Why Church? – Good Question…

Recently, I preached a series of sermons called ‘Love My Church’. I was seeking to develop a very positive mindset toward the church, and why we should engage more deeply with it. That got me asking another set of questions, and those questions have grown into a series of posts…

For those who don’t know God…

I wonder where the church fits in the experience and awareness of the general community. Maybe the question is not one of ‘where’ but ‘whether’… I guess we have all heard the cliched responses that in the mind of the general community the church is irrelevant, or invisible, or worse. Church leaders have asked often their congregations “if our church was to disappear overnight, would we be missed?”. The question my be cliched, but the answer often troubles us, and that may be for good reason.

For those who know God…

You might expect that for those who know God and follow His Son, Jesus, there would be a more ringing endorsement. Here, the feedback varies. Some Christian love their church, and dedicate much time and energy to making their local church a really terrific place.

But how many of us would say that they love their church, and that meeting with other Christians ‘at church’ is the highlight of their week? And if their answer is not resoundingly positive, what are the factors there?

what we think about the church has enormous impact on how healthy it is

Maybe how we talk about church exposes something of the issue:

People ‘go to church’

People ‘get fed with the word at church’

People ‘have fellowship at church’

People ‘are blessed by the ministries, programs and services their church provides’

Pastors ‘work at church, serve their church, and prepare for the services to be held at the church’

My thought is that what we think about the church has enormous impact on how healthy it is, and how well it does what God calls it to do in the community and the world.

The next posts will explore these thoughts a little more.

Love to hear your thoughts…

Ed Surrey’s 26 Thoughts on Youth Ministry

Today at the EQUIP Youth & Children’s Ministry Conference, Ed Surrey shared some of his thoughts on youth and children’s ministry. Well, he works in youth ministry, so it was mainly a youth ministry thing as opposed to a kids ministry thing.

Ed expanded on each one of thoughts, of course, but I’ll record them in their brief form. Ed’s thoughts are good common sense, so I thought I would get them down for you to think about:

1. Respect, redeem and reject – in that order – what parents do

2. Work with and for parents, rather than without and against them

3. Love the church, rather than mock it

4. Have strategic favourites as the best way to love them all

5. Do everything as though the person you really want to be present is there

6. Success without a successor is failure, so plan to leave now

7. Teach the Bible to engage them, rather than engage them to teach the Bible

8. Realise they learn to serve by doing, rather than by merely watching others serve

9. Create missionaries in schools, rather than Christians in bunkers

10. Let them see you personal life, but not your private life

11. Make your camp the best possible holiday of their year

12. The way you lead says something about your faith: abusive behaviour and unhealthy food (Ed called this ‘food poisoning’) is a spiritual issue

13. If you can’t explain what your ministry is about in one sentence, you need to simplify

14. Never cancel a commitment, especially not with a text message

15. Don’t feel you have to dress and act like a teenager

16. Work with the imperfect people you have, rather than the perfect people you don’t have

17. Serve the church, rather than trying to change it

18. Having no leader is better than having a bad leader

19. Get some old people involved with the young people

20. Get an ‘awkward silence’ tambourine (still not entirely sure what this means – what do you think?)

21. Pitch your promotional material at the non Christian friend’s mother, rather than the kid you already have

22. Youth ministry is important, more because it’s ministry than because it’s with youth

23. Once or twice a year imagine what you’d do if you were the only Christians in your area

24. Make it so the kids come or go because of their response to Jesus

25. Think about who they’ll be when they are 25, rather than just 15

26. Be the one place where they don’t get lectured on the evil of drugs

Leave a comment about which one resonates with you most

Why you (still) need the church…

(Apologies that my posts have been a little irregular these last weeks. Leonie and I have visited a few churches, as well as ReCharge – The CRCA pastor’s conference, we have considered a few calls from churches, we’ve decided to accept a call to Gateway CRC, and this last week we’ve out our house on the market, and it appears to have sold. I am hoping that I can now maintain a little more regularity…)

It’s tough being church these days. You have to wonder how even hi-tech and well managed church ‘productions’ compete with easily accessible forms of entertainment. Or why people attend a local community when they can access Driscoll, or Piper, or Ortberg on their smartphone or computer. How can local church ‘Pastor Bob’ compete with all of that? With these choices so readily available, it seems more people are staying away from church, and managing their own spiritual development.

Do we still need the local church?

Ephesians 3:14-20 says we do. If we’re mapping out our own DIY spiritual growth, we are selling ourselves short, as well as dishonouring the community that Jesus gave his life for.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can

Paul prays that we may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. He prays that we might know the full dimensions of Christ’s love. All its texture, every nuance, every subtlety and variation. The surprising thing is that this does not come from the world’s best preachers, or the Christian book of the year, or even the work of the world’s most erudite Christian scholars. Instead, it comes ‘together with all the Lord’s people’. It comes as the Christian community does new life together. That doesn’t mean preaching or scholarship is not required. It just means that when it comes to you growing into the full dimensions of Jesus’ love preaching, scholarship, and books have considerable limitations.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can. Yes. Your church. That failed and fallen group of people, with all of their quirky and irritating aspects. These people are the very means by which God draws you into the full dimensions of his love.

How does that work? Here are a few suggestions:

• Only your church can love you with all of your faults and failings

• Only your church can express the forgiving grace of God when you fail

• Only your church can draw you into reconciliation and bring the grace of a receiving and welcoming God to full expression

• Only your church gives you a context to use your gifts and to serve others. Stay at home Christianity is basically self worship

• Only your church can express the hope of the New Heavens and the New Earth to the people of your neighbourhood

• Only your church can bring healing and restoration to the broken lives and the troubled families that live in your local community

All of this comes as a loving and sovereign God does his work in his people, through the power of his Spirit, to the glory of Jesus. Without him, we can do nothing, but as he works in us, his people express the truth that Jesus is the hope of our world.

Sure, it can be tough, and not church is perfect. But don’t give up n your local church: it’s God’s means, God’s personally selected context to bring you into the full dimensions of his love.

Q: How is God calling you to renew your love for the local church today?

John Piper interviews Rick Warren – a definite ‘must watch’

I have just taken 90 mins to watch this excellent interview between John Piper and Rick Warren. It is definitely worth your time to do the same. Here’s why…

Piper  Warren

You can view the interview here:

My interest was piqued because Warren’s Purpose Driven Life was incredibly influential some years ago, having become one of the biggest selling books of all time (after the Bible). PDL was also a great resource for the development of the small group ministry at Redlands Christian Reformed Church in 2003. That we could have sermons, small group studies, and reading materials all themed together was a terrific way to launch into our small group ministry. We have never looked back.

Beyond any organisational aspects, the subject matter of the Purpose Driven Life was also a great encouragement and stimulation to us. That’s why we could not understand some of the negative criticism levelled at the book. Rick Warren was denounced from some quarters as a mean centred theologian, light on theology, as one who played fast and loose with the text of the Bible, as well as a raft of other criticisms.

So when Rick Warren recently published the interview between John Piper and himself, I thought that was not to be missed. John Piper is of course one of the more popular reformed evangelical voices in the USA. His views are widely received and respected in circles where I serve amongst the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia.

If you’re a person who loves the reformed heritage, I would encourage you to watch the interview in its entirety. As you do, you may just

* Be challenged: that there is good reason to be respectful of Rick Warren’s ‘Purpose Driven Life’ and thankful for the contribution his work has made to Jesus’ Kingdom and glory

* Be surprised: that there is not so much separating Rick Warren and John Piper. Well, that’s how I saw it. You draw your own conclusions

* Be reminded: that we need to be balanced and gracious in the way we deal with what other Christian leaders say and do. Australian Christian leaders are sometimes a little too quick to engage in the tall poppy syndrome. We are not immune to this weakness, friends.

* Be encouraged: Piper and Warren are so gracious to one another and so warm in their interaction. I found myself saying ‘I wish I would interact a little more like that’. They made me desire to honour Jesus more in my work

Q: Leave a comment and let us know what you think about this interview

The Audacity of Grace

Read Ezekiel 34:11-16

I am struck by the contrast between the abusive shepherds of Israel and the Lord, who is the good shepherd. A context of the shepherd’s self interest and abuse we are drawn to the breathtaking faithfulness of the Sovereign Lord. He knows all, and decides to do all to change this ugly pastoral picture into a one of peace, tranquility, protection and blessing.

More amazing is that God does this despite the terrible situation before him. He could have sold the farm, written off the loss, and done one huge cull. His lavish grace draws him to do something else: he took on the shepherds job himself and got to work changing the situation.

What he promises here: to search to restore, to care for, to rescue, to bring to pasture, he has done in Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10), and Jesus continues this work through his church (Matt 28:16-20; John 21:15-19).

When people fail, God will find other ways to bring his purposes to fulfilment

God takes our failing and rebellion upon himself. God steps in and brings restoration and hope to our brokenness. This is the audacity of grace. And we have to learn from his undying commitment to his own saving purpose. When people fail, God will find other ways to bring his purposes to fulfilment. Jesus’ death and rising is all the proof we need.

Q: What do these verses say about your own style of leadership, or about the challenges faced by your own church?

A New Experience in Bible Study

On Monday Feb 7 2011, at Redlands CRC we will start a new chapter in listening to and sharing God’s Word. Here’s what we’re doing:

Clinton and I will be starting a new preaching series Acts: An Outward Movement. We will be working our way through the book of Acts (Chapters 1-19). As we move through, we’ll examine how Jesus powerfully worked through his church in the New Testament, and how they engaged in His mission.

Each week, in the lead up to Sunday sermons, users will be able to journey through the book of Acts with some daily readings. We’ll be publishing these readings every day at RCRC Interactive. At this new blog, you’ll find the readings added every day, a few questions for each reading, and you’ll be able to interact with the questions and other users (via blog comments).

Then on Sundays, we’ll have sermons in the AM and PM that will unfold teaching from the book. If you’re part of RCRC, we would encourage attendance at both AM & PM services so you can follow the complete series. That’s not always going to be possible, we know, so all the sermons will be available for download from RCRC’s website. You can also grab the podcast through iTunes: just search for Redlands CRC.

In the week that follows the Sunday messages, we’ll be providing small group study guides for group work and personal study. You will also find these at RCRC Interactive, and yes, you’ll be able to put your thoughts onto the blog.

Our plan in all this is that we all deepen our understanding of God’s call into his mission. More than that: we want to be drawn into action and witness. Our prayer is that we’ll be better equipped to live His message, and that all glory and honour will be His.

What to do now: it would be great if you could visit RCRC Interactive, and let us know what you’re thinking and how you’re being challenged.

We’re particularly excited that potentially people all around the world can join us in this journey. What a wonderful expression of the unity of the Spirit and the church universal!

Please leave a comment and tell us what you think about all this!

Grace and peace

Dave

How to tell people about Jesus (they are probably more interested than you think)

Before we get to the best things to talk about to help people see who Jesus is, I’d like to explore the hesitation many feel about doing that.

It is no secret that many people find it hard to share the good news about Jesus. Here are some of the reasons I hear from time to time…

They imagine people are not interested. Generally speaking however, this is not true. People are quite tolerant, and open to talking about spiritual things. If you’ve already built a bit of a relationship with them, you’ll be able to talk about a lot of things, including your faith. It’s just not true that people don’t want to listen. What they don’t appreciate is an overbearing or judgmental attitude. Come to think of it, God doesn’t want that, either!

They think they need to know all the answers. It’s good to know some key responses to the common questions people ask. There are some great resources here: Understand, though, that most of the time you will not be able to explain everything. This is OK. Sometimes we just have to admit that we’re not really sure, and that we’re hoping to understand more sometime in the future. Here’s a few additional suggestions:

Ask them to explore the question with you: work on the answers together. This helps people see that you’re really not interested in cliched answers. It also helps them see that Christians are people who are prepared to apply their mind and their intellect to the troubling questions of life

Remember to take people back to the core issue of Jesus. If, for example, you are dealing with the question of why evil exists in a world governed by a good God, It’s fine to say something like ‘I have also wrestled with the question of the presence of evil in the world. I know Jesus came to break to domination of evil in people’s hearts. His promise is to bring it to right somehow, and sometimes that will involve us being prepared to engage in the fight against evil. But for me the big deal today is that I can trust God to do the right thing by me, and I can trust him to work the right things through me as I seek to follow him.’

A third reason people are hesitant to share about Jesus is because they are uncertain about the level of their own Bible knowledge. Having a good working bible knowledge is a great thing, but it will never be enough, really. There will always be things we don’t fully understand. So, just say so. People are more impressed with someone who says ‘I’m not sure’ than someone who has an answer for everything. People just want to engage at the level of the heart, at what matters to you, and why Jesus still matters to you. Sure, sometimes you will get to talk with a person who knows a bit about the Bible, and they may have some questions, but from my experience, these instances are pretty rare. Discussions that turn into arguments about Bible texts are rarely productive.

People are more impressed with someone who says ‘I’m not sure’ than someone who has an answer for everything.

Remember: you have the good news! You know who Jesus is! You have a hope that does not disappoint! That is an incredibly positive standpoint, and even though you think your life might be pretty ordinary, when you start talking about why Jesus makes a difference to you, most people will be interested enough to listen. More about this in my next post.

Q: what is your biggest fear or uncertainty about telling people the good news of Jesus? Or, what have you found helpful in addressing your hesitation?

Feel free to leave your answer as a comment…o

Grace and peace: Dave

Ministry to the unknown

A few years ago we visited Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. A lot of things impressed me. I remember the army of 60 volunteers who gave a few hours of their time every week to assemble thousands of newsletters for the next day. I was impressed with Saddleback’s commitment to see their vision, mission and values applied right across the board. I know some people find some of Rick Warren’s canned and contrived, but their alignment to their vision has really worked to make this huge church an effective community of mission and ministry.

One memory is particularly inspirational. As we walked from the car park to the worship centre we were met by one person after another whose ministry was to make us feel welcome. It was as if their passion was to minister to the unknown. We were unknown to them, but they greeted us like family. Like we were old friends. I remember one particular greeter, a young girl of about 11 or 12 years old. Newsletters in one hand, the other outstretched in a gesture of welcome, smiling warmly toward us, “so nice that you’re here today, welcome to Saddleback!” It was beautiful. I thought I might have seen something of heaven in that moment.

People who welcome others to worship or other gatherings of Jesus’ community have such a critical role. Theirs is a ministry of first impressions. This is always important. But the stakes are way higher when people who might be far from God are entering a place of worship for the first time.

So the people in these roles should be the warmest and most relational people available. People who delight to minister to the unknown, and who will love people they do not know. Not only will these people give others a powerful reason to return and a positive first experience, they will also be revealing the character of a seeking God to those who may be seeking him.

Q: how can you draw those involved in greeting ministry at your church into a more Christlike expression of ‘ministry to the unknown’?

Grace and peace: Dave

Location:Sturgeon St,Ormiston,Australia

A good mentor is rich, dark soil

Tonight I sat in a room with ten very special people. They have volunteered as mentors. The want to help others navigate the journey of life as a follower of Jesus.

I never really had a mentor in my earlier years. There was the occasional teacher who stood out as someone who I could connect with. A scout leader. A church pastor. I also had a mentor for six months in my first congregation as a pastor. Apart from these incidental engagements, mentoring was not really on my radar.

From where I sit now, I think that’s a pity. I would have loved to have one of these ten people to lead me through the hills and dales and around the corners of what life lay before me. We could have talked about relationships, adjusting to pastoral work, doubts, disappointments, celebrations. While on the whole I think I did OK, a mentor would have helped me do better.

So these ten people represent an incredible opportunity for growth, encouragement and development in the lives of others. A good mentor is rich dark soil, life giving, fruit producing.

Ten mentors. In time, those mentored may go on to mentor others. And I find myself thinking about the capacity of great mentoring to change the ethos of church community, as well as add value to people’s lives.

Q: who were the people God used to impact your life and lead you to growth? Do you think this growth could have come some other way?

Funerals: celebrating life

I have seen a lot of coffins, but I had never seen a coffin decorated with piano keys and music notes. Handles for the pall bearers were chrome cylinders attached with piano strings. I liked it. A lot. It was a tasteful expression of Eric’s love for music. While no professional musician, guests spoke of how he listened to, and drank in, and played music on a daily basis.

Before the casket was lowered, instead of throwing in soil, or laying a flower on the casket, people chose a piece of chocolate from a bowl, and placed it on top. I very deliberately placed by piece on B-flat. I don’t know that Eric was so into blues, but it suited my mood on the day.

Later, at the service of celebration, there was a tasteful mix of grief and laughter. Some of Eric’s children spoke, some performed musical pieces, his pastors spoke, guests spoke (more about that tomorrow), and once again, profound hope was expressed in music and song.

I have also seen funeral celebrations turn into a form of crass denial. Where it’s all made out to be a party, where banal humour and christo-pagan superstition permeates proceedings. “Yeah, I bet Bob’s up there now, beer in hand, looking at us all down here, wondering what all the fuss is about and when we’re all gonna get back to work…”

We can all do without that. And really, funerals do more harm than good when they trivialise life like that.

At Eric’s funeral we wrestled with life and its wending course. Together we sought to make sense of Jesus’ claim to be resurrection and life. We did that through our tears. And we celebrated everything Eric had brought into our lives, the talents he used to serve others, the expertise he brought to his workplace, and his quirky style of humour, we were celebrating the work of an extraordinary God in the life of an ordinary man.

But celebration? Seriously? How can you walk out of a funeral more in the lightness of hope than the heaviness of grief? This is the reality of Jesus’ life in us. His is a promise of hope, of life, that cannot be extinguished by death. This is what we have in the good news. When that deep celebration and profound joy resonates, even from a grieving community of followers, resurrection joy is palpable.

This is what we should celebrate at a funeral. How we have seen God’s life come to expression in this person. How we have seen beauty. How we have sensed a pursuit of justice and right. How they showed us a healthy spirituality. How we have learned about relationship, how others have been valued, honoured, and served.

Memories like anchor our affirmation in God’s work of grace in the life of another. We’re reminded that the Gospel is not just a religious idea or a doctrine to be intellectually accepted. It is an invigorating, transforming reality. When these transformational realities take root n a person’s life, they anticipate the new world Jesus will bring: God has already started his work of transformation in his people. Proof positive that Jesus is renewing minds, attitudes and values, and through them bringing change to his world. One life at a time.

Shalom,

Dave