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In life and in ministry, I need to be reminded that what I have related to as “initial success” is different than “impact.”
April 11, 2014 0 0 comments
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This survey focused on United Methodist clergy, but I would guess that it's conclusions are broadly applicable to clergy from many denominations. "Answering God's call shouldn't be bad for your health. But for about half of all ordained United Methodist clergy, it is."
April 2, 2014 0 0 comments
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I have been given a Sabbatical by my Council and congregation and as part of it I am enrolled in a three credit course through Tyndale Seminary in Toronto on the "Spirituality of Henri Nouwen. The course is taught by Dr. Wil Hernandez who has written a three volume analysis of Nouwen's "...

March 25, 2014 0 1 comments
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If there’s one disadvantage to knowing Bible stories, it’s that they don’t always surprise us anymore. Take the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. That Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white and that Moses and Elijah show up...
March 21, 2014 0 0 comments
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Some years ago I attended a session of one congregation’s long-term visioning project. When the gathering was discussing hopes for the church’s future worship and preaching, one 40 year-old mom spoke for her small team and said, “We really think that we should have more preaching on contemporary topics—something other than the Lectionary..."
February 11, 2014 1 8 comments
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If you could spend eight to ten million dollars a year of someone else’s money to touch the lives of several hundred thousand hurting individuals with the love of Christ, how would you do it and what might the results be? Putting chaplains in locations where hurting people are congregated might be a choice worth considering...
February 11, 2014 0 0 comments
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February marks the 25th anniversary of when I started to follow Jesus Christ. Though I was raised in a Christian home and my parents afforded me the opportunity to attend Christian schools, I had deliberately walked away from God. I remember being angry with God about a number of things and saying rather defiantly at one point “I don’t need you...
February 4, 2014 0 2 comments
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One of my pastoral priorities for this quarter is preaching. Accordingly, I’m reading Cornelius Plantinga Jr.’s, Reading for Preaching (Eerdmans, 2013). I appreciate the guidance that Rev. Plantinga gives in his book. His message that reading is important to the preacher comes through loud and clear. Good reading makes you wiser, and improves your...
February 4, 2014 0 0 comments
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Funerals, like weddings, are family matters. So says, the church order. But it is never so simple. Families are part of communities. We come together, usually in church, to remember a person and comfort each other in the light of the good news of Christ... 
January 28, 2014 0 2 comments
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We hear a great deal about our Biblical mandate to get the gospel out to the lost. I don’t want to minimize that in any way. But the fact of the matter is the early church set the precedent for us by reaching out with a mandate to encourage as they spread the gospel of grace. With many Christians beyond our denominational walls so totally overwhelmed and discouraged...
January 28, 2014 0 5 comments
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Why do you shop where you shop? Many of us choose to shop where we do because of the prices the store offers, or the selection, or the convenience. More rarely, I think, we do business with certain places out of a sense of customer loyalty. I believe this is true about our congregations, too...
January 21, 2014 0 5 comments
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We've witnessed an overabundance of resources for worship renewal during the last three or more decades. These resources have addressed a variety issues, including the role of music in worship, the formation of spiritually transformative liturgies, etc. In contrast, little attention has been given to the role of the sermon. According to a recent survey, the sermon...
January 7, 2014 0 9 comments
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Try reading Chaucer, or Dante, or Shakespeare or other dead poets. Even reading CS Lewis’ work from the mid 20th century can sometimes give you an appreciation for the short shelf-life of much of what we read. Then consider how much more vastly foreign the Bible is to all of its contemporary readers...
January 2, 2014 0 1 comments
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I spent a couple of days in Phoenix visiting Mom. This past year we agreed that she shouldn’t drive anymore. She has people willing to drive her to church or to the store or run her by the bank, but it has been a difficult adjustment. She had been getting lost and confused and had difficulty seeing. It was traumatic for her, but she handed us the keys...
December 24, 2013 0 9 comments
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I’ve know a lot of pastors. I’ve seen them happy and sad, fresh and broken. I’ve seen a good number of them towards the end of their ministries quietly happy to be done with leading churches and caring for people. I remember one pastor telling me how he made sure he son didn’t go into the ministry. He didn’t want him making THAT mistake. I was glad I wasn’t his son...
December 23, 2013 0 7 comments
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We recently conducted an Alpha course as part of the Alberta 2013 Alpha movement.  Although Alpha has been around for years, I had never taken nor led a course.  It was all new for me.  I’d heard many positive testimonies about Alpha but wondered since it had been around so long—would it still work?...  
December 17, 2013 0 7 comments
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When I long for a nice quiet Christmas like so many of those seen only on Christmas cards, I take a deep breath and remember that Christmas has never been nice and quiet--never! The gloria sung in the highest that first Christmas was sung over the din of the uproar coming from an over-crowded Bethlehem...
December 10, 2013 0 0 comments
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I have been making my way through Pope Francis’ exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. This document is a call for Christians everywhere to reengage the biblical call of evangelization. While I recognize there is some controversy already about the document, his starting place, calling for personal renewal and a recommitment to being an evangelizing people, is quite encouraging...
December 10, 2013 0 11 comments
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For two decades ever more frequent scandals involving clergy have surfaced in many communions. Many of those crimes were covered up by bishops or other denominational judicatories. Small wonder that surveys that measure trust in people in public positions of authority have ranked clergy as low or lower than politicians...
December 9, 2013 0 13 comments
Q&A

Please tell me why clergy should get some kind of special entitlement for housing? I think it is one of the most ridiculous perks ever devised by the legislature. There is absolutely no reason why clergy should get this. And I am one.

December 5, 2013 0 5 comments
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I know some of you haven't taken Greek, and that it's been a while for some of the rest of us, but as I was preparing for a sermon series in the New Year regarding reconciliation, I got to thinking about Greek imperatives. Maybe some of you experts out there can help me. Can you tell us anything about the relative strength of an imperative in Greek?
December 5, 2013 0 7 comments
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A church recently expressed interest in having me lead preach and perhaps some other duties for a period of 3-5 mos.  What the going rate?

December 3, 2013 0 1 comments

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This sounds like an interesting course! I'll be interested in reading what you share. 

In response to Larry: I don't think rehearsing and remembering the story or the cross is exactly a way to live in the thrall of the devil or to do an end-run on the victory of Easter.  What do we do each time we come to the Lord's Table but remember: "This is my body . . . my blood."   We do remember the cross--we never put it behind us.  It is the locus of our salvation that leads us with gratitude to Easter and beyond.   And anyway, I don't think the rhythms of the Christian Year per se keep us down or away from Easter.   In fact, if you want to see something that really whallops one with a sense of sin and penitence, few things do this as well as the very serious Preparatory Form for the Lord's Supper that the CRCNA traditionally used the week before the sacrament.   Just sayin' . . .

posted in: Mardi Gras

I wonder how often Jesus and his disciples shared laughs together. I wonder whether Jesus' sense of humor was more slapstick, or droll, or punny, or ??? I wonder whether they teased each other. If they did, I expect Peter gave and took more of it than anyone: "Hey, Peter, think you can walk all way way across this puddle without sinking?" 

Yes Scott I can identify.  I grew up in the CRC of the 1950's and 60's in Leota MN.  I never heard about the liturgical year until way after Seminary. I had a hard time accepting it mainly becasue I did not think it proper to relive the history of redemption in our personal lives.  "It is finished" seemed to me to mean enough with the sin problem.  The cross is behind us.  I still have trouble with this business of repeating the story of redemption to be honest.  Why can we not live in the power of the resurrection every Sunday and every day?  Is this not a waste of time? A tyrranical hold of the evil one to keep us in the defeat of our sin rather than in the once for all victory of our Lord?  Is this not pretending that we live in Romans 7 and have not yet moved on to Romans 8?  I do not think our Pentecostal brothers and sisters practice this, I doubt whether more conservative Reformation churches do such as the Protestant Reformed, URC, or even PCA? Also Advent has been turned into a  mini-lenten season.  Sometimes I long for the good ole Leota days when we liturically sinned with a passion.

posted in: Mardi Gras

Hello Scott,

Thank you for this article.  I also grew up in a non-liturgical ("free") church tradition, which I appreciate.  But in recent years, I've been wanting more--more beauty, more ritual, more depth.  And like you, I'm finding it in the pattern and practices of the Christian year.  The ongoing challenge I have is how to engage my people in these practices.  I'm doing it slowly, trusting that, as James K. A. Smith teaches, they will form us all into more devoted students of Christ.

Have a blessed Lenten journey!

--Leon

posted in: Mardi Gras

If we truly believe that Jesus lives in us by his Holy Spirit, we don't need such annual, ritual reminders of Calvary's cross derived from Roman Catholicism. If we need such a reminder, no amount of organized Lenten activities will make a difference.

Thank you for your summary of this book. Some CRC pastors are implementing the seven dynamics of being led by Holy Spirit. They are also facilitating the training.

There is a one day overview, of the 4 day workshop, in Guelph on March 22/14. I am asking a number of people from our church to attend. As one pastor said, "this must be a grassroots initiative and the leadership must be fully invested".

John A. Algera, in his book, "Signs & Wonders - page 97", states, "In reformed circles, an underemphasis on the work and power of Holy Spirit has tradionally existed, along with a fear of any manifestationof Holy Spirit that cannot be controlled or predicted".
As if we could control God.

Thanks for reminding me to work on the book I am writing regarding my mom and dad's story.

Finding acceptance in a local body can lead a person to Christ.  It may take a while, but everyone desires acceptance and what better place than a body of believers who truly love God.  Some people have never felt accepted whether inside or outside the church.  So, therefore, they have trouble feeling accepted anywhere.  Those that we don't like, love them anyway.  Those who are quiet and shy, shake their hand and say "Hi" everytime the church doors are open and you see them in the grocery store, etc, even if we think they are wierd.  This is where Godly discernment is needed.  Love is the greatest gift. 

Jim, how good to hear from you again.  I remember when we often talked before or after worship in our University days before I used the commoon lectionary in preaching. This is what I learned since then.

In 1983, 26 years after ordination, I was allowed a six-month sabbatical for study and writing.  Three months were spent at Princeton Seminaray.  For the final 15 years of my ministry I preached from the lectionary in the morning service and mostly taught from the Confessions in the evening.

I experienced freedom and discipline in a new way.  Each week I started with the four texts given by the ecumenical church instead of my choices of the "right texts."  That plunged me into the discipline of preparing to preach from less than familiar texts than I would have chosen.  I also learned the discipline of taking "contemporary situations" or congregational tragedies and setting them in the context of the text(s) for the day to listen for the Word.  And, knowing my own limitations and the "light" that a given text yields.  I also learned when and how to "punt," meaning, when to depart from the lectionary as a servant for the day.

I also enjoyed hearing a parishioner who, having missed worship in our church on a Sunday, report that "We heard a sermon in Georgia on Sunday from your lectionary text."

Thanks, Jim.  How abouat lunch on High Street Again?

Roger

There are benefits to lectionary preaching.  However, I find lectionary preaching insufficient if we truly want to preach the whole Bible to all of God's People.  The lectionary leaves out significant and important chunks of Scripture (notice how few passages there are from Revelation) and its pericope divisions don't always make sense.  Furthermore, follwing the church seasons/calendar makes much more sense in a rural setting than in most urban settings.  For a banker or a single mom there isn't much difference between December 18, March 18 or October 18.  The rhythms of the lectionary are beautiful for people who relate to them, but it was written for a different time and place.

Since we must preach a text in its context, following the lectionary is additionally hard because it necessitates significantly more background study week after week. 

My practice that has worked very well is to follow John Stott's pattern in "Between Two Worlds."  Preach through a book of the Bible.  Alternate between an Old Testament book and a New Testament Book.  Then on the last Sunday of each month take a break and preach from God's word about a contemporary issue.  It's amazing how many life issues are addressed in the pages of scripture when we simply let the Bible speak to us as it was written.

Duane, I fully agree with you that most parishioners don't believe their pastors understand their concerns.  That doesn't mean however, the author of scripture doesn't understand their concerns.  Our challenging task is to understand the text in its context and help our audiences grasp that while we as preachers may not understand - God understands.  I love the illustration from Haddon Robinson who related the following story.  His son was just ordained as a pastor.  He said to his son.  "What does a young guy like you have to say to an old guy like me that I don't already know."  His son responded, "Nothing dad.  I don't have anything to say to you - but Scripture does, that's why I preach from the Text."  AMEN!

Yes, I see.   The data you cite is heart breaking.  It make a giant leap in my mind to the question of why the increasing numbers of article 17s....   could it be that the loving relationship between pastor and flock gets weakened by preaching that seems disconnected, and then flaws take center stage and resentment follows.... 

It certainly can.  I just think we overestimate how much our preaching connects with people's lives. I thought it was interesting that the post begins with her cry of the heart and then all of a sudden we're talking about lectionary instead of what she might have to teach us about preaching that engages (or doesn't engage) people where they are.  I have no strong opinions about lectionary.  I have very strong opinions that we need to listen to that 40 year old mom a lot more.  I can't put my finger on the data right now, but there has been plenty of survey data over the years to support the assertion that most people do not believe their preacher really understands their life.  That's my concern.  

 

DK, I want to think that competent preaching using the lectionaries would in fact speak to the 40 year old mom's heart.  Would you agree?

 

I'd rather talk about the 40 year old mom's cry of the heart.  

 

Good points all, Jim and Todd.  Thanks for a thoughtful discussion!

Jim,

I appreciate the post.  While I have not followed the lectionary through an entire liturgical year, I have found it particularly helpful during the seasons of Advent and Lent.  The collection of texts:  OT, Psalm, Gospel, and Epistle follows the moves weaves together the texts that lead us from God's promise to the Incarnation, from ministry in Galillee to the empty tomb on Resurrection Sunday.  

What I have particularly appreciated about the lectionary is that it is a faithful guide to lead preacher and congregation through the major themes of God's salvation plan.

I point the finger at myself as I share that the lectionary also keeps me from what I perceive to be the tempation of putting together the gimmick sermon series all done with the intent of keeping things "fresh."  As one parishoner shared with me during this past Christmas season, "Sometimes we forget, but it is is the 'old, old story' that we need to hear.  Everything else is tinsel and ornaments.  It's nice for a while, but after a few weeks, we put it back in a box and forget about it for another year."

While I am glad that I am not bound to the lectionary as some other religious traditions might be, I am thankful that I have the lectionary as a resource to enrich my preaching.

I do not know where to start.  Most of what you say is beyond dispute. Thanks for such a well thought out response. However I do not know who are what you are speaking of when you refer to the "gospel according to today's evangelism."  Is this a reference to ministers in the CRC, perhaps a specific group of CRC pastors?  I do know that the greek (euangelizo) from which we get the word evangelism is used nearly synomously with the greek word for preach (parakaleo)  I know that the angel  "evangelized" the shepherds (Luke 2:10), that Jesus proclaimed the evangel ( Mk1: 15) and Paul was not ashamed of the evangel and was eager to evangelize (preach) to the people in Rome.  This leads me to think that we could call all our preachers evangelists and that our task is to evangelize the world.  I have a very high regard for evangelism as well as preaching because they are one and the same.  But the audiences change.  Not the gospel.  Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23.  It seems then that the preacher must adapt his message for the benefit of his audience so that "by all means we/I might save some."

Thanks

Larry 

Let me rephrase the question.  If evangelism is the essence and/or the primary function of the church, why did Paul not appoint evangelism committees instead of consistories?  Evangelism as popularly understood deals with only opening the door to Christ.  To make that the primary task of the church is like saying that the primary task of marriage is conceiving children.  The actual conception, the joining of sperm and egg takes only a very few seconds: then follows 9 months of gestation and 20 years of parenting.  Apparently the primary task of the church is door keeping. 

As far as the gospels and Acts being filled with evangelism, that fact is that the great majority of the preaching of Jesus was to the Old Testament Church, to both the faithful and the fallen.   The same is true in the first part of Acts.  Jesus preached in synagogues and Paul, immediately after his conversion began preaching in synagogues.

In the great commission Jesus sent old covenant believers, now new covenant believers into the world to make, not converts, but disciples.  He sent Israel into the world to gather the nations into Israel.  But they were first sent to Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth.  Transitioning from unbelief to faith usually doesn’t take long.  Making disciples takes a lifetime: thus consistories instead of evangelism committees.

There really are not two E’s, one for joining Christ and the other for living in him.  There is the common perception that the “gospel” is for the unchurched and a different message is for the church.  This suggests that there is one gospel for being joined to Christ and another gospel for remaining in Christ: one gospel for baptism and a second gospel for the Lord’s Supper.

 Paul knew only one “evangel”, one gospel.  His primary task was not converting people and changing their lives, but rather preaching Christ.  “We preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord. “  Paul’s commission was to “bear the name of Christ to the nations.  Whether he was in the synagogue, the town square or the newly formed churches – he had only one message – Christ.  I am determined to know nothing amongst you except (the bodily risen) Christ and him crucified.  The one GOSPEL is God’s power to give the gift of faith and to maintain the life of faith.   Note also that Paul spent a great deal of is time and energy building up the churches.

Furthermore, the “gospel” of today’s evangelism is not gospel at all.  The witnessing today takes basically two forms.  The first is “God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and the second is “I want to tell the world that I am a Christian”.  The first concentrates on the person needing change and the second on the person trying to effect change.

The first is not biblically accurate – think of those drowned in the flood or the Red Sea.  The risen Lord’s plan for Paul was to experience a great deal of suffering and Paul later says that all who would life godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution ( II Tim 3:12).  How many apostles were martyred?   The second is essentially talking about yourself and your marvelous spiritual experiences: in doing so the believer replaces Christ with himself.  This is forbidden by the first and second commandments.

Furthermore, these are exactly the two methods used in modern advertising.  Buy our product and your life will be changed.   Drink our beer or use our cosmetics and you will enjoy the good life.  The second is the personal testimony – I have used this product and it has changed my life – and it could change yours also.

Our life of faith cannot even begin to approach the sinless perfection and flawless faith and obedience of the Lord Jesus.  The gospel is always about the risen Christ once crucified and his personal redemptive experiences.  His life of faith and obedience has reconciled us to the Father and continues to sustain and nurture us.  This is the heart of the one gospel.  Paul had one passion – I want to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.  He had one goal in life – make this Christ known.  The apostles didn’t talk much about themselves – they had a great deal to say about Christ and for good reason.

To split the church’s task into two, I would suggest, seriously distorts the biblical message.  We need to return to the singularity of the biblical gospel and learn to share Paul’s passion for Christ.

Every January our church takes a break from regular adult Sunday school classes and we meet all together and hear people share testimonies. Two or three people are selected to share each week - they know ahead of time so can prepare. Some share how they first came to faith, some share a more recent experience of how God has met them in various life circumstances. The stories have been inspirational over the years and I look forward to every January to see how God is working among us. An added benefit is connecting with people that I might not otherwise, and getting to know them, even a little bit, on a different level. I had the privilege of sharing a few years ago - my story of meeting Christ at a Young Life camp when I was in high school and having the trajectory of my life completely changed. A few weeks ago my husband shared his very different story of growing up in a Christian home, going to church, and to Christian schools - and yet something in his mid-50s led him to seek a renewed relationship with the Lord. It was a beautiful testimony. And my husband was affirmed as people came up afterward to talk with him about how they could relate to his story and benefitted from hearing it. God is glorfied as we share how He meets us, even and maybe especially in our own failure and weakness. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable, to be honest, and to take a risk. And I believe the Lord will honor that.

These lines of Jim Dekker are no longer recent but they are still very relavent.

I understand, I (we) have been there.

Jim's article will have been read and re-read.  Forcussing for the moment on congregational response to sorrow in the parsonage, a few things come to mind. The ministry is demanding emotionally and spiritually, so pastoral care to the  pastor-couple is very important. Hopefully congregations have a pastoral alertness, so that there is a spontaneous ongoing sharing of consolation and comfort. One never "gets over" sorrow.

But the elders should also  provide regular care for  to their shepherd. All grieving people find it disconcerting when, after some time, no mention is made any more of their grief-burden.

But, as well, because of the pastor's work and position, he/she  should not hesitate to seek professional help.

There will be some readers of 'NETWORK' who will want to share some thoughts on the Pastor practicing 'self-care.'

 

 

 

 

Could it be because the gospels and Acts make it very clear.

Why is it that the greatest missionary the church has known, the apostle Paul, when he writes to the churches  says next to nothing about evangelism?

Good thoughts, George.

I am reminded of Mark Wilson's comment about Paul's first missionary journey--when Paul and Barnabas were in Derbe (Acts 14:20) they were about one decent mountain away from Tarsus, and home. Instead of crosssing that mountain they turned around and visited every church that they had just planted a few weeks earlier. Strictly for the purpose of encouraging them and establishing them. Let us follow in their steps, in whatever way we can.

Great article. Funerals have come a long way. I attended one this past week where they played Frank Sinatra "My Way" along with songs by the Gaithers. In the past, I have been to funerals which hardly mentioned the deceased or their life. As you mentioned, we can show gratitude to God by sharing stories of this person - what better way? Real concrete ways. I hope that when I have entered the heavenly realm, people can see the love of God, the work of God through memories they have of me. I may not have been perfect but Grace is all I needed. May I also add, that I do not like it when people preplan their funeral by saying "no funeral, no gathering etc." Funerals are for the living, for those left behind to grieve , not the deceased.  It is a family matter but that depends on your vision of family - my family includes those related by blood but also those related by the blood of Christ, those related by friendship, love and support. A favourite new quote by Ram Dass - "we are all just here to walking each other home".

Neil, I would like to suggest that a minister of the church does not have to lead the memorial service.  In my own case, my immediate family members have absolutely no connections to the pastor of my church because they live far away.  They know, however, that my faith community is central to my life, and they will honour that. So, I have suggested that certain family members they know can serve as the leader.  No sermon is mandatory, but the presence of Christ and words of comfort can be shared in so many other ways than just during a sermon.  Maybe I am just a rebellious person :-), but I just want to put it out there that there is lots of room for creativity.   Diane Plug

There are some underlying issues here - Of course we would like people to be loyal to their CRC church - but that should certainly not be the only reason they attend! The goal must not be to have a group of people who come to church out of a dutiful sense of loyaly, or because they've always attended that church. The goal is a vital community with the Lord (including the Spirit) and with one another.

If the reason a church leader would contact a non-attending member is to "check up" on them because they are concerned about keeping the church's numbers up; that's a serious problem. People enjoy being genuinely cared for - and even missed. A call to say we missed you on Sunday, showing concern for a person including their spiritual health is apprecicated - I don't see how that's anything like being called into a principle's office - unless of course the only reason the person is attending is out of a sense of loyal duty.

Yes, but . . . not only is it a sign of community and courtesy for people to let the church know they are thinking about leaving, but isn’t it a sign of mutual community when the church “chases down” the missing member sooner rather than later, even if it may not make a difference to their staying? It may leave the door open for their returning.

Also, it’s not only an issue of discipleship but isn't it also a sign of the need to find ways to develop community?  If people feel that they belong they may be less apt to leave.  In this individualistic age, how can we encourage greater “stick to each other” community?

Lived through it.  Have the T-shirt.  It seems to me like there is an absence of the Spirit.  I don't know how else to explain why it is that the local congregation most often acts like a service organization and the congregants act like consumers. 

Thanks for your comments, Ray. You also bring up something very interesting. In the days when the interstate highway system was being made in the U.S., there was a concerted effort by various business and government interests, not to mention pressure from consumers, to expand the availability of automobiles, accessible highway infrastructure, and homes that lined up with the proverbial "American dream". That pressure lead to the ballooning of our suburbs, and to far greater individual mobility. 

One could argue (see the fantastic book, "Sidewalks in the Kingdom") that this movement lead pretty directly to "big box" stores, shopping malls with acres of parking lots and, arguably, the whole concept of "church shopping". If none of us owns a vehicle, then we are limited to being able to go to only the churches we can walk to.

Add in to that the increased notoriety of "superstar" preachers through increased access to television, and the ubiquity of advertising that lauded the individuals right to choose, and it's sometimes a wonder to me that anyone is loyal to a local congregation.

your questions about how we can minister to people who are in this mode of thinking/living is an excellent one. As near as I can tell, a huge part if a potential solution is discipleship--intentially apprenticing people in the ways of the gospels and not the world. That being said, I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on this. These are big questions for Christ-followers in North America. 

You make very good points that the church is not just a service organization, and I totally agree, BUT too many in the church treat it like it is a service club. How does the church minister to people witth that mind set? Far too many in the North American church are content to sit in the pew, listen to a great worship band, hear an engaging sermon, have a nice visit with their frinds after church, then act the rest of the week like nothing happened at church. If the band isn't good enough or the pastor is boring, then they look for a church that has those things. I live in a small town with just one CRC, so we can't church hop when ever we want. That is a good thing I believe, because it forces us to work together with all generations, we do not always get what we want, but the strength of our church becomes our community. 

 

Thanks, Ken, for the reference to Piper.  Good stuff.

 

Having read (and appreciated) this article, I just ran accross this today...
http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/the-centerpiece-of-sunday-worship
This supports what you have found about the centrality of preaching God's Word.

You are right on.  Thanks for the qualifier.

Thank you Sam for reminding us once again of the importance of the preaching of the Word and why it is and always will be considered one of the 3 marks of the true church.

I would suggest that the survey only gives an indication of what the worship leaders, pastors or other leaders, consider to be important, not what the person in the pew thinks is important or relevant with the result that there may be a great disconnect between what the pastor/leader thinks is important and what he/she preaches on and what the congregation thinks is important.   I suspect this gulf is often greater than the ordained leadership especially suspect.  Please note though I also suspect that in many instances the preacher is correct and and praching what the congregation needs to hear to live the Christian Life.

Ed, thanks for weighing in on the connection between the sermon and church growth. Seems to me that, through casual observation, we see a connection between the quality of preaching and church growth - in some but not all contexts. Yet, I don't think my survey, as constructed, makes that a necessary connection (as in A + B = C). We simply asked the leader of the worship ministry of each church about the focal point of the service, a question which probes the design of the Sunday service. Still, I agree with the connection you make to sermon preparation. Surely, if the sermon is the focal point, preachers best bring their best. And, if God so allows, the fruit of such efforts may be the spiritual and perhaps numeric growth of the congregation.

If 86% consider the sermon as the central part of Sunday worship, it would seem that the decision on joining a church, or even attending on a given Sunday is a function of the characteristics of the sermon, and by inference, of the efforts of pastor in preparing and delivering that sermon. If true, that would lay the responsibility for church growth largely on the shoulders of the pastor. Is that another one of the take aways of this study?

Thanks, Paul.  A few years ago I came to so appreciate Scipture's teaching that it is "God-breathed", tying it so strongly to the Holy Spirit/breath.  My life is resusitated when I open the living, breathing Word, if I am open to receive it in the intimacy of God's love.

John, thanks for the feedback. I hope the blog did not come off as prescriptive (suggesting the need for change). It was only meant to be descriptive of the worship life of eighty Protestant congregations in Northern Illinois. 

As for the sample, in a short blog it is difficult to offer all the details of the survey. I wish I could  have included the names of the congregations which participated in the survey. It was a very diverse group, reflecting the diversity of the student body at Northern Seminary. The sample included a large number of non-denominational congregations and representatives from many denominations.

Of course, the diversity of the sample is both a strength and weakness. It would have been beneficial to survey eighty congregations of one denomination or one theological tradition. But it was equaly beneficial to see the similarities between congregations of different theological traditions, cultures, races, econmics, worship styles, sizes, and neighborhoods. And one similarity was the centrality of the sermon.

In order to be able to generalize from data collected, there must be some assurance that the sample from which the data is drawn is representative of the population being studied.  From the description of the sruvey, it sounds like this is not the case.  While the article raises interesting questions for discussion, I would not want to draw conclusions or suggest changing worship based on these data. 

Thanks for that great story about your mom. Those human connections are the important things in life. May the Lord bless your mom in her adjustment.

Hello,

I found that the Lord used Alpha to do at least three things in our church and community: (1) train leaders; (2) focus on Jesus; and (3) help us to receive and proclaim the gospel.

So, although Alpha is an effective evangelistic tool, happily it does even more than that.  Accordingly, it is a helpful tool on many levels.

I would encourage you to serve in an Alpha Course, if possible, and experience it for yourself.

Peace of Christ!

Leon H. Johnston

posted in: Alpha Still Works!

Thanks for the comments. In pondering both the online and offline feedback I wrote this. Hope its helpful. pvk

posted in: God's Own Fool

Thanks for this article, Paul.

Sounds to me like previous responders may be on the older side of life.  I'm on the younger or middle side at age 41, but resonate very much with the article and the responders' comments.  I wonder whether Evert is on to something - I'm less the visionary type and get plenty of bruises and, on the whole, feel optimistic about God's church and about being a pastor in it.  I'm about to start preaching on the Sermon on the Mount and the article and responses remind me of Jesus' opening blessings.

Peace,

Dave Vroege

Halifax, NS

posted in: God's Own Fool

"I fully agree with your assessment: /He works/, and happily /He/ uses Alpha
as an effective tool."

Agree! But God uses Alpha for exactly what? To regenerate people? To convert regenerate people? Or to invite converted people into the Church?

 

posted in: Alpha Still Works!

An excellent book along these lines is Andrew Purves' The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering our Ambitions To the Service of Christ. He makes the point that our ambitions, however noble, may be in the way of what Jesus the true pastor of our church may want us to do.

posted in: God's Own Fool

Hello Pat,

Thank you for passing on your testimony re. Alpha. 

I fully agree with your assessment: He works, and happily He uses Alpha as an effective tool. 

Thanks be to God!

And what a blessing to be part of the ministry of making disciples!

I pray the Lord will continue to use bless Alpha to reach people for Christ in your community.

--Leon H. Johnston

posted in: Alpha Still Works!

When my pastor friend retired last June, I asked him about his view of the church. He replied that he loved the body of Christ more dearly than ever, but hated the church more. I got it. I'm only a few years from retirement and have been reflecting on the church, its relevance and so forth. For the last three years I've been a hospital chaplain. So after  34 years in the pulpit, I now sit in the pew.

I've been reflecting on Paul Vanderklay's article and have this observation to share. I think the men and women who went into ministry to shepherd God's people, to be a pastor who cares for the flock and suffers with the people will probably leave ministry feeling quite sanguine about it.  Yes, they'll have their bruises and their brokeness, but as lovers of people, they will be loved in return and will reflect on years of caring with satisfaction.

In contrast, those who entered the ministry to lead the people of God in accomlishing the mission of God, who were vision and goal driven, who like myself wanted to see the world change through the local church will be much more disillusioned and broken. We entered ministry thinking that God's people wanted to see lives and communities transformed and were willing to do it. We beleived that the right combination of team work, expertese and accountability would mobilize the church into the community of God which impacts our societies. We loved and cared for our people, but our priorities lay elsewhere.

We missed a key point: Congregations have two overwhelming core values. They want comfort and control. Shepherds and chaplains of congregations do two things well: they comfort and gladly surrender control. In contrast, pastoral,transformational leaders thrive on planned change, which is uncomfortable. And transformational leaders develop and implement mission/goal activities, which usually means the control of the process is given to leaders and committees/task forces. With a lack of comfortableness and a lack of control, congregations will often punish those pastors who take that away.

Since the 70's we've come through a lot of changes. We've come through the personal renewal process, the churrch growth and church health movements, the worship wars,the  female ordination wars,the evolution vs creation disputes,and are currently in the spiritual formation trend. They've left a lot of people scarred  and injured. Many pastors are hurting and will retire bitter and cynical because they sought to lead into God's mission and were not able to do so. God have mercy on them as they heal and nurture their wounded spirits. And along with Paul Vanderkly I rejoice with those who had the capacity to shepherd their people, to be there with with the hurting having no agendas except to walk with anyone in any situation of life.

posted in: God's Own Fool

Such a conflicted feeling isn't it? Between wanting the best for them,   and . . . . .wanting the best for them,

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