Monthly Archives: September 2012

A Church’s Loss, A Pastor’s Nightmare

It is the kind of story that will keep a pastor awake at night.

The call came Sunday afternoon from a friend in another state.  We had been talking for a while, with me encouraging her to find a church.  She grew up going, has a lot to offer, and being in a new place, she could use the community.  I had recommended several good churches in her area, but to no avail.  She is young, and going to a new place…well, it was a bit too intimidating right now.

But last week she decided to give it a try.  Maybe it was my prodding, maybe it was the first big dose of homesickness, maybe it was the movement of the Holy Spirit, or a combination of them all—but on Sunday she got up, got dressed and headed to church.

She arrived early, asked for directions to the sanctuary, and even found a greeter (or at least a person with a nametag!)  She said that she was new and needed some directions, and was pointed to the restrooms, and the sanctuary, and the person said, “I guess we’ll see you inside!”

She made her way into the strange new room, found a seat and waited for the service to begin.

But mainly she was waiting for someone to speak.

The service began.  But still no one spoke.

She called that afternoon, so upset, so homesick, so discouraged.  She had done what she needed to do, but the church had not.  She loved the sermon and the service.  But will she go back?

The verdict is out.

I had so many reactions!  First I was so proud of her for battling through the inertia that keeps so many people her age from church.  It is easier just not to go, but for some reason she went.  Something inside said she needed to be there.  That made me happy!

But I was so angry!  This is a wonderful young person, the kind of person that churches would love to have.  But no one spoke to her!  I am sure that they didn’t want to intrude; they didn’t know she was there for the first time; they had their own friends to talk to, their own children to corral, their own worship to prepare for.

But what about her?

What about the Church, not just this one, but THE church?

And then came my fear.  Has that happened in our church?  Are there people who come in and never get spoken to; who leave feeling invisible, unrecognized, unwanted?  Have we failed them?  Who might we have lost?  Who might the church have lost?

It is the kind of conversation that will keep me awake at night.


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A Different Stewardship Campaign!

I read a lot.  Before breakfast I have usually read three papers, gone through Zite to see what I have missed!  Then there are emails and Facebook and Twitter.  And that is before I come to work!  Here, there is always a cornucopia of information to read, and it seems to come from all directions.

I’m not making this up!

I still get faxes!  (You remember, the machine that looks like a printer through which you can send documents to another person?  Yeah, that door-stop-thingy!)  On an almost daily basis I sacrifice lots of trees so that I might know about a “Holiday Wreath Fundraiser Program,” (2 copies this week) “Telephone Giant” is waiting to hear from me to buy all types of used telephone equipment; I should look at these LOWLife Insurance rates; and I can take advantage of fall rates on 4 Days & 3 Nights in Orlando or a Bahama Cruise all for just $199 per person.  (If you want details on any of these wonderful offers, contact me today, before the trash is taken out!)  It doesn’t matter how many times I call, email and fax them to say “Take me off your list of wonderful offers,” they still come!

But today was different!  Today I got one from a Collection Agency!  Immediately I thought, what have I not paid?  But NO!  They were offering to collect for us!  “We are a licensed and bonded collection agency.  We offer a full array of receivable solutions that ensures you receive the best rate of return possible.”

How did they know we are about to start our stewardship campaign?

Think of the notice they would send.  “Do you know what you owe God?  EVERYTHING, and we are here to collect!  We are willing to negotiate, say, $.50 on the dollar.  Too high?  Well, since you are willing to deal with this, what about $25 on the dollar?  But that is as low as I can go!  You don’t want this to get messy!”

Just think of the possibilities!  No more guilt producing sermons that talk about money!  No more anxious nights wondering if the youth will have to hitchhike home from camp!  No more pondering on whether to pay the pastor or the light bill!  (Correct answer–the pastor!)  No more of those pesky little financial problems!  Just turn it over to  (I didn’t even know they were a Godly service!)

Perhaps this is why I have kept the fax machine beside my desk!  Now if only a wonderful sermon service would fax their services!  And how about wedding-by-fax?

Ahh, ministry is getting easier by the minute!

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Beware of the Fact Checkers

My Uncle James is one of the greatest storytellers I have ever known.  He just loves sharing a good story.  I remember an early morning phone call (5:00 am) while I was a student in England when he just had to share a story he had heard (and also to argue about what the time was in London!)  Even now he will call to assist me with my sermon on Sunday.  (I rarely can use one of his stories, but they are always funny!)

Our scout troop was out on a camping trip when James decided to regale us with one of his stories, a true account of a family event.  As he was spinning the tale, a cousin kept correcting him.  “Wait, wasn’t it in December?”  “Aunt Vida didn’t live over there!”  “I am sure that Dad had already moved out of the house.”

Finally Uncle James turned to him and said, “Don’t bother me with the facts!  I’m telling a story here!”

I have thought about Uncle James a lot recently as this political campaign has moved into high gear.  It seems that everyone is “telling a story here,” rarely bothering with facts!  At the very least, they conveniently shape the facts to fit the story they are telling.  The result is a cottage industry of fact checkers.  Stories in the media will give a speech “Four Pinocchio’s” or “Multiple Flames” (you know, ‘liar liar pants on fire’.)  Depending on which candidate is indicted we are happy or enraged.

The emotion I feel most of the time is fear.  What if these “fact checkers” decide that they will come to church…and listen to the sermon!  I am not talking about the story that I shared about the conversation with a person that I pieced together from numerous conversations over the past month; I am not talking about the story I “borrowed” from Tony Campolo or Fred Craddock.  I am talking about the story we tell from the Bible!

Just last week our text was about the demise of Absalom.  We all know that he died after his hair got caught in the branches of a tree and his horse ran on, just leaving him hanging there.  How many times growing up was that used as a lesson to get a haircut?  Only one problem—that isn’t what the text says!  His head got caught.  (Look it up!  II Samuel 18)

And how many children’s Sunday School classes have sent home pictures of Joseph and his coat of many colors to adorn the refrigerator door?  It is a great craft and a wonderful story.  The only problem is that isn’t what the Bible says.  It was a coat with long sleeves!  You can understand why we would change THAT!  That doesn’t make a good craft, a good story, a good sermon.

We could go on and on!  Mary Magdalene was a prostitute; the innkeeper turned away Mary and Joseph; Matthew, Mark, Dr. Luke, and John wrote the gospels—all of these stories that preachers have shared from the pulpit with the insinuation that “This is the word of the Lord!”

Can you imagine the Fact Checker in the Balcony?  “I give that 4 Pinocchio’s”

These fact checkers must be stopped before they get to church!  Otherwise we will have to start telling the truth, and that might just ruin the story!

This post originally ran on the ABPnews Blog.

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A Story too good to lose

I once was told that the sign of a mature and wise preacher is one that hears a story on Thursday and doesn’t have to use it on Sunday!  Good advice!  Too often a good story can just go in a direction that the text, the sermon really isn’t heading.  it is best to leave it out!

But what do you do with the story??

If I save it I will forget it!  I know me well enough!  Thank goodness for a blog!  This won’t make my sermon this week (at least, I don’t think it will!) but it may make yours, or make your day!

There was once a little black boy who was watching the balloon man at the county fair. The man was evidently a good balloon salesman, because he allowed a red balloon to break loose and soar high up in the air, thereby attracting a crowd of prospective customers. Next he released a blue balloon, then a yellow one, and a white one. They all went soaring up into the sky until they disappeared.

The little black boy stood looking at the black balloon for a long time, then asked, “Sir, if you sent the black one up, would it go as high as the others?” The balloon man gave the kid an understanding smile. He snapped the string that held the black balloon in place and, as it soared upwards, said, “It isn’t the color, son. It’s what’s inside that makes it rise.”

What’s in your balloon?

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