Christmas Day Service and Mission

Image from UMCom’s article

I, like many out there, is looking at December 25th as a low Sunday.  Maybe not as low as the following Sunday, Hangover Sunday, January 1, 2012.  After reading an article in UMCom’s email newsletter I was inspired to think outside the box about our worship on Christmas morn.  I remembered that Thomasville Medical Center has a ton of Christmas trees up in their lobby from different companies and groups who donate them.  I then thought how sad it would be to be in the hospital on Christmas Day for what every reason, even if it was to give birth or earning a paycheck.

You see where I’m going here…

I called the hospital and talked to a couple of people.  Finally working with the Chaplain there we are okay to hold a Lessons and Carols service in the lobby of the hospital on Christmas morning at 10:00am.  I’m excited.  I was depressed thinking about what it would be like in our sanctuary with only 1/3 of the usual suspects in attendance.  But now, those 30 can come to the hospital and join together in hearing the Christmas story be told in the scriptures and sing all our favorite carols.

I will post about how it goes, but I’m thrilled we are moving outside the comfort of our walls on the day our Savoir left his to come to earth. My hope is that we will gather together, patients, doctors, nurses, custodians, volunteers, new babies, and regular church folk from Trinity and celebrate the birth of Christ.

The Ministry of Laity – A Success Story

In 1990, University City United Methodist Church’s Vacation Bible School kicked off in the summer. Paula Brake and Chris Parsons were in charge of a new aspect of VBS for youth, puppetry. After a successful VBS interest was shown and they decided to continue the puppets. What evolved 20 years later could never have been imagined.

In the early years of HIS Hands Puppet Ministry, puppeteers pinned scripts to the stage curtains and practiced their lines. Then they evolved to sing-a-long with songs and that became a hit. The youth choir was starting to tour and for one summer the youth (7th-12th grade) in HIS Hands went along. Then during the summer of 1995 they ventured off by themselves.

Since then they have gone to 3 countries (England, Wales, and Canada) and have been all over the US. They have performed for day care centers, nursing homes, juvenile detention centers and out in front of the public on the rim of the Grand Canyon. They performed on City Walk at Universal Studios, St. Jude Hospital, and other places they didn’t usually let Christian groups perform.

Chris and Johnnie Parsons, my parents, have been involved for many years and now they are retiring after this last mission trip to New York City. For 20 years they gave of their time, energy, sleepless nights, and countless “coming to Jesus meetings” with the youth. Jodie, my little sister, graduated in 2001 but my parents kept their service and dedication going.

What amazes me (a former puppeteer) is not how far they have come in their puppetry, now they do black light stuff with is awesome, but the stories that have come out of this ministry. A surprise retirement party was thrown for them this past Sunday, after their 15th Puppethon (a fundraiser performance for their mission trip). I got to witness my mom break down with the surprise, no surprise there. But I also got to see my dad tear up about how they touched a life of a kid in a wheel chair at St. Jude Hospital or how they watched an elderly woman get out of a wheel chair and try and cuss out a puppet during another performance.

This ministry will continue as the leadership is being passed down but it is amazing to look back at what was accomplished after that VBS in 1990. The lives that have been touched by youth and lead by laity. This ministry is not minister driven but laity driven Much fruit has been harvested because of the dedication of leaders and youth throughout the years.

HIS Hands, keep up the good work and reach people for God for the next 20 years. Thanks Mom and Dad for being examples for other adults to follow and an inspiration in the lives of the youth and audiences you have touched. Love ya and remember you can’t retire from Jesus so be open for what God has in store for you next!

I could have done without this God!

God I would like to complain. I would like you to hear me for a minute because I have a problem with being your follower right now. I know it has been years, over a decade and a half, since I asked you to take my life and do with me what you want but this is pushing it.

God, I cannot stop looking at the news and having my heart break over and over again. I cannot stop looking at pictures (like this one) and not have my heart weep. God, this is all your fault.

Before taking you seriously, I would have heard the news, seen the pictures, and the videos and thought to myself, “well that is sad.” But then I would have moved on with my life. I would have continued on to live in my little world and I would have been fine. I would have concentrated on other things, like the NFL Playoffs. But NO, instead I have spent time praying and wondering how I can help these people all the way up here in Thomasville, NC. I have tried to rally my congregation and to have them reach out through giving of their money and making health kits. I have seen images that are in my brain constantly because your children, my fellow brothers and sisters, are in pain and I cannot shake it.

So thank you God, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for making me care and love people I have never met. Thank you for making my life recently full of prayer and sorrow. Thank you for making Haiti and the people doing ministries and missions down there be constantly on the forefront of my mind. I have never been there and really had no desire to but it is because of YOUR love and YOUR Holy Spirit that now I am being moved to figure out how and when I or a team from my church can go. THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT.

Thank you God. Thank you for making me worry and grieve. Thank you for the pain and the ache. Thank you for making me realize what it would be like to be YOU. I know you made this clear and you have told us that as we become closer to you we will become closer to your children. But this may be taking it too far.

I’m going on with my day now. But I thought I should tell you thank you for ruining my self-absorbed life and making me think of, pray for, and love people I’ll never meet. I blame you for this and I thought you should know!

(picture from The Big Picture)

Matthew 28:16-20 – Sermon – Mission Statement Part II

Matthew 28:16-20
Mission Statement Part II
06-14-09

Last week I introduced the new mission statement of Trinity UMC. It is…Serving Christ, Making Disciples. Last week I talked about the importance of having a mission statement that can guide and direct us in our ministry. The Long Range Planning Committee came up with this new one which was accepted at Administrative Council. This mission statement gives us purpose and reason. It gives us what we need to focus on and how we need to be church for this community. Last week I talked about what it means to serve Christ. It means to follow the example of Christ and to be willing to get dirty. So dirty that you are washing feet. We have to be willing to follow Christ where Christ goes and love the way Christ loves. To serve is to follow.

This week I am talking about the second part of this mission statement, Making Disciples. This is found in the great commission that Jesus gives the disciples before he leaves them in Matthew’s gospel. Hear again that commission statement from the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20. [read scripture]

We, as disciples of Christ, are to make more disciples. But what is a disciple? A disciple is a follower of a teacher. In Jesus’ day people would be called to follow a rabbi and learn from that rabbi. The rabbi would only choose the best of the best to follow him. These disciples would follow the rabbi so closely that as the scriptures says, ‘they were covered in the dust from their sandals.’ They would learn his interpretation of the scriptures, his worldview, and his ways in order for that disciple to teach others the ways of the rabbi. We are called to make disciples who can teach others the way of our rabbi, who is our savior. We are called to help created people who follow Jesus so closely that they are covered in the dirt from his sandals.

But how do you do it? How do you make disciples? That is when we get to this dirty word for us mainliners, evangelism. I was at Wal-Mart the other day shopping for some band-aids with Dean. I had Dean in the cart who is a little too excited about picking out band-aids to cover his skinned knees. When we get to the isle there is an older man who is standing in front of the selections. We pull into the isle and Dean and I attempt to look around him to decide whether to go with Diego or Handy Mandy, all while thanking God they didn’t have Lighting McQueen and Mater band-aids because then Dean would want to wear all of them at once. It was during this prayer of joy that I notice the man is not moving and as I look up I can tell that he wants to talk with me. As he starts to talk he reaches his hand into his pocket and pulls out a track.

Now I have received plenty of tracks in my life, those little comic books that end up telling you to accept Jesus as your personal savior. I have found them on gas station pumps, urinals, and concession stands. And I think I have already mentioned that I received one in the middle of the woods from a man carrying a shotgun. I don’t know what it is about me but people think I need to be saved and I need to know Jesus. So as this gentleman in the band-aid isle in Wal-Mart starts to go into his rehearsed speech, I stop him midsentence. I told him that I appreciated the gesture but that I am a minister here in town. I wanted to say, “Look this is really a bad way to bring people to Jesus. When I am at Wal-Mart I like to get in an out and you are interrupting that process. Plus I have a 2 year old who is annoyed he cannot pick out band-aids. This may not be the best way to do evangelism.” I left the isle with Handy Mandy Band-aids and a track telling me to say a prayer and be saved from hell.

When you think about evangelism you may conger up an image like that, I do. I mean that is why we have so many Baptists that worship with us, they trying to save us, right Henry? There is a book called Reclaiming the Great Commission that puts evangelism in a different light, one that I prefer. It says that to make disciples there are three keys to someone’s proclamation. This is the way to make an invitation for someone to join in our faith journey. “This invitation communicates three distinct but powerful nonverbal messages to the unchurched person: 1. I have a faith by which I live. 2. I am part of a community of faith. 3. I am proud of my community of faith and believe that you could benefit from being part of it.” That doesn’t sound too hard does it.

Evangelism is an invitation to join in on a faith journey. It doesn’t need to be walking up to strangers at Wal-Mart and asking if they know Jesus as their personal savior. It is talking to the people you know and inviting them to participate in the church you love and that you think they could grow by coming here as well.

I know what you are thinking but you’re wrong. “Jim, everyone I know is a member of a church. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t go to church.” Yes, I said it, you are wrong. The Stewardship Team has been getting our roll books on an excel spreadsheet. We have 191 people on our roll. We average 90 people a Sunday. That leaves 100 that call this church home that we don’t see on a regular basis. You are related to them. You call them friends. They are people who need to be re-invited to join in on the journey of faith.

Outside these walls there are even more people. The Western North Carolina Conference has joined up with a new company to provide some demographical information about our conference. This company allowed me to go in and ask for specific reports about the community around our church. I asked it to give me some stats on the people who live one mile away from 609 Liberty Dr. I got some interesting results and some that are scary. Did you know the population increased by 15.2% from 1990 to 2000 but only 2.2% from 2000 to 2008 and is only projected to grow 1.6% by 2013. This means that we are not in a growing area. The fastest growing ethnic group is Hispanics who are projected to grow by 13.1% by 2013. Our neighbors are changing. People ages 18-24 will grow while single and young families will decrease. The average household income is $40,827 and number of single parents will grow by 17.4% by 2013.

The scariest stat for me comes out of the “Adult Religious Practices” section. 18.4% said that “my faith is really important me” which is above the state average. Still, only 18.4% of the people said their faith is important, that means there are 81.6% of people who think it isn’t. Here is what really hurt. 14.9% of people said it was important to attend religious services. 15% of the people living within a mile of this church think it is important to attend the 5-7 churches in the same area. 85% of the people think going to church isn’t important. I really don’t know what to do with that.

What this means though is all those people you know who are members of churches may not be attending them. It is our job to let them know that church is worth attending. If you enjoy worship here at Trinity than what is holding you back from sharing that with the people you know? Why is it so hard for us to say, “I really love going to church, do you want to join me some day?” That starts the discipline making process.

The church continues that process. Remember a disciple is one who follows the teachings of their rabbi. In our case that means we need to learn what our scriptures and savior teach us. Trinity needs to be providing opportunities for people off all ages to engage in growing in their faith through Bible studies, small groups, Sunday School, retreats, mission projects and worship services. Once people come through the door they need to know ways they can grow in their faith. This leads to some hard questions though. This means that we have to start asking ourselves, “Is what we are currently doing Making Disciples?” We have to ask ourselves is the stuff that makes up the life of this church focused on Making Disciples? If not, do we need to let that ministry go or do we need to start something new to speak to that need?

There is another area, beyond your neighbors, that we can all help make disciples and that place is at home. You are not born a Christian. You can be born Jewish because being Jewish is a race and religion, Christianity is not. Even if you are born to and grow up with Christian parents at some point you have to make the decision for yourself that you would like to be a Christian too. It is a decision that each individual has to make for themselves. One way we can make disciples is making sure that our children understand the importance of having a relationship with God. To do that means making God a priority in our lives.

Growing up I knew that was not the case for my Dad. My mom was the one who dragged us to church week in and week out. If my mom and sisters were out on a Girl Scout trip and it was just my Dad and I at home, I knew we were sleeping in on Sunday. Yet, when I was in youth group something changed. My Dad started to take his faith seriously and started to attend worship regularly. Even when it was just my Dad and I we would wake up and go to church. He gave me an example to follow and whether I knew it or not I was learning that Church and God came before everything else.

Our society tests us on this fact. Our children have tons of opportunities on Sunday morning that competes with what we do here. I also know that we lose that battle much of the time. I don’t have any magic words or special talents that will make what we do here on Sundays at 11:00 more impressive, more special than what the world offers. I have rattled by brain to figure that out. This is what we, as a congregation promise to do: We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust in God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life. It is a promise we as a congregation make and we are failing our children when we don’t make church a priority. We are not making disciples.

Growing up, if I had the option, I would have chosen anything else but church. But what I learned in Sunday School, the little bits I picked up in sermons along the way, and the people that had a life changing effect on my life, all came from attending church on a regular basis. I am a disciple today only because of those experience. It laid the ground work, the foundation, for me to hear a calling in my life. We have to demonstrate that to our children if we have any hope that they will be followers of Jesus Christ one day too. If we chose sports, sleep, and society over church every week, we will lose that generation because they will not have a foundation for anything to be laid on.

Disciple Making is a huge task. It means reaching out to people and letting them know that we have a faith we live by, a faith community we are a part of, and that they might be able to grow by coming along with us on this journey. We need to be making changes in our church to make sure that people can say this about Trinity and that we are offering up what is needed to grow disciples. We also need to be willing to be the example for the disciples we love the most, our children, and place a priority on God.

Like I said, our mission statement gives us a wide range of opportunities and is what we need to drive our congregation into the future. We have to Serve Christ by reaching out and loving people. We need to Make Disciples by looking at the people around us, our neighbors and the people we live with and asking them to come along with us on this journey of faith. When we do that we are living into the great commission that Christ gave us. When we do that we are serving Christ and making disciples.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

Christian Dropouts – Church just not important

The Western North Carolina Conference has worked out a deal with MissionInsite to give us some demographical information about our congregations. It is pretty neat how this works. A pastor can log in and set the radius from his congregation and information about the people surrounding the church will pop out. It has been an interesting journey into the 19 pages of information.

Most of the information I knew but it is good to have a source to quote now. But one stat that really threw me was about church attendance. 44.7% of the population said they consider themselves to be a spiritual person. 38.2% said the consider themselves to be conservative evangelical Christians (I wish I knew a little more about Christian in general but that is the only category MissionInsite had). Here is where it gets scary…18.4% said their faith is really important and 14.9% said it is important to attend religious services. 14.9%! 15% of the people said going to church (or any religious service) is important. These are people who live within 1 mile of my congregation! That is 85% of the people who think what we do on a Sunday doesn’t really matter.

WOW!?!?!?!

What is even more scary is I don’t know what to do with that information. How can we as a congregation reach out to people who don’t think it is important? We are talking about changing a community’s conscience or way of thinking. It is also the realization that there are that many people who need to know about how a Church can grow one’s relationship with him. Instead of having to travel to vast distances to get people who didn’t know anything about church. Thomasville is a considered another grommet hole in the Bible belt, but are we?

God has provided a way for us to be active in evangelism…it is called talking to our neighbors. Bishop Claude E. Payne and Hamilton Beazley have a phrase in their book Reclaiming the Great Commission. They say that there are three different types of people the church should be focused on in doing evangelism and making disciples.

1.Unchurched non-Christians (that is, secular individuals with no formal religious background)

2. Unchurched Christians (that is, Christian dropouts [I like the phrase] who no longer attend any Christian church)

3. Dropouts from religions other than Christianity (that is, individuals who no longer practice a faith, whatever it may have been)

I think the truth is we have a ton of Christian Dropouts a mile from our church. Within that mile radius there are 5-7 churches of all types of denomination (another United Methodist church .5 miles away!) The problem isn’t opportunities for people to join a faith community, the problem is reminding these Christian dropouts the importance of making the faith journey within a community of believers. We are going to have to rethink how to be and do church because this is not how we are set up to be.

What Church Work Looks Like

Here is what church work looks like:

We only average 90 in worship on a Sunday. We have 191 on roll. Our budget is only $114,000. It is hard to believe that a congregation our size could produce such dramatic change half way around the world. In October of last year, 60 or so people from Trinity and a handful of others from the neighborhood, prepared and packaged freeze dried meals for school kids in Kenya. We made 12,000 meals in about 2 hours. It only cost us $3000. That is $.25 a meal. What is amazing is what it provided. Out of nothing and through God we were enable to give kids something. Below is a letter from Misheck Kanake who in charge of the ARI (Africa Rural Institute) in Maua, Kenya. It is amazing, simply amazing!

Dear Jim,

My name is Misheck Kanake serving with the Methodist Church in Kenya and building up a School based Ministry in School called ARI Boarding school started in 1995. ARI is short for Africa Rural Institute. We take children from Nursery through grade 8 and currently we have a population of over 300 students and twelve teachers.

Though we mostly take children from very low income families, where many of them are on scholarships due to fact that they cannot raise any fees. We have had friends who have helped us to keep them in School.

Our School is on the marginal lands where many people live in poverty, lack water for domestic use and food insecurity due to frequent lack or very short rains. Family incomes are very low which have resulted in many children missing School fees, uniforms, books and other necessary items have been a big handcuff and as a result of this, many children drop out of School keeping community illiteracy levels very high.

At the present, we are supposed to be in the middle of long rains but as per now, no rain in our district and the surrounding districts, people are frightened because the effect of this will be devastating.

Schools opened on 4th may after April holidays. The food (Rice/Soya meals) collected, packaged and sent to us through me to go to the very marginal Schools (Murera, Nkanga, ARI, and St. Marks) was received last week. This was a SAVIOR shipment. The 1st meal of Rice and Soya was served today to the delight of all that tasted.

On behalf of the Methodist Church in Kenya and on behalf of students, teachers and the parents of the Schools mentioned, I WISH TO SAY A BIG, BIG ELEPHANT THANK YOU for participating in sending the delicious meals. It will be served to over 1500 students per meal!!

I don’t want anybody to imagine what could happen between now and the end of the semester, 5th August, If the food shipment was not received! It is going to be very bad with the Schools in the dry areas like ours who are not even expecting food from anywhere unless the government intervenes early enough.

My special call is, to all those brothers and sisters working within the umbrella of the Church, Please prepare early, prepare promptly and move swiftly when duty calls us to supply the need of them that suffer any need wherever they may be. Let us teach our families, the youth and all adults that we are always ON THE FRONT LINE whenever and wherever we are called to serve by all means. Finally I wish to invite you at your convenience to come over and experience with us the kind of service we engage in everyday.

Please tell all the children that wrote letters to our students and received from our students to write again to our students for they are very much interested in writing.

I wish you God’s presence always.

MISHECK

All I can say is…AMEN! For more information on Meals for Learning and how your church can get involved, go to their Website.

Immediate Prayer Request – Trapped in Sudan

The Western North Carolina Conference has sent a team over to the Sudan. I have some friends whose family is over there along with members of our conference staff. Sudan has closed off all airspace and roads. Right now team is held up in their hotel room. The UM Bishop of Uganda is attempting to get permission to have a private plan fly in to get the team. So far no luck. They will try again Saturday.

Please keep them in your prayers and the people of the Sudan.

Mission Blogs

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the conference’s Commission on Mission/Outreach has now started to keep people informed about the different aspects of missions through blogs. Here is the list of the new arrivals to the blogosphere.

The Commission on Mission/Outreach is pleased to announce that it has established the following “blog-spots” and the Commission invites your churches to share information using these blogs.

Here is the listing of the blogs:

Gulf Coast Still Needs Your Help

This is what I received from the WNCC E-news today:

WNCC Disaster Response Committee responded to needs on the Gulf Coast with more than $29,000 in grants during 2007. This represents 300 persons who would have been unable to provide assistance without conference help. Efforts continue to rebuild the Gulf coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They still need our help.
“We are desperate in need of sleeping bags, coats, hats, gloves, socks and small one-man tents. Our homeless population is booming. The FEMA trailers are not the answer and most of our people cannot handle a $50 per month increase in rent. Nothing is being built to house the people and we are into the cold and wet weather that we have,” said Anne and Art Steinaway, Seashore United Methodist Assembly, Mississippi. Contact Anne Steinaway if you can help.