There Aren’t Enough Volunteers This Year & There Never Will Be

Primary Audience – Fellow Ministry Types

Each year, ministry leaders are asking for more volunteers. They are needed in countless areas as they help create, teach, illustrate, and host a safe and friendly environment on Sundays and throughout the week. Some of these positions only take an extra 20-30 minutes to actually do but committing to that specific window can be challenging. Some of these positions take many more hours that include preparation and spending time with people. And like most things, agreeing to volunteer is a sacrifice.

I am among those that make these announcements regularly. I currently serve in a large church context and I know full well what’s it’s like to serve in smaller places and let me tell you, looking for volunteers is a [Read more...]

“There’s a church for everybody.” Well Actually, Not Really – Confronting our Christian Consumerism – Post 4

“There’s a church for everybody.”

I have heard this statement numerous times. The idea is that if you look hard enough, keep your heart open and throw in a dash of prayer, God will lead you to the perfect match. I know, it sounds almost like an E-Harmony commercial.

Still, I have spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about this line. You might think it’s because I have such a big heart for [Read more...]

The Worship Service Snobs – Confronting Our Christian Consumerism Post 3

How many times have I left a worship service raving or complaining about a particular song in the worship set? I’ve been thinking about how we consume certain elements of the worship service and the two most obvious elements are the sermon (covered in the previous post) and during the time of singing.

I remember a stretch of going to church with a consistent group of people where the entire worship service was under constant evaluation. The worship leader’s attire was discussed, “Stop wearing those pleated pants!” The back-up vocalists had a ranking system “She’s like the second worst alto. I literally can’t sing when she sings harmony” and of course, the guys would have a different ranking system “Who cares if she can’t sing, she’s beautiful and she loves Jesus – what’s her name??” Clearly we were here to worship.

The song selection began another conversation. “Not another Chris Tomlin song!” “I think they dug this hymn out from from the lost tapes of Charles Wesley. They should have left it there.” “Please stop singing ‘Second Worst Alto!’” and “Crowder’s ‘O God Where Are You Now?’ would have worked better here.” And on it went. As I look back, not only do I regret our lack of reverence and hate the thought of how distracting we must have been, I also regret how our cynicism might have shaped our understanding of worship and community for each other.

We were worship service snobs. We picked on the shortcomings and expressed how unimpressive the better moments were, “I’ve heard [Read more...]

Does the Sermon Matter? – Confronting Our Christian Consumerism Post 2

No one thinks of themselves as a consumer when it relates to church. Most church-goers wake up thinking, “Should I go today?  Yeah I should …”  not “Well, what’s in it for me?” It’s not until we get moving do we think things like, “I hope the preacher doesn’t get on his soap box again,” “I hope the service doesn’t go long,” “I hope they don’t feed my kids Smarties” and “Please, no more Chris Tomlin songs.”

Anyway, no one really wakes up in the morning thinking, “I have to consume church today.” But the truth is, we don’t need to actually say that in order to consume. I am hoping these posts help in the reflection of our hearts, expectations and practices as they relate to things like the preaching, the music, the ambiance, and the ministries.

If I could talk about my vanity (as opposed to yours), I’d like to say here’s how and what I have been guilty of consuming and [Read more...]

Confronting Our Christian Consumerism

If you’ve been following lately, I’ve been blogging all about people (and millennials) leaving the church and in an attempt to segue to a different part of the conversation, I want to focus on Christian consumerism in the Church.

Yes, it obviously exists.

Sometimes we think of what some people call “church-shopping.” This is generally said of those looking for a church to join but that shopping mentality often exists long after.  We often leave the Sunday morning “experience” and say an assortment of things like, “I really liked the music, the preaching, the kids ministries, the youth program, the parking lot guys were nice, etc.” I have always found that word “experience” troubling but for lack of a better term, I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe more on that another time.

Christian consumerism also happens with people who have been part of the same church for years and they leave Sunday saying, “I love it when he preaches on the parables” or “I hate it when he preaches on the parables” or “I love/hate that new song/hymn/chorus/singer/musician/etc.” They are loyal patrons who have a particular expectation and they leave satisfied when it is met consistently (but still feels “new and fresh”) and frustrated when it does not satisfy (“different and inconsistent”). In this instance, church is more of a favorite restaurant “experience” than a community of fellow worshippers committed to growing, serving, and connecting.

A more subtle way of seeing Christian consumerism is in this sentiment: “Another good message today – I needed that honestly. And our worship was beautiful – our time of prayer seemed sincere, our music was alive. It seemed that people left encouraged, some found hope for the first time and some some drew closer to God. It was great to worship in our church today.”

Now at first glance there seems to very little wrong with that and depending on the heart, there may not be anything wrong BUT what if the opposite of this statement were said in kind.

As in “Another poor message today – I didn’t need that honestly. And our worship was “so-so” – our time of prayer was super-long, the music felt mediocre. Seemed some people left bored/annoyed/frustrated. I’m not sure anyone found hope for the first time and I’m not sure anyone drew closer to God. It was not a good day or worship in our church today.”

The one sentence seemed sincere and noble. I know I have said it many times in describing a “good Sunday.” And while I don’t know how many times I’ve actually said the latter, I know I have felt some of these sentiments while I sat restless in my seat.

We would conclude that the heart committed to worshipping God while gathered with fellow believers can have a “good Sunday” regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen in the collective worship service. Further, it has always felt freeing to know that my worship is not contingent on the preaching, singing, announcements, etc.

I think this is why we hear the voice of God when we watch children choirs singing – I’m just going to say it – their “performance” is generally terrible. One kid is always waving, one kid is crying, and it’s really hard to see their collective talent shining when the one kid is determined to moon everyone and the dozen around him are determined to watch or copy. Typically, they are not singing the same song, at least not at the same time and I always feel so bad for the choir director kneeling on the floor, mouthing all the words, doing all the motions, while pulling up that kid’s pants. It took her (yes, usually a her) 4 weeks to pull off that mess but for some reason I can’t get enough and these moments are often the best part of the service.

So what does this mean? If it all depends on the individual heart then why bother with all the planning of a worship service? If we just like children’s choirs, let’s just throw them up on the “stage” every Sunday – they’re bound to improve. And do we really need all these different churches with their different worship services?

I am a firm believer that we ought to do everything with careful thought, with a commitment to excellence consistent with our heart and gifting and all this is done for the glory of God and to invite each other to connect deeper. This goes beyond our worship hour and includes our ministries for children, youth, families, and the many related to those in need, those in pain, those trying to grow in the Christian faith.

All of the functions of the church can be consumed as a patron but these very same practices can also be beautiful and life-giving personal and collective experiences the call us to a deeper love and service to our Lord.

I identify myself as a Christian pluralist and have come to truly appreciate the various different forms of Christian worship. I may not connect with all of them but I do appreciate that others do. I love that some church communities meet in living rooms, in bars, in school auditoriums, “in third places,” in 100 year old cathedrals, in brand new sanctuaries, and the many different forms in between. Liturgical, traditional, progressive, whatever the “experience” is – let us not judge, let us not consume, let us worship the Lord as we see fit together and serve others.

Yep, I’m Still Thinking About Why People Are Leaving the Church

Let me just say it – I am not ready to let go of the “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church” conversation from the Rachel Held Evans’ CNN post that went viral almost 3 weeks ago. I’ve blogged all about it and have left quite a bit in my “Drafts” folder.  Truth is, I can let go of the hype and some of the fall out but why Millennials and why people in general are leaving the Church, why they should be part of it, well, I can’t let go of.  Honestly it’s pretty much what I do with a great deal of my energy.

Again, minus the name-calling, the demeaning of others and the redrawing of some of the dividing lines, I was grateful for the conversation.  Some people shared some tough stories about their experiences in the Church.  The act of sharing was good for [Read more...]

Staying in the Conversation on Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church by Rachel Held Evans – Post 3

Depending on who you are, you may be tired of talking about Rachel Held Evan’s piece on Millennials leaving the church on the CNN Belief Blog. I am among those that are not … at least not yet. For me, I’ve really enjoyed (most of) the follow-up posts, tweets, Facebook comments and the offline conversations.  Some have offered excellent critique and have respectfully engaged while others have been uncharitable and unnecessarily argumentative.  This is life and I comfort myself knowing that some  cardboard boxes in heaven will be bigger than others.

Still, some excellent writing, thinking and practicing is happening out there and the best part is interacting with people (even if it’s brief) – I’ve included some links at the bottom and can’t help but  think Rachel’s piece was a gift.  Frankly anytime the CNN Belief Blog isn’t posting about a church/pastor scandal but rather posting an evangelical lamenting the loss of young people from our community is a good thing.  I commend my sister in Christ for her work.

My regrets are about my inability to engage more and I’ve been hoping we Christians do not consume this [Read more...]

Millennials Aren’t the Only Ones with Sensitive BS Meters – Rachel Held Evan’s Reflecting on Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church – Post 2

Many are reacting and responding to Rachel Held Evan’s piece on the CNN Belief Blog called, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church.” From my vantage point, majority have resonated with Rachel’s big picture assessment. Of course some have been critical (that’s good), some have been uncharitable (that’s never good) and many are continuing the conversation as it is worth having (thats me – thanks for reading :)

The church is losing Millennials. Further the church has lost and is losing people from all the generations. And yes, many are [Read more...]

Reflecting on Rachel Held Evans’ Why Millennials are Leaving the Church Post 1- Style Vs. Substance

I have huge respect for Rachel Held Evans. I like her blog, I’ve enjoyed her books and I follow her on Twitter. Further I appreciate her mind, her love for Christ, her heart for others and from where I sit, I find her to be a wise and faithful steward of her platform.

The other day she wrote an excellent piece on CNN Belief Blog and her basic thesis was that Millennials are leaving churches because they are looking for “more substance than style.” In short, she concluded “we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” Ouch.

Her critique is too many churches are making the mistake of seeking to be “more relevant” as opposed to being more substantial.  That may not sound original to some but the real problem is it’s a consistent and oft-heard criticism.  Seeking to be a “little more relevant” is a very tired practice in many congregations throughout our country [Read more...]

Reflecting on the Boston Marathon Bombing 1 Month Later

It made a huge difference that suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended by the end of the week. Clearly the fear went from hidden and lurking to a white-hot anger focused on making an example out of anyone who would attack innocent people. Still terrorism did its job.

I still hear of people saying they are rethinking their summer plans. Some are choosing not to fly. Some second-guessing their [Read more...]