10 Inner Thoughts while Preaching

I am not sure about you but when I preach there are two things that are happening at once.  I am concentrating the physical act of speaking in front of people and trying to make sense but then there is the inner dialogue that is happening too.  I usually have a conversation with myself in my own brain while I am preaching.

I know I am not alone…at least I pray I’m not.  I feel confident that I am not.  Moving on.

I decided to make list of the ten common thoughts that go on in my head while preaching…please feel free to add your own in the comments.

  1. I hope they are looking at the Bible on their phones.
  2. Did I pronounce that right…oh well, just go with it and move on.
  3. Where was I?
  4. Am I saying “um” too much?
  5. Is it hot/cold in here?
  6. ________ is sleeping again.
  7. Is anyone hearing what I am saying?
  8. ________ is giving me good energy and eye sight, THANK YOU!
  9. We are going to run over…where can I trim a little on the fly?
  10. Was that the Holy Spirit talking right there?

Sacred Bundles and Cows

Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows. — Jeanie Daniel Duck
The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change (New York: Crown Business, 2001), 263.*

My Pastor Parish Relations Committee and I recently went through a study together called Pastor and Parish.  It is an excellent study to help demonstrate what the PPRC is supposed to do and their purpose.  In this study it talks about something called the “Sacred Bundle.”  The “Sacred Bundle” is defined as “the congregational memories, taboos and traditions that define their church’s culture, but may not be readily apparent to a new pastor.” 
The Sacred Bundle is filled with the little things that make the congregation who they are.  Examples could be things like unwritten expectations like the Pastor always makes coffee for the Sunday School classes.  Or it could be that the offering plates were the only thing left after the church caught on fire in 1963.  Or the painting in the back of the church was the last one done by the matriarch before her passing.  It could be even emotional ties to events like July 4th BBQs or Christmas Eve 11:00pm worship services. 
The Sacred Bundle can be filled with glorious and meaningful things but it can also be filled with sacred cows.  The pastor and many times the congregations really don’t know what is in the Sacred Bundle until change starts to happen.  I think it takes at least two years to really start to understand what is in the Sacred Bundle, both the good and the bad.  A pastor almost needs two cycles of the Christian year, two Christmases and two Easters and everything after and in between, to fully understand the congregation.  For some congregations this process might take even longer.
It is only after truly understanding the Sacred Bundle that solid and lasting change can happen.  When you understand what is inside the bundle you can speak to the good parts and honor them and cherish them along with the congregation.  The bad sections, the sacred cows, you can speak to as well and start to discuss openly why they are there and if they need to be. 
However, one needs to be careful because as change occurs the Sacred Bundle changes as well.  Are you as the pastor setting things in that bundle that will build and nurture the congregation or are they simply sacred cows that will weigh them down in the future?  Do we remove congregational sacred cows and toss in our own?  Is the change we are offering the congregation fluid enough to go through its own change down the road?  Or do our egos as pastors get in the way because we see that specific change as our little baby or possession?

Jeanie Daniel Duck is right, “Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows.”  Our job as pastors is to invoke, implement and invite change that will lighten, support, and build the Sacred Bundles within our congregation.  We cannot add more sacred cows.  True leadership through a time of transition and change is the willingness to admit if the change we desire has turned into a sacred cow and if so, are we willing to let it go?  We ask congregations to do it, but are we, as leaders, willing to do the same?


*a quote in Lovett H. Weems, Jr’s pdf called “50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church”

Knowing Everyone

The church I pastor has seen some significant growth in our congregation.  Over the last two years we have grown by 19% with membership and 20% in worship attendance.  Now, since we are a small church (currently averaging around 95 in worship) we wouldn’t make the Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, but I am starting to see some growing pains.

The most recent one I heard that has sparked my thinking.  I have started to hear “We don’t want our church to grow too big because we like to know everyone.”  It is true, as a person sits in a congregation with 95 people in it, they can know the name of everyone there.  But how much do they really ‘know them.’

The truth is, as their minister, I know many of them but there are others I don’t really know.  I know their name but I cannot tell you anything about their family history, their likes and dislikes, their children’s names or where they live.  I don’t know these things and I am the minister!  How well do we really know everyone in the church?

I understand what the underlining thought is though.  I understand this saying is a reflection that the current church is comfortable.  It is warm, welcoming, and people honestly care for one another.  Yet, if we pick apart the congregation, all that really happens with small groups.  People naturally lean towards certain demographical groups due to their age, life experiences, and shared views.  This isn’t bad and my congregation is very good being welcoming.  We don’t have major clicks.

But when I stepped back and look around, we have small groups within our small congregation.  These small groups are the ones where people feel welcomed and cared for.  It is the people they sit next to in the pew and the ones they talk to during the social time that make them feel like they know everyone..but we really don’t.

Change and growth are scary and as the pond gets bigger the big fish don’t seem as big anymore.  This all has social implications for a congregation and that can lead to fear and fighting growth.  I am aware of this and my first response is to remind them they don’t know as many people as they think but that response is abrasive.  I need to find out how to address the true nature of the comment, speak to the fear, comfort it, and refocus people on why a growing church is a good thing.

How have others dealt with this feeling within your congregations?  This isn’t something EVERYONE is feeling but it is something that will come up more and more as we continue to move towards the future God has in store for us.

Any advice is appreciated.

Who is drawn to your ministry?

I was asked this question by a more seasoned colleague one day over lunch.  It caught me off guard.  I never thought about the type of person who is attracted to my ministry but as we shared a meal, he lopped that grenade on the table and it has been unsettling since.

I’m not unsettled because the question is too personal, it is just that I never thought of it before.  I look at my congregations (past and present) and I’m trying to find the common denominator.  Who came?  Who arrived and felt welcomed, engaged, connected like never before?  What type of people are drawn to how God is working through me?

Clergy always inherit parishioners.  There are always people there before we arrive, and some stay and some go (minus new church starts of course).  Yet there are those who only know me as the pastor of the church I am currently at.  They don’t know the past.  They arrived in the present.  I never really looked at these people and tried to figure out why they are drawn to my ministry.

I have a few men who came because their wives started coming first.  Yet, now they love it.  I have some who have been distant from church and never found a place to connect until now.  I have some who moved and were looking for a taste of the church they grew up in and they have stayed.  I have young couples with young families and retirees all coming to our small congregation.

I still don’t know how to answer the question fully but I’m still searching for the answer.  I do know that my style of ministry creates an open and relaxed setting in which people feel welcomed.  I know my style of preaching likes to intertwine the ‘real world’ with ‘God’s world.’  I’m always looking for ways to connect the common culture to God and the work we are called to do.

I know that relates to how people feel welcomed and enter our flock.  But the type of peopled drawn to my ministry???? Huh…

How about you…what type of people are drawn to the way God works through you?

What is the New Model of Building Church Buildings?

When I was growing up and being nurtured in the church my home church went through tremendous growth both in the size of the congregation and also the size of their facilities.  I did not pay too much attention (since I was a youth) about the process it took to build.  Yet, as I got older and learned that the church was still paying off the debt for this building it didn’t take a genius to figure out the church put some money down and mortgage the new construction.

This seemed to be the old model of church building.  Plan it, build it and pay for it later.

Now we know, after 2008, that this model will no longer work.  1. Loans are not that easy.  2. Giving is down.

My question is what is the next model for building a new building?  How are church handling this new financial landscape?

I am asking because I think my current appointment will be heading in the direction of a new building in a few years, out of desire and hopefully growth but also out of necessity.  I am wondering what this process will look like now.  I know the model of “If you build it they will come,” is long gone and my fear is building a building we can’t afford and would remain empty.

For those who have gone through this process post-recession what advice do you have?  How much of a nest egg do you start with?  Do you attempt to have 50% of the cost as cash on hand and get a loan for the other 50%?  What percentage do you allow building projects to soak up in the budget?

Seeking insights and any help would be appreciated.

Protectionists

In the current book I have been reading they used a phrase I have never heard before but I found quiet spot on.  They referred to a group of church people as “protectionists”  I wondered if they made it up.  A Google search later I learned that protectionists is a noun that means “The advocacy  system, or theory of protecting domestic producers by impeding or limiting, as by tariffs or quotas, the importation of foreign goods and services”   It is a term used in economics.

The definition has some church similarities too.  The way the author was using it was to describe those people within a congregation who protect certain church buildings, rooms, or other items.  These are the people who are the protectors of the parlor, the defenders of the doilies, they protect the fine tablecloths from ternary, and they are the guardians of…well…”stuff”.

These are the people, and every church has them, who don’t want the good tablecloths used because children may spill juice on them (because older people never EVER spill anything!).  They are the ones who want banners to stay on walls forever because they were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Legacy and they would roll over in their graves if they ever came down.  They hold down the status quo and are road blocks for change.

Protectionists believe they are doing what is right for the church.  They are protecting the church from what they deem as harmful and heresy.  What they don’t realize is in the midst of their protecting they are turning those items into idols.  At some point tablecloths are more important than welcoming children.  Couches in the parlor are too good to be used for a bride to get ready on.  They are turning things into holy objects that are to be worshiped   They are creating idols.

What is more important to a church, hospitality or clean tablecloths or couches?  What looks more inviting, new carpet or the old 1970’s green that has faded in the sunlight over these 40 years?  Nothing should be more important than bringing people to Christ.  No building nor the objects within them is more important then our mission to follow Jesus, make disciples and transform the world.

Protectionists out there…what are you protecting?  Have you created your own golden calf?

How to Spot an Insider

In the book by John Flowers and Karen Vannoy, 10 Temptations of Church: Why Churches Decline & What to Do About it, they write about how to spot insiders within the church.  Those who love the church and have been embedded for years there.  I think it is important to notice who the insiders are within a congregation because insiders will set up the most resistance to change and to open a congregation up you have to open the insider up.

Here is their list (in a Jeff Foxworthian style)

You know you are in insider if….

  • You know the names of a significant percentage of the people in your worshiping congregation.
  • Your table is the first table that fills up at all the church.
  • You can recite the linear history of your congregation for the past two decades.
  • You were around prior to the last building campaign.
  • You are a carrier of “institutional memory.”
  • You have received direct benefits of long-term membership
I am sure there are others.  I had one parishioner introduce himself to me as, “I’m the oldest rat in the barn.”  I should have seen the huge flashing sign over his head that read, “INSIDER!!!”
Insiders are not ‘bad’ but they can get in the way of opening a congregation up to change and moving forward to be the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in this world.

Anti-Evangelism

We all have “Back to Egypt” people in our congregations.  Those who would rather go back to the way it “once was” because that is where they felt safest and secure.  These people tend to be in the way of church transformation but there is something that is even deeper than mere personality.  It is ways that congregations deter growth and new people come in without even knowing it.  It is something in the DNA that only a new comer can probably see.  It is the ways congregations practice Anti-Evangelism.
At my retreat last week I was introduced to this phrase and I was a little suspicious of it at first.  I know people are scared of the word evangelism but churches actively trying to practice anti-evangelism?  As I listen to the preacher preach the current book I am reading, 10 Temptations of Church, echoed some of what he was saying.
A church in decline will push back and try to grip tightly to what gives them power and authority.  They will step back and focus on themselves, ignoring those outside their walls.  But there are some things we do to be anti-evangelists.
Anti-evangelism is not counter evangelism.  Counter evangelism is easier to change.  These are habits like taking all the good parking spots so visitors have to walk farther or the fact there is no signage outside to point visitors what door to walk in.  These are easy habits to change.  Anti-evangelism is much deeper.
The preacher told a story about one of his churches who were trying to save money on their heating bill and so they painted and caulked the front door of the church shut.  Everyone entered in the side door anyway so they thought this wouldn’t be a big deal. When this preacher got to the appointment they showed him the last project they did, which they were very proud of.  They had built a handicap ramp to make the building accessible.  What the preacher learned is that handicap ramp lead right up to the door they caulked and painted shut.  Anti-evangelism.
I know a congregation who had a wonderful playground with a beautifully created basketball goal and soft matted outdoor playground.  This was ideal in the heart of the city where parks were few and far between.  The good news was to make sure the park stayed looking nice they locked it up.  It was only open to their members to use during church functions.  Anti-evangelism.
Mrs. White sat in the four pew back on the left her entire life.  Now celebrating 84  years of living she came to church to find a visitor in her pew.  She looked at them and without saying hello said, “You are in my seat.”  Anti-evangelism.
How many ways does our congregational DNA get in the way of people coming and participating in the life of the church?  What are the deep, DEEP issues that have to be erased or undone to make a congregation able to grow?  How is your congregation practicing ANTI-EVANGELISM?

School of Congregational Development 2011 Review

As the School of Congregational Development ends tomorrow I thought I would take some time to give some highlights in quotes and other things learned. (I know what you are thinking, A NON-SERMON POST?!?!?!?) In random order….

  • There actually is a good list of how to do Vital Church Mergers and it only has 24 steps!
  • We live in a world where we think we can change our identities because we can change where we live, what we do, even our family and religion. This is exciting though because instead of being told what we are (factory worker, stay-at-home mom, doctor) by the world we can ask ourselves who God has created us to be.
  • It is out of chaos that God created the world but the chaos didn’t leave it was simply ordered.
  • Culture is a deliberate choice & behavior is what we chose to live in.
  • God’s judgement is allowing us to live in our vision. God’s grace is allowing us to live into God’s vision.
  • A manager asks “Are we doing things right?” A leader asks, “Are we doing right things?”
  • You have the power to change one person, yourself. God does the work on the rest.
  • Transformed = being shaped and formed by Jesus Christ.
  • All congregations have tribes who see things differently, just like the 12 spies who went into the Holy Land. Are we willing to take the human opinion and run back to the Egypt or are we willing to listen to the two and move forward?
  • Repentance has to be in the vocabulary and culture of any transformation. If you don’t know what you have done/are doing wrong in God’s eyes and will how can you/the congregation move forward?
  • Acts 20:20 point to the need of worship and small groups, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you, but have taught you publicly and house to house. (underlines added)
  • God wants all churches to grow larger, wider, deeper in influence until all the world is called back into right relationship. Did you catch that? ALL CHURCHES! No matter how big or small, our job is not done until every human being believes.
  • Our job is to retell the creation story that has happened, happening, and will happen.
  • The church exists for those who are not yet there.
This has been a great conference and I have felt I have learned a ton. The challenge will be taking all this information, all this new knowledge and putting it into action.

Empty Pews

49. That was the count of worship attendees last Sunday. 49. Our reported annual average is 84. 49 people, 16 of them were children, so after the children’s moment that left around 39 people in the sanctuary.

I’m happy those people showed. I am happy that we gathered to worship on a beautiful Sunday morning. I am happy that we had a good service on Trinity Sunday/Father’s Day.
We had a fill in playing the organ and a person running the PowerPoint that I taught how to run PowerPoint 3 minutes before the service started. A sub was in charge of the acolytes for the day and Children’s Sunday School had a giant question mark next to it the hour before. The persons who usually lead the congregation in the hymns were both gone as well, leaving me to leave on my microphone because the sounds guys were also gone. Needless to say, my nerves were frayed and it was only the Prelude.
I know the “where two or more are gathered…” thing and I believe it. But when half your congregation is gone it can be completely soul sucking. Usually during worship you can scan the audience for those few people who are offering something back. Those looks of interest or agreement. Those nods at the right moments or the laughs you hoped you would get. But with only 39 people in a 250 seat sanctuary, every action is amplified and so the already stoic congregations becomes stoicitier…er…stoiciest….er…even more stoic.
It is hard to get energy back and at the end of worship you can feel drained and depleted. That summed me up on Sunday afternoon.
To all those preachers looking at half the people this summer, my prayers are with you, I know your pain. How do you get by during the summer slump? May you find places and time to replenish everything you put out there.