Meg and the 4 “RE-ES”

In seventh grade science class, our teacher Mr. Lipof, taught us students about Meg and the 4 “RE-ES”.  “Meg and the 4 RE-ES” was not a female Motown group but was a mnemonic (a learning technique that aids in retention) that described what every living organism does.  Every living thing operating at full health…Moves, Eats, Grows, Respires, Responds, Removes waste and Reproduces.  At the risk of being crude, today I am writing about removing waste.

iStock_000020314671SmallParticularly I want to talk about the Body of Christ, the church, removing waste.  I have always appreciated how the Apostle Paul uses the phrase the body of Christ to describe the church.  It is rich in so many ways and will preach in so many ways.  As the body of Christ, the church is a living organism and like all living organisms it exhibits Meg and the 4 “RE-ES” including removing waste.  More about this in a minute.

One of the hardest things especially for clergy is to watch people leave the church.  Sometimes they leave because their feelings have been hurt.  Sometimes they leave because they did not get their way.  Sometimes they leave because of the preaching or the music.  Oftentimes, they just leave not for any particular reason except that is their pattern.  Regardless, it is hard for clergy to see people go.  Well, most of the time.

Without judging the intentions or motives of anyone who has left a church, what I have learned in ministry and what I tell churches and leaders is that like all living organisms, so the church, must occasionally remove waste.  Yes, I know about the need to reach out to someone who has left and the effort we should take to restore people, but sometimes there are just toxic people who will side track the vision that just need to go and find a church more suited for them.  Thankfully, the Holy Spirit nudges them and they go.

Now, lest laypersons think I am picking on them, the same can be true of clergy.  Sometimes we do not belong in ministry or serving in a particular context and sometimes the body of Christ just needs to remove waste.

Who would have thought I would use seventh grade science to understand difficult people in the church.

The Fallacy of Church Competition

I like to compete.  I have lots of fun making a game out of anything.  I do not like to lose.  I don’t like the team I am rooting for to lose.  I am competitive and a lot of people are competitive.  While competition may be OK for board games, ball games and even in the business world it is not so good in the church world.

Competition word dictionary termWhile many will not admit it, a spirit of competition is alive and well in the church world today.  This spirit of competition manifests itself in a number of different ways:  A new church is being started and persons in an established church feel threatened because the new church will reach all those people they are meant to reach but have not for the last sixty years.  Or, the church across town is stealing the members of our church because a few disgruntled families left and went over there.  Or, there is growth in a church down the street and the leadership of the non-growing church is jealous and dismisses the growth by saying “They must have watered down the gospel.”

Unfortunately, because of what we measure (primarily nickels and noses) and because of what we celebrate- GROWTH in numbers, a spirit of competition continues to permeate the church scene.  This competition has resulted in the church becoming a dispenser of religious goods and services.  Those who provide the best product (lively worship, great programs for kids, and a thousand one small groups) win market share, grow, and are celebrated and lauded.

While worship should be lively and we should seek to develop disciples be it through programs or groups or service, the church must be careful that the end of such things is make disciples and not gain market share.  If we do what we do citing the need for excellence and creativity and innovation to only gain market share because we are competitive then we end up missing the point of the Gospel.  We reduce the Gospel.

In the end, we are all on the same team whether we share the same denominational moniker or not.  I often like to make the point when working with churches that if everyone in this community decided to attend worship on Sunday we would not have enough pews and seats to hold them all.  There would be far more people than seats.  The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.   May we give up competition in the church that causes of to focus on our own fiefdoms and embrace a unity in Christ that will help us bring about Jesus’ Kingdom.

May 25th Conference Wide Day of Prayer

Bishop Young Jin Cho, resident Bishop for the Virginia area of the United Methodist Church has called for a focused day of prayer for our churches.  Specifically the Bishop is asking churches to pray for their own and other churches to be vital and to pray for renewal and revival as part of worship on Sunday May 25th.  Since taking the office of Bishop, Bishop Cho has said time and time again, “No spiritual vitality, no vital churches.”

BishopChoColumnWhile no soul would disagree with Bishop Cho’s call for a focused time of prayer for renewal and revival what is especially refreshing is the implicit posture this time of prayer puts the church.  In our day of superstar mega-church pastor celebrities, formularized models of evangelism, new Conference and denomination programs meant to increase vitality, and the next “it” book to read, it is sobering and refreshing to come back to the one who said “I will build my church.”  More important than knowing the methods of church growth, more important than even knowing our community is knowing from where it is our help comes from as we seek to be the vital body of Christ offering Christ to the world.

Bishop Cho puts it best in his own words…

“Today everyone agrees with the need for a renewal and revival of our churches. Everyone knows that we cannot renew our churches by our own wisdom and strategy. But most of us stop here and do not take the next step to move forward. We feel the need of a renewal and revival of our churches, but we do not open ourselves to God and humbly ask God to send us a renewal and a revival. I think the time has come for us to pray together for a new future of our churches.”

To read the full text of Bishop Cho’s call to prayer follow this link.

For Virginia United Methodist, how will you mark the call to prayer for renewal and revival?

The Importance of Starting on Time

Starting on time is an important rule to live by in the life of the church.

iStock_000009931578SmallThis is especially true when it comes to beginning worship on time at the advertised time.  If you are going to start at 11AM then start at 11AM.

Starting worship on time signals to guests (and regular attendees) that their time is valuable and the church respects their time enough to start when you say you are going to start.

Starting worship on time signals to guests and regular attendees that you take the presentation of the Gospel seriously enough that it is important to your church to start on time.  After all, God is a god of order, not chaos.  Starting on time signals an attention to detail and a level of organization.

Not starting on time on a regular basis signals the exact opposite (your time is not valuable and we do not care enough about presenting the Gospel with excellence).

Hey!  Everybody runs late from time to time.  When it becomes a way of life for the church the church might want to ask what message it is sending.

Need Volunteers? Cast a Compelling Vision

Every church needs more volunteers!  Servants are the lifeblood behind the ministry of the church as the church seeks to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  They serve as greeters, nursery workers, Sunday School teachers, run the sound board, fold worship programs and everything else under the sun.  And, there is never enough volunteers.

iStock_000017582867SmallMuch can be written about effective ways to recruit volunteers and the myriad of ways the church is often ineffective at recruiting volunteers.

One key to recruiting volunteers is casting a compelling vision for why a particular opportunity to serve God is important, will make a difference in the lives of those being served, and help the church live out its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  This might be called sharing the “why behind the what” when it comes to volunteer needs.

In addition to sharing the need connect the service that will be offered to an outcome.  For example,

Children are an important part of the life of First UMC.  They are our present!  Statistics show many persons will have the foundation of faith laid when they are children in Sunday School.  These faith foundations will last a lifetime and serve our children, their future families, and the community.  Would you like to make a difference in the life of a child that will continue to bear fruit for years to come?  Consider signing up for Sunday School teacher training…

Such an announcement would then go on to list details, time requirements, and appropriate contact for more information.

Contrast this to a simple announcement in a worship program that says,

Sunday School teachers are needed for the second grade class.  Please call the church office.

Sharing the why behind the what and casting a compelling vision for the service needs of the church will help to improve the chances of receiving much needed help.