Archive for June, 2016

Remembering Orlando

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

A sad week as many of us come to terms with the horrific shooting in Orlando that left 50 dead.

The hard part, for me, was the creeping, uncomfortable feeling that shootings like this indeed are the “new normal.” San Bernardino, Paris, Brussels, Charleston… one right after the other. And that list is without an even more horrific list for those caught in the violence of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each new report of violence in some way – and hard words to find for this – somehow deadening us to the world around. Violence now the norm.

I don’t know but I can feel that slow shift in myself and I don’t like it.

This type of violence is not the norm. It is not what or who we are created to be. It degrades society, frays relationships, feeds ever widening spasms of hatred and retribution. All the things that we as Christians are called to stand against, allied with others from many faith traditions who hold to the same.

We are to stand. We are to stand against this darkness with love. Compassion. With a willingness to draw alongside of suffering in all its forms.

We are to speak. We are to speak of forgiveness. Of healing. Of a third way. Of moral imaginations able to chart new courses towards hope.

And that is what we can do.

That calls us to more than entertainment. To more than the next adventure. To more than the next must-have thing. It calls us to a deeper love, to, as the Greek in the Bible reads again and again, “agapé love”, a self-sacrificing love willing to embrace the greater good. The “we.” Serving there.

So this Sunday, we will light candles at the end of the service. We will gather. We will pray. We will remember.

Finding a Place of Peace in Growing a Church

Friday, June 10th, 2016

I love the concept of “The Stockdale Paradox”….

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.

AND at the same time…

You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Very similar to the concept of the prophetic voice, The Stockdale Paradox (a) grounds us in what is and (b) pulls us with hope to what can be.

So what is?

What is is that church growth is HARD.  There are few statistics out there that paint a rosy picture.  A recent article on the largest evangelical denomination, one centered firmly in the Southern “Bible Belt”, the Southern Baptist Convention, recently noted the following

  1. Last year, the SBC baptized about 295,000 people, down from about 305,000 baptisms in 2014.
  2. 2015 was the 9th year out of 11 that the SBC reported declining baptisms
  3. At the same time, SBC pastors planted almost 300 new churches, bringing the total number of SBC churches to about 46,800.
  4. Church membership dropped by about 204,000 people to 15.3 million, and average weekly attendance dropped by about 97,000 people to 5.6 million.
What is an equal reality is that some churches within denominations like the SBC are finding a way forward.  Every city has a least a few congregations that have hit on a formula that allows them to serve people and serve God in healthy, sustainable ways.  A few I have enjoyed in person or online are Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, North Point in Atlanta, and Watermark in Dallas.  All give reason to hope.
The challenge is that these models grow out of deeply talented pastoral leadership, leadership able to both build viable structures and preach.  Not an easy combination.  And one that frankly leaves me often feeling bereft at my limitations.
The Stockdale Paradox would say even those limitations are part of what is.
The hope of NewChurch LIVE thriving is likewise a part of what is.
It seems we can find peace there.  A peace in living with reality and with hope. And peace in living with those we love. Serving as best we can.  With reality and hope much closer than we might imagine.