting card business.

I'll be frank. I've got mixed feelings. Of course I like to be appreciated. Who doesn't? Yet at the same time, I'm conflicted. There have been many Sundays when I have fervently prayed that people not be impressed with me, but with God and all He's done for us. The very nature of a pastor's job means being in the spotlight, but the whole time, I am trying to get you to appreciate the Son of God to whom we say we ascribe all the glory and honor.

Plus, the whole idea of appreciation is expressed in some very unusual ways. Cards, gift cards, keychains and the always popular religious themed tie. There are some other lists out there with ideas, but most still miss the mark.

Want to make your pastor feel appreciated?

  • Show up. We pastors spend a lot of time preparing sermons and bible classes for you. It kind of defeats the purpose if you aren't there to hear them.
  • Suit up. When you are asked to take a position of leadership in the church, head up a ministry, or help out, say, “Yes.” We pastors spend much time equipping you for ministry. It's not encouraging at all when person after person says, “No.”
  • Speak up. You have something on your mind? Tell me. Ask me. Challenge me. Don't assume I know. I am terrible at reading minds. And don't try to get to me through someone else, especially my wife. I'd really appreciate that.
  • Look up. Hey, I am a pastor, so I have to throw out a bible passage. How about Colosians 3:1 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Develop a vibrant relationship with Jesus, and I will feel like my work has not been in vain.

I know that not everyone will appreciate these comments, but it's my blog and I'll rant if I want to. It's just some food for thought. I'll try and be a little less cynical tomorrow.

 

“Why I quit my church.”

I quitThat’s the title of a book, article, blog post or email you will rarely if ever read. And that’s just a reality pill I sometimes have to swallow.

I began thinking about this just a few months ago when I got a one line email from members of our church reading, “We will not be attending anymore.” That’s it. No explanations. No conversations. No warning. And I had just seen them in worship a few Sundays before.

Earlier in ministry I would have gone into panic mode, thinking, “What did I say? What didn’t I say? What did someone else say? What if all the families start leaving?” But with a few years experience under my belt and a calmer spirit, I simply picked up the phone, called them, and left a message, saying that I’d like to talk to them. Their response? They resent the email, thinking that I hadn’t gotten it. I guess there wouldn’t be a conversation.

Hmm. Just like that. As I mentioned above it happens from time to time. Sometimes there is a little more information, like, “Well, we wanted to try something different.” Or “We really feel led to look for another church.” Once I got a “I’m not ready to talk about it yet.” But usually all you get is silence.

So to get some perspective, I thought about some of the members we’ve gotten from other churches. One family came because they wanted a later worship time. Another needed a cooler room. Another had friends at the church. And I know that none of them had a conversation with their pastor. They just started shopping at a different store…I mean, worshiping at a different church.

I also had some good friends tell me that sometimes, God wants or needs that family at a different church. They were being prepared at your church to be a much-needed blessing elsewhere. I kind of like that.

If I weren’t a pastor and attended a church, what would I do in their shoes? I might want to explain my decision. I might avoid a conversation. I might hide behind a generic email. I might want the freedom to walk away, to try something new, or make a change.

In any event, I’ve learned not to take it too personally. The church is fluid around the edges, with people coming and going all the time for all sorts of reasons. If I miss them, then they will be a blessing to someone else, and that is a good thing.

What’s the best way to quit your church?

Repost: I’m not giving up anything for Lent

(Originally posted February 20, 2010)

That’s right. I”m not giving up anything for Lent. Zip. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Over the last few years I’ve heard much more about giving something up for Lent than ever. For some reason it has seen a resurgence not only among Christians, but in the secular world as well. On one popular afternoon talk show in Orlando, an avowed atheist and an individual from a Jewish background were discussing what they would give up for Lent. It seems that the practice has gone viral.

I have a problem with the practice on several levels. First of all, if you are going fast, even if just from one particular food or activity, you aren’t supposed to advertise it on social media or talk about it among your friends. Jesus said that if you were going to fast, it was something between you and God. You were to go about your day as if everything were normal. If you’re going to give up something for Lent and then whine about it for the next 38 days on Facebook, I’m going to block you until after Easter.

Next, God’s not impressed when people fast but then turn around and treat each other like dirt. Read Isaiah 58. The kind of fasting God’s interested in is one that helps other people, especially those who are hurting and going without some of the basics of life. When people who have little interest in church or ministry decide to fast, it means nothing. Why bother?

What do you think of this Lenten prayer by Christian Sine?

We have chosen to fast

Not with ashes but with actions

Not with sackcloth but in sharing

Not in thoughts but in deeds

We will give up our abundance

To share our food with the hungry

We will give up our comfort

To provide homes for the destitute

We will give up our fashions

To see the naked clothed

We will share where others hoard

We will free where others oppress

We will heal where others harm

Then God’s light will break out on us

God’s healing will quickly appear

God will guide us always

God’s righteousness will go before us

We will find our joy in the Lord

We will be like a well watered garden

We will be called repairers of broken walls

Together we will feast at God’s banquet table

Rather than giving something up, maybe we could start doing something new for Lent, something that makes God’s love real. Who knows? After forty days, it might become a habit.

 

It’s harder to come back than I thought

Ed Stetzer has written an interesting article for Q ‘How Christian Consumers Ruin Pastors and Cheat the Mission of God’. I have often struggled with those folks who simply come to church for a product or service, not unlike taking your car to an auto mechanic or hiring a contractor to work on your home. It could be a baptism, wedding, funeral,counseling or some other type of inspirational entertainment. We pastors step in it all the time, willingly providing what we think people are looking for, fearful of what will happen if we do not continually attract and retain an influx of new people at church. How effective and healthy can ministry be if that’s the model?

In retrospect, it was so good to get away to Haiti for nine days. Even though it was an intense, tiring week, the only expectation was that I be a pastor. “Do justice…love kindness…walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Help people, show compassion, pray and preach the word. No meetings, few demands, and countless opportunities to proclaim the gospel in words and actions.

You get spoiled real quick. It’s freeing to not be hounded by time and schedules. So when you get back to the real world, it’s hard — real hard — to take seriously some of the things you used to spend time and energy on. Like meetings that accomplish little if anything. Complaints and concerns about our facilities. Shopping and travel plans for Christmas. A whole bunch of people who live in tents in Haiti, including many of our friends, are now in the path of a hurricane in the Caribbean. Suddenly, it’s real hard to focus on that other stuff. And maybe that’s a good thing.

“Pastor, we quit.”

In the past few weeks I’ve gotten a brief letter from one member of the congregation and an email from another saying basically the same thing: “Pastor, we quit.” The communications came with no warning, no previous discussion or complaint, or even a hint that anything was wrong. Just a one sentence communication, “Please remove us from membership because we won’t be attending worship there anymore.”

My first reaction is one of guilt. What did do? What did I say? What didn’t I do? I asked my elders if they had any information, but they were as surprised as I was. So I called to find out what was going on. I was right. It was me. But it was also a lot of other things. As I listened, it seemed like everything was a problem. A huge laundry list of reasons why it just wasn’t working out anymore.

My next reaction, then, was of cynicism. You needed ten reasons to quit? You couldn’t even call? You just decided not to show up anymore? Nice commitment. Glad we could count on you. For those kinds of attitudes I ask forgiveness. Shepherds really aren’t supposed to feel that way, are they?

Then, came acceptance. Over the years I’ve learned and have come to accept that people come and people go. Especially in our culture. It’s doesn’t take much to cause people to switch hairdressers, grocery stores, and churches. In the past, I’ve been on the receiving end. Families have joined our church, relating how miserable their previous pastor and congregation were. It shouldn’t surprise me that some will leave and go someplace else with similar stories about us. Many Jews stopped following Jesus himself at certain points in his ministry. And the student shouldn’t expect to be treated differently than the teacher.

I am thankful that there are other churches in our area which are working out better for them, where they are now attending. I think I’ll keep them on my email list, too. Maybe they’ll read my emails. Maybe they’ll block me. Either way is OK.

Your church wedding

I had two weddings this past weekend — one on Saturday, one on Sunday. For most pastors, weddings are not in the top ten list of things we like to do. Why?Well, let me count the ways.

My thoughts here are about those things a couple should expect when they come to the pastor and say, “We’d like to get married at the church.” (The following items are based on 24 years of experience in the parish, somewhere between 150 and 200 weddings, and a Lutheran bias when it come to worship and ministry.)

  • A wedding in the church is a worship service, including an invocation, scripture readings, a sermon, prayers and a benediction. We worship the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While you may have always envisioned your wedding beginning with “Here comes the bride” (the Bridal Chorus) and ending with “There goes the bride” (i.e. the Wedding March), you can do so much better than that! There are so many powerful hymns you can choose from that truly honor the God before whom you will take your vows. Give them a chance.
  • We preach the word. We proclaim Christ crucified. When you pick your scriptures for the wedding, why not look beyond 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? Those overused verses about “love” weren’t written about marriage at all. The apostle Paul wrote them to a church divided about who had better teachers and abilities. Why not consider some passages important to you? Like a confirmation verse, or one that helped you grow in your faith. Let the pastor suggest some passages that speak to you and your relationship. You’ll get a much better message that way.
  • Just because it’s “your day” doesn’t mean you get to do anything you want. Remember, when  you step into the church, it’s really not about you, but about God. If you have some really unique (read “bizarre”) things you’d like to do for your wedding, don’t plan a church wedding. Have your ceremony on the beach, in your home, in a backyard or a museum.
  • I probably won’t attend your rehearsal dinner or reception. Why? Unless you are an active member of our congregation, I probably won’t know many people there and it’s not that much fun sitting off in the corner by yourself. Need a prayer before the meal. I’ll gladly write one for someone else to say.
  • Try to  show up on time for both the rehearsal and ceremony. Besides myself, many people have set aside some time to witness your vows and celebrate with you. Unexpected things always come up, but if you arrive a little early, it relieves some of the stress of that day.

In the early days of my ministry, I was honored when someone asked me to do their wedding. I soon grew to dread it when I learned I was basically just being hired to preform a service, along with the photographer and florist. In the past few years, however, I have begun to enjoy it again as I have worked with a number of young couples who had a marvelous faith and relationship with the Lord. I am grateful to them for helping me rediscover some of the joy of performing a wedding ceremony.