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Being Community in a Divisive World

This past weekend I had the privilege of being with the good people at Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, where my dear friends Russ and Amy Dean are co-pastors.  Being on sabbatical, and not preaching for 2 months, this was a good reminder of what it is like to preach.  Here is the manuscript I took into the pulpit.  Hopefully it is close to what I said!

 

Being Community in a Divisive World
I Corinthians 3:1-9

Dr. Don Flowers, Jr.
Park Road Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
February 12, 2017

It is an honor for me to be with you this morning.  Park Road is a congregation that has long been an example to many of us of what a church can, and should be like.  Your willingness to be church today, to experiment, to do things differently, to try and sometime fail, says a lot about who you are and the God you serve.  It is faithfulness not necessarily success that we are called to.  Thank you for being you!

And it is always wonderful being with your pastors.  Russ and Amy have been friends for longer than any of us care to remember.  From days as youth ministers when Amy came to the aid of our youth group after one of our girls was run over by a police car coming to assist another girl who had broken her arm…to last week watching Russ work diligently as most of our Preacher Camp group gathered in the frigid cold of Maryland!  There is a reason God loved me enough to let me live in the South.  Your pastors are friends, examples, mentors, pastors to me.  Sharing the pulpit where they speak week after week is a privilege and a bit intimidating!

Thank you.  And know that if you are ever in Charleston, Conde Nast top city in America to visit, (that’s our Chamber of Commerce ad that we are required to give anytime we leave the city limits) I do hope that along with the beaches and the plantations and the market and the incredible restaurants, you will come and visit us at Providence.  We would be honored to have you worship with us.

During these days of Epiphany you have been exploring the theme, (Re)Defining Community.  We return again to a congregation that was in the midst of that for the first time, in the first century, the church at Corinth.  Our text this morning is from chapter 3.

Will you hear these words of our Lord.

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

On a sunny spring day go to a graduation ceremony at any seminary or divinity school in the country.  Go up to any graduate and in between the pictures and the hugs and the well wishes, ask them what they expect to discover in the church they are heading to.  Their answers would be not unlike the answers you would get from the people in your congregation on any given Sunday morning if they were asked to describe the church of their dreams.

“A church where everyone loves each other.”
“A church where everyone is welcomed.”
“A church where the needs of individuals are met.”
“A church where people come to know the depth of life.”
“A church where worship is moving and the preaching is great.”
“A church where people meet Jesus.”
“A church where the bills are paid!”  (There is always one realist in the mix!)

But soon after arriving most of these young ministers will be hit in the face with the reality of church.  It is not all sweetness and harmony.  There are conflicts in paradise.  And the causes…

“The preschool has used our glue again!”
“Who thought it would be a good idea to rent a bus to take the kids to camp?”
“I think we need to cut the education budget so we can give more to missions” (or visa versa)
“We have been in this Sunday School classroom for 50 years!  I don’t see why we have to move now!”
“What does the pastor do on her day off anyway?”
“Are we having communion again?”  Followed closely by “It’ about time we had communion!”

Does that sound familiar?  (Not in your church, of course, but the one you heard about across town?)

The reality is that churches large and small deal with conflict.  It come around budget time, with personnel, with theology and worship style and the décor of the sanctuary and classrooms.  It is not just the local church but THE Church that is conflicted.

Denominations are breaking apart over disagreements about missions and women and sexuality and budgets.  Throw in the larger world with issues of politics and race and immigration and poverty and education and and and…..

At times we just want to throw our hands up and scream, “Can’t we just get along?”  Given the level of discord we can understand why the fastest growing religious group in our country are the “Nones,” those who claim no religious affiliation!

We dream of a time when the church was like our dreams, the way that Jesus wanted it to be!  But it was never that way!  Did you hear it in that great hymn we sing this morning, “The Church’s One Foundation.”  We nod our heads through the first verse, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord; we are his new creation by water and the Word; from heaven he came and sought us to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought us, and for our life he died.”

One foundation!  We are all united, one in the spirit, one in the Lord!  (Ooops, different song!)  But if we continue singing, we get to a verse that starts off, “Though with a scornful wonder the world sees us oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed…”

Wait!  In the church with one foundation we are rent asunder and distressed by heresies?

It is so!  And in fact, it always has been!  There never was a conflict free church!  At least not after the second member joined!  Divisions happens!  It happened in Corinth, for many of the same reasons we face today.  It would have been, it would be easier if the dissension was organized, but it was legion.  There were multiple issue then, just like today!

And the conflicts seem to catch Paul off guard.  It seems that he had intended to write a letter filled with love and kisses!  As soon as he has finished the “Dear Corinthian Church” (which follows the ancient custom and is a lot more flowery and ornate) he sings their praises.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always…  What a strong and encouraging statement.  It sets the tone for what Paul wants to write!

But it seems he never got a chance!  Perhaps he had just penned those words (remember there was not a backspace/delete button.  Papyrus doesn’t just grow on trees!  Well, it sorta does!) when Chloe’s people arrive with some questions from a an earlier letter he had sent.  Even more, Chloe’s people are able to fill in the blanks, to really give Paul the scoop as to what was happening in Corinth!  And when he hears, well suddenly the tone of the letter changes.  He can’t write love and kisses!  There are conflicts that must be addressed.

Paul had founded the church in Corinth and nurtured the fledgling congregation, but the time came when he needed to go to other mission fields.  Though he loved the church, there were other congregations to start, other ministries to birth.

The church in Corinth was not left alone, however.  Other ministers came to be among them.  There were evangelists and missionaries who were just passing through, sharing their wisdom and theology, gifts, ideas.  Just like today, some had more appeal than others.

That was what was happening in Corinth!  Since Paul’s departure there had been a series of other preachers who had come, namely Apollos.  According to Acts, Apollos was a learned Jew from Alexandria “who taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.”  He was an eloquent and passionate speaker, and “he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers.” He had an audience who admired him and the way he presented the gospel.

There was still another group, however.  These were the “back to basics” folks who wanted to go all the way back to the original apostles.  There was a Cephas following in the church at Corinth.  There is no evidence that Peter had ever been to Corinth, but perhaps someone had been to Jerusalem and heard him speak, or had heard of him from another source who had been impressed.

Even that was not enough for some in the church!  These were the back to Jesus folk!  They weren’t interested in this new religion!  If it had been good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for them!  You almost have to wonder if this was a real faction within the Corinth church or an example of Paul’s sarcasm.  And all of these people, all of these groups, all of these parties knew they were right!

It would be easy to see the situation in Corinth as the original church fight, but that would miss the deeper theological issues being played out.  Remember Paul was writing to a congregation that lived in a particular context, with a history of philosophy and culture that weren’t “Christian.”  One of the leading philosophical influences was that of wisdom.  In this world wisdom did not mean getting straight A’s, but rather a preference for Sophia, the Greek worship of wisdom.  This showed a continuing fascination with the Greek values inherent in that system.

The Greek wisdom philosophy put a great emphasis on rhetoric, being able to argue a position in a way that was convincing to others.  Apparently, Appollos’ preaching style fit in this mold and thus fed the fascination some had with that philosophy.

Others were arguing over baptism.  The old joke (which really isn’t that much of a joke) is of ministers getting together and the first question being asked was how many baptisms they had the previous year.  It was almost a badge of honor.

The same thing was true in the early church.  Appollos had baptized many, and so many were discounting the work of Paul.  It is easy to read Paul’s response as being defensive, and in some ways it is!  But is also points out an important theological issue.  What is the meaning of baptism?  Is it a gateway into membership? Is it a hoop that one has to jump through to be a Christian?  Is it an initiation rite?  Is one method better, more Christian than another?  I know individuals who have refused to join a church because they were told that they had to be baptized again, as if their first baptism was illegitimate.  What is the meaning of baptism?

It is always easier to focus on the “presenting problem” rather than on the deeper issue.  It is easier to fight about the way we baptize rather than struggle with the meaning behind it.  It is easier to fight about how we do communion rather than ponder what the table means.

Meaning questions force us to delve into areas of theology, meaning, what is really going on in us.  Those are much tougher to wrestle with because they can’t be resolved in a 20 minute sermon or a 30 minute Bible Study.  The disconcerting truth is that in our world, with our philosophical system, we do prefer “sound bite/bumper sticker theology.”  It works better for our elevator speech, around the water cooler.  It is easier for a Twitter world.

Dealing with meaning will reveal our differences.  So it is easier just to ignore them, especially in light of Paul’s admonition in I Corinithians 1:10 in which he calls on the members to be in agreement, to have no division, to be united.  We normally read that as being all cut from the same pattern with no difference at all.

But the word used here is the same one Mark used when he talks about the disciples mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow.  Mending the nets did not mean the were all the same!  Mending did not make the hole disappear!   The mending was to assure that the nets held together.

That is the question Paul is raising for the people of Corinth and the people of your congregation.  What holds us together?  Is it the pastor?  The way we do worship?  Our Wednesday night pot-luck suppers?  Our missions in _____________?

It is an important question for a congregation to ask.  What is it that hold us?  But it is just as important to ask what holes are acceptable.  Does everyone have to be the same, do the same, believe the same?  Where are holes acceptable?  Are holes, differences, acceptable?

It was a Wednesday evening many years ago, when our daughters were young.  Anita was at choir practice so it was my job to get the girls home and in bed.  I was putting Savannah, our youngest to bed and it came time to say prayers.

At that time she was in Mission Friends, being taught by Cyndy, one of our friends, who I will say has an amazing prayer life.  Whenever she offers a prayer in church I am just amazed.  Our girls often will call and ask that I get Cyndy to pray for something.  Not me, the pastor!  Cyndy!  As they say, God pays more attention to her!  And it is true!

That night, as Savannah began her prayers, what struck me was that she was praying like Cyndy.  I can’t do that!  I couldn’t teach her that!  I needed some help.

But several months later we were coming home from University.  I was driving the van and Cyndy’s daughter was sitting in the front seat—to help keep me awake, but also to talk.  In the middle of the trip, in the middle of the conversation, I realized that I was having a conversation with her that she couldn’t have with her mother.  Cyndy needed me too!

We need each other.  We need each other to mend the nets, to make sure the holes stay together.  We need each other to keep us from idolatry, from the heresy that we have God captured, all figured out.  We need people with a different perspective, different views, different gifts.

But that only happens when we are willing to be servants to each other.  Paul and Apollos were both servants.  The word used here is diakonos, deacon.  That is what we are called to be.  You who are being ordained today; Russ and Amy, me, you!  It isn’t about privilege and power, but about being a servant.  Listening and learning from each other; looking to ways that we might work together to build God’s kingdom.

Even this day.

I look forward to being back at Providence for Ash Wednesday, and then in the pulpit on March 5 as we begin a Lenten series entitled, From Pew to Passion.

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“Once Upon a Time”… or “It Shall Come to Pass”


IMG_2588This used to be a church.  
This time last year people gathered here on Sundays and Wednesdays to study the Bible, sing hymns, hear a sermon, be church.  But today it is being transformed into a parking lot.  In a couple of years it will be filled with student cars as they make their way into the new East Cooper High School. 

There is so much that could be said about this!  We could sing along with Joni Mitchell about paving paradise and putting up parking lots!  IMG_2592

It would be appropriate!  There was a time when paradise happened in this church—or should we say in these churches.  It has been the site of several.  One moved to a larger facility, but the others…  Well they just morphed from one to another until mismanagement, a congregation hanging on to the past, finances finally caught up.  Now paradise will become a parking lot!

Or we could see this as another sign of what Robert P. Jones talks about in his new book, The End of White Christian America.  We are living in a age of transition.  The old majorities, the old ways of relating, of doing things, of doing church are changing.  The result is a great deal of confusion, anger, grief.  One result is the demise of many once thriving religious communities.  It is estimated that 4,000 churches will close this year.  And where will these people go?  Well, some will migrate to one of the other churches within 2 miles of this site, but other will just become a part of the ever growing “unaffiliated.”  Faith will be seen as something we “used to do.”

Or we could see this as the Spirit of God moving in strange ways.  I am reminded of the old Fred Craddock story of serving as pastor of a church that refused to allow anyone who didn’t own property in that country from becoming a member.  There were many new families moving into apartments nearby, tons of children.  But the church refused to reach out.  Years later he wanted to show that church to his wife, and as he drove up was surprised to see the parking lot full, lots of people milling around.  Then he saw the sign.  It said, “BBQ: All You Can Eat.” It was a restaurant! Fred and his wife went inside and the place was packed with all kinds of people—white and black and Hispanic. Rich and poor. Southerners and northerners. Craddock said to his wife, “It’s a good thing this isn’t a church anymore. If it were, these people would not be allowed in.”

It is hard to see it now, as you walk among the bricks and gravel, as you see the signs of what used to be.  But maybe, maybe God is making room for people that the church won’t let in.  Maybe God is going to do church in a different way. 

Even in us.  If we are willing.  IMG_2590

Or not.

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A Business Model Change

The headline wasn’t anything “newsy” to me.  In a report recently Yahoo News stated that “Millennials aren’t going to the chapel when they get married.” 

10154002_10204397421512020_6164652900866046430_nI know it!  I am a part of it!  This year I have officiated at 8 weddings (it has been a slow year.)  Only 2 have been in a church.  The rest, including my daughter’s, were somewhere else! 

The Yahoo article gives the rationale—the rise of inter religious marriages, the swelling ranks of religiously unaffiliated Americans, the rise of marriage among the “nones.” 

But that isn’t the only trend!

Have you read the obituaries recently?  A casual glance reveals that a majority of non-Catholic, non African Americans, are choosing to have their funerals in a chapel provided by the funeral home.  the reasons are similar.  Many have no affiliation with a local church.  In a recent conversation with a funeral director she reported that at least 30% of their clients have no minister.  She lamented that many of them are really “just looking for an emcee.”

The religious implications of this have been explored by many.  But has anyone looked at the business implications?  Bluntly put, if the church is no longer in the marrying and burying business, what is it that we do?  What is the sustainable business model?  What service do we provide?

This is not to diminish all the wonderful programs and ministries performed by local churches—including our own!  This is just raw business.  Again, rather bluntly, will people pay for spiritual nurture? 

I cannot imagine an a la cart ministerial fee—$50 for a hospital visit, $75 if it is before 8:00 am or after 6:00 pm; $125 for marriage counseling; $100 for a baptism—you get the gist! 

But the model is changing.  Attendance is dropping.  There are hard questions to be asked.  To avoid them because they are uncomfortable is a recipe for disaster—for us and those with whom we minister.

Wisdom is greatly needed, and appreciated!

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Maybe This Year…

I believe in the church of baseball…

Well, I don’t.  At least I didn’t.

I didn’t grow up playing baseball.  Perhaps it was not being good enough to be chosen for a Little League Team my first year, getting hit in the head by the first pitch I ever faced in a game—that was enough!  So I put down my glove and walked away.  I didn’t watch games; I didn’t go to games.  I didn’t do baseball!

Until 1988.

I was the Minister of Youth and Activities at First Baptist Greenville.  It was a tradition (We’ve always done that!) to go to Atlanta, see a Braves game and go to Six Flags.  I had to go.  So the day after returning from another trip, we loaded up the bus and headed down I-85.  To say that I didn’t want to go would be an understatement!  I had been gone for a week.  I missed my family.  But at least we could do Six Flags!

So the tradition continued.  As the summer of 1989 approached we started getting calls from the Braves, asking when we wanted to come again.  This was back in the days when the Braves pleaded with churches to bring group.  As was our tradition, we picked a game and made our plans.

When we arrived at the old field, we discovered that our seats were one row behind the box seats directly behind the Braves dugout!  Dale Murphy came out to bat and I remember thinking he was so much bigger than I ever imagined!  He really didn’t look like those Little Leaguers I had once faced!

I had long heard people talk about the poetry of baseball, the flow of the game, the intense strategy, the emotion.  I had never seen it—until that night.  Sitting there watching the pitchers chose their spots, the mangers sending in base runners, the slow rhythm of the game…I was hooked!

When 1990 came around I found myself watching games on TV, not just the seventh game of the World Series, but games in July and August.  We ventured out to see the Greenville Braves, the farm club where guys with names like John Smoltz and Andrew Jones were playing.

By 1991 I was trying to figure out how many games we could take groups to.  Maybe a game in June AND August—but we were now regulated to the outfield.  But that didn’t matter!  In 1992 I wasn’t just watching the Braves—though that was where my heart was—I was also watching the Giants and the Cardinals and the Dodgers and pulling against the Yankees!  In 93 the fever had spread to my wife and we were staying up in May to watch the end of West Coast Games!  We were so sure that the Braves were going to win it all…at least next year!

But next year…1994, just as the Braves were about to make their run to the pennant…the players went on strike.  There was no run, no World Series, nothing.

And the fever broke.  It was replaced with hurt and anger and my own strike.  I would not watch!  All through the 1995 season I would not watch.  Even as Anita continued to watch (she is so much more forgiving than me…) I would go to another part of the house.  Even as the Braves marched through the playoffs, I would not budge.  The night they captured the Series, Anita was watching downstairs.  I was huddled in the bedroom (though I will now confess that hearing the cheers from downstairs I did watch the final 2 outs!)

I had been hurt.  And so I boycotted.  I didn’t go back.  Even through the home run derby with McGuire and Sosa and Bonds, I held fast to my convictions.  When the steroids scandal broke, it only added fuel to the fire!  I would not watch!

Oh, I did go to a minor league game.  What can be more enjoyable than an evening on the banks of the Ashley River in Charleston watching the Riverdogs, munching on boiled peanuts?  My brother-in-law even convinced me to be a part of a Fantasy Baseball League one summer.  I read everything, knew more batting averages and ERA’s than ever, and won the championship!  But I never watched a game!

And I haven’t!  Since 1994!  It is irrational!  It is crazy!  And the truth is….I miss it!  While surfing through the channels I can’t go past Field of Dreams, or For Love of the Game, or The Natural, or Eight Men Out .  (And yes it is time to let Shoeless Joe in the Hall of Fame!)

Today is opening day, and I am thinking that maybe sometime this year I will watch a game.  But not today, because we are going to the Family Circle Tennis Tournament.  And then in May I am going to Darlington, and by the fall there will be football.  But maybe sometime this year…

I am the pastor of a church.  Coming off Easter, I wonder how many people have had the same experience with church.  They used to go, were a part, had deep convictions.  Then something happened.  Feelings were hurt, they took a stand—even an irrational one, they stood their ground outside.  They left.

And they never came back.  Oh, they want to.  They really really do…but…there are still those hurt feelings, other things have taken the place.

But maybe this year…

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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 saintlix.com  (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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The Ideas Issue

It is one of my favorite issues of the year!  Every year The Atlantic publishes their “annual compendium of prescriptions, provocations, and modest proposals for making the world a better place.”  It is always a fascinating read—something that gives the reader a lot to ponder, to consider.

In the past they have tried to identify the “Big Idea” of the year, things that are already shaping the way we live, think and act.  Recently they have identified

This year however they did something a little different.  They have proposed ideas that perhaps we should consider.  Here are just a few:

  • Hold lotteries for college admission.  Every applicant who is good enough gets his or her name put in a hat and then “winners” are chosen at random.
  • Charge coaches for losing.
  • Sell birth control pills over the counter
  • Don’t treat the sick who don’t have insurance.  Many say the government cannot and should not require people to buy health insurance.  The trouble is the government can and does require hospitals to treat people who don’t have health insurance and who can’t pay.
  • Have boot camp for teachers.
  • Boot the extra point.  The PAT is a vestigial part of the game leftover from the days when kickers weren’t anywhere near as efficient.  It makes no sense.  Why do you get to score more after you have already scored?

See!  I told you they were provocative!  You can read the whole list here!

As I read through the list I found myself asking, “What are the big ideas in church, both those that are already floating around, but even more, those that we should be considering?

So I decided to put together a list of my own.  They aren’t all original with me, and some are already being used in some places.  But here is the 2012 Don Flowers List of Big Ideas for Churches.

  1. It is time to drop the “agricultural” schedule for church.  The sacred time of 11:00 on Sunday has more to do with the milking feeding schedule than anything sacred.  The church needs to a time that fits with our modern schedule—perhaps a late evening time, after work, before supper/homework time for worship.  Maybe even an early Friday evening time prior to football games.  Perhaps different churches will choose different times, reflecting the schedule of their congregation.  It may be a shock to the Sunday restaurant rush, but they will adapt as well!
  2. Admit that faith does not come one-size fit all—and that is OK!  There are many wonderful churches that do “introductory faith” very well, but what happens when you go beyond?  What happens when a person begins asking difficult faith questions?  Is there a place for them?  To use an educational model, there are some churches that do “college church” very well, but fail to give the introductory classes, to teach the stories, to invite people into the journey.  What if we could team together?  What if ministers were able to bless and send members out to another church where they could continue to grow in faith?  Or are we more concerned with keeping people right where we are?  (Don’t answer that question!)
  3. Allow churches to die, merge, and unite.  On any Sunday morning you will find church parking lots with plenty of real estate.  There are enormous sanctuaries where the pastor could throw a hand grenade into the congregation without fear of harming anyone!  If churches were a business, these congregations would have been merged, consolidated, closed years ago. Yet, because of a devotion to the church where Granny used to worship, these congregations continue to struggle to stay open, using funds more for survival than ministry.  What if we were willing to admit that the life span of our church has reached its end?  What if we were willing to talk with another congregation to see if there are ways that we could combine resources, ministries, and buildings in order to reach our world?  The reduction in overhead might enable an afternoon program, a mission endeavor that hasn’t even been imagined, a sanctuary with people sitting around.  It will be a struggle, but the journey of faith isn’t supposed to be a luxury cruise.
  4. It is time to move from a socialist church to a more capitalistic one.  This means we must move to a Fee for Service budget.  On any morning as I read the obituaries I read that the memorial service will be held in the funeral home chapel.  In Charleston SC I would dare say that most weddings are not held in a church.  So if people aren’t coming to church to be “married or buried,” why do they come?  It is time to recognize that people are willing to pay for what they want/need.  The church can move to that schedule—wedding are this price, funerals this price, hospital visits, pastoral care calls, marriage counseling, theological inquiry… Of course we will build in administrative cost to the budget, just like any other “business.”   But at least we won’t be subsidizing those who aren’t contributing—unless it comes out of the ministry budget that is a part of the administrative costs!
  5. Be entrepreneurial in our missions.  We have individuals in our congregations who have experience beginning/running businesses.  Why not use that to assist others.  We could even run them out of our empty churches until they get up and running.  How about the “Bread of Anxious Toil Bakery” (Psalm 127:2) This model is already being used by organizations such as Kiva, and Acumen Fund.
  6. Move to yearly church membership.  Ask members each year to re-commit, renew their membership.  This would force churches to be clear why membership has its privileges, as well as its responsibilities.  Why should someone “join” your church?
  7. Team with other congregations to reduce our footprint while expanding our ministry.  If we are willing to move beyond 11:00 on Sunday as the only sacred time, could several congregations worship in the same facility?  What about the Friday night church, or the Thursday morning church?  Different congregations, even different staff—but one building.  Shared overhead and more ministry—and isn’t that what we are about?  (Again, maybe we shouldn’t answer that!)

Just a few “ideas,” and granted, some of them may be wacky, and will never see the light of day (and probably shouldn’t!) But then, it is just a start! What ideas might you have?  Add them to the comment section.  It might just be the one that someone somewhere needs!

Besides, it really can’t be anymore crazy than getting rid of the PAT!

This originally appeared this post originally ran on the ABPnews Blog.  

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