Adult Object Lesson: John 20:19-31

sticky points

Today’s object is something sticky. A jar of glue or honey would work. It might have a prominent label.

Ask members of your congregation what they think you are holding. Go around, offer people a touch of what is sticky and gooey.

Ask them what they need in order to believe that what they are seeing is the real thing. Odds are that no one will want to touch the gooey stuff. But just in case—have some wipes ready. You never know what another person’s sticky point in believing might be!

Today’s Gospel lesson is the story that branded Thomas as “the Doubter” — the disciple who not only had to see Christ to believe in the Resurrection but boasted that he also had to touch his wounds. He had to know that it was really Jesus and not some impostor. The wounds were proof.

Retell the story. Hit the high points.

The disciples were now in the habit of meeting behind locked doors. Their lives were at stake.

Jesus appears. No knock on the door. No secret password for entry. He simply appears.

It is surely one of his first appearances. He will make others, but the two gatherings discussed in today’s Gospel are still “news.”

Thomas wasn’t there for the first gathering, but he heard about it—it was the hottest gossip in town.

Think about gossip for a minute. Some people who hear juicy gossip merge it with their own story, leading the next hearers to believe that the news is firsthand.

Thomas didn’t do this. Thomas wanted proof.

He lays it on the line. To be so memorable it must have been with some degree of machismo.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

The next time the disciples are together—with Thomas among them—and Jesus appears, all eyes turn to Thomas.

Jesus is there to bring peace and fuel the disciples with the Spirit.

But he is God and all-knowing. He knows the gossip, too. He turns to Thomas and offers his wounds to him.

Here is the interesting thing that almost all artists get wrong. The story of Thomas is depicted inaccurately so often that we tend to overlook an important part of this story. 

763px-Hendrick_ter_Brugghen_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_-_WGA22166Artist after artist shows Thomas poking a finger or two into Jesus’ still open wounds. It’s almost as if we can’t believe this story if we don’t see Thomas following through on his pledge. (Here is one work by Hendrick ter Brugghen).

But reread the story from the gospel. Thomas doesn’t poke his fingers into Jesus’ wounds. Thomas immediately confesses his creed, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas never follows through on his boastful pledge. Seeing was believing.

If your congregation uses projection, use 2×2’s weekly slide presentation to be published by Thursday as evidence.

You might close by giving poor Thomas his due. Sure, Thomas doubted, but from his doubt grew an incredible faith. Thomas is credited with carrying the message of Christ to India and establishing the first Christian church there. Some Indian families today proudly trace their Christian heritage to his ministry. (And with this you can tie in two verses from today’s psalm — Psalm 16: 5-6. 

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

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A Cure for the Easter Monday Blues

2x2imageGood morning 2×2 readers.

It’s a new day! Christ is risen!

Prediction: This coming Sunday will be the week with the lowest church attendance of the church year. (Pastors call it Black Sunday.)

There is always a letdown after the long Lenten season, Holy Week and glorious Easter.

We pause to digest that Easter dinner—along with all the scripture paraded by us in the last few weeks—and start to think, “Now what?”

For many small churches the post-Easter weeks, soon to be followed by the distractions of summer, are depressing—a reminder of just how difficult small church ministry is.

Our Cure for the Post-Easter Blues

2×2 took most of last week off. Holy Week/Easter plans had us pretty busy. We are sure most 2×2 readers were on overload, too!

We are now thinking ahead to the long season of Pentecost only a few weeks away.

Here is 2×2’s plan.

Something Old!

2×2 now has three years of resources on our website. 2×2 will organize them by topic and lectionary. Readers will be able to find a resource for any given purpose more easily.

This may involve some disruption as we restructure our website—which has grown like three or four Topsys! The technology has changed during the last four years, too. So much more is possible! So please bear with us!

2×2 will continue to improve the slide show resources we started only a couple of months ago. These have 250 viewers when posted and seem to grow even after their liturgical significance passes.  This is not a bad statistic for a new offering that has not been promoted! As a new offering there will be some experimentation with formatting to make sure they are as versatile for different uses as possible.

We’ll continue our weekly adult object lessons.

Something New!

What’s the Number One thing holding congregations back from using social media?

Content creation.

 

Creating content is work even for churches with large churches with a dedicated ministry staff. Small churches often have minimal professional leadership—which is guaranteeing their doom unless they find a way to reach out—which is difficult with part-time and volunteer readership. Catch 22!

But there is a way (maybe even a few ways!).

2×2 now has three years of experience and 1000 posts!

We’ll start developing content for congregations to use in their social media campaigns using a weekly editorial calendar that any church (ANY CHURCH) can use and adapt to its own ministry.

The plan is to provide sharable content. Congregations will be encouraged to use the provided content “as is” to adapt for their existing community and grow their neighborhood presence and influence.

 

Congregations will have access to an editorial calendar to guide their online ministry. This basic structure, easily augmented and adapted for individual congregational use will provide the framework for any congregation’s online presence. From our experience this is 80% of the work—a major barrier to online ministry will be removed.

It will be another 2×2 experiment. An ambitious experiment!

So watch 2×2 as we launch this new congregational service. Use it free of charge! Let us know if it is helpful. Add your ideas on how to make it more useful.

Thanks, 2×2 readers. Remember, every Sunday is a celebration of Easter! No reason to feel blue!

Christ is risen, indeed!

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Redeemer’s Easter 2014

Five Years—No Stone Rolled Away Yet!Easter 2014Some Redeemer members gathered for scripture and prayer in front of our forbidden church. It was our fifth Easter locked out of God’s house by edict of Bishop Claire Burkat of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (SEPA/ELCA).

Two years ago, a SEPA representative addressed the East Falls Community Council and pledged to start a Word and Sacrament Church in East Falls, never mentioning why they locked the doors on the 82 members of the 117-year-old congregation. In the five years in control of Redeemer’s property, they’ve taken NO actions toward opening a Word and Sacrament Church. They posted a For Sale sign the very month that the property was free of liens.

Yes, the back row of this photo montage is difficult to understand. Say one thing to gain support of people who don’t want to think too much about what’s going on — then get as much cash for East Falls property as possible.

The front row includes the people who are actually maintaining a Word and Sacrament Church in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia (with the help of others not depicted). This dedicated group has grown the ministry with the broadest reach in the entire synod and perhaps the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But SEPA sees only dollar signs in East Falls.

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Core Non-Theological Beliefs of A Successful Church

10 Non-Theological Core Beliefs of the FaithfulToday’s post follows yesterdays. Both build on posts by Dharmesh Shah, the founder of Hubspot.

Yesterday’s post was about 8 Habits for Success. Today’s builds on a second post, Core Beliefs for Success.

Here are some thoughts on how they apply to church life.

Beliefs are nothing without action, he states. What are the common traits of leaders and organizations that lead the way with their actions? How do they apply to congregations?

1. They believe they don’t have to wait to be “selected.” They can simply select themselves.

Church people have difficulty with this. We wait for “the call.” We rely on the skills, interests, and initiatives of the pastor who has received “the call.” A pastor’s call is elevated above the mundane calls of the laity—not by the Bible—not by Martin Luther—but in practice.

We all know that theologically we all receive calls. Some are followed. Some ignored. Some respected. Some despised.

When “the call” isn’t heard or, more likely, heard but unanswered, we use this as an excuse for failure.

The internet amplifies “the call.” It gives everyone the ability to do almost anything with their God-given interests and skills. So many impediments to success have been removed. Anyone can improve his or her theological education. Anyone can reach out. Anyone can “tell it.”

Listen carefully. God may be bypassing the layers of authority.

It would be just like him.

He did it in the Old Testament when he called Moses, Saul, Samuel, David, Jonah . . .

He did it in the New Testament when he commissioned His son and called Peter and eleven other disciples, Paul, Zaccheus, Lydia . . . .

Listen carefully.

2. They believe being the first matters less than being the best.

The game of life is a race with more than one winner.

The ones who get the best start often tire before they reach the finish line. Suddenly, the ones who paced along, trailing by yards, move into the forefront.

There is plenty of work in the kingdom. Let each congregation shine in its own race.

Hey, we can even help each other get to the finish line.

3. They believe success seems predictable only in hindsight.

Here Shah quotes the visionary, Steve Jobs.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.”

Jobs was wildly successful but his failures were noteworthy and newsworthy. They were public, humiliating and complete. Jobs was kicked out of the company he started!

In fact, his failures created his ingenuity. He had a LOT to overcome. Routinely he emerged with a new idea that changed the world—backed up with new systems and structures to promote them. Wow!

Here’s where so many congregations need a lift. We’ve been told “you can’t” or “we don’t see how you can” so many times. So many congregations reluctantly hand their future to leaders with no vision—leaders who are themselves tired and doubting and willing to carry congregations on their backs as they fall.

For them, hindsight will be too late. Predict your own success. Do it today!

4. They believe personal success comes from service, not selfishness.

There is a reason for this! Service creates connection—bonds. When we approach mission as service-oriented we reach out, we build bridges, we create a platform—or pulpit—from which the Word can be heard. Rather than viewing mission as a protection of assets, we see assets with the intent to serve. That is what the people who provided those assets had in mind!

The challenge for the modern church is to strengthen the individual. That’s not going to happen the traditional ways—Sunday Schools, Confirmation Class, etc. The writing for this is so on the wall that it is a grand mural.

Our challenge is to find ways to educate and empower in today’s world. It’s never been more possible, by the way!

5. They believe in doing a few things no one else is willing to do. 

Shah writes: The best opportunities often lie waiting in fields other people can’t be bothered to cultivate. Find those fields and start cultivating.

That should be enough said, but Redeemer’s Ambassador visits, reveal that most congregations are doing the same things. Many of them are supporting non-church charities like Habitat for Humanity, disease-cure walks, and contributing to food pantries. We send our youth to Appalachia, New Orleans or an Indian Reservation to work on a specific project. All good ventures. All have someone else providing the infrastructure and management, which helps churches that have lost that infrastructure. Mission made easy.

But here are two questions for every congregation to ask a few weeks before their Annual Meeting.

What opportunity for service is waiting for US?
What service can we provide that no one else can do?

 6. They believe that the depth of their network is more important than the breadth.

The numbers game is a real temptation. We all play it.

You must have 150 members to support a pastor. Then giving drops, participation drops and we suddenly need 250 members to pay the same bills. All those country and city churches that never had more than 150 members—all those churches that made their way through the founding years of our young nation and weathered the Great Depression are struggling amidst today’s affluence.

The internet numbers game is also a temptation. 2×2 watches our numbers. We are regularly solicited by Search Engine Optimizers to use their services to boost our numbers. We don’t use them. We want to grow organically. (We now, in our fourth year, have about 400 readers per day.)

The strength of the connections is more important than the numbers.

Strengthen the bonds and the numbers take care of themselves.

7. They believe ideas are important… but execution is everything.

How many church council meetings have you sat through that someone offered a great idea. “Let’s reach out to _________.”

And that’s where the idea stops.

Ideas are easy. Strategies and the ability to follow them and shift gears and resume speed when glitches occur—that’s the tough part.

Pick a great idea. Work at it.

8. They believe leadership is earned, not given.

We’ve heard the cry before. “If only the congregation would let me lead.”

Leadership doesn’t work that way!

Poor leaders sit around and mope about their pay or that they aren’t given the respect their position deserves. They build their reputations on a single achievement—ordination or the completion of a specific training course.

Inspiring leaders turn the attention outward, giving their followers the support and credit for success.

Shah is worth quoting directly here.

Real leaders make people feel they aren’t following—they’re on a journey together.

 9. They believe in paying it forward.

Successful people don’t wait for the right conditions for success. They work at creating conditions for success. 

This is a particular challenge in today’s church. So many part-time pastors are paid by the hour. 

“But you are only paying me for 15 hours a week.”

That doesn’t leave much time for leadership and opens the door for conflict as people fight over exactly what 15 hours should represent.

Real leaders don’t say, “Pay me more and I’ll do more.” They start doing more. They give their all.

This does more than earn raises. It earns respect.  Respect builds teamwork and teamwork helps us reach goals—mission goals and monetary goals.

10. They believe they will make their own history.

In 2009, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with the secular court’s permission, locked the doors of Redeemer Lutheran Church and carried away our church records to be archived in the library of the Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia.

They considered our history to be over—ready to collect dust.

It is 2014—five years later. Our history is not over. We are making our own history. We’ll archive it when we are ready!

By all means, you do the same!

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8 Habits to Nurture Success in Church

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Habits for Success in Ministry

Dharmesh Shah is the founder of Hubspot.

If you have an internet ministry you know about Hubspot. Hubspot leads the way in making the internet work. They sell software that turns the internet into a tool that can guide and measure what you are doing—something churches need to do.

Your evangelism team can learn a lot from following Hubspot online. They publish tons of free resources—they advocate blogging!

Shah recently published two posts. He practices what he preaches, you see.

Let’s look at one today and see how his business advice applies to the Church. We’ll save the second one for tomorrow.

Simple Daily Habits of the Delightfully Successful

1. Walk away from gossip.

The Church is often driven by gossip. That gossip often comes from the highest levels of church. It’s hard for underlings to walk away when leaders are gossiping.

But wait a minute. Don’t we Lutherans believe we are all equal — all saint and sinners?

How many church conflicts start with gossip? How many are fueled for years by gossip?

Gossip is a tool of the powerful. Power thrives on no one questioning. Yet, questioning or ignoring gossip, no matter who generates it, are the only ways to keep the Church from imploding.

Shah’s advice: Talk to people, not about them.

2. Spend five minutes in another person’s shoes.

Focus on others. What does this congregation need? What does this pastor need? What do lay members need? We are interdependent in our structure, but how much time do we really spend thinking about how our actions affect others?

We visited one church where ministry was stalled because their educational wing lacked handicapped accessibility. They had the will and the manpower to operate a dayschool, but couldn’t conquer the property issue—at least by themselves. But it was unlikely that anyone would help them. Pity!

What if every church leader made this one question the key part of leadership strategy?

What can I do to help?

Shah says: The best way to build your own long-term success is to help other people succeed.

3. Give one person unexpected praise.

We all need an “attaboy” now and then—especially when the road is rocky and goals are challenging. Shah points out that choosing to find the good in others cost us nothing but brands us “in an awesome way.”

Many a small congregation suffers from low self-esteem. We feel as if our only value to the Church is our ability to support the greater church—and our ability to do that is waning. We don’t get many “attaboys.” We are barely noticed until it is too late. Time to turn that around!

4. Do one thing no one else is willing to do.

Here is where many congregations make a huge mistake. Most congregation strive to do the very same things their neighbors are doing. In fact, we are encouraged to be like everyone else.

There is a reason for that. We look for what unites us, what defines us.

What if we looked for that extra thing that makes us stand out—makes us the leaders in a particular niche.

Redeemer did this on at least two fronts. We reached out to the growing East African population in our region and we started a serious online ministry. Doing this has led us to other niche ministries. An amazing journey!

5. Shine the spotlight on one person.

Find opportunities to publicly praise others. We in the church spend a lot of time praising professional leadership, honoring clergy achievements and milestones. What might happen if the tables were turned and the achievements of congregations were publicly praised? A collective “attaboy”?

Heaven forbid the leadership of laity be celebrated at the regional level!

Sharing the spotlight might just be the spur that laity need. It might make us feel a little less used and useless. It might be motivational. It might be transformational!

6. “Sell” one thing.

Selling, Shah points out, is the ability to explain the reasoning, logic and benefits of a decision or a perspective in order to get buy-in. He adds: Selling is the ability to overcome skepticism or doubt.

Sounds like evangelism! Yet many people in church life—clergy and lay alike—have no sales/evangelism skills. Martin Luther tried to help us. He wrote his catechisms so that any one of us could explain our faith. Reread them! Put them to work! (And read your Bible, too.)

7. Give one person an unexpected hand.

Shah makes a good point. Most people have a very tough time asking for help. It’s hard to face rejection. It is hardest to face rejection when help is most needed.

He advises us to create an atmosphere where people feel they can ask for help. You do this by making it a habit to offer help.

“Offer to help in a way that feels collaborative instead of gratuitous or patronizing. And then actually help.”

8. Admit one failing.

Laugh at yourself. Say you are sorry. Admit you aren’t perfect even as we
strive for perfection.

Shah says there are two reasons to take this approach.

  1. It’s good for us. It helps us improve our weaknesses.
  2. It adds to likability. You’ll like yourself better and so will others.

Who joins a church where they don’t like the people?

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Resurrection: The Goal of Transformation

Transformation Isn’t Built in A Day

We are in the middle of Holy Week at a time in history when the Church longs for a new resurrection. We are ready to celebrate, once again, the Resurrection—the big one. The one with the capital “R”.

This Easter, the greater Church is struggling with resurrection.

From our distant vantage point, the Resurrection seems to have happened so very quickly—three years of wandering the byways of Judea with a little escalating trouble here and there. Suddenly, the faithful are standing at the foot of the cross and then—voila!—Christ rises from the dead. We compress the entire story in our minds. We concentrate on the three days. Alleluia!

We are in a hurry with our modern short attention spans, so we gloss over the Old Testament build up. The Jews waited centuries for that day—generations born and buried! Some modern scholars are now making the case that Jesus ministry, traditionally encapsulated into three years, probably lasted at least two decades.

The process of nurturing is slow and tedious. It is not steady. Mistakes and failures are rungs in the ladder to success. It is no place for leaders looking for the quick turnaround, especially today.

Today, we are building on decades of neglect—inadequate ministry. The corporate approach to church leadership was to provide as much ministry as a community could afford—at salary levels that were outpacing those of the people being served. Investing in new methods or outreach was not considered.

We did not believe our own message.

When things weren’t so dire, we pinched pennies. We played it safe. We camouflaged our neglect with terminology that seemed kind—caretaker ministries—stewardship.

Caretaker ministries have only one outcome—failure. Any pennies spent on these ministries are pennies squandered.

Neglect is neglect.

Caretaker ministries are all about protecting assets—and not for the ministries that provided the assets. Greed enters the picture. Feelings of superiority justify the coveting of others property. Stories are invented (gossip) to justify the feelings of superiority. The devil is creative!

This leads to more caretaking and more intentional neglect.

Don’t waste resources on congregations that are going to die in 30 years.

That’s the advice of church consultants who are now experiencing their own endangered status.

Transformation is a slow process. Progress is incremental. Churches are not going to resurrect ministry in three days or three years. But they can be nurtured back to life. That used to be the job of ministry.

Redeemer, with its wealth of experience over the last two decades, had been following the incremental path toward transformation. We were making great progress when church leadership decided they might be missing their opportunity to get their hands on our property and endowments. Their intentional neglect wasn’t working the way they thought it would.

They tried for 20 years—incorporating escalating tactics of neglect. At last they got their way —not based on the law or their own governance but based on the separation of church and state. The secular courts can’t stop them. The law requires them to police their own behavior. That requires more fortitude than the modern church can muster.

But Redeemer soldiers on. We continued to tweak our ministry even with our unwelcome—even persecuted, nonexistent status in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

We learned a lot. We’ve been sharing what we learn and will continue.

We’ve reached 30,000 readers in the last three months. More than any other congregation that voted to destroy our ministry!

Our transformation has been slow and productive. Time for our resurrection.

Redeemer lives.

Here’s an interesting TED talk on the process of transformation.

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Pakistani Christians March on Palm Sunday

It was a rough year for Christians in Pakistan. Hundreds were killed and injured in terrorist bombings only months ago (September). Their presence in the streets on Palm Sunday is all the more remarkable knowing that their witness is not made without risk.

The risk of discipleship is part of the Passion story we will live this week.

Thanks for sharing with us, Pakistan. Lift high the cross.

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