Stop Preaching, Start Reaching!

I can’t remember the last time a sermon changed my mind. There, I’ve said it. I’ve drawn my line in the sand. If the point of preaching is to evoke change in my life, bring me to repentance, or to inspire me to pay whatever ‘it’ is forward, sermons aren’t cutting it for me.

But this isn’t about sermons, I like sermons for the most part. I’m blessed to experience good preaching regularly and even excellence from time to time. I’ve learned things from those messages and have experienced the gentle nudge of the Spirit through them. I know some folks that still love sermons; I think that is great.

Seven Spells about Scripture that the Church should stop casting

Recently, Pope Francis made waves by saying something that many would consider common sense. In reflecting on the difficult relationship between science and religion, Francis is quoted arguing that Christians should not view God as “a magician, with a magic wand.”

There goes Harry Potter’s fleeting chance at the papacy.

As a Protestant with a #PopeCrush, I’m appreciative of Francis’ apparent efforts to pull Roman Catholicism kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I’d like to return the favor with Protestants by suggesting that if God isn’t a magician, and if God doesn’t have a magic wand, then God has no need for a magic book either.

Death, mortality, and the conversations we miss

Jeff Tweedy, lead vocalist for the rock band Wilco, reflected on mortality during a recent conversation on NPR. The artist, whose brother had just died and whose wife was recently diagnosed with cancer, was asked to explain the inspiration for a song entitled, “Nobody Dies Anymore.

“[This speaker] was claiming that the first person that will live to be a thousand years old is alive today, and what really struck me was that this guy is really afraid of dying. (Laughter) You know, there’s a great deal more to be gained from our mortality than I would be willing to sacrifice… The notion of living till you forget all of your friends, forget all of your family – I don’t know, this idea of living forever was somewhat horrific to me.”

As of late, there have been a number of interesting conversations on mortality and the question of when life is worth living. Each offered its own gift of provocation of ideas never quite resolved and also left a nagging feeling that something was missing.

7 Good Reasons to Stop Giving to your Church

Is your church really worth your investment?

As much as we might like to deny it, most churches function like small businesses. They have physical assets like property and vehicles which need regular maintenance, staff that draw upon collective resources for salary and benefits, and they are liable and responsible in ways that demand clear accounting procedures and insurance in case something terrible happens.

It is also a painful truth that many churches are underwater. While some new churches will open, an estimated 4,000 close their doors in the United States every year. Of those remaining, many others are surviving off of endowments; otherwise known as the generosity of previous generations. And still others are deferring necessary maintenance in hopes that the next stewardship campaign will finally meet the escalating needs of their aging facilities.

With the rise of the “nones” and the loss of much cultural clout, it is undeniably a hard time to be a church. Now more than ever, the churches that are leaning forward and reaching out deserve the support of the faithful. But how do you determine if your church is really worth your investment?

Let me suggest that you consider divesting from your church, and investing elsewhere, if one or more of the following is true.

God is big enough…

Guest Post by DJ del Rosario

As many of you have heard, there was another school shooting yesterday. This one happened at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, a school all too close to where I serve as a pastor. Details are slowly being released as the events continue to unfold.

If you are like me, you respond to acts that terrify like this in one of two ways. One, you try to avoid all news as much as possible. You might do this because one more story of children shooting one another might just finally break the hope you cling on to in order to make it through the day. Or two, you are stuck, fixated on all the possible news feeds. You may find yourself obsessed with trying to understand what happened, and why it happened.

In this day and age of social media, the new norm is to comprehend, grieve and process traumatic events through the multiple lenses of those around us (physically and digitally). When things like this shooting occur, so close to home and in places that we want to believe are safe, everything can be thrown into doubt. You may find yourself doubting this very moment, but I encourage you to not push your doubts, your struggles, and your fears aside.

Faith is not the absence of doubt, and doubting doesn’t lessen who God is and what grace can do in our lives.

I’m willing to bet the house that God can handle all of our doubts, all our struggles, and even moments like this when we might be angry. The Holy One extends far beyond the profession of any denomination or ideology. Instead, we worship a God who is far more engaged with us in practical ways than in theoretical ones.

Our faith is based on the hope that God is bringing about a new kingdom here on earth.

That’s the prayer I would ask you to join in today. Let us pray for a new kingdom that only God can bring. Let us pray with fervency that the lonely, the lost, and the disenfranchised have a place in God’s kingdom. Let us pray for those people sitting anxiously in their homes who believe the lie that violence is the only choice they have left.

But most of all, today let us pray for the everyone affected by what happened at Marysville-Pilchuck High School and for victims of violence all around the world.

May God’s kingdom come, sooner rather than later.
May God’s will be done, both in my life and the lives of those around us.
May our daily bread be what we hunger for.
May God’s peace be more than academic but a way of life we strive for.
May it begin in me, may it begin in us. 

Amen.

 

Theology is a Scary Word

Guest Post by Rev. Joe Kim

In a few short months, I will have finished half of my seminary education. I will be halfway to my M.Div. degree, halfway to no more papers, midterms and finals. I will be halfway done with paying tuition and halfway closer to getting a full-time job in ministry. It seems that this would be as good of a time as any to pause for some reflection…

This week, an email was sent out to the student body announcing the finalization of the Spring Course Schedules and Course Information. I opened my student records to see what distribution requirements I would need in order to graduate.

Biblical Studies: check.
Practical Theology: check.
History: check.
Theology: still a long ways to go.

I’ve already taken classes that have interested me, such as East Asian Christianity from 1500-1800, American Religion and American Literature, Sermons of the Civil Rights Movement and Justice and Social Ethics in the Old Testament. Now, there’s theology left.

Theology is a scary word.

It makes me think of books that are too big to read, ideas that are too big to grasp, papers that are too rushed to articulate clearly, people who are too old to be relevant. It’s no wonder to me that the church is losing its relevance, when what we are taught are stories and thoughts of old, with no application to the present, and no foresight into the future.

It appears to me that we seminarians pride ourselves on the intellectual knowledge gained in the classroom; what have we have read, how much we can recite, when can we be published. All the while, we are told over and over again that the Church is dying, and that the Church needs us–young people.

Is there a disconnect in the messaging? When can what I learn be applied to what I am sure I am called to do?

One of my professors said to us that organized religion lost Jesus. He paused, repeated the statement, then looked at us seated around the table and said, “You seminarians are organized religion!”

I pray it not be so.


Photo Credit: Image used under Creative Commons from Andrew Eason. Cropped from original.

Six Ways Forward for the Church

I’m pretty tired of talking about Mark Driscoll.

Rachel Held Evans appears to be tiring of him as well. There was a lot to love about her latest post but I wonder if he is even worth mentioning anymore. Perhaps she needed to at least mention her muse.

Evans names 6 ways Christian (sub)culture can be changed to minimize the possibility of another abusive leader. Frankly, many of these have value and application well beyond the evangelical world she largely speaks to.

  1. We must educate Christians about abuse, bullying, and misuse of power in church settings.
  2. We must value and preserve accountability.
  3. We must take misogyny and homophobia seriously.
  4. We must measure “success” by fruit of the Spirit, not numbers.
  5. We must protect people over reputations.
  6. We must treat our pastors and church leaders as human beings—flawed, complex, and beloved by God.

In particular, number 4 caught my eye as it is as much a sin of small, struggling churches as it is of large, apparently vital ones. While shrinking numbers could signify a failure of leadership or a problematic disconnect with the community, success could just as easily signify cultural accommodation or appeasement as much as it might a real healthy ministry.

Instead of analyzing our numbers in a vacuum, we need to examine growth (and decline) to see if each truly stems from a commitment to core Gospel values. Of course, we can fight over what those should be but hopefully the sane amongst us will recognize that any serious conversation can’t take numerical success as the sole marker of faithfulness.

After all, Jesus didn’t have a lot of solid followers on Good Friday.

You can read Rachel’s post here…

Image Credit: Photo by Maki Garcia Evans.