Showing posts with label Evangelism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Evangelism. Show all posts

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sermon Notes: State of the Church Address

Dalton Presbyterian Church, 1/30/11
Show of hands: who has seen or heard Obama’s State of the Union address?

Yeah, this will be nowhere near that good.  Not even Joe Biden good.  But I felt like the timing was right to try something - Elder retreat, talking about the present and future of the church lately.

So because I am not a famous public speaker, I’ll need some prayers.


State of the Church address
Thanks to leadership (stand, clap)

Remember the empty seats, and those who cannot be with us because of physical limitations or health (Dan Rudy, Susanna Amstutz, Jodi Smith)

Thankful for differences - we’re diverse (not ethnically - a shimmering rainbow of Caucasian!) in beliefs and politics.  Sometimes this comes out as fear to delve into divisive issues - but I see this as a strength, that we can come together even though we don’t agree on every line-item of a given creed.

Commonalities and continuity; this church, in one form or another, has been here a loooong time.  200 odd years.  From back when the flag didn’t nearly have so many stars.  In a couple years, we might want to think about doing something for our bicentennial.  That’s a long time.  Imagine all those saints who came before us - just in this little place in the world.

History - we’ve known times of flourishing, we’ve also known schism - the split 25 years ago that is still fresh for some of us - a split that is still felt now (I see it impact our live and ministry on an almost-weekly basis - it sneaks it’s way into other issues); and thru it all tremendous change.  We are inheritors, but the church now is almost nothing like it was 50 years ago; even less 100 years ago, or 150.  We’re not suddenly talking about change.  We’re simply continuing to change.

In recent memory, though, the world has moved.  The world always moves faster than the church - Facebook killing the church? - Evangelicalism and conservative politics - Christianity is a third-world movement, and will be for generations to come.  Even if we’ve tried to stand still, the ground has moved out from under us.

The state of the church is always this - the world has moved, and we must be part of it.  

The state of the church is always this - God has remained still, and we must move the world.

THis church doesn’t just have a past - we’ve also got a future.  We are not like any other church, and we are planted  here for a reason, no less now than our predecessors were 200 years ago.  We are called to flourish; we are called to live out our passion; we all have a mission.  Our calling hasn’t changed - it’s just that we have to figure out how to follow God out into the world.  The way we do church will not be the way we’ve done church before.  Until we are perfected, until Kingdom come, we are not finished.

We have this future, but I cannot hand it to you.  I cannot go get it and bring it back.  It isn’t going to land in our laps.  It is possible to run away from our calling.  God is alive and moving in our lives, alive and moving in the world outside these doors - but can ignore that if we want.

This future will not be made clear to us through wisdom - we read that in 1 Corinthians.  If we are looking for a wise, well-considered path, that won’t quite get us to God.  If we are careful and deliberate and discerning - that won’t quite cut it.  

We continue to read, in 1 Corinthians, that this future won’t even come by way of signs and miracles!  If we are waiting for a miracle, even if we experienced a miracle, a sign, here and now, that wouldn’t quite get us to God.  That’s a load off of my shoulders, because I’ve got no miracles.

What will move us into the future is...foolishness - the foolishness of trusting a God we cannot see, trusting a savior who died on a cross, trusting in our own efforts when we know how flawed we are, trusting in the Holy Spirit to strengthen us when we cannot do one more thing.  

Our hope is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is life to those who are alive with God. If we look ahead with the mindset that we are dying, God’s future for us will look like nonsense.

If, however, we are able to become fools, to cultivate our inner foolishness, then it’ll all make sense.  We’re called to be foolish, and seek God’s wisdom - we are called to be weak, and trust in God’s strength - we are called to be regular folks, and let God be the one who grants us our status.

But these are all just words.

I thought about this passage, and about the Elder retreat we had yesterday.  We talked about a lot of things - including what we thought we as a church, and the Elders in particular, were good at.  What we care about most.  Where we should be headed.

And this is where a President would outline the government initiatives and programs that would bring us into the bright future.  I’m not a President, though.  Being a pastor is quite different from being President.  I can’t really make much happen on my own.  In light of that point of divergence...

I’ve been thinking about what I am called to do.  What it is that I am good at.  What I care about.  What am I supposed to do, in light of this reading, in light of our calling, in light of where we are, who we are.  Who I am.  I don’t want to speak for anyone else.

I will speak for myself.

I like the idea of being a Fool.  Some of the astute and observant among may have noticed - I am a fool.  I am a goofball.  My head is in the clouds.  I am a dreamer.  I log more time in my own imagination than I do in this “real world” everyone keeps telling me about.  Sometimes this is a strength, and sometimes it is a weakness.  Part of me is happy to read that we are called to foolishness.

I don’t have any miracles up my sleeves, and I am only occasionally wise - but a fool provokes.  I will therefore throw down a challenge.  I will call you out, here and now, you, and everyone who isn’t here this morning, and everyone we can convince to come through those doors.

My challenge isn’t to dare you to sit in the front few rows of the church - even though it is warmer up here, and a lot easier to hear.  I’m afraid what I have in mind is even worse. (and let me take a moment to honor the courage of the intrepid few who braved the front row this morning)

This morning, I’m going to use a dirty word in church.  I want you to say this dirty word with me.  Ready?  

“Evangelism”.  Say it with me: “Evangelism”.  

We had our Elder retreat, and do you know what the Elders chose as the highest priority for the church going forward?  Evangelism.  So I am doing something tremendously foolish.  I am calling upon an aging, shrinking Presbyterian congregation to join me in becoming evangelists.

Like fools, like Paul and the first apostles, we are called to proclaim Christ.  Whether we like it or not.  Whether it seems wise or not.  With or without miracles.  Whether we feel strong enough or not.

The state of the church is always this - we are chosen by God, we are called for ministry, and our future is present with us right now.  You remember what Jesus was saying in the hills of Galilee in our reading last week?  The Kingdom of God is at hand.

The state of the church is always this - we are the kingdom of God.  And we are called to carry this good news in our hearts, in our lives, and out into the world.

I’m not going to drop this evangelism thing.  If you ignore it, it won’t go away.

This morning, I dare you to believe it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Do You Want to Live A Beautiful Life?

This recent post, like many posts at Experimental Theology, is amazing. Definitely worth a read.

I love examples of evangelism that don't involve the usual cold-call, hard-sell method of manufacturing a fear (you will go to Hell!) and then calling for a knee-jerk reaction to that fear (I'll do whatever I have to do not to burn forever!). A colleague referred to this as "evangelism as fire insurance" and I think that was apt.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Church Planting Proposal

For the past 25 years the PC(USA) has had a strategy for planting churches that involves careful demographic studies, long-term investment and gradual development. New Church Developments (NCD's) in our denomination take a long time to get going and cost a lot of money. Without doing a lot of analysis I'll just say that I don't think this strategy is working very well.

Parallel with this NCD situation we have a denomination that has been in pretty steep decline. A large percentage of our churches are small and shrinking. As such they cannot afford full-time ministers who come with a lot of debt out of seminary. Other churches are closing, or leaving the denomination. Furthermore, ministers are working longer into old-age before retiring. However, our 11 seminaries continue to pump out graduates every year. These combined factors have led to a situation where we have thousands of individuals wanting to do ministry with no place to do it. These unemployed potential ministers are often younger, unordained (because they can't get a call), and a lot more of them are women and minorities than their employed counterparts. They represent, in other words, the very demographics that our denomination is failing to reach.

Thus we have two related problems - a failing strategy for planting new churches, and a lack of pulpits for incoming ministers. Could we mitigate (if not outright solve) both with one stroke? I think we could. Here is my proposal:

Instead of NCD's being created by Presbyteries and Synods in a long, slow, expensive process, provide a plethora of small grants to individuals wanting to plant a church. Offer 2-years half-time salary to 300 ministers a year. Prioritize young ministers, women, minorities and others who have a harder time getting into the competitive first call slots. Make them come up with the proposal and go out on a limb with unconventional organizing plans. If in 2-years the NCD isn't viable, move on.

Many of these NCD's will fail, but so do NCD's developed the expensive and slow way. At least this way we will have tested the waters a bit, and employed a large group of our young talent to see if any gems emerge. As it stands we are wasting a huge pool of motivated, educated, potential ministers. The harvest is indeed enormous, but the workers don't have to be as few as they currently are.

I am convinced that we need a more spontaneous, bottom-up, strategy for developing ministries. Once upon a time, to get volunteers and participants you needed to have institutional structures in place. The way to open a church was to build it, hire a minister, and put a sign out front. Now though, all the institutional readiness and stability in the world won't get you members. In fact, who wants to be a "member" of anything? People want to show up where the action is. They want to join a movement; participate in a project; attend an event - not get their name on a roll. It's time for a Church 2.0 where everyone generates the content, and determines the form it takes. Successful church plants are going to be more like memes than clubs.

What if 90% of these NCD's fail? That's 30 new churches this year. And next year. And next year. Meanwhile those other 270 pastors are busy learning important lessons about what works and what doesn't. They will provide important feedback to the denomination as a whole about our church planting strategy. Feedback that is more valuable than what we currently get purely on the basis of quantity. And the whole time they will be employed in our denomination using their gifts for ministry instead of waiting tables, or doing data-entry.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Gospel as Book Report

Persuant to my previous post, I've been thinking a little about the Gospel and how it is often presented - as a book report. I've realized I am not that interested in more book reports on the Bible. I don't think anyone is going to say anything new. I encourage everyone to go read the Bible and read books about the Bible, but don't confuse that with the Gospel.

The Good News is an exhausted runner returning from the front lines of the war, with the most amazing news of an unexpected victory snatched from the jaws of death itself. This runner is you. How have you been rescued? How have you been snatched from the jaws of death? What do you have to testify about? That is what is new. That is what is interesting to me.

The Bible is one of the ways I am brought together with other Christians, but I am finding that it is the people I am fascinated with, the people I love, the people I want to find out about, the people I want to interact with, more than the Bible. I want to be alive now. I only really care about atonement insofar as it has touched your life. Talking about atonement theologically is a fun and interesting passtime. Debates can be very engaging and interesting, and they're one way we sharpen our minds - but we sharpen them for a purpose which is not more arguing.

We sharpen our minds so that we can live our lives more fully. We sharpen our minds so that we can seek God more deeply.

That feeling I've had in the past, of being twisted up inside, when I've gotten dragged into another argument about theological differences - I think that feeling was coming up because I was doing the wrong thing. I was betraying what at my core I believe to be true - we are all in this together, and we are getting out of this together or not at all. There is no situation where I win and you lose - that is not the kind of game we are playing.

I know that I'm in that enthusiastic stage where I'm full of an idea, an insight, but I can't express it very well. Dammit.

But the Gospel is not a book report. The Gospel is your life, the Gospel is my life, or it is nothing.