Church


One of the opportunities and privileges of being a citizen in our great country is that, occasionally, one might be called on to sit on jury duty. When the summons comes, a first reaction will be to consider all of the inconvenience jury duty entails. Work will be missed. We may be out of pocket for several days. Time away from family must be factored in. It’s just a hassle to have jury duty.

First response: figure out a way to get out of the duty. Certain possibilities allow people to be excused from duty. The only summons I ever received was when I was a college student and the duty was scheduled to happen in the middle of my semester finals. All I was required to do was mark a box on a form and I was automatically excused. I recall the time my father was summoned and selected for a pool of jurors in a capital murder trial. Being a Baptist minister, he expected to be turned down by one or both sides, but they didn’t. Then as he sat on the jury, he was astonished that his fellow panel members elected him to serve as chair.

What would happen if every able and eligible citizen would gladly be involved in their civic duty? Including voting in elections and answering summons for jury duty without trying to “get out of it.” I think perhaps we’d have a kinder, gentler nation than we do—and maybe, just maybe we’d get to a place where involvement was the norm rather than the exception.

An even deeper question would be what if every church member would be actively involved in the ministry of their local congregation? Including generous giving and volunteering instead of being begged to serve in an open position. The result, I expect, would be vibrant, growing churches with happy, joyful members.

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  —James 1:22

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I sometimes get inspiration from the most unusual places. In 1961, Earl Hamner, Jr. wrote and published Spencer’s Mountain, the inspiration for the popular television show The Waltons. I am reading this cozy little story again and came across a note that hit home for me as a church leader. Here’s what Hamner relates in the voice of Clay Spencer:

“I had this little baby duck. . . . I used to think that little web-toed quacker was the prettiest thing I ever laid eyes on. Just hated the day to come for that duck to grow kup. One day I got the fool idea that if I’d squeeze that duck hard enough every day I could keep him from growen, so every mornen I’d nearly squeeze the tar out of him. One mornen I squeezed him too hard I reckon, because he up and died, but it taught me somethen. You try to keep a thing from growen and it’ll die on you.”

I was struck by the application to the church today. “You try to keep a thing from growen and it’ll die on you.” So many of us are so satisfied with how church is (or how it used to be) that we hate to see any change. We want to squeeze the tar out of our local congregation. In theory we want to see our church advance, but we also realize that if there is too much growth, the church we love will have to change. And if there is too much change, it won’t be the church that we know.

I am convinced that God intends for His church to grow and mature. He doesn’t want to see us remain faith-babies. With that growth and maturity comes change. Not change for the sake of change, but change that indicates that we understand better, that we are developing, and that we are becoming more of what the Master wants us to be. With growth comes some pain, some sorrow, but with growth also comes the usefulness to God’s kingdom that He intends for each believer and for each local church.

Perhaps we should stop squeezing the life out of church by demanding that change all be avoided, but begin to encourage growth. God doesn’t intend for the duck to die, but to thrive–to swim and fly and produce more ducks. God doesn’t intend for the church to stagnate and die, but to thrive–to grow and mature and produce more local churches. I challenge us all to encourage growth instead of hinder it . . . to stop squeezing and start feeding the church.

Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord is good.” –1 Peter 2:2-3

Okay, so it’s a beer commercial. And it’s from years ago. But there’s something that happened because of this ad campaign: it legitimized the option for men to show affection to one another—“I love you, Man!”

My big question is: why did it take the beer industry to make mutual affection between brothers legitimate? Mutual affection (or brotherly love, if you prefer) has been in the DNA of the church since its inception in the first century. We are not talking about the purple dinosaur singing, “I love you, you love me . . .” to the tune of “This Old Man” but about the genuine concern that the family of Christ has for one another.

Sadly, the church has slipped out of the habit of openly loving one another. It seems that we (the Bride of Christ) are developing a reputation for back-biting, distrust, and negativity, when we should be building a reputation of mutual love, admiration, and joy.

Today, let us make a conscious decision to be positive with one another, to express love one to another, and to lift one another up. If we can do this we may begin to show the world a life that is worth their attention, their time, and eventually their acceptance.

 

“Let brotherly love continue. Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.—Hebrews 13:1-2

In my possession is a card proclaiming that I, as a graduate from the Mesquite (TX) High School Mighty Maroon Marching Band, am a “lifetime” member of the Band Alumni. The card proclaims that at any home football game for which I have a ticket, I am entitled to sit with the band in their special section of the bleachers. I’ve not tried it, but some of my fellow graduates say that the card itself is worthless. Still, it delineates me as a member.

There are some groups, clubs, or organizations that allow membership for a fee, and give the member in good standing certain rights and privileges within the group. Being a member of the church is a bit different. Membership was bought by the blood of Jesus, bestowed on those who accept His sacrifice, and bears (not so much privileges, but) responsibilities. Membership in God’s Church at large (the Body of Christ) is a gift, a treasure, that He grants to those who believe. Membership in a local congregation is not so much a position from which we demand service because we attend faithfully (working our way in), give large sums (buying our way in), or have the right pedigree (inheriting our way in), but an opportunity to serve—to serve our fellow church members with our time, talents, and blessings; and to server our community with the love of Christ.

What does your church membership look like? Are you waiting for someone to do your bidding because you feel you deserve it? Or are you looking for ways to serve others because, even though you don’t deserve it, God gave the gift anyway?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   —Romans 6:23

Family is a big thing in our society. And well it should be. God designed and created family to be the building block of society. Family is so important that we use the imagery of family to address a big variety of the relationships we have. When I was a teenage boy, there was a lady (who happened to be part of our local church) who spent her career as a “lunch lady.” She was so loving and caring to the community of children she ministered to through the local public school that she was not “Miss”, “Mrs.” or “Ms.” to anyone who knew her. Nor was she called by her first name (which was the beautiful name of Shirley, by the way). No, to her two biological daughters and to the entire church and community, she was “Mama.” Why? Because she lived out the family-style love built into all of Christ’s children, and we saw it.

Family is also important in the church. It may be why we call our home church our “family” even if we aren’t related by birth or marriage. And because we are family, and family is so important, it is the responsible for Christians (starting with Christian dads) to actively seek out church participation and lead the family to be constantly in and among God’s people. Being family has less to do with what we prefer, and more to do with how we choose to relate to one another. And this, too is important for the church.

So let’s be family, bring our family to church, and enjoy our relationship with Christ and each other.

“As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.”  —Joshua 24:15c

In recent months, I have heard of and/or counseled with friends (fellow pastors) who have faced discouragement, firings, or left the ministry altogether because of struggles with discord in their church, personal burn-out, or any variety of other issues. As I look back over these months, I think of how stressful and difficult it is to be a local church leader in our day and age.

In a time when it is more fashionable to let church commitment be a matter of convenience rather than conviction; when members are looking for all manner of reasons to excuse their lax attitudes; when society at large has all but turned her back on the church (making decisions to make church a preference rather than a persistence all the easier), it is no wonder that those who are called to spend their lives and their livelihood in God’s service are feeling crushed to the point of abandonment.

In such a time as this, it is more important than ever for us to rally together to lift up our leaders in prayer. Pray for lay leaders who volunteer their time to prepare and guide Bible study lessons on a weekly basis. Pray for others who fill important places of leadership within the local congregation. Pray for staff members who have given their lives to a calling (whether they serve in volunteer, part-time, or career-level capacity). Pray for all the spiritual leaders that you can think of for protection from the battles they face. Particularly pray for your pastor (and other local pastors) who feel the pull away from their calling often.

Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”  —Jesus, Matthew 9:38

About four years ago, I received a book from a fellow pastor as a gift. The book was called I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference. It didn’t take long to read or to process. It was Thom Rainer’s advice on what makes a good church member, including what the church should expect of her members, and what members themselves would do well to commit themselves to so that their local church can become the expression of the Church that God (her Maker) wants her to be. I read the book and was inspired.

If I decided that I wanted to be the best church member I could be, the first step that I should take is to deliberately decide to be actively involved in contributing to the church. Rather than sitting back and soaking up what is doled out by the church like a sponge it is time for me to pick up my role in the church.

This means that I have to identify (with the help of the Holy Spirit) my role. Based on who I am and where my abilities lay as well as what I am willing to allow myself to do (which is sometimes the scary part because the Spirit may direct me out of my comfort zone), I must do what God directs me to do. This, of course, is without pointing fingers at others, but concentrating on my own role. It means that I am a part of the team–God’s team–and must do my part so that others can do their part. Suddenly, I am concentrating on doing my calling as a member of the church and I don’t have time to point out how everyone else is falling short. And so, in the church, I have a function. And I will do my best to (with the Lord’s help) fulfill my function.

“Jesus said, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.'” –John 21:22

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