Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sunday Recap: "STOP!"

For the past several weeks we've been talking about how to manage TIME. One of the keys to managing time God's way is a spiritual practice called SABBATH.

Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word that means, "Stop!" Stop working. Stop worrying. Stop running around. Stop trying to prove yourself.  Just stop -- and rest.

I see 4 key aspects of Sabbath that correspond to the letters R-E-S-T: 

R - Rhythm: God has built natural rhythms into the universe. The sun rises, the sun sets. The tide comes in, the tide goes out. The moon orbits the earth, the earth orbits the sun. Summer turns to fall, fall turns to winter,  and so on. One of those rhythms is the rhythm of work and rest. Genesis tells us that God created the world in 6 days and rested on the seventh: "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested ..." (Genesis 2:3). Sabbath is a way to bring our lives back in line with this God-created rhythm.

E- Enjoy: One day a bunch of religious leaders were giving Jesus a hard time because his disciples didn't follow all the rules and regulations concerning the Sabbath. In reply, Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). This is such good news! God gave you the Sabbath to enjoy. Go outside and enjoy God's creation. Spend time with family and friends and enjoy God's gift of fellowship. Watch a funny movie and enjoy God's gift of laughter.

S- Set Apart: Exodus 20 says, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." The word holy means "set apart." Sabbath is time that's set apart to rest, reflect, and renew. I hope that can be Sunday for you, but if not--what day (or even two half-days) could you set apart as a time to STOP the normal routine of life and rest?

T- Trust: When we STOP and rest even though work is piling up around us, it's an act of trust. It's a demonstration of our faith that God can run the universe without us.

OUCH!

Man oh man, have I been hurting.

All this week I've been dealing with the worst back pain I've ever had.  I've had little strains here and there my whole life. But never anything like this.

It started last Tuesday after I went swimming at the YMCA. I try to put in a few laps 2-3 times a week. Nothing fancy, and not very fast--just a low-impact workout using the simplest strokes possible.

I got out of the pool and noticed a little pull in my lower back on the right side. No big deal, I thought. I've felt that many times before. It'll work itself out after a few days.

Then we had the Sweet Potato Drop. Now, I really thought I was picking up those boxes the right way ...


 ... but apparently I wasn't.  I must have used my back a lot more than I thought. Because when I woke up the next morning: LOOK OUT! Sharp, intense pain shot through my lower back. It was all I could do to walk across the room.

The next day was Sunday, and I managed to hobble to church and preach. I don't think most folks noticed that I was preaching through pain, which is how I wanted it, because I didn't want to draw attention away from the worship. Folks who did notice (or who knew because I told them) were very gracious to lay hands on me and pray. I appreciated that a lot.

Monday I went to the doctor and got some meds and some advice. And since then, I've been sitting at home in the one place that my back found comfortable: an antique chair with wooden armrests, a firm bottom and a back that sits up straighter than most contemporary chairs.

Yesterday I finally started moving around a bit. And today I'm doing well enough to not take any of the meds, which has meant my mind is clear enough for me to do some work (including this post).

There's a lesson in here somewhere. Maybe it's about being thankful for health when you have it. It's easy to take it for granted until something like this happens.

Maybe the lesson is about knowing what your limits are. There are some things that some of us should leave to others who are better equipped. None of us can do everything.

Maybe the lesson is about understanding the chronic pain that many people live with all the time. Like I said, my back is better today than it was earlier, and I expect it to improve as the days go by. For too many people in today's world, that's not the case. The pain is always there. My dad has been in that situation. So have many others. This has been an opportunity for me to get a glimpse of what that's like.

Thanks to those of you who prayed. Your prayers are being answered. I've missed a lot of events this week, but I expect to be in church on Sunday. And eventually, I expect to make a full recovery.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

From 40,000 to 2500!

The Sweet Potato Drop was amazing! Folks came from everywhere to box, bag, and basket those potatoes. There was a group from the Veteran's Restoration Quarters. St. Timothy's UMC in Brevard sent a team with pick-up trucks. There were volunteers from Manna food bank. And plenty of individual families, who were made aware of the opportunity by the Society of Saint Andrew.

By 8:15 pm last night, that 40,000-pound pile of sweet potatoes had been reduced to only 2500 pounds! Bill Winter, the Society of Saint Andrew director, actually had to call people and tell them not to come. 

Do you know what that means?

For one thing, it means that there are a lot of hungry people in our area. That's why the pile went so fast. In fact, the Food Research and Action Center recently reported that the Asheville metro area is the THIRD HUNGRIEST IN THE NATION. 

Another thing it means is that we at Covenant have an amazing opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus in meeting one of the most basic human needs. Everybody needs to eat. I believe that the more we at Covenant offer people physical bread, the more opportunities we'll have to offer people the Bread of Life.

In fact, I believe that God is calling us into a powerful, life-changing FOOD MINISTRY. In just a very short time, we've become known as a church that wants to feed the hungry. (See yesterday's post for more info on that.)

There is no reason why anybody in this country should go hungry. Did you know that we Americans THROW AWAY 40% OF OUR FOOD? That amounts to 20 pounds per month for every person in our country. And besides the scandal of wasting one of God's most precious resources, all that rotting food is destroying the environment.

The Society of Saint Andrew is one of several organizations that is working to get at least some of that food to people who need it. I am so, so proud that Covenant's become involved.

Yesterday's potato drop came upon us rather suddenly. We didn't have much chance to publicize it. And yet, look how successful it was. If you missed out, don't worry. We'll be doing another one on Faith in Action Sunday--this time with 100,000 pounds of potatoes!

More pics:



This load went to Higgins Memorial UMC in Burnsville. Note that it was POURING rain when I took this picture!


As of 11:00 Saturday morning, this is all that's left!


Friday, August 24, 2012

40,000 Pounds of Sweet Potatoes

Early this morning, somebody came along in a great big truck and dumped 40,000 pounds of sweet potatoes  on the ground beside our picnic shelter.

What gives?

It's called a "Potato Drop." It's a program of the SOCIETY OF SAINT ANDREW (SOSA). Later this afternoon, volunteers from Covenant, from other local churches, from Manna Food Bank, and from SOSA will come to our property to bag and box those sweet potatoes for distribution to the needy. They'll be working tomorrow as well. Come on over if you'd like to get in on the fun!

SOSA is a Christian organization that rescues commercial produce that would otherwise be thrown away, and gets it into programs that feed the hungry. The potatoes pictured above are perfectly edible, but they're not very pretty. The growers can't sell them, so they donate them to SOSA. SOSA pays for the transportation, and then volunteers do the labor. It's a beautiful system, and it helps a lot of people.

Robin Augram and Dori Jones
Covenant members have also been involved in gleaning corn fields and apple orchards. A couple Saturdays ago Paris Eldridge, Bob Muery, and Angie Parker went to a cornfield and gleaned 50 bushels of corn. Then on Monday of this week, Robin Augram and Dori Jones participated in a SOSA GLEANING AT BILTMORE ESTATE.

All of this has come out of the Covenant Community Garden, which has been distributing more and more food to needy persons both inside and outside the Covenant family. People from other gardens have actually been contacting US to help them distribute their food!

If you can't make it this afternoon or tomorrow, don't worry. SOSA has already lined up plenty of volunteers from other organizations. AND, you'll have another opportunity to participate in a Potato Drop at Covenant on FAITH IN ACTION SUNDAY!

In the meantime, check out these pictures ...

Angie Parker
Griffen Parker
Paris Eldridge, who started the Covenant Community Garden, which led to our involvement in SOSA
Yes, that is a sweet potato!

I wish I had remembered that those sweet potatoes were muddy before I sat down in my nice white shirt!

Sunday Recap: Taking Time to Make Time

We've all been there. Busyness. Pressure. Too much to do. Not enough time.

But what if I told you that there's a way to make more time?

If you want an example of somebody who had too much to do and too little time, think of Jesus:
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The hole town gathered at the door ...   (Mark 1:32-33)
Picture the scene: Hundreds of people with urgent, pleading looks on their faces--and wanting something from Jesus. "Master, heal my son!" "Rabbi, heal my daughter!" "Jesus, here's my brother, he's demon-possessed!"

How did Jesus handle the pressure?
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.  (Mark 1:35)
Early in the day, before the busyness, before the demands, Jesus gets alone with his Father and gets focused on what life is really about.

Then something interesting happens:
Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!" Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." (Mark 1:36-38)
What? All these people are looking for Jesus and he just walks away? How can he do that?

Because he knew his PURPOSE: Not to meet every single need--but to preach the Kingdom of God. By taking time to pray, Jesus became laser-focused on his purpose.

And by taking time to pray, Jesus received POWER:
So he traveled through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving our demons. (Mark 1:39)
Because he took time to pray, Jesus knew what he needed to do, and he received the power to carry it out.

Now, here's the time management principle from that story: There are things you can do that take time in the short run, that will actually create time in the long run. In order to make time, you need to take time. 

Think about it. It takes time to put gas in the car, but compared to running out of gas in the middle of nowhere, it saves time. It takes time to exercise, but in the long run it will give you more time because you'll have more energy and you'll be more productive. It takes time to organize your desk, toolbox, or garage, but then when you can find things in an instant, you'll have more time to actually work.

In order to make time, you need to take time. 

There are three things Jesus did that, if we take time to do them, will make time in the long run. Prayer is one of those. Through prayer we get focused on what we need to do, and we get the power to do it.

Worship is another. Studies have shown that people who attend worship outlive people who don't. Worship gives you more time than it takes!

Connecting with other believers is the third one. Sure, it takes time to attend a small group. But with the learning you'll get, the support, the accountability, the prayer, and the people who will help you, it will make time in the long run.

In order to make time, you need to take time. 


 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Spending More Time in Quadrant 2

During the It's About Time series, I'll be sharing some time management/productivity tools and ideas that I've found helpful. Like the "Big Rocks" illustration, this one was made famous by Stephen Covey. But I don't think he invented it. In fact, he may have gotten it from a very old tract from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I read it when I was in college, eons ago. It's by Charles E. Hummel, and it's called TYRANNY OF THE URGENT.

Hummel quotes an old cotton mill manager who told him, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” In other words, just because something has to be done right away (urgent) doesn't mean that it lines up with your highest priorities (important). Hummel goes on to say:
We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important.  The problem is that the important task rarely must be done today or even this week.  Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with the non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait.  But the urgent tasks call for instant action---endless demands pressure every hour and day ... The momentary appeal of these tasks seems irresistible and important, and they devour our energy.  But in the light of time’s perspective their deceptive prominence fades; with a sense of loss we recall the important task pushed aside. We realize we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent. 
OUCH!  I know that "sense of loss" all too well. 

Later, Stephen Covey put the whole idea of "urgent but not important," "important but not urgent," etc. into a matrix:


Quadrant 2 contains activities that are important -- meaning they align with your most deeply held values -- but not urgent -- meaning they don't have to be done right away.  And here's the thing: The more time you spend in Quadrant 2, the less time you will spend in Quadrants 1, 3, and 4. 

A great example from my own life is sermon prep. My Sunday messages are definitely important. And if it's Thursday or Friday and I don't have a message prepared, then it's important and urgent. Suddenly I'm in Quadrant 1, and I'm stressed out and in a hurry. And when I'm stressed out and in a hurry, I don't think as clearly, the creative juices don't flow, it's harder to hear God's voice, and it actually ends up taking longer to prepare Sunday's message.

But what if I carve out some Quadrant 2 time and plan sermons six or eight weeks in advance? I go off by myself for a couple of days. I get alone with God. I study, pray, pick out Scriptures, identify the main points of each upcoming message. Then when I sit down later to write a Sunday sermon, I've already been thinking and praying about it for weeks. I'm less stressed out, and the message preparation for that week actually takes less time. And hopefully it's a better sermon, too.

(QUICK SIDEBAR: People who know I plan sermons in advance sometimes ask me if I'm leaving room for the Holy Spirit to work. It's a fair question. My answer: 1- I believe the Holy Spirit is in the planning, because I spend a lot of time seeking God while I'm doing it; and, 2- I'm always open to the Holy Spirit telling me to change my plans at the last minute.  It's happened before.)

Here's another example. One of our staff members uses the Quadrants to organize her to-do list:


What are some Quadrant 2 activities for you? Right now you're probably thinking of all the Quadrant 1 (urgent and important) activities you have to finish before you leave work today. Maybe you're mired in some Quadrant 3 activities--they're not important, but they have to be done, so you're slogging through them. I hope you're not wasting time on any Quadrant 4 activities.

But what "important but not urgent" activities could you do -- today, tomorrow, this weekend, or even right now -- that would keep you out of Quadrants 1, 3, and 4 in the days ahead?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Big Rocks: Another Perspective

This big rocks in a jar thing is everywhere. In fact, Andy Stanley even used it in his video message "At Capacity" that we showed in Common Ground Sunday. I had not watched the DVD before I prepared my message. When we started it, I was horrified at first: "Oh no! People are going to think I stole this from Andy!" But then I thought, "No, this is good. Might even be a God thing. We need to get this, and that takes hearing it more than once."

(By the way, I loved the way Andy summarized his message: Priority determines capacity. He has such a great way of stating his main point in one catchy, memorable sentence.)

While I was searching the web for a picture to use in the last post, I came across a blog post entitled, Why Covey's Big Rocks Illustration is WRONG!  I thought, "Wrong? Oh man, I better check this out! Have I led my congregation astray??"

As it turned out, the blog author made a very similar point to the one I made in my message. Sometimes you do what you're supposed to do, you put the big rocks in first, and everything still doesn't fit. Little rocks still fall out.

I breathed a sigh of relief. We're on the same page.

But then the author made another point, one that I strongly agree with. "At some point, we just need to get rid of rocks."

Ouch. Now we're touching a nerve. We just can't do everything. Some of us (I would bet most of us) have bitten off more than we can chew. And to be faithful stewards of the time God has granted us, we're going to have to start saying no.

And for a lot of us, that's one of the hardest things we'll ever do.

The article comes from a blog called Life as a Steward: Christian Time Management. It looks really good. Please understand, I haven't read every article on there, so this is not a blanket endorsement -- but what I saw looked very helpful. To check it out, CLICK HERE.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sunday Re-cap: "Big Rocks"

Yesterday I started a new series at Covenant called "It's About Time." I need this series. My bet is that you do too.

We Americans are busier than ever before: so many choices, so many expectations ... so much to do, and so little time. But it also seems that we're wasting more time than ever before: facebook, twitter, internet, blogs (oops--did I say that?), Netflix, Hulu, video games, etc. etc.  Things like these are all very helpful (especially blogs--well, this one anyway!), but when we're not careful we end up wasting a lot of time on them.

I'm tired of being busy. But I also don't want to waste my life. I want to invest it in things that matter.

I've never found a good way to manage time such that I always finish my to-do list, I'm never stressed out, I'm always on time for everything, and never in a hurry. I'm almost 50 years old, and I've never found it.

But I have discovered a helpful principle made famous by Stephen Covey. Check out this simple illustration:

The jar represents your life--your time. The pebbles and the sand represent all the little things you have to do--the lawn, the dishes, Facebook, e-mail, Facebook, phone calls, Facebook ... The big rocks represent the things you really care about -- the things that line up with your most deeply held values -- the things that matter.

In the first jar, all the little things have gone in first, leaving not enough room for the big rocks (the important things). In the second jar, the big rocks have gone in first. "First Things First" as Stephen Covey would say. The idea is that you put the big rocks in first--i.e., put the most important things on your calendar first. Then you let all the little things fill in around the big rocks. And as you can see in the illustration, when you put the big rocks in first, the other things fit.

In Sunday's message, I asked two questions: 1-Does this really work? and, 2- From a Christian perspective, what are the big rocks?

Second question first: The big rocks are expressed clearly by Jesus in Matthew 22--
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." 
AND, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  
Love God. Love People. If you're a Christ follower, those are the big rocks. So put them in the jar first.

LOVE GOD: Make worship a priority. Spend time alone with God during the week, preferably in the morning.

LOVE PEOPLE: Schedule time with the important people in your life. Don't wait to see what time you get home from work. Don't wait to see how the week goes. Schedule a family day or a date night. Or join a small group and make it a priority to attend every meeting.

Now, for that first question: Does it work? If I put the big rocks in first, does everything else fit in nicely? No, not all the time. Life is hard, and there are seasons when there's just too much to do. But here's the thing: if something's gonna fall out of the jar, don't you want to make sure that it's not the big rocks? 

Our natural tendency when things get busy is to push aside the big rocks: God can wait ... family can wait ... I can skip small group this week ... But then we get to the end of the week and our souls are empty because we haven't spent time with God and with the people we care about; and we look back at the week and say, "What was it I was working on, and why did I think it was so important?"

So put the big rocks in first. More often than not, it works (everything else fits). But even if it doesn't, you don't want to miss out on the things that are most important.

* Just in case you're interested: 

Here's a link to a video of Stephen Covey himself doing the Big Rocks illustration live:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-357998200076562861

And here's a page with some different videos, and some advice on mastering the principle:

http://www.businessclassinc.com/2010/08/20/movie-of-the-week-mastering-big-rocks/

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Complaint Against ABCCM

I have nothing but praise for ASHEVILLE-BUNCOMBE COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN MINISTRIES. That was true when I first learned about them upon arriving at Covenant Community in 2006. It became even more true when I wrote a paper about them for one of my Doctor of Ministry classes in 2007. And then when I joined the board in 2009, I was blown away by the great things this ministry is doing, and the number of people they're helping.

For example: during the month of June, 1,575 lunches were served; 1,268 food bags were distributed; 55 households received help with utilities; 45 women, 10 children, and 218 men were given shelter; 588 persons received free medical or dental care; and 974 inmates attended Bible Studies.

And on the last Saturday of July, ABCCM trained me to be an ally in the OUR CIRCLE Young Parents Program. I'll be working with other allies to come alongside young parents and provide support and encouragement as they work their way out of poverty.

ABCCM also administers several job training and homeless reintegration programs through the US Department of Labor and the Veterans Administration. And for this we are now being sued.

A female veteran who stayed at the women's shelter for 20 months is charging that ABCCM discriminates against women in its programs for veterans. The complaint (lawsuit) alleges that women are not offered the same training opportunities as men; that male veterans are offered training in truck driving, culinary arts, hospitality management and green jobs, while female veterans are only offered classes in self-esteem, de-cluttering your room, Bible study, and knitting. A spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, who filed the complaint, said that it looks like ABCCM is trying to prepare these female veterans to stay at home and be housewives.

As a member of the ABCCM board, I can assure you that these charges are not true. Simply put, all of the opportunities and classes available to male veterans are also available to female veterans.

I'm sure there's a good bit of misunderstanding going on. Some of these classes are run by AB Tech; others are run by the Department of Labor or the VA; some are based on grants from various foundations; some are taught by volunteers; and the truck driving school was run by a private business that used ABCCM's property.

Some of the charges in the lawsuit stem from confusion about how all these programs are administered.  For example, the "soft skills" classes such as de-cluttering your room and crochet (not knitting!) that the lawsuit finds objectionable are not part of the Department of Labor/VA package. They are part of an overall program to help people make the transition from homeless to self-sufficient, but they are not considered job training. Many of these are taught by volunteers. And they're offered to men as well as to women.

I'm confident that ABCCM will survive this. What's absolutely breaking my heart is all the negative reaction I'm reading online. Online media outlets and blogs all over the country have picked up this story, and the reader comments have been overwhelmingly anti-ABCCM. Without looking into it at all, the people making comments are accusing ABCCM of all kinds of horrible things. Some have called for ABCCM to be shut down, or for their funding to be revoked. Nobody seems to be aware of, or care about, all the good that ABCCM has been doing for so many years. All the people they've helped.

Just like in the Chick-fil-A controversy, I've been amazed and heartbroken by the distortions ... the rush to judgment ... the jumping to unfounded conclusions ... and the venom. Oh, the venom. What has happened to civil discourse? What has happened to giving each side a fair hearing? What has happened to expressing your opinion with dignity and respect--and without foul language?

Dear reader, if you are a Christ follower, I hope you'll express your opinions in ways that reflect God's unconditional love and the inherent dignity of human beings--even the ones you disagree with.

And Lord, please help me to do the same.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

ANOTHER Well!

If you've been reading this blog, you know all about Covenant Community's involvement with LIVING WATER INTERNATIONAL.

And you know that we've recently received reports from wells that we paid for in India and the Central African Republic.


And you know that we recently sent a team to build a well in Guatemala (and we paid for that well, too.)


I figured that would be about as far as last year's Christmas Eve offering would go. It was almost $40,000, but those wells in India and Africa are expensive. (Cost of a well in Central America: $5,000. In India, Asia, or Africa: $11,000 to $22,000, depending on factors like location and how far down you have to drill to get to the best water.)

Well, much to my surprise, we just got ANOTHER report about ANOTHER well that our offering has paid for in India. This one is in a village in the state of Andhra Pradesh. (Read the full report HERE.)  Here are some pics:



It's quite possible that you have saved these kids' lives. Lack of clean water kills more people than anything else in the world. Children are especially susceptible to death, because their young bodies can't handle the diarrhea and dehydration that come from water-borne illness.

And lest you think that we're only doing good works without naming the name of Jesus--know that these wells are opening doors for pastors and missionaries to share the gospel. Especially in India where Christians are a tiny, persecuted minority and missionaries are often unwelcome.

It's great to be part of a church that partners with God in mission to the world!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Chick-fil-A

When I was a kid, I worked at Chick-fil-A. It was my first real job (besides delivering papers on my bike).

In those days, Chick-fil-A consisted of tiny little shops that were only in malls. (This was before malls had huge food courts.) The advertising slogan was, "The Taste Worth Shopping For." When I went to work I wore black dress pants, a short-sleeve white dress shirt, a black bow tie, a bright red apron, and a hat like this (except, of course, that ours said, "Chick-fil-A")

At that time I didn't know that Chick-fil-A was a Christian-owned company. I wasn't a committed Christ-follower, so it wasn't really on my radar. I knew my manager was a Christian. I knew that he and his wife and his son worked together--hard--to run that small, but very busy restaurant. 

And I knew that I didn't have to work on Sunday. That wasn't important to me for religious reasons, but it sure was nice. Except for driving a school bus, that's the last job I've ever had where I knew I had at least one guaranteed day off.

I've enjoyed watching Chick-fil-A grow over the years. Those tiny little mall shops have given way to great big stand-alone stores with large dining rooms and humongous play areas for children. The employees no longer look like 1950s soda jerks. But the chicken sandwich tastes exactly the same, and it's still my favorite fast food.

The whole Chick-fil-A controversy of the past several weeks has really broken my heart. The accusations ... the misunderstandings ... the distortions ... the venom. 

I'm not going to rehash the whole controversy here, nor am I going to add to what's already been said. I'm just going to point out something that I think has gotten lost in all the rhetoric. 

Chick-fil-A's Christian values don't just mean that the president has taken a controversial stand on a hot-button issue. Since the beginning, their Christian values have included the following:
  • They close on Sunday--which, like I said, is a plus for all Chick-fil-A employees, whether they're religious or not
  • They operate debt-free!  What an amazing business practice. I wonder where our economy would be if more businesses and private citizens operated that way?
  • They stress excellent customer service. Have you ever placed an order at a fast food restaurant and felt like the person behind the counter just saw you as a nuisance? Not at Chick-fil-A. 
  • They give back to the community. And yes, I know that Chick-fil-A's bashers are quick to point out the conservative pro-family organizations they support. But that's far from the extent of their contributions. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, had a passion for mentoring the next generation. His Win Shape Foundation provides foster homes, summer camps, and all kinds of life-changing programs for young people. And they make other positive contributions as well.
These are such good things. I would think most people of whatever persuasion would admire these things. But they're getting lost in the fray. 

One more thing. Pastor Perry Noble has written what I think is a pretty good blog post about this controversy. I like how he challenges both sides. CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Why People Don't Go to Church Anymore

From Thom Schulz, owner of Group Publishing: 
Last weekend most people in America avoided church. And, a sizable portion of those who did make it to church
wished they were somewhere else. But why?

I decided to go direct to the source. I staked out a city park to ask the public why they weren’t in church. What they
told me echoed what I’ve been hearing for several years now.

Their reasons centered around four recurring themes:
“Church people judge me.” A young woman told me that as a child she regularly attended church and Sunday school. But she’s given up on the church as an adult. “They make me feel like an outcast,” she said. “How? Why?” I asked. “Well, I’m a smoker,” she said.
“I don’t want to be lectured.” More people today want to participate in the discussion. A man told me he’s talked with over a thousand other men who’ve given up on church. He said, “Guys don’t want to sit in a room and idly listen to some preacher do all the talking. They want to ask questions. They want to share their thoughts too.”
“They’re a bunch of hypocrites.” I know church leaders are weary of this “excuse.” But people aren’t merely referring to incongruous behavior. What bothers them is the sense that church spokespeople act like they have all the answers. (Emphasis added -- CK.) That they’ve arrived. That they’re only interested in telling others what to do—“teaching,” to use the church vernacular.
“I don’t want religion. I want God.” Most people don’t experience God at church. They’re not looking for the “deep” theological trivia that seems to interest some preachers. They crave something very simple. They’re dying to be reassured that God is real, that he is more than a historical figure, that he is present today, and that he is active in the lives of people around them.
Those of us who remain in this imperfect gathering of the faithful need to stop talking and “teaching” long enough to listen to the majority outside our walls. I’m not suggesting their views are flawless. Or that we should design ministry merely according to consumer whims. But we do need to keep our ultimate goal in mind—to help bring others into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s what defined the ministry of Jesus himself. He boldly broke away from the habits and routines of the religious elite of the time. And he fashioned a highly relational ministry that connected with the disenfranchised.

This is Claude talking: This "article" by Thom Schulz was actually the introduction to an advertisement for a new ministry resource from Group Publishing. But it resonated with me so deeply that I wanted to share it here. 

From the very beginning, when my buddy Mack Strange started it, Covenant Community has been a church specifically designed to address these four concerns. 

#1: We want people to feel accepted when they come in. "Grace" is one of our values. 

#2: I try to make my sermons more like a conversation and less like a lecture. Granted, I've not yet reached the point where we have open Q&A, or interactive discussion during worship--some churches actually do that, and maybe we'll get there eventually--but I do try hard (don't always succeed) not to sound "preachy" when I teach. 

#3: We at Covenant are honest about the fact that we've all got struggles. None of us has arrived. None of us has all the answers. Not that we aren't trying to go forward. "Growth" is another of our values. But we freely and readily admit that we're all broken sinners saved by grace. 

#4: We want our worship services to be a meeting with God. That's why we sing praise songs that focus on God. That's why we allow free expression. That's why there are moments of quiet and moments of prayer. That's why we pray at the altar and offer intercessory prayer ministers. We want to do more than learn about God--we want to experience God. 

I hope you are as passionate about and committed to these values as I am.