It’s Complicated

For the most part, our church pays more attention to the church calendar than the calendar of Hallmark-inspired holidays. So our gathering Sunday will be focused on the fourth week of Easter. But without question, the elephant in the room will be Mother’s Day.

Throughout my years of ministry, Mother’s Day at church has always been, how shall I say, complicated.

Complicated.

Some families will have three, maybe four, generations of happy mothers with their children. Others will be mourning the fresh loss of a mother or grandmother.

Complicated.

Some mothers will be snuggling their second or third baby while other women will be silently suffering infertility, miscarriages, or stillbirths.

Complicated.

Some will enter the gathering with thanksgiving for a tender, loving mother who taught them about and showed them the kindness and grace of God. Others will come, dragging behind them heavy memories of being assaulted, neglected, abandoned, or abused by the one person above all who they should have been able to trust.

Complicated.

And with a day this complicated, what could be better than a fourth week of remembering, wrestling with, and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

A Front Row Seat

Love one another. We read it repeatedly in Scripture. Last week I had a front row seat to watch several people in our church family love one another. They loved generously. They loved unselfishly. They loved sincerely. They loved stubbornly. They loved hopefully. They loved sacrificially. I’m so thankful for a church family that shows me what love is all about. Love one another.

Basics

Sadly, the ABC’s of many churches are attendance, buildings, and cash. While some think it encouraging to experience a big crowd, enjoy an attractive campus, and wield an impressive wad of cash, that should not be the focus of the church. Instead, the church should live for praising God and encouraging people to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Back to basics: love God, love people.

Church as a Relational Lab

Dan White Jr. writes, “Churches have built compounds for cognitive learning rather than relational labs for conversing, listening and practicing.” Blessed is the church that realizes there is more to spiritual formation than cognitive learning. There is a relational lab to be built by sharing small talk and deep conversations, partnering for prayer, listening deeply, and serving shoulder to shoulder.

Laundromat Bans Dirty Laundry

News outlets recently published a story with the headline above.

The owner of a laundromat actually posted signs banning dirty clothes in his establishment. To make matters more interesting, he also owns a car wash where he banned dirty trucks.

Why? People who had been his loyal customers for 15 or 20 years were tired of dealing with the messes left behind in the laundromat and the car wash by some of the new customers.

Churches don’t usually put up signs banning messy people. They don’t have to. Ministers and members can communicate the message without posting a sign.

“No messy people allowed.”

Why? The messes left behind by some of the new prospective members are just too much to deal with. The members who have been loyal for 15 or 20 years are offended.

Or…the leaders decide that new prospective members will never find their church attractive as long as the messy members are allowed to stay around, even if they have been around for 15 or 20 years.

Imagine a church where messy people are welcomed with open arms.

 

Dreams

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
Psalm 126:1-4

Jewish pilgrims making their way to the temple sang “psalms of ascent” (Psalms 120-134) to prepare for worship. Psalm 126 was a psalm of ascent celebrating renewal after a season of barrenness. They had been through a difficult time, whether from famine, assault, plague, or captivity; but now it was time to dream again. This song recalled God’s faithfulness to bring them through the time of trial and encouraged the pilgrims to dream again about what the future could look like.

“Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev” was the poetic vision statement of their dreams for the future.

Remember how Martin Luther King cast a vision for the future in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

Like the ancient pilgrims and other visionaries, churches need to dream. Lafayette needs to recall, even celebrate God’s faithfulness in leading us during difficult times. We need to dream about what the future could look like with God leading us and doing great things among us.

Do you have a dream?

I encourage you to dream. Maybe you will dream in creative, poetic language like the psalmist. Maybe you will dream in hopeful word pictures like Dr. King. Whatever your style, I urge you to cast a vision of what your church can look like in the years to come.

Maybe starting with these words will help stimulate your creativity—

Restore our church’s fortunes, Lord, like….

I have a dream that at our church….

May God’s faithfulness inspire creative dreaming as you seek God’s vision for what your church can look like in the years to come.

To God be the glory!

Paper, Plastic, and Church?

Thirty years ago the grocery store cashier would ask a simple question, “Paper or plastic?”  A major public relations campaign was waged to make shoppers feel guilty if they refused the offer of plastic. A choice to refuse plastic was a choice to destroy the environment, one tree at a time.

Times have changed.

The California legislature recently had a contentious debate about whether to ban plastic bags. The reasoning behind the proposed ban? Plastic bags pose a risk to the environment. We are left asking, “What were we thinking? How could we ever have thought plastic bags were the answer?”

Thirty years ago my wife walked into a church for the first time wearing pants and carrying a NIV Bible. But before we got out of the car, she wondered aloud, “Do you think I will be struck by lightning?” She had been taught by well-meaning people that women wore dresses–not pants–to church. In fact, she was taught that it was sinful for women to wear pants to church.  She had been taught that the KJV or ASV were the only reliable Bible translations.  In fact, she was told that it was sinful to use other translations. Looking back, it is hard to fathom we ever believed that stuff.

Times change.

In reflecting on my grocery store experiences with paper and plastic and my church experiences with dress and translations, I find myself pondering the future. What practices, beliefs, or restrictions are we currently holding to in our churches that we will look back on in 30 years and ask, “How could we ever have done that? How could we possibly have believed that? How could we ever have had rules against that?”

Recently Lourene and I had an opportunity to share the story of our spiritual journey over the last 30 plus years.  We wondered aloud how we could have ever accepted the restrictions we did. And we wondered about our children. In 30 years when they are telling the story of their spiritual journey, on what will they look back with disbelief? I think I can predict some of the changes that will take place in their lifetime, but others will probably be total surprises to me.

It is easy for me to vilify the previous generation for the choices they made and the way they led the church. As my children look back over their church life and see inconsistencies and absurdities, I hope they will be more gracious to me than I have been to the previous generation.

Best Church Sign Ever

Messages on church signs often make me cringe.

Some make no sense. Others seem like passive-aggressive attacks.

Still others seem to be smart-aleck.

At one church where I worked a new church sign was purchased. Only after it was installed did people realize the letters were so small you could not even read it from the street. At another the office phones lit up within minutes after a message that could best be described as both passive aggressive and smart-aleck was displayed by a helpful volunteer. It wasn’t long after that I decided if I had any input, the message on the church sign would always be a scripture that bolstered the current theme.

I see the signs all over town. I see them when I am traveling. Maybe I am just too harsh, but I gotta tell you that I don’t like most of the messages I see.

And then it happened…I saw the greatest church sign ever. It happened last Sunday as Lourene and I drove around in downtown St. Louis after visiting a patient in the hospital. It all happened so fast. The traffic was moving quickly. I couldn’t get to my phone in time to snap a photo. So I ventured back to the church yesterday so I could get a good shot of the sign. I was concerned the message might have been changed, but something told me that it probably had not been changed in a long, long time.

Take a good look. What could possibly be better to say about a church than that they feature Jesus?

Thinking about the church

This old story from Aesop has been used to make commentary on numerous political and social situations. I wonder if it doesn’t have a striking message for those who lead churches.

This is a public domain cartoon from 1936 of Felix the Cat telling the story. By the way, in most versions of the story, the goose dies.