Bridge Building in the Church

I often feel a stress about how infrequently I am blogging right now.  However, a couple of years ago I began to feel called to administrate a men’s retreat for affiliated churches in my area.  This has been where all my extra energy has been going. 

Today I have something on my mind in relation to church politics.  So, I am preparing to discuss it under my ‘Politics Monday’ category. 

One of the strongest choices a church can make is to find ways to build bridges to the community.

But what exactly does that mean? Simply put, it is finding ways to connect with people who do not have a church, and possibly would not normally consider setting foot on church grounds. If a congregation’s only chance to evangelize is to witness to those folks who happen to visit, they will be missing the entire point of the great commission.

When people talk about bridge building they will often center on whether an outreach event is on the grounds of the church or not.  And this does have a point to it. A lot of the people we should most want to reach would never attend an event on the church grounds.  Not in the fellowship hall, not in the parking lot and absolutely not in the sanctuary. But some will.

Those who would be willing to visit an outreach on the church grounds might well be the low hanging fruit of the great commission, but low hanging fruit needs to be picked too. For this reason, I am not in agreement with those who assert genuine outreach and evangelism cannot take place on church grounds.

However, doing events off the church grounds has tremendous value. Not only will you have a chance to meet people who you will not meet on the grounds, but you will also see the church’s faith stretched and the community’s hearts opened. The church that is seen by community involved people as also being community involved will be their most likely place to land. Furthermore, If you are always standing on the safe ground, were exactly is the faith in that?

But before you dismiss me as being a Pollyanna let me explain that both claims have another side.  When you see into the hearts of the community you might well have that tattooed biker chick who wears her pierced earrings everywhere except her ears dropping in on the senior ladies sewing circle.  It might mean having a perfectly normal looking teen boy bring his boyfriend on his first visit.

This is about the time when you begin to find that a congregation’s faith can crack or break when it is stretched too far too fast.

I suspect to many people it sounds a little bit like compromising with the world.  To others it sounds like polluting the purity of the church with the effluence of unregenerate souls.

So, bridge building is not for the faint of heart.  But then again, no part of faithful Christianity is. Real people have real problems and sometimes we get too accustomed to our view of the church as a trouble-free zone.  But it was real people for whom Christ died.  People with fears; people with flaws.  People like you and me.

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The Pastor I Want to Be

This morning I came across Philippians 2:19-30, and came to see it as an example of the type of pastor I wish I was and should strive to be.

In these verses, Paul speaks of Timothy and Epaphroditus and the encouragement they have been to him. Before looking at what he said about these two men let’s remember the situation Paul was in as he wrote these things.

They encouraged him in ministry. Only those who are well outside the loop believe ministry is an easy course. These men encouraged him in his imprisonment. Paul had been imprisoned for the gospel, in a world where prisons were especially brutal. They encouraged him as he faced the likelihood of execution. Paul speaks of his survival as a fifty-fifty shot.

This is the most amazing thing about this passage. Paul wanted the Philippians to experience the encouragement of these men so much that he was willing to send them, rather than to keep them close, serving himself.

So what does Paul say about these men?

First thing I notice is that Timothy is described of having the interest of others, from the perspective of Jesus Christ.

The opposite of this is to seek your own interests.  This is a constant challenge for a pastor or minister of any type. Just yesterday I sat with a missionary who spoke of the difficulty of speaking on God’s behalf without allowing the message to decompose into personal tirades at the people we love, because of our private, and often frustrating, knowledge of their sins.

Another challenge of seeking the interests of your congregation is that they don’t really know what is in their own best interest.  They too have a way of making their self-interests selfish instead of Christ-centered. So, in order to avoid telling people what they want to hear, you have to temper your message constantly with a deep connection to Christ.  This is the only way that you will know His best interests for your hearers.

The last thing I want to mention about this maintaining the interests of those you serve, is that it helps to have a support system outside of the circle of your own congregation.  Often others can see things in us we have carefully hidden from ourselves.  An honest friend will tell you what you need to hear to allow you the opportunity to improve. Every Paul needs a Timothy and every Timothy needs a Paul.

Second, Paul speaks of Timothy as a person of proven character.

Proving anything takes time. Proving character takes a lifetime. Timothy was not spoken of as someone whom Paul just met and had a good feeling about, but instead as someone that had served alongside Paul for an extended time.

Proving leadership has a trait in it that many people miss.  One of the ways that you become a good leader is by being a good follower. Paul’s leadership over Timothy helped bring out Timothy’s abilities in that area. Leaders who cannot follow, at least in my opinion, also cannot lead. Remember job one for any leader is to follow Christ.

Character is not weighed on scales, so that as long as more half their characteristics are good, they are a good men. Character is not a litmus test, meaning that when a strong majority of their characteristics are pure they are a good person.  Character is on the gold standard.  If it is not 100% pure then it is still in need of refinement. All of us are still in the process, but don’t use that as an excuse to change out to any other standard than Christ.

Finally, Paul speaks of Epaphroditus as a man who was willing to sacrifice all.

The first sacrifice was being willing to live broken-hearted for the people he served.  The passage describes it as longing for the Philippians, and indeed, leaving behind those you love is one sacrifice most face in ministry.  But the sacrifice of a broken heart comes in many other ways too. Everything from watching people drown in their sin to burying your beloved members break your heart.

He also was willing to walk the line of public scrutiny and shame.  I say this because prisons in that time and place were difficult to survive. Paul most likely would not have made it through if Epaphroditus was not bringing him food, water, medicines and encouragement.  But bringing these things to Paul meant he was willingly associating himself with the crimes the Roman overlords assumed Paul was guilty of.

Finally, Epaphroditus almost died from illness while performing these ministries. This was the context in which Paul said we should hold men like Epaphroditus in high esteem. Are we as willing to risk everything for the gospel?  We live in such comfort today that it is hard to tell. But if you are not willing to make the many smaller sacrifices included in ministry, you are not training yourself to be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if, or maybe when, the time comes.

 

 

 

The Philosophy of Children’s Ministry

What you believe about people in general and specifically about children is important.

I am thinking about children this week because it is Vacation Bible School week in our church. For several weeks, from the beginning of decorating to the end of follow up, we make everything in the church center on kids. All of this special attention to children reflects a theological perspective that says they are important.

It is easy to see that Jesus thought children were important, by the statements He makes in regard to kids. For example, He says it would be better for a man to be drowned than to face the judgement from making a child stumble. (Luke 17:1-4)

But the question I want to ask this morning is, why are children important?

I believe children are important because of the way in which growing up impacts the decision making capability of adults. This is why, in the passage named above, Jesus spoke of making kids stumble. He could have used other phrases to indicate harming children or causing them pain, but He instead chose wording which addressed hindering their progress.

This is important because the way a child is raised can determine if they will ever be open to accepting Christ as Savior. It can determine whether they are predisposed towards obeying the law or breaking it. Jesus knows that events in childhood shape the nature of the adult.

But beyond this rather obvious truth, I also believe many people will only have the child like faith needed to trust Christ when they are children. If we do not handle them correctly at this age, then they will never again consider the opportunity to know and serve the Lord.

The worldly perspective on raising children often gets this backwards. They put a great deal of emphasis on protecting kids from physical pain, but pay very little attention to the influences put on them.

Society has decided that discipline through pain is always wrong. I am glad I didn’t grow up today. I think I would be less of a man now if I had not received a few spankings then. The world will ignore my testimony, and the opinions of thousands of others like me, in favor of raising undisciplined kids.

What they pay little attention to, is who influences kids and in what direction. Ideas that are likely objectionable to parents are taught to children without oversight. These lessons come from public education, popular entertainment, and political activity. The world has begun to treat these sources as incontestable.

Similar to this, many assert that children cannot be influenced in meaningful ways until they become adults. This perspective results in individuals assuming they can raise kids neutrally in order to allow them to make their own decisions when they are old enough. This is too late.

The end result is we miss the only chance we have to shape adults, because we believed the wrong things about them as children.

Northern Shoveler Wings

Northern Shoveler

This is a picture of a Northern Shoveler. This duck looks totally different in this picture than in other pictures of it because it has his wings open showing colors that are normally hidden away.

The iridescent portion of a ducks wing is called the speculum, and in this case it is followed by white and black markings.

If you did not see the bird in flight you would never see these details. Christians can be a lot like this duck. It’s only when we begin to do something that our true colors become visible.

When we care for strangers we show the love of Christ. When we work together we show the fellowship of the Spirit. When we live by the moral principles of Scripture we show the beauty of righteousness. When we share the message of Christ with the world we bring evangelism and missions into the public view.

Our activity shows off who we truly are, while inactivity can hide our identity. This is a problem in the American church, which carries an increasingly passive role for the person in the pew. Instead of worshipping we sit and watch choirs, praise teams and staff members worship. Instead of being directly involved in personal ministry we hire professionals to manage the work of ministry. The average person in the pew then is validated in stating their church experience begins and ends on Sunday, that their Christian ideas don’t affect their home or workplace, or that a church that asks for deeper commitments is too domineering.

But like the duck, the real nature of the church, and of the individual believer, is most visible when it is moving. For the duck that means when it is flying, and for the believer when they are serving. It is little wonder the church means so much less to society today than it did in previous generations. They cannot see it correctly because the opportunities to see it at work are severely limited.

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus talks about identifying people around you correctly by watching the fruit in their lives. If you want Christ to be visible in you, if you want His name glorified in your life, then do the work of Christ. In this way your fruit, that is your Christian identity, will be visible.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15-20 KJV – translation chosen for the familiar wording by their fruits ye shall know them.)

Children’s Ministry

I believe ministry to children is an indispensable part of a church.

It is not just a matter of the adults in the church need a place for their children to be while they participate in spiritual exercises. It is also that the children as they grow need to learn their own spiritual nature. And it is also that the church has a responsibility before God, to minister to children.

The church must always remember children are important to God. He made this clear by including them and emphasizing their importance during His earthly ministry. He also made it clear the faith of a child is a precious and special faith, which is not to be wasted or depreciated.

So ministry to children should be more than just childcare. Even for the youngest of children, special care should be taken to make them feel safe, loved and to train them in Christianity. This means teaching them to love God and to serve God through the church. Their ministry be carefully planned and intentionally structured. The spiritual lessons should be carefully ordered and presented.

Since children are important to God, they must be important to us too.