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I think this article addresses something important but then mischarecterizes churches who 'rent" space to sister congregations. Should a church only be in a Landlord-tenant relationship with another church in which the only thing that happens between them is a writing and cashing of a rental check? No, that would not be a good situation and as Christians we are called to more than that. But does that mean that the only other true "Christian" option is to let another congregation "share" the building without anything being given by them? Our church shares our building with an immigrant African congregation. We do not call it a rental situation. We know that our facilities are from God and we are happy to share them with another congregation. We do have a contract with them about usage and about rental fees. But we also worship together at times, have our councils meet together for times of prayer ,and we hold Vacation bible school together. We see them as our brothers and sisters .And they are happy to contribute to keeping the buildings maintained and the utilities on. We share the buildings so we share some of the costs. I think situations like ours are a bit more complex and probably much more common that the article lets on.
Though I can understand Hamstra and Sikkema's point about furthering the kingdom, I feel they have both missed the point on "stewardship" by focusing purely on the monetary aspect of the transaction. Both congregations in the relationship are involved in tilling the fields of the Lord and contributing to the upkeep of his flock. The landlord church may or may not need the rent, nontheless the hope would be that whatever is collected would go to furthering the Kingdom. Secondly, the tenant church may or may not be able to pay rent, nonetheless we are called to give of our gifts to further the the Kingdom. Should the landlord church decide to forgo the rent to further the Kingdom, that is also a gift.
Once again a very useful suggestion. We need to be careful to encourage pastors to do continuing education, while at the same time not be strapped financially to do so. The costs, as you indicate so gently, should not be part of the taxable compensation package. Accountability will encourage both pastor and those in the congregation responsible. Thanks for your good encouragement.
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' . . .
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.
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!
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?
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!
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."
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.
Thanks so much for your responses and sharing how this issue applies within the Canadian context. The web link to CRA guidelines is most helpful. It is nice to see there is some common logic shared by both Canada and USA tax authorities as it pertains to the criteria for classifying paid staff between employees and independent contractors. The US Internal Revenue Service also offers the option to solicit a determination by filing form SS-8. The US government web link to this form is http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fss8.pdf . However, the USA Internal Revenue Service makes no promises for providing a timely determination.
The post has been edited to add US! Thanks for Canadian info. If individuals would like to post blogs pertinent to Canada, let me know!
In Canadian tax law, the same issue exists, and in this case you cannot determine yourself whether you are classified as an employee or self-employed; it is determined by CRA, the Canada Revenue Agency, according to similar rules that the US IRS uses. The Canadian publicationon this is RC4110, available at http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pub/tg/rc4110/.
Thanks for this.
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.
Good job! I'm beginning to understand the church's challenge is more than spiritual.
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.'
Thanks, Jeff, for making us aware of the difference between employees and independent contracts and why it's important. This is good food for thought!
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.
Google's terms of service for non-profits may present interesting problems for Christian services not in thrall to the Zeitgeist:
- My organization does not discriminate on any unlawful basis in either hiring/employment practices or in the administration of programs and services.- My organization does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring/employment practices. In Google's terms of service, the latter requirement was once part of the former. No longer. Google not only doesn't allow organizations to "unlawfully" discriminate based on sexuality (the former requirement), but now can't discriminate in any way whatsoever regarding specifically one's sexuality. It's interesting that this is the sole area where Google is asserting requirements beyond the law. Technically, this certainly seems to allow for hiring homosexuals who are celibate. Indeed, it would require that no policy of preference for heterosexuals is in play. Personally, I suspect that Google would frown on any "celibacy" clause, however. Churches already using Google Apps aggressively might want to consider the implications if Google rescinded licensing for Apps based on any finding they might assert. The worst case scenario would be for churches with liberal account policies, because reverting to a business use of Apps would become prohibitively expensive where there are high user counts. In short, the more dependent a church becomes on this asset, the more catastrophic the consequences if Google phones this in. There's a certain sense of "rope-a-dope" to this. If a denomination maintains that homosexuality is disordered, I have little doubt that activists will one day raise public red flags, such that the Googles of the world will feel pressure to act. And it won't much matter whether they call in their non-profit grants of use, or merely change the terms so that churches exercising integrity will be forced to revert to business use. Personally, I don't think this is a matter of if, but of when.
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-worshipThis 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.
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.
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.