Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Issue #3, Church Overhead, AKA Spending Money on Us

In your household, you probably have a few pretty large expenses every month. Rent or mortgage, utilities, maybe a car payment. Like most of us, those bills take up a lot of our income. Churches aren't much different. At one church, we called those the "fixed costs" and they had to be paid before we could use the funds for anything else. The payment for the building, the utility bill, vehicles, maintenance, the list is pretty standard. My challenge today is, should we be putting most of our money into overhead? Should the church have so many bills?

Let's back up to the New Testament. First off, I want to put this out there now. The tithe existed for the Jewish people to pay for the temple and the priests. The tithe is not a New Testament requirement on the non-Jewish people. Are we commanded to give? Yes. How much? Paul said whatever we can give, above and beyond our ability in some cases. Having the tithe, or the 10% is easy, cause it's a set number and people can just cut a check. Provides accountability, but it pays for stuff in the Old Testament that we don't have today, or at least aren't suppose to have. The tithe is an Old Testament law to support the Old Testament structure. What is the New Testament structure?

Let's be honest, the early church didn't have a dedicated church building. They couldn't, they were being persecuted. The Jews had the Temple and the synagogues. The pagans had the pagan temples, the Christians, they met in homes, in caves, in other places. They just met wherever they met because they had no "church service". They didn't decide they were going to meet every week at 11:00 am to have a service. They did worship together on Sunday, but it was more like Sunday dinner than a worship service. They all came over on Sunday, fellowshipped, worshipped, talked, and ate. It was pretty simple. The guy who leads the group was the "elder" or "pastor" and all these little groups cooperated together. It was understood that "the church" was all the Christians in that town that met in various places. Not too different than today.

When it came to time to give, the early church gave with the understanding of where the money went. First, to support those who were poor, in danger, or in need. They gave early on to support the church in Jerusalem, which was experiencing persecution. Makes it hard to work when you are running for your life. They gave money to support others. Second, they gave to support the Apostles, Elders, and Pastors. That's it. They gave their money to support, help, and care for others. All of their money went to this end. All of the money the church gave went to people who needed help, to spread the Gospel, to plant new churches and to give aid to the sick and poor.

I'm not going to say that buildings are bad, they are a tool. I have worked in several church buildings, and they are nice. It's nice to have an office, it's nice to have a kitchen and classrooms and a dedicated space for worship. It's nice to have those things, it makes it easier. Setting up chairs is awful, being transient is awful. It's nice to have a building. At one point in the history of the American church, it also made sense to have a building. Does it still make sense to pour most of the giving into stuff in the day and age we live in? Does having a dedicated church building do the most good for the ministry?

Here is reality. That church building, those chairs and the AC. You can say it's for the community, but it's not. It's for you, the church members. It's to have a nice place to sit, a place to listen to your Christian Concert and drink your coffee. We like having a nice building that is heated and air-conditioned. Sure, visitors can come in, and new people, but if another new person never visited your church, would you tear it down? Nope, not as long as you were still attending. Still don't believe me? Ask yourself why there are so many fights about the way the church looks. Why do we fight over carpet color, paint color, and decorations? If the building doesn't matter, why do people get so upset when things change? You think the lost people or the new people are concerned with the picture your grandmother donated 50 years ago? All those things are for us, the church members.

Here is my suggestion. Sell all that stuff and meet at a High School gym. Here is an even better idea, work together with a Christian business that is closed on Sunday morning and has a church there. Know what my dream is? Multiple services every week in Chick-Fil-As all over this country. At one point I had discussed with a friend starting a pizza restaurant that had a large dining area that on Sunday would donate the space to a church that we would plant there. The restaurant would be self-sustaining, it would pay for itself and the church would have very little overhead. Can you imagine churches in car dealerships, restaurants, office conference rooms, schools, theaters, and all kinds of places that cost just a fraction of what a church building does?

What would the church do with all that extra money? Maybe we could help all the people, instead of waiting on Congress. Maybe the church could send people to the border with supplies to help those in centers, instead of complaining on social media. Maybe we could help the homeless Vets, we could support those babies who were not aborted. We could spend the money being the salt and light of Jesus and make a huge difference. We wouldn't need to wait on government social policy, we could do it. We can make a huge difference if we can decide not to spend the money on air-conditioned buildings with comfortable chairs, good coffee, and a state of the art sound system so we can enjoy ourselves. We would become the church instead of Christian consumers, and I think we may even see some revival.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Issue #2. The Church Concert, aka Worship

There is a great Christian Recording Artist named Ross King who I had the honor of meeting at National Collegiate Week many years ago. He has a song called "Clear the Stage" about how we approach worship in our country and the church. The first line of the song is "Clear the stage and set the sounds and lights ablaze if that's the measure you must take to crush the idol". He goes on in the song to be very honest about the state of the church when it comes to worship. We have to ask ourselves, what are we really worshiping? Are we singing to God, or are we worshiping at the feet of our own entertainment preferences? Maybe we are just worshiping our desire to be entertained and enjoy ourselves.

In my years in the church ministries, I have had some issues with worship and the way we say we "worship". Things have only gotten worse. My first and biggest complaint is that modern church worship isn't worship, it's an attempt to emotionally manipulate the congregation. We act like this is somehow "holy" if we get people really emotionally into what is happening. The reality, this happens outside the church. Jason Aldean, a country singer says in one of his songs that during a concert everyone feels the "halleluiah high from the floor to the ceiling". This is not a Christian song, this is not a context to worship God, but this country singer recognizes the ability to manipulate the crowd into feeling a religious experience. As a performer, it's his job to emotionally manipulate the people into feeling good and having fun. It is not the job of the church to manipulate the people in the congregation into feeling something. This isn't authentic, nowhere is the Bible does it talk about having an emotional experience with Christ. The reality is emotions are easy to manipulate but don't last. You know as well as I do the promises and vows you made in emotional situations that faded as soon as the emotions. Guilt, fear, and anger cause you to make promises you'll never keep. Feelings of elation and extasy do the same thing, and often the "mountain top" experience is an emotional decision that doesn't last long enough to even get us off the mountain. To compensate, the church has begun to try to emotionally manipulate the church once a week for 30 minutes, then we listen to Christian radio to try to fill in the gaps. This keeps people doing the right thing without the need for the Holy Spirit or any actual saving faith in their lives.

It didn't always use to be this way. We use to sing songs that taught, that had depth and that didn't attempt to emotionally manipulate people. They didn't require saying the same phrase over 50 times, they didn't have 3 part harmonies, solos, lights, and special effects. These things move worshipers to spectators. If you are doing things on the stage that the people in the congregation aren't doing, like guitar solos, they are no longer worshipers, they are spectators. I have had this conversation with many worship leaders, some agreed with me, many didn't. I am pretty convinced that the main purpose for these things in to create a "mood" and move the people into a specific emotional place. This is a nice way of saying "emotional manipulation".

The performance aspect of our church services, what we call Worship, has become an idol. People join and leave churches based on the music, which is basically their need to be entertained. We have entire churches that spend more on the music budget in a month than discipleship in a year. We have put so much into the emotional manipulation because it fills the pews. If we offer mini-concerts every week, along with a free coffee bar and some feel-good words, we can fill the building. It works, and it keeps people coming back and fewer and fewer people have the Biblical worldview. They walk away singing the songs that aren't teaching them anything. If you want proof, look at the state of our country, how much we have given up and given away. The church is not having the impact on society it once had.

The sad truth is, it's doubtful things will change. The leadership doesn't want to change things, they see this is working. Megachurches with the best worship keep growing. Worship leaders don't want to change this, they feel they are having a great impact. The entertained masses don't want to change this, they love the free show they can attend. We have gone so far down this road, it will take something disastrous to turn back. I don't see the worship trend changing unless this country makes it illegal to worship. Those just coming for entertainment will not come under threat of persecution. If the flashy show draws attention from a hostile government, it will go away. Then the faithful who are left will worship in a very different manner. They will sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs to one another without professionals, without solos and three-part harmonies. The music will become a teaching aspect of the church again, not an entertainment aspect. Emotional manipulation won't be a recipe for a large service, and then we may see revival in the church. Until then, it's an assembling of consumers for entertainment.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Church Issues #1 Leadership

Issue #1. Leadership.
Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't have church leadership. You should have church leadership, you should have a solid group of leaders who are dedicated to the principles of scripture. What would shouldn't have is the idol of leadership that exists in the church today. Leadership is more important that discipleship these days. You can find a ton of books, conferences, classes. My Master's Degree is in Educational Leadership from an SBC Seminary. Leadership is a big deal, it's big money and a huge focus.

The problem is, it's what we worship. Look at the leaders in your church, look at the people clamoring to be leaders in your church. We have leaders in church all over this country who bought and paid their way into the job. I know pastors who have done questionable things to get or keep their leadership. We know there are pastors being fired because they became abusive in their leadership. Power corrupts, and Pastors are being corrupted. Elders, Deacons, boards, overseers, entire groups of people are in love with their own power and position.  They cling to it like it's a pearl of great price. Most of my ministry career, I stayed in the 2nd fiddle job, this is where I wanted to be. I had no desire to be the lead pastor. From that vantage point, I could see the power hungry fighting to get influence. They used position, education, age, income, or longevity to fight for a claim the spots on the top of the hill.

I have said for years there are two types of people in church ministry and in leadership. The first are those who really love the church and feel a calling to serve God's people. These are in the minority. The second group is the people who just really want to be in charge. They have found a place to be in charge, the local church. They finally get to be in charge, and the often become dictatorial. You see these types of people in a couple of places, they are in charge of the church, homeowner associations (HOAs), and civic groups and organizations. Horror stories abound from these people, they often have a hard time getting along, they get in charge and stay there, they keep the leadership teams closed and tight. The young people that are added to the teams have either been in the organization (church) for many years, are related to the current leaders, or a combination of things. They are abusive, they want to keep things their way. They are not usually concerned with other people, they are not concerned with helping, growing, or supporting anything except their own position. If they want the organization to grow, it's for their own glory. If they want things to succeed, it is usually to make themselves look better.

There is a spiritual reality to this, one that is not comfortable, but we must address. There are many in church leadership today who are not saved. Pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, members who are in control of much of the church who are not saved. They serve with a passion and fire, but this doesn't mean they are controlled by the Holy Spirit. The religious leaders of Jesus day had a passion. Today we see Muslims, Buddhists, cult members and leaders all serve with a passion. People have a passion for politics, organizations, the military, and a host of other things. People can be passionate about the organization and programming of the local church, but not know Jesus.

Jesus told us this would be the case. In a passage we know pretty well in Matthew 7, Jesus tells us about people who serve Jesus without being saved. Jesus says:
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'

If we unpack that a little, we see these people preaching (prophecy) and doing ministry (casting out demons) in the name of Jesus. These are church leaders, Pastors, leaders, teachers, and people with influence inside of the local church. These are people who do a lot in the name of Jesus, but their motivation is themselves. They are motivated by leadership. They want to be in charge.

How do you recognize this? People who are in love with leadership focus on leadership. They talk all the time about it, they focus on it. They will talk about their prior leadership experience, they constantly talk about their qualifications. They will protect their authority at all cost, they will even destroy others, and they often do. If they feel threatened by someone, they will gossip, slander, criticize that person. They will seek to have others removed from positions if they feel them a threat. They are often angry or insecure. The position is their idol, and they will do whatever they need to do to protect it. Nothing they do is out of the range of ability for any leader in any secular arena, even if they are claiming God's blessing. Remember, a growing church is not always a sign of God's blessings. Muslims are a growing group. Gangs grow, the Mafia grew, this wasn't God's blessing. Wealth, success, fame, all these things are not a sign of God's blessings. They come on evil men all the time. A follower of Christ will be gentle, meek, and kind. They will not need to try to control or manipulate anything, but will simply do what is right. Of course, in all matters of church leadership, the Bible will be the standard and will do whatever needs to be done to follow the Bible, not the opinion of key or important people in the church.

If you find yourself in a church like this, especially if it's the Pastor or the key leadership, you need to get out. They are not going to step aside or take correction. You can pray for them, you can gently try to help, but if you find yourself in a full confrontation, nothing good will result. If it's not the Pastor, but some other leaders, you will have to decide what the impact will be to you and your family. Remember, Satan is real and he will put people in the church to bring it down from the inside. Paul writes to Timothy about this, and it still happens. If something is becoming destructive to your family, then you need to think about finding a new church. It's not easy, but fighting with these people is never productive. They will protect their power and position above all else. My hope is you will never have to deal with this level of power struggle, but with all the focus the modern American church has put on leadership, it's a real possibility. Power has long been an idol, Satan used it to tempt Jesus. Many in the modern church have fallen under its control.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Series: Where the "Good" Church Gets it Wrong

I love the church with all the flaws. I love the American church and I don't want to see it go away. I think the church is vital, but it's no secret that I am pretty disconnected from the church these days. After spending my early career in full-time vocational ministry, I have found several things that don't sit well in the local church. These are flaws that are often ignored and overlooked. These are deep-seated issues, problems that I believe need to be addressed, but get ignored.

I think it's pretty easy to see we have a lot of churches in this country that have turned away and flat out ignore the Bible. They have walked away from teachings on sex, marriage, homosexuality, the value of life, and a host of other issues. Churches have compromised on a myriad of social issues, and we have seen the liberal church embrace anything. There is a universal component to their salvation method that doesn't require Jesus. These churches are broken, and I'm not talking about these churches in this post. That's too easy. You can find the issues with the liberal church on your own. I'm talking about good churches, Bible-believing (mostly) who are trying to do the right thing and live by what the Bible teaches. For the most part, they are doing what they feel the Bible calls them to do. The issue is the problems that have crept in under the door that no one wants to talk about. Sometimes they are talked about, and often when they are, they are talked about as good things. They are focused on and highlighted. I have a feeling this may offend, and upset a few of you, and many of you won't agree with me. That's ok, I'm not Francis Chan, I know I can't say something like "you need to change your entire paradigm" and have you nod your head in agreement and solidarity and then not do any of it. I'm not a fool, I know that no one will read this and change the way they do church entirely, but maybe we can begin to change the nature of the church. Maybe someday we can solve these issues and make what I believe to be a more Biblically sound church in America.

The list is short, but my comments will be long, so instead of making this one post, I am going to break this up into several. Look for them, hope you will read and think about my position. I think we can really see great things happen for the church in America if we are willing to fix the things that are broken and address the things that hold us back. Change is hard, people don't like it and churches are very bad at it. In the end, I think these things will really help us reach a dying, lost and corrupt country. It starts at home.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Parable of the Stone Wall

There was a country that had stone walls that were of high value. A young man in the country loved the walls and often came to sit by them. He wanted to help build the wall, but the men who built it told him "don't concern yourself with the work, just sit and enjoy the wall." The men at work were always nice to him, they greeted him, spoke with him. They would even share their lunch and give him water to drink. They would tell him about the wall, but never was he given the chance to help build the wall.

From time to time the young man would try to help, he would bring stone, but his stones were always rejected. The young man became frustrated. He wanted to help, to work but the men in charge of the wall refused to let the young man help. They would not teach him how to place stones or stack them. The boy began to show up less and less until one day he stopped coming. He lost all interest in the wall. Many young people became less interested in the wall. The wall builders were irritated with the young man. After all, they were nice to him, shared with him. They could not understand why the young man walked away. In the meantime, they continued to work, believing it to be too important to trust to anyone else.

I hope as you read, you understand.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question.....

Hi friends and readers and random folks who dropped by. It's been a while since I last posted. Back in July to be exact. I have had some changes happen since I last posted. I am currently teaching at a great school east of Sioux City. It's a small school in a small town with great people. The Principal is great, the Superintendent is great, the other teachers and staff are all great. The students are fun and I love being in the classroom with them, and all the parents have been supportive. It's been a great experience. It has been busy, along with teaching for my first year, I'm still in class. I'm in a non-traditional education program, so I teach my first year as an intern while taking classes and writing papers. It's been busy and a little stressful, hence my reason for not blogging much. . . or at all.

The other reason for my lack of blogging has been content a little. If you have been a reader of mine, you know that I blog about faith, the church, theology, and other topics of a Christian nature. You also know that the last 10 years have been difficult for me, coming to the Midwest has been an adjustment, more than just the weather and climate. The churches here are very different, and I haven't adapted well. I will hold off on elaborating, but I am less connected to a church at this point in my life than I have ever been in my previous 42 years. I don't want to just write post after post on all the problems that I see but at this point, I believe the church in America and the Midwest needs some major changes.

It's not that I've lost my faith, or that I don't believe the church to be valuable. I believe the church is the physical representation of the incarnate Christ on earth, with Christ as the head. This is core to my beliefs but also a large part of my struggle. Being in the midwest I have had some rejection by the church to various degrees. I was told point blank I wasn't good enough. The church, which is the body of Christ, is informing me I'm not sufficient. This has been pretty hard for me to deal with. The church was the one place I was able to find my place, to serve, to work, and to be successful. It was quickly taken away.

The point is, being disconnected has changed the nature of what I can and should write about. It has led me to the question of blogging at all. Do I just change the nature of my posts? Do I continue to blog but move away from the topic from the last 10 years? It's been a struggle to be sure, and I'm not exactly sure what direction I will go. I know I miss blogging and writing posts, but simply enjoying the process may not be reason enough for it to continue. I will give it time, see what direction fate swings me, and if I can think of interesting things to write to publish on a blog. If you have any input, feel free to share.

Monday, July 30, 2018

An Open Letter to God


Dearest Heavenly Father,

     I am writing to you today on my blog because I want to encourage others and be humble and transparent before you and them. You have seen me struggle over the last few years. I have cried out because I have been hurt and I have felt abandoned. I set out to serve you in full-time vocational ministry, and when that dream ended and seemed to die, I felt lost. I didn't know what to do, I didn't really even know who I was anymore. I was going to stay where I was for years, at least until my kids were graduated, it was hard at times and I struggled, but I thought I could manage. I guess I couldn't, because just like that and it was gone. I went from job to job, looking for some kind of purpose and meaning. I failed each time, trying to do my own thing but unable to get any traction. On top of that, I knew about the slander that was being set about me by people who claimed they cared about me. I was being mocked and insulted and there was nothing I could say or do about it. I was hurt. I was heartbroken, depressed, and despondent.

     I felt rejected, and I felt ultimately I was rejected by you. I felt a call in my life to serve you, so I set out to do that, but I failed. I was even told I wasn't cut out to be in ministry. The one thing I had focused my efforts on for more than 20 years, and I was told I wasn't cut out for it, that I should pursue education. During this time, I became bitter, my heart grew hard and cold and I sinned in my anger. I was angry, incredibly angry and with no way to get rid of that anger, I pushed it down. I couldn't talk to anyone about it, I had to keep everything locked inside. As I choked on my bitterness and rage, I became more and more selfish. I didn't understand why this was happening, I couldn't understand why you felt so far away. You seemed silent and painfully absent. I lashed out, mostly at the church. I looked at the church as the people who wronged me, who took away my purpose and my joy. In reality, I wasn't mad at them. I was mad at you.

     I don't know why all this happened, and I don't know why you have led me here. I start this fall to be an English Teacher in Correctionville, Iowa. I am thrilled about it, and I know that I can do all the things you have called me to do in the classroom, just in a different way. I thought I understood when I was applying for jobs and the Christian School offered a job teaching English and Bible, and I was so encouraged until they wouldn't return any of my phone calls or emails. I didn't understand the rejection I felt I was getting, the void in heart continued to grow, and I have really struggled. I'm still really struggling, but I think I have found a little bit of joy and peace in the situation.

     I am a failure, of that I am sure. I have failed and I have lost and I have been disgraced. I am sure I needed to have those things happen, to become more like Christ. I have lost the job, the career that I loved, but it may not be forever. I may resume it some day. I have been hurt and mocked, slandered and ridiculed and it has made me humble. I understand now that I am a failure and nothing that comes from me is worth much of anything without your hand on it. I understand that I am nowhere near as self-sufficient as I want or wish I was. I know that I am frail and weak and fragile. I know that I am weak and you are strong and I need to have your strength to survive.

     I have been wrong, I have sinned against you, your people and your church. I have been angry and in that anger, I have sinned. I have been bitter, spiteful, envious, and arrogant. I ask that you and your people forgive me for the way I have handled the situation. I should have taken the example from Paul, as he was persecuted, slandered, thrown in prison, and in chains, he still rejoiced and praised your name. I am resolved to serve you and your people where I am, where you put me and where I find myself. I will do what I am called, what I am asked, and what I am handed. I am sorry for my attitude and my obstinant behavior. I repent of my behavior, and I ask for you to forgive me. Amen.

Your adopted son through Christ,