September 2014

When did God change?

They say God is the same—yesterday, today and forever. But I have reason to wonder.


Last weekend, I attended a family baptism held in a suburban church—one of the largest in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The five-year anniversary of that Synod locking out our congregation and claiming our property is eleven days away.


It took four worship leaders—at least three of them pastors—to lead the service that wasn’t much different from a service led by just one pastor—or in many cases—no pastor.


For much of the service, all four were seated behind the altar with just the tops of their heads visible over the altar, looking a bit like “Kilroy was here” graffiti times four.


Having visited more than 80 churches in the same synod over the last three years, I have to wonder about pastors and the call process. Most of the churches we visited were getting by with minimal professional leadership—part-timers with limited commitment toward any growth needs of the congregations. God calls them, we are to believe, to “caretaker ministries.” That’s the church terminology when earthly leaders give up on God’s people. Caretaker ministers are considered successful if they live up to earthly expectations. Failure is the only goal. Yet, much is likely to be made of these “calls” to do little.


What happened to the God of the Bible?


The God of the Bible was forever calling leaders to forsake comfort and go to the needy. He dragged them from the rich, prosperous neighborhoods and put them on the fringe. He asked them to trust in his goodness (the Old Testament lesson last Sunday was the Exodus story of manna).


The God of the Bible didn’t negotiate salary packages with benefits.


Does God call pastors only to the large suburban churches, where so much ministerial effort is exerted just in management?


When “God” gives the larger churches the right to vote on ministries in distant neighborhoods of which they have no firsthand knowledge, the disparity within the Church and the called community is even more striking.


Perhaps the coming demise of the mainline church has something to do with our craving for comfort over mission. Perhaps it has something to do with making the model for ministry the creation of places for people to come to—instead of going to them.


Our bishop told us “A church without a parking lot has no chance for survival.” We visited many churches without parking lots, some of them doing pretty well!


Did God change? Or did we stop listening?


I’d like to see some form of “Kilroy was here” dotting the urban church landscape. That symbol gave courage and hope to soldiers when they saw it wherever they went in World War II. That symbol in the Church is supposed to be the cross. (Last week was Holy Cross Sunday). But our cross, in our neighborhood, with its burnt base having survived a 1920s fire, has been locked away for FIVE years with no SEPA congregations called to care.


What If Churches Refused to Use the Word “Can’t”

Small churches are challenged to be sure, but our biggest challenge is overcoming the advice from church leaders who have stopped trying to serve small churches.


We know from experience. We were told all the things we “can’t” do. And then we proceeded to do them—even after church leaders took our property and money.


“We don’t see how you can go on.” That’s what they said.


Well, they spent no time trying. Their minds had been made up for them.


Here we are six years later—still active in mission and reaching more people each year than any other congregation in our area—way more! By next year, we will be reaching more than all 160 congregations in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America combined. That’s assuming they average 1000 people each.


One of 2×2’s loyal subscribers sent this video link that proves what is possible when you remove “can’t” from you vocabulary.


It is hauntingly uplifting.


Enjoy it and then work on your own mission with equal passion.

Labor Day: Celebration of the Church Worker


Today we celebrate church workers—the laity.


They work in one of the harshest work environments ever!


No pay, no benefits, little recognition, no opportunity for advancement—except to take on more responsibility with no earthly reward.


They have multiple bosses. The people, the pastors—even community members who don’t belong to the church.


When there is conflict of any degree, the church volunteer can count on bearing the blame—often behind closed doors, without their knowledge and with no ability to defend.


The entire structure of the Church relies on their offerings—heart, mind, muscle and dollar.


They’ll plan their family vacations and holidays around what’s going on at church. They’ll sacrifice their summers to running programs for the neighborhood. They will gather ideas and spark energy. They wield a broom and sing in the choir and bring an extra dish to the potluck. They will sit through meetings, chafing to get to work.

They are the torch bearers for mission.

They will have a tough time accepting any Church vision that is not mission-oriented. They will be criticized—even mocked— for this.


Church is not a social club to them—although professional church leaders might use those very words to discredit them.


They will ignore the criticism and come back. Sunday after Sunday. Weekday after weekday. Summer after summer. Holiday after holiday. Potluck after potluck.


They will be taken for granted.


The American church volunteer.


Today, trade the pew for the beach chair! Relax. Enjoy your day.